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Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation

Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation

John Chryssavgis
Bruce V. Foltz
George E. Demacopoulos
Aristotle Papanikolaou
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 508
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  • Book Info
    Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation
    Book Description:

    Can Orthodox Christianity offer unique spiritual resources especially suited to the environmental concerns of today? This book makes the case that yes, it can. In addition to being the first substantial and comprehensive collection of essays, in any language, to address environmental issues from the Orthodox point of view, this volume with contributions from the most highly influential theologians and philosophers in contemporary world Orthodoxy will engage a wide audience, in academic as well as popular circles--resonating not only with Orthodox audiences but with all those in search of a fresh approach to environmental theory and ethics that can bring the resources of ancient spirituality to bear on modern challenges.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5146-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prefatory Letter
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Bill McKibben

    This remarkable volume helps answer a worldly question that’s interested me for some years: Why has Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch and spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, been such a standout figure among religious leaders in his call for environmental care? A Western Christian such as myself can establish an ethic of stewardship from the Catholic or Protestant readings of the Bible, but it must be said that most of these churches have been slow at best to embrace the move toward care of creation. Bartholomew, by contrast, was dubbed the “Green Patriarch” in the very first years of his...

  5. Introduction. “The Sweetness of Heaven Overflows onto the Earth”: Orthodox Christianity and Environmental Thought
    (pp. 1-6)
    John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz

    During the past few decades, the world has witnessed alarming environmental degradation—the threat of anthropogenic climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the pollution of natural resources—along with the widening gap between rich and poor, as well as the increasing failure to implement environmental policies. We are reminded—in a painful way—of this crisis when we learn of the cruel extinction of flora and fauna and of irresponsible soil degradation and forest clearance, as well as when we endure unacceptable noise, air, and water pollution. Nonetheless, for Orthodox Christian philosophers and theologians, the concern for the environment...


    • The Logoi of Beings in Greek Patristic Thought
      (pp. 9-22)
      David Bradshaw

      One of the most intriguing aspects of Greek patristic thought about nature is the concept of thelogoiof beings. Thelogoiare the “inner essences” of things, the value and significance they have in the eyes of the Creator rather than in our faulty human estimation. To perceive thelogoiin beings is the act known astheōria phusikē, the second of the three stages of the spiritual life distinguished by Evagrius and the tradition that followed him.¹ A full discussion oftheōria phusikēwould require situating it within its role in the ascetic life—as, on the one...

    • Hierarchy and Love in St. Dionysius the Areopagite
      (pp. 23-33)
      Eric D. Perl

      The idea that human beings, as rational, as persons, made “in the image and likeness of God,” are radically set apart from and above all lesser beings is often pointed to, with some justice, as one of the major sources of today’s degradation of the natural environment. In its extreme form, that idea implies that subhuman beings have no intrinsic purpose or value, and exist only for humans to use for our own ends. Consider, for example, the following statement, taken from a discussion of human cloning:

      The cloning of sheep, supercow, chicken and pigs poses no ethical problems because...

    • The Beauty of the World and Its Significance in St. Gregory the Theologian
      (pp. 34-45)
      John Anthony McGuckin

      This paper sets out to consider some of the ways one of the most eminent of the Greek Fathers spoke about the loveliness of the world and to examine what motives lay behind his rhetorical celebration of Cosmic beauty in that much-deliberated elegance of the chosen word. In this instance, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390; known in the Eastern Christian world always as “The Theologian”), like many of the other Fathers who represented a moderate Origenian tradition, followed a longstanding and commonly adopted Platonic axiom of the day that “Only like can know, and be known by, like.”¹ This is...

    • Natural Contemplation in St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Isaac the Syrian
      (pp. 46-58)
      Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen)

      Natural contemplation,theoria physike, is an essential category in Orthodox spiritual terminology for the relationship of man with the environment. Natural contemplation is a stage in spiritual growth wherein the soul of a person has been cleansed of the effects of the passions and has returned to the natural state of human being, of human nature as it was created to be. Thus a person who has purified himself and been illumined with grace will have a unique perspective on how to live in the created world, one informed by his enlightened perception. This perception in a state of natural...

    • Man and Cosmos in St. Maximus the Confessor
      (pp. 59-72)
      Andrew Louth

      I want to do something more in this paper¹ than simply expound the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, for the subject—Man and Cosmos—is not some arcane bit of teaching from late antiquity, like, for instance, St. Maximus’s understanding of the links between the passions and the various internal organs of the human body—liver, kidneys, etc.—though even with such teaching we may have more to learn than we might think at first sight. Rather, the subject of Man and the Cosmos is still something that deeply concerns us, perhaps even more so now that man seems...


    • Ecology, Theology, and the World
      (pp. 75-85)
      Savas Agouridis

      The church today, confronted by the ecological revolution, is in danger of suffering just as it did during the technological and other revolutions.¹ It is in danger of being entirely unprepared, since the effective preparation for radical changes in human thought and behavior is neither an easy nor simple process. It demands serious theological adaptation and large-scale upheaval within the church body, and this requires rigorous struggle and considerable sacrifice.

      Christians and theologians entered the new technological and ecological age as the “accused.” The ecological movement targeted the unbridled exploitation of natural resources and the unrestrained economic development of nations...

    • Through Creation to the Creator
      (pp. 86-105)
      Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia

      On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

      Fr. Amphilochios (d. 1970), the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment ‘love the trees.’ ” Whoever does not love trees,...

    • Creation as Communion in Contemporary Orthodox Theology
      (pp. 106-120)
      Aristotle Papanikolaou

      This paper will critically compare the creation theologies of Sergius Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky, and John Zizioulas. I offer this critical comparison of the three most influential trajectories in contemporary Orthodox theology to discern whether, in fact, contemporary Orthodox theology has anything to offer to the wider, global discussion of Orthodoxy’s response to questions and concerns about the environment.

      In previous work,¹ I have argued that, their differences notwithstanding, contemporary Orthodox theologians ground their theology in one fundamental principle: the realism of divine-human communion. The realism of divine-human communion affirms that God exists so as to be free, as love, to...

    • The Theological-Ethical Contributions of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) to Environmental Issues
      (pp. 121-130)
      Perry T. Hamalis

      The subject of environmental issues and Orthodox Christianity does not, typically, bring to mind the names of Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) or his mentor in the spiritual life, St. Silouan the Athonite. Indeed, even those who knew Elder Sophrony personally or who are familiar with his writing would likely not identify “the environment” as a subject on which he had something unique or especially significant to offer. Monasticism, the “person,” repentance, prayer, or the spiritual life more broadly, yes—but environmental ethics, no. Having said this, however, we should note, first, that St. Silouan’s teachings have been cited within such landmark...

    • The Cosmology of the Eucharist
      (pp. 131-135)
      George Theokritoff

      Here, in a statement that focuses on the work of God in the Eucharist, St. Irenaeus summarizes the essence of the Cosmology of the Eucharist in a seemingly simple yet profound statement. What I propose to do here is to approach this Cosmology from a different perspective, drawing on what we know of the workings of the Cosmos. We could usefully start by asking the questions “What is bread?” and “What is wine?”

      It needs hardly to be said that bread is made of flour, yeast (or leaven), and water, and wine by the fermentation of grape juice. What is...

    • “A ‘Tradition’ That Never Existed”: Orthodox Christianity and the Failures of Environmental History
      (pp. 136-151)
      Jurretta Jordan Heckscher

      A particular understanding of historical Christianity’s approach to nature is now accepted in the academic study of environmental history (here defined to mean any account of the man-nature relationship that engages the realm of history) and among the general public throughout much of the world. The present paper explores this understanding with particular reference to English-language scholarship, to demonstrate that it depends on a failure to integrate or, often, even acknowledge Orthodox Christian history, and to argue an imperative for historians, ethicists, theologians, environmentalists, religious leaders, and members of the general public to come to terms with that neglected Orthodox...

    • A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality, and the Sacraments
      (pp. 152-162)
      John Chryssavgis

      Contributing to the ecumenical statement by the National Council of Churches on the environment, published in the form of an open letter in 2005 and entitled “God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States” (http://www/, was a natural response for me as an Orthodox theologian. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has long assumed an active leadership in this field, placing ecological issues at the center of his ministry. This article examines some of his initiatives, while exploring some of the biblical and theological insights that continue to shape his ecological vision. It also presents a...

    • Proprietors or Priests of Creation?
      (pp. 163-172)
      Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon

      The development of ecological awareness and sensitivity in the last years has led to the use of various models of speaking about the relation of the human being to nature.¹ The prevailing model is that ofsteward: the human being is the steward of creation. This terminology has become widespread not only among secular ecologists but also among religious ones, and especially among the latter. We encounter it in almost every reference by theologians to the ecological problem. The idea of stewardship is a useful one mainly from the point of view of what it intends to exclude, namely, that...


    • Sedimentation of Meaning in the Concepts of Nature and the Environment
      (pp. 175-185)
      James Carey

      One of the concerns of present-day philosophy is the problem identified by Edmund Husserl as “sedimentation.” In the history of human thought, a concept emerges that captures an insight or a new way of looking at things. This concept contains a certain density of meaning for those who first come up with it, label it with a name, and incorporate it into their discourse. The term is then communicated in writing to later generations. What was at first grasped actively and with insight is received more and more passively, and with decreasing insight, as a taken-for-granted inheritance. In time, sedimentation...

    • Existential versus Regulative Approaches: The Environmental Issue as an Existential and Not a Canonical Problem
      (pp. 186-192)
      Christos Yannaras

      The Apocalypse of St. John has been regarded as the supreme symbol of the decisive cultural shift that occurred with the advent of Christianity: a shift fromnaturetohistory.¹ The problem of the environment—the violation of nature, its unrestrained exploitation by the human race—is judged to be a necessary consequence of the priority that Christianity gave to history, subordinating nature to an eschatological perspective that entailed its final disappearance for the sake of an eagerly awaited spiritual “Kingdom.”

      We are speaking of a cultural shift because Christianity was preceded by ancient Greece. To the Greeks, the idea...

    • Nature and Creation: A Comment on the Environmental Problem from a Philosophical and Theological Standpoint
      (pp. 193-203)
      Nikos Nissiotis

      Philosophical thinking has been in large part anthropocentric, in a peculiar way: it has regarded man as the center of creation on the basis of his intellect and, more specifically, of rational thought.¹ In this way, philosophy has been the foundation for the intellectual culture and the particular technological culture known as rationalistic; it is given a practical application in science, and it presumes and encourages a unique and dominant position for man vis-à-vis all other living and material beings and natural phenomena. It is the same rationalism that investigates the essence of truth, that nvestigates the nature and essence...

    • Physis and Ktisis: Two Different Ways of Thinking of the World
      (pp. 204-209)
      John Panteleimon Manoussakis

      My purpose in this paper is to offer some thoughts by means of an elucidation of this statement by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, a pioneer in environmental theology. What does it mean that creation will be saved through incorporation in the human being? How are we to understand this incorporation of the world in the human person? Before addressing these questions, perhaps a few words are in order about the world itself. What is the world? Usually, we know what we mean by this term without the need for further explanation or definition. The world, one could say, is...

    • Human Image, World Image: The Renewal of Sacred Cosmology
      (pp. 210-225)
      Philip Sherrard

      One thing we no longer need to be told is that we are in the throes of a crisis of the most appalling dimensions.¹ We tend to call this crisis the ecological crisis, and this is a fair description insofar as its effects are manifest above all in the ecological sphere. For here the message is quite clear: our entire way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal, and unless we change it radically there is no way in which we can avoid cosmic catastrophe. Without such change, the whole adventure of civilization will come to an end during the...

    • Environment and Security: Toward a Systemic Crisis of Humanity?
      (pp. 226-234)
      Costa Carras

      This paper is based on two fundamental observations.¹ First, environmental causes might not only be at the root of social and ethnic conflict—as a result, for instance, of shortages of water and power—but might also provide opportunities for different groups to work together in order to avoid serious crises or indeed catastrophes that may appear otherwise impossible to overcome without broad international collaboration. Second, we need to form a view of likely long-term developments, of our response to date, and, in consequence, of what remains to be done to meet the outstanding challenges.

      In beginning such a broad...

    • Church Walls and Wilderness Boundaries: Defining the Spaces of Sanctuary
      (pp. 235-242)
      L. Michael Harrington

      Most of us know Sequoia-King’s Canyon only as a national park, which part of it has been since 1890, but nearly all of it became a federally designated wilderness area in 1984 under the California Wilderness Act, and it is one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. When I use the term “wilderness,” I mean only such federally designated wilderness areas. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines them as areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”¹ This definition has provoked a...

    • Orthodoxy and Ecopoetics: The Green World in the Desert Sea
      (pp. 243-262)
      Alfred K. Siewers

      The early Irish storyTochmarc Étaíne(“The Wooing of Étaín”), c. 800, describes a spiritual realm that is entered through portals in Neolithic mounds in the landscape, but also in other texts through islands, springs, or encounters in the countryside itself. This “Otherworld,” a framework for a number of early Christian Irish and Welsh texts, is always present but not visible to mortals because of Adam’s sin, according to the story. The otherworldly figure Mider tells his rediscovered wife of that realm when he sings:

      Bé Find will you go with me

      to a strange land where there is harmony?...

    • Perspectives on Orthodoxy, Evolution, and Ecology
      (pp. 263-275)
      Gayle E. Woloschak

      The goal of this paper is to establish two claims: first, that ancient Christianity is not based on concepts that permit humans to “abuse” nature and the environment, and second, that ecology and evolution as scientific disciplines are tightly linked and that a failure to recognize one or the other as valid will have significant societal impact. These views are synergistic: a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature can be founded upon the ancient teachings of the Church as much as upon the views of contemporary science.

      Today, the environmental crisis has come to play a critical role in public...

    • Ecology, Morality, and the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century: The Earth in the Hands of the Sons of Noah
      (pp. 276-290)
      H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr.

      Orthodox Christianity can tell us about how to go to heaven but not how the heavens go. The Church does not possess special sensible, empirical, scientific knowledge (although this can be the case in the instance of great ascetics, true theologians) that can inform us about whether and how much global warming can be attributed to the presence of humans, what the implications of those changes are, what specifically should be done to ameliorate adverse changes, or about a host of other sensible-empirical issues that bear on particular policy choices regarding the environment. The Church does not serve as a...


    • The Fragile Surround
      (pp. 293-294)
      Scott Cairns
    • Liturgy, Cosmic Worship, and Christian Cosmology
      (pp. 295-306)
      Elizabeth Theokritoff

      Hearing “liturgy” and “cosmology” in the same breath is unlikely to strike anyone as odd. We are all familiar with the term “cosmic liturgy” felicitously used (so far as I know, coined) by Hans Urs von Balthasar to describe Maximus’s vision of the world. Here “liturgy” seems to be used as an analogy for the way the cosmos functions in relation to its Creator. It is a very fertile analogy and one used quite extensively by a number of contemporary Orthodox, especially by monastic writers.¹ But it is often not clear how exactly this cosmic vision relates to liturgy in...

    • “All Creation Rejoices in You”: Creation in the Liturgies for the Feasts of the Theotokos
      (pp. 307-323)
      Christina M. Gschwandtner

      Transfiguration is at the very core of Orthodox liturgy. It is well known that the notion oftheosisas the transfiguring and deifying of believers is the central redemptive thrust of Eastern theology. This belief and goal is expressed and made real in liturgical practice. Yet such transfiguring does not apply only to the human person. Rather, the liturgy takes up and transforms all of creation, including the very space and time in which it takes place.¹ Increasingly, Orthodox scholars are recognizing the potential of this insight for the ecological debate. In fact, a phrase from the Eucharistic action of...

    • Traces of Divine Fragrance, Droplets of Divine Love: On the Beauty of Visible Creation
      (pp. 324-336)
      Bruce V. Foltz

      In discussing beauty, which is extraordinary, I want to begin from everyday, ordinary experience, to suggest that ordinariness itself is a constraint we heedlessly impose upon the extraordinary. I want to begin with the small owl unexpectedly encountered, bathing in a pool of water after a rain, whose beauty illumines the remainder of the evening with a certain charm, a spiritual fragrance of enchantment—or with the dusty, late afternoon sky glimpsed momentarily along a country road long ago, whose muted, translucent hues are beautiful in some subtle but deeply satisfying way, giving rise to a distinct sense that this...

    • Natural and Supernatural Revelation in Early Irish and Greek Monastic Thought: A Comparative Approach
      (pp. 337-347)
      Chrysostomos Koutloumousianos

      Some striking similarities have been traced between Irish and Eastern Christianity in the field of theology and spiritual life, with monasticism being the meeting point of these physically distant traditions. Here we will discuss theological theses expressed in early Irish and Greek religious literature of the first Byzantine period in the context of comparative spirituality, with a view to showing the unity of God’s revelation in both nature and history, according to pre-Norman Irish and Greek patristic thought and religious experience, and that testify to a common theological background and a shared insight rooted in the biblical tradition.¹

      The severance...

    • Ecology and Monasticism
      (pp. 348-355)
      Archimandrite Vasileios

      I ask for your blessing, because I have nothing to say. I ask for your blessing, but I ask your indulgence as well, because I have nothing to give. I wish to thank all of you because I believe this gathering has been holy and sacred. That we are all working together and have come to some mutual understanding gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Everyone has helped, and I think we have already identified where our topic is to be found.

      I believe, then, that the problem is to be found within us; all love and beneficence are...

    • The Prophetic Charisma in Pastoral Theology: Asceticism, Fasting, and the Ecological Crisis
      (pp. 356-364)
      Anestis Keselopoulos

      In the Orthodox Church, the core of the prophetic charisma is neither the gift of making apocalyptic statements about impending doom nor the gift of uttering words of encouragement about a resolution to contemporary problems in the future. The heart of prophecy consists of an experience of revelation in which the vision of Christ in glory transfigures the person who beholds Him. Saint John the Theologian explicitly refers to this when he remarks that “these things said Isaiah when He saw His glory, and spoke of Him” (John 12:41). The sixth chapter of Isaiah relates his vision of the Second...

    • The Spirit of God Moved upon the Face of the Waters: Orthodox Holiness and the Natural World
      (pp. 365-376)
      Donald Sheehan

      In thePrima Vitaof the nineteenth-century Russian saint known as Herman of Alaska, this passage occurs:

      In the middle of Spruce Island [a tiny island a few miles out to sea from Kodiak, Alaska] a little river runs from the mountain into the sea. There were always large logs of driftwood at the mouth of this river, continuously brought there by storms. In the springtime when the river fish would appear, the Elder would dig in the sand so that the river could pass by and the fish in the sea would hasten up the river. “It would happen...


    • APPENDIX A Vespers for the Environment: September 1 (or the first Sunday in September)
      (pp. 379-397)
    • APPENDIX B Environment, Nature, and Creation in Orthodox Thought: A Bibliography of Texts in English
      (pp. 398-409)
    • APPENDIX C Glossary
      (pp. 410-414)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 415-468)
  12. List of Contributors
    (pp. 469-474)
  13. Index of Names (Classical)
    (pp. 475-476)
  14. Index of Names (Contemporary)
    (pp. 477-479)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 480-488)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 489-492)