I posted earlier on "The Green Patriarch", quoting Patriarch Bartholomew's declaration that destroying the environment is a sin. As far as I know, no other church leader of comparable rank has yet characterized environmental degradation in such starkly moralistic terms. I've recently come across some other material illustrating the Orthodox attitude towards the material cosmos that I'd like to share.
The patriarchal website has a subsection dealing with ecological matters which is very informative.
Another good site is that of the Orthodox Research Institute which has a similar section dealing with the relationship between theology and ecology. It contains the full version of "Orthodoxy and ecological problems: a theological approach" by Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, an excerpt of which follows:
- The world has a beginning in a radical sense; it was created out of nothing and is constantly threatened by the return to nothingness. It is not eternal, rather it is fragile, like a precious vase of crystal, and must be approached with reverence, fear, and trembling.
- This careful handling was entrusted by God to human beings, as distinct from all other beings and angels. According to Patristic theology man was created material and spirit, to be a microcosm of creation...As the priests of creation we have the unique mission and great responsibility of uniting God and the material world. Our task is not simply to preserve creation but to purify it and elevate it to the level of divine existence. This act of elevation, the referring of creation to its creator, is the essence of our priesthood; this creation is sanctified and partakes of the blessings that participating in divine life involves.
- The salvation of human beings which is offered by and in Christ is for us a cosmic event. Through human beings all creation will be saved. Christ not only saves us from ourselves, he offers the redemption of the whole of creation. The incarnation of the Son of God as man was nothing but assuming human nature, not to save man in his own right, but because it carries with it the rest of creation by implication.
- The Eucharist characterizes Orthodox theology not so much as a mental discipline but as an experience. Ever since St Irenaeus it has been understood that the Eucharist is not simply a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection but is a cosmic event involving the whole of creation. Bread and wine are not just symbolic elements linking the church to the Last Supper but are representative of the material world and of creation. Equally, human beings, by participating in the Eucharist, participate in a redeemed material world...The Orthodox Christian, by constantly experiencing the Eucharist, affirms that the material world must survive and be redeemed from whatever prevents it from developing into a world which will unite finally with God.
- The ascetic experience, as affirmed by the Orthodox church, has unfortunately often been mistaken as a negative attitude to material creation. The ascetic is seen as one who depreciates or rejects the material world. This...is not typical of the true asceticism of the Church. The ascetic abstains from the material world not because he regards matter as inferior but because he respects matter very much and does not want to exploit it for individual pleasure. Another often forgotten dimension of the ascetic experience is that the true ascetic participates in the suffering of the whole of creation, even to the extent of weeping over the death of a bird or animal.
You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. we have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavor and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.
Glory to you for the feast-day of life.
Glory to you for the perfume of lilies and roses,
Glory to you for each different taste of berry and fruit,
Glory to you for the sparkling silver of early morning dew,
Glory to you for each smiling, peaceful awakening,
Glory to you for eternal life in us, a messenger of heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.