Thursday, April 10, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

St. John Damascene speaks of "the matter which wrought my salvation!"

I am curious what he means here. Is he referring the fact that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? is that the matter which has wrought our salvation? If it is referring to Christ how does it then apply to creation? or does this also refer to the eucharist and other sacraments/mysteries?

V & E said...

I would say St. John of Damascus means either the flesh that the Word became or the cross upon which Christ died, specifically, but more probably he speaks generally of all matter (inclusively). For Christ has put His stamp of approval upon matter as a whole.

He became flesh - matter. He dwelt among us, in a material world. He was baptized in water and crucified on the cross. When He was transfigured on the Mount, it was His flesh that was transfigured, and when He rose from the dead and appeared similarly transfigured (or at least unrecognizable) before the apostles, it was not as a spirit, but as flesh and blood. And when He ascended into Heaven, He took that same matter with Him, and it is as the incarnate Son that Christ sits enthroned on high.

Matter, then, has been sanctified; the stuff of Creation has been taken up into the heavens.

But your intuition is right in that the salvific quality of Creation touches uniquely upon the sacraments, all of which involve matter.

I suspect that the typically Protestant abhorrence for sacrament has to do with a gnostic fear of matter and simultaneous elevation of the spiritual.

- V.

Anonymous said...

Protestants have a number of concerns, but I am not sure there is a gnostic fear of the material. Protestants don't have a problem with the material world - there's nothing wrong with bread and wine, but there's nothing special about it either. The One who is special and unique and holy is Christ Himself and we don't want anything else to rob Him of His glory. Its fine to say that God uses oil to heal for example, but that doesn't mean there is anything special about the oil. It is God who heals.

Protestants read the Scriptures and find that grace is imparted by the Holy Spirit - what is required of the recipient is faith... and so the eucharist and baptism etc. are special only insofar as they point to and reveal Christ. There is no grace in the elements themselves.

A further concern is the thought of Christ being sacrificed again and again. If we are literally partaking of His body and blood the sacrifice never ends. But Hebrews indicates that there is no more sacrifice. It was a once for all sacrifice and Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the way to understand what the Orthodox and Catholic Churches practice in the Eucharist is by first recognizing how Jesus Christ, while entering time and space as a human being, ascended into heaven and is outside of time as God and as a man. He transcends time and space.
In this way Protestants can, in 2008, just as in 1608, believe in Jesus Christ, and can take for their own salvation that sacrifice that occurred on the cross some 2000 years ago. So, in this spiritual way, as v pointed out, the sacrifice is as real today as it was 2000 years ago. We might say then, that the sacrifice is timeless, because it was made for you and me 2000 years before we were born.
When we re-present that same sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist we are transcending time as well, standing at the foot of the cross, doing what Jesus commanded, and it is the power of the Holy Spirit that effects the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In that sacrifice, we are then in communion with Christ, and with all those who have gone before, stepping outside of time.
A good question to ask is this; nevermind the doctrine for a moment, could Jesus do this if he wanted to, that is, change the bread and wine into the substance of his body and blood? And could he do this for all time until he returns? If you think that, as God, he could do it, then the question becomes why do I believe that he didn't? And then further, why did the early Christians believe just as we Catholics and Orthodox believe, that it is in fact the real body and blood of Christ are there, substantially in the Eucharist.
They were willing to die for that belief because one of the charges that was brought against some of the Roman martyrs was cannibalism. The Romans took them at their word apparently. You might think they would defend themselves by explaining that it was only symbolic.
Acually Jesus took the same approach in John 6. When many of the disciples walked away in protest he didn't call them back to explain it in symbolic terms. He let them go and asked the twelve if they were going to leave as well.