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Orthodox Church Leader Embraces Change
The spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christianity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, urged a Georgetown audience today to consider the importance of nonviolence, health care and protection of the environment.

Bartholomew said in his Nov. 3 speech "A Changeless Faith for a Changing World," that the Orthodox Church does not side with liberal or conservative causes; it simply addresses the environment, health care, a dedication to nonviolence and other issues through the lens of Christianity.

"It may appear strange for a progressive think tank to sponsor a talk by the leader of a faith that takes pride in how little it has changed in 2,000 years," the patriarch explained, referring to the talk's other sponsor, the Center for American Progress. "…. But even though our faith may be 2,000 years old, our thinking is not. …Christianity was born a revolutionary faith and we preserved that. In other words, paradoxically we have succeeded in not changing the faith that is itself dedicated to change."

John Podesta (L'76), president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and a visiting professor at the Law Center, introduced Bartholomew.

"The presence of a leader who has worked not only for reconciliation of the Roman and Orthodox churches but also towards a broader dialogue with Jews and Muslims, signals that we can and we must unite in pursuit of both a better understanding of God's planet and a more progressive order in the society that we create," Podesta said.

Bartholomew told the audience in Georgetown's historic Gaston Hall that Christ had "new and radical ideas" about nonviolence in the face of evil, caring for others and loving the world God created.

Having recently convened his eighth international environmental symposium of scientists, policymakers and theologians in Mississippi, the patriarch called for ecological responsibility and advocated self-control and reducing consumption.

"If human beings treated one another's personal property the way they sometimes treat their environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social," said Bartholomew, who has led the church for 18 years. "We would impose the judicial measures necessary to restore wrongly appropriated personal possessions. It is therefore appropriate for us to seek ethical and even legal recourse where possible in matters of ecological crimes."

On nonviolence, he noted that Russian author Leo Tolstoy, an Orthodox Christian, wrote a book called "The Kingdom of God Is Within You" in 1894 that inspired Ghandi, who in turn inspired Martin Luther King Jr. He noted that Iakovos -- Orthodox archbishop of North and South America -- appeared with King and supported the civil rights movement.

Regarding health care, he said the emperor of Constantinople and the Orthodox Church created the first "hospitals" -- free and designed for the public good.

"It is clear that we owe the Byzantines the development of the modern institutions we call hospitals," he said. "But what may be more important, we owe to them the view that every member of society from the greatest to the least deserve the best quality health care at that time. This is obviously relevant today, and as the United States debates the best way to provide health care for its citizens we hope and pray that the Byzantine Orthodox approach provides a model…"

Rev. Constantine White, Georgetown's Orthodox chaplain at Georgetown, called the speech "very inspiring" for Orthodox Christians at the university, including the student Orthodox Christian Fellowship Group as well as faculty and staff.

"He really brought in Orthodox thinking and Orthodox belief into [his speech]," White added. "And he has really has become well-known -- he's been referred as the ‘green' patriarch -- in respect to the responsibility of Christians to take care of the environment."

Diana Apostolos-Cappadona​, adjunct professor of religious art and cultural history in the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said that the most important parts of Bartholomew's speech were "reaching out to what you and I would call social justice issues, which is not the norm for Eastern Christianity but has been the norm of his patriarchy. "

"I think he wove together very carefully scriptural references and patristic themes, particularly about the sacredness of the earth and the singularity of our roles as caretakers of the earth," she said.

-- Nancy Robertson

(November 3, 2009)
"If human beings treated one another's personal property the way they sometimes treat their environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social. We would impose the judicial measures necessary to restore wrongly appropriated personal possessions." -- Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

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