Monthly Archives: September 2010

Easter and Ecology

By Rev. Dr. K.M. George

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then it is indeed “biodegradability” which has the last word about our life. Consumer products today are often sold in wrappers or containers marked “recyclable” or “biodegradable”. Obviously, this points to a modest way out of the environmental crisis, reminding us that unless we exercise some discipline in consumption Planet Earth may become a rubbish heap with no resources for human life.

But these words inadvertently suggest some deeper truths about the nature of time and matter as well. While inviting us to harmonize with the rhythm of nature, which dies and renews itself, they provide a critique from within our civilization.

“Recycling” brings to mind the cyclical perception of time, which prevailed in many ancient cultures. This was largely rejected by the West – in the name of Judaeo-Christian tradition – in favor of a linear scheme of time and history.

“Biodegradable” evokes the corruptible nature of things. It can simply be a euphemism for death. Ironically, it hints at the degradation of the quality of life.

Beyond the shiny wrapper, these words quietly unmask the abyss of the cyclical hopelessness of history and ultimate dissolution of matter.

Beneath the Veneer

Recycling suggests that the things we produce go back to their original raw state of formlessness and re-enter a new cycle of existence with a new form. The cycle may, in principle, be repeated endlessly.

In a broader sense, nature has always been engaged in recycling matter. The cyclical character ancient philosophers attributed to time arose out of their observation or the cyclical return of the seasons and the cycles of planetary motion. Within these cycles nature endlessly composed, decomposed and then recomposed forms of matter, both organic and inorganic.

If we assume that there is no fresh input of matter from outside into our planet, every new plant, animal and human being coming into being may be labeled “recycled” in its material constitution. Every human being who is born draws on the “dead” matter of thousands and millions of human beings, plants and animals previously living on earth. Plants and animals do the same.

This shows the interconnections not only within organic life, but between “living” and “dead” matter. Yet the stunning mystery is that each of us is endowed with a distinct identity, down to the prints on the tips of our fingers. Every creature, small or great, is stamped with its own unique personality. Life eludes the rots of recycling.

The Eighth Day

With scientific speculation on time becoming more and more complex in a universe “with no edge of space-time”, as Stephen Hawking says in A Brief History of Time, the old image of the cycle re-emerges in the human consciousness in different ways.

Many ancient cultures represented time as turning on itself, as is shown by the cycles of the day, the week and the year.

To the early Christian theologians, the cycles of the week seemed to symbolize the meaninglessness of earthly existence taken into itself. Like the legendary Greek image of the snake swallowing its own tail, the seven day week returns to itself, repeating its cycle.

So the patristic tradition proposed “the eighth day”, which broke open the cyclical chain of seven days. The seven day week represented the history of the created world; the eighth day symbolized eternity. Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ, was the first and the eighth day at the same time.

Sunday is the day of the sun, the source of life, the first day of the week, and symbolically the first day of creation. It is also the eighth day, the day of the new creation, the day of resurrection, which initiated all creation to eternal life.

The eighth day breaks the monotonous cycle of time and liberates time from bondage to boredom and death. There is no longer evening or morning to mark the bounds of the day, no sun or moon to determine the course of day or night.

The eighth day, outside the weekly cycle, signals the end of the fatalistic resignation to despair built into the ever-repeating cycles of history. It implies rest from the cyclical chain of work.

Industrial civilization has been marked by the assembly line, the infernal cycle of production to which human laborers are chained. The “weekend”, which it invented to break the cycle and provide time to rest, is only the beginning of another week’s cycle.

The eighth day of resurrection breaks the chain of birth and death. (We may note here the irony that many supermarkets are chain stores – a fitting image of the new slavery which is inescapable in industrialized societies and whose tentacles are spreading quickly to. the rest of the world.)

In the risen Christ, material creation enters the infinity of new life. There is no more recycling or bondage to the laws of time and space. Yet created matter is not annihilated but reconstituted according to a higher law. It is the untold possibilities for our life that are unfolded in this recomposition of matter, as shown by the resurrected Christ.

Matter does not now return to be recycled. It opens itself to the life of God, to the splendor of uncreated light. Time is permeated by Sunday, the day of light, life and joyful rest.

Time, the attribute of the cycle of birth, death and decay, now acquires a new quality and meaning in its open-ended hope in participation in God’s own life.

Degrading or Upgrading?

Behind the evocative term “biodegradable” one encounters the old, “corruptible” nature of all living things.

That life is subject to death and corruption may seem too obvious even to be worth mentioning. Yet consumer products camouflage that stark truth with the neologism “biodegradable” and portray it as the fruit of a new ecological awareness. But the stamp of dissolution is on all matter. We too carry the label in our bodies unawares.

In the Christian vision of reality illuminated by the radiance of the risen Christ, however, life (bios) is ultimately not degradable, and Christian faith has to muster all its strength to rise against the death-dealing suggestion that it is.

Degrading is a lowering in rank, disgracing, depriving the dignity of what God created out of love. In the end it is a demonic rejection and negation of the very being of God and of us.

The degrading of life is rampant today; we see it in every assault on the dignity of nature, of women, of children, of the poor and powerless.

It is a crowning irony of our age that we produce things only to call them degradable – and then feel ecologically smug about it.

Indian Railways recently introduced throwaway plastic cups for catering in passenger compartments. On every cup is the legend “Deform after use” – obviously meant to safeguard hygienic standards by preventing poor people from collecting cups and selling them to soft drink vendors.

These words, signaling the triumphal entry of consumerist culture into the struggling Indian economy, are deeply disturbing. We give form only to deform.

The logical corollary of this applies to human beings, their dignity and mutual relations and to all the rest of creation. Can we deform God’s creation after our own use?

A faith rooted in the resurrection of Christ can only speak of upgrading our biological life into abundant life of the Triune God. The Christian tradition speaks of transfiguring matter, not disfiguring or deforming it. That is our only real basis to combat all forms of degradation of life.

The mystery of Christ’s incarnation celebrates the union of matter and spirit, body and mind, organic and inorganic spheres, the upgrading of all created nature to be a partaker in God’s nature.

Christian tradition has understood the resurrection of Christ as the guarantee and the first fruits of that union. If Christ is not risen then it is degradation that reigns.

“You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. You cover it with the deep as with a garment, the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. You make springs gush forth in the valleys, they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation, they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains, the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.” Psalm 103

Living Icons

The great challenge for the Christian faith is not to ignore the pain and suffering of “sentient beings” in the present frame of time we call history.

We cannot call Christian any spiritual or philosophical theory that tries to circumvent the reality of the human existence which God assumed in Christ, or any perception, however humane and committed, that limits the meaning of our faith to this historical frame.

So we make bold the affirmation “Christ it risen ” in the midst of our miserable reality, waiting eagerly, together with the created universe, for liberation from the shackles of mortality and the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

In a beautiful Orthodox resurrection icon, the rising Christ holds the hands of Adam and Eve, lifting them up along with him with a joyful but firm movement from the clutches of death. The creation around exults in eagerness.

The hands of Christ and of the human couple in the icon are alike – slender and fragile, quite unlike the muscular hands of God and Adam in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

These are the hands of the one who tasted death and descended into Hades, into the abyss of the human condition, who has fully partaken of the biodegradability of created nature.

The church has never interpreted Christ’s resurrection as an individual experience. It is the first fruits and foretaste of all creation. So the ascending movement of the Risen One gathers all-that-is to Him and sets the orientation – from degradation to the triune community.

Patristic theology affirms that Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection are to restore the image of God in humanity to its original dignity, from the distorted and degraded state of the present human condition to wholeness and beauty.

Icons try to portray the radiance of that eschatological beauty of colors available on our limited palette. They remind us that we are to be icon-painters for the whole of creation in freedom, creativity and love.

On to the living model of the living Christ, the true icon of God (Colossians 1:15), the Holy Spirit, the supreme artist, paints the image of the new creation. Human beings are called to be co-workers in this art of re-creation. Its possibilities are infinite.

As genuine art transforms our reality, it breaks into the cycle of time and lifts up humanity from all degradation of life. So sings the ancient hymn:

“Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, Upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

Copyright: Printed by Orthdruk Orthodox Printing House, Bialystok, Poland, 1996.

Source: The Orthodoxy and Ecology Resource Book is produced by SYNDESMOS, The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth.

Editor: Alexander Belopopsky and Dimitri Oikonomou

“Winter Landscape”

a poem by Emily Cabey

So simply placed to call this art. Branches
dead, and glued, and shorn and tied briskly. But
they tied Him too. They beat and cut and kicked and pierced
and nailed His palms
to a tree, O forest before me of dead
wood, wrapped and coiled branches.
You too are art. A window through which to see
Sticks on a wall,
God on a tree.

This poem is based on this work of art by Eve Reid



"Winter Landscape"

a poem by Emily Cabey

So simply placed to call this art. Branches
dead, and glued, and shorn and tied briskly. But
they tied Him too. They beat and cut and kicked and pierced
and nailed His palms
to a tree, O forest before me of dead
wood, wrapped and coiled branches.
You too are art. A window through which to see
Sticks on a wall,
God on a tree.

This poem is based on this work of art by Eve Reid



Practical Suggestions for Enviromental Stewardship

by Mandy Culbreath-Fraizer

Reflecting on my own practice of what it means to have a Christian relationship with the earth, I always want to act in a manner grateful for the wonders and beauty of creation. In this context, I can diligently pursue everyday practices and see them directly affect the relationship I have with God.

Psalm 19 begins “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, there are no words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the ends of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, there is nothing hid from its heat. The law of the Lord is perfect; reviving the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple, the precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart…”

This selection is read throughout our services as a community, and in our own prayer life. One way of thinking of the creation is not just through scientific eyes, but by edifying God through the practical applications of our prayers and worship. Here are some easy, everyday ideas that work in our home:

Visiting Thrift and Second Hand Stores -My husband and I thought we were just being cool and hip when we first decided that we would shop at thrift stores regularly, but living sensibly and without a “consumption” mentality is truly an old, Christian ideal.

Buy local, to reduce our carbon footprint as well as support local farming. We joined a CSA in New York City, Community Sponsored Agriculture, where the focus is equally on local and organic food as it is in building community between the farmers and neighbors who buy in to the share.

Public transportation is harder for some areas of the US- but we were very fortunate to use the trains, buses, or walk as much as possible since being married, even in our first year with no car at all. Even now, in New York City and Westchester, there are clean energy, hybrid buses used for daily commute.

Keeping the Fasts-According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. A disturbing fact mentioned in a UN Report in 2006 regarding consumption of meat is that 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock (more than from transportation). The livestock sector accounts for over 8 percent of global human water use, while 64 percent of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025. These problems will only get worse as meat production is expected to double by 2050.

I appreciated what Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff wrote when she said, “We worship as a community, not as individuals; so a liturgical ethos is also one of sharing. Long before the earth was seen as a whole from space, the Church knew that we stand before God together, and that we hold in common the earthly blessings that He has given to mankind and all creatures. “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs,” Saint John Chrysostom reminds us. This principle, applied to the whole range of natural resources, is particularly relevant because the global environment is squeezed on two sides: by the over-consumption, greed and waste of the affluent, and by the pressing needs of the poor, often forced to deplete the land around them for the sake of food or fuel in the short term. Equitable sharing with other people does not only involve using less of finite resources. It also precludes enjoying conveniences and luxuries for which others are having to pay the hidden environmental price, living with the toxins used in their manufacture and the pollution caused by their use and disposal.”

This leads me to the second reason we practice responsible stewardship of the environment, love for the other. St. John Chrysostom’s appeal to our own greed reminds me of everyday decisions even at a grocery store. Why would you buy Fairly Traded coffee that’s 2 or 3 dollars more than the regular kind?  In my mind you have two choices: You can either buy a product that was produced with certified ethical practices, guaranteeing payment of the farmers who grew it for you, or you can purchase another product that costs you less money, but doesn’t give that same promise. If one pays the farmer fairly, and the coffee is grown in an environmentally responsible manner, how could there be any other choice? Understanding that your money is not really yours, the responsibility to “Think Globally and Act Locally” becomes a  spiritual mandate challenging us to have these issues on our mind.

“In an age when information is readily available to us, there is surely no excuse for ignorance or indifference. To overlook is to shut our eyes to a reality that is ever-present and ever-increasing. Former generations and cultures may have been unaware of the implications of their actions. Nevertheless, today, more perhaps than any other time or age, we are in a unique position. Today, we stand at a crossroads, namely at a point of choosing the cross that we have to bear. For, today, we know fully well the ecological and global impact of our decisions and actions, irrespective of how minimal or insignificant these may be.  It is our sincere hope and fervent prayer that in the years ahead, more and more of our Orthodox faithful will recognize the importance of a crusade for our environment, which we have so selfishly ignored. This vision, we are convinced, will only benefit future generation by leaving behind a cleaner, better world. We owe it to our Creator. And we owe it to our children.” ( His All- Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch  on the day of the Protection of the Environment, September 1, 2004)

Six years later, let us pray that we continue to educate ourselves in such matters, and challenge ourselves to act accordingly, with grace and courage to the Glory of Jesus Christ and His creation.

Some useful websites:

Thrift Store Finderhttp://www.thethriftshopper.com/

Our local CSA : http://www.norwoodfoodcoop.org/

A local CSA finder: http://www.localharvest.org/

Fair Trade USA 3rd Party : http://www.transfairusa.org/

Carbon Calculator: http://www.fightglobalwarming.com/carboncalculator.cfm

Orthodoxy and Ecology

by Ms. Inga Leonova

Ecology and Orthodoxy

Defining the position of the Church on environmental issues is among the nascent challenges that the modern age presents to the Orthodox tradition. This subject is not without controversy, however, and it begs to be liberated from the realm of politics and media hype and examined in light of Orthodox theology.

This issue is all the more poignant because the very problem of the environmental crisis is a relatively new one, brought to its acute point only in the post-Industrial society, and therefore is subject to modern theological thought. The imperative to examine this matter in light of the Orthodox tradition “with the mind of the Fathers” within the context of contemporary culture reminds us that the tradition is dynamic, evolving, called to respond to the world challenges as they arise and not a dead artifact of the first few hundred years of Christian history.

In general, what does it mean for an Orthodox Christian to be “environmentally responsible”? In the Book of Genesis we are told that “God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). It also says that God commanded Adam: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

Verses 1:26 and 1:28 are a subject of passionate debate among Christians who read those verses in two radically different ways. The debate tends to concentrate on the word “dominion” and whether this word gives human beings leave to deal with the material Creation as we please or whether it implies responsible stewardship. However, this interpretation narrows the matter down to what is known in the contemporary language as environmental responsibility, and thereby leaves out of the equation the essential issue of the Fall: the corruption of human relationship with God and the resultant corruption of all creation which is further described in Genesis 6.

It may be useful to remember that the concept of “dominion” both in 1:26 and 1:28 follows the most mysterious statement “God created man in his own image.” In Slavonic, the word for “dominion” is “lordship,” of the same root as “Lord.” “Lordship” over all Creation was an attribute of Man before the Fall, the exercise of the “likeness of God.” The naming of the beasts that occurs in Gen. 2:19–20 and the “subduing” of the earth are the birthrights of the children of God as they were meant to be. Theology explains that the mission of Man was to bring all creation into unity with its Creator. “Man, on the other hand, because of his material hypostasis, partakes of the material world/Creation; he was from the very beginning pre-ordained by God as the par excellence instrument by which this union of the created and the Uncreated was to be realized, and the subsequent survival of the created.”[i] The meaning of human lordship is beautifully explained in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, a fictional account of the world in which humans overcome the temptation and do not suffer the Fall.

It is this primary lordship that was the casualty of the Fall, when the relationship between humanity and the rest of the created world became one of strife. The image of God became corrupted by disobedience and sin, and man doomed himself to constant battle for survival and desperate struggle with the forces of nature: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” (Gen. 3:17–18). Only those suffering from supreme delusion may think that the present relationship of humanity and the environment can be characterized as our “dominion.”

We should therefore consider the account of creation and the fall in the way we look at such modern phenomena as, for instance, climate change. Although there is always room for scientific debate, there can be no question from theological perspective that climate change is anthropogenic in origin. Whether the impact of human activity on climate processes is qualitative is irrelevant since it is the impact of human sin that makes all nature corrupt. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, “all of Creation also sighs and suffers” (Rom. 8:22).

Moreover, because of the unique relationship of man to the rest of creation, a relationship that is pre-ordained and is therefore objective, the impact of human activity on the material world is the only one that is destructive. “Man has indeed reached the point of being a veritable threat to Creation. That expression of ‘go forth and conquer the earth … ’ — the exercising of his freedom — has led him to use Nature thoughtlessly, to use it as he wishes.”[ii] It is clear therefore that from the theological perspective human relationship with our environment is part of our spiritual battle — we can choose to exercise our freedom to the detriment of creation or we can choose to care for creation even to the point of limiting or sacrificing our needs.

It can be concluded that caring for creation is in no way separate from the process of theosis. If human destiny is to transcend our fallen state and to achieve unity with God, it must include the attaining of the state of servitude to creation that is part of the true lordship. For we know through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ that the real power is in weakness, that the process of ascension is kenotic, and that, borrowing from Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ explanation of Christian hierarchy, it is an inverted pyramid, with the Lord of all being simultaneously the Head of the Church and the servant of all.

Our culture has become the culture of wasteful consumption of resources whereupon we only take and move on, without giving back — this is not a relationship of love, nor of lordship. For lordship, if it is to be Christ-like, is that of a “good shepherd,” not of a thief and plunderer. Only if this relationship changes can we begin to exercise our Eucharistic unity with the world. We must not, however, fall into extremes of an essentially pagan mindset of “tree-hugging” — it is not for man to fully subdue himself to nature, for that would deprive us of our freedom of creativity. We should not forget that in Genesis 1, nature was given to man to consume — but also to cultivate and replenish. “Nature is the ‘other’ that Man is called to bring into communion with himself, affirming it as ‘very good’ through personal creativity.”[iii] Man’s relationship with Creation is first and foremost rooted in the Eucharistic experience, which led St. John of Damascus to proclaim in his apology of the icons that the incarnation of God proved that all matter could be redeemed.[iv] “ … all our own worship consist in the consecration of what is made by hands, leading us through matter to the invisible God.”[v] Ultimately, it is through his relationship with Creation that Man fulfills his “royal priesthood”.[vi]


[i] Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Lectures on Christian Dogmatics at the Poemantic Division of the Thessaloniki University’s School of Theology 1984-1985.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s Occasional Paper nr. 19, summer 1994.

[iv]“ I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.” – Apologia of St. John Damascene Against Those Who Decry Holy Images, translated by Mary H. Allies. London: Thomas Baker, 1898.

[v] St. John of Damascus, Apologia.

[vi] Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Preserving God’s Creation: Three Lectures on Theology and Ecology at King’s College in Oxford, 1989.

Volume 1 Number 5 Contributors

As always, Wonder thanks all of our volunteer contributors.

Rev. Dr K.M. George is a priest and theologian of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India, and was a member of staff of the WCC Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.

Inga Leonova is a practicing architect and student of religious architecture. She teaches design studio at Suffolk University and Boston Architectural College, as well as courses in design history and theory, and architecture of monotheistic faiths. She is a parishioner at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston (OCA). She has over fifteen years of experience in sustainable design and consulting.

Mandy Culbreath-Frazier is an alumna of the inaugural class of the New York City Civic Corps, an AmeriCorps VISTA alumna and a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College, majoring in Human and Community Services with a certificate in Family Ministry. She is a member of Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC and currently attends Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY with her husband and seminarian Deacon John.

Originally from Massachusetts,  Emily Cabey was born in Stoneham and grew up in Woburn and Chelmsford. She moved to Michigan to study Creative Writing and History at Western Michigan University and during that time was blessed not only to meet her husband but also to find the Orthodox Faith. Emily and her husband currently reside in New York where he is a newly ordained priest and is finishing his final year of seminary. Though currently working full-time to support her family, she continues to write both poetry and short stories in her free time.

Photos of St. John’s Monastery were taken by Father Martin Gardner.

For a full treatment of Orthodoxy and Ecology please visit the website of The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration