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Eastern Orthodox leader urges ascesis to reverse climate change

June 20, 2012

Speaking at a major environmental summit in Turkey, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople said that ascesis is the “missing dimension” in discourse about the environment.

“We are convinced that any real hope of reversing climate change and addressing the environmental pollution requires a radical transformation of the way we perceive and treat our planet,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said on June 18. “Many of us have witnessed the positive changes over the last decade. Nevertheless, all of us are deeply frustrated with the stubborn resistance and reluctant advancement of earth-friendly policies and practices.”

“Permit us to propose that perhaps the reason for this hesitation and hindrance may lie in the fact that we are unwilling to accept personal responsibility and demonstrate personal sacrifice,” he continued. “In the Orthodox Christian tradition, we refer to this ‘missing dimension’ as ascesis, which could be translated as abstinence and moderation, or – better still – simplicity and frugality. The truth is that we resist any demand for self-restraint and self-control.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew added:

Of course, sacrifice is primarily a spiritual issue and less an economic one. Similarly, in speaking of the environmental crisis, we are referring to an issue that is not technological or political, but ethical. The real crisis lies not in the environment but in the human heart. The fundamental problem is to be found not outside but inside ourselves, not in the ecosystem but in the way we think. Without a revolutionary change within ourselves, all our conservation projects will ultimately remain insufficient and ineffective.

We know what needs to be done and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done. It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and it is an even longer journey from the heart to the hands

Speakers at the Halki Summit, cosponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Southern New Hampshire University, included noted environmentalists Jane Goodall and Bill McKibben.


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  • Posted by: FredC - Jun. 22, 2012 3:12 PM ET USA

    Around 1970, the climate scientists were warning about another ice age.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jun. 20, 2012 11:01 PM ET USA

    What's really needed are humility, intellectual honesty, and common sense. When the global warming alarmists publish the evidence that human-generated CO2 causes warming and demonstrate that there is any unusual warming going on, then I will consider doing anything about it. Meanwhile, I have plenty of real sins for which I must do penance and real virtues for which I must strive.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 20, 2012 5:27 PM ET USA

    Personally, I am getting weary of this constant emphasis on "climate change" and its implicit effect of drawing away from the blood atonement of Jesus Christ for our sins and more of a preoccupation with this present world and even worse, a very subtle replacement of Christian metaphysics with the old clearly paganistic "earth religion.." Clerics can't see that they risk becoming complicit with the Devil when they emphasis this? "Climate change" @ death is permanent, & much more to be feared. JP

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Jun. 20, 2012 8:14 AM ET USA

    I agree in general with the theme of ascesis which is useful in the spiritual life and makes for a better human life. However, if every person on the planet fully practiced ascesis, it still can't stop natural warming and cooling trends (as opposed to the myth of man-made global warming).