By John Couretas
In his June 18 keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Halki Summit in Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew looked forward to the start of the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainability, June 20-22. He noted that attendees at his environmental gathering were “deeply frustrated with the stubborn resistance and reluctant advancement of earth-friendly policies and practices.” He called for greater sacrifice and personal responsibility (emphasis added in the quote below):
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. 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.
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Each of us is called to draw a distinction between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs. Greed and gratification reduce the world to a survival of the fittest; whereas generosity and gratitude transform the world into a community of sharing. We are invited to pursue a way of sacrifice – not a sacrifice that is cheap, but a sacrifice that is costly. As King David once said: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24.24) We must be prepared to make sacrifices – material and financial – that are genuine and even painful. And in this regard, whether we like it or not, more is demanded from the rich than from the poor.
Speaking of cheap, this latest statement – in light of the actual environmental praxis of the Phanar and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America – is an exercise in cheap moralizing and empty Church-speak. For starters, the Halki Summit was held in the historic Halki Palace Hotel, “one of the oldest and finest hotels in the vicinity of the Princes’ Islands,” and which features satellite TV, mini-bar, laundry service and Jacuzzis in nine of the suites. So you can take a nice warm bubble bath while contemplating how “simplicity and frugality” will help avert a global environmental catastrophe. Then take a drink poolside and join in for some bracing conversation about how Summit attendees can “bring the global environmental discussion to a new and richer place.” Indeed.
At the same time, Bartholomew’s American church is preparing to gather in Phoenix for the 2012 Clergy Laity Congress, July 1-5. It is meeting at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa for five days. Yes, a luxury resort in the Sonoran desert in the middle of July. Abstinence? The Marriott features four acres of swimming pools. Can’t swim? The Spa’s steam, sauna and whirlpools might do the trick, or the facial and massage services which start at $330 and ratchet up to $481, for the “total indulgence” package which gets you the “Too Sexy for Your Shoes Pedicure.” Make your reservations now, presvyteres!
No wonder the Colorado River is drying up. Patricia Mulroy, a board member of the Water Research Foundation, which promotes the development of safe drinking water, told Smithsonian Magazine that people need a “fundamental, cultural attitude change about water supply in the Southwest. It’s not abundant, it’s not reliable, it’s not going to always be there.” Maybe the patriarch, who has held environmental cruises on major rivers such as the Danube and the Amazon, could hold his next summit on the Colorado. A raft would work better than a cruise ship there.
Speaking of “self restraint and self control,” recall that on his 2009 visit to the United States, the patriarch shuttled to and fro on a private jet. When he gathered with bishops and priests of the Ecumenical Throne at the Limani Restaurant in New York to toast Archbishop Demetrios, was that an example of the ascesis we’re being lectured about now? At Limani, you can get a nice cowboy ribeye for $48, or Canadian caught Halibut — steak-cut and charcoal grilled – for $35. Add Greek fries or horta for only $9.
Perhaps the patriarch can send a message to the Leadership 100 gathering in 2013 and remind the wealthy benefactors that “more is demanded from the rich.” They’re meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, Fla. The Ritz-Carlton is a favorite of this group (Laguna Niguel and Naples, in recent years), but they broke the mold in 2010 when they met at The Hotel del Coronado near San Diego in 2010.
Now, everyone understands why a church gathering needs a certain basic infrastructure to do its work: central heating and air conditioning, wireless Internet, refrigeration and modern sanitation, ready access to emergency medical care. But there’s a long stretch from basic necessities to the luxury spa in the desert or on the Florida beach.
The patriarch prayed at his summit in Turkey that those gathered with him, the “exceptional assembly,” would “explore ways and means to bridge the unacceptable gap between theory and practice, between ideas and life.” May his prayer be answered.