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Day of the Protection of the Environment 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Beloved children in the Lord,


By the Grace of God we commence today yet another Church year, yet another festal cycle, with all the blessed opportunities it provides for us to intensify our spiritual struggle that we may realize the possibility that has been given us of becoming 'in the likeness' of God and that we too may become His saints.

            This day, the 1st September, the first day of the Church year, is, however, on the initiative of the Ecumenical Patrairchate, dedicated to prayer for the natural environment. This dedication is far from unconnected with the significance of the day as a time for renewed spiritual effort, since this struggle brings about that 'good change' in a person and contributes to the betterment of his relationships with the environment and the cultivation of his sensitivity to the importance of its protection and preservation.

            And so today we glorify God's holy name because he has given nature to mankind and preserves and sustains it as the most perfect environment for the healthy development of man's body and spirit. We cannot, however, overlook the fact that man does not value this gift of God as he should and destroys the environment out of greed or other selfish desires.

            Our environment, as we know, comprises earth, water, sun and air and also, of course, the fauna and flora. Man can exploit nature for his own benefit up to a certain limit that ensures the sustainability of the energy resources consumed and safeguards the reproduction of all living creatures. Indeed, this exploitation of nature in a good sense is God's explicit command to man before his fall. The transgression of this limit, however, which has been a feature of the last two centuries of human history, destroys the harmony of the natural constituents of the environment and leads to the exhaustion and ultimately to the death of creation and of man himself who cannot survive in eco-systems that have become unbalanced in a non-reversible way. A result of this phenonenon is the appearance and spread of diseases due to pollution of the food chain caused by human activity.

            The paramount importance of forests and of the flora in general for the sustainability of the earth's eco-system is rightly emphasized nowadays, as is the need to preserve its water resources, but we must not underestimate the huge contribution of animal life in ensuring the harmonious functioning of nature. Animals have always been friends to man and servants to human needs, providing him with food, clothing and transport as well as protection and companionship. The close relationship of man with animals is shown by the fact that they were created on the same day (Gen. 1. 24-31) and by God's command to Noah to save one pair of each species from the impending flood (Gen. 6.19). It is very characteristic that God displays especial care to preserve the animal kingdom. Again and again in the Lives of the Saints we encounter stories about the wondrous relationships between Saints and wild beasts who in other circumstances would be anything but amicably disposed towards man. This, of course, is not due to their evil nature, but to man's resistance to the Grace of God and his subsequent collision course with the elements and creatures of nature. Moreover, a further consequence of the disrupted relationship between Adam and Eve and their Creator and God was the disruption to their relationship with the environment: 'Cursed is the earth in your labors; with pains you will eat it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall cause to grow up for you, and you will eat the herbage of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the earth from which you were taken, for you are earth and to earth you will depart.' (Gen. 3. 17-19) Man's reconciliation with God involves his reconciliation with the elements of nature.

            It is clear in this light that man's good relationship with the environment develops when along with this there develops a good relationship between man and God. There is a well known story from the Life of Saint Anthony that tells how at the age of ninety the Saint decided under the guidance of an Angel of the Lord to set off deeper into the desert to find another hermit, Saint Paul of Thebes, in order to benefit from his spiritual counsel. After walking for three days in search of him and following the tracks of wild beasts, he eventually encountered a lion that calmly bowed its head before him and, making an about turn, led the Great Anthony to the cave of Saint Paul, where he found the hermit being waited on by wild animals. His ration of bread was being brought to him every day by a crow! Indeed, on the day that Saint Anthony visited the bird brought a double ration to make provision for the visitor too! These Saints had developed a blessed relationship with God and hence they had kindly relationships with all the creatures of nature. The creation of this good relationship with God must be made our primary concern, and in service of this aim we must strive for a good relationship with our environment, animal, vegetable and physical. From this perspective our love for animals will not simply be an exhibition of sympathy for those animals dear to us, which, alas, is all too often accompanied by indifference to the sufferings of our fellow man, the image of God, but it will be a result of our good relationship with the Creator of all things. Would that the Creator of the 'exceedingly good' universe and of the 'exceedingly good' earthly eco-system may inspire all of us to to behave with compassion towards all the elements of nature with a heart that is filled with mercy for all of them, humans, animals and plants. When Saint Isaac the Syrian was asked, "What is a merciful heart?" he replied: "A merciful heart is a heart that burns for the whole of creation, for men, for birds, for beasts and for every created thing. And from the remembrance and contemplation of these things the eyes are filled with tears. From the intensity and superabundance of mercy overtaking the heart, and from its deep contrition, the heart is humbled and cannot bear to hear of or see any harm or slightest sorrow befalling creation" (Abba Isaac the Syrian, Discourse 81).

            Through such compassion towards the whole of creation we will honour our God-given role as masters of Creation, looking with fatherly care on all its elements. In this way these elements will be obedient to us, responding to our benificent disposition and will faithfullly execute their mission of serving our needs.

1st September 2011


Your beloved brother in Christ and

fervent supplicant before God,

+ BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople

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