Dr. Tracy Gustilo joins Ecumenical Patriarch at ecological summit in Turkey

For the sake of worldwide cooperation and conversation about pressing environmental issues, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew hosted the third Halki Summit in Istanbul, Turkey from May 31 to June 4, 2019. Halki III brought together distinguished representatives of Orthodox theological schools and seminaries from all over the world—some fifty delegates from over forty institutions, including St. Vladimir’s Seminary—to focus on the theme of “Theological Formation and Ecological Awareness.” Prominent environmental theologians from Roman Catholic and Protestant churches also participated.

Dr. Gustilo with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BartholomewDr. Gustilo with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BartholomewPresentations and discussions were focused on the importance of curriculum and theological education for addressing present-day ecological concerns. His All-Holiness Bartholomew addressed the summit to encourage its work, and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon set the tone with an opening meditation on eucharistic liturgy. High-level presentations that followed included discussion about the role of wisdom in creation theology, the importance of understanding humans to be part of creation (and not just individual agents surrounded by an “environment”), liturgy, and the role of scripture study, the natural sciences, and whole-institution involvement. The second day of the summit brought a lively set of presentations on everything from an important World Council of Churches (WCC) initiative for greening parishes to raising awareness of food culture, to the influence monasteries can have through farming as outreach, hospitality, and spiritual care.

There was much interest from all participants to bridge from theology into practice, and to work across the curriculum of theological schools, rather than just add a single course or elective. Orthodox liturgical and spiritual traditions are uniquely positioned to address the deep (and spiritual) roots of climate change, threats to the ecological health of the planet, its ecosystems, and species, and the resulting injustice to the poor, refugees, and indigenous peoples.

The challenge now is to bring our theology to bear by collaborating with other Christian churches and religious traditions, and with non-religious organizations and scientific experts, to prepare clergy, church leaders, and the laity in parishes to play a much greater part in addressing complex problems. These problems will find no solution without spiritual and religious motivation and guidance. The world has long been watching — and waiting — for the Church to take an active role and visible leadership in addressing global concerns.

His-All Holiness, “The Green Patriarch,” has led the way for thirty years, but he expressed grief that so much remains to be done. He is looking to seminaries and theological schools to step up their attention and focus.

To that end, I chaired the session on eco-theological curriculum. I also shared about the Seminary’s Vision 2020 initiative and the student-led (and very active) St. Herman Society for Orthodox Ecology on campus. Significantly, I wasn’t the only person representing St. Vladimir’s at the summit. My fellow faculty member Dr. Gayle Woloschak also took part, as did current Doctor of Ministry student Nathan Hoppe and Alumni Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dn. Alexander Calikyan, and Bogdan Neacsiu.

Following Halki III, a working group is being formed to continue the conversation specifically in terms of seminary education.