Ecumenical Patriarch releases agenda for Mississippi Symposium

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese released the schedule for Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew’s visit to the United States in October. Separately, a detailed agenda for his upcoming environmental symposium has been posted online.

The patriarch’s “Symposium VIII — Restoring Balance: The Great Mississippi River” offers a rare opportunity to present Orthodoxy’s distinctive, sacramental understanding of the stewardship of Creation to America and the world. And this trip, which will involve about 200 participants in all, will no doubt generate a huge volume of media attention. We will be following the symposium closely here on the Observer.

If the text accompanying the agenda is any indication, the work of the symposium will be heavily inflected by an environmentalist ethic that looks at humanity primarily as a source of pollution and largely ignores the benefits of balanced economic development that does not degrade or abuse Creation. There is the utopian dream of returning the Earth to its pristine, pre-industrial state. Example:

But the fate of the Mississippi waters is more than one aspect of global warming. It is also, very acutely, an ethical crisis. The exploitation of the great river – its pollution, the disastrous confinements of its course and the draining of its wetlands – is starting to produce catastrophic human and natural consequences. But it is not clear that the lessons of the Katrina hurricane have been learned. Development for short-term gain rushes ahead, especially in the Delta itself.

The Mississippi is a challenge not only to human responsibility for the environment, but to democracy. Many people know what should be done: a curb on development and a massive, costly programme to restore the river to something like its ancient health. But few are ready to vote for it. That is the real Mississippi crisis.

The Symposium agenda writer also notes, about a Day One stop in Memphis at the National Civil Rights Museum, that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality has been only partially realized with the election of President Barack Obama. “Yet fulfilling the dream of economic justice and what is termed today ecojustice, which is of particular concern to the Symposium, has not been realised,” we are told.

While the roster of participants is very diverse, there are also some notable Religious Left representatives of the “ecojustice” school on this Symposium, including Rev. Michael Kinnamon of the National Council of Churches, Rev. Jim Ball (What Would Jesus Drive?) of the Evangelical Environmental Network, Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light, and evangelical Protestant activist Richard Cizik.

For a good sense of how the Symposium is likely to approach Christian environmentalism, if not exactly an Orthodox Christian understanding of it, spend some time on the NCC’s Eco-Justice site. You’ll want to be sure to check out the Eco-Justice hymnal, featuring a variety of Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran and United Methodist “creation centered” praise tunes.

The Symposium agenda tells us (with its curious Anglicized spelling) that, “In essence pollution represents the failure of the human race to develop while recognising and honouring the unity of Creation. Belief in the unity of Creation means pollution should be tackled without harming ecosystems on which we all – and life itself – depend.”

Yes, true. But there’s a bigger and more pressing question: How to restore Creation and at the same time allow man the freedom to transform it, in a sacramental way?

Full text of Greek Orthodox Archdiocese press release on Patriarch Batholomew’s trip follows:

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Visit the United States in October 2009

Jun 26, 2009

NEW YORK – Archbishop Demetrios of America announces the visit of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the United States this coming October for a three-stage visit, which will include an Environmental Symposium on the Mississippi River and visits to New York, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

The Ecumenical Patriarch will arrive in Memphis, Tenn. Oct. 17 and between Oct.18-25 will lead the 8th Environmental Symposium titled “The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance.” His All Holiness is the patron of this series of environmental symposia on various water bodies around the world and he is internationally known for his many efforts for environmental awareness and the well-deserved title “Green Patriarch.”

“This trip of His All Holiness to America will be a unique opportunity for all the American people to hear the Ecumenical Patriarch’s message of reconciliation among all religions and people of the world, a message of respect for human rights and religious freedom for all, and a message of respect and reverence for God’s creation, our natural environment. Finally, for the Orthodox Christians in America this trip will truly be a blessing,” said Archbishop Demetrios about the Patriarchal trip.

The Environmental Symposia are organized by “Religion, Science and the Environment,” a movement originally conceived in 1988 on the Aegean Isle of Patmos, at a meeting of environmental and religious leaders, out of concern for the water environment of the planet. RSE has convened seven symposia to study the fate of the world’s main bodies of water, which cover seven-tenths of the earth’s surface. These were held in the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Amazon River and the Arctic Sea.

On the second leg of his trip, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will come to New York on Oct. 25. His All Holiness’ program in New York will include two Patriarchal Divine Liturgies, meetings with the clergy, ecumenical leaders, members of the Archdiocesan Council and the Archons and the bestowing of an honorary doctorate degree from Fordham University. The Ecumenical Patriarch will make a short visit to Atlanta Oct. 29 and will be back in New York Oct. 30. Finally, the following week, Nov. 2-5 the Ecumenical Patriarch will visit Washington, D.C.

Details of the schedule of His All Holiness’ visit will be forthcoming as they become available.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch is the 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

== 30 ==


  1. George Michalopulos :

    And so the madness begins….

  2. Two weeks is plenty of time for the EP, GOA, Archons and their overpaid sinecure staffs to commit numerous acts of bufoonery. No doubt this visit is going to set the record in embarassing Greek Orthodox moments.

    You might think it would be difficult to beat out such classic momements as “Castro the Environmentalist” and “Obama as Alexander the Great” but I bet the folks at 79th Street and Phanar are working hard to exceed expectations and outdo themselves.

    Then again I feel sad for the folks at 79th Street. They really haven’t worked in a long time and now they have to give up their summers to work for this visit

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Just curious, who’s gonna pay for this boondoggle? I’ll venture two guesses: if it’s the glitterati/secular elites (NGOs, Sierra Clubbers, etc.) it’ll be big. If it’s to be put on by the GOA (Archons, etc.), don’t be surprised if there’s a discrepancy between the itinerary as presented and what actually goes down.

  4. Isaac Crabtree :

    All of this sounds like such a fad. When is the Patriarch going to host conferences on spiritual renewal among the secular Greeks of the “diaspora”? Environmentalism certainly has its place, but so much of this rings hollow to me– like a fad or a ploy.

  5. Mark Atkins :

    This has nothing to do with the Gospel of Christ and everything to do with the Patriarch’s compulsive politicking. Don’t be surprised if, in the midst of all this pagan, earth-worshipping babble about “environmental spirituality” and “ecojustice,” the Patriarch makes a sidetrip to Holy Cross Seminary or some other sufficiently Greek and notable locale to tell all of the Orthodox “barbarians” in America that they should submit themselves completely to the Ecumenical Throne.

  6. George Michalopulos :

    It certainly approaches faddishness. The degradation of man and the loss of the sanctity of life are of far more profound consequence than environmentalism. Left alone, the environment takes care of itself. In the end, I don’t think that earnest seekers from other Christian traditions are going to be impressed. Especially if the GOA’s press office keeps putting out press releases touting the EP as “His All-Holiness.” Trust me, that’s going to go over like a lead balloon.

  7. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Whew, quite the public relations offensive. It’s unclear though what the real purpose is. When the Pope visits other countries, it is to strengthen his flock. I don’t see that here, at least not as the primary purpose. What will be telling is who the advisers are and the logic and ideas that inform the public statements. If they are of the quality we saw in the last release (scroll down to note #4), we are in trouble.

  8. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Oh oh…

    From the press release:

    The Mississippi is a challenge not only to human responsibility for the environment, but to democracy. Many people know what should be done: a curb on development and a massive, costly programme to restore the river to something like its ancient health. But few are ready to vote for it. That is the real Mississippi crisis.

    Watch out folks. No one doubts human responsibility for the environment, but once you see constructs like technological development contrasted with a pristine Eden (“ancient health”), and then packaged in moralistic imperatives about democratic responsibility, chances are another agenda lurks behind it. It says as much when it obliquely references “the real Mississippi crisis” with an unnamed political agenda that “few are ready to vote for,” thereby implying that support of the is unnamed agenda fulfills our democratic responsibility. This isn’t spelled out of course. It’s just asserted as morally self-evident.

    What is the “right” (politically correct?) agenda implied here? Global warming? We’ll wait and see but so far indications are that we are going to see a lot of politics mixed with theology all nicely wrapped in the language of moral imperatives.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, I guess Fr Elpidophoros didn’t get the memo: how is “democracy” compatible with “America must submit to the first throne of Orthodoxy”? I’m just sayin’…

  10. cherokee steve :

    This is another example on how some of our oversea’s leaders in the orthodox church are not on the same wave link with us Americans.
    For example, Met. Jonah goes and tell’s everyone he can about the orthodox faith. Both when you see and hear him you can tell he is a mission Bishop that really wants to bring the orthodox faith to the American people.
    Than you have the EP you would like to be the leader of all orthodox churches in American come to America and tell us southern boys on how global warming and the Mississippi river is going to hurt us!
    I feel sorry because if he was my leader and came half-way around the world to America to talk about the mighty Miss. river on my dime and not to help orthodox churches in America I would be a little upset.
    I pray there is more to it than this and he is really coming to tell the American people about the orthodox faith.

  11. George Michalopulos :

    Well-spoken Steve.

  12. George,

    Please help me

    The Liturgical Greek Sing-Along of OLD MAN RIVER was not included on the agenda. You promised it would happen and now I am disappointed. On Monday I will call the GOA press office and the offices of the national herald and file a formal complaint.

  13. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, ask for me as well! While you’re at it, ask why there are no conservative Evangelical clergymen attending, just the usual suspects from the Left.

  14. George Michalopulos :

    Mark, if the Phanar had the courage of their convictions, they’d address all Americans (Greeks included) as “barbarians” since that’s what canon 28 supposedly calls us. (Actually, it just calls the non-Romans who live in Asia, Thrace, and Pontus that, but canon 28 has now been injected with steroids to include the entire world.)

  15. Chris Banescu :

    Wow, what stark contrasts from two different hierarchs on the opposite sides of the Atlantic.

    Metropolitan Jonah boldly stands up for truth and righteousness, and speaks with moral clarity:

    “Homosexualism not only “destroys authentic masculinity, it destroys authentic womanhood.”
    “Gay ideology is neither from nurture or nature… we cannot accept their lifestyle or validate their unions.”
    “We must eliminate any shred of immorality in our lives,” not least because sin “kills and maims the soul… and “demoralizes our culture.”
    “A culture demoralized by immorality “cannot stand up to the strict asceticism of Islam.”
    “Faith… is the knowledge of the heart (that) I have died and my life is hidden in the heart of God… it is only Jesus that matters.”

    While Patriarch Bartholomew further embraces the radical environmentalist-leftist agenda, with its biased and unbalanced view (borrowed from the communist propaganda machine of yesteryear) that democratic capitalistic societies continue to “abuse” and “exploit” “mother earth” and fail to respect “human rights”, with America as the chief offender. Interestingly enough, none of this criticism has been directed at the Middle East and the other communist-totalitarian regimes around the world (China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.) that are the real offenders, abusers, polluters, and persecutors we should be worried about.

  16. George Michalopulos :


    as someone who never had to suffer under the Iron Curtain and its repression, I take my hat off to you. I feel that only someone who has suffered can see through the obfuscation of intellectual ideologies which may sound good in the abstract, but inevitably lead to unimaginable horrors.

    Having said that, I’m afraid however that we in the West are ready for a new, softer totalitarianism, one that will nationalize our economy in ways that the old commissars never dreamed possible.

    I believe that green is the new “red.” It saddens me that an Orthodox patriarch is lending his moral authority to a cause that is more faddish than scientific. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be stewards of the earth. We should. But the crisis in the world today is not financial or ecological, but moral. We have stopped believing in God and have raised other gods in His place. Lenin, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were the premier gods of the 20th century. Today I fear it is Gaia.

    I would be very interested to know who is behind this symposium. This is going to cost a lot of money and the GOA doesn’t have this kind of bucks. Plus, the itinerary and speakers reveal a sophistication that is beyond the usual ham-fisted PR efforts put out by the Archons. For one thing, its Christianity quotient is minimal. Just a few lefties from the NCC/WCC axis, although they are degreed and ordained ministers, they are generals without armies. I honestly don’t know who the rest of these people are. They don’t come from the business world, therefore not the productive sector. Probably NGO types, trust-fund babies, etc. In other words, people who’ve never worked a day in their lives. So who’s behind it?

  17. Tell the “tree hugging” hierarch and the NCC heretics to keep out of the South. And stop pandering to the “Left.” I’ve had it with their “agenda.”

  18. It would be interesting to calculate the total Carbon Footprint for this journey down the Mississippi. I am sure someone who is good at this could crunch some pretty solid projections.

    Why not turn this lunacy against these folks?

  19. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, the size of the “carbon footprint” probably equals that of Algore’s. You know in the recent past, I’ve used the term “Gaia worship” but a lot of this approaches the excesses of the Renaissance papacy. I mean the purchasing of “carbon offsets” which allows you to have a Godzilla sized footprint as long as you pay to expiate the sin. The difference between that and indulgences is negligible.

  20. And what of the Oct 25 to Nov 5 portion of his trip?

    For the EP it will be an opportunity to demonstrate either that he is the “spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide,” or that he is all about the Greeks.

    For the OCA and AOCA it will be an opportunity to show respect, or snipe.


  21. George Michalopulos :

    Greg, that’s a good question. I feel that if this symposium is of the Lord, it will profit His Church. If it is a simple publicity stunt however, it will be seen as such by the vast majority of the people in the US (GOA laymen included) and will come ultimately to naught. As such, we should pray for discernment.

    Having said this, my hunch is that the EP is well meaning and that his previous symposia were done in good faith, but because the vast majority of the people are ignorant of them, that this one will likewise pass without comment in due time.

  22. Mark Atkins :

    Well, if Patriarch Bartholomew wants to be seen as a spiritual leader of anything, let alone the Orthodox Church, he should act like it. More than 300 million worldwide are waiting.

  23. While I am delighted that the EP will be coming to America, I wonder: how many times has he been here? I recognize that he seems to see it as his mission to bring a theological perspective to environmental issues, but is this the most pressing spiritual issue we face in America? Good stewardship is certainly important; we are suffering from a surfeit of consumption that exposes the self-centered focus of our lives, but I would insist that true stewardship begins with your own heart, mind, body and soul. If that is not converted, what value is our wealth and enlightened policies? As noted elsewhere, what good is it if you cleanse the world but lose your soul?

    I must also admit that I am bothered by the notion that someone from somewhere else, however enlightened, could possibly care more about the impact on the Mississippi than the folks who live there and whose families and futures depend upon it. (This posture has always struck me as lacking humility, though I would NOT ascribe such a failing to His All Holiness. It is, however, the basic issue that I have with academics and politicians who DO arrogantly think that their pet policy or position has more value or is more important than the perspective of people who have skin in the game. In the military, this same problem resulted in such classic acronyms as SNAFU, etc.)

    While I find myself very much at odds with the focus of his message – and certainly the other folks giving the seminar – he remains the Patriarch of my jurisdiction and he certainly has my deep respect and, if required, obedience. I will admit, though, that I wish his focus and concerns were more in line with those expressed by Met. Jonah.

  24. George Michalopulos :

    Chrys, excellent point. I would never presume to go to another country (even if I were a signficant personage) and presume to tell them what to do, what is wrong, what needs to change, or claim “patronage” over a geological formation.

    The more I think about it, it’s a disgrace. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail at the GOA but they’re too used to panting after the limelight over there (and at the Phanar).

    I fear all of Orthodoxy will be shamed by this spectacle. I pray I’m wrong. I’ll be glad to be wrong.

  25. This recent article is a wonderful example of how the debate on Global Warming is Shifting.

    The Climate Change Climate Change

    If some don’t watch out the whole Green Patriarch scheme could explore in the face of the Phanar and make the successor of St. Andrew look like a bufooon.

    Too late now though…. the EP’s leftist love-boat is preparing to motor down the mississippi.

  26. Chris Banescu :

    DStall, I’m sure every Orthodox jurisdiction has plenty of writings that exemplify the Moral Tradition of the Church regarding the abomination known as “abortion.” No one is denying that truth. However, where is the bishops’ (besides +Jonah, +Hilarion, and a few others who continually oppose and talk about it) public witness and outspoken stand against this massive evil currently being promoted and embraced by too many Orthodox faithful, especially the young adults who hear little from the pulpit or the official church statements and channels that informs them of the Truth?

    The defense of the unborn (the most innocent and defenseless of God’s creation) is a moral absolute and must be a priority, ahead of saving the whales, the rain forests, and the polar bears. Nothing wrong with caring for all of creation and being passionate about green issues, IF and that’s a big if, we have already done everything possible to defend the innocent first!

    How about caring about saving the environment in the womb? This message needs to be shouted from the rooftops and continually broadcast from the pulpit. There is something terribly wrong with our hierarchy when millions are spent on Mississippi symposiums that declare: “the fate of the Mississippi waters is more than one aspect of global warming. It is also, very acutely, an ethical crisis.” and abortion, an ethical issue 1,000,000 times more serious and morally important, is virtually ignored by the very same Orthodox leaders.

  27. cynthia curran :

    The global warming debate isn’t tht simple. In fact, those that are pushing more of the population into cities versus suburbs, don’t take into consideration that cities have a higher percentage of poor folks because ecnomonic opportunities are less available. Take Portland Oregon which is about 75 percent white versus Anaheim which is only about now 30 percent non-hispanic white. In Portland hispanic poverty is 21 percent. Anaheim its 17 percent. Portland Oregon has a lot of restrictions and trys to developed a more central city model while Anaheim is what is known as a boombarb-too big for a regular suburb but some features are different than the typical large town. Also, take white poverty stats, Portland has a poverty rate of 12 percent versus only 4.5 for whites in Anaheim. Portland has about a 23 percent black population and Anaheim has about 14 percent for others than hispanics or white. Liberal enviromentalists like a town like Portland but not Anaheim.

  28. Chris, I agree symposiums are quite often a waste of money and time. That’s why I think the EP should focus on what He does to resist destroying the Creation as example to others, more so than symposiums. By jaunting around the globe, he only adds to pollution, rather than downsizing his own environmental footprint. Using physical warfare tactics instead of spiritual warfare (creating “embargoes” against monks who disagree with him), doesn’t set a very good personal example either for exhorting others to Spiritual Maturity, to victory in the human heart which is where the battle is occurring, inside ourselves, not “out there”. The focus on symposiums is great PR for calling attention to problems, but doesn’t seem to do much about solutions. I haven’t heard any exhortation for what the faithful can do to resist living a modern anti-Christian life that destroys Creation and have voiced that concern at The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration.

    It’s the new millenium and multi-tasking is “in”. We can and should simultaneously oppose Both distortion and destruction of the human person (abortion/homosexuality), And consumerist rape of All Creation, because Both are symptoms of the same problem, “happiness-seeking” sickness. If you make abortion/homosexuality the primary problem in order to unite with Papist/Protestants (the lowest common denominator because there is no Theological Unity), then you make of Orthodoxy another worldly Religion and are dragged down into the level of spiritual “illness” along with Western christianity, which is no “cure”, and which ends up muddied in “moral issues” together with Judaism and Islam, and bloodied in physical battle.

    Yes, the human person (abortion/homosexuality) takes primacy, because only humans are created in Divine image, but humans are Created and exist together with All Creation, not in a Vacuum. Distortion/destruction (unregenerate “falleness”) of the human person effects destruction of All Creation. That’s why the rest of Creation is transfigured only through human deification, and why it “groans” in anticipation of that event. To separate and make a dichotomy of human/non-human makes “pro-life” guilty of the same one-sidedness as “humanist” environmentalists. Opposition must be on both “fronts” in order to be truly Orthodox Christian. God loves “the world” and gives His Son for All Creation, not just humanity, so human Care of Creation is an expression of the Divine Image and Likeness, the human “person”. The rest of Creation can’t wait for complete cessation of human abortion. We have no Divine mandate to be “linear” (1, 2…) in “standing up for Jesus”. All Creation is created in and through the Logos, and is going down the tube just as fast as human fetuses.

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