Seas of Change

OUR PLANET 9.5 - Oceans

Seas of Change

His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch,
Bartholomew of Constantinople

THE ECUMENICAL THRONE OF ORTHODOXY, as preserver and herald of the ancient Patristic tradition and of the rich liturgical experience of the Christian Church, witnesses with great sorrow the exhaustion of our planet's biologically rich marine resources. The overexploitation of the world's fisheries and the by-catch of threatened marine species; pollution and eutrophication of coastal waters that are choking the seas; the destruction of coastal habitats, accounting for the loss of productive ecosystems; the invasion of exotic species upsetting the delicate balance of the oceanic web of life; and the change of the global climate that has already been implicated in algal blooms and coral reef destruction. Nowadays the oceans of the world are a sea of tears.

The United Nations initiative to proclaim 1998 as the International Year of the Ocean is to be extolled. We all are, however, aware that one year of international discussions concerning the plight of the oceans is not enough. Long-term international determination, cooperation and action are needed. Support of and adherence to international agreements, such as the United Nations Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, are vital components of any effort to conserve the Earth's seas. Sufficient protection and sustainable management of marine and coastal habitats need to be put into practice. At an individual level, we can all participate in beach clean-ups, make sure that the marine products we use have been sustainably harvested and try to minimize dumping of pollutants from home-based sources.

In our days, few people can deny that the plight facing the Earth's biodiversity is a problem of ethos. It is precisely the quantitative and utilitarian logic currently employed by environmental scientists that has given rise to the environmental crisis. To many people, if the oceans were of no use to humanity, there would be nothing wrong with their current critical state. According to the Patristic and liturgic tradition of Orthodox Christians, this utilitarian mentality is at the heart of the grave problems facing humanity today.

We believe that all efforts to save the natural environment, and the oceans in particular, should be underlined by a profound understanding that this world belongs to God. God created the earth and the sea and 'God saw that it was good' (Gen. 1:10). The Christian tradition attributes special significance to water. The sea is sanctified during the Epiphany when the cross is immersed in the waters. Baptism is performed in water. Also, to many great theologians, such as St. Basil the Great, the beauties and the intricate nature of the seas prove the infinite wisdom of God.

The human person has been appointed as steward to love and live in communion with creation and the Creator. According to the patristic tradition of our Church, the feature that distinguishes the human person from the rest of God's creation is self-determination. This God-given freedom to choose between love and hatred lies at the bottom of the environmental crisis.

The efforts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate aim at stressing the need for a unified approach to the environmental crisis and a sacramental and eucharistic approach to God's creation. Our two major international symposia were held on ships and sailed in two seas: The Aegean (September, 1995) and the Black Sea (September, 1997). Both symposia convened people from various fields: scientists, theologians from all faiths, heirarchs, philosophers, journalists, politicians. It is our wholehearted wish that the actions of the Orthodox Church and the collaboration among all key sectors of society may contribute to the awakening of humanity's dormant sense of responsibility and love towards the creation and the Creator. Let us all pray that global initiatives such as the International Year of the Ocean will bring about a redeeming sea of change for the Earth's troubled oceans.

At the Phanar, March 21, 1998

Your fervent supplicant before God Creator of all, the Ecumenical Patriarch

Complementary articles in other issues:
Fazlun Khalid: Guardians of the natural order (Culture, values and the environment) 1996
Federico Mayor: Crucible for a common ethic (Culture, values and the environment) 1996
Laxmi Mall Singhvi: The East is green (Culture, values and the environment) 1996
Metropolitan John of Pergamon: Ecological asceticism: a cultural revolution (Production and Consumption) 1996

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