Day of Prayer for Creation 2016

An Orthodox friend and reader has asked me about Orthodox prayers specific for this day. September 1 is the official Orthodox day to pray for creation, so we have a distinct service or set of prayers for that purpose, right? We have prayers for all occasions, surely there is one for “the environment”?  No, not exactly. It’s better than that.

Our prayers for, and with, creation are embedded throughout our all of our regular prayers. Every liturgy we pray “for seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times…” and often are inviting the very elements of creation to worship alongside us as we prepare for the Holy Gifts through Psalm 148: “Praise Him sun and moon, praise Him all you shining stars!…lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…”

It is certain that our most profound traditional prayers significantly involve nature. In a sense we are everyday praying for creation. (There is an abundance of examples like this that I will discuss further in future posts). Praying for creation is seamlessly integrated into our understanding of Christ’s Transfiguration and our salvation. But does Orthodox “business as usual” count as a prayer for what this modern generation calls “the environment”? Do we need a different sort of prayer for the new and unique type of damage we do to creation in our current society?

A separate prayer for “the environment” or for “nature” is not a part of our tradition because that is not how we understand or relate to nature. We don’t view a dividing line between “man” and “the natural environment” in the same way a secular environmentalist does. The meaningful distinction is between God and His creation. We are created, too. We are God’s creation, as humble and mortal as an ant or manatee or oak tree. And while we have a special role among the whole creation, we must remember that it is not a fundamentally separate entity from us. Creation is not merely ‘our environment,’ an object we steward; it is our sibling, and co-worshiper of our Creator. This understanding is expressed by our more integrated approach to prayers for creation.

We don’t need to add new prayers onto our tradition in order to ‘adapt to modernity’ or ‘a new, unique situation.’ We only need to remember our ancient tradition fully, and see how eternal truths are played out for this particular moment. While many churches are also adopting September 1 as a day to pray for creation and writing new services for the occasion (particularly the Catholic Church, which has distributed excellent prayer “kits” such as this and this), and while I highly respect the value in that  project , Orthodoxy generally takes a more integrated approach. We are highlighting and following a particular embedded theme in our usual prayers, becoming more mindful of something that was there all along.

So what sorts of prayers will I offer tomorrow? I’m particularly fond of the Akathist of Thanksgiving, Psalm 148, and meditating on the Transfiguration iconography. The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration also offers a thematically appropriate vespers and lovely Moleben here. In addition, my parish will be sifting blessed compost made from our post-liturgy meal scraps and spreading it at the base of memorial trees. Please comment below about your parish and your way of praying for creation!

 

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Why Ecotheology?

Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog, and encouraged me to keep it up! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, partly due to travel (Germany has some really excellent sustainability public policies, by the way) but the posting delay is also partly due to rethinking the structure of what I write here. One primary goal of this blog is to provide an internet-based resource for those interested in the original Christian creation care theology and practices, but I’m realizing it is actually more personal than that.

While visiting  and reading the literature from the Rachel Carson Environmental Humanities Center in Munich, Germany, I came across the excellent writing of Markus Vogt in the RCC Perspectives publication. What he says here has clearly defined my mission in this blog:

“The rediscovery of the [original Christian] ethics of Creation [in the 1980’s] has, however, often been only superficial. Creation is misused as a convenient hook on which to hang sentimental ideas of ecology… serving merely to add weight to ecological imperatives and increase moral pressure.”

THAT is exactly why I focus on ancient Christian Earth-keeping. Creation ethics was an original part of  theology and Christian living. It faded to the background fairly recently as a reaction to the rise of a world-view shaped by Darwin, and so has been somewhat forgotten. Now creation theology and ethics is resurging as a tiny talking point meant to promote a modern environmentalist political policy or lifestyle among Christians. It is often an introduction before a promotion for a product or vote. I find that abhorrent — teaching about sacred practices should not serve as a promotion for a particular worldly agenda! (Even if the theological teachings will ultimately inspire worldly actions of some sort).

I am looking in my own life to live out the Christian calling to be a Priest of Creation, to raise up all of God’s creation to His glory, to be transfigured by His grace. In addition to essays of what I’ve learned, this blog is the chronicle of my journey into an authentic, original practice of ancient Christian Earth-keeping and shamar. Thank you for joining me. I look forward to hearing your comments.

Heart and Soil: Perseverance

If you found an icon, an object meant to teach you the faith like a wooden cross or a Holy Bible, broken and trampled and desecrated upon the ground, would you lift it up, respect it and restore it? would you brush off the dust from the bible and take care to make sure others could read this copy of the life-changing Word of God? Would you repaint the cross and hang it where others could see it and be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice?

In Part 1, we discussed that Christ has given us the soil as an icon of our hearts (Luke 8:15), and even that St. John of Damascus teaches indeed the whole creation is an icon. And yet, this “icon beneath our feet” is being devastated by industrial agriculture practices and climate change. So devastated that it is threatening our ability to produce sufficient food for people. Continue reading

Heart and Soil

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“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”… “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”      Luke 8:5-15 NIV

 

Christ gives us the very soil beneath our feet as an image of our own hearts. Next time you scrape mud off your boots, let it (as St Basil said) remind you of God and His lessons to us. Is this soil hard or soft? Rocky and dry? Fertile? Could it grow a mustard seed? Would it produce good fruit? And is your heart like it, able to grow in faith from God’s word? Continue reading

Covenant with the Earth

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As we are the priests of creation, holding the middle ground between earth and Heaven, the extent to which we fulfill our vocation has a rippling effect on the rest of nature. God has designed an ecology in which we are all creatures inextricably connected and interdependent, both biologically and spiritually. And according to our unique vocation as humans, we are the ones who administer and manage this interconnectedness, for good or evil. It is we who force creation to groan in its corruption, or give it voice in heavenly praise of God. When we sin, creation suffers. When we are reconciled to God, we take creation with us.

This can be seen from the very beginning, as the consequence for our first disobedience extends beyond ourselves: “cursed is the ground, because of you.”  (Genesis 3:17). Creation continues to be subjected to our moral consequences as time goes on. Because of human evil alone, the ground does not yield to our work (Genesis 4:12), the plants wither (Jeremiah 12:11), the sky refuses to provide rain for us (1 Kings 17), and the animals disappear (Jeremiah 12:4). “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” (Jeremiah 12:4) The very nature of nature is changed, because of us.

Paul refers to the original curse from Genesis: “the whole of creation has been groaning together” (Romans 8) since Adam’s sin. Yet, there is hope because it is also waiting with “eager longing” for redemption and Christ’s return. We are the reason the whole of creation is subjected to suffering and curse, but because we are the priests of creation we are also the medium through which it can be redeemed.

Noah demonstrates our liability for both creation’s suffering and its redemption in Genesis 9. Because of man’s wickedness and corruption, God sends a flood that is indiscriminately destructive. More than just those wicked men will be drowned; many other living creatures will be swept away with them. God chooses to save Noah and his family because they are righteous, but expects that they, in turn, fulfill their vocation by taking, and saving, all the animals alongside themselves. God wishes to save all creatures from the consequences of humankind’s wickedness.  His method to do this is by way of righteous, priestly humans.

After the flood, God makes a covenant, but not just with Noah. God’s promise is to “every beast, with all the earth”.  His covenant is equally for the ants and the sheep, giraffes and slugs, as it is for humans. That demonstrates a great esteem for the creatures, that we should imitate. What’s more, we are shown that  our spiritual redemption and our biological survival is connected with the survival of the whole Earth, by God’s design.

While we have been promised no all-destructive flood in the future, it is very easy to see how human wickedness causes other forms of environmental degradation that threaten us. The extinction of species, the destruction of forests, and the dumping of cancer-causing chemicals into our water and food, are the result of our selfish waste, overconsumption and greedy pursuit for ever-increasing levels of convenience and comfort. We are creating both physical and spiritual pollution through our self-indulgence. By far the greatest threat we’ve brought upon ourselves is the global climate change that is causing severe drought and desertification. God will not flood us, but our sins are parching the world.

And yet, while our immorality unleashes systemic corruption throughout all creation, so our return to God, our repentance and renewed hearts, heals the whole ecosphere. God tells Solomon the remedy for drought and pestilence in the earth: “If my people humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (2 chronicles 7:12) The land, and God’s creatures in it, is an extension of our own hearts. The current state of our world, of pollution and ecological collapse, says much about our hearts.

The fulfillment of our vocation as priest of creation (shamar) is essential to healing all God’s creation. Many Christians are praying for creation (prayers will be posted soon), or engaging in environmental restoration. When we purify polluted rivers, restore forests and watersheds, grow healthy food, and reduce our consumption through ascesis and fasting, we are restoring the earth, replenishing it, even bringing it salvation. We are protecting our neighbors from the harm that comes from climate-related disasters, and other species from extinction. In short, we are building an ark. But not just for ourselves– on behalf of all and for all.

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