The global ecumenical family is deeply saddened by the death of Elias Crisóstomo Abramides, on 21 October 2019. He was a pioneer and a vital stalwart in the faith community's ongoing struggle to stop climate change. Elias was a founding member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Working Group on Climate Change which emerged from WCC participation in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He continued to be a dedicated and active member of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change, and the ecumenical work on climate change, until his death.
Abramides, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was born into an Orthodox family of Greek origin. His first personal contact with the WCC was a letter he received from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios in March 1990, a letter that included his name as a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate delegation to the WCC 7th Assembly to meet in Canberra in February 1991.
Abramides was invited to participate in the pre-Canberra meeting for the Latin America region in Salvador, State of Bahia, Brazil, in the mid-1990s.
His university degree in chemical sciences, and his work and expertise in environmental studies, were his starting point of respect for the marvels of nature and the environment. His service at the WCC opened for him the gate to meeting and loving the very good creation of God: love, respect and admiration for the life of his neighbours and for all creation.
He was invited to participate in the last four WCC assemblies: Canberra 1991, Harare 1998, Porto Alegre 2006 and Busan 2013. And in the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2011.
After his return to Argentina, Abramides was designated to participate in the local ecumenical movement, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the WCC at the Ecumenical Commission of Christian Churches in Argentina.
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said Abramides will be deeply mourned by the global fellowship, and particularly those who have worked with Abramides for many years on issues related to ecology, Economy of Life, climate change, and care for creation.
“As we say farewell, our hearts are with the many friends and family of Elias Crisóstomo Abramides, who was special and dear to us all,” said Tveit. “We extend our sincere condolences, our assurance of our prayers, and, not least, our vow to continue his faithful work in protecting and caring for creation, and for life on planet Earth, which he regarded as our fragile and bountiful home.”
WCC programme executive for ecumenical continuing formation Rev. Dr Martin Robra said he will remain forever grateful for the leadership of Abramides in the work on the climate emergency. “He has contributed much to the fact that this work could develop and grow into a large network of churches and ecumenical partners,” said Robra. “It was always a joy working with Elias. He truly represented the Orthodox tradition among the friends of the Climate Change Working Group of the WCC and kept close contact with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.”
Georges ‘Yorgo’ Lemopoulos, who served as deputy to five WCC general secretaries in his own ecumenical journey, described Abramides as “an ever smiling, gentle, discreet, knowledgeable and highly appreciated ‘ambassador’ - of his church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate: he was included in several delegations to WCC Assemblies and other important meetings.”
He was also an ‘ambassador’ of the WCC, added Lemopoulos. “He help build and strengthen relationships with UN-related and other international organizations as well as with Roman Catholic partners and has been a faithful friend and precious colleague to many staff of the WCC, being closely associated with programmatic activities of the council.”
Last but not least, Lemopoulos said, Abramides was an ‘ambassador’ of churches in Argentina and Latin America, trusted and respected by his many friends in the country and the region, always surprising his many ecumenical friends as the “exotic” Greek Orthodox who spoke perfect Spanish and represented Latin America with passion.
Joy Kennedy, a member of WCC Working Group on Climate Change, said that the sudden news deeply saddens her heart. “I am grateful to God for having known such a true friend and colleague over many years. We stood together hand-in-hand in the work for climate justice, a proud Latin American in solidarity with all, even this North American counterpart.”
His Orthodox vision and witness to truth and justice was second to none, added Kennedy, and exemplified a genuine spirituality for the long haul.
“Elias faithfully served the WCC ecology and economy team with dedication and meticulous care, always gracious and gentlemanly, yet firm in conviction,” she said. “He was our institutional memory. Now he joins the eternal cloud of witnesses in heaven. Presente, dear Elias Abramides.”
Dr. Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and Food for Life Campaign, said: “We have lost a gentle ecumenical giant, a great champion of the earth and a tireless campaigner against climate change.”
Rev. Henrik Grape, WCC’s senior advisor for care and creation, sustainability and climate justice, said: “Elias was our memory and loving caretaker of the working group. It is a sad day for many of us. Coming from a scientific background, he contributed with a firm ground to understand the basics of climate change end ecological sustainability but he also embraced a spiritual and theological understanding of being a part of the creation that was well rooted in his Orthodox tradition.”
WCC programme executive for economic and ecological justice Athena Peralta said it was no exaggeration to say that Abramides carried with him the entire history of ecumenical engagement in climate justice.
“Until recently Elias served as the co-moderator of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change - a group that he co-founded in 1992. Elias was a man of science, having studied chemistry, but also a man of deep faith. From the very beginning he was of the conviction that climate change is a profoundly ethical, moral and spiritual issue.”
Peralta added that the WCC will sorely miss the archival wisdom, vast experience as well as warm and genteel touch Abramides brought to the ecumenical work for climate justice. “While it is difficult to imagine his absence from the climate conferences, we know that he would wish for us to persevere in our efforts, to sharpen our engagement and to continually bridge science and religion particularly where there is denial of global warming and its destructive impacts,” she said.
Archbishop Job of Telmessos, who serves as permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC, became acquainted with Abramides for the first time at the WCC Assembly in Porte Alegre in 2006. “We have been friends since then,” said Archbishop Job. “I remember him as an active delegate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC. His deep knowledge of science was valuable to the environmental issues. I remember with great emotion his last visit in Geneva last year, as well as corresponding with him last August concerning his last contribution to our newsletter. May his memory be eternal.”
“One of the great gifts that Elias tirelessly offered to the WCC and the ecumenical movement was his beautiful and unique way to combine a high level technical knowledge of the climate change agenda in the system of the United Nations and Orthodox theology”, said Dr Marcelo Schneider, WCC communication officer responsible for coverage of several UN climate summits. “Elias was always ready to remind us that ecumenical advocacy on climate must be rooted in the Gospel imperative of care for God’s creation and that the consequences of such link are at the heart of the One Church since its early years”, added Schneider.