‘The World is Charged with the grandeur of God… the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.’ These are the first and last lines from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. They contain, I think, an exact summary of Orthodox Church teaching about creation and perhaps a good approach to climate change. We hold that everything, from atoms to galaxies, is created by, reveals, is filled with and ‘charged’ with the ‘grandeur’ and glory of the tri-une God Himself. Our beautiful Orthodox Church would even say that creation itself is an act of love by God. God is continuously, dynamically creating every new moment we draw a breath within, and every one of these moments exist because God has loved it into existence. We can even say that you are God’s word for love – you are the vocalization of love by God. This is why the whole earth – the plants and animals and ecosystems – really matter. We not only depend on them for essential things like food, water, and air; they matter too because God loves them just as He loves you.
Indeed, the Incarnation itself speaks volumes about God’s love of us and the earth starting with the fact that God also became His creation in Christ. In doing so, he took on the atoms, the water, the soil, and the stuff of earth, even the star dust, which comprise the physical body. What is more, Christ enthroned all this after His Ascension. Once we grasp this mystery, we grasp why caring for and loving the planet He created and redeemed is a central part of the Orthodox Gospel, and a vital part of our sacramental life.
However, there’s never been a more important time for our Church’s message about creation than this one. Our climate is changing now, dramatically and quickly, forever. This is obvious. The chance to stop it from doing so has come and gone, and we are all facing, and starting to experience, a very uncertain and tumultuous future. Many things will change very quickly now.
Our world populations are just beginning to move; our north and south poles are becoming unrecognizable; food systems and the resources they depend upon are strained and some places failing; extreme weather events are becoming normal; the age of oil is coming to a close, and with it large portions of existing infrastructure; island-countries are going under the sea; cities, like Sao Paulo in Brasil, with twenty-two million people, are facing evacuation because of drought; we’ve lost half (yes, 50%!) of the world’s wildlife in the last fifty years, and the die off in the oceans is already catastrophic. The indigenous populations of the Americas, and around the world, are telling us what the scientists, climatologists, and every single world leader (except two) are also telling us: it is time to prepare, adapt, mitigate where we can, and change many parts of modern life.
In the face of this reality, the Orthodox must respond with praxis and courage. No one really knows what to do anymore. That’s the truth of it. This is the greatest challenge our species has ever faced. The ecosystems changing around the world are not only more complex than humans know; they are more complex than we can know. Human ingenuity and technology will not be enough. We were smart enough to build our Babel; but not smart enough to know the consequences.
So, we are left, at this point, with what we started with: the teaching and life and presence of Christ. This is THE time in history to attend to these teachings, to start practicing them, and to live in the hope and surety of them. We will not escape suffering, or hardship, or even death. But we need not experience despair, and we can serve this beautiful creation, and every person, animal, and ecosystem in it, with power, love, grace, dignity, and truth. We can do so because whatever comes, has already been overcome (1 John 5:4); it has already been enthroned with God in Christ. And as Hopkins says, in the poem above, ‘And yet for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things… / Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods, with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.’
On this World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, therefore, you are called to service. In fact, we all are called to repentance first. It is time to face the truths of our situation. It is time now, whether we like it or believe it or want it, to face our changing climate and the defining moment in human history with all the power of Christ, with the witness of the Apostles, with the courage of the myrrh-bearers, with the humility of the saints, with the concern of the Holy Unmercenaries, with the truth of the Fathers and Mothers , with the hope of the martyrs, with the promise of God. Indeed, the time is coming, and now is, for the Orthodox to fulfill God’s purpose and become a lamp unto the nations, a city set on a hill, and a place of refuge for people and animals and all creation. We are God’s ark now. Enlist on September 1st for service. And let’s begin with thanksgiving.
Fr Kaleeg Hainsworth