In 2018 we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. In order to create a lively firsthand account of the ecumenical fellowship and of our shared journey, member churches have contributed stories of people, events, achievements and even failures, all of which have deepened our collective search for Christian unity.
This story was written by Elias Crisóstomo Abramides of Argentina, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the World Council of Churches.
Buenos Aires is my home city, where I was born into an Orthodox family of Greek origin. From a very young age I have actively contributed and served in different programmes and activities of my local church. In writing a story for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), I am writing the story of my life.
Archbishop Iakovos (born Dimitrios Koukouzis) was born on the island of Imbros, Turkey, in 1911. In 1954, upon the recommendation of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, Iakovos was elected Bishop of Melita and was appointed as the first permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC where he had a profound effect on the relations of the WCC with the Orthodox Church. He also served in the WCC as president for North America.
In 1959, he was elected archbishop of North and South America and was based in New York. Argentina was part of that large archdiocese, and he frequently visited Buenos Aires, meeting our churches, our communities and our families. Archbishop Iakovos resigned from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America in 1996 and passed away in 2005.
In 1996, the Ecumenical Patriarchate created the new Archdiocese of America, the Metropolis of Canada, the Metropolis Buenos Aires and South America, and the Metropolis of Mexico, Central America and Islands of the Caribbean.
By the end of the 1980s I firmly decided to serve my church, offering my experience and knowledge in the care and protection of the environment based on my university degree and professional work, and on my Christian faith, ethics and perspective. The answer came from the Phanar some months later.
My first personal contact with the WCC was the letter I received from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios in March 1990, including my name as member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate delegation to the WCC 7th Assembly to meet in Canberra in February 1991. I accepted that high honour and subsequently I was invited to participate in the pre-Canberra meeting for the Latin America region in Salvador, State of Bahia, Brazil, in mid-1990.
In Salvador began the story of my new life, a life that confirmed my will and my commitment to fervently protect the “very good Creation of God”. My university degree in chemical sciences, my work and expertise in environmental studies were my starting point of respect for the marvels of nature and the environment. My service at the WCC opened for me the gate to meeting and loving “the very good Creation of God”: love, respect and admiration for the life of my neighbours and for all creation. Justice, solidarity, equity, dedication, peace, love for the other being were the path to follow in protecting and caring for creation, and finally for life on planet Earth, our fragile and bountiful home.
I 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 (IEPC) in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2011.
The 7th Assembly’s theme left a strong impact on my mind and on my life: “Come, Holy Spirit – Renew the Whole Creation”. I served in its section I: “Giver of Life – Sustain Your Creation!”, and its report analysed and covered main themes: “Theology of Creation: Challenge for our Time” and “Toward an Ethic of Economy and Ecology” deeply rooted in our current activities and programmes.
At the assembly I met Metropolitan Bartholomew of Chalcedon and Archbishop Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, as well as the Rev. Dr Emilio Castro, the Rev. Fr Georges Tsetsis, the Rev. Dr Wesley Granberg-Michelson, Dr Lukas Vischer, the Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega, the Rev. Dr Hector Mendez and so many other memorable notables.
In November 1991, His All-Holiness Bartholomew was elected archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. In December 1991, the Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to the WCC proposal and I was designated commissioner of the “WCC Unit III on Justice, Peace and Creation”. On 12 December I was in Geneva attending the “4th Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. Since that moment, the story flows smoothly and irreversibly.
The first Earth Summit, the historical “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development: UNCED”, met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. The “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: UNFCCC”, was signed there, among others.
The founding of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change took place during the 1992 UNCED meeting, while we were also participating in the ecumenical conference: “Searching for a New Heaven and a New Earth”, organized and conducted by the WCC at the Baixada Fluminense, a Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood.
After my return to Argentina I 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: CEICA.
My service also took me to monitor the admittance of the following churches as WCC full members: Iglesia Cristiana Bíblica (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1997); Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (Barranquilla, Colombia, 2005); Iglesia Metodista de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2005); and Igreja Presbiteriana Independente do Brasil (São Paulo, Brasil, 2008).
The first UNFCCC Conferee of the Parties (COP1) - also called United Nations Climate Change Conference - met in Berlin in 1995. Every year a COP meets in a different country. In 2017 the COP met in Bonn, Germany, under the presidency of the Republic of Fiji. Since the UNCED in 1992 and COP1 in 1995 the WCC has sent a delegation to all the COPs. I have participated in all of them with one exception, being at present the WCC designated contact point to the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.
It is vital to keep struggling against the aggressions to God’s Creation, however much more is at stake. Respect for creation and human beings as God’s children, is the indispensable precondition for a meaningful struggle against environmental degradation and climate change. We need to recognise and accept the intimate ethical and deeply religious implications of climate change. It is a matter of justice, it is a matter of ethics, of solidarity and equity, and it is a matter of love: love for God the Almighty, love for our neighbour, and love for creation.
The WCC has centred its attention on climate change since 1988. We remember the names of the pioneers and followers who struggled to create awareness on this issue among the churches, and among the members of the global civil society, creating fellowship among the great world religions: Dr Lukas Vischer, the Rev. Dr Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Dr David G. Hallman, the Rev. Dr Emilio Castro, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, the Rev. Dr Martin Robra, Dr Guillermo Kerber, Dr Athena Peralta, and at present the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, are special landmarks in this worldwide saga.
And the names of the personalities during my new life continue: Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima; nuclear fighter Mr John Taroanui Doom; Patriarch of Alexandria Petros VII; Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa; Pope Francis; Cardinal Walter Kasper, of Germany; Ms Chiara Lubich of Italy; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams of the United Kingdom; Ambassador Dr Raul Estrada Oyuela of Argentina; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; Archbishop Elder Camera of Recife, Brazil; Nobel Prize Rigoberta Menchú of Guatemala; Nobel Prize Wangari Maathai of Kenya; Leonardo Boff of Brazil; Catholicos Karekin I; Catholicos Karekin II; Catholicos Aram I Keshishian; President Fidel Castro; King Mohammed VI of Morocco; UNFCCC executive secretaries: Mr Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, Ms Joke Waller-Hunter, and Mr Yvo de Boer of The Netherlands; Ms Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica; president of the I.R. of Iran Mohammad Khatami; supreme leader of the I.R.I. Ali Khamenei of the I.R. of Iran. And so many other wonderful people: men and women, young and old, who left an impact on me and on my life and deeds.
Serving in the WCC, the most important centre of the ecumenical movement, and learning and sharing with an open heart filled with love for our neighbour and for creation, have given me the unique opportunity to understand how our neighbours live around the world, and the real life challenges they meet day after day. In this way I learned how to feel and understand other people, perceiving that we always receive much more than what we give. It created and still creates fellowship and hope, the Christian hope that keeps us on the good path and accompanies us along our way. Real happiness is felt by serving and caring for the “other”, feeling and enriching our spirit with Christian faith and harmony.
My life was transformed, and I affirm this transformation is the brightest event in the history of my life, being a profound metamorphosis that has made strong impression on my conduct and relations with my local and overseas environment, with my church community and my family and friends. It started when my church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, invited me to participate in the life of our splendid community: the World Council of Churches.
During the joyous celebration of the World Council of Churches’ 70th anniversary, all these thoughts and images come to my mind and stay at centre of my conscience, and deeply in my heart. They will remain there as cheered treasures of “A Story of Life”, my life.
Thank you very much.