Since 1989, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has called September 1, the Day for the Protection of the Environment. In the annual encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness uses the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year (the Indiction as it is called) to call all Christians to pray for the environment and to commit themselves to working for environmental clean up and sustainability.
The full text of this year's message can be found on the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (www.patriarchate.org). I hope you will read the entire letter, but two passages bear extra notice. First His All-Holiness helps us consider how our environmental concern should attend to the macroscopic - the oceans, etc. but also the microscopic - genes, etc. He says, "Inasmuch as it is well known and proven, that 'the laws of nature are neither dissolved nor disturbed, but always remain constant' (St. John Chrysostom, On Lazarus VI PG 48.1042), we are today obliged to focus our attention on the unseen human interventions impacting the ecological balance, which is disturbed not only by visible destructive actions -- such as deforestation, depletion of water resources, the overall exploitation of natural and energy resources, together with the pollution of immense land or marine regions by means of spilling or depositing toxic and chemical materials -- but also by activities invisible to the naked eye. We are speaking of interventions into the genes of living creatures and the creation of mutations with unforeseen developments...." The encyclical goes on to discuss how the Christianity is not against scientific research and discovery, "so long as it provides beneficial services to humanity and the environment."
Second, His All-Holiness calls all to pray for wisdom and discernment in the application of scientific advances . As he writes, "It is our obligation, as shepherds of the Church, and every person of the spirit and sciences but also of all devout Christians, to do good and especially to pray that the divine Creator of all may enlighten the scientists...that they may enter the mysteries of nature with humility before God and respect toward the natural laws so as to avoid the unnatural use of their research for commercial or other reasons."
With Sunday Church schools just underway, this is a good time to include lessons and activities on the environment in classes with all ages. The activities will certainly be important (cleanups, recycling drives, tree plantings and more), but it is even more important to connect caring for the natural world with Orthodox Christian teachings. We care about the environment not only because it is nice thing to do and creates many opportunities for doing something as a church, but because when we look into the Orthodox Faith and Way of Life, we can see that our Faith has an environmental ethic within it. Here are some thoughts and ideas:
* In many of the writings of the Ecumenical Patriarch, he discusses how we need to add sinning against the natural world to our reflections and self-examinations, in addition to considering harmful things we've done to our neighbors and self. What does it mean to sin against the environment? How might we repent from these sins?
* Asceticism or disciplined and simple living is integrally related to environmental issues. Students could look at fasting in a new way, not just giving up certain foods, but thinking about the environmental impact of their fast, or giving up certain items because of their packaging or environmental impact?
* Liturgical life is related to the environment because we use elements of the natural world, offer it back to God, and receive it transformed. First and foremost are the bread and wine and water in the Eucharist. How would we be affected if we could not use the water or make the bread because of environmental degradation? But throughout the year, we bless water, fruit, flowers, animals. We use many of these in our Church services. This is also connected to the idea that all people are "priests of creation." What does that mean?
To read the Patriarch's Enclyclicals and messages about the environment go to www.patriarchate.org
To find the text for the Vespers for the Enviroment go to http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/vespers_creation
Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew , Revised Edition, J. Chryssavgis, editor, Eerdmans Publishing, CO, 2003, 2009. -- http://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/books-1-2/pastoral-theology-and-ethics/9780802862617-cosmic-grace-humble-prayer-patriarch-bartholomew.html
Greening the Orthodox Parish , F. Kreuger, Currently, the best way to purchase this book is from amazon.com -- http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1469949369/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1RKNWKRRKC1DT5068E6Y&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1389517282&pf_rd_i=507846
The Green Patriarch -- http://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/dvd-and-video/documentaries/the-green-patriarch-dvd.html or order from the Department of Religious Education