Respecting God's Creation

How many people have ever been somewhere out in nature and felt the presence of God? Maybe it was through watching an incredible sunrise or sunset. Maybe it was looking upon a majestic mountain or lake. It can come through a summer breeze as you stare out into the endless ocean. Some people will tell me how they feel more connected with God in the beauty of nature than in any formal church setting.

My family recently went white water rafting in the mountains and as we navigated the Kennebec River, where we witnessed the stunning beauty of Maine. Or I remember a family trip some years ago standing over the breathtaking Grand Canyon and thinking of God’s magnificence, or as we overlooked the picturesque Aegean Sea from the Greek islands. And when I was younger, traveling on safari through the African Serengeti, looking upon God’s wild kingdom. Our Lord’s beautiful creation creates a certain awe and wonder in all of us. That’s why David proclaimed throughout the Psalms, “How magnificent are your works O Lord, in wisdom you made them all!”

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over all of creation and commanded them to become faithful stewards and caretakers over his creation. Of course, man and woman are the culmination of God’s handiwork, created in His image and in His likeness. Yet as the ultimate and greatest creation, God gave us the great responsibility and privilege to act as good stewards and responsible caretakers over all His creation.

Yet look at the world around us! Daily we hear about the impact of climate change and how the consequences of such climate change is destroying the earth. We presently hear in the news about devasting fires in the Amazon basin in South America. Meanwhile, vast stretches of savanna are ablaze in central Africa. And even artic regions of Siberia are burning at a historic pace. Our future is threatened with more and more severe drought, which will lead to a lack of drinkable water, and other apocalyptic consequences of natural disasters. What’s happening to our precious world? What responsibility do we hold for this developing disaster? And how are we responding as the God-given guardians and caretakers of Mother Earth?

Today, September 1st, marks the beginning of a new Church Year, and it has been designated by our Ecumenical Patriarch since 1989 as a “Day of Prayer for Creation.” For the past 30 years, our Ecumenical Patriarch has tried to remind not only our Orthodox Christian Family, but all the leaders of humanity, to turn our attention to the world of God’s creation and to remember the grave responsibility we have to care for it.

Listen to the words of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has been a leading voice internationally warning the world over the past 30 years. He has been at the forefront of the ecological challenge - gathering scientists, political and business leaders and theologians together - challenging our global village to wake up and not only understand but fulfill the sacred call we have in caring for the environment:

"We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins before God."

"We are treating our planet in an inhuman, godless manner precisely because we fail to see it as a gift inherited from above. Our original sin with regard to the natural environment lies in our refusal to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and neighbor on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that divine and human meet in the slightest detail contained in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust."

"It should not be fear of impending disaster with regard to global change that obliges us to change our ways with regard to the natural environment. Rather, it should be a recognition of the cosmic harmony and original beauty that exists in the world. We must learn to make our communities more sensitive and to render our behavior toward nature more respectful. We must acquire a compassionate heart – what St. Isaac of Syria, a seventh century mystic once called a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation: for humans, for birds and beasts, for all God’s creatures."

"The fundamental criterion for an ecological ethic is not individualistic or commercial. It is deeply spiritual. For, the root of the environmental crisis lies in human greed and selfishness. What is asked of us is not greater technological skill, but deeper repentance for our wrongful and wasteful ways. What is demanded is a sense of sacrifice, which comes with cost but also brings about fulfillment. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say “no” or “enough” will we rediscover our true human place in the universe."

"The way we respond to the natural environment directly reflects the way we treat human beings. The willingness to exploit the environment is revealed in the willingness to permit avoidable human suffering. So, the survival of the natural environment is also the survival of ourselves. When will we understand that a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and sin against God?"

"If we are guilty of relentless waste, it is because we have lost the spirit of worship. We are no longer respectful pilgrims on this earth; we have been reduced to careless consumers or passing travelers. This spiritual vision of worship guides us to a life that sees more clearly and shares more fairly, moving away from what we want individually to what the world needs globally. Then, we begin to value everything for its place in creation and not simply its economic value to us, thereby restoring the original beauty of the world, seeing all things in God and God in all things."

These words from our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch give us much to reflect upon. Let each of us think how we can act as better stewards and caretakers of the earth and its resources individually, as a church family and community, as a nation, and as citizens of planet earth.

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