Conference in Istanbul

Posted on November 1, 2011

Istanbul remains one of my favorite cities anywhere in the world. 

After seeing Pat off to fend for herself in snowy, darkened NH after a glorious week’s vacation in Sicily, I headed to Istanbul for a series of meetings to prepare for an exciting conference SNHU will be hosting here in June 2012.  In co-sponsorship with the Ecumenical Patriarch (head of the Istanbul church and first among equals within the Orthodox faith), the world’s religious leader most outspoken on environemntal issues, we are hosting an invitation-only dialogue of forty global experts and leaders on questions of the environment, ethics, and spirituality.

Jane Goodall (yes, the Jane Goodall) has agreed to be a keynote speaker along with Bill McKibben, a preeminent voice in the environmental cause, and Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Farms.  We also have commitments from the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, MIT and Oxford, the Bishop of London, Strobe Talbott  of the Brookings Institute, the NY Times, the Economist, and the Gaurdian, and business leaders from Coke, Dow, Vodaphone, and others.  Our own Professor Michelle Goldsmith has been instrumental in helping pull this together with representatives of the Patriarchate, mostly the warm and smart Fr. John Chryssavgis, and me.

NPR’s Krista Tippet has agreed to be moderator and we will soon have a call with her and NPR staff to discuss the way the network might broadcast or connect to the event. 

Over the last two days here we have nailed down the hotel, negotiated the agreement, arranged for the logistics and transportation, and generally worked through the myriad details involved with hosting such an event.  It has finally come together after months of work and I am very excited about the event itself, but also for the way it garners SNHU enormous coverage and expands our network.  How it came about is a long story, but the working relationship with the Patriarchate has been very positive and I’ve come to join the legion of admirers of the Patriarch himself as I’ve read his writing on issues of the environment, the relationship of enviromental degradation to social injustice, greed, social inequity, and ultimately of values and morals. 

Saving a planet that is increasingly at risk (does the severity of weather events — a predicted outcome of climate change — surprise anyone?) requires business leaders, policy makers, journalists, conservationists, and others to realize that the widespread, fundemantal changes needed to save the earth for our grandchildren will require a core change in values, whether cast in ethical, spiritual, or religious terms.  Patriarch Bartholomew was named by Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” for “defining environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility.”  This event is designed to start to explore that notion with global leaders in all of the aforementioned fields. 

The actual meeting will take place on the island of Heybeliada, just an hour ferry ride from Istanbul and site of a very famous monestary and school, the Holy Theological School of Helki.  You can see a great 60 Minutes piece on the Patriarch and the school at:  The island itself is charming, with only horse drawn carraiges allowed for transportation, and sweeping views of the Sea of Marmara and entrance to the Bosphorus. 

We wrap up tomorrow, have one meeting with alumni, and head home on Thursday.  One of the delights of meeting at the Patriarchate itself was the private tour we had of the compound.  Best of all was the Churrch of St. George, dating back to the 16th C.  It has a dazzling iconostasis, holy relics, and important icons, including an 11th C icon of St. John that was stunning.  Long before Renaissance painters in Italy mastered the depiction of anatomy and the complexities of depicting drapery, the artist presents a surprisingly lifelike depiction of the saint that seems far more sophisticated than what the period usually produced (those elongated bodies and rigid draperies typical of Byzantine art). 

I love the story of the 4th C. relics, the bones of two saints, removed to Rome in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and finally returned to the Patriarchate 800 years later when Pope John Paul II returned them as part of a larger reconciliation between the churches.  These churches can feel so antiquated to me sometimes, conservative and slow to change, but they think in terms of centuries, not decades.  It’s the long view.  Inthe Patriarch’s reception room everyone of his predecsessors is depicted, a lineage going back to 40 AD and the earliest days of the new faith we’ve come to know as Christianity.  His portrait will join them some day.  Talk about feeling connected!

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