His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, known in Europe as the 'Green Patriarch,' has taken the lead among religious leaders in his concern for the environment. His Holiness has initiated seminars and dialogues to discuss the need for the mobilization of moral and spiritual forces to achieve harmony between humankind and nature. One of his environmental initiatives, which is part of Religion, Science and the Environment, is the Symposium entitled The Caspian Sea - Linking People and Traditions, scheduled to take place aboard a ship, which will circumnavigate the Caspian Sea from 17-25 June 2005. The symposium also aims to encourage understanding and a dialogue between the Christian and Islamic faiths.
Writing in a 2004 issue of UNEP's flagship magazine Our Planet on 'Seas, Oceans and Small Islands', His Holiness called for more attention to be paid to marine pollution.
"At the foundation of the world, 'in the beginning ... the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters' (Genesis 1:1-2). The Judeo-Christian scriptures speak of water as a sign of blessing and peace (Deuteronomy 8:7). The way we relate to God is reflected in the way we respect water. Water pronounces the sealed covenant between God and the world; drought and thirst announce the rupture of this binding relationship, an apostasy from the divine commandments (I Kings 17). The heavens, too, are set among the waters (Revelation 4). Marine pollution is nothing less than the violation of a hallowed promise.[...]
In Eastern Orthodox iconography, blue is interchangeable with green. These colours are predominantly used for foregrounds and backgrounds, being reserved also for the depiction of the celestial. As in the viewpoint from space, so also in the perspective of icons: both heaven and earth are blue! We tend to call earth our habitat; yet, in many ways, water might be more appropriately hailed as our home or natural environment. If there were no water, there would be no world. Marine pollution is nothing less than the devastation of our earthly premise.
There is, then, something sacred, almost sacramental in the very fabric of water. The meaning of water somehow conceals the very mystery of God. In this respect, Orthodox theology proposes a model of environmental action based on the spiritual significance of water. On a planet where oceans and rivers are polluted, we would do well to remember the original and radical relationship between living sources of water and the life-giving spirit of God. In a world where the unjust demands of the few stifle the fundamental survival of the poor, water reminds us of the need to live simply and simply to live. At a time when wastefulness has become so rampant and pervasive, we are challenged to recall the implications of our actions as well as to assume responsibility for a society where water is justly shared and where everyone has enough.
In light of this commitment, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has to date organized five international, inter-religious and inter-disciplinary symposia: in the Aegean Sea (1995), on the Black Sea (1997), along the Danube River (1999), around the Adriatic Sea (2002) and in the Baltic Sea (2003). A sixth is currently being prepared for the Caspian Sea in the summer of 2005. The purpose is to call attention to the plight of our seas; to attract religious leaders, scientists, environmentalists, politicians and journalists; and to raise awareness about collective responsibility for our environment for future generations. None of us is able to resolve the environmental crisis alone; 'everyone has a part to play', as we stated in a Common Declaration with Pope John Paul II at the closing ceremony of the Adriatic symposium.
All of us know that we are surrounded by rivers, seas and oceans. What we do not immediately recognize is the way in which these are intimately and innately connected to one another as well as to our environment. We may not immediately discern the close relationship between the world's waterways, the world's people and the world's Creator. There is an interconnection and interdependence between the water of baptism, the sap of plants, the tears of humans, the bloodstream of animals, the rainfall of a forest and the flow of rivers to the sea.
We are called to avow water as the wonder of life if we are ever to avert the world crisis in water pollution and distribution. In order to correct the wrongful politics of water by those who regard it as their rightful property, we must first celebrate water as the irreplaceable patrimony of all humankind; we must accept the indiscriminate and inalienable right to water for all people in the world. Water can never be reduced to a marketable commodity for profit - especially for the affluent, especially for the few. It must always be protected as part of the fundamental quality of life - especially for the more vulnerable, especially for our children.
On the third day of creation, 'God gathered the waters under the sky into one place; and God saw that it was good. ... So God created every living thing, with which the waters swarm. And God saw that it was good.' (Genesis 1:9-21). The Greek word for 'good' implies beauty and harmony. The very least that we owe God, this world and our children, is to preserve the beauty of our planet's water, to leave behind a world that remains good."