Patristic views on ecology
Posted 29 November 2003 - 04:23 PM
I stand technically corrected re. the so called Gaia Hypothesis. I was wrong to call it Plato's since it predated him by generations, and it was not only Greek. None-the-less, he did formalize the idea adequately.
I side with Jurretta on all points though, i.e., as to the crisis nature of the problem, and the inappropirateness of the debate to this forum, and that simply because of the difficulty to approach the problem patristically at this point.
Posted 29 November 2003 - 06:53 PM
Plato did not formalize anything. If he is read formalistically it's like reading the Bible Pharisaically, and he will be misunderstood.
One thing I don't understand is this: why is it OK to bring up a controversial topic and to assume everyone should be in agreement, and then when someone expresses disagreement, it no longer is an appropriate topic? It feels a bit Orwellian to me.
Posted 30 November 2003 - 06:06 AM
Does what I do affect these people in any way? Isn’t it naive to suppose that not buying that additional article of clothing, or CD, or computer gadget has anything at all to do with the fact that babies in other parts of the world don’t get enough food to prevent their stomachs from bloating……….. yes, it has EVERYTHING to do with what happens in these countries. Why? Because everything is connected.
My greed means that more resources are needed to fulfill it – I am stealing that which could be used to help other people in other parts of the world. My greed means that companies grow rich supplying me with “things” that I think I need. To supply my wants and receive their “fair share” of the profits, these companies in turn do whatever they think they need to do to make a profit. It’s not Christian, it’s not Orthodox and it’s not human to live at the expense of other human beings. Does one person make that much of a difference?? Yes, yes, and yes. In my opinion, one person makes all the difference in the world and it’s just wishful thinking (greedy, selfish thinking) to believe otherwise.
It all really comes down to just one thing : Live as the Fathers advise us to live – simply, frugally and with humility. Will we feel deprived if we try and live like this? If we do, then there is obviously something wrong with how we perceive ourselves and our religion.
Posted 30 November 2003 - 06:09 AM
The following can be found in the environment section at the “St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church “ site in the Church and society section. – Environment, Orthodox Church’s view
XIII.2. Relations between man and nature were broken in pre-historic times because of the fall of man and his alienation from God. The sin that was born in the soul of man damaged not only himself, but also the entire world around him. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birthpangs together until now” (Rom. 8:20-22). The first human crime was reflected in nature as in a mirror. The seed of sin, having produced an effect in the human heart, gave rise to “thorns and thistles,” as Holy Scripture testifies (Gen. 3:18). The full organic unity that existed between man and the world around him before the fall (Gen. 2:19-20) was made impossible. In their now consumer relations with nature, human beings began to be guided more often by egoistic motives. They began to forget that the only Lord of the Universe is God (Ps. 23:1), to Whom belong “the heaven... and the earth also, with all that is therein” (Deut. 10:14), while man, as St. John Chrysostom put it, is only a “housekeeper” entrusted with the riches of the earth. These riches, namely, “the air, sun, water, land, heaven, sea, light, stars,” as the same saint remarks, “God divided among all in equal measure as if among brothers.” “Dominion” over nature and “subjection” of the earth (Gen. 1:28)-to which man is called -- does not mean all-permissiveness in God’s design. It only means that man is the bearer of the image of the heavenly Housekeeper and as such should express, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, his royal dignity not in domination over the world around him or violence towards it, but in “caring for and “keeping” the magnificent kingdom of nature for which he is responsible before God.
XIII.4. The Orthodox Church appreciates the efforts for overcoming the ecological crisis and calls people to intensive cooperation in actions aimed at protecting God’s creation. At the same time, she notes that these efforts will be more fruitful if the basis on which man’s relations with nature are built will be not purely humanistic, but also Christian. One of the main principles of the Church’s stand on ecological issues is the unity and integrity of the world created by God. Orthodoxy does not view nature around us as an isolated and self-enclosed structure. The plant, animal and human worlds are interconnected. From the Christian point of view, nature is not a repository of resources intended for egoistic and irresponsible consumption, but a house in which man is not the master, but the housekeeper, and a temple in which he is the priest serving not nature, but the One Creator. The conception of nature as a temple is based on the idea of theocentrism: God, Who gives to everything “life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25) is the Source of being. Therefore, life itself in its various manifestations is sacred, being a gift from God. Any encroachment on it is a challenge not only to God’s creation, but also to the Lord Himself. “
Posted 30 November 2003 - 06:10 AM
“Introduction to Christian Environmental Initiatives”
“In his 1990 New Year message, the Pope also stated: "Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith."
In Orthodoxy this is brought out even more strongly, especially in the document produced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis, in 1990. The Orthodox Church teaches that humanity, both individually and collectively, ought to perceive the natural order as a sign and sacrament of God. This is obviously not what happens today. Rather, humanity perceives the natural order as an object of exploitation. There is no one who is not guilty of disrespecting nature, for to respect nature is to recognize that all creatures and objects have a unique place in God's creation. When we become sensitive to God's world around us, we grow more conscious also of God's world within us. Beginning to see nature as a work of God, we begin to see our own place as human beings within nature. The true appreciation of any object is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The Orthodox Church teaches that it is the responsibility of humanity to restore the proper relationship between God and the world. Through repentance, two landscapes, the one human, the other natural, can become the objects of a caring and creative effort. But repentance must be accompanied by appropriate initiatives which manifest the ethos of Orthodox Christian faith. “
Posted 30 November 2003 - 08:02 AM
In the fall, a corruption has not only gotten into the individual souls of human beings, but nature itself has suffered some kind of degradation, so that the harmony intended has become subverted. So when a soul is saved (not just by believing in Christ as a personal Lord and Savior, but) through the transformation of the whole person, then a step is taken toward the restoration of the cosmos.
Interestingly, just yesterday I was reading the last few pages of "The Theology of the Icon" by Leonid Ouspensky where he offers the following:
"the nature of holiness is to sanctify that which surrounds it; the deification of man is communicated to his surroundings. This is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world. The deification of human nature results in the liberation of the world from its chaotic division, in a return to unity...Just as creation fell with the fall of man, it is saved by the deification of man, for "creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of Him who subjected it in hope; because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom: 8:20-21)
...Peace and harmony in creation, one Church embracing the entire world--this is the essential impulse of Orthodox sacred art...This explains why, in the icon, we find that everything which surrounds a saint changes its aspect. The world surrounding man--the bearer and announcer of the divine revelation--becomes an image of the world to come, transfigured and renewed. Everything loses its usual aspect of disorder, everything acquires a harmonious order--men, landscape, animals and architecture. Everything which surrounds the saint yeilds with him into a rhythmic order. Everything reflects the divine presence and is drawn--and draws us also--towards God. The earth, the vegetable world and the animal world are represented in the icon, not to bring us close to that which we always see around us, ie the fallen world in its corruptible state, but to show us the participation of this world in the deification of man. The effect of holiness on the entire created world, particularly on the wild animals, is a trait which often characterizes the lives of the saints."
So in reading this I'm reminded of icons like the nativity, where we see the transformed trees and animals..
Link to Icon of Nativity at Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos
Posted 30 November 2003 - 12:52 PM
I'm happy to see so many posts on various interesting topics. And I'm happy also to see the caution shown towards slipping into areas that will lead us wholly off topic. A definitively positive sign.
Some have asked for my 'moderator's thoughts' regarding this thread on ecology, etc. These would be as follows: please can we simply remember that our focus here is patristic, monastic, liturgical and ecclesiastical thought as it pertains to various issues. The environment/ecology is certainly a realm to which such things apply; but let us try to keep our discussions focused on treating patristic, monastic, liturgical and/or ecclesiastical aspects of the issue, and not wander too far off into purely scientific questions over specific environmental issues, etc.
With fondness INXC, Matthew
Posted 30 November 2003 - 02:21 PM
crisis, I have nothing to say other than that the increased cancer
rate in the region in which I live due to the lignite power stations
illegal discharging of lignite ash into the atmosphere is evidence, I
would say, that man’s disrespect for nature and his greed have a high
The above shows man's disrespect for man, not nature, of course such disrespect is ultimately aimed towards God.
I take it you live in one of these states: Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee & Vermont.
I suppose you know that 90% of the Lignite is burned leaving only 10% of inert ash, which consists of: silica, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, iron among others, all which is recyclable. The material can and is being used as filler for concrete and produces a superior concrete product, because of its spherical particles.
Are you aware that power producing plants have become the habit nesting choice of the peregrine falcon, which was almost extinct. It has been observed that nesting in the power plant buildings has increased their poplulation rapidly.
The above example show two [out of several others] enviromentally friendly by products of burning lignite, which is also a cheaper means to produce electric energy.
As for the ash, Mt. St. Helens produced more ash than all the lignite factorys combined, so perhaps nature likes ash?
Posted 30 November 2003 - 03:37 PM
But the deeper issue it seems to me is what, exactly, is the Patristic mind as it relates to man's relationship to nature?
Again, we still have a problem, because they did not focus on mega social problems. It's not that they never commented on specific social problems. They did -- the Roman Circus, the moral dissolution of Rome, the terrible treatment of unwanted children, etc. So perhaps they would have commented specifically on industrial pollution, had there been any. But we don't know for sure.
So here's my best theory. I think they would be even more likely today to flee from the world and eminent problems in the world than then. They would look at the non-culture we have created and flee from it, it's images, it's frantic nature, etc., as inherently damaging to the soul, and they would simply not comment on specific problems, because that would be missing the point.
We do, however, have some insight into how they might react, because the Church has produced saints in the industrial age who have acquired the patristic mind, and we can look at their words and actions for guidance. Again, I see little or no evidence of such problems being commented upon directly. Their answer to unspoken problems is always the same: we are the problem, and the problem has to due with an internal disorder and malfunction in human nature, which is broken down to the individual level, not treated en masse. because the human problem is always the same. They do not start with mega issues and work down from there to the individual moral responsibility to solve those problems. They look at the person, they properly define what the person is, and they teach what the Fathers have always taught regarding the transformation of the person. And since the person is defined as a cosmion, there is, presumably, a cosmic significance to the destiny of each and every soul. They do not become distracted by mega social issues. There is another factor, and that is the apocalyptic tradition, that is always present to some degree. But placed properly in balance, a patristic apocalyptic says that time is short for all of us, and that is how we should live. We should not fret about an eminent end to the world. (Augustine said that we shouldn't have children in order to hasten the end of the world!)
Also, the fear about the end of humanity due to global warning is not a unique fear at all. The plague was an even greater, more eminent threat to humanity. The fear of nuclear war is certainly equal to, if not greater than the fears being propounded by those focused on the pollution problem.
One could replace all of the concerns about the death of the planet and the human race from pollution, with concerns about nuclear war, which suggests that the eco-movement is, itself, a social phenomenon that man needs. Mankind needs mega fears, and will manufacture them in any age.
Modern saints, so far as I know, never bothered to address this specific mega fear, and for good reason, I think. Because it puts the cart before the horse. Fretting about such mega issues as nuclear war is really an example of worldliness, something to be shunned. Another mega social issue today for the Church is abortion. The Orthodox Church as a body says almost nothing about it. It does not organize conferences on how to organize against it. It does not fund research institutes, or public education campaigns, the Ecumenical Patriarch does not go on tours publicly denouncing abortion or moralizing about how humanity has lost it's mind on this issue. Which is more apocalyptic? Abortion, or pollution? Will not God punish humanity with mass destruction because of abortion? He promised us that he would never again destroy the world (as in the flood) as a punishment for our sins. So we believe in that promise, but do we not still stand condemned for this? Many anti-abortion people in the Church are very angry at the hierarchy for not DOING SOMETHING about this mega problem, which they phrase in apocalyptic terms not unlike the way that environmentalist phrase their concerns about pollution. But perhaps it is best that the Church does not seek to turn this into a social cause, and I think the same should be true for the pollution problem, because it causes great fretfulness and anxiety and distracts us from our primary purpose, to live iconically. That is the Patristic mind, I think, on the subject. The fear of global warning is an old fear dressed up in new clothing.
Posted 01 December 2003 - 12:59 AM
I know where you are coming from when you question the ecological crisis, because I used to be very interested in conspiracy theories.
Sometimes its very hard to tell how much we are lied to, even for the sake of a "good cause".
I have even read that the idea of a nuclear winter that would wipe out all life was exagerated by those who posited the theory, including the populariser of science Carl Sagan, and that there is no way we could destroy the whole earth with our bombs, no way we could block out the sun the way they claimed. But those guys probably thought they should make it sound as bad as they could so people would take notice (and I think they liked being on t.v. too).
Posted 01 December 2003 - 04:52 AM
John, thank you for the information about the nesting habits of the peregrine falcon. It's good to see that something good has come from these power plants.
I don't live in the US, I live in northern Greece.
It's true that lignite ash is used for concrete production. But not when it's spewed out into the atmosphere for economical reasons. These plants are owned by PPC - Public Power Corporation of Greece. The ash is supposed to be conveyed via conveyor belts to trucks and then transported to the cement factories. However, when these conveyor belts break down (which happens more often than it should) the ash is routinely allowed to escape through the chimneys. Public servants here in Greece are notoriously lazy and being asked to manually shift the ash would almost definitely result in a strike - something they are experts at. I should also mention that the trucks used to transport the ash are sub-contracted. The cheapest and easiest way is for this company to just allow the ash to go up the chimneys. There are 12 units of 300 MW operating in this area - in a radius of about
30 klm (I forget whether 1 mile is 2 kilometres or the other way around). Another problem up until a couple of years ago was the filters themselves in the two older plants. These have now been replaced.
Nature likes ash - perhaps, but we have seen negative changes here in the last 20 - 30 years, changes in our trees that are the direct result of the pollution caused by these power plants.
The above information is entirely accurate because I worked (at a high level) for the German and French companies that built the last 3 power plants.
Yes, polluting this area is a sign of disrespect for the people that live here but it is also illegal and it is also the type of contempt that is becoming more and more common towards nature itself. Some people still apparently think that no matter how much we abuse the world we live in, it will somehow rejuvenate itself.... can we really still believe this.
Posted 01 December 2003 - 11:13 AM
First, a reminder: patristics, patristics, patristics. Monasticism, monasticism, monasticism. Etc., etc., etc. Less on the chemical content of ash and the nesting pattern of birds; more on the theological issues relevant to this forum.
Secondly, I was very happy to read Owen's recent comment:
We are the problem, and the problem has to due with an internal disorder and malfunction in human nature, which is broken down to the individual level, not treated en masse. because the human problem is always the same.
This is likely at the heart of the matter here: what is the locus of 'crisis' of any kind in this world? Whether it be an immanent threat of nuclear winter, ozone depletion, terrorist attack, widespread moral degeneracy ... what is the real cause and source of the problem, and how does the Church instruct her faithful to 'deal' with the problem and its source?
I am always reminded of the words of St Theophilus of Antioch when coming into discussions such as this. In explaining why certain animals are hostile towards one another, rather than peaceable and cohabitive as Scripture describes their state both in Eden and in the eschaton, Theophilus notes that: 'Creation followed man in his sin. For just as the household workers, when their master is upright, are also pure in action, so also when the master sins do the workers follow him into his transgression'.
Posted 01 December 2003 - 01:06 PM
So I think this is good advice for us today when it is so easy to be disturbed by these huge issues. I personally believe that New York and Washington DC will be incinerated by terrorists sometime in the next ten years. Can I afford to permit that conviction to turn into a mental obsession? Can I do anything about it? Should I spend my time wringing my hands about how terrible a world it is?
Posted 02 December 2003 - 01:51 AM
I also remember my brother saying that when things don't go according to our plans or when life [or the world] is not as we think it should be, that perhaps the way things actually are will result in something far better than the end goal that we, in our limited perspective and understanding focus on attaining.
Maybe I'm rambling here but it seemed relevant when I started typing this...
Anyway, below quote also seemed relevant somehow...at least it's something worth reading to make up for my disjoint thinking
"On no account, beloved, must you flee from what may be a chance for acquiring virtue. On the contrary, whenever such a chance offers itself, you should accept it with joy, regarding as best and most welcome such things as are unpleasant to your heart and evoke no sympathy in you .... [Y]ou should realize that the opportunities for virtue you meet with are the best means you can have for acquiring it, given you by God in answer to your prayer. Having formed a desire to gain virtue, you have, of course, prayed God to grant it to you; and in praying for it, you could not avoid praying also for the methods and means of acquiring this gift. But God does not give, for instance, the virtue of patience without afflictions, nor the virtue of humility without humbling occasions of degradation and dishonor. So, after your prayer about these virtues, He sends you corresponding opportunities. What are you doing, then, in running away and avoiding them? ..
So decide to welcome gladly the chances you meet for virtue, and the more gladly, the more difficulties they offer. For in such cases our virtuous actions evoke great courage and reveal great moral strength; and through this we make each time a considerable step forward on the path of virtue, which alone should be our constant aim."
-- Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, Unseen Warfare
Posted 02 December 2003 - 05:48 AM
That our perception of ourselves and our relationship to God and the world he created is at the root of all problems is something that I have said from the very beginning. That's why I posted the excerpts from various essays that I did.
To claim that there is no ecological crisis is suspect when we can see the results of it ourselves.
Do we as Orthodox close our eyes and remain in our ivory towers believing that we are special and that these issues are somehow "beneath us". Our own spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has taken a very firm stand on this issue. That's a good enough example for me personally. I don't agree with absolutely everything he says and does but each time I have heard him speak I have been impressed by his humility and his intelligence.
Thank you for the reminder, but please understand how hard it is sometimes to keep to such rigid limits. We are human and our minds (or at least my own puny mind) usually relate personally to whatever we are discussing.
Thank you again for the reminder - I sometimes need it, I think.
Posted 02 December 2003 - 09:24 AM
It would be interesting to see someone post a message (or messages) noting some examples of specific manners in which various Fathers can be seen to 'react' to major crises of their era -- issues that were as large-scale upon the conscience in their day as the environment is for many in our own.
Guest_Jurretta J. Heckscher
Posted 02 December 2003 - 01:27 PM
My thanks to Matthew for his wise guidance. In light of it, I think perhaps I should say little or nothing more on the question of whether or not there is a global environmental crisis, except to thank Effie for the very sound and sensible points she has made and to affirm what anyone who cares to read and listen—or talk to scientists--can quickly discover for him- or herself: that an overwhelming majority of scientists who study biological systems on the Earth’s lands and in its oceans and physical systems in the Earth's atmosphere believe that there is such a crisis--or rather, a series of accelerating and interlocking crises (such as rapidly declining biodiversity and accelerating global warming and rainforest destruction) precipitated by the sheer number of humans now on the planet, the greed of those among them who are wealthy (of whom I am of course one, in relative global terms), and the desperate needs of those who are poor.
And while the Fathers may have known nothing of the environmental problems man has created since their time, they surely knew and addressed the underlying issues of greed and need. (Can anyone, for example, give me an exact citation for that wonderful, and sobering, passage from St. Basil in which he says that the cloak you are not wearing belongs to your brother who has no cloak, the shoes in your cupboard belong to the one who has no shoes, and so forth? I have never been able to discover the exact source from which it comes.)
In another sense, though, today's environmental problems are nothing new: man has always and everywhere reshaped his environment (the myth of peaceful native peoples living on the land without changing it is just that, a myth); it is an inevitable part of being human. What has changed dramatically in the past century and a half is the scope, degree, and pace of that reshaping, and the fact that we do not yet have the scientific knowledge to understand (for example) what species we are destroying (and what benefits they might confer on us in the form of new medicines, for instance), or what the cumulative impact of our "greenhouse gas" output on the world's climate, crop-growing regions, and sea levels might be. Orthodoxy teaches us that God has given us the world to love, transfigure, and offer back to Him; instead, we are gambling with the destruction of vast parts of it, from the vanishing arctic ecosystems of Canada to the burning rainforests of Brazil to the lowlands of Bangladesh, from which hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to flee if global warming causes sea levels to rise. And we cannot separate humanity from the natural world, either in our sin or in our love.
Even if we cannot agree that there is a crisis, however, surely we can agree that the only course of action in response to this and all other questions is the same: to follow "the way of the ascetics" (with an appropriate salute to Tito Colliander's marvellous book), to strive relentlessly to live out of love towards God others and in radical restraint of our own appetites. The Fathers lived in a different age, and knew nothing of the specific environmental problems we face, but the fundamental truths they understood are timeless, and the Lord keeps presenting us with fresh opportunities to understand their wisdom, and that of those who have followed after them. (That passage from St. Nicodemos that Rebecca quoted is indeed relevant here!) Likewise, the monastic ideal is not only an answer to the dilemmas of the fourth century, but an answer to the challenges of the twenty-first. How can those of us who are "in the world" today learn to live it better?
Owen and I may disagree on the particular consequences of man's sin in our own age, then, but we can certainly agree that the ground of all our battles lies in the human heart--and that if we allow Christ to be victorious there, a thousand souls around us will share the victory (as St. Serafim of Sarov said), and with Christ we will have achieved "the one thing needful" to save the cosmos for which He gave His life.
Thanks, Rebecca, for reminding us of the relevance of Orthodox iconography to all these questions. Your offering of a Nativity icon for our contemplation is especially appropriate--thanks! And if we listen with all our mind and heart to the liturgical texts for the Feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany, we will learn enough for a lifetime's joyful, grateful reflection on the true relationship among nature, man, and God. May we truly, deeply hear, and heed!
Yours in Christ,
Guest_Fr John Wehling
Posted 02 December 2003 - 06:34 PM
After the fall in Paradise, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden and were left to live on the earth which was cursed (Gen. 3:17). One of the results of this curse was that they would now have to work and produce their food by the sweat of their face.
The Fathers tell us, however, that this curse was in truth a blessing, for man had to now work and labor for his food, which work was given to him as part of his ascesis in working out his salvation. In working the earth, in other words, he was working his own "earth of the heart." The Fathers, likewise, tell us that such labor is necessary and is part of overcoming the passions and producing virtue.
“An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all."
The desert monks worked with their hands, not only to provide for their own needs, and not only to have something to give to the poor (alms), but also because such labor was part of their own ascesis and necessary for working out their salvation.
Now, it seems to me that, particularly in the modern world (defined loosely), much of our technology is designed precisely with the opposite in mind: that is, to make life easier, more convenient, etc. We seek after methods and means to avoid having to work with our hands. And whether it be the means of production of food, clothing, automobiles, electricity, or any of the other countless modern technologies that have contributed to our present ecological situation, most of them are based upon this principle of convenience, ease, and even luxury.
My question, then, is more basic and fundamental than whether or not there is an ecological crisis. It is whether, crisis or not, the conveniences of the modern world are a help or hindrance to the ascesis and labor necessary to salvation. I do not favor or promote a romantic return to "simpler times." I do wonder, though, if some sort of return--no matter how impractical--is better for us spiritually.
Posted 02 December 2003 - 10:38 PM
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