Norwegian environment prize goes to Orthodox Christian leader

OSLO, Norway - The Sophie Prize for 2002 was awarded Thursday to the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, for his environmental efforts.

The dlrs 100,000 environment prize was created in 1997 by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and his wife, Siri Dannevig. It is named after Gaarder's book "Sophie's World," a philosophy-based novel that became a surprise global best seller. The prize is intended to encourage work for the environment and sustainable development.

The award committee praised the Istanbul-based religious leader's efforts to protect the environment with teachings that include defining crimes against nature as sinful.

"Through his leadership, he has managed to increase the environmental awareness of 300 million members of the Orthodox Church," awards committee chairman Elin Engen said in announcing the prize.

She also said he has encouraged the leaders of other world religions to do the same.

Bartholomew's Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453. The patriarchate has remained based in predominantly Muslim Turkey, even though the country only has a few thousand Orthodox Christians.

Bartholomew also is the spiritual leader of 14 autonomous Orthodox churches, including those of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

The religious leader is to accept the award at a June 12 ceremony in Oslo, the Norwegian capital.

Last year, the prize went to the anti-globalization organization ATTAC — the Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens.