The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1
We have called this symposium the Mirror of Life, because scientists tell us that the Arctic is a stark and vivid reflection of the state of the planet as a whole. The ecological misdeeds committed by societies further south, such as chemical contamination or nuclear radiation, are clearly visible in parts of the Arctic environment. Above all, the dramatic rise in global temperatures is having a palpable effect on the landscape of Greenland, even though it has not been caused by anything the Greenlanders have done. The societies whose industrial activities and extravagance do cause climate change are often blind to the consequences of their behaviour. But here, in the polar region, it is possible to see all manner of things much more clearly.
The idea of a mirror as a reflection of reality, which may be relatively accurate or inaccurate, is familiar to Christians. No man-made device is perfect, and in the earliest days of the Christian faith, man-made mirrors were much cruder than they are today. That is why Saint Paul warns us that in our present, fallen state, we can only see the world "in a mirror, in a puzzle" - or as one famous translation puts it, we observe reality "through a glass, darkly". (1 Corinthians 13:12) In the same verse, Saint Paul offers us the hope that one day we will see far more clearly: we will stand "face to face" before the glory of God, and hence have a complete understanding of everything else. We will finally realise where we stand in relation to our Creator.
Saint Paul's words refer to the spiritual hope of a Christian, that the glory of God will be fully visible to human beings. But they take on a new meaning for any human being who comes to Greenland. The Arctic is not a crude, man-made mirror; it is a brilliant and powerful one, given to us by God. Its silent beauty offers one brilliant reflection of the glory of God – while the abundance of life in the Brazilian rainforest, which we had the privilege of observing last year, offers another. At the same time, the climatic changes now taking place in the Arctic, and the contamination of certain parts of its food chain, are an accurate and unavoidable image of human thoughtlessness. When we visit this island or sail along its coast, we cannot hide our eyes, either from the beauty of God's creation or from the changes which human folly has already caused, and may cause in the future, to this pristine place. Nor can we avoid pondering the terrible consequences for the remainder of the world, if glaciers continue to melt and sea-levels continue to rise.
Reproduced with permission from Religion, Science and the Environment
For more addresses and texts by Ecumenical Patriarch, see J. Chryssavgis (editor), On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.
- What do you think the mirror of creation shows us about ourselves?
- How can we be more aware of the damage caused in other parts of the world by our own actions here?
- In what ways can we be blinded by our own behaviour and actions?