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The first Symposium, in the series of Religion, Science and the Environment Symposia took place in September 1995 and was held under the auspices of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, President of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The Symposium was part of the celebration of the 1900th anniversary of the vision granted to St John the Theologian, recorded under the name of ‘Apocalypse’ or ‘Revelation’. Few prophecies have had more impact on later generations than this record of God’s purpose revealed to man on a small Aegean island.

Religious leaders, scientists, philosophers, economists, artists and policy makers convened to examine the relationship between religion, science and the environment. Both Religion and Science had sensed the urgency of resolving the global issue of environmental degradation and its physical and moral implications. Science had brought to the fore the parameters and the threatening dynamics of the situation. The Orthodox Church had come to appreciate the fact that this may represent one of the major moral issues of modern humanity.

It took the symbolism of the Apocalypse, the vision of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the energies of the people involved to initiate a major break. At this coming together of the two major institutions, Religion and Science, it was perceived that without each other, the prospects of a change of soul would not be forthcoming. A credible central nucleus of committed people was created without geographical, religious, social or political boundaries, bringing commitment, ideas, values, attention and promise. Now, as a result, cooperating concentric circles exist: the Patriarchate, the Religious and Scientific Committee and a network of participants including representatives of the world’s media.

Metropolitan John of Pergamon set the scene at the Symposium, when he declared in his opening statement:

We are used to regarding sin mainly in anthropological or social terms, but there is also sin against nature…The solution of the ecological problem is not simply a matter of management and technicalities, important as these may be. It is a matter of changing our very world-view. For it is a certain world-view that has created, and continues to sustain, the ecological crisis.

During the Symposium, representatives of religions (of different creeds) were exposed for days to the views and findings of scientists, business leaders and politicians, who listened and tried to come to terms with the consideration of metaphysics and morality in relation to pragmatic issues. It provided a unique forum in which people had the opportunity to express sometimes deep frustrations to senior politicians and those in authority. Where else would such an opportunity arise?

It was no coincidence that the symposium was held at sea aboard a boat. Today’s environmental crisis is apparent in the present state of the world’s oceans. Covering about 70% of the world’s surface, the oceans are a rich source of food, energy, minerals and medicines, which is growing in importance as terrestrial resources are becoming more scarce. The scientific evidence shows clearly that human influence on the marine environment is both extensive and increasing. The influence of human activities is felt from the most isolated beaches contaminated with oil and plastic litter to the ocean depths, which are used as dumping grounds for wastes we cannot or will not dispose of on land. In the Book of Revelation, St John urges humanity to ‘hurt not the earth, neither the seas’ (Revelation, 7:3). This anniversary provided a historic occasion to integrate current scientific knowledge and the spiritual approach to water, which is a sacred element for most of the world’s religions.


OUTCOMES

The wide-reaching nature of the Symposia, make a comprehensive listing of outcomes impossible, they cannot and should not be reduced to a calculation of inputs and outputs only, however, some examples of resulting projects and partnerships are listed below:

A lasting legacy
This event was not a simple or short-term process. It was merely the beginning of the Symposium series, which has continued to attract a variety of committed people – a community or network that recognises the value and potential of an integrated approach toward global environmental stewardship, particularly an approach that has an ethical foundation to which religious institutions can contribute so much.

Environmental Programme
A collaboration between Dr Luc Hoffman of the MAVA Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which came about through the presence of both at the Symposium, led to the launch of a WWF Wetlands Conservation Programme in Greece.

During the Symposium seven ‘Patmos Proposals’ (attached) were recommended in order to guide future actions and initiatives.