Friday, April 25, 2008

Something Beautiful

In keeping with this most holy season, something beautiful:

May God grant you a sober and prayerful close to Holy Week, and a most blessed Pascha.

- V.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keeping Hands & Breath Low, and Eyes Upward

From Ochlophobist:
We live this life between sky and earth; anything which hinders the view of either is a fabrication. When my parents moved to suburban Detroit, and I found myself surrounded by mile after mile after mile of boxes of sameness, I would lie on the asphalt parking lot at the church in front of our parsonage, and stare at the sky, for it is all that I had left, having been taken from hill and field. I had only sky those years, divorced from earth, and therefore from myself. Having learned from this, or rather suffered it, now each place I go I seek a field in order to know the place and myself there. Prairie grass or cotton, one can make something of a life, keeping hands and breath low, and eyes upward. [emphasis mine]
I can't think of anything to improve upon this.

- V.

Is it Orthodox? III

Is it Orthodox to care for the environment? Perhaps we should instead ask if it is Orthodox to venerate an icon, or if it is Orthodox to combat the Gnostic hatred of matter.
The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God. … I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
- St. John Damascene (675-749)
Other quotes from the Fathers:
Creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made and ordered it.
- St. Irenaeus of Lyon (129 –203)

I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go the least plant may bring you a clear remembrance of the Creator. … One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made. … The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. …We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life.
- St. Basil the Great (347-407)

Quotes from: A Cloud of Witness: The Deep Ecological Legacy of Christianity, by Frederick Krueger. (Santa Rosa: Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation, 2002, 4th ed.)

- V.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is it Orthodox? (cont.)

The only people who appear to care about God's Creation as much as Orthodox ought to are the pagans and the environmentalists.

The pagans worship a false god or goddess that cannot save, cannot lead them into all truth. They discern the [good] form that God has made, but are powerless to receive the grace that God wishes to impart to them through that form. The sacramental and the salvific power of Creation are lost to them, because they do know the God Who created and blessed what they worship. I am minded of St. Paul's words: They worship that which they do not know.

The environmentalists (the followers of environmentalism) worship a barren and lifeless ideology that cannot save them from themselves and the corrupting evils of the heart. In the crucible of their ideology they have discovered a strange alchemy whereby abortion, forced sterilization, and euthanasia are good things, cures to the disease of overpopulation. Their love of environment is unmediated by a love for their fellow man, and so the greatest law, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is lost in stewardship enshrined.

[And in the writing of this post I hear and read of such a worshiper who recently made the following remarks in the wake of the death of some sealers: "The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society recognizes that the deaths of four sealers is a tragedy but Sea Shepherd also recognizes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy." This is a perfect illustration of the lovelessness of the religion of environmentalism.

Later in the same article another environmentalist is recorded to have advocated assassinating vivisectionists. Vivisection is morally wrong, but murder will not improve the situation any.]

These faiths are graceless and loveless. Only in Orthodoxy do we have an understanding of why it is we must tend this earth that God has made, steward it carefully, work it respectfully, and heal it by our prayers. We know the true function of this Creation, and that is to be the vessel of God's love to us, the means of humbling ourselves for the betterment of lesser beings as icons of Christ's mercy, and the reciprocation and echo of our jubilant voice of praise to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

- V.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Is it Orthodox to be environmentally-conscious?

I was recently asked if it was Orthodox to care so much for the environment.

I would boldly and unequivocally state that it is very Orthodox to care for the environment, although unOrthodox to be passionate about environmentalism. The "ism" marks the point when an idea, descriptor, or reality is "deified" to the status of false god. Idolatry ensues.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we have a better reason to care for the environment (what Orthodox have traditionally called Creation or the cosmos) than anyone else.

In the beginning, when God created, He called what He had created "good." A solid, unambiguous good, just as the first man and the first woman were also created good. Recently I heard it said that one of the hallmarks of the demonic is a hatred of Creation. Our Enemy hates what God has made, what He has called good, and seeks to despoil it, to despoil us.

The Old Order

When Man sinned (first Eve and then Adam), sin entered the world, the cosmos, through Adam, God-appointed steward of Creation. Through no fault of its own, Creation became fallen and corrupt, and it is for this reason that animal is at enmity with animal and man, and even the inanimate movements of nature (earthquake, tornado, lightning, etc.) are at war with both animal and man. And yet, though fallen, Creation is still good - God does not begrudge it its existence, but wills that it be, and continue to be. [Credit Fr. Stephen]

And as countless generations of men and women lived and died, their sins repeated the first sins of our first parents, and Creation groaned under the weight. Until the Advent of Christ, when all Creation rejoiced, and until Pentecost.

The New Order

In the icon of Pentecost, we see the flames of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, and below them a crowned man who represents the cosmos ... not just "the world", but all of Creation. Through this descent, the Holy Spirit began to restore, through and by the prayers of the God's holy faithful, all Creation to its Edenic, prelapsarian state. This is a process that continues to this day and enjoys its greatest flowering in monasteries and in remote hermitages where holy prayer is constantly lifted to God. Here we see a tsunami rebuked (St. Herman), a bear living in harmony (St. Seraphim), and other supranatural phenomena.

And sometimes there is no monastery or hermitage, just a holy man - whose heart has been made a temple of unceasing prayer - who reveals a fundamental, God-given peace and reconciliation between himself and Creation. Here the Holy Spirit is at work.

However, it is not just in the wonders of the thaumaturges or the monastic gardens that we see the Holy Spirit restoring and healing Creation. The Holy Spirit makes use of the matter that surrounds us to bless, heal, and sanctify the people of God . Where God mediates His grace through physical Creation, we identify this as "sacrament" or "sacramental." Water becomes the laver of regeneration. Bread and wine become the medicine of immortality. Oil becomes sacred chrism or instrument of healing. Pigment and binder become windows into heaven.

And still more things are brought into the Church to celebrate the feasts and to be yet another source of blessing to us. Greens are brought in at Pentecost, eggs at Pascha, flowers on Holy Friday, willows on Palm Sunday, etc.

As the Church year progresses, over and over again the sacramental (and therefore salvific) role of Creation is liturgically taught. We learn from the Church that all of Creation has the potential to become sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the saints. And so the Church reveals to us the true beauty and potency of Eden, where all the cosmos becomes vessel for the Holy Spirit and bestower of God's grace.

The Contest

And so we come to the present, where the age-long demonic hatred of man, of family, of Church, and of Creation is naked and brutally active. In a nation where the blood of the innocents is shed, where God and His bride are mocked and derided, where family are endlessly torn and riven, we should expect to see poison poured into the rivers and perversions of nature sown in our fields. We should expect to see the earth paved over, the heavens obscured by bright lights and concrete monoliths, and the masses enticed away from the God-given and Spirit-blessed countryside and drawn into the desert of the city.

This is a contest where the Evil One will make use of any greed or lust to harm everything that God has proclaimed good.

And here we stand, the people of God, powerful Davids before the empty might of the Goliaths of our age (big industry, materialism, Mammonites, etc.), who rage and roar with demoniac loathing the barren mantras of their masters. And as we are fully present in our lives, it is our calling and our duty to rebuke the evil, to reclaim the good, to sanctify, bless, heal, restore, redeem ... to fix the brokenness around us in all its forms. And I would assert that that would include rejecting plastic, combating the acquisitive spirit of materialism, planting a garden, shunning GE perversions, and returning ourselves to a simpler sustainable future-friendly unselfish manner of living.

- V.