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!