Eastern Orthodox patriarch calls for environmental stewardship in ‘historic’ visit to Notre Dame
Ryan Peters | Friday, October 29, 2021
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, called for Christians to assume responsibility for addressing climate change and suppressing the COVID-19 pandemic during his convocation ceremony at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Thursday evening.
Bartholomew, the 270th archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and successor to the apostle Andrew, visited Notre Dame as part of his first trip to the U.S. since 2009, according to a University press release. He was originally scheduled to deliver the commencement address during the class of 2020 commencement ceremony, but was not able to due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His address centered around a call for environmental stewardship and for Christians to work in connection with science during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is an important but humbling lesson that the Church has learned during this time: namely, that religion must function and serve in connection with — and never in isolation from — science,” Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew described what he called the “ecumenical imperative” of Christians to cooperate with academic, scientific, corporate and political leaders. He referenced the joint statement he signed with Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin of Canterbury last month calling for humans to make sacrifices in order to care for the environment. The statement was the first time the three leaders ever issued a joint appeal, Bartholomew said. He added that interconnectedness is required to speak the “language of care and compassion” necessary to face tasks together.
The Orthodox worldview considers ecology as spirituality in practice, he said. He called upon humans to consider the repercussions of harming the environment as they would when they harm a fellow human.
“We surely understand that we cannot hurt our brothers and sisters, that there are consequences to our actions — moral, social, and legal consequences. Why, then, do we not grasp the fact that there should be repercussions — moral, social, and legal repercussions — when we harm God’s creation?” he asked.
He said he welcomes efforts to add a clear definition of “ecocide” to international law.
“This is why we applaud efforts to expand relevant statutes of international law to include ‘ecocide,’ defined as the unlimited and unlawful destruction of ecosystems through oil drilling and spills, industrial fishing and livestock farming, plastic pollution and mountaintop removal, but also nuclear weapons and testing,” Bartholomew said.
University President Fr. John Jenkins, who delivered an address introducing the ecumenical patriarch following a performance of “Creation: From Adam to Salvation” from the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir, credited Bartholomew for his advocacy for environmentalism and commitment to uniting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which have been divided since the Great Schism in 1054.
Jenkins cited Saint John Paul II referring to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as “the two lungs of the Church” and Patriarch Athenagoras referring to the two churches as “sister churches.”
“We at Notre Dame have the joy of breathing in the spirit with both lungs in the blessing of the presence of the representatives of our sister church,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins commended Bartholomew for his leadership in uniting the two churches, calling Bartholomew’s decision in 2013 to be the first ecumenical patriarch to attend a papal inauguration “a historic act of love and courage to help heal the wounds of a thousand years.”
Chairman of the board of trustees John Brennan and Jenkins conferred to Bartholomew an honorary doctor of laws. Bartholomew, who on Monday met with President Joe Biden to discuss ways to fight climate change, said he was honored to be commended by a university dedicated to environmental sustainability.
“We are especially honored that such a commendation comes from an academic institution with demonstrated climate and energy research, with sustained environmental and social programs, as well as with passionate student involvement and commitment,” Bartholomew said.