When Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople met recently, the encounter was spun in a variety of ways: As an effort to reunite Eastern and Western Christianity; As an attempt to forge a united Christian front vis-à-vis Islam; Eeven as a bid to pool resources to combat runaway secularism in Europe.
What the meeting was not generally seen as -- though it easily could have been -- was an encounter between two outspoken environmentalists, struggling to stir the conscience of the world about a mounting ecological crisis.
While environmentalism has long been a cause more associated with the secular left, the increasingly intense engagement of both the patriarch and the pope, who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as avant garde figures, suggests a broad "greening" of institutional Christianity.
Bartholomew I has become known as "the Green Patriarch" for his environmental leadership. More than a decade ago, Bartholomew first announced on an island in the Aegean Sea that pollution and other attacks on the environment should be considered sins.
In a widely-quoted Venice address in 2002, Bartholomew I urged Christians "to act as priests of creation in order to reverse the descending spiral of ecological degradation." Towards that end, he did not mince words.
"We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources," Bartholomew said bluntly. "Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, 'no' or 'enough,' will we rediscover our true human place in the universe."
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