This excellent video by Prof Clough, aligns with the place of animals within Orthodox theology as outlined in my book, which includes an in-depth investigation on Noah’s failure see pp. 53-64, Ch Two of, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology.
I have cut and pasted this from an email received from one of the groups we participate in Animal Interfaith Alliance.You can do the same from here. The more email pressure they receive the better:
Your Excellency António Guterres📷Secretary-General of the United Nations United Nations 405 East 42nd StreetNew York NY, 10017 USA 9th April 2020
Your Excellency António Guterres, Call for the United Nations to take decisive action to prevent further pandemics.
On behalf of the faith based animal advocacy organisations listed below, the Animal Interfaith Alliance, their umbrella organisation, commends the United Nations on its current efforts in tackling the global pandemic caused by the outbreak of Covid-19.The major faiths, to which these organisations are associated, have over 4 billion followers worldwide.It is scientifically established that Covid-19 is just one in a series of epidemics that have been caused by our abuse of nature and, in particular, our abuse of animals. These include the influenza pandemic of 1918, rabies, HIV, Lassa fever, Ebola, Nipah, MERS, SARs, bovine TB, H1N1 Swine flu and H5N1 avian flu. We outline further details of how these epidemics were caused by the abuse of animals here:https://animal-interfaith-alliance.com/2020/03/28/covid-19-when-will-we-heed-natures-warnings-2/
Governments have failed to learn the clear lessons from these previous epidemics. Had those lessons been learned, the current pandemic, which is destroying so many lives through death and economic collapse, could have been prevented.We call on the United Nations to do everything in its power to ensure that governments around the world learn from this pandemic and put measures in place that mitigate against the risk of future pandemics occurring. These measures include:-
A worldwide ban on wet markets;-
A worldwide ban on the wildlife trade;-
A worldwide ban on the use of animals in traditional medicine;-
A worldwide ban on factory farming – all farming should be practised to a minimum of RSPCA Assured/Freedom Food standards;-
A worldwide ban on the long distance transport of animals;-
A ban on the use of all animals in entertainment with zoos held to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) standards;-
The promotion of non-animal based sources of nutrition (which will promote the health of the world’s population);
In order to implement these measures we would recommend that the United Nations works in association with organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (the OIE), the International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to advise on animal welfare standards.
As this is a critical and urgent issue, our members would very much appreciate a considered response to our letter.
The Animal Interfaith Alliance, on behalf of the following 15 faith based organisations:
The Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals
Animals in Islam
Bhagvatinandji Education and Health Trust
Catholic Concern for Animals
Christian Vegetarians and Vegans UK
The Christian Vegetarian Association US
Dharma Voices for Animals
The Institute of Jainology
The Jewish Vegetarian Society
The Mahavir Trust
The Oshwal Association of the UK
Pan-Orthodox Concern for
Concern for Animals
The Romeera Foundation
The Sadhu Vaswani Centre
The Young Jains
Cc:Inger Anderson – UN Environment Chief
Iyad Abu Moghli – UN Environment Programme – Faith for Earth
Copies to media
Barbara Gardner Animal Interfaith Alliance
|This free offer/download, comes from our friends at The Humane Education Trust in partnership with Animal Voice South Africa.|
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In this article Fr John Chryssavgis explores the rich tradition of the Desert Monastics and their relationship to animals and the natural world.
Used with permission.
In the early third to the late fourth centuries, the dry desert of Egypt became a testing ground for exploring hidden truths not only about heaven but also about earth. More precisely, it served as a forging ground for drawing connections between the two. The hermits who lived in that harsh spiritual laboratory analyzed what it means to be human in a natural world—with all the tensions and temptations, all the struggle and survival, all the contacts with good and conflicts with evil. These men and women dared to push the limits, to challenge the norms.
Their questions and responses are found in collections of aphorisms—or apophthegmata (“sayings”)—preserved in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic.
Listening to their words, meditating on them in silence and subsequently transmitting them to others, help us to live humanely, to be more human, to be truly alive. Their stories were ways in which the desert elders maintained a sense of continuity with their past, while fostering a sense of connection with future generations. These stories from the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Sinai are more than just a part of the Christian past. They are a part of our human heritage; they communicate eternal values, spiritual truths.
It may be surprising to find that such ancient texts are so fresh and accessible in our age. It was a strange way of life, strange even to secular society in the fourth century and perhaps for many Christians of the time. These were men and women who chose to live outside towns and villages, as far as possible from civilization, often entirely alone. They had very few possessions, choosing to do without them in order to be free for God. They lived in simple huts or rough caves, eating and drinking a sparse diet of bread or herbs with water. Their clothing entailed a simple garment, with a sheepskin that could be used as a blanket or rug. They were neither scholars nor preachers, neither teachers nor clerics, and they came from all kinds of backgrounds. They learned how to be still and silent, to know themselves and to know God, themselves ultimately becoming part of God’s redeeming work for the whole world.
So did these early desert hermits recognize or overlook the natural and aesthetic beauty of creation through their austere life and harsh discipline? What is the relationship of the desert dwellers who filled this region with their environment and with animals? In renouncing the world, did the Desert Fathers and Mothers overlook the world, or did they enjoy a new awareness of everything in the world—human, animal, and natural?
In the Life of Anthony, we are told by Athanasius of Alexandria that Abba Anthony saw the desert for the first time “fell in love with it” (Chapter 50). The desert was home for Antony and the other elders who lived there. It was there that they experienced a sense of connection with the earth as well as their communion with heaven. It is there that they also experienced a sense of continuity with the entire creation.
Abba John said: “Let us imitate our Fathers. For they lived in this place with much austerity and peace.” (John, Saying 4)
In the desert, holiness was part and parcel of wholeness. If at-one-ment with their neighbor was of the essence in the spirituality of the desert, so too was at-tune-ment to their environment, to the world, and to God.
Abba John said: “My children, let us not pollute this place, since our Fathers have previously cleansed it.” (Saying 5)
The same worldview and conviction informs the attitude of the desert hermits to animals. In fact, when it comes to respecting or relating to animals, there is an abundance of stories describing the connection that the desert dwellers enjoyed with their untamed “co-inhabitants.”
One of the Fathers used to talk about Abba Paul, from lower Egypt. He used to take various kinds of snakes in his bare hands. The brothers admired him, saying: “Tell us what you have done to receive this grace.” He replied: “Forgive me, but if someone acquires purity, then everything cooperates with that person, just as it was for Adam and Eve in paradise.” (Paul, Saying 1)
Abba Antony also said: “Reverence with moderation allows people to become stewards even over wild animals.” (Anthony, Saying 1)
Anthony certainly grasped the truth of this statement. He had, after all, persuaded the animals of his region to live at peace with him without disturbing him. In fact, the notion of resembling Adam and Eve before their Fall from the condition of grace, is the ideal to which the desert hermits aspired.
They said of Abba Pambo that his face was like that of Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. Pambo’s face likewise shone like fire. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes. (Pambo, Saying 12)
Of course, we find such a relationship with nature and animals in later mystics as well. It is a relationship that transcends place; we see it in the writing of Isaac the Syrian (in the seventh century) as well as in the life of Francis of Assisi (1181–1226). And it is a relationship that transcends time; we observe it in the lives of the early hermits as well as in the nineteenth-century life of Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833).
However, what is at stake here is much more than mere emotional attachment to animals. The connection of the early monks and of the later mystics with their natural surroundings as well as with the native animals is neither superficial nor sentimental; it is, in fact, deeply sacred and spiritual. It stems from an inner conviction that God created this world out of love, which further implies that God cares for the world and for all that exists in the world, both animate and inanimate.
Through this lens, then, the desert hermits are revealed to be—in a most intense and most intimate manner—“materialists.” In the desert, everything—including the smallest form of life and the slightest speck of dust—really mattered! In God’s eyes, the wild animals and the sand dunes are of sacred importance and have their unique place alongside humanity. In their understanding of heaven, birds and trees could never be eliminated or excluded.
For the early fathers and mothers of Egypt, the purpose of fleeing to the desert was precisely in order to restore a lost order, to reestablish a reconciliation with all creation, to reaffirm a connection between the natural world and God. The world becomes a wasteland unless it comes alive in an authentic human being, who in turn becomes the eyes, the conscience, and the heart of the world. So if we miss the story of the desert, we create an alienation between the world and ourselves, ultimately causing a division within ourselves. When we neglect the world of the spirit, we also neglect the spirit of the world. And when we disregard the world of the soul, we definitely overlook the living mystery of all God’s creation.
 For one of the most popular anthologies, see Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Mowbrays, 1975. Revised edition: Liturgical Press, 1984.
The Fr. John Chryssavgis is a Greek Orthodox theologian, environment adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and author of numerous books on the Church Fathers and Orthodox Spirituality, most recently Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality
I have adjusted the formatting to make it easier to adapt. Aug 2020
This is a course/part/module for use in Christian Churches, parishes/youth groups/seminary institutions.
It is written for an Orthodox audience but its teachings are universal. Ideally, the course would be translated into different languages for use in Orthodox countries such as Romanian, Serbian, Russian, etc. It can of course, be used by other Christian denominations. We will develop short videos by leading theologians on each theme, which can be translated or replaced by theologians in these different countries. I give permission for priests to adapt the material as they see fit; all I ask is the professional courtesy of authorship recognition:
Creation Care: Christian Responsibility
By Dr. Christina Nellist
Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day? Luke 14:5
This is a course/part/module for use in Christian Churches, parishes/youth groups/seminary institutions. It may also provide a useful framework for homilies.
This part/module establishes that concern and compassion for animals is not a modern phenomenon but one found both in the Bible and in the earliest teachings of the Christian Church. It provides an anamnesis of a lesser-known Orthodox tradition, where all animals are loved and protected by God and that their suffering is against God’s will. It reminds us that in our role as Image, we should strive to reflect the Archetype in our lives. It also highlights the soteriological implications of abuse and exploitation of God’s non-human animal beings. By causing harm to animals or by our indifference to it, human salvation is in jeopardy.
It is written for an Orthodox audience but its teachings are universal. Ideally, the course would be translated into different languages for use in Orthodox countries such as Romania, Serbia, Russia, etc. It can of course, be used by other Christian denominations. We will develop short videos by leading Orthodox theologians on each theme, which can be translated and/or replaced by theologians in different countries. I give permission for priests to adapt the material as they see fit; all I ask is the professional courtesy of authorship recognition.
The module is divided into seven/eight* themes/units/lessons:
1) The innate goodness of God’s creation.
2) The correct interpretation of Dominion.
3) Compassionate care through the Image of God.
4) Examples of Behavioural Guidance.
5) The concept of Sacramental Life.
6) Sins against the animal creation.
7) A role for the Church.
*8) Practical examples of Responsible Care.
*This unit may, if preferred, be incorporated into unit 7.
SUGGESTED ASSIGNMENTS FOR ACADEMIES/SEMINARIES
1) A 5000-word paper on either of the following themes:
a) Reflecting God’s love and compassion in our relationships and treatment of animals.
b) An Eastern Orthodox ethical approach to the use of animals and the environment.
2) Two 15 minute Homilies on Creation Care based on the material provided in the course.
- IN THE BEGINNING: GOD’S GOOD CREATION
Now, among the “all things” our world must be embraced. It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis.
On reading the various patristic texts on Genesis, there is consensus that: humans and animals receive the “breath of life”; God’s description of all of His creatures is “good” and “very good” and we learn of the innate harmony, unity and violence-free peaceableness of the original Edenic life.
The Fathers teach that God creates in order to be known to His creation and acknowledge not only the common ontology of all created beings but also their individual agency and integrity. Such ideas are evident in the work of early commentators such as St. Athanasius who teaches that:
“No part of creation is left void of him: He has filled all things everywhere.”
Knight (2017) observes that this has developed into an understanding that “everything is in God.”
By choosing to create, fill and sustain all things, the Christian God of the Fathers is a God who is intimately connected to His creatures, unlike the gods of the heretics.
The Fathers also recognized that only the human creatures had sinned and that only humans were in need of instruction and repentance. St. Irenaeus is clear:
While all things were made by God, certain of His creatures sinned and revolted from a state of submission to God, and others, indeed the great majority, persevered, and do still persevere, in [willing] subjection to Him who formed them. 7
Papavassiliou (2013) summarizes the different Christian theological interpretations of Genesis: those who dismiss Genesis as a myth of the pre-scientific world, those who try to work modern science into the creation narrative and those who take biblical texts literally as the Word of God. 8 He teaches that all three approaches are to some degree inaccurate for they view Genesis as an account of creation history rather than the traditional Eastern Orthodox perspective of theological revelation. In essence, Genesis gives us a glimpse into Who God is. 9 This theophany helps us to ‘know’ more about God and His will. This in turn, helps us define our role as Image and determine which behaviours are, and are not, acceptable to God. This revelation also establishes that unrighteous and sinful behaviours are part of the criteria used to judge those who fail to repent and desist from sinful ways.
God’s original choice of a plant-based diet not only evidences the violence-free harmony of Edenic life, it also indicates the ideal diet. Had that not been the case, God would not have chosen this diet for us.
Q. In light of the above, ought we to be cautious of any teachings that try to justify the suffering of the animal creation?
Q. Do you believe that ‘all creation’ will be made anew?
Q. Do you believe that God’s original choice of diet was unsuitable for His creation?
1 St. Irenaeus, 2.2:5.
2 Gn 1:20-22, 24-5, 30-31.
3 See St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2.4; 2.6.2, “when even dumb animals tremble and yield at the invocation of His name”; 4.20.1; 2.1:1; 3.16.6 “summing up all things in Himself.”; 2.11.1; 3.8.3; 4.20.6; 4.9.1.
4 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, S: 8:1; see also St. Basil who informs us that nothing is outside God’s providence or neglected by him, Hexaemeron, 8: 5. CANNPNF 2-08. In a moment of inspired perception, which points to God’s constant involvement in creation, Maximus states, “God, properly speaking, is everything” St. Maximus, Scholia on the Divine Names 4.25 PG. 4. 296BC. This restates St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.2.5; also, St. Maximus, Amb 7 c.f. 1 Cor 15:28; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Homily 6:8; Ps 85:9.
6 E.g. Valentinus and the unbegotten Dyad-Proarch, which had nothing to do with creation of our world (kenoma) and was the result of ungovernable passions of a lower Aeon-Sophia, see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.3.
7 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.18.7; 3.9:1, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”; also, 4.4.3.
8 Papavassiliou, V. ‘The Theology of Genesis.’ Available at: http://gocas.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=39%3Alessons-in-orthodox-faith&id=113%3A280112-the-theology-of-genesis&Itemid=114.
9 For an investigation of Orthodox understanding of early Church texts on Genesis, see Bouteneff, Beginnings. Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. 2008.
2) WHAT IS DOMINION?
O God of our fathers and the Lord of mercy, Who made all things by Your Word And in Your wisdom, built a man, That by You He might be the master of what is created, And manage the world in holiness and righteousness, And pass judgement with uprightness of soul; Give me the wisdom that sits by Your throne. 1
Met. Kallistos of Diokleia (Ware) reflects the contemporary Orthodox view:
It is said, that we are to have dominion as humans over the created order but dominion does not mean domination or ruthless tyranny. This dominion that humans are given is part of being in God’s Image, so what this means is that just as God cares for His creation and loves it, so we, after the image of God, are to care and love creation. This to me is the basic position of the Orthodox Church in regard to animals. 2
His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew speaks to the point:
Unfortunately, humanity has lost the liturgical relationship between the Creator God and the creation; instead of priests and stewards, human beings have been reduced to tyrants and abusers of nature. 3
These teachings not only support the premise that our behaviours should reflect the Image and Likeness of God but also acknowledge that some historical interpretations relevant to this subject are flawed. 4 Modern Eastern Orthodox scholarship accepts that the interpretation of dominion as domination is an error, as it ignores the blueprint of God as Archetype and fails to recognize God’s constraints on human freedom.
This Orthodox tradition stands in stark contrast to other flawed teachings exemplified by St. Aquinas (harking back to St. Augustine and Aristotle) who taught that animals ‘are naturally enslaved and accommodated to the uses of others.’ 5 This ‘enslavement’ portrays a negative mind-set that inevitable creates the potential for negative relationships with animals. They are no longer beings of God but objects for our use. Such teachings stand in direct opposition to Orthodox teachings on how our relationships with ‘all things’ should reflect the ‘Image and Likeness’ of an all-loving and compassionate God.
Unfortunately for animals, humans and continued life on this planet, the dominant historical traditions have tended to separate humans from the rest of God’s creation. The consequences of this separationist theology and philosophy, has led to the misuse of our God-given responsibility as Icon of God, to ensure the flourishing of all of God’s created beings. This in turn, has led to our present climate crisis, species extinction and the pollution of our air, land and water.
One important aspect of our misuse of our role as Icon of God has been our willingness to view dominion as giving us the right to do whatsoever we please with the rest of the created world. St Gregory of Nyssa warns us against such theories:
“Use; do not misuse; so, too, Paul teaches you. Find your rest in temperate relaxation. Do not indulge in a frenzy of pleasures. Don’t make yourself a destroyer of absolutely all living things, whether they be four-footed and large or four-footed and small, birds, fish, exotic or common a good bargain or expensive. The sweat of the hunter ought not to fill your stomach like a bottomless well that many men digging cannot fill. Our gourmands do not, in fact, spare even the bottom of the sea, nor do they limit themselves to the fish that swim in the water, but they also bring up the crawling marine beasts from the ocean bed and drag them to shore. One pillages the oyster banks, one pursues the sea urchin, one captures the creeping cuttlefish, one plucks the octopus from the rock it grips, one eradicates the molluscs from their pedestal. All animal species, those that swim in the surface waters or live in the depths of the sea, all are thus brought up into the atmosphere. The artful skills of the hedonist cleverly devise traps appropriate to each.” 6
Note the negative language used to depict those who hunt both land and marine animals; describing them as “artful hedonists” who pillage, pursue, capture, pluck and eradicate. ‘Artful’ describes one who acts in a sly, cunning, crafty or wily way, seeking to attain one’s ends by guileful or devious means. Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good and stands in opposition to the tenets of Christianity. This negative language indicates both ‘the mind’ of this Father and the misuse inherent in the acts.
An important teaching of use to leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church is St. Maximus’s teaching that those who eat food for purposes other than for nourishment or healing are to be condemned as self-indulgent because they misuse God gifts. Importantly, he states “in all things misuse is a sin.” 7
There are numerous contemporary studies detailing how our present levels of consumption and production of animal food products are not only the cause of high levels of suffering to animals and harmful to human health but also unsustainable from an environmental perspective and a significant factor in global warming. 8
Q. Do you believe our treatment of animals reflects the Image and Likeness of God?
Q. Do you understand the impact of the animal-based diet upon global warming?
1. Wisdom 9:1-4.
2. Oxford interview, March 2014, see Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, Ch. 6.
3. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 364; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 2011.
4. Recognition of errors in theological teachings is evidenced throughout the history of the Church.
5. St. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, “Whether it is Unlawful to Kill Any Living Thing” Second Part of the Second Part, (QQ. 1-189) Q. 64:1, Reply to Objection 2. It will be interesting to see how the Catholic Church reacts to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si which challenges this traditional view and also acknowledges that Christians “have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures” LS: 67, 68, 117.
6. St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Love for the Poor, 198.
7. St. Maximus, Three Centuries on Love, No 86.
8. See Knight, A. ‘Animal Agriculture and Climate Change’ in The Global Guide to Animal Protection, ed. A. Linzey, 254-256. 2013.
3) COMPASSIONATE CARE: IMAGE OF GOD
God has foreseen all, He has neglected nothing. His eye… watches over all. He is present everywhere… If God has not left the sea urchin outside His providence, is He without care for you? 1
If we believe that God’s theophany has a cosmic dimension and His relationship with all created beings is essentially a loving and compassionate one, this will determine, or at the very least, inform our own theological, ethical and moral positions in relation to our treatment and relationship with non-human animal beings and their environments.
The traditional Eastern Orthodox teaching is that we as Image are to strive to achieve the ‘Image and Likeness’ of an all-loving God by emulating His ‘qualities’ in our lives. 2 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew informs us that God’s blueprint “by definition predetermines an analogous ethos that is imposed upon us.” 3
Orthodoxy acknowledges that whilst we can never know God’s essence 4 we can know some things about God. Through St. Irenaeus and others, we learn that the Archetype is “the source of all that is good” 5 and “has in Himself the disposition [to show kindness], because He is good”. 6 God is “patient, benign, merciful, mighty to save.” 7 We also learn that he who “worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him” 8 for God “has loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.” 9 St. Irenaeus also teaches that God is desirous of “mercy not sacrifice” 10 and that God’s instruction “can never be exhausted.” 11
Good One, who in Your mercy sustain beings: above and those below and distribute the treasure of Your mercy to men and animals. 12
God’s loving, merciful and providential care for animals is not only taught by the Fathers such as St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who teaches that as the Father provides for animals, so too should we, 13 but also in the Psalms 14 and New Testament:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 15
The Fathers are equally clear that a God Who is the source of all love, compassion, mercy and goodness is “without blame, and worketh no evil,” 16 nor cruel, abusive or exploitative. 17 This too is an important part of reflecting the ‘Image and Likeness’ of God.
The Desert Fathers knew that a person with a pure heart was able to sense the connection with the rest of creation and especially with the animal world…This connection is not merely emotional; it is profoundly spiritual in its motive and context. It gives a sense of continuity and community with all of creation while providing an expression of identity and compassion with it [and] recognition that…all things were created in Christ and in Christ all things hold together. 18
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew not only gives legitimacy to calls for Eastern Orthodox theological discussions on the subject of animal suffering, he also supports the suggestion that the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church have a significant role to play in reducing that suffering.
Not only are we to live with a Eucharistic and liturgical ethos 19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that how we respond and treat those in need, “especially through the lifestyle we lead”, reflects how we worship God. 20 Importantly, he exhorts us:
to respond to nature with the same delicacy, the same sensitivity and tenderness, with which we respond to a human being in a relationship. 21
Thus, love for God, love for human beings, and love for animals cannot be separated sharply. There may be a hierarchy of priority, but it is not a sharp distinction of comparison. 22
This extension to the normative understanding of caring relationships might seem a contemporary fashion yet as we noted, this would be a misreading of Eastern Orthodox tradition. The early Fathers, like St. Cyril of Alexandria, used the following interpretation of Christ’s teaching in Luke 14:5:
Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?
St Cyril and St John Chrysostom are very clear:
Christ refutes their unrelenting shamelessness by the convincing arguments that he uses. ”Whose son of you” he says, “or whose ox shall fall into a pit and he will not immediately draw him out on the Sabbath day.” If the law forbids showing mercy on the Sabbath, why do you take compassion on that which has fallen into the pit…The God of all does not cease to be kind. 23
Holy people are most loving and gentle in their dealings with their fellows, and even with the lower animals: for this reason, was it said that ‘A righteous man is merciful to the life of his beast.’ 24
Q. In light of what we know of God, do we believe that God would be indifferent to the suffering of any of His created beings?
1 St. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron 7:5.
2 St. Irenaeus, The Doctrine of the Apostolic Preaching 32-4, 100; also Against Heresies, 3.21.10.
3 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Environment and Ethics’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 135; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
4 E.g., St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:13.4; 4.9.1. Knowing God also includes the wider sense of perceiving and experiencing God.
5 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.13.3; 4.11.2.
6 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.29.2; 2.30.9.
7 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.20.
8 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.7.
9 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.6.1.
10 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.17.4.
11 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.28.3; 2.13.9.
12 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Table Blessings, Memra IX in Hansbury, Hymns of St Ephrem the Syrian, 36.
13 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies Homily 7:6; also Mt 10:29-30; Mt 6: 26; Lk 12:6; Jn 5: 17.
14 Ps 103:10-21. See also Psalms 35:7, 49:10-14; 144:9; 145:9; 146:9.
15 Mt 6:26; also 2 Cor 1:3.
16 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.3.
17 St. Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, CANNPNF O2-1.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery 106.
19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 98-103; also, Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 118, 270-1, 351.
20 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘On the Theological and Spiritual Insights of Pope John Paul II’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 297.
21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘On the Theological and Spiritual Insights of Pope John Paul II’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love.
22 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.
23 Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 101, 236. 24 Attwater, St. John Chrysostom, 59.
4) BEHAVIOURAL GUIDANCE
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgements are a great deep; Men and cattle, You will save O Lord How you multiply Your mercy, O God. 1
Both the Old and New Testaments offer us numerous examples of universally accepted ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’ behaviours. 2 Such behaviours are an indication of God’s will and desired actions for humankind, which should “govern and rule in all things.” 3
The Fathers grounded their theology in scripture and the concept of an all-loving God, Who encourages righteous and merciful treatment of His non-human animals.
On occasion, there is also evidence of an equivalence of care, the most obvious of which is God’s condescension to save a remnant of each species of animal from the Flood, including those that some humans view as having no value and His subsequent covenant with them all. 4 There are also specific teachings from Exodus and Deuteronomy regarding animal protection, which includes instructions to act in order to reduce animal suffering.
In Exodus, we find two teachings that are striking because the instructions are to be undertaken even if the animal’s owner is an enemy:
If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. 5
There is a similar teaching in Exodus 23:5 where compassion is also in play:
If you see your enemy’s donkey fallen beneath its load, you shall not walk away from it, but shall surely help him with it.
Such teachings emphasize the constant requirement to act with compassion and mercy to all created beings rather than indulging ourselves in the sinful passion of enmity. Significantly, Deuteronomy repeats these teachings, although here the animals belong to one’s family:
When you see your brother’s young bull or his sheep wandering on the road, you should not ignore them: you shall certainly return them to your brother. 6
You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his young bull fall down on the road and ignore them: you shall surely help him lift them up again. 7
Repetition of teachings to protect, rescue and behave compassionately to animals that are lost or in danger of injury, be they owned by one’s family, neighbour, stranger or one’s enemy 8 are not to be ignored. They too are examples of the behavioural guidance that we as Image are to emulate. Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) speaks to the point:
All this calls for what we may describe as an ecological asceticism. It is noteworthy that the great figures of the Christian ascetical tradition were all sensitive towards the suffering of all creatures. The equivalent of a St. Francis of Assisi is abundantly present in the monastic tradition of the East. There are accounts of the lives of the desert saints, which present the ascetic as weeping for the suffering or death of every creature and as leading a peaceful and friendly co-existence even with the beasts. This is not romanticism. It springs from a loving heart and the conviction that between the natural world and ourselves there is an organic unity and interdependence that makes us share a common fate just as we have the same Creator. 9
If we apply these teachings to contemporary societies and include animals that are abandoned, we ought to be mindful of the above teachings before negatively labelling those in animal protection organisations who cooperate with God by acting in exactly the same compassionate ways. 10 Perhaps we ought to consider engaging with people or organisations who rescue animals that are lost, abandoned or in need of loving homes, for they can legitimately be viewed as cooperating with God. 11
Some might reject this point by arguing that the rescuing or taking animals into our homes and providing for them, is a modern phenomenon. This is not the case. Scripture provides us with a teaching on exactly these points:
But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring them to your own house and they shall remain with you until your brother seeks them: then you shall restore them to him 12
St. Gregory of Nyssa acknowledges early patristic affirmation of this teaching when asking:
Are we not willing to shelter pigs and dogs under our roof? 13
In addition, whilst these teachings depict animals falling onto the road rather than into a pit, they are the foreshadowing of Christ’s teachings in Matthew and Luke. 14
Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?
As such, these texts not only give ethical and moral guidance but also emphasize the spiritual teaching within the texts. In addition, we see that equivalence of care, first expounded in Genesis, is repeated in both Exodus and Deuteronomy:
Six days you shall labor and do all your works, but the seventh day…you shall do no work-you, your son and your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your ox, your donkey, and all of your cattle, and your resident alien dwelling among you; that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15
Such teachings indicate not only an equivalence of care and compassion but also that the Sabbath law is made for all created beings and importantly, that non-human animals may be viewed, as an extension of one’s family or household. This is an important point, which has relevance to later discussions on contemporary Eastern Orthodox teachings on extending justice, mercy and rights to the non-human animal creation.
Further examples on compassion and mercy being extended to non-human animals are found in Dt 22: 6-7 where we are instructed that the mother of young birds must not be taken with the young; in Dt 22:10 where we should not plough with animals of uneven strength and in Dt 25:4 where working animals should not be muzzled. 16 This is reinforced in Ps 144 which again informs us that God’s mercy extends to all, regardless of who receives it:
“The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” 17
As noted above, Ps 35 gives testimony to God’s righteousness, judgment and mercy linked to the saving of animals. 18 That cattle are to be saved and that they are to receive mercy should concern us in light of the great suffering they endure in our animal food production industries.
The ‘rightness’ of these types of behaviour is further evidenced in the traditional Orthodox interpretation of Proverbs where a righteous man is identified as one who has “compassion on the lives of his cattle.” 19 From this, we may reasonably conclude that an ‘unrighteous man’ is one who lacks compassion for his animals.
As noted, there is a patristic tradition of compassion and mercy to animals and the most famous commentary is from St. Isaac the Syrian who, we can argue, teaches that mercy is mercy, regardless of who receives it. 20 There are however, less well-known texts, where he teaches on mercy, justice, compassion, non-violence and oppression. 21 For example, he teaches us that the enactment of mercy brings us closer to God and importantly for this theme, of the criticisms we are likely to encounter because of such ascetic practices. 22
Of equal importance is St. Isaac’s teaching below, which is both a profound observation and of relevance to all forms of suffering:
“Oppression is eradicated by compassion and renunciation” 23
For those who show compassion and mercy to animals, the criticisms and accusations of sentimentalism or indifference to human suffering is commonplace, yet research does not support either charge. 24 Despite criticisms and scorn, St. Isaac urges us to persist, for it is only through love and compassion that evil in all its forms is overcome.
Perhaps those who continue to extend their compassion and love to animals will take heart from these and the following teaching. Here St. Isaac offers a teaching on inclusivity, which extends to all of God’s created beings and is another key component of a compassionate Orthodox position on animal suffering:
And what is a merciful heart…the burning of the heart unto the whole creation, man, fowls and beasts, demons and whatever exists. So that by the recollection and the sight of them the eyes shed tears on account of the force of mercy which moves the heart by great compassion…Then the heart becomes weak and it is not able to bear hearing or examining injury or any insignificant suffering of anything in creation…And therefore, even in behalf of the irrational beings and the enemies of truth and even in behalf of those who do harm to it, at all time he offers prayers with tears that they may be guarded and strengthened: even in behalf of the kinds of reptiles, on account of his great compassion which is poured out in his heart without measure, after the example of God.25
In Lossky, the translation has “can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain being inflicted upon a creature.” In this teaching, St. Isaac draws us back to the key point of Image-mercy, love and compassion “are after the example of God.”
We find similar commentary from Lossky on St. Gregory’s teaching that the Image of God is conceivable “through the idea of participation in the infinite goodness of God.” 26
Teachings on Image through participation in God’s goodness requiring a heart full of mercy and compassion “after the example of God” reaffirm teachings on behavioural guidance and the need to reflect that Image in our treatment of animals and the wider environment. It is through such participation and behaviours that oppression in all its forms is overcome.
There are other sources to support St. Isaac’s teachings. For example, St. John Chrysostom observes that Holy people are loving and gentle in their dealings with animals and by Theodore the Studite, who asks:
Is not someone who sees a beast of burden being carried over a precipice seized with pity? 27
The above teachings not only serve to highlight the spiritual interconnection between all created beings they are also important for recognising the need for engagement with our contemporaries who cooperate with God by rescuing animals from harm. Indeed, we might view the modern-day animal shelters/sanctuaries as contemporary examples of the Ark.
The significance of these texts for the subject of animal suffering in contemporary societies cannot be understated. One such example is as follows. Too many people are unwilling to neuter their animals and many use the excuse that the church forbids this procedure. As a consequence, many animals become pregnant, which in turn, results in large numbers of animals being abandoned and poisoned. It is important to note that this is not the position of the Church. Metropolitan Kallistos informs us that:
To my knowledge, the Orthodox Church has never forbidden the neutering of animals and i consider that used in a responsible way this is a good method of preventing unwanted animals…Poisoning seems to me an evil way to dispose of animals because it will usually involve a lingering and painful death. There are more humane ways of dealing with the problem.28
These abandonments and/or poisonings are a dereliction of our duty as Image to care for God’s creation. They are two of the most intractable problems of animal protection and cause immense suffering to millions of animals throughout the world.
Q. If, as the Fathers teach, we are to embrace all of creation 29 and if, we are to hear the cry of the earth, should we not therefore, be willing to hear the very real cries of the suffering animals?
Q. If incidents of compassionate care, reverence and respect between man and animals are a standard mark of Orthodox sanctity, ought we to be wary of dismissing our contemporaries who exhibit similar character traits?
Q. In light of the above, would you now consider neutering your animals?
1 Ps 35:7.
2 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.2; Gal 5:22.
3 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.34.4.
4 Gn 9: 9-10.
5 Ex 23: 4.
6 Dt 22:1; also, Dt 22:3.
7 Dt 22:4.
8 Here we may legitimately add ‘stranger’.
9 ‘Comments on Laudato Si’.’
10 Sentimentalism or indifference to human suffering is a frequent charge, though research does not support the charges.
11 See, Cyprus Case Study, Ch. Five of Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, which examines the relationship between the Eastern Orthodox Church and animal protection groups on the island.
12 Dt 22:2.
13 St. Gregory of Nyssa, 2nd Homily, On the Love of the Poor, 203.
14 Mt 12:11-12; Lk 14:5.
15 Dt 5:13-14; also Ex 23:12. There is a similar teaching in St. Ephrem’s Hymns on the Nativity.
16 Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok, inform us that the 3rd century scholar Levi directly interpreted this “biblical legislation” to prove the morally advanced position of the Jewish people, Numbers Rabbah, 10.1, 17.5, in Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah, 30.
17 Ps 144:9, 36.
18 Ps 35:7.
19 Pr 12:10. See St. John Chrysostom’s reference to this passage in relation to his comments on Holy people and kindness to animals in, Attwater, St. John Chrysostom, 59. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew text translates as “The righteous person knows the needs [nefesh, literally ‘soul’] of his animal” in Gross, ‘An Overview of Jewish Animal Ethics’ paper given at the Animal Welfare and Religion Symposium, Winchester University, 2nd Nov, 2016 and based on his chapter ‘Jewish Animal Ethics’ in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality, Ch. 26.
20 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Homily 74.
21 St. Isaac, Six Treaties on the Behaviour of Excellence, Treatise 1, Ch. 8, in Mystic Treatises.
22 Fr. J. Breck and Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) make similar comments for contemporary ethicists.
23 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties Ch. 1, 63.
24 The opposite appears to be the case.
25 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Ch. 1, Homily 74. For slightly different translations, see Met. Kallistos (Ware) ‘The Soul in Greek Christianity’ in Crabbe, From Soul to Self, 49-69. Dr. Sebastian Brock, expert in Syriac studies, defines ‘compassionate’ as the closet to the original Syriac meaning.
26 Lossky, Mystical Theology, 118.
27 Catecheses 52, Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160305063629/ http:/anastasis.org.uk/. I remind the reader of St Ephrem’s teaching that God’s mercy extends to non-human animals in his Table Blessings.
28 Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, Chapter Six, pp. 162, 184.
29 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2:5.
5) SACRAMENTAL LIFE
And do not wonder that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. 1
The Orthodox tradition recognizes that Christ sanctifies His creation through His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and the Eucharistic offering. 2
There are numerous biblical and patristic teachings where “the earth” and at times animals are portrayed as praising and knowing God, to support the point. Theokritoff (2009) and Gschwandtner (2012) provide numerous examples of this spiritual insight in ecclesial texts relating to the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection; where the entire created world is depicted as reacting to these salvific events with clear statements that the earth and all that is in it, recognizes and knows God.
All things proclaim your greatness and your strength. 3
The whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Word, that Thou holdest all in unity. 4
In the twenty-third year, let the ass praise Him, that gave its foal for Him to ride on, that lost the bonds, that opened the mouth of the dumb, that opened also the mouth of the wild asses. 5
The creatures complained that they were worshipped; in silence they sought release. The All-Releaser heard, and because He endured it not He came down put on the form of a servant in the womb, came forth, set free Creation. R., Blessed be He Who made his creation his gain! 6
Other texts indicate that creation has a voice that cries out to God and has ‘human’ characteristics ranging from fear to joy. 7 St. Anastasius of Sinai teaches that not only did creation rejoice, but also that it did so when it learnt of its “transformation from corruption to incorruption.” 8 To add further support to this argument, we may look to the corpus of patristic teachings on the sanctification of creation. Theokritoff (2009) informs us that St. Gregory Nazianzen taught that Christ sanctified everything He touched: Christ “sleeps in order to bless sleep” “weeps in order to make tears blessed” 9 and explicitly links Christ’s baptism with the sanctification of the baptismal waters. 10 St. Basil of Seleucia taught that Christ saved the world and liberated the earth 11 and recounts all the benefits of salvation including “a principle of purification for the world” and a “renewing of nature.” 12 This style of commentary exists until today. Met. Kallistos of Diokleia (Ware) often retells the following account from Mount Athos:
An elder is distracted in his morning prayer by the dawn chorus of frogs from a nearby marsh and sends his disciple to tell them to be quiet until the monks have finished the Midnight Office. When the disciple duly transmits the message, the frogs reply, `We have already said the Midnight Office and are in the middle of Matins; can’t you wait till we’ve finished? 13
One need not travel to Mount Athos to experience something similar, for all have encountered the dawn and dusk chorus of birdsong. Such texts appear to answer the above question by illustrating that all creation has a type of knowledge of God and that He in turn knows each of His created beings. 14 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that all creation also requires “an appropriate veneration” 15:
If the earth is sacred, then our relationship with the natural environment is mystical or sacramental…it contains the seed and trace of God…from this belief in the sacredness and beauty of all creation, the Orthodox Church articulates its crucial concept of cosmic transfiguration. 16
This mutual ontology has relevance for discussions on the sanctification and salvation of animals which ought to influence our treatment of animals in the ‘animal industries’ and elsewhere. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew refers to this as a “deep ecology” that is “inextricably linked with deep theology”:
“Even a stone,” writes Basil the Great, “bears the mark of God’s Word. This is true of an ant, a bee, and a mosquito, the smallest of creatures. For He spread the wide heavens and laid the immense seas; and He created the tiny hollow shaft of the bee’s sting.” 17
The fish, then, is a soteriological statement of faith…Therefore, any misuse or abuse of fishing and fisheries relates in a personal and profound way to Christ Himself. It leaves a scar on the very Body of Christ Himself. 18
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s teaching here lends support to the suggestion that in our cruelty and in the inflicting of pain to animals, we may continue to inflict suffering on Christ. His profound teachings have obvious implications for our treatment of all forms of animals.
Despite the fact that animals are not specifically mentioned in the new ecclesial text for the environment 19 we are nonetheless informed that “all things” and the “whole earth” sings Gods praise and importantly, that they are to be protected “from every abuse”:
You give life to all and conduct all things with ineffable judgments; from harmful pollutions and from every abuse save those who cry out, “God of our fathers, blessed are you!” By your will, Lord, you adorned the heavens with stars, while you made the whole earth fair with flowers and trees as it sings, “God of our fathers, blessed are you.” 20
We have therefore a tradition originating in the early Church, confirmed in biblical texts and lasting until today, of all created beings knowing God, calling to God and blessing and praising God. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew synthesizes these early teachings and illustrates their relevance for us today:
Our deep appreciation for the natural environment is directly related to Orthodox sacramental dimension of life and the world…somewhat resembling a wide-angle lens that we can better appreciate the broader implications of such problems as the threat to ocean fisheries, the disappearance of wetlands, the damage to coral reefs, or the destruction of animal and plant life. 21
Q. If animals are sacred and to be saved, what are the soteriological implications for us if we allow violent and abusive practices to continue without comment?
1 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies, 13:2; see also 13:35 & 15:3.
2 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.6.
3 Mode 4, Joseph was amazed, in Mikrayiannanites, ‘Vespers for the Environment’ 386.
4 E.g. Holy Saturday, Mother Mary and Ware, Kallistos, The Lenton Triodion, 625, 627; also Col. 1:16-17.
5 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Nineteen Hymns, 13:27.
6 St. Ephrem the Syrian, 14:35, refrain.
7 St. Andrew of Crete, On the Dormition of Mary, 145-146.
8 St. Anastasius of Sinai, (1985:163) Joie de la transfiguration: D’après les Pères d’Orient Spiritualité Orientale 39. Coune, D. M. (Ed.) Bégrolles-en-Mauges: Abbaye de Bellefontaine, cited in Gschwandtner, Role of Non-Human Creation, 134.
9 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, 37.2, On the Words of the Gospel.
10 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, 29.10, The Third Theological Oration. On The Son; also, 39.15-16 Theophany On the Holy Lights.
11 St. Basil of Seleucia, Third Homily on Pascha, SC.187:209.
12 St. Basil of Seleucia, SC.187:215.
13 This a frequent story used by Met. Kallistos. Ref: Elder Joseph the Hésychaste, Letter 57 in, Expression of Monastic Experience, 315. Also cited in E. Theokritoff, Creation and Salvation in Orthodox Worship.
14 E.g., Mt 10:29.
15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 90.
16 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 92-3.
17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishop’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 281; also, ‘Ecumenical Imperative: A Common Responsibility’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 261; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Sacredness of Fish’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 300-1. See also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven. Scotland’s fish farming creates as much nitrogen as yearly sewage from 3.2 million people; also, Lymbery, Farmageddon and Compassion in World Farming research available at http://www.ciwf.org.uk/research/?page=2.
19 Please note that there is only one mention of a plant
20 Mikrayiannanites, Monk Gerasimos, ‘Vespers for the Environment’ in Chryssavgis and Foltz, 2013: 392.
21 Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 360-361
6) WHAT IS SIN AGAINST ANIMALS?
Nothing in creation had gone astray in its notions of God, save the human being only. 1
Some humans may not have realised that their actions are abusive and thus have no idea of the resulting negative soteriological implications. Here, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Met. Kallistos of Diokleia informs us that this is not the case:
Those who do evil acts and just as importantly, those who are indifferent to those evil acts, together with those who harm creation even out of negligence constitute not simply an evil, but a grave sin. 2
As soon as you say that animals are part of God’s creation and we humans have a God given responsibility towards the creation, then at once, one sees that animal suffering is both a moral and spiritual question. That is why the Ecumenical Patriarch was so right to insist that the misuse of creation is a sin. 3
By defining which actions are sinful, Eastern Orthodoxy can provide the opportunity of bringing people closer to God. This in turn would lead to a reduction in animal suffering, which will be welcomed, by those who suffer the abuse and those who witness it.
Sinful practices would certainly include ‘traditional’ practices such as sport or recreational hunting and bullfighting.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem outlines the traditional view that all sins are the work of Satan and that if one continues to sin, one will be judged and found wanting. 4 Immediately following this passage St Cyril identifies a further three examples of sin and evil, two of which involve the abuse and exploitation of animals:
Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theatres, 5 and horse races, and hunting, and all such vanity from which that holy man praying to be delivered says to God, turn my eyes from looking vanity (Ps 118, 37) …Do not be interested…nor in the madness of them who in hunts expose themselves to wild beasts, that they may pamper their miserable appetite…Also ignore horse races, that frantic and soul-subverting spectacle. For all these are the pomp of the devil. 6
St. Cyril clearly identifies hunting and horse racing 7 as two examples of “the pomp of the devil”. Whilst we may debate what level of concern he had for the animals involved in these spectacles, the key point is that he defines them as sinful and “soul-subverting” spectacles. It is clear that these practices have negative soteriological implications for those who watch or indulge in such practices.
That St. Cyril identified hunting and horse racing as examples of the devil’s work is profoundly significant when examined in the light of species extinction; the social problems resulting from animal cruelty and interpersonal violence and gambling. 8 Note also his reference to vanity which I submit has relevance for some of the other animal suffering themes, such as the wearing of fur or ‘traditional medicines’ to enhance sexual prowess.
Such opinion is further supported by Canon Law. At the Council in Trullo, (A.D. 692) some three hundred years later, we find not only the same teachings but also an indication of how sinful these practices were believed to be by the severity of the penalties imposed – priests are “deposed” and laymen “cut off.” 9 This is confirmed by the Byzantine canonist Balsamon’s notes on the Ancient Epitome of Canon LI:
Wherefore those who have once sinned deliberately are admonished to cease. If they are not willing to obey, they are to be deposed. But those who are constantly engaged in this wickedness, if they are clerics, they must be deposed from their clerical place, if laymen they must be cut off. 10
The recognition of wickedness and the negative soteriological implications of these practices for human salvation several centuries after St Cyril’s warnings, together with their inclusion into Canon Law, is not something the Fathers would have undertaken without a great of deal of deliberation. As such, I believe we have a clear indication of the ‘mind of the Fathers’ on this theme and, the seriousness of the sin and evil inherent in these practices.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew highlights the soteriological implications of our choices:
We are all endowed with freedom and responsibility; all of us, therefore, bear the consequences of our choices in our use or abuse of the natural environment. 11
Justice extends even beyond one’s fellow human beings to the entire creation. The burning of forests, the criminal exploitation of natural resources…all of these constitutes expressions of transgressing the virtue of justice. 12
His teachings and choice of language corroborate the argument that the abuse and exploitation of animals have consequences for not only the abused animals in the form of pain, fear and suffering but also soteriological implications for humankind.
In addition to those who directly perpetrate acts of cruelty and exploitation, those who know of such acts but are indifferent to them and those who know but shy away from trying in some way to alleviate the abuse, are in a sense giving tacit approval to that process and are accessories after the fact. A useful analogy here is the judgement and guilt of those who accept stolen goods. Essentially, we create the demand.
In order to overcome our sins against animals we must endeavour not only to purify, consecrate and sanctify ourselves through kenosis, self-emptying and humility by living virtuous and violence-free lives, all of which we have heard numerous times before, we must also understand the soteriological consequences of animal abuse. I submit that the only institution that can offer this spiritual advice and teaching is the Church. Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) speaks to the point:
The Church must now introduce in its teaching about sin, the sin against the environment, the ecological sin. Repentance must be extended to cover also the damage we do to nature both as individuals and as societies. This must be brought to the conscience of every Christian who cares for his or her salvation. 13
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that ecological evils have their root both in a “destruction of religious piety within the human heart” 14 and a too narrow definition of sin in the individual’s sense of guilt or wrongdoing:
Yet, sin also contains a cosmic dimension; and repentance from environmental sin demands a radical transformation of the way that we choose to live. 15
Calls for the widening of our concept of sin to include the abuse and exploitation of creation and of the need for transfigured lives have clear relevance for animal suffering.
Such teachings from leading Eastern Orthodox theologians are tremendously important not only for the suffering animals but also for those who try to protect them and are sensitive to their suffering.
The laity (and priests) ought to be taught that even if abuse is not directly inflicted by us, we are culpable via our demands for cheap animal food products; by our vanity in demanding fur when alternatives are available; by our demands for sporting activities or traditions that demand the incarceration or death of innocent creatures and by our demands for cures for the numerous ailments caused by our gluttony and individual selfish behaviours.
This knowledge will materialise when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and academic institutions, include animal suffering in its education of its priests and, when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and its academics engage with the subject of animal suffering in their deliberations on sin and evil.
Q. Are we sufficiently concerned about the suffering of animals?
Q. Do we believe the most effective method of bringing Orthodox teachings to the conscience of every Christian is through an occasional pronouncement by senior theologians in the hope that it will filter down to the laity?
Q. Do we believe Orthodox teachings on this subject are more likely to reach that audience via knowledgeable priests in every local community?
1 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 43:3, CANNPNF 2-04.
2 ‘The Ascetic Corrective’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, (2003); also ‘Message of the Synaxis’ (2009:201); Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
3 Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist p. 83.
4 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 5, 282.
5 Tsironi writes on the theatre at that time ending with “the stripping of women on stage.”
6 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 6, 283.
7 See https://www.animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/horse-racing/for details of the number of horses killed in British racecourses and the use of whips.
8 There would be few within the Church who do not understand the consequences for society in general or for the individuals and their families, caught in the nightmare of addiction to gambling.
9 Canon LI, The Canons of the Council in Trullo, The Seven Ecumenical Councils.
10 Canon LI.
11 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address by His All Holiness during the Presentation Ceremony of the Sophie Prize’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 284; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
12 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Justice: Environmental and Human’ composed as ‘Foreword’ to proceedings of the fourth summer seminar at Halki in June (1997) in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 173; also, ‘Environmental Rights’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 260; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
13 ‘Comments on Laudato Si’.’
14 Also, Limouris, Justice, Peace, WCC, 1990: 20, where the distorted heart is defined as the root cause of idolatry, injustice, exploitation and belligerence in humanity and the lack of peace among human beings.
15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 360; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
7) A ROLE FOR THE CHURCH
Religion today comprises a central dimension of human life, both on the personal and the social levels. No longer can religion be relegated to a matter of individual preference or private practice. Religion is becoming increasingly meaningful and momentous in appreciating the past, analysing the present, and even assessing the future of our world. In our day, religion claims a public face and a social profile; and it is invited to participate in contemporary communal discourse. 1
Eastern Orthodox theologians have repeatedly called for humanity to change its ethos from one based upon a theory of continual consumption, to one with a Eucharistic and aesthetic ethos of love, virtue, sacrifice, abstinence and purification of sin. 2 In essence, they remind us of patristic teachings to restrict and control our desires. This ascetic ethos:
“is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered use of the world.” 3
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also draws our attention to the inconvenient truth of the missing dimension and need for sacrifice:
This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This is the missing dimension of our environmental ethos and ecological action. 4
He clarifies this point with teachings on self-limitation in consumption and interprets self-restraint in terms of love, humility, self-control, simplicity and social justice, all of which are important teachings for our choice of diet and the products we choose to purchase. 5 Crucially, he acknowledges the fundamental problem of inaction and the difficulties in effecting change:
We are all painfully aware of the fundamental obstacle that confronts us in our work for the environment. It is precisely this: how to move from the theory to action, from word to deeds. 6
For this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical metanoia, a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices, for ways that we have misused or abused God’s Word, God’s gifts, and God’s creation. 7
These are profound teachings and reminiscent of the warnings from the prophets of old. This spiritual revolution is also required for a conversion in the way we view animals and thus the way we treat them.
Many of his teachings urge us to reflect the asceticism of the early Fathers and of the urgent need for changes in human behaviour. In our greed and lust for ever increasing profit, we “violently and cunningly subordinate and exploit creation.” This not only destroys creation but also “undermines the foundations and conditions necessary for the survival of future generations.” 8 This aligns with Met. Kallistos of Diokleia’s (Ware) comment on “evil profit” 9, St. Irenaeus’s teaching that we must not use our freedom as a “cloak of maliciousness” 10 and St. John Chrysostom’s acknowledgement of the link between food and ill health:
Don’t you daily observe thousands of disorders stemming from laden tables and immoderate eating? 11
It also hints at the environmental crisis, which is beginning to evidence the devastating results of our continued abuse and misuse of animals. Our inability to move from theory to practice indicates that our weaknesses make it difficult for us to attain the Christian ideals. 12
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew advocates an important contemporary role for religion and in so doing buttresses the argument that the Church has an important role to play in the subject of animal suffering. He teaches that there is an urgent need to exercise “Christian responsibility towards” creation by:
fostering the forces of justice for manifestation of the Kingdom of God in human kind and in the whole creation. 13
The continuing challenge is how to apply these teachings on extending our understanding of community, justice, rights and caring relationships with animals, to contemporary practices that result in animal suffering.
These are inconvenient truths, yet necessary areas to consider and debate if we are to reduce animal suffering and effect real change in human hearts.
None of this will be easy, for there is acceptance of the gap between Eastern Orthodox theory and practice and of the difficulties in changing attitudes, habits and the ‘traditions of men’. 14 Despite these difficulties, the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church have the authority and responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless, in its stand against every form of sin and evil in the contemporary world.
Stylios (1989) offers a practical route for effecting this change:
This in practice means that Christians will be leaders in every ecological movement, which seeks to maintain and protect the natural environment. 15
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew affirms this view:
…we cannot but be convinced environmentalists and firm believers in the sanctity of the material world…It is a pledge that we make to God that we shall embrace all of creation. It is what Orthodox theologians call “inaugurated eschatology,” or the final state already established and being realized in the present. 16
We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service. 17
He also buttresses the arguments on the sin of indifference and inaction:
For indifference entails inaction, which in turn encourages further abuse, increasing the causes that originally provoke and preserve this indifference. 18
Thus, the invocation and supplication of the Church and us all to God as the Lord of lords and Ruler of all for the restoration of creation are essentially a petition of repentance for our sinfulness in destroying the world instead of working to preserve and sustain its ever-flourishing resources reasonably and carefully. When we pray to and entreat God for the preservation of the natural environment, we are ultimately imploring God to change the mind-set of the powerful in the world, enlightening them not to destroy the planet’s ecosystem for reasons of financial profit and ephemeral interest. This in turn, however, also concerns each one of us inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage in our individual capacity and ignorance. 19
We need however, to be cautious of resting the blame of our current situation solely at the feet of the powerful. We as individuals are accountable for our own choices and actions. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew speaks to the point in his statement on theological praxis, which must move:
From the distant periphery of some abstract theology or religious institutionalism to the centre stage of our practical spirituality and pastoral ministry…our theology and spirituality must once again assume flesh; they must become “incarnate”. They must be closely connected to our fellow human beings as well as to the natural environment. 20
These are crucial teachings not only for the animal suffering theme but also for humanity. We can see this most clearly in the link between animal abuse and the Corona virus pandemic of 2019/20. He recognizes that the environment is crying for liberation 21; the soteriological implications of sins and indifference to that sufferingand, that the leaders of the Church and its academics and priests, must develop programs of practical application. He especially advises “the clergy and others in parish ministry to encourage and promote love for nature.” 22
In light of such statements and initiatives, it seems incongruous to suggest that involvement with animal protection and conservation groups would be excluded from Eastern Orthodox Church involvement; especially as the Patriarch “sealed a friendship of common purpose and active cooperation for the preservation of the environment” with the President of the WWF as far back as 1993. 23 In essence, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gives Eastern Orthodox Christians the authority to be leaders or involved in environmental, conservation and animal protection organisations.
Q. How has your community been effected by the Corona Virus pandemic?
Q. If animals were truly to be included into our community and to be accorded ‘rights’ 24, ought we to refrain from referring to them as ‘resources’ and recognise them as other examples of God’s created beings?
Q. If animals were truly to receive justice, can we continue to justify for example, our present animal food production systems, which cause harm, suffering and death to trillions?
Q. If we are to ‘speak for the voiceless’ ought we to be requesting drastic alterations to the animal food industries so that they favoured the sentient beings over the vested interests or “evil profit”?
Q. If animals were included into our community and to receive justice, rights and mercy, are we right to justify the testing of a variety of chemicals and industrial products on animals, many of whom suffer terribly and die in their millions each year, because this method is cheaper than developing humane alternatives? 25
Q. Do animals have the right not to be abused or exploited in other ways? Examples here would be the right of protection from hunters who kill for fun or the latest fashion, or protection from the loss of their freedom to satisfy human entertainment needs.
1 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Creation Care and Ecological Justice: Reflections by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.’ The Oxford Union, 4th November 2015. https://www.patriarchate.org/-/creation-care-and-ecological-justice-reflections-by-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew
2 E.g. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Message of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew for the day of prayer for the protection of the Environment’ 1st Sept 2015.
3 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, On Earth as in Heaven p. 113; also Cosmic Grace, 259.
4 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension’ 275; also, ‘The Ascetic Corrective’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 295-9; Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
5 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Ascetic Way’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 188; also, Speaking the Truth, 89-91, 352-3.
6 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension’ in Cosmic Grace, p. 275; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
7 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 283; also, Limouris, Justice, Peace, 11-12; St Cyril, Catechetical Homilies, Homily 2:5.
8 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Foretaste of the Resurrection’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 41; also, ‘Creator and Creation’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 176. For similar sentiments, see Dimitrios 1, ‘Message on Environmental Protection Day’; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
9 See Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. p. 181
10 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.37.4; 4.16.5.
11 St. Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 10.5, 130.
12 E.g., Bishop Isaias, Chapter Seven of my book on Animal Suffering and Limouris, Justice, Peace, 23.28.
13 Limouris, Justice, Peace, 6.
14 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:12.
15 Stylios in Harakas, Ecological Reflections; also, Bartholomew, ‘Encounter and Dialogue’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 347; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
16 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.
17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation from the Vatican and from the Phanar’ 1st September 2017. https://www.patriarchate.org/-/joint-message-on-the-world-day-of-prayer-for-creation.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘A Collective Responsibility’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 374; also ‘The Immorality of Indifference’ 290; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Message by H. A. H. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew upon the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation’ https://www.patriarchate.org/-/patriarchikon-menyma-epi-te-eorte-tes-indiktou-2012
20 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, 358, 359-365. See also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Climate Change’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 350-1; also, ‘A New Worldview, a section from the lead article ‘Thine Own From Thine Own’ dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment, in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 330; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
22 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Education and Parish Action’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 110-111; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.
23 Chryssavgis, ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality and the Sacraments’ 155.
24 An excellent discussion on this is Donaldson and Kymlicka, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights.
25 See Knight, A. The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, 2011. When we examine the available research on the animal testing model, such as Linzey and Linzey The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, 2017 https://muse.jhu.edu/book/57527 (2017) and Bailey and Taylor ‘Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity.’ ATLA 44, (2016): 43-69, we find few systematic studies examining the validity of this model. According to Knight (2011) the use of this model in advancing human health or significant biomedical knowledge is poor. The USFDA state that between 92-97% of drugs that pass pre-clinical tests on animals “fail to make it to the market because they are proven to be ineffective and or unsafe in people.” If this level of failure were found in any other industry, it would be rejected and substituted with procedures that are more reliable.
8) PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF RESPONSIBLE CARE.
Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day? Christ’s teaching in Luke 14:5
The continuing challenge before us is how we are to apply both ancient and contemporary teachings on compassionate care for “all things” in creation and extending our understanding of community, justice, mercy and rights, to the animal creation and our environment.
Responsible care means that we consciously try to prevent animals from suffering and the destruction of their environment. For animals, this is often described as avoiding any form of treatment that is not to the animal’s benefit, such as any veterinary procedure that is entirely due to the preference of the owner or arbitrary breed requirements such as ear cropping and tail docking. It would also include any form of suffering caused by direct and indirect forms of abuse and exploitation such as direct cruelty and any circumstance that resulted in profits acquired at the expense of the animal’s physical and psychological well-being.
As a general rule we can use the following steps as guidelines for specific care for animals:
1) Provide food and clean water daily.
2) Provide adequate shelter.
3) Exercise your animals.
4) Provide veterinary care.
5) Neuter your cats, dogs, rabbits.
6) Educate your friends/family/priests.
In addition further practical proposals for the Church might include:
1) Promoting the vegan/vegetarian diet as the dietary ideal. In alignment with the leading scientific reports of our time, our leaders could urge Orthodox Christians to give up the animal-food based diets entirely or, as a first step, abstain from foods produced in intensive farming practices. In so doing, the Church reiterates God’s original intent; the concept of ascesis and the contemporary science, which highlights the damage caused by an animal-based diet to humans, animals and the planet.1 In so doing, the impact on animal suffering, human health and environmental damage would be enormous.
2) Patriarchs and Bishops could declare their intention not to consume or provide animal products at their meetings. This would send a strong message and example to both clergy and laity.
3) Prohibit intensive farming practices on Church land. This would reinforce and live-out the Church’s desire to prevent animal suffering and promote animal flourishing.
4) Our leaders could affirm the sin of inflicting harm upon God’s animal creation in order to achieve ever-increasing profits.
5) Restate patristic teachings on the negative soteriological consequences of hunting and horse racing.
6) Prohibit hunting on Church land in order to protect the animals and guide humans away from evil practices and towards salvation. Skeet clubs can be the substitute offered as a dispensation in order to facilitate the salvific plan.
7) Define the wearing of fur as an example of human ego and sin.
8) Educate our priests on the many problems associated with animal suffering. Training would enable priests to teach a coherent message that will result in:
reductions in animal suffering;
improvements in human health;
improvements in the environment;
advancing our spiritual journeys.
1 See www.ciwf.org.uk for details on the misuse of antibiotics in farming and the link with antibiotic resistance in humans.
Chryssavgis, J. ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality, and the Sacraments’ in, Toward An Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation. Chryssavgis, J. and B. V. Foltz, (eds.) 152-162. NY: Fordham University Press, 2013.
————- On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (ed.) Fordham University Press, 2011.
————–Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew (ed.) Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, UK. 2009.
Gschwandtner, K. The Role of Non-Human Creation in the Liturgical Feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: Towards an Orthodox Ecological Theology. 2012. Durham E-Theses. http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/4424.
Nellist, C. A. Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2018, 2020.
—————– ‘Towards an Animal Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church.’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Holy Cross Orthodox Press Volume 61, no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2016): 125-140.
Theokritoff, E, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology. Crestwood, NY: SVSP, 2009.
————— ‘Creation and Salvation in Orthodox Worship’ Journal of Religion, Nature & the Environment, Vol. 5. 10: 97-108. (Jan 2001)
Ware, K. Met. ‘Orthodox Christianity: Compassion for Animals’ in The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics, Andrew Linzey and Clair Linzey ((eds.), Routledge. 2018.
————–‘Saints and Beasts: The Undistorted Image’ The Franciscan, Vol V, No. 4, (Autumn 1963) 144-152.
Zizioulas, J. Met. ‘Preserving God’s Creation: Three Lectures on Theology and Ecology, Parts 1-3.’ King’s Theological Review 12 (Spring 1989):1-5; 12 (Autumn. 1989): 41-45; 13 (Spring 1990):1-5.
————–‘Proprietor or Priest of Creation?’ Keynote Address of the Fifth Symposium of Religion, Science and the Environment, 2nd June 2003. Available at: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles2/MetJohnCreation.php.
Ware, K. Met. 2019 ‘Compassion for Animals in the Orthodox Church.’ Available at:
Further videos are to be added.
Perspectives from the Saints, History and Medical Science
by Fred Krueger
Santa Rosa, California
Fasting has always been a pillar of spiritual formation in the Church of Christ. It builds discipline, restraint and cultivates obedience to Church guidance. Anciently the Christian fast was a total fast. No solid food was taken.
Over the centuries, a moderating influence entered parish life. Health and strength issues required special treatment and dispensations became normal for a variety of personal situations. At the same time, as Orthodox converged on America from European countries, they brought different assumptions about fasting. Archimandrite Akakios at the St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Etna, California, describes some of the problems with establishing a common rule for fasting in America.
The limited instances where fasting is practiced in modernist American Orthodox jurisdictions are beset by confusion and innovation…. Many of the Orthodox immigrants who came from the Old World failed to preserve their fasting routines in a land where new foods and new menus changed their way of life. Many came with an improper understanding of fasting to begin with…. The spirit of reform embraced by the calendar change… included specific proposals for the relaxation of fasting rules. Brought to the Americas by immigrants — some of them coming as Hierarchs to serve the Church — this revisionist spirit deeply affected the Orthodox population here. The Eastern European [Uniate] Catholics who converted to Orthodoxy in America came from a spiritual milieu in which fasting neither took the same form nor had the same theological significance as it does in the Orthodox Church. And the national Slavic Churches in the emigration also understood asceticism from a far more Western than Orthodox perspective. So it is that the ethnic Orthodox Churches saw the birth of “relaxed fasts” and “moderate” fasting rules…. All of this they passed on to a new generation of Orthodox and to converts…. Wholly unfamiliar with Orthodox fasting traditions, many Orthodox today have taken these contrived notions in the immigrant Churches as authentic practices and have come to treat them as part and parcel of Church teaching.
The current Orthodox fast as practiced in America is intertwined with the religious reforms that arose in Russia around the time of Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725). Prior to his era, fasting was far stricter and considered essential for spiritual growth. The consequence is that our modern fasting rules are largely an abstinence from heavy foods. This change explains why we no longer claim that the “fast” transforms, because by itself it does not. In our era, when we fast, we mostly become vegetarians for certain times of the year.
During the time when fasting rules were being relaxed, the Archbishop of Constantinople +Ecumenical Patriach Nicephorus Theotokis (1731-1800) wrote the following about the new rules:
When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth to collect seeds, fruits, spices, and every other edible thing; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, sea urchins, and anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and concoct many different dishes, seasoned with oil, sweeteners and spices. Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat. And yet we imagine that we are still fasting…. Whoever taught… that such a variety and such quantities of food constitutes a fast? Where did they hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, a great variety in food is another. Fasting is one thing, eating great amounts of food another.
Prior to the 18th century, strict fasting was essential for Orthodox Christians. Listen to what Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes about fasting:
Canon 69 of the Holy Apostles declares that any hierarch, priest, deacon, subdeacon or reader… who does not fast during Great Lent and on Wednesday and Friday is to be deposed. If a layperson does not fast during these times (unless he cannot on account of illness), he is to be excommunicated.
To our modern thinking, the severity in this earlier rule seems shocking. Rather than criticize the old rule’s strictness or defend our modern dispensations, let’s review the implications of fasting. By subjecting the fasting rule to modern medical research, perhaps we can bring into focus some of the basic benefits that accompany fasting. To structure this examination, I will present simple conclusions about fasting from three perspectives: its effects on human physiology and functioning of the body, on the psychological state of our minds, and finally on our spiritual lives.
The physiological effects of fasting are many. When the body goes without food, medical research reports that a series of important physical changes occur. Initially, the digestive tract receives a rest. During this rest, the body uses its energies to increase its autolytic (or self-healing) actions. The body’s energies are then used to repair and restore bodily functions. In contrast, with a steady supply of nourishment, the systems of the body continually work to process food and maintain the system. Without rest, the body wears down over time. In those over thirty years of age, this causes a gradual, but steady buildup of toxins, plaque, and deposits which gradually stiffen and clog the system. This happens because a continual stream of food produces a continual accumulation of waste. In contrast, on a genuine no food fast day (i.e., the original Christian fast), the autolytic functions work from deep down at the cellular level of the body and perform a long series of “house-cleaning” functions so that a rejuvenation and mini-healing occurs. During these times the body uses its energies to attack and remove disease formations, tumors, or any unnatural growth in its system.
Fasting provides more than rest to the assimilative organs. A cleansing also takes place. Body wastes and toxins are eliminated from the digestive and circulatory systems which freshen circulatory functions. It removes disease in its formative stage, including cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, diseases of the digestive system, and the locomotor system – including rheumatism, respiratory diseases and asthma, etc. At the same time a strengthening of the immune system occurs.
Research at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine finds other health benefits. These include a sharply reduced risk of cancer (because the autolytic process attacks and dissolves tumors at the stage of their formation as well as other abnormal pre-cancerous growths). The autolysis causes a slowing of the aging process. Several different studies show that the only proven method for improving health and increasing lifespan is to reduce caloric intake. According to Dr. Mark Mattson, chief of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, “fasting shows more ability to provide beneficial qualities to the older body” than any drug or medication.
The National Academy of Sciences cites additional benefits of stress reduction, increased insulin sensitivity and reduced morbidity.
Fasting is also highly beneficial to digestion health. When you are not eating, a different set of microbes emerges and cleans up your gut wall, processing the sugars which is important for maintain immune balance.
Besides the revitalization of digestive organs, the additional physiological benefits include clearer skin, improved hearing and taste, reduction of allergies, weight loss, drug detoxification, and heightened disease resistance. Fasting clears out problems from overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. No wonder so many of the desert fathers lived past 100 years of age! These physical benefits derive from genuine fasting, but most importantly they do not derive from merely an abstinence from meat and heavy foods. Generally what is happening physically reflects what is taking place psychically and spiritually.
Next a set of psychological and psychic benefits emerge from fasting. During a fast the mind develops clarity and the will is strengthened – because it is exercised through the denial of the desire to eat. Something fascinating now happens. True fasting (i.e., water only) causes a cautionary attitude to arise so that one is careful not to break the fast. Fasting then becomes a cornerstone for a life of restraint and thoughtfulness. This happens because fasting from all forms of food and nutrition stretches out and addresses the tendency toward consumerism and materialism. Fasting thus witnesses to the conflict between the indulgences cherished by the modern mentality and the ascetic life of the Church. An important implication is that traditional spiritual formation cannot be attained without old style fasting.
As the will is strengthened, the person who fasts increases in self-control. At the same time fasting results in a heightened sensitivity to others – because feelings become far more sensitive and acute. This causes those who fast to sense the plight of poor people. In this way alms-giving is connected to fasting because without fasting, we scarcely cultivate the sensitivities of the heart that foster compassion for those who have little.
On a longer fast – over more than a day, the body begins to stimulate the production of the hormone serotonin to insulate itself from the pangs of hunger. The initial day of fasting may at first be difficult, but the morning of the second day can be quite enjoyable because serotonin creates a distinct feeling of euphoria. The person who fasts will feel alert, active and often even excited to continue fasting. Studies show that most people who follow the original fasting rule report heightened mental clarity, a more positive mental outlook, and emotional serenity when embracing traditional fasting rules.
A regular pattern of once a week fasting produces an optimistic outlook on life as well as an overall feeling of purity, cleanliness and self-control. A conclusion from medical studies is that fasting can be enjoyable and healthy.
Medical studies on the spiritual side of fasting are elusive because science is not effective in probing into this aspect of life. Nevertheless we discern deeper implications to fasting when Jesus tells the apostles (after they ask him why they could not heal the boy possessed with a demon) “…this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:15-21).
When the physical body is regularly cleansed by fasting, an additional result is that psychic and spiritual impressions become stronger and more frequent. One’s energy becomes more refined. The world may even appear transparent. At this time prayers have a higher and more uplifted quality. One’s whole being experiences a sense that the etheric and spiritual worlds intertwine and are drawing closer together. Sleep is deeper and more fulfilling. The saints frequently write that visions and holy experiences are more readily attained during times of fasting.
The enhanced sensitivities that accompany a fast open a realization that the fast cannot be restricted merely to a denial of meat and other heavy foods, but it must include a denial of negative thoughts, anger and all of the passionate tendencies. This is why Saint Basil writes, “there is a physical fast, but alongside it there is also a spiritual fast.” He continues:
In the physical fast the body abstains from food. In the spiritual fast, the faster abstains from evil intentions, words and deeds. One who truly fasts abstains from anger, rage, malice and vengeance. One who truly fasts abstains from idle and foul talk, gossip, condemnation, flattery, lying and all manner of spiteful talk. In a word, a real faster withdraws from all evil…. As much as you subtract from the body, so much will you add to the strength of the soul.
Saint John Chrysostom makes a similar observation.
“It is necessary for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, and to reflect on what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourselves. This is true fasting.”
As for those who worry that fasting might harm their health, they need only recall the longevity of the saints who cultivated fasting as a way of life. Denial of food for them was the doorway to health and vitality.
Saint Alypius the Stylite lived for 118 years; Saint Anthony the Great – 105; Saint Theodosius the Great – 105; Saint Paul of Thebes – 113; Saint Paul of Komel – 112; Saint Cyril the Anchorite – 108; Saint Kevin of Glendalough – 105.
This list is only a short beginning. These saints did not require special foods, vitamins or nutritional supplements to live long inspired and productive lives.
While our present fasting rules carry some benefit, we should recognize that they only scratch the surface of the potential latent in fasting to bring healing and transformation.
As Archbishop Nicephorus wrote several centuries ago, “fasting is one thing, but eating a great variety of vegetables and seeds is another thing entirely,” but it should not be called fasting. As we examine the many dimensions to fasting, we should recognize that a recovery of this ancient practice is necessary if we are also going to recover our rightful heritage of spiritual experiences and attainment.
For those individuals who might wish to start fasting in the traditional manner, here are a few guidelines.
Drink at least seven or eight full glasses of water during the fast day. This is because – at least in our western diet – so many toxins are released during the fast and the water helps to flush them out. Think of the task this way: “The solution to the body’s internal pollution is dilution.”
For those who are habitually champion meat eaters, there can be an acid buildup – the result of too many fats and toxins which are released during the fast. This can show up as a slight stomach ache. Address this by adding a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. This neutralizes the acid which is being cleansed out of the body into the stomach. This is usually experienced by first time or new fasters.
A headache may also occur at first and these are symptoms of psychological resistance to the fast. Those who possess obsessive-compulsive eating disorders usually have layers of issues and so they need a firm rule that holds them to guidelines – one day of fasting per week and no more.
A full day of fasting can begin after the evening meal on Tuesday, continue all through Wednesday and conclude at breakfast on Thursday. By following this simple rule every week, the traditional benefits of fasting can return in your experience.
Basically fasting is like a muscle. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes to fast. After several months of once a week fasting, your body becomes so adjusted to the fast that it does not miss the food. In fact you look forward to it because of the many spiritual, mental and physical benefits that arise from it.
Appendix A Biblical Accounts of Fasting
* Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the mountain with God. (Exodus 34:28)
* King Jehosaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah for victory over the Moabites and Ammonites who were attacking them (2 Chronicles 20:3).
* The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for their unrighteous methods in their fasting. He clarified the reasons for fasting and listed the benefits that would result. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your guard” (Isaiah 58:3-13).
* The prophet Joel called for a fast to avert the judgement of God.
* The people of Nineveh in response to Jonah’s prophecy, fasted to avert the judgement of God (Jonah 3:7).
* Jesus also warned against fasting to gain favor from men. He warned his followers that they should fast in private, not letting others know they were fasting (Matthew 6:16–18).
* Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights while in the desert, prior to the three temptations (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2).
* The prophetess Anna, who proclaimed the birth of Jesus in the Temple, fasted regularly (Luke 2:37).
Appendix B Quotes from the Saints on Fasting
St Symeon the New Theologian:
Let each one of us keep in mind the benefit of fasting… For this healer of our souls is effective, in the case of one to quiet the fevers and impulses of the flesh, in another to assuage bad temper, in yet another to drive away sleep, in another to stir up zeal, and in yet another to restore purity of mind and to set him free from evil thoughts. In one it will control his unbridled tongue and restrain it by the fear of God and prevent it from uttering idle and corrupt words. In another it will invisibly guard his eyes and fix them on high instead of allowing them to roam hither and thither, and thus cause him to look on himself and teach him to be mindful of his own faults and shortcomings.
Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing.
Fasting, aided by vigil, penetrates and softens the hardness of heart. where once the vapors of drunkenness were causes of fountains of compunction to spring forth. I beseech you, brethren, let each of us strive that this may happen in us! Once this happens we shall readily, with God’s help, cleave through the whole sea of passions and pass through the waves of the temptations inflicted by the cruel tyrant, and so come to anchor in the port of impassibility.
Saint Nikolai of Zicha
Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. And the graces that come through fasting are countless….
St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Bodily purity is primarily attained through fasting, and through bodily purity comes spiritual purity. Abstinence from food, according to the words of that son of grace, St. Ephraim the Syrian, means: ‘Not to desire or demand much food, either sweet or costly; to eat nothing outside the stated times; not to give one’s self over to gratification of the appetite; not to stir up hunger in oneself by looking at good food; and not to desire one or another sort of food.’
Abba Daniel of Sketis:
In proportion as the body grows fat, so does the soul wither away.
St. Dorotheos of Gaza
Everyone who wants to purify himself of the sins of the whole year during these days must first of all restrain himself from the pleasure of eating. For the pleasure of eating, as the Fathers say, caused all man’s evil. Likewise he must take care not to break the fast without great necessity or to look for pleasurable things to eat, or weigh himself down by eating and drinking until he is full.
The Holy Fathers have taught, as if with one voice, that the stomach is the gateway to the passions. Watchfulness in this area is, therefore, absolutely essential to spiritual progress.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov
The holy fasters did not approach strict fasting suddenly, but little by little they became capable of being satisfied by the most meagre food. Despite all this they did not know weakness, but were always hale and ready for action. Among them sickness was rare, and their life was extraordinarily lengthy.
To the extent that the flesh of the faster becomes thin and light, spiritual life arrives at perfection and reveals itself through wondrous manifestations, and the spirit performs its actions as if in a bodiless body. External feelings are shut off, and the mind that renounces the earth is raised up to heaven and is wholly immersed in the contemplation of the spiritual world.
St. Shenuda, Coptic Orthodox Church:
Consistent fasting regulated the lives of the Fathers. A stable lifestyle, to which they become accustomed regulated their lives. As for the pitied laymen, they sway from one extreme to another when fasting. They deprive themselves of food only to break their fast to partake of anything they desire. They abstain for awhile to allow themselves what they want for another period, then go back to indulgence, thus they sway between abstention and indulgence. They build, then destroy, and then build again, only to demolish again without recovery. True fasting is to train oneself in self-control, to follow for the rest of your life. Self-control becomes a blessing for his life, not only during the time of fasting when we change the time and the food we eat, but also during the normal days.
Evagrios the Solitary, a student of Saint John Chrysostom and desert monk who lived in the remote Egyptian desert, describes why fasting is so prominent in Christian life:
Fast before the Lord according to your strength, for to do this will purge your iniquities and sins; it exalts the soul, sanctifies the mind, drives away the demons, and prepares you for God’s presence… To abstain from food, then, should be a matter of our own choice and an ascetic labor.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes,
Ultimately, to fast is to love, to see clearly, to restore the original beauty of the world. To fast is to move away from what I want to what the world needs. It is to liberate creation from control and compulsion. Fasting is to value everything for itself and not 12 simply for ourselves. It is to be filled with a sense of goodness, of Godliness. It is to see all things in God and God in all things.
The central position that fasting holds in the tradition of the Orthodox Church is neither coincidental nor unrelated to the ecological crisis but has unmistakable prophetic significance. Fasting is not some outward conventional act but the voluntary privation of food that heightens man’s awareness of his dependency on the outside world. This awareness has decisive importance for ethics. By fasting, man obediently accepts the divine commandment so that he can grow into the likeness of God. In so doing, he recognizes his created nature. In other words, he acknowledges that his ‘very being is on loan.’
Appendix C Glossary of Terms
The vital or functioning tissues of the fasting organism are nourished off the food reserves stored in the body. These reserves are stored as rather complex substances, such as sugar (glycogen), fat, protein, etc., and are no more fitted for entrance into the bloodstream and use by the cells than are the fats, proteins and carbohydrates of another animal, or another food. Before they can be taken up by the circulation and assimilated by the cells, they must first be digested. Autolysis (a-tol-i-sis) is derived from the Greek and means, literally, self-loosing. It is used in physiology to designate the process of digestion or disintegration of tissue by ferments (enzymes) generated in the cells themselves. It is a process of self-digestion–intra-cellular digestion.
Fasting and tumors
Abnormal growths possess a lower grade of vitality than normal growths, hence are easier to destroy. I think it may be equally true that they do not command the support of the organism as do normal growths, as they are lacking in nerve and blood supply. This lack of support makes them the ready victims of the autolytic processes of the body. It is generally held by men with wide experience with the fast that abnormal tissues are broken down and eliminated more rapidly than normal tissue during periods of abstinence. Physiologists have studied the process of autolysis, although they have suggested no practical use that may be made of it save that of employing it to reduce weight. It now remains for physiologists to learn that by means of rigidly controlled autolysis, the body is able to digest tumors and utilize the proteins and other food elements contained in them to nourish its vital tissues. Why have they not investigated this vitally important subject? The facts have been before the world for more than a hundred years.
More than a hundred years ago Sylvester Graham wrote: “It is a general law of the vital economy, that when, by any means, the general function of decomposition exceeds that of composition or nutrition, the decomposing absorbents always first lay hold of and remove those substances which are of least use to the economy; and hence, all morbid accumulations, such as wens, tumors, abscesses, etc., are rapidly diminished and often wholly removed under severe and protracted abstinence or fasting” (The Science of Life, pp. 194-195).
The process of autolysis may be put to great practical use and may be made to serve in getting rid of tumors and other growths. To fully understand this, it is necessary for the reader to know that tumors are made up of flesh and blood and bone. There are many names for the different kinds of tumors, but the names all indicate the kind of tissue of which the tumor is composed. For example, an osteoma is made up of bone tissue; a myoma is composed of muscular tissue; a neuroma is constituted of nerve tissue; a lipoma consists of fatty tissue; a fibroma is composed of fibrous tissues; an epithelioma is composed of epithelial tissue, etc. Growths of this nature are known, technically, as neoplasms (new growth) to distinguish them from mere swellings or enlargements. A large lump in the breast may be nothing more than an enlarged lymphatic gland, or an enlarged mammary gland. Such an enlarged gland may be very painful, but it is no neoplasm.
Tumors being composed of tissues, the same kinds of tissues as the other structures of the body, are susceptible of autolytic disintegration, the same as normal tissue, and do, as a matter of experience, undergo dissolution and absorption under a variety of circumstances, but especially during a fast. The reader who can understand how fasting reduces the amount of fat on the body and how it reduces the size of the muscles, can also understand how it will reduce the size of a tumor, or cause it to disappear altogether. He needs, then, only to realize that the process of disintegrating (autolyzing) the tumor takes place much more rapidly than it does in the normal tissues.
The single most scientifically proven advantages to traditional fasting involve improved health, rejuvenation and extended life expectancy. Part of this phenomenon is caused by a number of the benefits mentioned above. These include a slower metabolic rate, more efficient protein production, an improved immune system, and the increased production of hormones all combine and contribute to these long-term benefits of fasting. In addition to the Human Growth Hormone that is released more frequently during a fast, an anti-aging hormone is also produced . The medical conclusion is “the only reliable way to extend the lifespan of a human, (or any mammal) is undernutrition without malnutrition.”
A study was performed on earthworms that demonstrated the benefits of an extension of life due to fasting. The initial experiment was performed in the 1930s by isolating one worm and putting it on a cycle of fasting and feeding. The isolated worm outlasted its relatives by an amazing nineteen generations, while still maintaining its youthful physiological traits. The worm was able to survive on its own tissue for months. Once the size of the worm began to decrease, the scientists would resume feeding it at which point it showed great vigor and renewed energy. “The life-span extension of these worms was the equivalent of keeping a man alive for 600 to 700 years.”
Proclaiming the Ecological Mission of the Orthodox Church as the Reconciliation of all Things in Christ
The Vision and Spiritual Direction of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and All Orthodox Patriarchs.
Month Three March 1-31, 2020
Introduction The March edition of our Reading-a-Day program seeks to expand and embrace many more of our Orthodox Patriarchs and Hierarchs as they address concern for God’s creation.
The statements we select are usually simple and are presented to extend the breadth and depth of these Orthodox teachings that are not always highlighted in parish instruction. Our office has been asked, “Why don’t we present even more statements from smaller Orthodox jurisdictions?” The short answer is “we try.” The larger answer is complex. Their statements are not easy to find. Many jurisdictions do not write in English. Some don’t issue statements for public consumption. We use what is available in English and on the internet. Besides tracking down foreign language statements is not easy. But with this issue we will increase our listing of statements from smaller jurisdictions. The benefit of this process is that our patriarchs and bishops become our teachers in presenting the Orthodox Church’s theology of creation.
The values are several: The centralizing of Orthodox commentary from around the world declares that we are one Church with one theology despite a variety of social, political, cultural, ethnic, and language differences!
The focus on the environment helps to articulate a Christian way of life. The environment serves as a doorway. Through it we not only strive to live “on earth as it is in heaven,” but we begin to develop a genuine Orthodox Christian way of life, and therefore a distinctly Orthodox culture. This provides young people with direction on how to live in society which in turn aids their stability in their life in the Church.
The vision in these statements captures the practical meaning of discerning Christ and the Holy Spirit as “filling all things.” Thus the Orthodox vision of our Heavenly King as “everywhere present and filling all things” is put into daily life.
A further consideration is that unless parishioners live out the principles of Christian faith, we can’t offer either the world or our own youth, an example of how to remain steadfast in the life of the Church. An old principle says that we communicate more by our actions than by our words. Thus each day’s reading and reflection questions capture some small but distinct dimension of Orthodox Christian teaching on creation care as adapted to fit our modern context.
Yours in service to God’s good earth, The Reading-a-Day editorial team EM–MR–EC–FK
Monday Sacrificing Selfishness March 2, 2020 The natural environment was created by God to be friendly and of service to the needs of humankind. However, owing to Man’s original disobedience, the natural harmony and balance of the environment was disrupted and due to persistent disobeying of God’s commandments, it continues to disrupt, leading to total disarray and disharmony. Therefore, the prayer that we offer up to the Lord for the protection of the natural environment should first of all be a prayer for the repentance of humans, who through misjudged, thoughtless, and sometimes arrogant actions directly or indirectly provokes most, not to say all, natural catastrophes. Our Lord who taught us the Lord’s Prayer, includes in it a promise that accompanies a request “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This has a broader meaning. Our prayer should be accompanied by a corresponding sacrifice, mainly a sacrifice of selfish and arrogant pursuits, which demonstrate our insolent attitude towards the Creator and His wisely stipulated natural and spiritual laws. This attitude change is called repentance. Only if our prayer for the protection of the environment is accompanied by a corresponding repentance, will it be effective and welcomed by God. Therefore, beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, let us reconsider our lives and let us repent for everything we do mistakenly and against the wise laws of God, in order to be heard by Him, begging His kindness to maintain the natural environment, friendly and undamaged for humankind. HAH, The Phanar, September 1, 2003
Q What is repentance? How does it address our habitual behavior that involves earth and society? What happens to our behavior after we repent? Where does repentance lead? Reflection
Tuesday Reuniting the Universe Under Jesus Christ March 3, 2020 Cosmology is a form of knowledge which is given to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit. “The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word,” wrote St. Maximus the Confessor, “contains within itself the whole meaning of the created world. He who understands the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows the meaning of all things, and he who is initiated into the hidden meaning of the Resurrection understands the purpose for which God created everything from the very beginning.” If this is so, it means that everything has been created by and for the Word, as the Apostle says (Colossians 1:16-17), and that the meaning of this creation is revealed to us in the re-creation effected by the same Word taking flesh, by the Son of God becoming the son of the earth…. In this perspective the Fathers maintain that the historical Bible gives us the key to the cosmic Bible. In this they are faithful to the Hebrew notion of the Word, which not only speaks, but creates: God is “true” in the sense that his word is the source of all reality, not only historical, but also cosmic reality…. That is why, as St. Maximos says, we discover, or rather the Gospel discovers for us, that on the one hand, the Word “hides himself mysteriously in created things like so many letters,” and on the other hand, “he… expresses himself in the letters, symbols and sounds of Scripture.” HB Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, Zurich, Switzerland, March 10, 1989
Q What is Christian cosmology? What is the ‘Logos,’ referring to what HB calls the Incarnation of the Word? How does this relate to the created world? Reflection
Wednesday For the Sanctification of the World March 4, 2020 The Church of Christ has had to cope with many problems which are prominent in our contemporary world. The crisis facing ecology is one such problem that has grave moral implications for all humankind. Orthodoxy watches with great anxiety the merciless trampling down and destruction of the natural environment caused by human beings with extremely dangerous consequences for the very survival of the natural world created by God. In view of the present situation the Church of Christ cannot remain unmoved…. The role of humanity as the priest of creation is clearly shown in liturgical theology. We are able to reshape and alter the world. The vocation of humanity, as shown in liturgical theology, is not to dominate and exploit nature, but to transfigure and hallow it. In a variety of ways – through the cultivation of the earth, through craftsmanship, through the writing of books and the painting of icons – humanity gives material things a voice and renders the creation articulate in praise of God. We must attempt to return to the proper relationship with the Creator and creation in order to ensure the survival of the natural world. We are called to bear some of the pain of creation as well as to enjoy and celebrate it. That means to perform Liturgia extra muros, the Liturgy beyond, or outside, the walls of the church, for the sanctification of the world. HG Bishop Irineu [Pop], Romanian Orthodox Church, Iraklion, Crete, 1991
Q Why is the Orthodox Church concerned about ecological problems? How is the world sanctified? What is the role of priests and parishioners in this task? Reflection
Thursday A Spirituality of Thanksgiving March 5, 2020 In order to achieve a sacramental vision of creation, human beings are called to practice a spirituality of thanksgiving and self-discipline. In theological terms, we are called to be “eucharistic” and “ascetic” beings. In this way, the Orthodox Church reminds us that creation is not simply our possession or property, but rather a gift from God, the Creator, a gift of wonder and beauty. From the moment of creation, this world was offered by God as a gift to be returned in gratitude and love. This is precisely how the Orthodox spiritual way avoids the problem of the world’s domination by humanity. For if this world is a sacred mystery, then this in itself precludes any attempt at mastery by human beings. Indeed, the mastery or exploitative control of the world’s resources is identified more with Adam’s “original sin” than with God’s wonderful gift. It is the result of selfishness and greed, which arise from alienation from God and an abandonment of the sacramental worldview. Sin separated the sacred from the secular, dismissing the latter to the domain of evil and surrendering it as prey to exploitation. HAH, Moscow, May 26, 2010
Q What is the purpose of being thankful? Why is it that the earth is never entirely one’s own private property? How do Orthodox reconcile secular laws about private property with our theology? Reflection
Friday Responsibility for Future Generations March 6, 2020 We should hand [the material world] … on to the generations that come after us… enhanced and with greater capacity for supporting life. – His Beatitude Patriarch +Maxim, Bulgarian Orth. Church, 1997 In the years ahead, more and more of our Orthodox faithful will recognize the importance of a crusade for our environment, which we have so selfishly ignored. This vision… will benefit future generation by leaving behind a cleaner, better world. We owe it to our Creator. And we owe it to our children. – HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Day of Prayers for Creation, 2004 Q Why should we today assume responsibility for future generations? What is different in the world today from the world of the past? What does this responsibility mean in practical terms? Reflection 6 Saturday March 7, 2020 The Whole World is a Living Sacrament Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things, or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things,” if only we have the eyes of faith to see it. We know that this vision has been blurred; the image has been marred by our sin. For we have presumed to control the order of things, and have therefore destroyed the hierarchy of creation. We have lost the dimension of beauty and have come to a spiritual impasse where everything that we touch is invariably distorted or even destroyed. Nevertheless, through the divine Incarnation our sight is once again restored and we are once more enabled to discern the beauty of Christ’s countenance “in all places of His dominion,” and “in the least of our brothers and sisters” (Gen. 25:40). HAH, Santa Barbara, California, November 8, 1997
Q Why should we today assume responsibility for future generations?
What is different in the world today from the world of the past?
What does this responsibility mean in practical terms? Reflection
Saturday The Whole World is a Living Sacrament March 7, 2020
Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things, or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things,” if only we have the eyes of faith to see it. We know that this vision has been blurred; the image has been marred by our sin. For we have presumed to control the order of things, and have therefore destroyed the hierarchy of creation. We have lost the dimension of beauty and have come to a spiritual impasse where everything that we touch is invariably distorted or even destroyed. Nevertheless, through the divine Incarnation our sight is once again restored and we are once more enabled to discern the beauty of Christ’s countenance “in all places of His dominion,” and “in the least of our brothers and sisters” (Gen. 25:40).
HAH, Santa Barbara, California, November 8, 1997
Q What is beauty?
Why does HAH call the world “a living sacrament”?
If the divine vision of creation is blurred, what is human responsibility for this?
Monday An Ecological Ethic is Necessary for Christians March 9, 2020 There certainly is an Orthodox Christian ecological ethic. It is an ethic that is not an option for Orthodox faithful. It is not a mere theological “specialty” for those who have academic and professional reasons to be interested. The Orthodox ecological ethic proceeds directly from our doctrine. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem said, “the method of godliness consists of two things – pious doctrines and virtuous practice.” Without any doubt, virtuous practice demands right attitude and action toward the environment, for our Holy Tradition demands nothing else. As such, the Orthodox Christian ecological ethic is ecclesial: it proceeds from our life in the Church, the Body of Christ … and it is ultimately comprehensible only within the context of the Church. Here is where the main distinctions exist between our ecclesial ethic and the ecological ethics we find in secular society. HE Metropolitan Nicholas of Amisso, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, Antiochian Village, June 15, 2002
Q What is our Orthodox ecological ethic? How would you summarize it? What is the Orthodox doctrine of creation? What sort of lifestyle should emerge from our Orthodox theology? Reflection
Tuesday An Ethic of the Environment March 10, 2020 We have reached a point in technological development where we must learn to say “No!” to technologies with destructive side effects. We are in dire need of an ethic of technology. In the Orthodox Church, we profess and confess that God’s spirit is “everywhere present and fills all things” (From a Prayer to the Holy Spirit). However, we must also begin to embrace a worldview that declares and demonstrates the biblical conviction that “the earth is God’s and everything in it” (Psalm 23.1), so that we may refrain from harming the earth or destroying the life on it. We have been gifted with unique resources of a beautiful planet. However, these resources of underground carbon are not unlimited—whether they are the oil of the Arctic or the tar sands of Canada, whether they are the coal of Australia or the gas in Eastern Europe. Moreover, with regard to nuclear energy specifically, we cannot assess success or sustainability purely in terms of financial profit—the disasters at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011) have amply demonstrated the human, financial, and ecological cost. Nor, indeed, can we ignore the other problems of nuclear power, such as waste disposal and vulnerability to terrorist attacks. HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, April 26, 2016
Q What is an ethic of the environment? What is the ethic and message in this passage? How might this ethic be applied? Reflection
Wednesday Our First Task March 11, 2020 We paternally urge all the faithful of the world to admonish themselves and their children to respect and protect the natural environment. HAH Ecumenical Patriarch +Dimitrios, September 1, 1989 Our first task is to raise the consciousness of adults who most use the resources of the planet. Ultimately, it is for our children that we must perceive our every action… as having a direct effect on the future of the environment…. As individuals, we live not only in vertical relationships to God, and horizontal relationships to one another, but also in a complex web of relationships that extend throughout our lives, our cultures and the material world. Human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence; a complex fabric that we believe is fashioned by God…. In the bread and wine of the Eucharist, as priests standing before the altar of the world, we offer the creation back to the Creator in relationship to Him and to each other. Indeed, in our liturgical life…, we celebrate the beauty of creation, and consecrate the life of the world, returning it to God with thanks. We share the world in joy as a living mystical communion with the Divine. Thus it is that we offer the fullness of creation at the Eucharist, and receive it back as a blessing, as the living presence of God. … We are called to work in humble harmony with creation and not in arrogant supremacy against it…. We lovingly suggest to all the people… that they help one another understand the myriad ways in which we are related to the earth and to one another. In this way, we may begin to repair the dislocation many people experience in relation to creation. HAH, Santa Barbara, California, Nov 8, 1997
Q How do we work in humble harmony with creation? In what ways can you help others understand how we are to relate to the earth? Why do you think our first task is to raise the awareness of adults? Reflection
Thursday Man: A Curse or a Blessing on God’s Creation? March 12, 2020 How should Orthodox view the environment? Is it a great reservoir of untapped riches, waiting to be exploited for profit? Or is it an untouchable sanctuary, where nothing should be used? Should we view the environment as a living, almost divine being? Or is the environment God’s Creation, where man is set with a profound, symbiotic relationship, and a definite, holy purpose? It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of creation as a foundational concept. It means that we must accept the reality of every creature as meaningful. Nothing exists as a chance encounter. Each creature is created by God to exist, conceptualized from eternity and realized in time. God alone gives meaning to His Creation. In our Orthodox ecological ethic, we insist that man adopt a humbler, more honest and scientific outlook, in which he seeks to discern meaning in Creation. HE Metropolitan Nicholas of Amisso, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, Antiochian Village, June 15, 2002
Q What is the Orthodox vision of creation? How important is our understanding of creation in Orthodox theology? What is the role of humility in our Orthodox worldview? Reflection
Friday Every Person a Priest of God’s Creation March 13, 2020 In the Orthodox Church, behind whose tradition lie long battles against ancient Greco-Roman paganism, a spirituality involving a deep respect for nature is strongly conditioned by the view that nature acquires sacredness only in and through the human person. This gives humanity decisive importance and responsibility. A human is the Priest of creation as he or she freely turns it into a vehicle of communion with God and fellow human beings. This means that material creation is not treated as a means of obtaining pleasure and happiness for the individual, but as a sacred gift from God which is meant to foster and promote communion with God and with others. Such a ‘liturgical’ use of nature by human beings leads to forms of culture which are deeply respectful of the material world while keeping the human person at the center. HE Metropolitan John of Pergamon, “Production and Consumption,” April, 1996 Q Why do Orthodox Christians respect nature? How is the human person a Priest of Creation? In practice what does this mean? How may creation serve as a means of communion with God? Reflection 12 Saturday March 14, 2020 The Care of Creation is Our Spiritual Task The human is on Earth, not as a stranger who came to receive a monetary profit, but as a careful owner who cultivates the earth for future generations and takes care not only of his own profit, but also of the good of his neighbors and those far off. Moreover, the care and protection of the Creation of God in all its beauty and harmony is not only our practical task, but also a spiritual and religious duty, a fulfillment of the commandment of God and a trail of moral feeling. The Black Sea region has suffered from many sad consequences through an unreasonable selfish use of nature and this has been especially dramatic in our century. Today we must understand the need to work together for the transfiguration of this wonderful piece of land, for the improvement of the condition of the Black Sea, the pearl of our planet…. HB Patriarch +Alexiy of Moscow and All Russia, Yalta, Crimea, September 24, 1997
Q How is theor creation our spiritual task on earth? What is necessary for a right caring of the earth? How do we correct wrong habits from the past? Reflection
Saturday The Care of Creation is Our Spiritual Task March 14
The human is on Earth, not as a stranger who came to receive a monetary
profit, but as a careful owner who cultivates the earth for future
generations and takes care not only of his own profit, but also of the good
of his neighbors and those far off. Moreover, the care and protection of the Creation of God in all its beauty and harmony is not only our practical task, but also a spiritual and religious duty, a fulfillment of the commandment of God and a trail of moral feeling. The Black Sea region has suffered from many sad consequences through an unreasonable selfish use of nature and this has been especially dramatic in our century. Today we must understand the need to work together for the transfiguration of this wonderful piece of land, for the improvement of the condition of the Black Sea, the pearl of our planet….HB Patriarch +Alexiy of Moscow and All Russia, Yalta, Crimea, September 24, 1997
Q How is the care for creation our spiritual task on earth?
What is necessary for a right caring of the earth?
How do we correct wrong habits from the past?
Monday Programs of Practical Action are Needed March 16, 2020 Our attention must be given to developing programs of practical application. – HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 1994 Tree-planting initiatives must be undertaken…. Groups of students can cultivate gardens, while others can care and tend to forest regions. Along with lectures, seminars should be organized intended on enlightening students concerning planting procedures, gardening and similar activities. Groups of children in secular, parochial and catechetical schools may adopt vegetable or flower gardens, forested regions, church compounds, abandoned properties, farm regions cultivated for the common good, or areas with natural beauty which they will care for on a voluntary basis. Their example can sensitize their parents and elders who can then be motivated to do likewise. – HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 1994 Let us begin here and now to plant trees, both material and noetic, which will perhaps require many decades before they grow to full maturity – trees beneath whose shelter in the future, not only we, but also our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be able to sit with security and eucharistic joy. – HE Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, 2002
Q Why should the faithful plant trees? What are some practical activities that you might recommend for action? How is care of creation best taught through practical programs? Reflection
Tuesday Sin Against the Environment March 17, 2020 The ecological crisis is a spiritual problem. The proper relationship between humanity and the earth or its natural environment has been broken with the Fall both outwardly and within us, and this rupture is sin. The Church must now introduce in its teaching about sin the sin against the environment, the ecological sin. Repentance must be extended to cover also the damage we do to nature both as individuals and as societies. This must be brought to the conscience of every Christian who cares for his or her salvation. The rupture of the proper relationship between humanity and nature is due to the rise of individualism in our culture. The pursuit of individual happiness has been made into an ideal in our time. Ecological sin is due to human greed which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on its relationship with the rest of human beings. There is a social dimension in ecology which the Encyclical [Laudato Si!] brings out with clarity. The ecological crisis goes hand in hand with the spread of social injustice. We cannot face successfully the one without dealing with the other. Ecological sin is a sin not only against God, but also against our neighbor. And it is a sin not only against the other of our own time but also – and this is serious – against future generations. By destroying our planet in order to satisfy our greed for happiness, we bequeath to future generations a world damaged beyond repair with all the negative consequences that this will have for their lives. We must act, therefore, responsibly towards our children and those who will succeed us in this life. HE Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, June 18, 2015
Q What is individualism? What is environmental sin? Can you name some examples? Why should Christians care about the future? Reflections
Wednesday Love God’s Creation March 18, 2020 Regard yourselves as being responsible before God for every creature and treat every thing with love and care. HAH Ecumenical Patriarch +Dimitrios, 1990 The Orthodox Church proposes two central concepts, namely compassion and community. An essential element of caretaking is compassion, which is the very experience and expression of caretaking. To be cared for by God and to care for God’s creation entail showing compassion for every living being and for every living thing. “A compassionate heart,” writes a seventh-century mystic, St. Isaac the Syrian, “Burns with love for the whole of creation – for human beings, for birds and beasts, for all of God’s creatures.” HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, June 30, 2004 Let us proceed with much love toward the natural world that surrounds us… In the end, people protect only that which they truly love. HB Archbishop Anastasios, Albanian Orthodox Church, 2002
Q Why should we treat everything with ‘love and care’? How does one acquire a compassionate heart? What inhibits the heart? What benefits derive from a loving heart? Reflection
Thursday Our Spiritual and Religious Duty March 19, 2020 The human being is on earth, not as a stranger who came to receive a monetary profit, but as a careful owner who cultivates the earth for future generations and takes care not only of his own profit, but also of the good of his neighbors and those far off. Moreover, the care of protecting the Creation of God in all its beauty and harmony is not only our practical task but also a spiritual and religious duty, a fulfillment of the commandment of God and a trail of moral feeling. The Black Sea region has suffered from many sad consequences of an unreasonable selfish use of nature and this has been especially dramatic in our century. Today we must understand the need to work together for the transfiguration of this wonderful piece of land, for the improvement of the condition of the Black Sea, the pearl of our planet…. HB Patriarch +Alexey II, Russian Orthodox Church, Yalta, Russia, September 24, 1997
Q What is our human purpose on earth? How do we achieve success in our sojourn on earth? What does the Orthodox Church say is our spiritual and religious duty? Reflection
Friday Proceed into Stronger and More Effective Actions Mar 20. We wish to add one simple observation which is already known to everyone, namely that the destructive deterioration of the environment is taking on multiple and threatening dimensions. Therefore, we must not be content with verbal protests, but instead we proceed to continuously stronger and more effective actions, each from their own part and position. For, pollution is dangerously spreading and rapidly increasing. Indeed, quite possibly, and God forbid, according to the calculations of the experts, quite probably, pollution will become impossible to control. We cannot remain idle. May the enlightenment of the Paraclete always shine in your steps and in your actions within the course of your research and study, for your own benefit and for that of all your fellow human beings and the whole natural world. HAH, The First International Symposium, Island of Patmos, September 22, 1995
Q Why does pollution of God’s creation continue to spread? What is our responsibility to address this social form of sin? Why are we spiritually and morally responsible for this development? Reflection
Saturday A Moral and Spiritual Perspective March 21, 2020 Environmental protection is a profoundly moral and spiritual problem that concerns us all. The initial and crucial response to the environmental crisis is for each of us to bear personal responsibility for the way we live and for the values that we treasure and the priorities that we pursue. To persist in the current path of ecological destruction is not only folly. It is a sin against God and creation. HAH, Ecum Patriarch Bartholomew, Manaus, Brazil, July 16, 2006 The care of protecting the Creation of God in all its beauty and harmony is not only our practical task but also a spiritual and religious duty, a fulfillment of the commandment of God and a trail of moral feeling. Today we must understand the need to work together for the transfiguration of this wonderful piece of land, for the improvement of the condition of the Black Sea, the pearl of our planet…. HB Patriarch +ALEXEY II, Russian Orth. Church Yalta, Crimea, September 24, 1997 Theological reflection on anthropology and cosmology is even more important now because the problems of man and the environment with which we are confronted, are increasingly taking on a global dimension. In the Church of Antioch, we currently experience these particular problems in a very urgent manner…. Following the example of St. Maximos the Confessor, the prophet of the relationship between man and the cosmos, and the defender of the full humanity of the Word, we persist in proclaiming and living the love of Christ, which is capable of transforming every human endeavor. We do so within the effervescence of the Arabic and Islamic world, in spite of many wounds which have not yet healed. HB Patriarch +Ignatius IV of Antioch, September 8, 2012
Q Why should Christians care for the earth and its future? How do we accomplish this? What is our goal in this activity? Reflections
Monday Excess Consumption as a Cause of Climate Change Mar 23. Global Climate Change has been on the Eastern Orthodox Christian agenda for over twenty five years. In 1989 Ecumenical Patriarch +Dimitrios began to raise the alarm when he observed “scientists… warn us of the danger of the phenomena of the greenhouse whose first indications have already been noted….” In a letter to the 2013 Warsaw Climate Summit, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew brought a further cause of climate change into focus: “Excess consumption.” Humanity’s reckless consumption of earth’s resources threatens us with irreversible climate change. Burning more fuel than we need, we contribute to droughts or floods thousands of miles away. To restore the planet we need a spiritual worldview which cultivates frugality and simplicity, humility and respect. We must constantly be aware of the impact of our actions on creation. We must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs. We must care for creation. Otherwise, we do not really care about anything at all. In our efforts to contain global warming, we are demonstrating how prepared we are to sacrifice our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: “Enough!”? When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible for the sake of future generations? HE Archbishop Seraphim of Zimbabwe, Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, June 18, 2014
Q Why is excess consumption harmful to the world? What is required to restrain consumption? What is our individual responsibility in restraining consumption? Reflection
Tuesday A Good God Gives Us a Good World March 24, 2020 The world was created “very good” in order to serve the mind of God and the life of humanity. However, it does not replace God; it cannot be worshiped in the place of God; it cannot offer more than God appointed it to offer. The Orthodox Church prays that God may bless this creation in order to offer seasonable weather and an abundance of fruits from the earth. It prays that God may free the earth from earthquakes, floods, fires, and every other harm. In recent times, it has also offered supplications to God for the protection of the world from destruction caused by humanity itself, such as pollution, war, over exploitation, exhaustion of waters, changes in environmental conditions, devastation, and stagnation. The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not however rely only on supplication to God to improve the situation. Starting from God, as it is always proper to do, the Ecumenical Patriarchate works intensely in every possible way to alert everyone to the fact that the greed of our generation constitutes a sin. This greed leads to the deprivation of our children’s generation, in spite of our desire to bequeath to them a better future. HAH, Kathmandu, Nepal, November 15, 2000
Q In what ways can we see and know that the world is good? Why do people corrupt and pollute the world? What is the solution to our human tendency to corrupt and pollute the world? Reflection
Wednesday The Earth Is the Lord’s and the Fullness Thereof March 25 (Part One) During the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, there developed a notion and then a theology of man’s dominance over and ownership of the earth. Even the creation narrative was re-interpreted as giving man a purely utilitarian ownership of the earth. While this desire to dominate the earth predates these two extraordinary developments in human society, it had previously been necessary only to accommodate oneself to a certain amount of self-control, such as irrigation. It was these two events, one on the level of the mind and the other on the level of our action, that made it possible for us to carry out such domination. Nevertheless, in the [Mosaic] Law we are taught that all the land belonged to God and that portions were divided among the tribes to be held in trust and used for their needs. And as the embodiment of their responsibility to cultivate an ability to respond, like the Lord, with care, God even went so far as to give a sabbath to the land, so that it might be rested and resuscitated. From this it is clear that God cares for the earth and desires that it be sustained. It is equally clear that the earth does not belong to us, rather we belong to it. Not only are we an integral part of the ecosystem, but at the end of our lives the earth will reclaim us and return us to her bosom. God made us from the dust of the earth and He also breathed into us the spirit of life. We are, therefore, both of heaven and of earth. In a manner of speaking, we share in the image of the two natures of Jesus Christ, and so are invited to cultivate the sanctification of our incarnate way of being. HE Archbishop LAZAR, Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada, Carlton University, Ottawa, Ontario, July 18, 2007
Q How do you think we acquired a utilitarian view of the world? What is the purpose of the call to take dominion of the earth? How might we participate is sustaining the earth? Reflection
Thursday The Earth Is the Lord’s and the Fullness Thereof March 26 (Part Two) The Apostle Paul tells us that all of creation fell together with man, and that it has been redeemed together with man…. The purpose of man is not simply to worship God, but to serve as a point of unity for all that exists. Man alone consists in the spiritual, the material and the intellectual, and he is therefore a microcosm of the whole universe, both the visible and the invisible. We have the capacity through our worship to serve creation as God loves creation. “Ortho-doxa” is more than “right worship”; it also indicates the correct understanding of worship. Such ortho-doxa, or right worship with a correct understanding, makes it possible for us to serve creation with blessing and healing. There is no relationship with our Lord and Saviour where there is not blessing…. There is no cultivation, but only a stripping away (a kind of spiritual strip mining), no healing but only harm. Man should have fulfilled this vocation as a unifying element in nature, for he is not only its crown, but also the microcosm of creation. This vocation could only be fulfilled through unselfish love and the absence of egotism. This would have constituted a proper use of his energies. The fall constitutes a proclivity to habitually misuse our energies, not the loss of them. Christ healed this misuse through His perfect humanity, in whom perfect human nature is expressed, making unity with God and the cosmos again possible for human beings – a unity which Christ realized for us in His perfect humanity with complete divinity. Human nature, restored in Him, now has the ability to make proper use of its energies. This proper use is manifested in the Church, His Body, even if Church members often fall short of it. Understanding this is necessary for us to understand the complexities of the Incarnation of God. Jesus Christ as Incarnate Word recapitulated our nature and became the new Adam in order to correct our failures, complete our calling, fulfil our purpose and therefore deliver not only us, but the whole cosmos from bondage to corruption. HE Archbishop LAZAR, Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada, Carlton University, Ottawa, Ontario, July 18, 2007
Q How much can you identify that humans lost because of the Fall? What in the concept of Ortho-doxy allows us to serve creation? How might we restore a right use of our human energies? Reflection
Friday The Earth Is the Lord’s and the Fullness Thereof March 27 (Part Three) In the beginning – in the creation – man fit into the ecosystem in perfect balance. Had he truly acquired the knowledge of good and evil as a gift from God in the fullness of time, he could have maintained that balance. However, having accepted from Satan a counterfeit of that knowledge, man’s relationship with the cosmos became counterfeit. The fact that the human race has come so close to destroying the ecosystem upon which its life depends makes it clear that humanity has misunderstood not only its own Being, but its relationship with the earth, with the universe, with God, and even with itself. These misunderstandings, not forming ourselves on that which is foundational to creation – the Creator’s love and affection – always come hand in hand. We misunderstand both our own being and creation, including the whole of the universe and God, in one and the same act. This set of misunderstandings, born of selfcentered egotism, is a major aspect of what Christ came to earth to heal. It is important to remember that self-centered egotism is not something most people are able to see and understand about themselves, but it is deeply embedded in their whole way of putting their understanding of the world together. It is a fundamental misrepresentation of self, world and God and the only way we can untie this knot is by coming to know how it began and shedding the light of Christ on this unconscious orientation… HE Archbishop LAZAR, Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada, Carlton University, Ottawa, Ontario, July 18, 2007
Q How much can you name of what humans lost because of the Fall? What in the concept of Ortho-doxy causes us to serve creation? What does it take to restore a right use of our human energies? Reflection
Saturday The Earth Is the Lord’s and the Fullness Thereof March 28 (Part Four) “Thou shalt love [cherish and nourish] thy neighbor as thyself” … and he, wishing to justify himself, replied, “and who is my neighbor?” This is the second half of Christ’s great “moral imperative.” It is often described as a “command,” but I would like to think of it as the truest form of morality. What is shocking to me is that so many people, many of them in positions of political and economic power, so callously disregard the welfare of their own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in their reticence to make a little lower profits or adjust our over-heated lifestyle, our so called “standard of living.” Yet, surely, our own children and grandchildren are our neighbors. Even if we turned to a radical ecologically sound lifestyle today, we would still leave the next several generations with a depleted agriculture, an insufficient supply of fresh water and large areas of formerly food producing land in a state of desiccation and ruin. The earth came to us as a sacred trust, and we will pass it on in such a condition. As a whole, our generation will not respond to the current crises in an appropriate manner because our entire socio-economic structure is based on harsh competition for short term profits. Our current “standard of living” in North America is based on a self-centered and egoistic measure. It does not reflect the lifestyle of the lower middle class and the poor, but that of the upper income levels in Canada and America. We ask what can we few Orthodox Christians do in the face of such huge problems. Aside from our prayers and our struggle for salvation, we can offer spiritual and social leadership in a sound process of education and action which is based in Scripture and the moral imperative of Jesus Christ, rather than the dreamy new-age romanticism that has dominated much of the ecology movement…. Glory to Jesus Christ! HE Archbishop LAZAR, Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada, Carlton University, Ottawa, Ontario, July 18, 2007
Q Who may we count as our neighbor? What is deficient in the secular ecological vision? What can single individuals do to be part of the solution to ecological problems? Reflection
Monday A Universal Human Responsibility March 30, 2020 In our time, more than ever before, there is an undeniable obligation for all to understand that environmental concern for our planet does not comprise a romantic notion of the few. The ecological crisis, and particularly the reality of climate change, constitutes the greatest threat for every form of life in our world. Moreover, there is an immediate correlation between protection of the environment and every expression of economic and social life. For our Orthodox Church, the protection of the environment as God’s creation is the supreme responsibility of human beings, quite apart from any material or other financial benefits that it may bring. The almighty God bequeathed this “very beautiful” world (Gen. 1.26) to humanity together with the commandment to “serve and preserve” it…. According to the theological understanding of the Orthodox Christian Church, the natural environment is part of Creation and is characterized by sacredness…. Thus we call everyone to a more acute sense of vigilance for the preservation of nature and all creation. HAH Ecum. Patriarch Bartholomew, The Phanar, June 5, 2009 In our [Bulgarian] community the harmful exploitation of nature, the creation of God, is no longer tolerated. It is incumbent on us to use the material world which God has entrusted to us in a beneficial way [and] not to exploit it mercilessly. We should hand it on to the generations that come after us, not as a wasteland, but enhanced and with a greater capacity for supporting life. HB PATRIARCH +MAXIM, Primate, Bulgarian Orth. Church Varna, Bulgaria, September 26, 1997
Q Why should humans should take good care of the earth? How do we develop a vigilance for the preservation of nature? What are some specific ways that we can do this? Reflection
Tuesday The Meaning of Christian Asceticism March 31, 2020 Asceticism has been associated with a devaluation of matter for the sake of ‘higher’ and more ‘spiritual’ things. This implies a Platonic view of matter and the body, which is not compatible with the Christian tradition…. Such types of asceticism, involving a devaluation or contempt of the material world, aggravates instead of solves the ecological crisis. An ‘ecological asceticism’ begins with deep respect for the material creation, including the human body. It builds upon the view that we are not possessors of creation, but are called to turn it into a vehicle of communion, always respecting its possibilities and limitations. Human beings must realize that natural resources are not unlimited. Creation is finite and so are the resources that nature can provide. The consumerist philosophy seems to ignore this truth. We encourage growth and consumption by making ‘necessary’ things which previous generations could easily live without. We need to reconsider our concept of quality of life. Quality does not need quantity to exist. A restriction in our use of natural resources can lead to a life that is happier than the endless competition of spending and acquiring more and more. Qualitative growth must replace the prevailing conception of economic development…. Asceticism must become synonymous with qualitative instead of quantitative progress in society. All this would involve major redefinitions in political, economic and social institutions. Such a reorientation of our culture requires the involvement and cooperation of all the factors responsible for forming it. It would require a change in people’s deeper convictions and motivations, since no human being can sacrifice anything without a reason or motive. HE Metropolitan John of Pergamon, “Production and Consumption, April, 1996
Q What is Christian asceticism? Can you explain it? Why is ascesis beneficial and preferable to the consumerist way of life? What is the example that we receive from the life of Jesus Christ? Reflection
Wednesday The Great Challenge of Our Generation April 1. As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has written: “Climate change affects everyone. Unless we take radical and immediate measures to reduce emissions stemming from unsustainable excesses in the demands of our lifestyle, the impact will be both immediate and alarming.” Therefore, each parish and every individual should seek out ways of practicing prayer and care for God’s creation by applying the fundamental principles of scripture, theology and tradition with regard to our relationship with the natural environment by considering changes in our attitudes and habits with regard to food and travel, by reducing consumption of fossil fuels and choosing alternative sources of energy with regard to lighting and heating, as well as by raising and promoting awareness with regard to the divine gifts of water and air. Every parish and community is invited and encouraged to open a fruitful dialogue on this challenge of our generation. HE Archbishop Elpidophorus, Protocol No. 22/19, September 1, 2019
Q What is global climate change? Why is climate change a significant issue for Orthodox Christians? How might members of a parish address climate change? Reflection
Program Announcements The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration is offering a series of tools and programs to help you and those in your to parish develop awareness of creation care in your parish and in members.
Film: The Face of God film: An Orthodox film on theology and climate change. If you would like a showing of this film in your parish, please send a note to our office. This should be ready for viewing by late Spring. Send an e-mail to: Fred@Ecostewards.org
Books: The Greening of the Orthodox Parish This is a comprehensive guide that provides vision, commentary from the saints, and recommendations for what parishes and individuals can do to fulfill our Orthodox obligation to care for God’s good earth.
Transfiguring the World: Orthodox Patriarchs and Hierarchs The Orthodox patriarchs and bishops have been eloquent in articulating a healing ethic of the environment. Study of their writings provides an education on the vision…
Programs Christ in the Wilderness Watch for program announcement for this summer by late April. 2020 Reading-a-day program Available by e-mail at no charge, or in hard copy form by U.S. Mail.
Websites www.Orth-Transfiguration.org https://www.facebook.com/christinthewildernessprogram/ https://faceofgodfilm.com/
The OFT is endorsed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States
The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration Publication Department P.O. Box 7348 Santa Rosa, CA 95407 (707) 573-3161
Prot. No. 188 CATECHETICAL HOMILY AT THE OPENING OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT + BARTHOLOMEW BY GOD’S MERCY ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE – NEW ROME AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH, MAY THE GRACE AND PEACE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, TOGETHER WITH OUR PRAYER, BLESSING AND FORGIVENESS BE WITH YOU ALL ***
We offer hymns of thanks to the God of love as once again we enter Holy and Great Lent, the arena of ascetic struggle, fasting and abstinence, of vigilance and spiritual awareness, of guarding our senses and prayer, of humility and self-knowledge. We are commencing a new and blessed pilgrimage toward Holy Pascha, which has “opened for us the gates of paradise.” In Church and as Church, as we behold the Risen Lord of glory, we all journey together along the way of deification by grace that leads to the heavenly goods “prepared by God for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). In the Church, where “the eternal mystery” of divine Economy is realized, all things have their unwavering theological foundation and pure soteriological reference. The incarnation of God and the deification of man are the pillars of the Orthodox faith. We move toward our eternal destination in the love of Christ. Our God, Who is “always for us,” can never be reduced to some “higher power” enclosed in transcendence and the grandeur of almightiness or its holiness. Instead, He is the pre-eternal Word of God, Who “assumed our form” in order to invite humankind to the communion of His holiness, of the genuine freedom. Man, who from the beginning “has been honored with freedom,” is invited to freely accept this divine gift. In the divine-human mystery of salvation, our synergy also functions as a witness in the world of the blessing that we have experienced—“what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7)— through the love for the ‘brother.” Holy and Great Lent is par excellence a period of experiencing this freedom bestowed by Christ. Fasting and ascesis do not comprise a discipline imposed externally, but a voluntary respect of ecclesiastical practice, obedience to Church Tradition that is not a sterile letter but a living and life-giving presence, a permanent expression of the unity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity of the 2 Church. The language of theology and hymnography speaks of “joyful sorrow” and “the spring of fasting.” This is because authentic asceticism is always joyful, springful and bright. It knows no dualism or division; it does not undermine life or the world. “Depressive ascesis” that leads to an “aridity of human nature” has nothing to do with the spirit of Orthodoxy, where the ascetic life and spirituality are nurtured by resurrectional joy. In this sense, fasting and ascesis contain an alternative proposal for life before the promised false paradise of eudemonism and nihilistic pessimism. Another essential element of Orthodox ascetic spirituality is its social character. The God of our faith is “the most social God,” “a God of relations.” It has rightly been said that the Holy Trinity is “the negation of loneliness.” The individualization of salvation and piety, the transformation of ascesis into an individual achievement, overlook the Trinity-centered essence of the ecclesial event. When we fast for ourselves and according to our whim, then fasting does not express the spirit of the Orthodox tradition. Spirituality is the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, Which is always “a spirit of communion.” The genuine Orthodox spiritual life always refers to the ecclesial dimension of our existence and not to some “spiritual self-realization.” In adhering to the dedication of this year by the Holy Great Church of Christ to “the pastoral renewal and due concern for our youth,” we call upon our Orthodox young men and women to participate in the spiritual struggle of Great Lent in order to experience its anthropological depth and liberating spirit, to understand that Orthodox asceticism is a way of freedom and existential fulfilment in the context of the blessed life in the Church, whose core is to “speak the truth in love.” Our Orthodox youth is called to discover the holistic character of fasting, which is praised in the Triodion as “the commencement of spiritual struggles,” as “food for the soul,” as “mother of all good things and all virtues.” It is not simply an abstinence from certain foods, but a struggle against self-love and self-sufficiency, a sensitivity toward our suffering neighbor, and a tangible response of support. It is a Eucharistic use of creation, existential fulfilment, communion of life and solidarity. Ascesis, fasting, prayer and humility convey the fragrance and light of the Resurrection, from which they receive meaning and direction. As the quintessence of ecclesial life and its eschatological orientation, the Resurrection inseparably links the ascetic life with the Divine Eucharist, the sacrament of foretaste of the ineffable joy of the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Divine Eucharist is preserved as the center of the life in the Orthodox Church is associated with the fact that the Resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the bright horizon of our ascetic spirituality as well as of our good witness in the world. With these thoughts, we humbly invoke upon all of you the mercy and blessing of the God of love, so that we may pursue the race of Holy and Great Lent with devout heart, reach the saving Passion of Christ our God and, glorifying 3 His ineffable forbearance, shine brightly for the feast of His splendid Resurrection that leads us from death to endless life.
Holy and Great Lent 2020
BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople Fervent supplicant for all before God
- 24 January 2020
If you haven’t written/emailed Defra expressing your views on banning trophy hunting please do. Remember, St Cyril of Jerusalem taught us that hunting was one example of the ‘Pomp of the Devil’ and Canon Law informs us that even attending hunts was enough for priests to lose their position:
A government consultation on banning the importing and exporting of hunting trophies has been extended by one month in order to get more responses.The consultation, launched in November, was due to close on Saturday but the deadline has now been pushed back by one month.The government says this is for those who could not contribute as a result of the pre-election and Christmas periods.
The options include introducing a ban for certain species, stricter requirements for moving certain species, banning hunting trophies altogether, or do nothing.
Minister Lord Goldsmith has said he is “repulsed” by trophy hunting.However, some conservationists argue money made from trophy hunting goes towards protecting endangered animals – an income source that could be lost if it was banned.There are also fears that ending the practice would mean areas of habitat end up being converted for other uses.And in May then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove sounded a note of caution.”If particular communities have got used to deriving income from hunting, you don’t want to seem as though you’re basically saying, we’re taking your livelihood away,” he told the BBC Radio 5 Live podcast Beast of Man.”We’ve got to make sure that there is a clear alternative, that they know that their livelihoods and their lifestyle are going to be respected and not patronised, before they will feel comfortable about moving.”
Speaking at an event in Westminster on Tuesday, Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith acknowledged there were people who believe trophy hunting was an important source of funding for conservation.However, he added, the argument was “predicated mostly on the idea of best practice, that all trophy hunting is highly and well-regulated, and that the money makes it to local communities and conservation”.”If that was true then we would genuinely have to weigh up the arguments, the moral argument against the apparent conservation benefits.
“The purpose of this consultation is to unpick those arguments.”How can it be good for an endangered species when the healthiest and most magnificent among them are the first to be shot?” he asked.
Also attending the event, Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said: “I think banning trophy hunting would send a very strong signal to the world that this is not an acceptable practise in the 21st century.”The consultation is specifically seeking views on options for importing and exporting hunting trophies to the UK.
By Nassos Stylianou, Clara Guibourg and Helen BriggsBBC News
- First published on 9 August 2019
Avoiding meat and dairy products is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact, according to recent scientific studies.
Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, according to a major report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is fuelling global warming.
But what is the difference between beef and chicken? Does a bowl of rice produce more climate warming greenhouse gases than a plate of chips? Is wine more environmentally friendly than beer?
To find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink, choose from one of the 34 items in our calculator and pick how often you have it.
How do your food choices impact on the environment?
Which food would you like?- Select a food or drink -ApplesAvocadosBananasBeansBeefBeerBerries and grapesBreadCheeseChickenChocolate (dark)Chocolate (milk)Citrus fruitCoffeeEggsFish (farmed)LambMilk (almond)Milk (dairy)Milk (oat)Milk (rice)Milk (soy)NutsOatmealPastaPeasPorkPotatoesPrawns (farmed)RiceTeaTofuTomatoesWineHow often do you have it?- Select how often -1-2 times a week3-5 times a weekOnce a dayTwice a day or moreNeverFind out
All figures for each food in the calculator are global averages. If you cannot view the food calculator, click to launch the interactive content.
Design by Prina Shah, development by Felix Stephenson and Becky Rush.
Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to a University of Oxford study.
However, the researchers found that the environmental impact of different foods varies hugely.
Their findings showed that meat and other animal products are responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink.
Of all the products analysed in the study, beef and lamb were found to have by far the most damaging effect on the environment.
The findings echo recommendations on how individuals can lessen climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
When it comes to our diets, the IPCC says we need to buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter – but also eat more locally sourced seasonal food, and throw less of it away.
The IPCC also recommends that we insulate homes, take trains and buses instead of planes, and use video conferencing instead of business travel.
Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to the Oxford study, published in the journal Science.
“What we eat is one of the most powerful drivers behind most of the world’s major environmental issues, whether it’s climate change or biodiversity loss,” study researcher Joseph Poore told BBC News.
Changing your diet can make a big difference to your personal environmental footprint, from saving water to reducing pollution and the loss of forests, he said.
“It reduces the amount of land required to produce your food by about 75% – that’s a huge reduction, particularly if you scale that up globally,” Poore explained.
If you fly regularly, replacing flying with other forms of transport may have a bigger impact on your carbon footprint than changing your diet. A passenger’s carbon footprint from a one-way flight from London to New York is just under half a tonne of greenhouse gases. Switching from a regular petrol vehicle to an electric car could save more than double that over a year.
Knowing how and where your food is produced is also important, as the same food can have huge differences in environmental impact.
For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land is responsible for 12 times more greenhouse gas emissions than cows reared on natural pastures.
The average beef from South America results in three times the amount of greenhouse gases as beef produced in Europe – and uses 10 times as much land.
Meat and dairy are not the only foods where the choices you make can make a big difference.
Chocolate and coffee originating from deforested rainforest produce relatively high greenhouse gases.
For climate-friendly tomatoes, choose those grown outdoors or in high-tech greenhouses, instead of in greenhouses heated by gas or oil. Environmentally-minded beer-drinkers may be interested to know that draught beer is responsible for fewer emissions than recyclable cans, or worse, glass bottles.
Even the most climate-friendly meat options still produce more greenhouse gases than vegetarian protein sources, like beans or nuts.
How did we make the calculator?
How is the environmental impact calculated?
University of Oxford researcher Joseph Poore, and Thomas Nemecek of the Agroecology and Environment Research Division in Zurich, Switzerland, looked at the environmental impact of 40 major food products that represent the vast majority of what is eaten globally.
They assessed the effect of these foods on climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of land and fresh water used across all stages of their production, including processing, packaging, and transportation, but excluding the cooking process.
By analysing data from nearly 40,000 farms, 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers, Poore and Nemecek were able to assess how different production practices and geographies have very different consequences on the planet.
What about serving sizes?
The data in the study looked at the environmental impact for 1kg of each of the different food products.
For this story, these were converted to impact per serving sizes based on serving sizes from the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and healthy diet portion sizes from BUPA.
The figures for serving sizes based on the BDA and BUPA suggestions are often lower than portion sizes commonly found in restaurants and what people normally expect, so the figures returned by the calculator on the impact of individuals’ consumption are likely to be higher in reality.
Protein-rich foods were calculated using the impact per 100g of protein from Poore and Nemecek’s research and data on protein per serving from the BDA, to avoid differences between cooked and uncooked foods.
What are greenhouse gases?
The figures for greenhouse gas emissions are in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq). This is a unit that converts the impact of different kinds of greenhouse gases, like methane and nitrous oxide, to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
How do you know what my diet is equal to in miles driven?
The annual impact from eating a specific food is calculated by multiplying the impact of one serving of that food by the times it is eaten in a year, based on the weekly estimates submitted by the user.
These are then compared with the emissions of other daily habits. The European Environment Agency estimates that driving a regular petrol car produces 392g of CO2eq/mile over its entire lifecycle, including emissions from the vehicle’s production, fuel production and exhaust emissions per mile.
Heating the average UK home produces 2.34 tonnes of CO2eq annually, according to data from the Committee on Climate Change, and a passenger’s carbon footprint for a return flight from London to Malaga is 320kg CO2eq, based on figures from the Carbon Neutral calculator.
The land used to produce the annual consumption of each food is compared with the size of a double tennis court, 261 metres squared.
The annual amount of water used is compared with a shower, based on figures suggesting the average shower lasts eight minutes and uses up 65 litres. Only “blue water”, i.e. water taken out of rivers or the ground, is included in the data.
As many know, we are involved in the Holy Garden of Patmos project. This article by Vincent Rossi (RELIGION and the FORESTS magazine June, 1999) discusses St Amphilochios of Patmos and the theological importance of trees and our Christian duty to protect them.
“Whoever does not love trees, does not love God.” This was the teaching of the renowned Greek Orthodox monk, Elder Amphilochios of Patmos (1888-1970). According to Orthodox scholar Bishop Kallistos Ware, Fr. Amphilochios was an ecologist long before environmental concern became fashionable. “Do you know,” the elder said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment, “Love the trees.” When you plant a tree, you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” It is recounted that when the elder heard the confessions of local farmers, he would regularly give as a penance the task of planting a tree, while he himself would go about the island watering young trees during times of drought. His Christian love for trees transformed Patmos, the island where St. John the Evangelist lived for many years. Where photographs taken around the turn of the century reveal barren countryside, a thick and healthy forest now grows.
Many other examples could be found of people who, from religious conviction, combined a deep love of God and a love of trees. The story of John Chapman (1774- 1845), better known as Johnny Appleseed, who wandered the American frontier, a Bible in one hand, a bag of seeds in the other, planting trees and herbs, who was considered a healer and something of a saint by Indian and settler alike, comes to mind. Are these just unusual examples of religious piety that one can admire but dismiss as irrelevant to one’s own spiritual life as a Christian? After all, so the reasoning goes, trees are not people, but plants, put here on earth by God for human use. Or is there truth to the teaching of Elder Amphilochios that there is an implicit “eleventh commandment” in the Bible that enjoins human beings to love the trees? Is it possible that there is a spiritual link between the way we treat God’s creation and the state of our relationship to God? Should Christians recognize that, just as the First Epistle of John teaches that anyone who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar, it is equally if implicitly true to say that anyone who says he loves God, but willingly participates or acquiesces in the wanton destruction of forests and trees is also deceiving himself?
Is there Scriptural evidence that God actually cares how we treat trees and forests and the rest of His creation? I believe the Elder from Patmos is right: there is a link between love of trees and love of God. In the first place, it is clear from Scripture that respecting, protecting and honoring nature as the creation of God is a fundamental spiritual duty of all Christians.
The principal text outlining human responsibility for stewardship of the earth, including the forests, is Genesis 2:15, with its two key verbs, “to cultivate” and “to keep,” describing how we are to exercise our stewardship in creation. Supporting this principal text are a number of other key texts, including Rom. 8:19-20 and 2 Cor.5:17-21 which indicate our God-given vocation to reconcile and restore creation to its God-ordained natural order. To be Christian is truly to be ecologist in a Biblical sense. More specifically, within human responsibility of creation-care and earth stewardship, the care of forests and trees possesses a special place in Biblical ecology.
Let us now turn to the witness of Scripture. Scripture is rich with references to trees and forests. The words “tree” and “trees,” “forest” and “forests,” occur hundreds of times throughout the Bible. These occurrences may be grouped into general categories and contexts. Among them are references to trees and forests as: 1) a species created by God and of intrinsic value: (Gen.1:11-12, 2:9). 2) a source of food; a natural resource, or a source of wealth: (Gen.1:29, 2 Kgs.19:23; Ezek.39:10) 3) a natural part of the local or planetary ecosystem: (1Sam.22:5; 1 Kgs.7:2; Isa.57:5; Mt.21:19-21; Mk.11:13; Rev. 7:3. 9:4) 4) a sign of and/or response to God’s blessing or punishment: (Isa.41:19-20, Rev. 7:1) 5) a simile or metaphor modeled on the tree’s natural properties: (Ps.1:3; Isa.56:3; Mt.7:17-19,12:33; Mk.13:28; Lk.13:6-7,17:6; Rev. 6:13). A great many tree references are of this category. 6) a sign of the natural world in harmony with itself: (Gen.2:9; Ps.104:16-17; Song 2:10-13) 7) paradigm of the cosmic world tree; primordial living symbol of human knowledge and life: (Gen.2:9, 17; 3: 1-24; Rev.2:7, 22:2) 8) symbol of the Cross of Christ: (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29; Gal.3:13; 1 Pt.2:24)
This represents only a small sample of the hundreds of references to forests and trees in the Bible. Human beings excepted, no other living organism appears as often as trees in Scripture. On the basis of textual prominence alone, the tree is the most important nonhuman living organism in Scripture.
But is there a larger and deeper significance to trees and forests in the Bible? The importance of the images of trees and forests in Scripture cannot be attributed merely to numerical frequency alone. There must be a deeper meaning, a meaning both literal and spiritual, that delineates the revelation of the Holy Spirit as it relates to forests and trees, and that reveals the attitude that God expects human beings to take to the trees and forests He has created. There is.
This deeper meaning emerges out of the differences and the relationships between the kinds of references to forests and trees. I refer especially to the ways that Scripture uses the image of the tree.
The eight categories above, which are not exhaustive, give us a clue. Characteristically, Scripture uses the image of trees and forests in three basic ways, plus a subsuming fourth, which represent respectively three kinds of the Scriptural tree, corresponding roughly to the Pauline trichotomy of body, soul and spirit, plus a transcending fourth, representing the presence of the Holy Spirit that is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” We may call these three types of tree usages the Natural Tree, the Metaphoric Tree and the Symbolic Tree. Subsuming the functions of the previous kinds of tree while transcending them is the fourth kind of tree in Scripture, which we may call the Iconic Tree.
1. The Natural Tree We meet the “natural tree” as part of the integrated order of the natural world. Throughout Scripture there is a warm and loving quality to the references to trees, almost as though they were “relatives” of the Biblical writer or familiar members of his community. And that, precisely, is what they were. The trees mentioned by name in the Bible— species such as hazel, chestnut, poplar, vine tree, olive, wild olive, palm, fig, bramble, cedar, pomegranate, hyssop, fir, juniper, bay, almond, apple, oak, acacia, myrtle, cypress, pine, brier, willow, mustard, sycamore, almug, lotus, frankincense, holly, galgal—were part of an ecological community called the Land of Israel, a community acutely aware of the interdependence of all the elements of life on earth, including human culture.
Forests and trees are also often mentioned in Scripture as a source of food, shelter, fuel, commerce and artistic expression. This approximates the way human societies from time immemorial have used trees. What is especially significant is how Scripture deals with trees and forests as they are used by people. The Bible does not forbid the cutting and harvesting of trees for human use. The cedars of Lebanon were used in the construction and adornment of the Temple of Jerusalem (1Kgs. 5:1-10). However this is not the end of the story of the natural tree.
Following the injunction of “cultivating” and “keeping,” Scripture indicates a strong preference for Godly stewardship. This is strikingly shown in the injunction against cutting down the trees of an enemy in time of war (Deut.21:19). This principle of restraint is especially remarkable, given the context of warfare, when it is characteristic of human nature to abandon ordinary ethical rules to conquer the enemy. The Bible emphatically tells us that all is not “fair in love and war” when it comes to the natural world, and specifically when it comes to trees. The verse following, which seems at first glance to mitigate the law against destroying trees in time of war, upon close reading actually confirms the law of restraint. “Only the trees which are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued” (Deut.21:20). The Torah of God makes it clear that only the trees that are not “trees for food” may be cut down, for the “tree of the field is man’s food.”
God tells his people that under no circumstances, not even during war, may you endanger the food supply. More than this, the destruction of non fruit-bearing trees even of an enemy is also prohibited, for Deuteronomy specifies that the cutting down of non fruit-bearing trees is allowed only for the purpose of building siegeworks. There is no indication whatsoever that Scripture justifies a scorched-earth policy. The first part of verse nineteen states without qualification: “you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them.” By the principle of restraint, remarkably enjoined even in time of war, and by the specification that trees must be spared, the Bible clearly implies and points to that “eleventh commandment” insisted upon by the holy Elder Amphilochios of Patmos: trees are to be protected, nurtured and, yes, loved, not only for their benefit to humanity as food, but for their role in the harmony of the earth environment, and for their own sake as a creation of God.
2. The Metaphoric Tree By the “metaphoric tree” I mean the Scriptural use of the image of forests and trees in simile, metaphor, allegory, analogy or parable for teaching basic moral and spiritual principles. The metaphorical use of the tree-image is the largest category of references to 4 trees and forests in the New Testament. Just as natural references to trees are on the physical-natural level of existence, or the level of the body, so the metaphoric tree in Scripture relates to the level of soul. To say soul is to say the moral-ethical and therapeutic-spiritual. This is the pre-eminent level of Scriptural teaching and admonishment concerned with and focused upon the way to salvation.
The Book of Psalms offers many examples, none better than the first lines of Psalm 1:
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful….
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in season….
Another example, this time in the form of an allegory in which the children of Israel are warned of the hidden dangers of monarchy, comes from Judges 9:8-15:
8 The trees went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. 9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come and reign over us. 11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? … 14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. 15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth you anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
All the books attributed to Solomon contain tree references, some of which are acute observations of trees in nature, others are metaphoric. It is noteworthy that when the Bible wishes to demonstrate that Solomon is the wisest of all men, it speaks in terms of his knowledge of the natural world, in particular, of trees: The metaphoric tree is prominent in the parables of Jesus. The parable of the fig tree (Mt. 24:32; Mk. 13:29; Lk. 21:29) and the parable of the mustard seed (Mt.13:31; Lk.13:19) are two of the most outstanding of these.
3. The Symbolic Tree What we are calling “the natural tree” represents the Scriptural expression of Biblical culture’s awareness of the intrinsic value of trees and of the central role played by trees in ecological balance, as well as the human use of trees for food, shelter, trade and commerce to satisfy the needs of the body. The “metaphoric tree” represents the figurative use of trees for the purpose of education, moral instruction, and the inculcation of the teachings necessary for salvation to satisfy the needs of the soul. Beyond these two levels or types of tree, a third tree-image occurs in the Bible, which we are calling the “symbolic tree.” The Holy Spirit in Scripture employs the image of the tree to reveal and communicate truths about the cosmos, about humanity, about God’s will in creation, and thus, about the deepest principles of the order of nature and life. It is this symbolic, anagogic (that is, uplifting) function of trees in Scripture that we call The Symbolic Tree.
The most important context in which the symbolic tree appears is the story of God creating the Edenic Paradise in the center of which He planted two trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:8-17). This passage is part of the “second creation story” of Genesis Two, which scholars agree is older than that of the creation story of Genesis One. We Christians must not let the familiarity of this story blind us to some of its remarkable features, especially as they relate to our theme. Aside from man, trees are the first living thing mentioned. It is highly significant that of all the plants and growing things that could have been mentioned, only trees are actually mentioned. This is a strong indication that Scripture singles out the tree as representative of the biosphere as a whole. This corresponds with an ecological view which recognizes trees as the organic center around which all the other parts of the ecosystem are organized. Without directly pointing it out, Scripture is bearing witness to the pre-eminent value of trees in the organic world or biosphere.
Two categories of trees are distinguished in Genesis 2: those “pleasant to the sight” and those “good for food.” Both categories link trees to human physical and psychological well-being and represent the gift-nature of trees to humanity. Trees are shown to be a gift and blessing of God to man, as Elder Amphilochios taught, bearing in themselves elements of hope, peace, beauty and love. Without introduction or the slightest bit of explanation, the Sacred Narrative reveals the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the Garden. Here we confront the primordial symbol of the sacred World Tree, which is a universal symbol in human consciousness. In the Genesis Two creation story, our primary concern is the image of the tree. Why the tree? Why does the Holy Spirit use the tree to symbolize life? Why is human consciousness, across the spectrum of cultures and times so congenial to, so accepting of, the tree as the universal symbol of life?
To answer this question we must ask and attempt to answer another: What is a symbol? Commonly, this word is used as a synonym for “figure” or “sign” and is opposed to what is “real,” such as when someone says that something is “only a symbol” or that such and such “symbolizes” or “represents” so and so. But symbol can mean more than this. A symbol may be distinguished from a metaphor in that the latter is a figure of speech in which we speak of one thing in terms of another; whereas a symbol is not specifically linguistic and may represent physical objects and visual representations. One may speak metaphorically about a tree, but one cannot say, for example, that the tree is a metaphor of the cross, because a tree, as a physical object, is not a metaphor. One might properly say that the tree is a symbol of the cross. Because symbols are not figures of speech, but signifying objects, the representational definition of symbol—symbol as “only” a sign—does not exhaust either the meaning or the function of symbol. Because the nature of a symbol is rooted in real objects, its meaning is not exhausted by convention and, as it were, on the “horizontal” plane.
A symbol is also capable of “vertical” significance by making visible a higher meaning. Further, a symbol, by the meaning of its form, its “transparency,” may itself be in the physical world the manifestation of a higher, invisible reality. Such was the view of the Fathers of the Church. The very physical presence of the symbol re-presents the higher reality it points to and reveals. Thus “symbol” and “reality” may not be opposites, but may coincide. As an example of this kind of “living” symbolism, Bishop Kallistos Ware cites Edward Carpenter’s (1844-1929) vision of a tree:
‘Has any one of us ever seen a Tree? I certainly do not think that I have — except most superficially… Once the present writer seemed to have a partial vision of a tree. It was a beech, standing isolated and still leafless in early Spring. Suddenly I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of most amazing activity.’
Bishop Ware comments, “Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe.”
Carpenter’s experience, plus the bishop’s comment, provide insight into the tree as symbol. Something in the nature of the tree makes it a symbol of life itself. The tree’s upright form; its three-fold structure of roots-trunk-branches; its intimate connection with the four elements—roots deep in the earth, branches high in the air, its power to draw down sunlight and draw up water; its longevity and stability; its silent generosity, offering shade, shelter and sustenance to all other living things; its created capacity to “unite the life of Earth and Sky,” all these qualities of the tree-nature created by God make it a powerful, central and universal symbol of life. Yet this capacity in the tree to be a symbol only hints at the depths of that “deep secret at the heart of the universe” embodied by the symbolic tree and glimpsed by those blessed with even a “partial vision” similar to Edward Carpenter’s. For the life we have been speaking of is created life. But the Tree of Life in Paradise confers eternal life. The tragic consequence of Adam’s sin reveals the luminous reality of the Tree of Life just at the moment that he loses all contact with it.
‘Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,” therefore the LORD God sent him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen.3:22-24).’
The loss of access to the Tree of Life meant death and expulsion from paradise, and the way back blocked. The “deep secret at the heart of the universe” still lies beyond the flaming sword of the cherubim. Nevertheless its presence may yet be intuited and felt, as did Edward Carpenter, in the transparent symbol of a living tree, truly seen.
If a symbol is, in its highest meaning, the reflection of a higher reality, then the sin of Adam can be seen as becoming attached to the symbol instead of the higher reality. The symbol had become an idol. Choosing the created symbol over the uncreated Life it symbolized, Adam’s vision was darkened. He lost not only the Tree of Life, but the tree as the symbol of life. The fatal descent had begun, from the paradisal vision of trees “pleasant to the sight,” as transparent symbols of life, to the infernal sight of “clearcutting”: the brutal stripping of entire mountainsides of their forests to feed the world’s appetite for wood. Nevertheless, natural things have not lost their inner nature; they still praise God their Creator. The trees along with all else in creation wait with earnest expectation for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19), that is, human beings redeemed by Christ and members of His body, so that they once again may see both the forest and the trees. Restoring this Christian unitive vision of creation as a cosmic sacrament points us to the Iconic Tree.
4. The Iconic Tree The mystery of life is that even the life of fallen nature partakes somehow of the Life beyond life, even though without redemption access to the Tree of Life remains blocked by separation, sin and death. As a great saint of the early Church, Dionysios the Areopagite wrote in his enormously influential work, The Divine Names, “Life” is one of the names of God: ‘The Divine Life beyond life is the giver and creator of life itself. All life and living movement comes from a Life which is above every life and beyond the source of life. From this Life souls have their indestructibility, and every living being and plant, down to the last echo of life, has life.’
St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662), a profound student of Dionysios and a great theologian in his own right, sums up the whole tradition in a few words: ‘Death in the true sense is separation from God, and ‘the sting of death is sin’ (1 Cor. 15:56). Adam, who received the sting, became at the same time an exile from the tree of life, from paradise and from God; and this was necessarily followed by the body’s death. Life, in the true sense, is He who said, ‘I am the Life’ (Jn 11:25), and who, having entered into death, led back to life him who had died.’
With his allusion to John 11:25 (“Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”), St. Maximos gives us the link to the Iconic Tree to which the symbol of the tree is finally pointing. For with the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and glorious Ascension of Christ, the glory of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14) has transformed the image of the tree from symbol to icon. In order to understand how the symbol of the tree becomes an icon, we need to touch on the meaning of icons in the Orthodox Church. The icon is not merely religious “art” or pious decoration. Iconography is sacred art with a primarily liturgical function, which is to manifest the unity of creation with heaven in the liturgy.
According to the Orthodox understanding of icons, icons make present that which they re-present. Therefore, the icon is a “symbol” as we have tried to present it, but a symbol in the highest possible sense. An icon is the apex of symbolism in which the visible reveals the invisible in an essentially sacramental manner. As we have seen, a symbol, contrary to a widely held opinion, both popular and scholarly, is not necessarily opposed to “reality,” and can signify much more than mere “representation.” In fact, the essence of the symbol is precisely to make known by reflecting or manifesting a reality beyond itself. According to the Bible, the natural world was created by God so that He might be made known: because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (Rom.1:19-20).
As Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes: “the world is symbolical in virtue of its being created by God”; to be “symbolical” thus belongs to its ontology, the symbol being not only the way to perceive and understand reality, but also a means of participation. It is this natural symbolism of the world that is reflected in the understanding of the early Church that the universe is itself a Book, the Liber Mundi, or “Book of Nature” through which the wisdom, power and glory of God might be known.
Philip Sherrard, one of the foremost theologians of this century and a contemporary exponent of the sacred cosmology of the Greek Fathers of the Church, says that it is crucial that we learn to: ‘Read the book of nature, the Liber Mundi, in a way totally different from that in which we have been taught to read it. It demands that we read it in a way similar to that in which the great spiritual expositors tell that we should read the Bible—we have to learn to look on the world of natural forms as the apparent, exterior expression of a hidden, interior world, a spiritual world: all the phenomena of the world of nature represent or symbolize with things celestial and divine.’
Or as the same author says in another place:
‘a true reading of the book of nature, the Liber Mundi, leads to the recognition that these realities constitute the immaterial, spiritual and uncreated realities of the forms of the natural and physical world; they embrace the archetypes of which these forms are the exterior, apparent expression. This in turn means that we are able to perceive through our physical eyes the symbolic function that natural things possess by virtue of their correspondence and interpenetration with spiritual things.’
The Book of Job says the same thing more directly:
‘But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air and they will tell you. Or speak to the earth and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? (Job 12: 7-10).’
To perceive the living symbolism of natural things—to read the Book of Nature—is to perceive the spiritual presence of which each natural form is the image—or icon. There is an inherent “sacramentality” to creation because the Divine presence in and through and beyond each created thing gives each its uniqueness, immediacy, transparency and meaning. Thus to learn to read the Book of Nature is to move from creation to symbol to sacrament. That movement from symbol to sacrament is, as it were, an “iconic” movement. For the tree, its iconic movement came as the God-Man Christ Jesus was crucified on the cross at Golgotha. At that moment, and irreversibly, the image of the tree, source of the wood that formed the instrument upon which our salvation was wrought, became forever a symbol of the cross.
There are five instances in the New Testament in which “tree” is used for the cross on which Jesus was crucified: three in Acts (5:30, 10:39, 13:29), one in Galatians (3:13) and one in First Peter (2:24). Remarkably, each of these texts is a kerygmatic paradigm—that is to say, each is a unique divine moment filled by the Holy Spirit in which the Spirit-directed and empowered preaching of the Good News revealed the form and contours and scope of the Christian faith.
1) The Witness to the Religious Authorities—the Power of the Gospel: Acts 5:30 shows Peter, standing before the high priest and the chief priests of the temple after his miraculous escape from prison at the hand of an angel of the Lord, fearlessly bearing witness to the Good News: ‘The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.’
2) The Witness to the Gentiles—the Universal Scope of the Gospel: Acts 10:39 shows St. Peter again, this time teaching the pagan centurian Cornelius at Caesarea, after his threefold vision of the great sheet filled with all manner of creatures and after refusing to eat being instructed of God that “what God hath cleansed, that call thou not common”: ‘And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree.’
3) The Witness to the Jewish People—the Gospel as the Fulfillment of Salvation History in Christ: Acts 13:29 shows St. Paul in the synagogue at Antioch on the Sabbath day, preaching to the assembled congregation a magnificent sermon in which he shows through the Law and the prophets that the entire history of salvation is fulfilled in Christ Jesus: ‘And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.’
4) The Witness to the Early Church—the Gospel as the Transformation of the Covenant in Christ: Galatians 3:13: Here Paul teaches the doctrine of faith in Christ how we cannot be justified by the Law, but only by faith in God and in Christ, who redeemed us by becoming answerable to the Law on our behalf, who died for us and rose again: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’
5) The Witness to all Christians—the Gospel Command to Follow Christ on the Path of Suffering: This epistle evokes the suffering of Christ on the tree of the cross as an example for all Christians of all times: ‘Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.’ (1Peter 2:24).
In each of these primordial moments of the revelation of the Gospel through preaching of the mission and message of the Church of Christ, the image of the tree as the cross was invoked as the very heart of the Gospel. This cannot be mere coincidence.
Liturgy and the Liturgical Ethos We have seen that Holy Scripture bears witness to the singular importance of trees, not as objects of worship, but as one of the most complete manifestations in the created order of the wisdom, goodness and mercy of God. We have seen that awareness of the interdependence of all life is prominent in the Bible, and that the Bible knows trees to be of central importance to the balance and harmony of all the aspects of the living community of beings on earth. We have seen that Scripture utilizes the figurative value of the nature, growth and function of trees in the biosphere or “soil community” to teach moral lessons and spiritual wisdom. Finally we have seen that the Christian Revelation draws upon the inherent symbolism of the tree and the natural sacramentality of creation to reveal that Christ Himself is the “deep secret at the heart of the universe.” But what are we as Christians and as human beings to do with this knowledge?
Scripture tells us that the proper response to the revelation of God’s truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom, life and mercy is praise and thanksgiving. The Church, as Body of Christ, calls us to the Eucharist: communion in the Kingdom in thanksgiving. Putting the two together means that the truly human task on earth, combining the healing of disorder, the manifestation of the Gospel and the perfecting of praise, is to develop a liturgical ethos, to liturgize the world. What does this mean? And how do trees relate to liturgy and the development of a liturgical ethos? Liturgy, leitourgia in Greek, means, literally, the “work of the people” [leit-people, ergonwork].
Scripture tells us the work of the people of God is thanksgiving and praise. The Gospel Revelation of Christ—”ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) and “This is eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God” (John 17:3) first fully manifested at the Baptism of Jesus (Theophany) and accomplished for all creation on Golgotha, culminates in the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the establishment of the Church in which all are called to “give thanks for all things” (1 Thess. 5:18). When we know who Christ is and what He has accomplished, when we experience the freedom inherent in that knowledge, we will be naturally filled with thanksgiving. It flows from the impulse in the heart to give thanks to Him who made us free from bondage to sin and death, an impulse rooted in heart-knowledge.
We have seen that from the beginning of Revelation and the history of our salvation God used trees to teach humanity. We have seen the amazing emphasis upon trees in the Bible and in the teaching of the early Church. The liturgical ethos—the heart of a Christian response to the creation–is centered around the acts of praise and thanksgiving which are the chief responses of human beings to the presence of God. As the earth, including all living creatures, from microbes to the human microcosm, and the macrocosmic universe as well, are created by God with a symbolic ontology and a sacramental potentiality, they fulfill their existence also in praise. Indeed, the greater degree of transparency in the creature, the greater its symbolism, the more it praises God. The Christian mind and heart must truly reflect a liturgical ethos, which is to give voice to the song of praise for all creation. Of all plants the tree most fully symbolizes the blessings that God has bestowed upon us through creation. The presence of the tree in the natural environment and also in Scripture is a sign of health, hope, goodness, fertility, abundance and order. The destruction of trees in Scripture is a sign of God’s wrath and punishment for all transgressions of the order of nature and of spirit.
Presently trees and the forests of the world are being wantonly destroyed to an unprecedented degree by the hand of man. How long will the four angels holding the full retributive power of nature be stayed by the mercy of God?
Clearly the entire witness of the Christian Revelation calls all Christians to protect the trees. Christians should be at the forefront of any campaign to restore the forests of the world.
Growing trees are a sign of hope, peace and love, as the Elder from Patmos has said. Landscapes wantonly stripped of their forest cover, hillsides ravaged to feed the insatiable greed of the market, can such sins against nature be anything but signs of an inevitable day of judgement? Good deeds may not forestall this day. Nevertheless it is a universal Christian duty to protect the forests. Love the trees. Love the trees.
Article by Michael Standaert The Guardian
Thu 23 Jan 2020 08.30 GMTLast modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 11.24 GMT
This article has a slightly different angle and looks at the monopoly of China in the Hong Kong meat industry. It includes some of the more disturbing animal welfare issues which is something we need to be monitoring when it comes to Trade deals with China.
A wet market, where animals are freshly slaughtered rather than chilled was identified as the source of the coronavirus outbreak. But experts have long warned of dangers.
Each evening, under cover of darkness, hundreds of live pigs from farms across China are trucked through the rusting gates of a cluster of mildew-stained quarantine and inspection buildings in the Qingshuihe logistics zone in Shenzhen.
Overnight they are checked for illness, primarily the African swine fever (ASF) that is expected to kill off a quarter of the world’s pigs, and reloaded on to ventilated trucks with dual mainland China and Hong Kong licence plates.
Before sunrise the caravan makes its way five-and-a-half miles south to the border at Man Kam To, a small customs and immigration checkpoint, where the pigs go through further visual health checks before crossing into Hong Kong.
They are bound for Sheung Shui slaughterhouse, the largest of three abattoirs in the territory. Once there they will be checked again before being dispatched in less than 24 hours under new rules meant to prevent the spread of ASF.
It’s a lot of effort to get fresh meat from the 1,400 pigs that cross the border each day.
The appetite for freshly slaughtered ‘warm meat’
For various reasons, the Chinese prefer freshly slaughtered pig, chicken and beef over chilled or frozen meat that has been slaughtered before being shipped.
That desire is at the heart of why diseases such as avian flu in poultry and ASF have been so difficult to eradicate, with huge movements of live animals from all over the country – from farm to slaughterhouse to market – on a daily basis making controlling the spread of disease incredibly difficult.
A recent coronavirus outbreak in China has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, eastern China. Like other respiratory illnesses, the disease was initially transmitted from animal to human, but is now being passed human to human.
But despite awareness of the issues, the markets are a huge part of Chinese life. On a busy morning at a so-called “wet market” in the Shajing area, the oldest inhabited and very Cantonese part of Shenzhen, hundreds of shoppers arrive soon after daybreak. Slabs of pork hang from the stalls and various cuts are piled on the counters amid lights with a reddish glare and the occasional buzzing of flies.
Just a few minutes away at the nearby Walmart, where there are also options for fresh, chilled and frozen meat, the customer flow at this time of day is only a trickle compared to the wet market. It has your average western supermarket vibe – white daylight lighting, sterile and clean.
Staff at the meat counter in Walmart and at the stalls in the wet market both say the meat comes in from the same slaughterhouse around 2am. So why the huge difference in foot traffic?
Molly Maj, a corporate communications representative for Walmart, says “the average customer in China still prefers fresh meat” over other options.
One reason for the demand for wet markets is that widespread refrigeration only came to China in recent years. While most urban homes now have refrigerators, many in rural areas and low income urban renters still do not own one, or only a mini-fridge if they do.
The habit of buying perishable food for daily use is still prevalent in many consumers, particularly older shoppers who grew up without refrigerators. They say they can tell the quality of fresh meat by its smell, colour and how it feels to the touch.
“When I’m talking with my students I say: ‘The term warm meat, fresh meat, sounds disgusting to me, I grew up [in Germany] with chilled meat, that’s all I know,” Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary medicine at City University in Hong Kong and an expert on diseases related to animal husbandry, says.
“So I ask them why and they come up with all sorts of vague things like the soup tastes better or that it is a trust issue, knowing it is a live animal at the other end and not some diseased animal,” he says. “It’s all very subjective.”
An ‘utter disaster’ for disease
Wet markets are central to the perception that fresh meat is better, says Pfeiffer. They evoke nostalgia among shoppers, many of whom come from rural areas where all they knew were wet markets and no refrigeration.
Where a wet market feels familiar a supermarket can seem alien and out of place.
“I actually believe that it is an important thing for the older generation to go to the wet market and chat,” says Pfeiffer. However, the way the animal trade operates in China is “an utter disaster”, for animal disease and welfare, he adds.
A year ago, before rising concerns about the spread of ASF, nearly 4,000 pigs crossed daily with less scrutiny. Pigs were held in dismal conditions for as long as five days before being slaughtered on the Hong Kong side, greatly enhancing the possibility of disease transmission, says Pfeiffer.
The recent shortages due to the ASF outbreak have doubled and tripled prices for fresh pork at wet markets across Hong Kong. Farms in Hong Kong itself can usually supply about 300 pigs a day. Land use and environmental restrictions prevent any increase in production. The result is further worries about Hong Kong’s reliance on mainland China beyond its water and energy dependence.
“Many years ago, we had imports from all over Asia of live animals, but eventually the entire supply was monopolised by mainland China,” said Helena Wong, a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council panel on food safety and environmental hygiene. “They killed all their competitors and monopolised the supply of live pig and chicken.”
More than 6,000 pigs at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse were culled in May 2019 after ASF was found among animals brought in from China. Hong Kong’s legislative council is now trying to figure out how much it owes traders and farmers in compensation.
Massive culls of poultry due to avian flu in imported mainland chickens in the last decade also led to large compensation bills and, eventually, to ending live chicken imports in early 2016.
“We as taxpayers have to give that money,” said Wong. “So now we are in a big crisis because in the past few years we have experienced avian flu and now African swine fever.”
A future beyond ‘warm meat’ for Hong Kong
Disease outbreaks have raised wider questions about the sustainability of Chinese consumers’ appetite – both on the mainland and in Hong Kong – for what is often called “warm” meat.
For Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia and an expert on animal protection in China, a deeper issue driving the live animal trade is a cultural disconnect about animal welfare.
“The main problem is the indifference or perception of people who simply regard animals as food, tools, or as things that people can do anything they want to,” she said.
“In particular, there is no perception of farm animals as having feelings, or being capable of feeling pain or suffering.”
Hong Kong may find it difficult to switch to a different model. There is almost no chance of farm expansion to support larger scale production within Hong Kong and, although the government is looking at possibilities of live imports from other Asian countries, the ports do not have adequate facilities to cope with large numbers.
“To a large extent, if we insist on fresh food, we have to rely on China,” said Wong. “If we can change and make certain concessions, Hong Kong has always been an open market for importing food items from many parts of the world. It is only for the provision of live animals that we are monopolised by the mainland farms.”
Reporting assistance from Zhong Yunfan.
Is it time to shut down the zoos?
by Robin McKie Sun 2 Feb 2020 08.30 GMT
Concluding with a comment by Dr Christina Nellist of Pan Orthodox Concern For Animals.
Cruel or kind? Education and conservation are cited as reasons for keeping wild animals in captivity, but many critics say zoos are outdated relics of a less enlightened era. We hear what both sides say
In a few days, a pair of two-year-old cheetahs, Saba and Nairo, will depart from the UK on a remarkable journey. The brothers will be taken from Howletts Wild Animal Park, in Kent, and flown to South Africa to begin a new life – in the wild.
It will be the first time that cheetahs born in captivity have left the UK for rewilding in Africa, says Damian Aspinall, who runs Howletts. “There are only about 7,000 cheetahs left on the planet and they are listed as vulnerable,” he says. “This reintroduction – to a reserve in Mount Camdeboo, in south of the country – is important because it will help to support the small population of cheetahs we have left in the wild.”
And the process of releasing animals from his wildlife parks is likely to continue unabated, adds Aspinall. He now campaigns vigorously for a sharp acceleration in the return of all captive animals to the wild and, ultimately, the closure of all zoos and wildlife parks in the UK – including his own.
“We have no moral right as a species to let animals suffer just because we are curious about them,” he says.
The day of the zoo is over, he claims – and his views are reflected by other critics who view wildlife parks andanimalcollections as anachronisms that should be phased out of existence over the coming 25 years.
Yet zoos are a major part of British culture. About 30 million visits are made to animal collections every year, according to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Some of these outfits are small and isolated – and occasionally fall foul of local authorities for their mistreatment of animals. On the other hand, some larger institutions, such as London or Chester zoos – are well-run and, according to supporters, justify their existence for three clear reasons: education, research and conservation.
According to this argument, revealing the wonders of our planet’s wildlife to the public, and investigating the biology of these animals in order to help them return to nature provide zoos with valid reason to exist. In a world beset by climate change, habitat loss and soaring human numbers, zoos provide protection for the world’s endangered species.
So who is right? Is there any justification, today, for keeping wild animals in captivity? Are zoos good for the planet’s threatened creatures – or are they relics of past cruel attitudes to wildlife?
One argument is that zoos educate visitors, particularly younger ones, about the wonders of the planet’s wildlife. But Chris Draper of Born Free, the international charity that campaigns against keeping wild animals in captivity, disagrees. “Today, people get more from a TV nature documentary than they will ever get from seeing animals in zoos. In captivity, an elephant or a giraffe is out of its natural environment and probably in an unnatural social grouping. Television or the internet are much better resources for understanding animals than a zoo.”
Aspinall agrees. “David Attenborough’s programmes are far more educational than a day trip to a zoo,” he says. And you can see their point. Attenborough’s last series, Seven Worlds, One Planet, was made up of typically stunning material – dramatic close-ups of gentoo penguins fleeing leopard seals, pumas in pursuit of guanacos, and Barbary macaques in high-level chases after infant kidnappers. It was exhilarating, informative – and surely ideal for getting people hooked on animals.
But Attenborough flatly disagrees and is emphatic that his documentaries cannot compare to seeing the real thing. Only the sight of a creature in the flesh can give us a true understanding of its nature, he says.
“There is no way you can appreciate the quiddity of an elephant except by seeing one at close quarters,” he told the Observer. “People ought to be able to see what an animal looks like. And smells like. And sounds like. I think that is quite important. Actually, very important.”
Education certainly justifies a well-run zoo’s existence, he insists. On the other hand, Attenborough acknowledges that some animals fare better than others in zoos. “Modern aquariums are particularly successful, with their vast ceiling-high tanks in which you can see whole communities of different species of fish living together. They are absolutely fabulous.”
By contrast, polar bears, big raptors and large hunting mammals like lions are not suitable for being kept in zoos, says Attenborough. “I certainly agree with Mr Aspinall in saying you should not have lions in zoos – unless they were becoming endangered in the wild, which, of course is now becoming a real risk.”
And the same goes for conservation, he adds. “Breeding programmes for animals that are on the verge of extinction are of incredible importance. If it was not for zoos, there would be no Arabian oryx left in the world, for example.”
The Arabian oryx was hunted to extinction in the wild by 1972 but was later reintroduced – originally with animals from San Diego safari park – to Oman. Further reintroductions have since taken place in Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is estimated that there are now more than 1,000 Arabian Oryx in the wild.
Other species reintroduced to the wild using zoo-bred animals include the European bison and Przewalski’s horse. But that is about it, argues Aspinall. “Only a very small number of animals held by European zoos have been the subject of release projects, and third of those species were not rated as threatened,” he says. Instead, zoos are cluttered with unthreatened species put there purely to entertain the public: otters and meerkats are common examples.
However, zoo officials reject the idea that their rewilding successes are limited and point to other examples of successfully returning zoo-bred animals to the wild – for example, the Mauritius kestrel. In 1974 only four of these beautiful raptors were known to exist in the wild. It had become the world’s rarest bird thanks to habitat loss, introduction of non-native predators, and widespread use of DDT and other pesticides on the island.
A rescue plan was launched by a number of organisations, including the Durrell wildlife park and London Zoo, in a bid to save the Mauritius kestrel from extinction in the wild. “The invasive crab-eating macaque was a particular problem,” says Gary Ward, curator of birds at London Zoo. “It had arrived in Mauritius from Asia and was stealing eggs from kestrel nests. So we designed nesting boxes that were longer than a macaque’s arm, so they couldn’t reach in to snatch eggs. The birds then had a safe place to bring up their young.”
Nesting boxes, in combination with other conservation measures, allowed numbers of Mauritius kestrels to rise to about 800 – although these have dipped slightly in recent years.
Other zoo-led rewilding successes have ranged from the spectacular, such as the Californian condor which was restored to the skies above the western US last century, thanks to the release of young birds bred in San Diego – to the minuscule, such as the return of the tiny partula snail, native to Huahine and Moorea in the Society Islands, French Polynesia, from populations bred in London, Edinburgh, Chester and Amsterdam zoos.
However, zoo opponents argue that these reintroductions remain infrequent and do not justify the keeping of other, unthreatened wild animals, a point taken up by Sam Threadgill of Freedom for Animals, which has campaigned for the abolition of zoos for several decades.
Together with Born Free, Freedom for Animals has studied zoos in England and Wales and concluded that only a small percentage of their animals are endangered species, and only about 15% are threatened.
“It is a simple fact that the vast majority of animals kept in zoos are not endangered or threatened and are there simply to provide public entertainment,” he says.
Aspinall goes further. He maintains that many large mammals kept in zoos – lions, elephants, and rhinos, for example – are inbred or diseased or have the wrong genetic profiles to reintroduce to the wild, where they could further weaken wild populations already struggling to survive. “So why are they being ‘arked’ in the first place?” he asks.
The infrequency of releases of zoo-bred animals into the wild is acknowledged by Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London, but interpreted in a different way: “The truth is that many ‘wild’ areas are no longer viable habitats for animals – and reintroduction is much more complicated than people might realise. Many of the world’s most threatened species are living in habitats degraded by agriculture, threatened by disease or hemmed into tiny areas with no way of reaching potential mates without coming into conflict with humans.”
For his part, Aspinall points to conservation successes that he believes can be achieved with key endangered species without any input from zoos. First, he plans to gradually empty his two zoos – at Howletts and at Port Lympne, near Folkestone – and use these to help set up large groups of animals – gorillas, rhinos, lions and others – in protected reserves in Africa. “A particular animal would be given homes at several reserves so that if one got into trouble for some reason – civil war, for example – there would be other sources that could resupply the reserve once those troubles had been sorted.”
The majority of animals in zoos are not endangered or threatened and are there simply to provide public entertainment.Sam Threadgill, Freedom for Animals
Aspinall points to the example of the mountain gorilla. Their numbers had fallen to under 250 by the early 1980s. Today the population stands at 1,000. “This is in the country of Gabon, surrounded by aggressive habitat destruction, civil war and poaching – and all done without any captive breeding.”
The crucial point of this plan is that animals would not be kept behind bars but left to roam in their homeland. And instead of money being spent on zoos, funds would go directly to conservation.
But the idea of closing zoos to boost funds for conservation is challenged by Mark Pilgrim, chief executive of Chester Zoo. His organisation has a total annual budget of £47m.
“That money is raised virtually entirely from people paying at our doors to get in,” he says. “After you deduct our running costs and cash for new development, we have around £1.5m and that goes on conservation in the field – work that includes studies of chimpanzees in Nigeria and sun bears in Asia and a programme to reintroduce eastern black rhinos to Uganda. If we simply closed our doors, as some people have suggested, our funding of these conservation projects would come to an immediate halt.”
He quotes as an example Nigeria’s Gashaka Gumti national park, which houses the last reserve of the highly endangered Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee. “Chimpanzees here live in forests that are less dense and drier than where other members of the species live in other parts of Africa,” says Andrew Moss, a lead conservation scientist at Chester. “Their diets are rich in insects, and we have found they are amazingly adept at making tools that are just right for getting a different type of insect.
“The crucial point is that if we had closed our gates at Chester, the research camp we support at Gashaka Gumti would have been badly hit and this crucial field work threatened.”
Nor is it merely money for conservation work that makes zoos important, say supporters. Expertise built up in zoos is also crucial. Over the past few years, wild vulture populations in India and Nepal have crashed from about 40 million to a few thousand because of the use of diclofenac, a livestock anti-inflammatory drug that is highly poisonous to vultures who eat their carcasses.
“We have been closely involved in conservation work, and our expertise in building aviaries on site to protect the last few vultures – and in treating sick animals – has been tremendously useful,” says Nic Masters, assistant director of wildlife health at London Zoo.
In the end, these efforts and other attempts at conservation may prove futile in a world challenged by climate change, habitat loss and swelling numbers of humans, as Draper argues. “Keeping alive a handful of the last of a sub-species starts to look like fool’s errand because this tiny population is destined either to a life in captivity in perpetuity or to extinction. Neither of those two options is particularly attractive in anyone’s book, I would say. The damage has been done.”
This view is contested by scientists who still believe there is time to save species and who argue, strenuously, that zoos have a role to play as arks for threatened wildlife. This idea is backed by primatologist Jane Goodall, whose pioneering studies of chimpanzees in the wild have revealed the complex lives led by humanity’s closest biological relatives.
“Groups who believe all zoos should be closed have not spent the time I have out in the wild,” she once said. “They haven’t seen the threats destroying chimpanzee habitat; they don’t understand what it’s like to watch a chimp struggle, wounded and lame from a wire snare. But I do.”
The first zoo
Until the early 19th century, collections of exotic animals were usually owned by kings and queens and were symbols of royal power. This changed with the establishment of the Zoological Society of London in Regent’s Park in 1828. This was the world’s first scientific zoo and was intended to be a collection of unusual beasts for scientific study.
The collection was eventually opened to the public in 1847. A couple of decades later, the music hall song Walking in the Zoo was made popular by Alfred Vance and is notable for first popularising, in Britain, the word “zoo” as a short form of “zoological gardens” in addition to the Americanism “O.K.” in the song’s chorus: “Walking in the Zoo, walking in the Zoo/The O.K. thing on Sunday is walking in the Zoo.”………………………..
Pan Orthodox Comment: What then is the answer? There are a few – very few- internationally renowned zoos that have a place in conservation but even their figures show that this is a minor part of their business. And that is the point – they are businesses. Animals are kept in unnatural settings and zoos open to the public in order to make money for their owners.
Anyone who has lived and travelled in other parts of the world will know that the type of zoo exemplified by London, is far from the norm. The majority of zoos have no conservation programs and many keep animals in appalling conditions. See this recent post on our website of a wolf in Turkey. https://www.facebook.com/panorthodoxconfernforanimals.org/posts/635430197226225comment_id=635455320557046¬if_id=1580668600972722¬if_t=feed_comment
Even in the UK, the majority of zoos are merely entertainment institutions for the masses – somewhere to entertain the children. We have observed over the past decades that many have fallen short on animal welfare/public protection standards, which only come to light by whistle-blowers or concerned members of the public contacting authorities.
We believe that it is time for the local zoo to follow wild-animal circuses into oblivion, leaving a few specialist zoos to continue with endangered species conservation programs with the caveat that they must a) prove the need for their work and b) includes a program for returning animals into the wild.
|This is an initiative from the Operation Noah group:|
|Operation Noah, the World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Green Anglicans and Green Faith are inviting religious and spiritual institutions from around the world to join a multi-faith global divestment announcement on 26-28 March 2020.In this crucial time for urgent climate action, could your church join the movement for fossil free churches, as a practical step to care for God’s creation?Divestment is a powerful action that your church or Christian organisation can take in response to the climate emergency, shifting investments out of the problem and into the solution. It involves making a commitment to divest (disinvest) any investments in fossil fuel companies within a five-|
year time frame. Even if your church doesn’t currently hold investments, it can make a strong statement by pledging to not invest in fossil fuels in the future.
|The year ahead is a pivotal year for climate action, as the devastating impacts of the climate emergency become increasingly evident. By divesting from fossil fuels, churches can demonstrate moral leadership and emphasise the need for urgent action from the UK Government, especially with the UN climate talks (COP26) set to take place in Glasgow in November 2020.Churches have been at the forefront of the global divestment movement. Earlier this month, 20 UK Christian organisations committed to divest from fossil fuels – including the first two Catholic dioceses in England and the first local Methodist church to divest. If you would be interested in getting your local church or regional Church structures (dioceses and equivalents) to make a commitment to divest from fossil fuels and join the Global Divestment Announcement, we would be delighted to hear from you!For more information or to register your commitment, please get in touch with Helena Ritter on firstname.lastname@example.org by 19 March 2020. Could you spread the word among your contacts? Please forward this email to anyone you think would be interested and share our blog on social media. Together in hope, Helena, James and all at Operation Noah|
Many of you will know that Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals, is a partner in the ‘Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare’ research project. Below is the project’s first article.
Published on 11 December 2019 in the journal Animals. www.mdpi.com/journal/animals Authors: Margaret B. Adam, David L. Clough and David Grumett
Simple Summary: It is now common to blame Christianity for broader society’s general inattention to the needs and comfort of animals in general, and farmed animals in particular. Critics claim that certain biblical themes and biblical passages form the foundation for an anti-animal position that has influenced Christians and wider Western society. This article concedes that Christianity has often been used to justify exploitation of animals, but argues that it is a mistake to consider Christianity inevitably opposed to concern for animals. It shows that Christians have been advocates for animals, notably in relation to the first legislation against animal cruelty in the early nineteenth century and the formation of the RSPCA. Finally, it proposes a framework for a Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare that could provide the basis for Christian action to reduce consumption of animals and shift to higher welfare sources of animal products.
Abstract: It is now common to blame Christianity for broader society’s general inattention to the needs and comfort of animals in general, and farmed animals in particular. This critique of Christianity claims that certain biblical themes and particular biblical passages form the foundation for an anti-animal position that Christianity has imposed on Christians and on wider Western society. This article concedes that Christianity has often been used to justify exploitation of animals, but argues that it is a mistake to consider Christianity inevitably opposed to concern for animals. After reviewing the views of critics such as Lynn White Jr., Peter Singer, and Tom Regan, the article demonstrates the complexity of interpreting biblical passages and the possibility of readings that affirm the importance of treating animals well. It shows that Christians have indeed been advocates for animals, notably in relation to the first legislation against animal cruelty in the early nineteenth century and the formation of the RSPCA. Finally, it proposes a constructive framework for a Christian ethics of farmed animal
welfare that could provide the basis for Christian action to reduce consumption of animals and shift to higher welfare sources of animal products.
Keywords: Christian ethics; animal ethics; farmed animals; Adam; Genesis; Noah; RSPCA;Singer, Peter; Regan, Tom; White, Lynn Jr.
It is now common to blame Christianity for broader society’s general inattention to the needs and comfort of animals in general, and farmed animals in particular. Christianity, according to this presumption, teaches that humans should use animals for human satisfaction, that humans are more like God than animals, and that the needs and desires of humans supersede those of animals. This critique of Christianity claims that certain biblical themes and particular biblical passages form the foundation for an anti-animal position that Christianity has imposed on Christians and on wider Western society.
The authors of this article readily accept Christianity’s participation in the ill-treatment of farmed animals through the ages. Christians and others have granted authority to biblical interpretations in order to support their use and abuse of animals. However, we reject the simplistic account of Christianity as necessarily anti-animal; and we refute the presumption that Christians are bound to the exploitative domination of animals by one interpretation of a static text, across time and place, peoples and circumstances. This is patently false, as abundant evidence of Christian biblical interpretation, historical performances of interpretation, and current Christian support for farmed animal flourishing demonstrates. A more accurate account of Christianity and animal welfare notes the complex processes by which Christians engage with the Bible, each other, animals, and the world, by way of a multiplicity of interpretations, across a multiplicity of circumstances. Interpretations of Christianity are always accountable to the particular methods of interpretation, teaching, and ethical actions that their communities and traditions claim as authoritative. Interpretations always reflect contemporary scientific knowledge, socio-political-economic locations, cultural imaginations, and farming and eating practices. Christian biblical and doctrinal interpretation is always marked by continuity and difference.
The charge that Christianity is bad for animals neglects these resources and examples of Christian dedication to improving animal welfare. This essay shares some resources and some examples of what Christian support for animals looks like. Section 2 considers the current popular orthodoxy that
Christianity is responsible for the poor treatment of farmed animals. Section 3 presents scriptural interpretations that demonstrate powerful Christian commitments to animal welfare. Section 4 describes historical lived interpretations of faith and a nineteenth century example of Christian
animal advocacy. Section 5 sets out a contemporary assessment of farmed animal welfare in terms of flourishing, a Christian account of the best life possible for animals. Christian ethical engagement with farmed animal welfare illustrates the long-term Christian practices of interpreting scripture and engaging with doctrine for the benefit of animals.
2.Critics of Christian Understandings of Animals
The claim that Christianity is bad news for farmed animals has gained enough credibility amongst today’s animal advocates that it functions as a kind of orthodoxy: Christians only care about humans,and they think they have divine permission to exploit animals. Adherents to this critique note both the lack of Christian doctrine explicitly supporting farmed animal welfare and the negative influence that the writings of some Christian theologians have had on care for animals.
Lynn White, Jr., a 20th century medieval historian, offers a classic example of the charge that Western Christianity is responsible for the domination and exploitation of the natural world, including the animal world. White describes Christianity as ‘the most anthropocentric religion the world has
seen’  (p. 1205), and he supports this claim with his interpretation of Genesis 2, in which ‘a loving and all-powerful God’ creates all things, ending with Adam, who ‘named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them’  (p. 1205). White, making uncritical use of ‘man’, understands this to mean that God ‘planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes’  (p. 1205). According to White, Christianity justifies valuing nature solely in terms of its usefulness to ‘man’ by identifying ‘man’ as ‘not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image’  (p. 1205). White explains that, in Christianity, ‘man’s’ overriding purpose is to dominate nature, due to the foreshadowing in Adam of the image of Christ, and ‘man’s’ sharing in God’s transcendence.
The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has consistently made a similar, although more critical, case to White’s. The real significance of God making humans in his image, Singer suggests, is that humans make God in their own image  (pp. 186–208). Prominent in his argumentative arsenal
is the critique of speciesism, which is the notion that the human species is intrinsically superior to all other species . Singer thinks that Genesis presents humans as godlike, and as exercising a dominion of benevolent yet despotic rule over other species. He states that killing animals was
permitted after the Fall, with God clothing Adam and Eve in animal skins on their expulsion from Eden, their son Abel killing sheep to offer to God, and God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, in which humans are given formal permission to consume animals as meat (Genesis 3:21, 4:1, 9:3).
While acknowledging the scattered references in later Old Testament books to the harmony of humans and animals, Singer protests that there has been ‘no serious challenge to the overall view, laid down in Genesis, that the human species is the pinnacle of creation’ . Further, Singer notes, the authority of Genesis as divinely revealed scripture justifies (to Christians) the irrational mistreatment of animals. He observes that the farm is a key location where such mistreatment may occur, detailing at length his concerns with United States chicken, egg, pig, dairy, and beef production systems  (pp. 21–67).
Like White and Singer, the animal rights philosopher Tom Regan connects the view that animals do not enjoy moral equality with humans and are not members of the moral community to the Genesis accounts of humans being made in God’s image and exercising dominion over all animals, and the
story of all animals being given to Noah as food after the flood (Gen 1:24–28, 9:1–4)  (pp. 7–8, 127–128). Regan also describes how the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas brings the Bible and Aristotle together. Regan recognizes, more than White or Singer, the diversity of the teaching on
animals that Christian scripture contains, although he states that he is insufficiently expert to adjudicate within this area . He does present alternative readings of key passages and themes, suggesting
that human dominion, far from justifying animal exploitation, mandates humans to treat animals responsibly. He argues that Christ, following his resurrection and ascension, is related to the whole created order and not just to humans. However, Regan concurs with White and Singer in maintaining that, in practice, Christianity has promoted and sustained the human exploitation of animals, and that the dominant way in which Christians have treated animals has been exploitative .
White, Singer, and Regan have thus promoted the view that Christianity has created an intellectual and cultural climate that accepts and encourages the exploitation of animals. They argue that changing that climate requires resisting Christianity. We argue that Christianity provides a wealth of resources for supporting animal welfare. Sections 3 and 4 offer examples of Christian textual and performative interpretations of scripture. Section 5 proposes a Christian ethical framework for improving farmed animal welfare.
3.Interpreting the Bible as Christian Animal Advocates
White, Singer, and Regan are correct that Christians—and others—have used Christian scripture and theology to justify animal exploitation, but it is incorrect to judge that this is the necessary or only legitimate interpretation of Christian belief. The representation of Christianity as anti-animal neglects Christianity’s resources of biblical interpretation, teaching, and action that greatly value all creatures.
The charge that Christianity is anti-animal relies on one interpretation of a few select biblical passages, while neglecting others. That narrow reading limits biblical interpretation to a clumsy literalism. It simply is not the case that all Christians, all people, make sense of the Bible in the same way. Ideology, imagination, information, experience, era, and cultural systems all influence communities’ interpretations; and a host of distinctly Christian interpretations, arguments, and actions support and promote the health and well-being of animals.
The book of Genesis begins with two accounts of creation. These are not histories as history is now conceived; there is no claim of verifiable accuracy or documentary evidence. They are stories for receiving and making meaning, in faithful communities. In each account, God creates and orders the cosmos, the earth, all creatures—human and animal. In each account, humans and animals share creatureliness and habitat. In the first, God gives all green things as food for all creatures (no human or animal is to eat any other human or animal). In the second, God gives humans a garden for food (and it is not clear what animals should eat). In each account, God establishes a relationship between humans and other animals that, in some way, reflects God’s care for creatures. In Genesis Chapter 1, God grants humans dominion over all living things in the sea, in the air, and on the earth. In Genesis Chapter 2, God instructs Adam to name each of the animals. Christians make sense of dominion, the ramifications
of naming, and the creation diet in multiple ways . In the biblical narratives of ancient monarchies, a good and faithful king improved the welfare of the people; good human dominion might improve the
welfare of animals. One interpretation that takes dominion as human leadership into shared creaturely peaceful existence supports vegetarian diets as ideal . Dominion that reflects Jesus’ servant–king status rather than domination supports humble duty to animals’ wellbeing  (pp. 222–224). Still other understandings of dominion highlight humanity’s responsibility to reflect God’s compassion  and the exercise of God’s love through neighbourly love for animals .
In the second creation story, God presents the animals and birds to Adam as potential helpers and partners, and directs Adam to name them. Adam does, but the story continues by noting that none of these animals makes a suitable helper or partner (Gen 2:18–20), and God creates Eve from Adam’s
rib. Many scholars have focused on the inadequacy of the animals and birds as helpers and partners, applying to this second story the human dominion over animals of the first creation account (1:26), which is from a different source [12,13]. Some champions of human superiority read Adam’s naming of the animals as the origin of language, in which human action designates and classifies animals and the wider physical world [14,15]. Alternatively, the naming can be compared to the way parents
name their children: Adam identifies the animals as, in some sense, family members  (p. 1006). Indeed, Adam’s naming of the animals can be interpreted as a lens for reading the whole of Genesis 1–3 in relational terms: Chapter 1, humans are created as part of the same process in which animals are created; Chapter 2, a human is formed as a living being out of the dust of the ground (2:7) and then names the animals; Chapter 3, both humans and animals are held responsible for disobeying God’s intrusions and eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Accordingly, a relationship between humans and animals founded on shared creatureliness and mutual recognition better characterizes the image of God in humanity (1:27) than the estrangement of humans from
animals  (p. 1006).
Along these lines, the creation stories’ vegan dietary directives cohere with the shared, non-violent, creatureliness of humans and animals . The imagination of a non-violent coexistence contrasts sharply with the apparently natural existence of conflict and the evolutionary survival-of-the-fittest species-development. This should not be surprising: biblical stories of creation differ in genre from philosophical discourse and from evolutionary science; but difference in genre does not require competition for truth. In this case, Christian animal advocates can draw on the creation stories’ plant-based diets as an expression of God’s will for non-violent relationships between humans and other creatures. Christian ethics is attentive and responsive to theological assessments of God’s will, however implausible it may seem for humans to achieve that will.
Later in the Old Testament, there are direct requirements in relation to animal welfare. Sabbath regulations protect animals used for draught labour alongside human beings (Exodus 20:8–11, 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14) and even affirm the importance of providing for wild animals (Leviticus 25:6–7). First-born male livestock must remain with their mothers for seven days before being sacrificed (Exod 22:30), and mothers and cows or ewes should not be slaughtered with their young on the same day (Lev. 22:28). Donkeys must be released from being trapped under their burdens (Exod 23:4–5; Deut 22: 1–4), kids may not be boiled in their mothers’ milk (Exod 23:19; Deut 14:21), a mother bird should not be taken with her fledglings or eggs (Deut 22:6–7), and oxen should not be muzzled when treading the
grain (Deut 25:4). These texts have been interpreted by Jews and Christians as requiring concern for animal welfare.
Christians who promote animal welfare often look to the prophecies of Isaiah that describe a peaceable kingdom in which God’s ordering of creation is fulfilled (Isaiah 11:1–9; 65:17–25). Isaiah announces that the end, the goal, of creation, will be characterized by the harmonious co-existence
of all creatures. Animals we know as carnivores will live and share straw with herbivores; a human child will play safely by an asp; harmony—not interspecies violence—will abide. Christians who challenge human reliance on killing animals for survival use these passages to stretch imaginations.
If it is possible to imagine a prophetic vision of God’s reconciled creation, perhaps it is possible to reconsider conventional approaches to farming animals, or modify one’s diet, as small gestures in the direction of that vision. Paul, writing to the community of early Christians in Rome, recognizes the difficulty of living between peaceable kingdom hope and the decidedly non-peaceful world we know (Romans 8: 18–25). He describes that hope as the labour pains of the entire cosmos, longing together
for creation’s ultimate reconciliation. Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare addresses how to live now, in between, while hoping for God’s kingdom to come .
Jesus addresses the priorities of human daily life, here and now, with a reminder of God’s constant care of all creatures (Matthew 6:26–34): worrying about the future, about having enough food and clothing, distracts people from faithfulness. Jesus points to the birds who do not grow, harvest, or store crops, and they still do not worry, because God provides for them in every way. ‘Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?’ (Matt 6:26–27, New Revised Standard Version). Those determined to underscore human superiority over animals may read this passage as affirming the higher and lower positions of humans and animals. Those who understand Jesus to be talking to human creatures less faithful and more self-absorbed than birds may read the passage as chastising humans and commending the example of the birds who never fail to give glory to God by their very existence  (pp. 43–44).
These are but a few of the ways Christians understand scripture in terms of animal welfare. Interpretive imaginations will continue to shift as more people learn about animal sentience and cognition, about what happens on farms and in slaughterhouses, and about how the market for inexpensive meat affects farmers and farmed animals. Christian communities hold the responsibility of interpreting scripture in the light of both earlier interpretations and present circumstances.
4.Examples of Christian Advocacy for Animals
Beyond the realm of variant textual interpretations, Christianity’s heritage of animal advocacy offers a steady stream of faithful people whose lives exhibit their scriptural interpretation about relationships with animals. The church tells and retells stories about biblical characters and pre-modern
saints, often with extravagant embellishment, the better to illustrate the exceptional holiness of the figures. While there may be scant historical evidence about some of these saints themselves, vast numbers of people across centuries celebrate them and the faithfulness their stories illustrate.
Many of the saints had special relationships with animals and were able to communicate with them, share home and food with them, heal them, protect and rescue them. Others were protected and rescued by friendly animals. Many did not eat meat; some only ate herbs and honey. Together,
these stories and their popularity present a body of evidence that, across centuries, Christianity has recognized as exceedingly holy Christians who lived closely with animals in ways that reflect the creation stories and anticipate images of the peaceable kingdom.
Two examples from the Old Testament show people receiving God’s care through the agency of helpful animals. Ravens feed Elijah food when he passes through an area suffering a drought that he had prophesied (I Kings 17:2–6). Balaam’s donkey speaks necessary (and intelligible) words of
chastisement and redirection so that his owner might notice the angel of the Lord in front of him (Numbers 22). In early Christianity, St Chrysostom advocated abstinence from meat and preached, ‘The Saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beasts…surely we ought
to show them [animals] great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves’ . St Anthony rescued from satanic possession a pig, who then accompanied Anthony everywhere (as recounted in an eighteenth century ballad) . St Modestos healed a poor woman’s ailing oxen . St Cuthbert protected birds from hunters and otters warmed his feet . St Melangell persuaded a hunter prince to establish a sanctuary for people and animals, after the hunts’ hares found refuge with her, and the dogs retreated, awed by her presence. . St Francis , perhaps the best known saint to have friendships with animals, followed in the footsteps of a host of predecessors, and was followed by many more.
Abstinence from meat has been a normative practice of devotion throughout the church from its beginning: weekly and in penitential seasons for lay people, more frequently and more severely for monks and nuns in religious orders, and sometimes to the extreme for saintly hermits. Versions of these practices continue today. Where an explicit reason is given for abstinence from food, usually it is an ascetic concern to turn away from distracting pleasures and turn toward God. It can also reflect a desire to live in accordance with the peaceable creaturely existence envisioned in Genesis and Isaiah (discussed in Section 3). These examples might serve as a reminder that Christians have long embodied their faith commitments in what, when, and how much they eat. The early Reformers moved away
from some traditional practices of piety as they critically assessed and established alternatives to Catholic marks of piety. A number of animal-appreciative Nonconformists declared the goodness of animals, contradicting both the established church and fellow Nonconformists. John Calvin and the Westminster Confession presented animals as members of creation through which God’s glory is revealed. The Puritans, John Trapp, Thomas Watson, and Stephen Charnock, all celebrated animals for
fulfilling their creaturely purpose, to glorify God .
The eighteenth century’s rise in vegetarianism was fueled by the appeal of Romanticism and Nature to the wealthy, by the poor’s inability to afford much meat, and by new theories about vegetarianism’s potential health benefits. In the following century, a Christian movement in the UK
made headlines and a lasting contribution to animal advocacy. The Christian origins of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) are not well known now, among animal advocacy critics of Christianity or among most Christian communities. This example of socio-political activism, grounded in biblical interpretation and Christian teaching, serves both as evidence of effective Christian animal advocacy and as inspiration for contemporary Christian support for animal welfare.
In the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century, Christians played a key role in putting animal welfare on the moral, social, legal, and political agendas by founding what became the RSPCA. They were motivated by earlier theological accounts of the Christian significance of animals and
by the belief that Christian faith should inform the way society was ordered. The latter informed Christian campaigns on other social issues in the same period, such as for the abolition of the slave trade. First, the 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act empowered magistrates to fine anyone found
to have beaten, abused, or mistreated cattle or sheep, and if they could not pay, or refused to pay, to imprison them  (pp. 285–288). The support of clergy and evangelical MPs helped pass this and other legislation  (pp. 27–29) while evangelicalism’s political power was reaching its height in the
1830s and 1840s  (pp. 203–205)  (pp. 204–209). In 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) came into being. Among the Society’s founding members were three Anglican clergy, including the Revd Arthur Broome, who became the Society’s first chair. Five of the ten founder members of an allied organization—the Association for Promoting Rational Humanity towards the Animal Creation (APRHAC)—were also clergy, with Anglicans predominating  (p. 29).
Broome resigned from his parish to focus on his SPCA work, which had become his primary Christian ministry, even spending time in a debtor’s prison as his position was unpaid and he had used his own money to fund the organization. Chien-hui Li writes of the constellation of British animal welfare organizations in this period that the ‘Christian tradition quite overwhelmingly prevailed over other possible sources of influence and became its principal source of identification, legitimation, and inspiration’  (pp. 30–31). Sermons were a key means of influencing public opinion, along with Christian educational and publicity materials. Annual meeting statements, exhortations, and resolutions displayed clear Christian content. Prayers and hymns were part of meetings. The SPCA’s Christian principles contrasted with secular radicalism’s use of ancient Greek thought to support veganism and reforms to farming and slaughtering.
Farmed animal welfare was a key concern of the SPCA from its inception, as the 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act indicates. The Society campaigned or prosecuted on issues including calf bleeding for veal, livestock transport by rail and steamers (including unloading), inhumane slaughter methods, long travel distances to London markets, the overstocking of cattle markets to reduce prices, leaving unmilked cows in market to increase their price, the dehorning of cattle, and the nose-branding of sheep  (pp. 133–134, 146–147, 173–190). In 1840, after gaining the support of Queen Victoria,
the SPCA became the RSPCA. In its early decades, its promotion of farmed animal welfare was motivated by a Christian ethics of mercy, kindness, and compassion  (pp. 31–36) that formed part of a wider project of civilizing the working class and raising its moral standards  (pp. 125–57) 
(pp. 20–24). The detail of the Christian justifications given for its work, and their biblical grounding, may be seen in three published entries for the SPCA’s 1837 essay prize. A sum of £100 (about £11,000 in today’s money) was oered for the best essay on the religious basis for human obligation towards animals. Each submission includes a chapter on the biblical basis for protecting animal welfare, and the approaches are similar. There had been minority pro-welfare readings of the Bible in the 18th century and the competition may have revived these . The competition entries demonstrate how the Bible can be read and presented to promote animal welfare in a particular context.
Essay themes include God’s watchful care for all creatures, and the correlation between human righteousness and merciful treatment of animals. Each author supports his arguments that God values and attends to each and every creature with interpretations of biblical passages: work animals need rest and nourishment (Exod 20:8–11, 23:12; Luke 13:15); even little sparrows and lambs receive God’s protection (Matt 10:29, Luke 12:6, 2 Samuel 12:1–6); God’s post-flood covenant includes all of creation (Gen 9:9–12). Further, they assert that merciful care of animals marks a person’s righteous character: know your animals’ needs (Proverbs 12:10); rescue animals in need (Deut 22:1–4); show mercy to all people and animals (Luke 6:36, Matt 5:7).
Most descriptions of the passing of legislation against cruelty towards animals in the early- to mid-nineteenth century exaggerate the contributions of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism and ignore the
roles of Christian arguments and evangelical Christians in Parliament  (pp. 4–9). The origins of the RSPCA demonstrate that utilitarianism was not the only intellectual or practical impetus for farmed animal welfare concern and that Christian ethics may even have been more important. During the second half of the nineteenth century, as acceptance of the RSPCA spread, its underpinning Christian ethos became gradually more secularized, but the framework of mercy, kindness, and compassion
The early RSPCA grounded responsibility for animals in the belief that humans are distinct from and superior to animals. Much of recent animal advocacy resists hierarchical accounts of humans and other animals, preferring an egalitarian understanding and a focus on what humans and animals have in common. The Christian belief that the primary distinction is between God (creator of all creation) and creatures (including all humans and animals) supports an emphasis on the shared creaturely status of all creatures, rather than on human superiority. At the same time, ethics addresses human action. Nobody is suggesting that farmed animals should fight for reform in farming systems; humans bear the responsibility to improve farmed animal welfare. A Christian account of creaturely relationships places the agency for animal care in human hands. The presumption of human superiority may lead to human use and abuse of animals; but the claim that all fellow creatures are equal risks relieving humans of their agency to assist those in need. Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare identifies human distinctiveness as the agency to reflect, with humility, God’s mercy, kindness, and compassion in caring for farmed animals.
5.A Proposed Framework for the Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare
In the previous section, we have argued that there are reasons to reconsider simplistic and negative assessments of the contribution Christianity has made to understandings of animal welfare. In this section, we turn to the constructive task of setting out a Christian framework for considering farmed animal welfare. Our focus is on farmed animal welfare because this is an obvious priority in relation to other human uses of animals on the basis of scale and impacts, though the framework we set out is applicable to contexts beyond animal farming . Such a framework could be used to guide the policy and practice of churches and other organizations seeking to reflect their Christian commitments.
The starting point for the Christian ethics of farmed animal welfare we propose picks up strands from the tradition noted in the previous section to affirm that, for Christians, the lives of all creatures have value because they are created by God as ends in themselves and to glorify God in their flourishing. Christians recognize that all creatures exist in utter dependence on God and on one another. No creature exists merely as the means to the wellbeing of another. God delights in the flourishing of a universe of
diverse creatures, and Christians are given the high calling of being images of this loving God in their relationships with fellow creatures. Christians, therefore, have strong reasons to seek to enable the flourishing of fellow creatures where possible. The particular modes of life, capacities for happiness and suffering, and other vulnerabilities of fellow animal creatures give Christians especial reasons for being concerned about their wellbeing. The theological basis for this understanding of animals is
developed in Clough . This Christian understanding of creaturely flourishing has common features with other teleological approaches that are attentive to the goal of creaturely life, such as Aristotelian ethics, but departs from them by identifying the goal of creatures in relationship to their Creator.
Concern for the flourishing of farmed animal creatures requires attention to the question of what constitutes a good life for particular species. Answering this question depends on detailed knowledge concerning the modes of life and preferred behaviours of farmed animals. It encourages appreciation of the whole of the life of animals, raising issues neglected in narrower understandings of animal welfare, such as whether farmed animals are able to experience maternal care, life in family groups, and growth to maturity. An assessment of whether farmed animals are living lives in which they are flourishing will include regard for negative experiences such as hunger or distress but also recognizes the importance of positive dimensions of flourishing, such as the ability to forage, graze, or exercise choice between areas with different characteristics. Promoting flourishing in this sense will mean opting for a mode of life providing positive dimensions of flourishing even at increased risk of some
distressing experiences, such as in well-designed free-range environments.
It would be of interest to explore both common ground and differences between this proposed Christian foundation for the ethics of farmed animal welfare and other frameworks for animal ethics such as animal rights, utilitarianism, social contract, virtue ethics, feminist ethics of care, or those
drawing on Aristotle. We are not pursuing that task here because our primary concern is to open a space for a constructive engagement between Christian ethics and farmed animal welfare. Our argument here is not that this Christian framework is preferable to other approaches to animal ethics, but that it may contribute additional perspectives to the field of approaches and that it is helpful in encouraging and enabling Christians to make connections between their faith commitments and practice in relation
to farmed animals. Many of the most pressing actions that follow from the Christian framework we propose will encourage Christians to make common cause with animal advocates who have different starting points.
A useful next step after setting out the foundation of a concern for the flourishing of farmed animals is to recognize the major shifts in the ways animals have been used for food in the UK. Hundreds of years ago, there was a gradual shift from nomadic herding to enclosed farming. The Industrial Age of the eighteenth century altered animal farming with new equipment and breeding techniques. Since the Second World War, the pace and scope of technological innovation and intensification of animal
agriculture has developed rapidly. Today, a confluence of socio-economic developments motivate and sustain the development of unprecedentedly large intensive farming systems. Most intensively farmed animals have been selectively bred for effcient production at the cost of their capacity to flourish more generally and are kept indoors in impoverished monotonous environments that do not allow many preferred species-specific behaviours. Chickens and most dairy calves do not meet their mothers,
depriving both mother and offspring of a very significant component of a good life. Broiler chickens, most dairy calves, and most pigs and lambs live short lives and do not reach maturity. The high levels of production enabled by these systems of farming primarily benefit higher level corporate managers and retailers. This unprecedented increase in farmed animal productivity correlates with current consumer expectations of inexpensive meat products for daily meals. Many individuals and households eat
predominantly meat-based prepared food, at home, from take-aways, and at restaurants, several times a week. Fewer and fewer consumers have seen farmed animals as they are raised, and the idyllic image of the small family farm with freely roaming animals persists, long after it ceased to represent
the norm. Advertisements encourage irresistible desires for farmed animal products, often associating consumption of meat with masculinity .
The juxtaposition of a Christian rationale for being concerned about the flourishing of farmed animals with a recognition that modern industrial animal agriculture fails to allow such flourishing leads directly to the judgement that Christians have strong reasons for reconsidering their involvement with this practice as producers, retailers, and consumers. The ethical concerns raised by animal agriculture in the early twenty-first century are far greater than those that gave Christians cause for concern in the early nineteenth century. It is striking, therefore, that to date, Christians have not mustered a comparable response. This is in spite of some attempts to raise concern for animals as an issue for Christians, such as the work of Linzey and Clark [42,43]. Most Christians promoting farmed animal welfare engage in their advocacy with secular organisations outside the church. Farmed animals are rarely mentioned in church contexts, and meat still dominates church community meals without regard to the conditions of the animals before or during slaughter.
There are straightforward practical actions that follow from the acceptance of the analysis generated by the Christian framework for the ethics of farmed animal welfare we propose. First, steps should be taken to reduce overall consumption of farmed animals. This is necessary because it is not possible to raise animals in ways that give them more opportunities to flourish at anything like current production levels. A recent report calculates moving to pasture-fed beef cattle in the US would reduce production by 73% . Bringing an end to the intensive rearing of pigs, broiler chickens, and dairy cows in indoor sheds is likely to require similar reductions. It is notable that reducing overall consumption of farmed animals would also bring benefits of reducing the contribution of animal agriculture to habitat loss causing wild animal extinctions, improving human food and water security, improving human dietary health, and bringing environmental benefits of reducing deforestation, greenhouse
gas emissions, and pollution  (pp. 54–59). Christians can take action to reduce consumption of animal products at individual and corporate level, through shifts towards more plant-based foods domestically, in considering food served by churches, and in catering policies of organizations with
The second straightforward practical action that follows from the Christian ethical analysis we present is to source remaining animal products from producers who allow farmed animals more opportunities to flourish. This can be an incremental approach, beginning with more simple changes,
such as not using eggs from caged hens, attending to the various certification and grading schemes that assess farmed animal welfare, and then looking for opportunities to source animal products from suppliers using heritage or rare-breed animals that have not been subjected to modern selective breeding. Again, action can be taken to improve sourcing domestically, within church communities, and in organizational-level decisions about catering.
One reason some Christians are cautious about the reduced consumption and higher welfare sourcing of farmed animal products we propose is their acute awareness of the situation of farmers. Most livestock farmers are doing their best to care for their animals in the context of very challenging
economic circumstances and uncertainty about the future of their business. For many, these external factors cause social isolation and high levels of stress. Understandably, farmers and those who support them can feel threatened by and resistant to claims that there need to be significant changes in the ways animals are raised for food. A Christian engagement with farmed animal welfare must attend to the wider context of the flourishing of farmers and farm workers alongside the flourishing of animals. At the same time, this does not weaken the case for a transition towards raising fewer animals and giving the remaining animals more opportunities to flourish. There is a broad and widening consensus of the need for this transition (see, for example, the recent RSA report ). The industry must undergo a transition, with the cooperation of retailers and consumers. During this transition, we must attend to the well-being of farmers alongside farmed animals. Churches should listen to and support farmers as they determine how to make a living from producing food in this changing context.
Another concern Christians raise is that producing fewer and better animal products will raise the prices of animal products, which will negatively affect food access for those on low incomes. There are three key reasons that this important concern does not weaken the case for rethinking
animal agriculture. First, on a global level, current patterns of raising animals exacerbate human food insecurity and raise food prices by feeding food that humans could consume to farmed animals. Over one-third of global grain output is fed to livestock, rather than consumed directly by humans. This is a grossly wasteful practice, with a calorific efficiency of less than 10% . Second, while it is true that subsidies for animal agriculture mean that in some urban contexts highly processed animal products are the cheapest food available, that food constitutes an unhealthy diet with high
disease risks for populations that are disproportionately poor and non-white. A growing literature interrogating the intersection between poverty, racial inequality, and food justice makes clear that the products of industrial animal agriculture are part of the problem here, not part of the solution (see, for example, Harper ). Third, current practice in animal agriculture subjects workers on farms and in meat-processing plants—who are disproportionately female, migrant, non-white, and poor—to unsafe working conditions with negative impacts on their physical and mental health  (pp. 54–56). A transition towards fewer and better animal products must ensure access to these products for those on lower incomes, but the overall impacts of the current system are at least as problematic for the poor as for the more wealthy.
In this section, we have outlined a Christian framework for the ethics of farmed animal welfare that provides motivation and guidance for Christians to rethink their involvement with the current practice of industrialized animal agriculture and to recognize faith-based reasons for reducing overall consumption of animals and moving to higher welfare sources for remaining animal products. We have identified a concern for the flourishing of fellow animal creatures as the starting point for this framework. This focus might be applicable to human uses of animals for research, labour, textiles, sport and entertainment, and for companion animals . We argue that attention to farmed animals should be the primary concern, on grounds of scale and impact.
After summarizing the positions of Christianity’s critics in Section 2, we developed the Christian case for farmed animal welfare in three stages. Section 3 demonstrated the complexities involved in the Christian interpretation of biblical texts, which give reasons to be very cautious about taking particular texts out of context to justify a particular view of how animals should be treated. It also demonstrated the potential for readings of biblical texts that celebrate God’s love for animals and human responsibility for caring for them. Section 4 showed that Christians have, in fact, interpreted biblical texts to affirm the importance of concern for animals, with a particular focus on the Christian arguments used for the first UK legislation against cruelty towards animals in the early nineteenth
century, and the significance of Christianity in the formation of the organization that became the RSPCA. Section 5 set out a particular way of drawing on this scriptural and historical inheritance to make the case that Christians have strong faith-based reasons to be concerned about industrialized animal agriculture. Christians should act to reduce consumption of animal products and source animal products from higher welfare sources
We have conceded with regret that critics such as Lynn White Jr., Peter Singer, and Tom Regan are right in claiming that Christianity has been used to support the human exploitation of animals without adequate regard for their well being. We have argued that it is wrong to jump from that claim to the judgement that Christianity is inevitably an enemy of concern for animals. This latter judgement is problematic for two reasons. First, it is inaccurate, because it fails to recognize that Christianity has often been used to promote concern for animals. Second, it is unhelpful, because it
suggests to both Christians and non-Christians that faith commitments give Christians no reason for being concerned about animal welfare. In this article, we have made the case that Christianity can be a strong ally in efforts to promote farmed animal welfare. We hope the argument will be persuasive both among Christians and among non-Christian animal advocates in order to make possible new coalitions working for advances in animal welfare generally, and farmed animal welfare in particular.
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This is an Orthodox Tradition:Blessings for animals
A Russian Orthodox Church in Lemeshovo, not far from Moscow, has promised to consecrate cats and dogs on International Homeless Animals Day, adding the furry creatures to its ever-expanding roster of blessed items.
The church has performed religious rites over satellites and launch pads, a habit that inspired a dedicated Twitter account collecting photographs of Orthodox priests apparently blessing objects that include rifles, a crosswalk and computers.
The priest in Lemeshovo, a small town south of Moscow, said he will perform a prayer service for the International Homeless Animals Day.
Pet owners will be invited to have their beloved animals sprinkled with holy water, Interfax reported Friday.
“Each of us can now create a small ark to save God’s creatures,” said Pyotr Dynnikov, archpriest of the Iliynsky temple that will host the blessing ceremony.
Dynnikov said the church will also say a prayer for those who provide shelter to homeless animals.
The International Society for Animal Rights said international animal observance days have been held in 50 countries and on 6 continents since International Homeless Animals’ Day began in 1992.
An unusual inclusion but an important one:
International Conference organised by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies Liverpool Hope University, Hope Park Campus, 29th June 2020
Rising sea levels, droughts, bushfires, and other extreme weather events are exacerbating existing environmental stresses, and provoking unprecedented challenges to states and communities. These growing environmental challenges multiply the risk of social deprivation, political instability and war. As the international community struggles to find consensus on limiting carbon emissions, the challenges to peace and security that will arise in a warming world are only beginning to be understood. The aim of this conference is to explore the relationship between climate change and challenges to peace. To that aim, we are calling for papers from scholars, practitioners and activists on all the dimensions of environment and conflict including, among others: • Security, intelligence and governance
• Human rights, justice and law
• Interlinked global challenges (displacement, food scarcity, etc.)
• Urban settings
• Role of religious traditions and communities in the action for environmental protection
• Civil society mobilization
• Expression and representation in literature and arts
• Media and communication
Please send abstracts of maximum 300 words (word format) for presentations lasting no more than 20 minutes, together with a maximum of 5 keywords and a biography of 150 words including name, title, institutional affiliation, contact information and technical requirements where applicable to email@example.com by April 1, 2020.
For more information, visit http://tutu.hope.ac.uk/events/annualinternationalconference/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Register for the Conference at: https://store.hope.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/school-of-humanities/archbishop-desmond-tutu-centre-for-war-and-peace-studies
Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace StudiesLiverpool Hope University,Hope Park,Liverpool,L16 9JD,United Kingdomtutu@hope.ac.uk
The first section of this post is a Guardian article, which informs us of water contamination in the US. If this is the case, this is likely to be replicated in other countries. The second part is from a Christian colleague in the US and his reflection on how the church might respond to such challenges.
“US drinking water contamination with ‘forever chemicals’ far worse than scientists thought”
PFAS, resistant to breaking down in the environment, have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight & other health problems. The contamination of US drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia & New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group. The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS (containing fluoride.) Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight & other health problems. The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.
“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG & co-author of the report.The chemicals were used in products like Teflon & Scotchguard & in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products & industrial processes, & their replacements also pose risks. Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states & Washington DC, only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700ft (215m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle & Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends. EWG found that on average 6 to 7 PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, & the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.
In 34 places EWG’s tests found PFAS contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies. The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on 2 of the chemicals, PFOA & PFOS. The EPA said it has helped states & communities address PFAS & that it is working to put limits on the 2 main chemicals but did not give a timeline. In 2018 a draft report from an office of US Department of Health & Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House & EPA had tried to stop the report being published.………………………………….
A THOUGHT PROVOKING RESPONSE:
Thank you, Christina, for sharing this important alert about the danger of perflouroalkys (PFAS) chemicals in American drinking water. This is genuinely an important issue as it affects every parish in America.
Chemicals such as these PFAS are so lethally toxic that they should be banned forever. If one part per trillion in drinking water is carcinogenic, there is no capability to contain or restrain the toxicity, either now or over centuries of time. See an independent report: https://draxe.com/health/pfas-contamination/Chemists tell us that the flood of toxic substances in the food chain will in slow motion and over decades produce a mortality equal to nuclear war. Nobel Prize winning physician Eric Chivian MD issues the following statement (from his book CRITICAL CONDITION: Human Health and the Environment, p. 9):
“We know that the world (and human civilization) cannot survive nuclear war….
“The world now faces a similar threat to human health and survival from changes to the global environment – stratospheric ozone depletion, habitat destruction, species extinction, global warming, and the poisoning of air, water, and soil by toxic and radioactive substances. And there is a similar lack of understanding about the consequences of these environmental dangers for human beings.”
The issue for the Orthodox Church is that science and religion should discern similar sets of issues. In the Church we promote the “March for Life” this coming Saturday over the issue of abortion. Yes, that is a genuine pro-life issue, but far more serious are the lethal dangers from nuclear war, global climate change, toxic chemicals in drinking water and the food chain, and the long term consequences of nuclear wastes. The causes for these issues should also be protested. The irony is that alongside the highly personal and emotional issue of abortion, we give far less attention to these more deadly global issues that exert much more impact on the life of the world.
Somehow when we examine these issues from the perspective of sin and repentance, we should distinguish between personal sins and what might be called social sins (sins in the structure of society) and even larger global or planetary sins. We don’t discuss these different levels or types of sin mostly because our taxonomy of sin is deficient. Yet these distinctions exist and to meet the challenge of the modern world our theology should differentiate between personal sins, social sins (sins embedded in the structure of society – think of air pollution), and what might be called global sins, which in terms of pain and suffering, impact huge sectors of life on earth.
Part of the problem is that we still see the world with a 19th century mentality in which all issues are personal, but in fact we are living amidst 21st century technology in which communication is instantaneous, travel is intercontinental, and our view of the world increasingly global. The principles of the Church may be stable and timeless, but how we translate those principles into modern conditions is where we have an urgent need to catch up. If we fail to engage these issues, then we have little ability to critique the media, modern medicine, genetic engineering designed to avoid diseases, new genres of music, the many issues of food and water, the symphonia that should exist with government, and a dozen other issues. If we fail to critique the world of the present, we will also fail to live with integrity “…on earth as it is in heaven” in the present. And if we can’t do that, then we cannot provide adequate direction on how to obey God and live with reverence amidst present world conditions.
Think back to the problem of the deadly consequences of PFAS chemicals. This article reports that the EPA’s assessment that “110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.” Cancers are already at epidemic levels. (The American Cancer Society estimates 60% to 90% of all cancers are due to toxics in the food chain and the environment.) We need to provide direction on how to avoid these dangerous chemicals as without that far more parish members are in danger of avoidable disease and sometimes premature death.
PFAS are just one chemical on a growing list of dangerous substances. To avoid PFAS, avoid at least non-stick cookware, like teflon; instead use old-fashioned iron frying pans. Avoid fast foods and fast food wrappers; avoid stain resistant carpets and furniture polish; avoid outdoor foul weather gear with Gore-tex or scotchgard or some of the other “durable water repellent” coating. Sorry to suggest avoiding these so-called “convenient” products, but this inconvenience is preferable to the larger inconvenience of the sickness which they sometimes trigger.
January 23, 2020 By Julie Schneider of CHEM Trust:
In December 2019, the European Commission launched a “European Green Deal” as a response to climate and environmental-related challenges defining our generation. The European Commission has started consulting on the roadmap of some of the strategies listed in the green deal, including the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy.
This week CHEM Trust submitted comments to the European Commission to emphasize the urgent need to deal with one of the drivers of the biodiversity crisis: pollution, and more specifically, chemical pollution.
Biodiversity losses due to chemical pollution
Chemical pollution does not only involve pollution from direct sources such as industrial accidents or large-scale pollution from the widespread use of synthetic pesticides, but also diffuse pollution from synthetic chemicals leaching from consumer products such as flame retardants, plasticizers, water and grease repellents and pharmaceuticals. CHEM Trust has published many reports over the years highlighting the impacts of chemicals on biodiversity.
Recent scientific findings provide very concerning evidence of chemical pollution as a driver of ecosystem losses, as much for terrestrial ecosystems as for aquatic ecosystems. To mention just a few:
- on land: bird populations in Europe are highly impacted by the extensive use of synthetic pesticides;
- in freshwater: in the EU, on average 20 % of aquatic species are disappearing due to exposure to chemical mixtures;
- in marine waters: legacy pollution from banned PCBs is threatening the survival of orca populations.
Healthy ecosystems provide many services to society, such as carbon storage, water regulation or pollinator services. A conservative estimate suggests that in terms of economic value at least 27% of total ecosystem service losses are due to chemical pollution.
Moreover, chronic exposure to chemical pollution, such as from endocrine disrupters, is impacting wildlife’s welfare and resilience by weakening their reproduction, immune, hormonal and neurological systems as well as their mating, migration and feeding behaviours. This makes wildlife populations and entire ecosystems more vulnerable and less resilient in a context where they are also affected by many other external stressors such as climate change or habitat loss.
The burden of synthetic chemicals in the air, water and soil has reached critical levels. To cite one example, 42% of European freshwater sites have levels of organic pollutants likely to lead to long-term effects on sensitive freshwater species.
State of the European environment
In December last year, the European Environment Agency released its landmark report on the state of the European environment. Regarding chemical pollution, the report concluded that “Europe is not on track to minimise the significant adverse effects of chemicals on the environment by 2020”. It noted that 62 % of Europe’s water bodies are not in good chemical status, and that the objectives on contaminants in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive will not be achieved.
Tragically, the situation is set to get worse as the current outlook for 2030 is that “The projected increase in chemical production and continued emissions of persistent and hazardous chemicals suggests that the total chemical burden on health and the environment is unlikely to decrease”.
Moreover, the report states that the risks from chemical pollution on the environment are “likely [to be] greatly underestimated” as:
- Only a fraction of chemicals are monitored and assessed. Pointing out that over 2,500 persistent and mobile chemicals are not currently monitored.
- Mixture effects and multiple stressors are not included in risk assessments.
Chemical Strategy for sustainability
Stricter risk management measures to better control and reduce the overall use of chemicals of very high concern is crucial to reduce the impact of chemical pollution on ecosystems.
In CHEM Trust’s view the success of the Biodiversity Strategy is therefore bound to the ambition and delivery of several other strategies developed in the context of the European Green Deal, especially the zero-pollution ambition for a non-toxic environment including the Chemical Strategy for sustainability.
Dr Julie Schneider, CHEM Trust campaigner said:
“The biodiversity crisis has many drivers and one of them is chemical pollution. But issues should not be addressed in silos. An integrated approach between all the strategies listed in the European Green Deal will be critical to restore the natural environment on a path to recovery.”