With God’s grace, today we enter the new ecclesiastical year, even as we continue to provide witness “through him who loved us” (Romans 8.37) and “give an account for the hope that lies in us” (1 Peter 3.15), living in the Church, in Christ and according to Christ, who promised to be with us “all the days of our life, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20)
Twenty-eight years have passed since the synodal decree of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to establish the Feast of the Indiction as the “Day of Protection for the Environment,” when we offer prayers and supplications at the sacred Center of Orthodoxy “for all creation.” The relevant patriarchal encyclical (September 1, 1989) invited all Orthodox and other Christian faithful on this day to lift up prayers of thanksgiving to the Creator of all for “the great gift of Creation” along with petitions for its preservation.
We express our joy and satisfaction for the broad reception and fruitful influence of this initiative by the Church of Constantinople. We demonstrated the spiritual roots of the ecological crisis as well as the need to repent and prioritize the values of contemporary humankind. We affirmed that the exploitation and destruction of creation constitute a perversion and distortion of the Christian ethos, rather than the inevitable consequence of the biblical command to “increase and multiply” (Genesis 1.22), but also that our anti-ecological conduct is an offense to the Creator and a transgression of his commandments, ultimately working against the authentic destiny of the human person. There cannot be any sustainable development at the expense of spiritual values and the natural environment.
The Holy and Great Church of Christ has championed and continues to champion the eco-friendly dynamic of our Orthodox faith, emphasizing the Eucharistic purpose of creation, the response of the faithful as “priest” of creation in an effort to offer it unceasingly to the Creator of all, as well as the principle of asceticism as the response to the modern sense of gratification. Indeed, respect for creation belongs to the very core of our orthodox tradition.
We are especially disturbed by the fact that, while it is clear that the ecological crisis is constantly escalating, in the name of financial growth and technological development, humanity has become oblivious to the global appeals for radical change in our attitude toward creation. It is obvious that the resulting deformation and devastation of the natural environment is a direct consequence of a specific model of economic progress, which is nevertheless indifferent to its ecological repercussions. The short-term benefits dictated by the rise of living standards in some parts of the world simply camouflage the irrationality of abuse and conquest of creation. Corporate business that does not respect the planet as our common home cannot be sanctioned as business at all. The contemporary unrestrained commerce of globalization goes hand-in-hand with the spectacular development of science and technology, which despite manifold advantages is also accompanied by an arrogance over and abuse of nature. Modern man knows this very well, but acts as if he is entirely unaware. We know that nature is not restored and renewed endlessly; yet we ignore the negative implications of “trading” in the environment. This explosive combination of unrestrained commerce and science – that is to say, the limitless confidence in the power of science and technology – merely increases the risks threatening the integrity of creation and humankind.
The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church spelled out with wisdom and clarity the dangers of “autonomizing economy” or separating economy from the vital needs of humanity that are only served within a sustainable environment. Instead, it proposed an economy “founded on the principles of the Gospel” in order to address the modern ecological challenge “on the basis of the principles of the Christian tradition.” In response to the threats of our age, the tradition of the Church demands “a radical change of attitude and conduct” towards the creation; in response to our “greed” and “the deification of our needs and attitude of acquisition,”it proposes a spirit of asceticism, “frugality and abstinence.” The Holy and Great Council also emphatically referred to the “social dimensions and tragic consequences of destroying the natural environment.”
Therefore, echoing the decisions of this Council, we too underline through this encyclical the close connection between ecological and social issues, as well as their common roots that lie in the “imprudent heart” that is fallen and sinful as well as in the inappropriate use of our God-given freedom. The destruction of nature and society is always preceded by an internal “reversal of values,” by spiritual and ethical damage. When material possessions dominate our heart and mind, then our attitude toward our fellow human beings and toward creation inevitably becomes possessive and abusive. In biblical terms, the “bad tree” always “produces evil fruit.” (Matthew 7.17) Furthermore, by extension, we would underline that respecting creation and other people share the same spiritual source and origin, namely our renewal in Christ and spiritual freedom. Just as environmental destruction is related to social injustice, so too an ecofriendly attitude is inseparable from social solidarity.
What also becomes apparent is that the solution to the multi-faceted contemporary human crisis – namely, the crisis facing human culture and the natural environment – demands a multi-dimensional mobilization and joint effort. Much as every other vital problem, the underlying and interconnected ecological and social crisis cannot possibly be addressed without inter-Christian and inter-religious collaboration. Therefore, dialogue becomes the fertile ground for promoting existing ecofriendly and social traditions in order to stimulate environmental and communal discussion, while at the same time initiating a constructive criticism of progress understood exclusively in technological and economic terms at the expense of creation and civilization.
In closing, we once again reiterate the inseparable nature of respecting creation and humanity, and we call upon all people of good will to undertake the good struggle for the protection of the natural environment and the establishment of solidarity. May the Lord and giver of all good things, through the intercessions of the all-blessed Mother of God, grant all of you “a burning within your hearts for all creation” and “a stirring of love and good works.” (Hebrews 10.24)