Christian Environmentalism that ‘Costs me Nothing’

By John Couretas

Ascesis in the desert?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.

[ … ]

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.


  1. cynthia curran says

    Well, the Patriarch own country Turkey is slowly building the Mamaray subway because of Earthquakes and one of the greatest ancient collections found in the area were the Mamaray is being built. Granted, I like to be able some of the anicent or medieval ships of the once port of Theodosius but I also understand the demands of modern transporation and there are a lots of cars on the road so in that area with high population density a subway makes since for the Patriarch that supports the enviroment which would be the subway and also the Byzantine culture which is the 34 ships and other ancient and medieval items its a tough choice.

  2. Michael Bauman says

    The quote you highlight: The truth is that we resist any demand for self-restraint and self-control. Yup. Ascesis as I understand it is a free giving of oneself to God, not the coerced adherence at the point of a gun to arbitrary and hypocritical laws made by people who only want to advance their own power at the expence of others and greatly restrict our freedom. “Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others”

    BTW there a lot’s of places besides fancy spas that have the resources necessary to hold such gatherings (assuming the gatherings are about anything else but the desire to ‘party on dude’).

    Rio is not exactly known as a place that lives moderately or where the poor are treated with respect and dignity. Rio is about excess.

    Isn’t there something in the canons about we Orthodox not attending the gatherings of heretics and heathens?

  3. Centurion says

    Metropolitan Savas (Zembillas) of Pittsburgh has jumped on the same “save Mother Earth” bandwagon and endorsed the same ideas on his facebook wall. Here are the excerpts he posted in support of Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW and his statements:

    “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,” His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW said at the HALKI SUMMIT on Global Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability earlier this week. “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.

    “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.”

    “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.”

    Yes, this is the same Metropolitan Savas that gets to fly all over America to attend various galas, dinners, and events, with 10x the carbon footprint of ordinary Americans, and gets to live it up like royalty courtesy of the hard work and efforts of the faithful.

    Have a look at the lavish palace-like restaurant he was so proud to attend in September 2011: and raved about on his facebook wall:

    Bishop Savas Zembillas – is off to Manhattan’s Metropolitan Club for the Archdiocesan Cathedral Philoptochos Chrysanthemum Ball. Don’t wait up for him.

    Bishop Savas Zembillas – I’ll be seated next to President Aphrodite Skeadas at the Archdiocesan Cathedral Philoptochos Society’s Chrysanthemum Ball at the Metropolitan Club tonight, and I promise to ask her, Yvonne.

    Did I mention that Met. Savas raised the Pittsburgh Parishes’ Annual Dues by 10% immediately after being enthroned as metropolitan? He did this in the middle of an unprecedented Great Recession in America as families struggle and suffer and have lost 40% of their wealth. How’s that for “compassion” and caring for the “poor”?

    The parishes of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh will see an increase of 10 percent of their annual allocations to Archdiocese, according to a memorandum that was sent to them. The total amount will be $1,833,723.10 for 2012. According to the memo “this allocation is calculated using the financial data submitted by each parish nationally, which reports their individual gross income and adjusted expenses and from which their 2012 individual parish assessment is also calculated.”

  4. The sheer audacity and shamelessness of using Private Jets to fly around the world, staying at 5 star resorts, and feasting at lavish dinners and galas, while lecturing others about “irreversible environmental disasters“, “simplicity”, “frugality”, “self-restraint”, and “self-control” is breathtaking.

    Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW proclaims that 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,” while his own privileged and pampered lifestyle evidences NONE of those traits. As mentioned above, he probably has a carbon footprint easily 20-30 times larger than the average family, yet lectures others on how they should stop “wasting” and “abusing” Mother Earth’s resources and fossil fuels.

    Video of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew arriving in a very large Private Jet at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport on October 20, 2009 to attend the Mississippi Environmental Symposium bemoaning the dangers of “drastic global climate change” and the need for “a credible witness of responsibility for the safeguarding of creation.” That Private Jet landing was quite a powerful witness of his commitment to “helping” the environment and “reducing” his own carbon footprint.

    Opening Ceremony of the 8th RSE Symposium, New Orleans, 21/10/2009 11:00
    Stern messages from the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope about the threats to the future of the planet greeted delegates gathering in New Orleans for the eighth symposium of the organisation Religion Science and the Environment. The opening ceremony took place on the bank of the Mississippi, beneath blue skies and in a blustering wind, as barges and pleasure boats passed up and down the river behind.

    His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, speaking less than six weeks before the Copenhagen summit on climate change, declared that this was a defining moment in the human story and we had reached “absolute limits” in our relationship with nature.

    The pollution of great rivers, the destruction of forests, the spread of desertification and catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina were signs that we had lost our balance, and the recovery of balance, in ourselves and in the environment, was “a sacred responsibility to the future”.

    Archbishop Gregory Aymand of New Orleans read to delegates a message from Pope Benedict XVI that was no less urgent. It was time, the Pope said, to reflect soberly on man’s custodianship of nature and to end the “reckless exploitation” of nature.

    Christians everywhere must offer “a credible witness of responsibility for the safeguarding of creation”, and the Pope called on people “to cooperate in every way possible” to preserve the God-given grandeur of the earth.

    “Authentic human development … calls for intergenerational justice and practical solidarity with the men and women of the future, who are also entitled to enjoy the goods which creation, as willed by God, is meant to bestow in abundance upon all,” he said.

    Another message came from former US Vice-President Al Gore, who warned that it had “never been more imperative to act than now”. Speaking of his long association with the man he called the Green Patriarch, Mr Gore said that it was disappointing to see that the bulk of the work they shared still lay ahead. Humanity was struggling to absorb the urgency and scale of the task, and “raising ourselves above the personal interest was harder than we thought”.

    The gathered religious leaders and dignitaries were also addressed by Archbishop Demetrios of the United States who spoke of the appropriateness of gathering in what he called the “ecologically seriously wounded” city of New Orleans.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      I don’t know what else can be said. Meanwhile, I received the latest brochure from ROCOR’s FFA (Fund for Assistance) and saw beautiful pictures of native Christians living in Uganda worshiping simply, reading about priests who have had medical necessities taken care of by the FFA, etc. I guess ROCOR didn’t get the memo about undergoing the ascetic struggle while at the Ritz-Carlton.

  5. Philipa Alan says

    Oh yeah! I know a parish that “borrowed” $220,000 (from willing parishioners) to buy an empty field across the street from the parish so they would always be able to use it for festival parking. Yet, the Temple needs painting, the front signis falling down, the flower beds are nothing but weeds AND the stewardship program support is abominable. Too bad those ‘supportive’ parishioners aren’t willing to tithe so the church could sustain itself. Geesh.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Philipa, too bad they didn’t think about borrowing the money to build a soup kitchen or medical clinic.

  6. Great Job John! I think its horrible that leadership in the GOA is based totally on race and material wealth not service and fidelity to the Gospel. You can do whatever you want but if you are Greek and can write a big check you are immediately a leader. After all there are no poor archons, or archons who founded homeless shelters or run soup kitchens or pregnancy centers. Its all money money money in the GOA along with a good dose of race before Orthodoxy. With each passing day the idolatry continues and there is less and less room for Christian witness.

  7. The EP and the GOA Bishops remind me of Denethor in his hall disconnected from reality while people are struggling and facing death outside. The video says it all.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      There are two GOA’s Andrew. The first is local — good people and good priests despite some big problems. The second is national and even international, the workings of which are hid on the local level but evident to priests. It started with the firing of Abp. Iakovos a decade or so back, and then the installation of Metropolitans who are completely obedient (some might say compliant) to Constantinople. Internally there has been a significant shift, including the punishment and even removal of priests who are not as compliant to their Metropolitans as the Metropolitans are to Constantinople.

      More and more the GOA is under the direct authority of Constantinople through the Metropolitans who function as surrogates. The purpose is to establish the Patriarch of Constantinople as a world-class religious leader, equivalent to the Pope or Patriarch of Moscow. Environmentalism plays a major role in this, as we see with the carefully crafted image of the “Green Patriarch” and the support of policies that don’t differ from the European Socialists he seeks to impress.

      None of this comes without a cost to the local parishes although it is not just money. An increasing authoritarianism has taken hold that makes it increasingly difficult for priests to serve their parishes in independent and creative ways. You are going to start seeing cracks, serious ones I think, especially within the priesthood.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Great video, Andrew!

  8. cynthia curran says

    Well, the patriach should take a cue from the Turks. Turkey economy is growing much faster than Greece. Turkey denationalized several industries and even is planning to built one of the largest canals.

  9. Nick Katich says

    Isn’t this criticism a bit harsh. After all, the Archdiocese has a very active Department of Philantropy. Here is a description of its mandate: Is it not most impressive that in carefully reviewing the Archdiocesan proposed $25,000,000 budget for 2013 and 2014, respectively, they have budgeted $0.00 for the Department of Philantropy and $505,000.00 for “Greek Education and Culture”? Here is the budget: Let’s moderate this criticism in light of these facts!

    • Nick, how sad is it that outreach and evangelism is only 0.9% of the total operating budget for the entire Archdiocese. Philanthropy is indeed ZERO. Way to go 79th Street! Omogenia before Orthodoxy!

  10. According to a June 22 report from Ecumenical News International (ENI), the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been “playing an active role” in concert with the World Council of Churches at Rio+20, “the People’s Summit.” It was called the people’s summit, I think, because the UN brought 45,381 attendees and almost 100 world leaders to Brazil for an event that Greenpeace has described as “an epic failure.”

    “In the end, this conference was a conference to decide to have more conferences,” according to the AP writer who covered Rio+20.

    The AP also noted:

    Some of the biggest issues activists wanted to see in the document that didn’t make it in included a call to end subsidies for fossil fuels, language underscoring the reproductive rights of women, and some words on how nations might mutually agree to protect the high seas, areas that fall outside any national jurisdictions.

    Did the Phanar lodge a formal objection to the “reproductive rights” push? The ENI report doesn’t say. But Russia joined with the Vatican to “eliminate any mention of ‘reproductive rights’ —- a term commonly used to refer to legal abortion—from the final report of the UN conference.”

    What we do know is that the Phanar turned up in Rio with the same talking points on climate change and “unlimited growth” that it’s been using for 20 years.

    Elias C. Abramides of Argentina, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, highlighted that the WCC’s interest in international negotiations on sustainability and environment is based on bringing to the negotiation tables the principles of ethics, equity and justice, according to ENI. “This principled approach has simultaneously guided the WCC’s advocacy on climate change negotiations,” he said.

    Abramides stressed that the ecumenical movement has spoken about sustainable communities and societies rather than talking about sustainable development. “The current development model includes the notion of unlimited growth, which has provoked the current ecological crisis,” he concluded.

    A panel on “Climate Justice: Creation and Responsibility” was also held on June 16 in the Religions for Rights tent. Churches are advocating at the United Nations for “concrete and effective responses to the suffering of the whole creation.” The role of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in preserving the environment and addressing climate change was highlighted.

    Unlimited growth? Here’s a list of 2011 GDP growth rates by nation. Guess which country comes in dead last? Yes, Greece, the nation that has suffered greatly with a contracting economy for years. Does the Phanar know that the Eurozone has been on the brink of a massive fiscal meltdown for months? Here are some significant countries in the ranking: 162, Ireland, 1.1%; 171, Spain, 0.7%; 172, Italy, 0.6%; 174, Cyprus, 0%; 185, Greece, -6%. (the U.S. on this list was ranked at 159, 1.5%).

    Youth unemployment in places like Greece and Spain is hovering around 50 percent (no economic growth, no job creation). Young people are desperate to get out of these countries where their future is bleak. In Greece, people are standing in breadlines. And the Greek statistical agency is forecasting a 6 percent GDP contraction again this year. Tourism is down 12 percent.

    Some 30 percent of Greeks, a proud people, are now living below the poverty line.

    And the Phanar shows up in Rio to deliver lectures about “unlimited growth”?

    • The Phanar seems to be living in a make-believe world defined by leftist ideology, socialist policies, and radical-environmentalist propaganda. Meanwhile he remains mostly silent on the issues of abortion, same-sex civil unions (can’t call it marriage since it violates the very definition of “marriage”), the pro-homosexual agenda brainwashing children and society in general, the assault on religious liberties, especially the persecution of Christians growing in Europe, Canada, and the US, the glorification of euthanasia, and the devastating consequences of moral failures and communist policies by the political class that are destroying families, bankrupting businesses, impoverishing the people, and bringing about the fiscal collapse of entire countries. He sure has his priorities “straight”!

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      The EP, WCC and others on the religious left employ the language of the European Socialist but dress it in religious garb. They live off the wealth of those they disdain for creating it.

      Don’t forget that the Ecumenical Patriarch supported the Copenhagen Protocols which would have put the national economies of Europe under the control of Brussels bureaucrats. That efforts was stillborn when the East Anglia leaks revealed the corruption of global warming advocates. (See: More evidence that the EP’s global warming stance was reckless.) Thank God for a free press.

    • Someone should let the Phanar know that even the godfather of the Global Warming movement, James Lovelock, has criticized the radical elements in the environmental movement who continue to promote climate change hysteria, falsehoods, and “sustainability drivel” while ignoring science and reality.

      Lovelock admits that:
      (a) he had been unduly “alarmist” about climate change and was incorrect about his doomsday predictions due to anthropogenic gas emissions,
      (b) the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion,
      (c) the so-called ‘sustainable development’ … is meaningless drivel … We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant.

      Godfather of Global Warming Criticizes Climate Change Hysteria

      You know it’s bad when the Ecumenical Patriarch promotes such climate change foolishness and “drivel”, while a prominent leader of the environmentalist movement represents the voice of reason and objectivity in the Climate Change debates. Stunningly, Lovelock displays greater moral clarity, wisdom, and insight into the dangers of the fanatical aspects of the Green movement — whose religious overtones and leadership works to undermine Christianity — than an Orthodox hierarch.

  11. cynthia curran says

    Well, Greece could lower some of the high unemployment by being like Isreali deport the illegal immirgants that take jobs away. Granted, that’s not the whole problem. Try more grow programs like nearby Turkey which once was growing at 8 percent granted, Turkey per capita income is still low.

  12. cynthia curran says

    Well, WCC was founded by liberal Protestants why is it that conservative protestans are called heretics but liberal protestants who are a lot more heretics they sometimes don’t even believe in the resurrection of Christ are note.

  13. cynthia curran says

    are not.

  14. Michael Bauman says

    Just read an article in a small local and rural advertising paper called the Rural Messenger. The author commented on the devastation of the western part of the Unitied States brought on by a combination of radical evirnonmentalism, anti-growth governmental policies and bureaucratic ineptitude. They have combined to create a situation that has left much of the west a tinder box full of a lot of tinder as well as greatly reduced means to fight the fires that ensue. Not to mention the destruction of the economies. He perdicted there could well be a massive, multi-state wild fire as a consequence that would be virtually uncontrollable.

    The idea that man does not have dominion over the earth results in things going greatly wrong. The idea that the earth is God’s first is central to that dominion and genuine ascesis. It is never simply the exercise of our own will as the degradation of the Biblical message to many accept would have you believe. I’ll bet one could search quite awhile in the Patriarch’s speeches to find any positive reference to man’s dominion. Whenever we ago against the created hierarchy, we reap disaster for ourselves, but it sure feels good at the time–just ask Eve and Adam.

    Orthopraxis is the way(which includes evangelization), but what the GP is preaching is not it. IMO, it is part of the fruit of 560 years of subjection to Islam that has bread subservience to the state as well as institutional and personal corruption. The abused almost always seeks power and contol over others and in turn abuses those he can.

  15. cynthia curran says

    I think some of the very left thinking of Orthodox leaders goes back to the fact that the Byzantine Empire was a land aristocracy. Poor farmers who fell into debt this was common to the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empires and usually the wealthly brought out the land. The Byzantines sometimes took the property that the wealthy had taken from the poor and return it to the former owners. The Romans by the first century B.C. created colonies from Public Land that the Roman State got in conquest. Corinth was one of these Roman Colonies since the Romans had destroyed the city in the 2nd century and by the first century it was a Roman Colony were Veterans and the Urban Poor were planted to farm the land. Granted, the Romans didn’t solved it with colonies since many of the rural poor had moved to the major cities and were underemployed hence the free grain or reduce grain. The Byzantine emperors which had a lot of farm land in the early years in particular could have given or sold off some of their land to solved the debt farm problem wihout taking from the rich since the emperors and empresses usually had more land or estates than most rich people during most of the empire until the later centuries when the aristocratics did.


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  2. […] author’s name) that describes the ideas of presenters at Patriarch Bartholomew’s recent two-day Halki summit. I find the choice of speakers troubling. You may too. The speakers proceed from premises inimical […]

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