Chris Smith reminds us of the not-so-obvious in his short essay, “The Orthodox Church And Ecology” at Conciliar Post: Three legged tables crash when we slice off the third leg. Knives, forks, spoons, coffee cups, and plates splatter all over the floor along with the vase with the flowers. It’s an embarrassing mess.
Yet Western Christians constantly re-set their tilted tables without fixing the leg. Protestants and Roman Catholics show dim awareness of their incense-swinging Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Maybe we’re allergic to the smells and bells or we’re thrown off by the skewed calendar and all those icons. Perhaps the church spires remind us of the monster mushrooms haunting our childhood dreams. And all that mysticism: It seems vaguely yoga-like and … mystical. Our Sunday school teachers warned us against mysticism. It’s “unorthodox.”
But that can’t be. They’re “Orthodox.” Christianity’s landmark councils churned out creeds in cities like Nicaea, Ephesus, Constantinople, and Chalcedon – all in the Roman Empire’s Greek-speaking eastern half, a veritable fulcrum of stability while Goths and Visigoths sacked cities while Vandals vandalized in the West. Eastern Orthodox Christians revere Church Fathers like Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John of Damascus, whom the Vatican certified as “saints.” Their creeds are our creeds; their heroes are our heroes; their calendar is … not our calendar, but nobody’s perfect.
Maybe it’s time we hammer in that third leg so we can set the table together. We’ll see things through Orthodoxy’s eyes and obtain a fuller vision.
Smith says the Eastern Church views all creation as sacramental and “eucharistic,” which is why Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said this in his 1997 speech in Santa Barbara, California: “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.”
An Orthodox Christian worldview is essentially an ecological worldview. Rather than shunning materiality, Orthodox Christians embrace it, albeit within what is deemed an appropriate Christian perspective. The world and the body are not seen as irrelevant matter from which we are to escape in order to ascent to heaven; rather the belief in the resurrection of the body along with the belief that the entire earth will participate in the final salvation of the world show that what God creates matters.
He quotes the patriarch again: “An Orthodox Christian perspective on the natural environment derives from the fundamental belief that the world was created by a loving God…so the entire world contains seeds and traces of the living God.” He cites Anesti G. Keselopoulos in underscoring how God merged spirit and matter through Christ’s incarnation and transfiguration:
The Incarnation of God the Word marks the entry of the Holy Spirit into matter, while His transfiguration manifests the consequence of the Incarnation, namely, that matter is renewed and filled with the Holy Spirit. If at the creation of the world the first organic life springs from matter at the Word of God, the Incarnation testifies to His participation in matter.
It all adds up to this:
The Orthodox Church thus understands the cosmos as a communion. The Holy Trinity itself is a communion. God’s design for the world is communion. For Orthodox Christians, Christ is the glue that holds this communion together. Humanity enters into communion with God by way of the Incarnation and the world enters into communion with God by way of humanity. Just as Christ became the bridge between God and man, man must become the bridge between God and His creation. It is the destiny of humankind to restore community whenever it is broken. Where communion exists, one finds man restoring the image of God. Where one finds fragmentation and broken community, one finds sin and man turning away from God. God created the world as a perfected balanced communal system. Man has disrupted this system through sin starting with Adam and Eve’s misuse of creation.
The 18th-century Enlightenment did an excellent job of breaking that communion and asserting human dominance, which is “heretical and antithetical to God’s design for the world.” Dominion “meant something very different to the Church Fathers. It implied a sense of responsibility and care.”
Viewing creation through Orthodoxy’s eyes reminds us of the incarnation’s cosmic significance. Christians are given the pleasure of living such an incarnational reality right now.
Tap here to read Smith’s entire piece.