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.


Anonymous said...

Whenever I am confronted with environmental issues St. Seraphim always seems to come to mind - in fact, every time I go to step on a spider or to take out a fly I remember St. Seraphim and how dearly he cherished all life.

I am not all surprised to hear that Orthodox are environmentally conscious.

If the mysteries/sacraments take “material things and makes them a vehicle of the Spirit” (T. Ware) than I would expect that God could take any element and make it a vehicle of the Spirit...

Against the heresy of Gnosticism, Scripture teaches that the individual is saved (or condemned) in body and soul. In fact, Scripture says that the “human person is a unity of body and soul.” Rather than arbitrarily dividing the spiritual from the material, it is best to understand the two as parts of a whole. And this of course explains the place of material things in the mediation of grace...

And there is something mysterious (and special - understatement?) taking place as people gather to participate in the Eucharist for example... but I wouldn't think this would be confined to the Eucharist only - I would think that the whole of creation is a vehicle of the Spirit -and something therefore to be cherished and cared for and celebrated... if I understand Eastern Orthodoxy than I would think that Orthodox Christians - of all people - should be deeply concerned with the environment.

Am I right?

V & E said...


Thanks for the quote from Bp. Kallistos (Ware). I am no theologian, so it is always nice to have my assertions supported (or even echoed!) by those who are.

I think that you have intuited the heretical undergirdings for despising or neglecting God's Creation. It is profoundly Gnostic to despise the material things of this world, the dust from which we are made. Further, Gnosticism is a denial of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, for it is in the Incarnation that we see God not only proclaiming the goodness of material form, but sanctifying it and hallowing it through the Person of Jesus Christ.

Which seems to leave me arguing that a failure to care for Creation is a denial of the Incarnation.

(I can't wait to hear what Vic will say.)

- V.

elizabeth said...

of course the church only has three theologians... St John, St. Gregory and St. Symenon the new


just had to mention...

V -- i enjoy your earnestness and thoughtfulness. :)

V & E said...


Point taken. I should have said either that I was no student of theology or that I hadn't made the study of theology my hobby.

And we very much enjoy having you over here. I trust your job search is going well?

- V.

LifeSpark said...

You've drawn me out with your comment V!

I couldn't agree more that to denigrate creation constitutes a denial of the Incarnation. It's equally unfortunate, I think, when people go in the other direction and begin to worship creation. To wit, the below article which contains this gem of a quote from Paul Watson, an anti-sealing activist:

"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."

How's that for misanthropic weirdness? This same genius has described humanity as a disease and he proved too radical for the Sierra Club and Greenpeace (of which he is a founder).

I think these kinds of views are directly related to the fall in that they constitute a disordered relationship with creation. On the one hand some wish to profane creation by abusing it and attacking the image of God meant to appear there. On the other hand we have the Paul Watsons of the world who wish to worship creation over the creator and perpetuate the problem of the Fall.

Here's the article:

V & E said...

How ironic.

I was just writing a follow-up post addressing the worship of Creation. This joker seems to be saving me the bother.

- V.

Anonymous said...

I think one's perspective on Creation itself is critical to environmental concerns. Generally, I agree with your conclusions, although perhaps not how you got there. I have taken up the what I think is at issue on my own blog here;

I look forward to any response.