The 1995 Symposium on the Book of Revelation and its meaning for Today

As many of you will know I was asked to be part of the initial Holy Gardens of Patmos Project team earlier this year, with a goal to examine the situation for animals on the island and how they might fit into this wider project. This brief article by another of the attendees, Fred Krueger, gives context to our explorations on the theme. Final comments by CN.

As background to our 2019 exploration of the potential for a model development for the world, it is helpful to recall that in 1995 religious leaders gathered from around the world to examine the relevance of the Book of Revelation for our present global environmental predicament.

In 1995 on the 1900 year anniversary of the Book of Revelation, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew together with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, president of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, convened a week long symposium on The Book of Revelation and its meaning for the world today. They brought together over 200 scientists, religious leaders, philosophers, economists, artists and government officials to examine the nexus of religion and the environment.

In this examination of The Book of Revelation, religious leaders saw that at the climax of the New Testament, there is no conclusion but only an opening to the work of the Holy Spirit in the future and the promise of a new creation. There is the promise of a new heaven and a new earth; a new community in a holy city. There is a river of life and a tree with leaves for the healing of nations. St. John’s vision is of a united human family – of every nation and kindred singing a new song.

In his opening remarks Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pointed out: “We desire not only a pollution free world, but a ‘healing of nations…’ Our common future depends on developing a way to perceive and participate in the world, which will complement the analytical approach with an ecological awareness of entities in their various relationships…. The work which lies ahead for us is to translate this world community, which exists as an object under threat into a subject of promise and hope.”

Representing a Roman Catholic perspective His Eminence Roger Cardinal Etchegary, in his paper, “The Apocalypse… A New Genesis,” provided a conclusion: “It cannot be repeated too often that the Revelation to John describes not the end of the world, but quite the contrary, the new creation of the world.” He continues, “It is important to underline that the new Creation does not define itself by a sort of ascension to heaven of redeemed humanity, and therefore by the disappearance of the earth, but on the contrary, by a solemn descent to earth. ‘I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men…’ (Revelation 21:2,3).

From the Anglican Church, the Rt. Reverend and Right Honorable Richard J Chartres, Bishop of London, added these insights. “We ought to note that the vision is the coming of the eternal world with people from ‘every tribe and tongue and nation,’ participating in the reign of God. They shall not live as mere subjects but ‘the Lord God shall give them light and they shall reign for ever and ever.’ “For what it is worth, in reading and re-reading Revelation I feel my own agenda shifting, my complacency judged, my sense of urgency intensified and my hope enlarged of a world community in harmony with creation, assembled by the Spirit of God and flowing from the Resurrection of the One who spoke to John like the voice of ‘many waters.’”

Metropolitan John of Pergamon added another theme in his statement: “We are used to regarding sin mainly in anthropological or social terms, but there is also sin against nature, since evil upsets the created order as a whole. 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 world view. For it is a certain world view that has created and continues to sustain the ecological crisis.”

These insights by the assembled religious leaders reflect the evidence of the worsening state of the environment and its grim implications for the future. Religion, with its access to moral and symbolic dimensions, can espouse the imperative of scientific observation and endow society with a new vision that can lift science from its isolation as a social force and promote it into a materially-based pillar of moral and spiritual existence.

The Patmos Principles

The symposium recommended seven ‘Patmos Proposals’ to guide future actions and initiatives taken by individual participants. In response to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s invitation to participate in the symposium Revelation and the Environment, participants produced the following proposals in response to the growing concern for the future of the world’s environment. The participants believe that in his support for the symposium, the Patriarch can act as a leader, not just in his, but for other religions, to encourage global environmental awareness crucial to achieving a sustainable environment on earth.

1. A New Sense of Sin All religions affirm as an imperative, the need to care of the Earth and the whole of nature. To pollute the environment or not to take care of it should be seen as sin. This new sense of sin extends beyond what has been traditionally considered wrong.

2. Recognise and support the rights of traditional communities This involves recognising that indigenous peoples are the architects and stewards of sustainable management, the guardians, and in the case of crop plants and animals, the creators of biodiversity; we urge churches, scientists and environmentalists to support the cause of indigenous peoples and traditional communities throughout the world.

3. Recognize the lack of environmental knowledge At many levels of society, the Church should encourage the development and implementation of education programs for audiences from all schools (including Sunday Schools) to adult (including seminary).

4. An Exchange of Information between Church, science and society Recognising that the improvement of information exchange between Church, NGOs and government on environmental matters is of crucial importance, the Church should encourage efforts at planning, collaboration, and co-operation whenever and wherever possible.

5. Establish clear leadership The Church should take positive steps in establishing sustainable and environmentally-friendly land-use practices, resource use and investments

6. Recognize the role of the world’s media The world’s media play a vital role in promoting awareness of environmental issues. The Church should encourage the media to feature environmental issues on earth.

7. The urgency of environmental problems Recognising the urgency of the Earth’s environmental problems, projects promoting the Patmos Proposals are of utmost urgency.

At the end of the Symposium, participants joined in to a large planting of trees around the island.

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Jump forward 25 years and we shall see that despite the efforts of the Church, many of those in power, both in the church and outside of it, have failed to rise to the challenge. We are now in a grave situation because of the collective failures of many, despite the numerous warnings from the scientists, many in our churches and from elsewhere.

I have advocated that ‘priests’ of all faiths, imitate St Amphilochios of Patmos who gave those who came to confession, the task of planting a tree and caring for it for two years. This was shared on our FB page and reached over 30K. Imagine if just half of those planted a tree and if just some of our priests followed his vision.

There are now calls for reforestation projects around the world and i would like to see one on Patmos. I have also suggested to several groups, mayoral candidates and NGOs, a ‘Citizen Forest Initiative’ with local boroughs/mayors and church groups making land available for their citizens/parishioners to plant trees in order to save ourselves, our children and grandchildren, along with the rest of God’s beautiful creation. Let us pray and ask for God’s help with our work. Dr. Chris

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