An exciting convergence of agreement between major Eastern and Western Churches has recently taken place on a critical contemporary moral issue: care for the environment. Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamum has labeled the issue in question existential ecumenism,i because it deals with the problem of living out our lives on earth and cosmos, the creation God has given us dominion over. (Gn 1: 28)
One of the first modern-day alerts of the current environmental crisis occurred in the message on the Day of Prayer for Creation in September 1993 by Patriarch Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who wrote, "During this time, brothers and children in the Lord, when international organizations, inter-state legislation and scientific research programs are united in jeremiads and lamentations to toll the bell of danger so that man might sober up in time before the coming of mass chaos, which would threaten universal order and balance in the various so-called "eco-systems," not only of our planet, but of the entire cosmos. . . .ii
The words of Pope Francis I of Rome in his encyclical Laudato Si now add to this. The theological connection to God's creative act recorded in Genesis can be immediately seen in the Holy Father's words: "This sister [our earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her."iii
The papal encyclical is not a scientific treatise, but a moral challenge to be aware of our past sins and repent for them by reversing the ills we have inflicted. In this regard, the Holy Father references Patriarch Bartholomew who informs us: "For human beings. . .to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins". For "to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God." It is clear that consumerism, greed and power have to be replaced by a spiritual respect for creation, what Metropolitan John calls ecological asceticism, "restraint in the consumption of natural resources [and] immense waste of natural materials."
Thus, let us, inspired by "existential ecumenism," heed the words of newly canonized St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain: "This grass is an icon; this stone is an icon; and I can kiss it, venerate it, because it is filled with God's grace. The world is not for us to take things from, but a place where we cast off our passions and desires."iv
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. Morelli is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is a Senior Fellow at the Sophia Institute, an independent Orthodox Advanced Research Association and Philanthropic Foundation housed at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City that serves as a gathering force for contemporary Orthodox scholars, theologians, spiritual teachers, and ethicists.
Fr. Morelli serves on the Executive Board of the San Diego Cognitive Behavior Therapy Consortium (SDCBTC)
Fr. Morelli serves as Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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