The Orthodox Church and Climate Change

The Orthodox Church and Climate Change

The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration

A Quick Review of the Prophetic Voice of the Patriarchs and Hierarchs of the Church


SINCE THE 1980’S CONTINUING TO OUR PRESENT DAY, THE ORTHODOX CHURCH through its top hierarchs has repeatedly spoken about the seriousness of the problem of global climate change. In 1989 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch +Dimitrios prophetically addressed this issue just as it was emerging into popular awareness:

Scientists and other men of learning warn us of the danger, and speak of phenomena which are threatening the life of our planet, such as the ‘phenomena of the greenhouse’ whose first indications have already been noted.

In 1997 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled to California where he delivered a clear statement on Orthodox responsibility for the care of the world. This was followed by a clear and strong early call for action on global climate change. This call was not directed only to leaders, but to all Orthodox and all people of good will.

For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation... [to cause] changes in its climate..., [or] injure others humans with disease... for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, land, air and life with poisonous substances, these things are sins. ...

We call on the world's leaders to take action to halt the destructive changes to the global climate that are being caused by human activity. And we call on all of you here today to join us in this cause. This can be our important contribution to the great debate about climate change. We must be spokespeople for an ecological ethic that reminds the world that it is not ours to use for our own convenience. It is God's gift of love to us and we must return his love by protecting it and all that is in it.

In 2002 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed climate change in his Letter on September 1st, the Day of Prayer for Creation. He declared that every person’s actions are important in the effort to avert climate change:

However insignificant the contribution of every individual to the averting of new catastrophic natural phenomena may appear, we are all obliged to do whatever we can, because only then shall we be able to pray to God boldly to supply what is lacking in our own efforts and possibilities. We paternally urge everyone to realize their responsibility and to do whatever they can to avert the increase of the earth’s temperature...

Again, in 2005 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of the moral dimensions to the emerging climate crisis. On August 12, 2005 he delivered the following message on climate change.

Climate change affects everyone. Unless we take radical and immediate measures to reduce emissions stemming from unsustainable - in fact unjustifiable, if not simply unjust - excesses in the demands of our lifestyle, the impact will be both alarming and imminent.

Climate change is much more than an issue of environmental preservation. Insofar as it is human-induced, it is a profoundly moral and spiritual problem. To persist in the current path of ecological destruction is not only folly. It is no less than suicidal, jeopardizing the diversity of the very earth that we inhabit, enjoy and share. Moreover, climate change constitutes a matter of social and economic justice....

Faith communities must put their houses in order. Their adherents must embrace the urgency of the issue.... Faith communities [should] take a long- term view of the world. [This] is called ‘eschatology.’

On May 25, 2007, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America issued a statement on global climate change. This was jointly signed by HE Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese of America; HB Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); HE Metropolitan +Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; and all of the other top hierarchs of what was then called SCOBA (now The Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the U.S.) Here are excerpts from that important declaration:

We are all personally responsible to identify and adopt appropriate moral and ethical approaches to the changing conditions of the world.

Faithful to the responsibility that we have been given..., it is prudent for us to listen to the world’s scientific leaders as they describe changes occurring in the world’s climate, changes that are already being experienced by many people throughout the world.... Three crucial considerations make the current changes serious and unprecedented:

— The rapid extent of temperature increase is historically unparalleled. Past changes in climate occurred over extended periods of time and were less severe.

— The human role in changing the climate is unique today. In earlier centuries, people did not have the technological capability to make such radical changes to the planet....

— The impact that climate change will exert upon society is great and diverse, inevitably including conditions which deeply disrupt the lives and livelihoods of people on an unprecedented scale.

Climatologists [identify the causes of] these changes as the result of measurable increases of carbon dioxide... in the atmosphere. These gases are produced primarily by the burning or combustion of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels. Among the many consequences, the atmosphere and the oceans are warming; wind and rainfall patterns are changing; and sea levels are rising. Forces of climate change also increase the acidity of the oceans; they raise the ferocity of storms..., they cause droughts and heat waves to become more intense; and, in some areas, they disrupt normal agriculture... Importantly, the conditions that we observe now are only the early alterations to our climate. Much larger and far more disruptive changes will result unless we reduce the forces causing climate change.

It should be clear... that immediate measures must be taken to reduce the impact of these changes to the world's climate. If we fail to act now, the changes ... underway will intensify and create catastrophic conditions. Therefore, we wish to emphasize the seriousness and the urgency of the situation. To persist in a path of excess and waste, at the expense of our neighbors and beyond the capability of the planet to support the lifestyle directly responsible for these changes, is not only folly; it jeopardizes the survival of God’s creation....

The bishops’ statement concludes with the following historical observation:

In each generation, God sends some great tests that challenge the life and future of society. One of the tests for our time is whether we will be obedient to the commands that God has given to us by exercising self-restraint in our use of energy, or whether we will ignore those commands and continue to seek the comforts and excesses that over-reliance on fossil fuels involves.

– SCOBA Declaration on Climate Change, May 25, 2007

In 2007, HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew commissioned a special Arctic symposium to examine the effects of climate change around Greenland. He concluded his observations from the ice and seas around Greenland this way:

If there is one single message in the information which we have received, it is this: “Time is short.” The ice of the Arctic is shrinking at a frightening pace. That is what we are told by scientists, that is what we are told by Greenlanders who know the ice better than anybody. If the ice in Greenland melts, the consequences for ... the whole world could be devastating: a Biblical catastrophe in the most literal sense. Humanity does not have the luxury of quarreling over economic... or religious differences. It must act together; and it must act now.

As Orthodox Christians, we use the Greek word kairos to describe a moment in time... which has eternal significance.

For the human race as a whole, there is now a kairos, a decisive time in our relationship with God’s creation. We will either act in time to protect life on earth from the worst consequences of human folly, or we will fail to act. On behalf of all of us, allow me to offer up a public prayer: ‘May God grant us the wisdom to act in time.

In 2009 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew again declared,

The ecological crisis, and particularly the reality of climate change, constitutes the greatest threat for every form of life in our world.

In November of 2013, in a presentation before a gathering at Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, DC, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios made a strong and impassisoned declaration about the importance of addressing global climate change.

The most recent scientific report on climate change and its effects, issued ... by the International Panel on Climate change (IPCC) and compiled by hundreds of scientists from dozens of countries, raised concerns in the form of dire conclusions, which we cannot afford to ignore. These include unequivocal deductions concerning climate change in the form of global warming, rising sea levels, increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, and melting ice sheets.

The human influence on the climate system is evident from a variety of observations and analyses.... Human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed temperature patterns and increases since the mid-twentieth century.... The long-term trend seems unmistakable and there is no excuse for complacency....

In Africa where climate change is impacting especially hard on poor people and reducing agricultural production, HB Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa has opened the Orthodox Church’s first office dedicated to addressing climate change. The director is HE Archbishop Seraphim of Zimbabwe. He sends the following message to us all:

In our efforts to contain global warming, we are demonstrating how prepared we are to sacrifice our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: “Enough!”? When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible for the sake of future generations?

It is not too late to respond. We can still steer the earth toward a suitable future for our children. But we can no longer afford to wait. Together with our political leaders we must act with urgency. Deadlines can no longer be postponed; indecision and inaction are not options. We have choices to make. The time to make a commitment to heal the earth is now.

Alexandria, Egypt, June 18, 2014

On September 1st, 2018 HAH Ecumenical Patriarch issued a statement that reminds us all of the urgency of climate change. He calls us to develop “practical endeavors” that address the problem of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the world’s atmosphere. He concludes by asking that special attention be directed to the youth of our parishes that they too understand their responsibility to address this critical challenge to the life of our world.

We know that the greatest threat to our world today is climate change and its destructive consequences even for our survival on the planet....

The burning issue of climate change, along with its causes and consequences for our planet and everyday life, offer an opportunity to engage in dialogue based on principles of theological ecology, but also an occasion for specific practical endeavors. It is vitally important to emphasize action at the local level. The parish constitutes the cell of church life as the place of personal presence and witness, communication and collaboration—a living community of worship and service.

Special attention must also be directed to the organization of Christ-centered educational programs for our youth in order to cultivate an ecological ethos. Ecclesiastical instruction must instill in their souls a respect for creation as “very good” (Gen. 1:26), encouraging them to advocate and advance creation care and protection, the liberating truth of simplicity and frugality, as well as the Eucharistic and ascetic ethos of sharing and sacrifice. It is imperative that young men and women recognize their responsibility for the practical implementation of the ecological consequences of our faith, while at the same time becoming acquainted with and promulgating the definitive contribution of the Ecumenical Throne in the preservation of the natural environment.

This challenge, it should be strongly emphasized, is not just for Orthodox youth. This succinctly presented challenge from HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew applies to all of us who call ourselves faithful Orthodox Christians.

Resources for Study Groups