September 1: Eastern Orthodox Earth Day and The Green Patriarch
Since 1989, every September 1st (the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar) has been designated as a day of prayer for "the protection of the environment" throughout the Eastern Orthodox Church consisting of some 300 million Christians worldwide. Instituted by the late Patriarch Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Church, the tradition has since been shepherded by his successor Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople who has been dubbed "The Green Patriarch." Some attribute the moniker to the European press, but my sources in the church credit the epithet to Al Gore during his tenure as Vice President. Bartholomew was the first major religious leader to have initiated since 1991 various events to promote environmental protection, and Grist puts him number one above the Dalai Lama on their recent list of 15 green religious leaders. Exercising his influence on the Catholic Pope, Bartholomew in 2002 orchestrated a coming together in joint environmental efforts that witnessed the first liturgy spoken by the Greek Patriarch in Italy for over 1,000 years since the Vatican and the Orthodox Churches excommunicated one another in the Great Schism of 1054.In 2003, Bartholomew brought together 200 scientists, political leaders, and journalists on a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea to discuss marine preservation and the hazards of overfishing. "To protect the oceans is to do God's work," he said. "To harm them, even if we are ignorant of the harm we cause, is to diminish His divine creation." In July 2006, top scientists gathered at a remarkable floating symposium on the Rio Negro convened on a flotilla of boats by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in order to discuss the tipping point into desertificaiton of Amazon rainforest lands. The Patriarch recently met with Mr. Gore during the Live Earth press junket. A 2003 book Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew I, edited by the insightful religious scholar Father John Chryssavgis, strives to connect Christian dogma with current environmental thought in an effort to bring the good green message to the faithful.