“… there are no two ways of looking at either the world or God. There is no distinction between human welfare and concern for ecological preservation. The way we relate to nature as creation reflects directly the way we believe in God as Creator of all things. The sacredness with which we handle the natural environment clearly mirrors the sacredness that we reserve for the divine.” – His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew
Climate change, to most of us, is very political. Politicians from the left and from the right have taken it, twisted it, beat it down and used the notion for their own agenda and purpose – and each have their collection of followers and detractors. Some embrace what the scientists have to say, others reject it wholesale. Some qualify it so that it meets their own needs while others exaggerate it in order to make their point. One thing that I didn’t know is that the Orthodox Church has a very firm position on climate change – a position that was discussed during the ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’ conference in Washington, DC – a conference I was honored to cover for the Orthodox Christian Network. The position: (in case you couldn’t infer it from the Patriarch’s quote I opened this piece with, or the title), climate change is real, it’s a religious issue and as Orthodox Christians we need to pay attention and do what it scripturally required of us – protect God’s creation; look after this Earth as the stewards that God requires us to be.
Archbishop Demetrios, keynote speaker at this conference stated that ‘Whatever we do to this Earth, we do to Heaven itself.” The notion here is that we, as Christians, as children of God (and even at its most basic, we as humans) have a responsibility to treat the creation of the Lord with reverence and respect. The contention of the Church is that by burning fossil fuels, emitting pollutants into the atmosphere and wasting resources, we are not doing our part to protect the world that God has entrusted us with.
Long story short, our Church and our leaders are green. They are green not because they are politically liberal. They are green not because they have a political agenda, though they absolutely do have a spiritual agenda. They are green because they know that we all need to be better stewards of God creation. They recognize the gift that God has given us with this world and they are urging us to help protect the Earth around us as we would protect and honor Heaven.
Solutions were many as a number of speakers at the “On Earth as it is in Heaven” conference spoke about the effects climate change is having on our world. Dr. Lise van Sustren spoke about the psychological impacts of climate change while Dr. James Hansen took a very anecdotal approach, speaking of decline in population of some animals and the potentially destructive path that we are on. Not all discussions were at the 30,000 foot level. One of the most practical presentations was by Fr. Constantine Lazarakis as he described green concepts he incorporated as he built the new building to house his church, Kimissis tis Theotokou on Long Island, NY.
I know that many are reading this and bristling. Many of you have a sense of what climate change is (or isn’t) and are simply espousing the political beliefs that those in your chosen camps are spouting. The fact that one major scientific organization after another, that scientists the world over are all saying that climate change is real and is a danger means nothing to some of you. That’s fine. I dig it. This piece is not meant to discuss climate change in the political sense, but as Orthodox Christians (which I imagine most of you reading this are, right?) we do have the collective responsibility to protect our surroundings – and those surroundings are under threat. It’s not simply the environment as a whole even; it’s the effects that any climactic change will have on people. The Patriarch states in his speech at the International Environmental 19th Conference of the Parties in Warsaw, Poland that those most affected by the results of climate change will be the ones least equipped to handle it. Our collective actions in one city can lead to floods or droughts thousands of miles away, bringing untold inadvertent suffering to thousands of people. His All-Holiness stated, “According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the questions that will be asked of us at the final moment of accountability will not be about our religious observance but on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, comforted the sick and cared for the captive.”
Look, your beliefs are what they are on this subject. As I was working the Facebook and Twitter feeds at this conference, I saw the beliefs of many of you in the comments you made; some constructive and deliberate, others not so much (and some where I wondered if the posters were actually trolls rather than Orthodox Christians… God, I hope they were trolls…) The point here is not to sway your beliefs on the subject but to show you what the church believes and how it manifested itself in a small conference in Washington, DC. Some in those social media comments that day asked why the church is talking about this – that this is not a religious or spiritual concern. They were wrong. Whether or not you believe in climate change, proper environmental stewardship of God’s creation is in fact a spiritual concern. Looking after our brothers and sisters in Christ and not doing things that will adversely affect them, is a spiritual concern. Giving an accounting of our actions (all actions) when the time comes, as the Patriarch states, is a very serious spiritual concern.
At the end of the day, it was an interesting conference. Many ideas that I would never have thought of were discussed and the diverse audience in attendance added greatly to the conversation, as everyone came from very different backgrounds and beliefs. The Orthodox Christian Network has a complete set of recordings of the conference and I urge you to listen to them. As you do however, I suggest you to keep your political beliefs aside and listen not as a consumer of news but as an Orthodox Christian. Listen as a child of God that is charged with protecting the creation He has given us. Listen as a person living on this world that, as a person of faith, I know cares deeply to their fellow man.
Listening like that might allow you to hear things you never have before.
Whatever the case, just listen.