Small Victory for those challenging misleading Dairy Industry advertising

This is an article from our friends in South Africa:

A victory for dairy cows – meagre, yes, but a victory nevertheless May 2020

A leading South African milk producer Fair Cape Dairies has been instructed to withdraw the use of the words/phrases ‘#happycows’ and ‘humane” from all its advertising. In terms of a ruling dated 30 April by the Advertising Appeals Committee of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), the concept of humane “means more than freedom from violence, pain and disease.”

This follows a series of complaints by concerned consumers led by Jo Fairbrother ( stating “there is no such thing as a happy cow in the dairy industry”. The complainants submitted: “The truth is dairy cows lead horrible lives, filled with grief, pain and suffering”. The complainants specifically noted that cows were being forcefully impregnated repeatedly and were robbed of their calves soon after birth. Therefore, they submitted, Fair Cape’s advertising was false and breached the Code of Advertising Practice which prohibits advertising that is likely to mislead the consumer.

When the complainants first approached the ARB in 2019, their complaints were dismissed by the Directorate on the grounds, inter alia, that within the context of the dairy industry, the cows are humanely treated, and therefore as “happy” as possible; that a reasonable consumer could not expect that cow’s milk could be sold without some compromise and it was naïve of any consumer to believe otherwise.

At that stage, the ARB ruled that Fair Cape’s advertising was not misleading and that the ARB could not “cater to the ignorant consumer, the uneducated consumer, or the willfully naïve consumer.”

However, Jo Fairbrother and her fellow complainants, did not accept this dismissal and set about requesting an appeal, with the help of Animal Lawyer Amy P. Wilson, director of Animal Law Reform South Africa and trustee of The Humane Education Trust. Now, their appeal has been upheld by the ARB Advertising Appeals Committee.

On 30 April 2020, the Advertising Appeals Committee ruled that the use of the terms “#happycows” and “humane” were a breach of clause 4.1 and 4.2.1 of the Code of Advertising Practice. The Advertising Appeals Committee stated that, in its view, the Directorate (of the ARB) had erred in holding that Fair Cape’s advertising must be viewed through the lens of the practices that are generally accepted in the commercial dairy industry. It continued that while Fair Cape Dairies contended that “in the context of dairy farming” the cows were “humanely” treated, it was nonetheless the view of the Advertising Appeals Committee that while this meant that no malicious or gratuitous violence was perpetrated against the cows, and as far as possible they were kept free of physical pain, injury and disease, it did not mean that the cows experienced no physical and emotional trauma. It stated: •

“… in our view, it cannot be said that the reasonable consumer who purchases milk expects the cow to have been raped, or her babies to have been taken from her at birth so as to maximize the milk available for sale. Nor does the reasonable consumer think of the fate of the cow’s babies, or the fate of the cow herself. None of this is uppermost in the mind of the reasonable consumer when purchasing a bottle of milk…In our view, humane treatment means more than freedom from violence, pain and disease; it means treatment characterised by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy. It does not include many of the practices complained of, such as the forced impregnation of cows, the forced separation of calves from their mothers immediately after birth, and the slaughter of male calves thereafter. It follows then, in our view, that the cows cannot be described as happy, or as humanely treated.”

Commented Jo Fairbrother: “Fair Cape Dairies do not only directly misinform consumers, but they actively conceal many of their practices while creating an illusion of transparency. This cruelty is not an anomaly, but is standard practice inherent in the industry.

We are extremely thankful to Compassion in World Farming South Africa who played an important role with their contribution of video footage exposing the suffering of boy calves discarded by the dairy industry. To be informed, is to be empowered. When we are informed we can make consumer choices that are authentic and genuinely in line with our values.”

POCA comment is that the above harmful practices are also found in the dairy industry in other countries including the UK.

Why is factory farming a pandemic risk?

This is the latest from Compassion in World Farming and offers more information to the growing movement to move from an animal-based diet, to a plant-based diet:

Our new report, ‘Is the next pandemic on our plate?’, details how the next pandemic could originate from a factory farm:

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three in four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. Examples include bacteria such as Escherichia Coli (E. Coli), Campylobacter and Salmonella, and viruses including Avian and Swine Influenza.
  • Globally, up to 70% of antibiotics are administered to farmed animals – a perfect storm for triggering the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Industrial livestock production is a major cause of air pollution. According to latest reports, this can result in serious respiratory disease that leaves people less able to survive COVID-19.

To protect human and animal health, farm animals should be kept in higher welfare systems that rear more robust breeds at lower densities. Under these conditions, viruses are less likely to spread, mutate and multiply. In addition, healthier animals need less antibiotic treatment for bacterial infections, which means these life-saving drugs may continue to be effective for human – and animal – use.

Of course, factory farming isn’t just a major pandemic risk. It’s also the leading cause of global animal suffering and a major contributor to the climate crisis.

What’s more, our over-reliance on low quality, factory farmed animal products decimates critical wildlife habitat, ravages vulnerable communities with air and water pollution and drives mass deforestation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, to save countless lives, we must end factory farming. Please, join the call for a food system that protects animal welfare, human health, and the environment.

World Animal Laboratory Day 24th April: The failure of the animal testing model

This is a small section of my analysis of the animal testing model which is taken from chapter nine of my recent book Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Teachings in Modern Theology.

When we examine the available research on the animal testing model, such as Linzey and Linzey (2017)[1], Bailey and Taylor (2016)[2] Kathrin Herrmann and Kimberley Jayne (2019) (2a),  we find that there are few systematic studies examining the validity of this model.

In answer to the question posed in their article entitled “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” Pound and Bracken (2014) conclude that it is:

…nearly impossible to rely on most animal data to predict whether or not an intervention will have a favourable clinical benefit-risk ratio in human subjects.[3]

Knight (2011)had already alerted us to this problem:

…the utility of many animal experiments in advancing human healthcare or even biomedical knowledge of significance is poor. [4]

These two statements alone ought to concern us. The obvious question arising is whether these statements can be verified? If this were not the case, we would expect the licensing of a large percentage of the drugs tested on animals for human use.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a well-respected and authoritative body and their comments here address this specific point:

Overall, in the US, 92% of drugs that pass pre-clinical tests, mostly animal tests, fail to make it to the market because they are proven to be ineffective and or unsafe in people. [5]

This report also concludes that if topical medicines are excluded the failure rate is around 97%. The first observation from the FDS report is that the failure rate of the animal testing model is extraordinarily high. The second observation is that the animal testing model is unreliable and thus flawed.

The model fails the caveat that the animal testing model is essential for the advancement of human health. In fact, such conclusions ought to lead us to ask whether the model is a benefit or a hindrance to human health. My argument here is that its use is an example of the “predetermined conclusion” that the model is “not harmful to humanity.”

The next question is to ask why the failure rate is so high. There are several contributing factors and the most obvious is that the species of animals used are not human; we are not dogs, rabbits, monkeys etc. This in and of itself ought to raise considerable doubt on the efficacy of the model.

An equally pertinent point is that animals experience physical pain and mental suffering, which includes fear, trauma, stress, distress, anticipation and terror, all of which alter their physiology; if one or a combination of these factors affects the animal, the results will be suspect.[6]

Knight (2011) includes several other factors in calculating stress and suffering, such as capture from the wild, transportation, housing etc., which he concludes, alter the physiology and mental capacities of the animals over time. [7] He states that these factors, in addition to creating significant animal welfare and ethical problems distort a wide range of experimental outcomes, such as those dependent on accurate determination of physiological, behavioural, or cognitive characteristics in animal models.[8] This also raises serious doubts over the efficacy of this model and this too ought to concern us.

There is another factor to consider which again brings us back to H. A. H. Bartholomew’s point on the dangers of the “predetermined conclusion that these are not harmful to humans” and the ethicist’s caveat that they are “necessary.” If we examine the evidence, the drugs that are licensed are not universally safe for humans and the tragedy of giving thalidomide to pregnant women is a well-known case in point. This sadly, is not the only example.

As I write this chapter the scandal of the epilepsy drug, sodium valproate (Epilim) is breaking news. Since its license, circa 20,000 children in the UK have physical abnormalities, autism, low IQ and learning disabilities after being exposed to the drug while in the womb. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have now changed the licensing because up to four in ten babies are at risk of developmental disorders and one in ten are at risk of birth defects.[9]

This is not a lone example. The organisation Nurses Movement for Responsible Medicine provides further examples and comments of licensed drugs that have caused considerable damage to humans. I condense their commentary:

Few people in the West are aware of the Clioquinol tragedy. Clioquinol caused 30,000 cases of blindness and/or paralysis in Japan alone. This drug also caused a new disease called SMON. “Clioquinol was tested on rats, cats, beagles and rabbits with no evidence of neurotoxicity.” “Oraflex (Opren) an antiarthritic drug meant to alleviate the pain and frequently crippling limitations of arthritis was found safe in nonhuman primates, at 7 times the maximum tolerated human dose for a year. It caused death in a number of elderly patients, mainly from liver damage.” “Butazolidine, a pain killer, caused kidney and red blood cell damage.” “Chloramphenicol caused bone marrow destruction and fatal aplastic anaemia…though human cell culture could have found what animal testing has failed to show.” “Isoprenaline aerosol during the 1960s, thousands of young asthmatics died following the use of Isoprenaline aerosol inhalers. Animal tests did not show nor predict the danger…cats could tolerate 175 times the dose found dangerous to asthmatics and the adverse complications could not be reproduced in guinea pigs, dogs and monkeys at doses much higher than the recommended dosage.” “Eraldin a heart medication; some patients who received it suffered intestinal and eye problems, blindness and many deaths resulted.” “Phenformin, to treat diabetes, caused 1,000 deaths annually until withdrawn from the market.” “Amydopyrine a pain killer caused a nasty blood disease.” “Reserpine to treat hypertension may cause restlessness, nightmares and depression, pancreatitis, severe anaemia and kidney failure. A number of epidemiologic studies pointed to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. It may cause foetal harm when given to pregnant women.” “Methotrexate to treat leukaemia and psoriasis caused intestinal haemorrhage, anaemia and tumours.” “Mitotane for leukaemia caused kidney damage.” “Cyclophosphamide used for cancer and transplants…led to liver and lung damage.” “Urethane for leukaemia caused cancer of the liver, lungs and bone marrow.” “Kanamycin an antibiotic caused deafness and kidney damage.” “Methaqualon a tranquilizer caused severe mental disturbances.” “Maxiton diet pills caused damage to the heart and nervous system.” “Halcion a hypnotic; reports of severe psychic problems with its use are surfacing which prompted Britain to ban its use.” “Tegretol for epilepsy, two potentially fatal blood diseases: aplastic anaemia and agranulocytosis are 5-8 times more likely to occur in patients on Tegretol than in the general population. Epidemiologic findings suggest an increased incidence of birth defects when pregnant women used Tegretol.[10]

The bold sections draw attention to the fact that alternatives are available and can offer data that is more reliable. Despite the animal testing model, all these licensed products resulted in injury, suffering and in some cases human death.

In addition to the poor ratio of usable drugs to animals used, there is now the additional problem of human safety for those drugs that are licensed.

An obvious criticism here is that I am simply selecting evidence from scientists that have a bias against animal testing. This statement from a report from leaders in the drug development industries addresses that criticism:

The poor predictability of animal experiments is one of the major challenges facing the drug discovery industry.[11]

This would not be the first time that manufacturers were aware of problems but failed to inform the public.

A forensic question to ask here is if this level of failure arose in any other industry, would we expect industry to continue with the model’s use or substitute it with procedures that are more reliable? The answer is obvious.

Why there has not been greater investment in alternative procedures is probably due to economics/profit and the lack of any challenge to the animal testing model by those other than animal protectionists. Many in society still believe philosophical and theological teachings that God created animals solely for our use but this is part of the second discussion and so I put this aside for the moment.

There is evidence of change. Sir David Attenborough, along with 20 other scientists, calls for an end to animal testing on primates and urges the use of currently available alternatives:

The recognition that apes, certainly, and to an extent other primates, are so akin to ourselves, and can suffer so much, as we can, has transformed our attitude, or should have transformed our attitude, to using them for our own benefit. They are sentient beings that have mental lives comparable to ours, and sensitivities, and pain and deprivation mean things to them, just as they mean things to us.[12]

We, the undersigned, are concerned at the level of suffering involved in many neuroscience experiments on non-human primates, especially where fluid deprivation and movement restraint are involved, and believe that there has now been sufficient progress in human-based alternatives to call into serious question whether further research of this type is necessary. We note the recent research in this area published in ATLA [Bailey J & Taylor K. (2016). Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity. ATLA 44, 43-69]. We therefore call on bodies responsible for the funding and licensing of this type of research to review their policies and specifically to end support for experiments involving deprivation of fluids and movement restraint.[13]

The words in bold type, bring into focus the scientific community’s recognition that there are human-based alternatives to primate testing already available.

Importantly, their arguments are equally valid for all other species of sentient creatures used in the animal testing model. The obvious question to ask is why scientists are not using suitable alternatives if they are available for use. I have given my answer. There is also the possibility of using ‘irrational’ creatures as units of ‘disposable life’ but again I leave this aside for the moment.

As noted, alternatives to the animal testing model are available and two useful journals are Alternatives to Laboratory Animals[14] and Laboratory Animals.[15]Several animal welfare organisations’ websites list examples of alternatives such as In vitro; Microfluidic chip; Micro-dosing; Imaging studies and computer models and simulations.[16] The Linzey and Linzey (2017) report gives examples of adult stem cell research; human organs-on-a-chip; lab-grown human organs and systems biology and compare the effectiveness of these methods to existing animal models.[17] Sharma (2015) suggests alternatives for use in university Zoology and Life Science courses in India (and elsewhere) and, makes us aware of the link between educational institutions, suppliers and hunters:

I estimate that employing these alternatives will save roughly 19 million animals belonging to a variety of species, from fish to mammals. In addition, the adoption of these non-animal methods will deal a death blow to the well-organised nexus between educational institutions and those who catch, kill and supply animals…inspection of breeding business have discovered ill and wounded animals crammed inside soiled cages, rats embalmed alive and workers who killed frogs by slamming their heads against hard surfaces. [18]

His comments on the link between hunting and experimentation and the abusive conditions and treatment of the animals should not surprise us. He also mentions the reestablishment of the concept of ahimsa in using humane alternatives and Christians may use the same argument using our concept of the non-violent Christ. In his summary of this section of the Linzey report, Andrew Linzey states:

The upshot of these scientific developments in cutting-edge human-based testing models is that it is no longer accurate or reasonable (if it ever was) to say that the only moral choice is between experimenting on animals and giving up on medical progress. This is a false dilemma. The choice instead is the choice between experimenting on animals and using improved human-based methods of testing.[19]

This indicates a further problem in the animal testing model-the phenomenon of publication bias. Knight outlines the problem:

Research demonstrating ‘no effect’ is less likely to be published than research falsely indicating an effect (false positives). When investigators later review the published literature, they find only the latter and draw false conclusions about the drug effects. This is partly why animal research translates so poorly to human patients.[20]

Apart from the false positive/negative problems, scientists are also less likely to publish failures. This in turn, gives a distorted view of the efficacy of the animal testing model.

In light of the above evidence, we gain an insight into why there are serious doubts both inside and outside of the scientific community on the reliability of the animal testing model to predict the suitability of a variety of medicines/drugs for human health and thus its advancement.

In light of the above evidence, I submit that the animal testing model fails several of the previously outlined caveats and parameters for scientific research. It ought therefore, to be rejected.

[1] Linzey and Linzey, The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, references over 200 different research papers and reports on the theme. Also, Knight, The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments.

[2] Bailey and Taylor, “Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity.” I am grateful to Prof. Knight for this reference.

2a Kathrin Herrmann and Kimberley Jayne Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. 51 experts have contributed to this book. E-Book Availability: Published ISBN: 978-90-04-39119-2 Publication Date: 30 Apr 2019 Hardback Availability: Published ISBN: 978-90-04-35618-4 Publication Date: 04 Apr 2019

[3] Pound and Bracken, “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” BMJ 348 (3387); also, BMJ editor F. Godlee’s accompanying editorial, “How Predictive and Productive is Animal Research?” BMJ 348: (3719).

[4] Knight, Costs and Benefits, 4, 57-9. For the number of animals used, see 9-17. For species, sources and categories of use, see 18-28; also, USFDA (2004) Innovation or Stagnation: Challenge and Opportunity on the Critical Path to New Medical Products.

[5] My emphasis. USFDA, Innovation or Stagnation: Challenge and Opportunity on the Critical Path to New Medical Products, 2004.

[6] Linzey, “Cruelty to Animals is as if a Man did not Love God.” In The Ark: Journal of Catholic Concern for Animals, 220 (Spring): 5. We may think this is a modern thought but as previously noted, Philo gives similar commentary when condemning practices which cause mental anguish to cows separated from their newly born calves.

[7] I add a personal note here to support Knight’s point. When my dogs were in quarantine in Bahrain I arrived to find three adult Baboons in the same block and that one had escaped. The chaos and the fear and distress of the apes were evident from their screams, their throwing of faeces and the attempt of the escapee to avoid recapture. The process took nearly an hour whereupon the animals were removed to the laboratory at Bahrain University.

[8] Knight, Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, 36.

[9] 24th April 2018.  Also, Zack Adesina, BBC Inside Out, London, UK 22 January 2018

[10] My emphasis. See,

[11] Palfreyman, Vinod and Blander, “The importance of using human-based models in gene and drug discovery.” In Drug Discovery World Fall (2002): 33-44.

[12]  Also, 

[13]My emphasis. Signatories: Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist; Simon Bearder, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University; Marc Bekoff, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, VMD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis; Herbert H. Covert, PhD, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder; Paul Furlong, PhD, Professor of Clinical Neuroimaging, Director, Aston Brain Centre, School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University. John P. Gluck, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of New Mexico; Research Professor Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University; Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE-Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace. Colin Groves, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Bio anthropology, Australian National University; Eleonora Gullone, PhD, Affiliate Associate Professor, Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, Monash University; Steven Harnad, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Southampton. Catherine Hobaiter, PhD, Lecturer, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, St Andrews University; Jessica A. Mayhew, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology & Museum Studies and Primate Behavior & Ecology Program, Central Washington University; Dr Monika Merkes, PhD, (Public Health) Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing, La Trobe University. Anna Nekaris, PhD, Professor in Anthropology and Course Leader, MSc Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University; Hugh Notman, PhD, Associate Dean, Learning Technologies & Associate Professor, Anthropology, Biological, Athabasca University. Ian Redmond, OBE, Field biologist and conservationist, Ambassador, UNEP Convention on Migratory Species, former Envoy for UN-GRASP; Vernon Reynolds, PhD, Emeritus Professor, School of Anthropology, Oxford University and Founder of the Budongo Conservation Field Station, Uganda; Lori K. Sheeran, PhD, Professor, Department of Anthropology & Museum Studies and Primate Behavior & Ecology Program, Central Washington University. Jo Thompson, PhD, Executive Director, Lukuru Foundation, Democratic Republic of Congo; Richard Wrangham, PhD, Ruth B. Moore Professor and former Chair of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University and President Emeritus, International Primatological Society.




[17] 2015:4.23-29. Published as Linzey & Linzey, 2017.

[18] Dr Sharma is a member of EGC-MHRD Core Expert Committee to Consider Discontinuation of Dissection of animals in Zoology/Life Science in Indian Universities and Colleges, The Ark (Spring 2012):29-30.

[19] Linzey and Linzey, The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, 4.29

[20] Discussions at Winchester University in 2017.

Earth Day 2020 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, whose mission is to work with civil and faith communities for developing local solutions to global problems, including climate change, plastic pollution, and threats to biodiversity. Earth Day promotes programs ranging from low-impact actions to “a billion acts of green” to address the paramount challenge of our time.

Of course, every day is earth day! Every day is an opportunity to celebrate “the earth as the Lord’s and that all who dwell therein belong to the Lord” (Psalm 24.1). Every day is a reminder of our vulnerability and solidarity. In fact, today, more than ever, we are also reminded of our responsibility to the earth and each other in light of that interdependence between the earth and all its inhabitants. The ecological responsibility and the respect of the sacredness and the beauty of every human person, of the elderly and the disabled, the poor and the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, are today the universal categorical imperative for the whole humanity.

In recent weeks, with the alarming spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), we have been painfully reminded of the interconnection among human beings throughout the world. So we are obliged to reflect further on the exigency and urgency of our response to issues that are increasingly gathering momentum and threatening our survival.

While it may be strained to draw sweeping comparisons or simplistic connections between the human impact on the natural environment and a global crisis like COVID-19, can we not wonder whether the mandated human isolation to prevent the spread of the virus has resulted in clearer water and cleaner air and in a reevaluation of our relationship with nature and its ability to heal us? We hasten to add, of course, that no loss of human life can ever justify any ecological renewal of the planet, but there is no doubt that individual action and community response are vital in encountering climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. And we fervently pray for the quick return of normalcy in these surreal times.

Crisis is a moment of clear and definitive judgment. And the COVID-19 crisis is a compelling moment of truth and assessment of our respect and regard for the precious gifts that we have received and been entrusted with by God. Over the past decades, we have underlined and declared that when we are isolated from God, then we, inevitably, if not inadvertently, also exploit the planet’s resources. Indeed, we have repeatedly associated and even identified such behavior against God’s creation with sin. Like us, the earth, too, is suffering from “isolation” and alienation. “The whole of creation is groaning with labor pains to this day . . . eagerly longing for . . . its liberation by the children of God” (Romans 8.19–22). This time of uncertainty and insecurity has taught us to care for one another. Will we also learn, at last, to mitigate our impact on the environment?

As a result of the ecological disruption created by the global crisis of this coronavirus pandemic, Earth Day will be celebrated electronically this year throughout the world. How paradoxical that the earth continues to inspire, instruct, and invite us toward a renewed commitment and restored covenant with creation. How will we respond? Our prayer is that this critical moment will be for all of us and for the entire planet an occasion for renewal and redemption, for liberation and transformation, as well as for inspiration and illumination.


Orthodox Christians are preparing to mark this week the most important holiday of the Christian world – Resurrection Sunday. The festive feeling is eclipsed by the tragedy of the situation and quarantine restrictions imposed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This year, we cannot traditionally gather at Holy Week liturgies and personally greet one another in temples at Easter services. We are aware that isolation, together with our deep faith and sincere prayer, will overcome evil.

On the eve of Resurrection Sunday, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform about the philosophy of existence in times of crisis, the lessons of the current situation, and about how believers should behave amid the pandemic in everyday life and while celebrating Easter.


Question: Your All-Holiness, the greatest Orthodox holiday of Easter is approaching. Would You be so kind to recall times from the history of Christianity when believers could not attend holy ordinances and perform sacraments for objective reasons? How have these obstacles been overcome in the past?

Answer: Easter is indeed the feast of feasts, the night that St. Gregory of Nyssa describes as “brighter than any day.” It is the source of all other feasts and the center of our liturgical calendar, the feast that gives meaning to our faith and life. This is why it is so vital and crucial for Christians all over the world.There have indeed been occasions in the past when Christians have been unable to celebrate Easter. History has experienced pandemics and plagues. And Christianity has experienced persecution and punishment. We need only think of the periods of oppression and martyrdom – both in the early Christian Church, but also in more recent times. The difference today is that we are aware of science and medicine, which in the case of the pandemic of COVID-19 propose a self-isolation for the protection of our lives.In the early Church, monasticism was described as “white martyrdom” in contrast to the “blood martyrdom” of the martyrs. Today, our moral decision as human beings in accepting “social distancing” is a way of confronting the virus and caring for our neighbor.

Question: There is much debate now about whether sacraments can become a source of infection. What is the best way now for communion, confession, baptism, church marriage, etc.?

Answer: It is tempting, but also a form of escapism to dwell on the details of sacramental life. In the Middle Ages, scholars and superstition thrived on discussing topics such as the exact moment when the bread and wine were transformed into Christ’s body and blood, and how precisely a confession or baptism was valid or invalid.As we indicated in one of our addresses to the faithful, what is at stake is not our identity as believers, but only our identity as human beings that “bear flesh and dwell in the world;”

Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us. And there, from our homes, strengthened by the power of our spiritual unity, let each and every one of us pray for all humankind.


Question: In Ukraine, we have examples when some churches and their leaders do not adhere to general quarantine rules, exposing the lives of believers to danger. Is there the responsibility for such actions in the church world?

Answer: As Orthodox Christians, it is important that we remember not simply our personal or pious obligations, but also our communal and social responsibility. The success of those working so hard to respond to and overcome COVID-19 depends on our participation and cooperation. This is an invaluable contribution to all of society, a sacrifice equally worthy of praise and gratitude as those fighting this battle on the front lines.

Question: How should practicing Christians behave during the quarantine? What tips for maintaining spiritual and moral stability can You give?

Answer: We speak of this time as a crisis – from the Greek word κρίσις – which means that we will be judged by our response to the circumstances that we face. This is an opportunity for us to learn life-changing and world-transforming lessons.

All of us recognize that what we previously considered “normal” in our world or “routine” in our life has been shattered and turned upside down. What we were accustomed to, what we have taken pleasure in, has abruptly changed or stopped. No longer can we take even the simplest things for granted.

For us as Orthodox Christians, this also applies to our relationship with the church and, above all, with God. We can no longer take traditional or conventional ways for granted – like attending a service, lighting a candle, kissing the icons, singing with the choir, lining up for communion.In this crisis, then, we have learned that the church is more than just a building. We have discovered that each of our homes and families are called to become and to be what St. John Chrysostom describes as a “small church” (ἐκκλησία μικρά) – not just in name, but in actual practice. We should all be thankful for this precious lesson to our Lord who assures us: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Indeed, Jesus Christ is closer to us than we to ourselves.


Question: Now we can see many examples of the “transition” of the church to the online mode. Is this a positive practice in Your opinion? Will there be a live broadcast of the festive Easter service from the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

Answer: One of the positive outcomes of this universal challenge is that we must now think deliberately and creatively about our relationships to one another. Working together from a distance, through the diverse means of modern technology, has provided not only the possibility of supporting one another as a means of consolation and survival but also of advancing our dreams and programs as a way of cooperation and progress.

We are deeply encouraged to learn of new ways ventured by churches, which were previously reserved toward such changes. After all, we are a living tradition, and the Body of Christ is an organic, vibrant community. We must always be attentive but never afraid in our use of technology, which must be employed as a means for the benefit of the people of God.So, we rejoice when we hear of the diverse ways with which churches are responding to their vocation at this critical moment. We are delighted to see how they are uniting their efforts in addressing their faithful and focusing their attention on their pastoral needs.The Ecumenical Patriarchate will indeed broadcast the Easter vigil from the Phanar, as well as all the services throughout Holy and Great Week.


Question: What lessons do You think we all need to learn from this situation of a common threat to humanity and a common confrontation with it?

Answer: The lessons that all of us have learned will prove indispensable when we emerge from this crisis. We have been reminded that the world is larger than our individual interests and concerns, larger than our jurisdictional parishes and congregations, larger than any single church or religious community.We have realized that we must always do something more than what only affects our lives or our families.

We have admired the doctors and nurses, who sacrifice their lives for the healing of others. We have witnessed those working in grocery stores and pharmacies, those driving trucks and delivering goods, and especially those volunteering their time or donating their money for our more vulnerable brothers and sisters. All these actions of selfless love exude the fragrance of the Resurrection.Ultimately, we have learned what the Scriptures and Saints have always known and declared – that “whoever does not love their brother, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

Permit us to close with our wholehearted and fervent wishes to all the people in Ukraine – to those who have already celebrated Easter on April 12 and to those who are celebrating Pascha on April 19 – our sincerest paternal wishes on the “feast of feasts” at this challenging time. Christ is Risen, my beloved brothers and sisters, my dearest families and children. The clouds of darkness and shadow of death have been overcome by His Resurrection.

Χριστός Ἀνέστη!Olga Budnyk, Istanbul-Ankara
* You can watch the services from the Ecumenical Patriarchate live on Facebook.

A Daily Reading Program on the Christian Theology of Creation- April 2020

The Vision and Spiritual Direction of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew along with Other Orthodox Patriarchs

A Course of Daily Theological Reflection on Christian Responsibility for the Care and Keeping of God’s Creation Month Four April 1 -30, 2020

The OFT is endorsed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States a P.O. Box 7348 a Santa Rosa, California 95407 a (707) 573-3161

Introduction During Great Lent, Christians are called to follow our Lord Jesus Christ onto the cross. This allows us to participate to some extent in His Resurrection at Pascha. This year, wherever we live, Lent will be different because we are facing a worldwide epidemic of the corona virus. This means that the manner in which we experience the cross in our Lenten journey will have a unique set of dimensions. Parishes and parishioners are already facing drastically new conditions with neighbors who may be fearful of infection and suffering from anxiety about illness or even a painful death. Food shortages are already emerging in some areas. How can we provide charity and help under these conditions? Church services are being interrupted and in many communities cancelled. How do we become more self-sufficient in our own prayers? This is a test that many of us are or will shortly be facing. As we pray for guidance, it will arrive in many forms and from different directions. Already from across the Orthodox Church we are learning of novel ways to respond.

From the Ukrainian Bishops in the USA we receive a prayer of healing that all of us may use. See:

From the far-off tiny Church of Georgia, we hear that His Holiness Patriarch Ilya has been given a vision on how to address this new coronavirus. He tells us to fear not! See his vision related at:

From the monks of Mount Athos we are invited to pray the Jesus Prayer every evening at 10:00 PM local time to restrain the impact of this worldwide epidemic.

From His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew we have a special letter of guidance and direction that applies to us all. (See April 2, below).

From parishes small and large we learn of shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and guidance for those who may be sick, stressed or facing some other need.

What we don’t yet have, but what these readings from Church hierarchs are steering us toward is a genuine Orthodox Christian way of life, i.e., a Christian culture. What appears to be guidance on ecologically conscious living should also be recognized as a gateway into a whole Orthodox way of life.

These writings from patriarchs and bishops provide vision and direction on our Christian responsibility to shape a lifestyle that is harmoniously connected to God and neighbor and harmless living. Their guidance gives direction for how to live in the modern world and the new earth that is now emerging.

Yours in service to God’s good earth, EM – MR – EC – FK editors


Wednesday The Great Challenge of Our Generation April 1, 2020

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? Q How might members of a parish address climate change? Q Why is this an important issue for Orthodox parishes?



Thursday Message Regarding COVID-19 April 2, 2020

The voice of the Church cannot be silent in such times. Our words… take the form we have learned through the ages: through the liturgy and through instruction, with encouragement and consolation…. We entreat you to respond faithfully and patiently to all the difficult but necessary measures proposed by health authorities and nations. Everything is being done for our protection, for our common good, to contain the spread of this virus. Our liberation from this distress depends entirely on our cooperation.

Perhaps some have felt that these measures undermine or harm our faith. However, that which is at stake is not our faith – it is the faithful. It is not Christ – it is our Christians. It is not the divine-man – but human beings. Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us.

We see our neighbors suffering from the consequences of the virus, while others have already fallen and departed from among us. Our Church hopes and prays for the healing of the sick, for the souls of the departed, and for courage and strength to the families of the afflicted.

This trial, too, shall pass. The clouds will clear, and the Sun of Righteousness will eliminate the deadly effect of the virus. But our lives will have changed forever. This trial is an opportunity for us to change for the better. In the direction of establishing love and solidarity.

Beloved children in the Lord, may the blessing of the Lord, through… the All-Holy Mother of God, accompany us in our journey, transform our voluntary isolation into genuine communion, and become our prayer and destination to appreciate the meaning of this, so that we may return to that which is true [and] pleasing to God! Have courage! And may God be with us! HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, The Phanar, March 19, 2019

Q How can this COVID-19 trial be an opportunity for us to change for the better? Q. How might the coronavirus epidemic change our lives? Q. What will it take for the changes we make now to endure into the future? Reflection


Friday Responses to the Coronavirus Epidemic April 3, 2020.

We are in a special situation while facing a great problem, which is not only our problem but the problem of the whole world – the appearance of the coronavirus. I invite all our faithful to be disciplined and to accept everything that is proposed and to implement that in their life for their own interest. Life is the greatest gift of God that we must preserve. Let us be disciplined, let us listen to what expert people suggest…. HB Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, Belgrade, March 15, 2020

Be courageous, my brothers! Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos gives us hope! God created our planet with so much love and He will not abandon it. Be courageous and stay strong! HB Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All-Africa, Metropolis of Memphis, at prayers for protection from the deadly coronavirus, March 21, 2020

It is time to seek refuge in the privacy of our homes, until the wrath of this plague is past. HE Teofan, Archbishop of Iasi, Metropolitan of Moldova and Bucovina, Iasi, Romania, March 18, 2020

Turn every house into a small church and pray, asking for the immense grace and mercy of God on mankind. Abide by the self-protection measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Our Church is with you and by your side. She loves all of you and prays for you all. We act responsibly because we love, not because fear knocks at our door. We are looking forward, praying, to Easter. And then the whole Creation will shine in the light of Resurrection, joy, hope. Take courage, my brothers, The Lord is with you. HE Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, March, 2020

After each liturgy, the faithful will not be allowed to kiss the cross [or] holy icons, which must be cleaned systematically with disinfectant solution. With regard to Holy Communion, the Holy Mysteries of Christ should be offered and the spoon should be wiped after each partaker with a cloth impregnated with spirits (with regular refreshing the impregnation)…. The priests, the abbots and abbesses of the monasteries must adhere strictly to hygiene rules and disinfect their hands during the day at least once every two hours…. HB Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus, March 23, 2020


Saturday Another Type of Fasting April 4, 2020

In an age of technology we should extend our fasting rules to include technology in order to gain spiritual peace during Lent. At least during the beginning of Lent, us let try to be less dependent on cell phones, social networks, and email accounts, lest the anxiety, which they throw at us, get inside us.

Technology can be a blessing, but it also has a very subtle reverse dimension, because of the way it fragments our thinking to a large degree. We become so dependent on technology that it becomes very difficult for us to break away.

I think it is necessary, in the world in which we live, to embrace such a type of fasting, a media quarantine. Fasting is a sacrifice and I think it is a sacrifice to give up our phone. It would be very beneficial to detach ourselves as much as possible from those things that do not bring us peace. HG Bishop Ignatie of Huşi, Sunday Sermon, Romanian Orthodox Church, March 1, 2020

Q Why do Orthodox Christians fast? Q. What benefits emerge from fasting? Q. How might a fast from technology become beneficial? Reflection


Monday Voluntary Restraint in the Use of Material Goods April 6, 2020.

We should consider every act through which we abuse the world as having an immediate negative effect upon the future of our environment in which our posterity will live. The way in which we face our environment reflects the way we behave toward one another. It reflects upon the way in which we relate to our children, those born and those who are yet to be born.

Human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence. Humans are created as spiritual beings in which resides the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Our bodies are created from material nature, the dust of the earth. Interconnectedness between our nature and our environment lies at the center of our liturgy….

The asceticism of the Orthodox Church requires voluntary restraint regarding the use of material goods, leading to a harmonious symbiosis with the environment. We are required to practice restraint. When we curb our desire to consume, we guarantee the existence of treasured things for those who come after us and ensure the balanced functioning of the ecosystem. Restraint frees us from selfish demands so that we may offer what remains at the disposal of others. Avarice, which has its roots in the lack of faith and making of a god out of matter, we consider idolatry. Restraint is an act of self-control and confidence in God, but it is also an act of love. This willful asceticism is not only required of anchorite monks; it is required of all Orthodox Christians according to the measure of balance. Asceticism is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered utilization of the world. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, New York City, NY,November 13, 2000

Q How is our relationship to the environment related to our interaction with people? Q. In what ways does the liturgy connect our nature to our environment? Q. Why can asceticism be understood as an act of love? Reflections


Tuesday Facing a Global Climate Emergency April 7, 2020

Climate change is a result of greed, inequality and wanton destruction of God’s Earth, the repercussions of which are felt by all, most especially by the poor.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency…. The world is nowhere near meeting emission reduction targets and the latest IPCC report highlights that “only with rapid and far-reaching” transitions in the world economy, on a scale and at a rate without historical precedent, can the 1.5º climate [goal] be achieved. It is therefore a time to reconcile ourselves with creation through concrete repentance and urgent action. …

During this critical and trying time, we acknowledge …this current crisis and affirm ourselves as prophetic witnesses. Jesus has given us a choice between God and mammon and for those who choose to obey, we have no choice but to pursue Justice (Micah 6:8). His Eminence Seraphim, Metropolitan of Zimbabwe and Angola, Patriarchate of Alexandria and All-Africa,, December 3, 2019

Q How is global climate change a result of greed and inequality? Q. What does it mean that we are in the midst of a climate emergency? Q. What is prophetic witness? Q. How is justice a dimension of this witness? Reflections


Wednesday Unite to Combat Climate Change World April 8, 2020

World Environment Day, celebrated on 5th June every year, is the main method of the United Nations to make people aware of the worldwide environmental demolition and to attract the action of various political and human resources.

The day’s agenda gives a human face to environmental issues. It empowers people to becoming active agents of sustainable and equitable development; to promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes toward environmental issue; and to advocate partnerships which ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

World environment day is a popular event with colourful activities such as street rallies, bicycle parades, concerts, essay and poster competition in schools, tree planting as well as recycling and cleaning up campaigns. The theme of this year’s environment day is thought provoking “Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change!”

We in Kerala are worried about the weak and sporadic rains in this season of normally heavy and incessant downpour. It is explicitly felt that the rhythm and balance in nature is disturbed. Although climate change can seem complex, there are a variety of simple actions that individuals and communities can take to make a difference. A few of the actions which we can employ are energy conservation, education programmes to create awareness, planting trees, using less petrol vehicles and recycling projects.

I exhort all Church members to observe the day with seriousness and learn to go back to the nature. A simple, natural and unsophisticated lifestyle is the best cure for these maladies. Let us join our hands to save our planet. Let us all unite to combat climate change and make this planet a commodious dwelling place for the posterity. His Beatitude Metropolitan Paulose Mar Milithios, The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, (aka The Indian Orthodox Church), March 22, 2010

Q How is global climate change a result of greed and inequality? Q. What does it mean that we are in the midst of a climate emergency? Q. What might you do in your community to address climate change? Reflections


Thursday “Sub-Creators” in the Image of God April 9, 2020

We human beings… are called to continue and to extend the mystery of Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain. As Metropolitan John of Pergamon has affirmed, “the distinctive characteristic of the human is not so much that we are a logical animal, but rather that we are an animal that is creative.”

Endowed as we are with freedom and self-awareness, entrusted with the power of conscious choice – “sub-creators” formed in the image of God the Creator, living icons of the living God – we have the capacity not merely to manufacture or produce but to create, to set our personal seal upon the environment, to reveal new meanings within nature: in a word, to transfigure.

Through our creative powers, through science, technology, craftsmanship and art, we enlarge the radiance of the transfigured Christ, revealing in all material things the glory that is latent within them. That is precisely what we are seeking to achieve through all our ecological initiatives. HE Metropolitan Kalistos of Diokleia, Symposium on the Adriatic Sea, June 9, 2002

Q What does His Eminence mean by the concept of “Sub-Creators” Q. How may we reveal the glory latent within material nature? Q. How are these concepts part of the Church’s ecological initiatives? Reflection


Friday Our Huge Responsibility to Save our Planet April 10, 2020

In order to respect God’s creation we must become conscious that everything in the world belongs to God who created it. Consequently, we humans are under no circumstance proprietors of God’s creation, but people who accept his commandments, that is, the rules of His management.

Hence, we become conscious that we have a serious responsibility for environmental protection, which is associated directly with the respect, which we each and all owe to the Creator, that is, to God. Hence, the whole of creation, our planet and whatever exists on it, is God’s wider habitation…. Man, as an inseparable part of this habitation of God, must be protected in every way…. The same applies to every part of creation. In this way we show special reverence to the Creator.

Under no circumstances may man create an opposition with his environment; that is, the wider space of nature in which he lives. We must not fall victims to the new times where unfortunately many people from inhuman arrogance and the unacceptable issues of colonization and the inconceivable lack of control over the industrial revolution and the unjust exploitation of man towards his fellow human beings, see nature as their adversary and enemy which they should besiege, pillage, conquer and rudely rape, changing her… into a huge cemetery…. HB Patriarch Theodoros II, Pope of Alexandria and All-Africa, Alexandria, Egypt, September 8, 2012

Q Can you summarize human responsibility to God for the care of the earth? Q. What are consequences of failure to observe these responsibilities? Q. How are the duties of a custodian different from those of an owner? Reflection


Saturday Responsibility to Steward the World April 11, 2020

The world around us has changed. This is a simple, but true statement and it relates to a fact that cannot be denied. Advancements in medicine, science, and technology have reshaped how we live, work and interact in our daily reality; and in so many ways these advancements have benefitted and enhanced our earthly existence. However, we must acknowledge that they come with a cost.

As we look around us, we notice that the economic engines that drive our country, as well as the world economy, are causing a greater number of people to live in large urban areas, rather than rural locations where they lived in the past. These large concentrations of humanity result in people living farther away from the sources of their food, greater consumption of natural resources, and the build up of pollution of our land, water and air. Moreover, with the world population now topping seven billion, one must wonder how many people our planet can really sustain.

When we read the first and second chapters of Genesis, we see that the description of the earth is truly beautiful. This gift alone is reason enough for us to what to preserve what God has given to us, not to mention that it is the earth that sustains our physical needs. Beyond this, however, it is clear that God not only intended for us to be users of the planet, but He also bestowed on us the responsibility to be its stewards. HE Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Open letter, August 2019

Q How do the advancements in technology change our lives? Q. What is the difference between a user and a steward of the planet? Q. Is population an issue for Orthodox Christians? Q. Why? Reflection


Monday Our Spiritual and Religious Duty April 13, 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, Primate, Russian Orthodox Church Yalta, Russia, September 24, 1997

Q What does it mean to live on earth and care for the good of future neighbors? Q. Why is protecting God’s Creation our spiritual and religious duty? Q. How can we Orthodox work together in peace and harmony? Reflection


Tuesday Respect and Holy Regard for Animals April 14, 2020

For members of the Orthodox Church an icon is not to be regarded in isolation, simply as a picture on a religious subject…. Much more significant is the fact that an icon exists within a specific context. It is part of an act of prayer and worship, and divorced from that context, it ceases to be authentically an icon. The art of the icon is par excellence a liturgical art.

If Orthodox icons depict not only humans, but animals, does this not imply that the animals have an accepted place in our liturgical celebration and our dialogue with God? We do not forget that, when Jesus withdrew to pray for forty days in the wilderness, he had the animals as his companions: “He was with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13).

What the icon shows us – that the animals share in our prayer and worship – is confirmed by the prayer books used in the Orthodox Church. It is true that, when we look at the main act of worship, the Service of the Eucharist, we are at first disappointed; for in its two chief forms – the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and that of St Basil the Great – there are no direct references to the animal creation. Yet, when we pray “for the peace of the whole world,” this surely includes animals. As one commentator puts it, “We pray for the peace of the universe, not only for mankind, but for every creature, for animals and plants, for the stars and all of nature.” HE Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, Iasi, Romania, January, 2019

Q What does Orthodox theology tell us about respect for animals? Q. How are Christians supposed to view icons? Q. What do icons teach us about how to view the world? Reflection


Wednesday Living Simply April 15, 2020

Dear friends, If we do not live more simply, we cannot learn to share. And if we do not learn to share, then how can we expect to survive? This may be a fundamental religious and spiritual value. Yet it is also a fundamental ethical and existential principle.

Each of us is called to draw a distinction between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs. Greed and gratification reduce the world to a survival of the fittest; whereas generosity and gratitude transform the world into a community of sharing.

We are invited to pursue a way of sacrifice – not a sacrifice that is cheap, but a sacrifice that is costly. As King David once said: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing” (Second Samuel 24.24). We must be prepared to make sacrifices – material and financial – that are genuine and even painful. And in this regard, whether we like it or not, more is demanded from the rich than from the poor. HAH, Halki Theological School, June 18, 2012

Q How are sharing and survival connected? Q. Why is sacrifice a virtue? Q. How can sharing transform the world? Reflection


Thursday The Long Journey from the Head to the Heart April 16, 2020

Sacrifice is primarily a spiritual issue and less an economic one. Similarly, in speaking of the environmental crisis, we are referring to an issue that is not technological or political, but ethical. The real crisis lies not in the environment but in the human heart. The fundamental problem is to be found, not outside, but inside ourselves, not in the ecosystem, but in the way we think. Without a revolutionary change within ourselves, all our conservation projects will ultimately remain insufficient and ineffective.

We know what needs to be done and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done.

It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and it is an even longer journey from the heart to the hands. We … will explore ways and means to bridge the unacceptable gap between theory and practice, between ideas and life. HAH, Halki, Turkey, June 12, 2012

Q How is the real crisis of the environment primarily in the human heart? Q. What do the words “revolutionary change within ourselves” mean to you? Q. How do we in daily activity change the attitudes of our hearts and mind? Reflection


Friday The Transforming Blessing of the Holy Spirit April 17, 2020

Without the Holy Spirit:

God is far away,

Christ stays in the past,

The Gospel is a dead letter,

The Church is simply an organization,

Authority a matter of domination,

Mission a matter of propaganda,

Liturgy is no more than an evocation,

Christian living a slave morality.

But with the Holy Spirit:

The cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the Kingdom, The risen Christ is there,

The Gospel is the power of life,

The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,

Authority is a liberating service,

Mission is a Pentecost,

The liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,

Human action is deified.

HB Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim), Statement to the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Antiochian Orthodox Church, July 20, 1968

Q Why is the health and life of the Church dependent upon the Holy Spirit? Q. What is necessary for the Holy Spirit to enliven your own life? Q. How is our Lord Jesus Christ connected to the Holy Spirit? Reflection


Saturday The Order of All Things is Troubled April 18, 2020

The order of all things is troubled. Nature’s forces are explored and exploited in ways unsuitable to the harmony of the natural order. Nature is assaulted by human egocentric will. The uniqueness and sanctity of the human person is directly threatened. And all of humanity, coerced by the uncontrolled powers of haughty reason and the incurable weaknesses of moral and spiritual conduct, is moving along the precipitous edge of a yawning abyss.

In view of such changes and developments toward the unforeseeable future, it is necessary to seek out the prophetic charisma of the Church through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter of our life and of the entire world. Moreover, this, not in order for us to disclose whatever human beings may be planning, or to forecast their consequences or to make known what only God has established by His own authority (Acts 1.7).

Christian young people do not limit themselves to the claim of respect for human rights. They also advocate another aspect of what is right, namely, human responsibility and duty, for without the latter the former proves equally inhuman, as much as its violation does. They advocate, as well, the notion of justice as mercy and the restoration of all things to a condition of harmony, that is to say, the transcending of transactional justice with a justice that combines collectively all virtues. HAH, The Millennial Youth Conference, Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2000

Q How are the forces of nature being exploited? Q. Why is it necessary to seek out the prophetic charisma of the Church? Q. What is the role of Christian youth in the notion of “justice as mercy”? Reflection


Monday Christ Brings Healing to the World April 20, 2020

The Resurrection of Christ grants to faithful Christians the certainty – and to all humanity the possibility – of transcending the adverse consequences of natural calamity and spiritual perversity.

Nature rebels when the arrogant human mind endeavors to tame its boundless forces endowed by the Creator to its seemingly insignificant and inactive elements. In considering from a spiritual perspective the grievous natural phenomena that plague our planet repeatedly and successively in recent times, we acknowledge that these are inseparable from the spiritual and ethical deviation of humanity. The signs of this deviation – such as greed, avarice, and an insatiable desire for material wealth, alongside an indifference toward the poverty endured by so many as a result of the imbalanced affluence of the few – may not be clearly related to the natural occurrences in the eyes of scientists. Yet, for someone examining the matter spiritually, sin disturbs the harmony of spiritual and natural relations alike. For, there is a mystical connection between moral and natural evil; if we wish to be liberated from the latter, we must reject the former.

Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the new Adam and God, constitutes the model for the beneficial influence of a saint on the natural world. For Christ healed physical and spiritual illness, granting comfort and healing to all people, while at the same time bringing calm and peace to stormy seas, multiplying five loaves of bread to feed the five thousand, thereby combining the reconciliation of spiritual and natural harmony.

If we want to exert a positive impact on the current negative natural and political conditions of our world, then we have no other alternative than faith in the Risen Christ and fulfillment of his saving commandments. HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pascha Letter, 2011

Q How may humans enter into and participate in the transfiguration of the earth? Q. How is the earth defiled by human action? Q. How do we understand Jesus Christ as a model for our own lives? Reflection


Tuesday Reading the ‘Signs of the Times’ April 21, 2020

In many parts of the world, indigenous cultures have been undermined by seductive images from the supposedly civilized world, propagating the idea that happiness is only to be found in consuming more and more material products.

For better or worse, we are living in an age when the destinies of all human beings and all human communities are ever more closely intertwined. Patterns of behavior and consumption in one corner of the globe can affect the lives and livelihood of people who live at the other extremity of the earth.

This new proximity, this closeness, need not be a bad thing if we learn to read the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). To some degree, we are all drawn closer by a common experience of fear and suffering as the consequences of climate change are felt in different ways. At a time when climatic emergencies of many different kinds are affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, we have no moral choice but to “bear one another’s burdens” as the New Testament (Galatians 6:2) enjoins us. HAH, Ilulissat, Greenland, September 7, 2002

Q How have indigenous cultures been undermined by the modern world? Q. How is all human destiny intertwined in the current age? Q. What are the signs of our times? Reflection


Wednesday The Starting-Point for an Environmental Ethic 22/4/2020

The Orthodox Church assumes as its starting point for an environmental ethos the teaching of the Bible…. Let us concentrate on the biblical account of the relationship between humanity and the creation. The first noteworthy point is the restriction placed on the first-created not to consume a certain fruit.

Beyond serving as a basis for Christian asceticism, this commandment indicates environmental significance a the authority granted to humanity over nature is not absolute. While humanity was created to rule over earth, its rules are subject to restrictions ordained by the Creator. Trespassing against these rules results in fatal consequences. Today we witness death approaching because of trespassing against limits that God has placed on our proper use of creation.

A second point is that the gift of paradise to the first-created was accompanied by the commandment and responsibility of humanity “to work it and preserve it.” Working and preserving constitute an active responsibility. Therefore, any passivity or indifference toward environmental concerns cannot be regarded as proper.

A third point is that the consequences of the transgression of the first-created [the Fall] had cosmic implications, producing thorns and thistles in the environment. This rebellion incurred the corruption and destruction of the ecological balance, which continues to this day, whenever we violate the commandment of preservation and abstinence, proceeding instead to misuse and abuse of the earth.

Finally, we should observe that the Creator took special care during the great Flood, so that through Noah, the plants, the clean animals useful to humanity as well as the unclean ones that appeared of no consequence, should be preserved from extinction. This divine concern constitutes a vindication of our interest in the survival of those species that are vulnerable to extinction. HAH, Symposium of the Adriatic, June 6, 2002

Q What is the purpose of an environmental ethic? Q. How would you describe each of the biblical principles that HAH lists? Q. Can you name other biblical principles not listed in this collection? Reflection


Thursday Developing a Spiritual Worldview April 23, 2020

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 that 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?

It is not too late to respond. We can still steer the earth toward a suitable future for our children. But we can no longer afford to wait. Together with our political leaders we must act with urgency. Deadlines can no longer be postponed; indecision and inaction are not options. We have choices to make. The time to make a commitment to heal the earth is now. HE Archbishop Seraphim of Zimbabwe, On Global Disruption, June, 2014

Q What is a spiritual worldview? Q. Why is it essential to develop a spiritual worldview? Q. How are frugality, simplicity, humility, and respect involved? Reflection


Friday Developing a Spiritual Worldview April 24, 2020

Developing a Spiritual Worldview Dear friends, If we do not live more simply, we cannot learn to share. And if we do not learn to share, how can we expect to survive? This may be a fundamental religious and spiritual value. Yet it is also a fundamental ethical and existential principle.

Each of us is called to draw a distinction between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs. Greed and gratification reduce the world to a survival of the fittest; whereas generosity and gratitude transform the world into a community of sharing.

We are invited to pursue a way of sacrifice – not a sacrifice that is cheap, but a sacrifice that is costly. As King David once said: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24.24). We must be prepared to make sacrifices – material and financial – that are genuine and even painful. And in this regard, whether we like it or not, more is demanded from the rich than from the poor. HAH, Halki, Turkey, June 12, 2012

Q What is the difference between wants and needs? Q. Distinguish between cheap and costly sacrifice? Q. Which do you choose? Q. Why does HAH say we must be prepared to make sacrifices? Reflection


Saturday Conservation and Compassion April 25, 2020

There is a close link between the economy of the poor and the warming of our planet. Conservation and compassion are intimately connected. The web of life is a sacred gift of God ― ever so precious and ever so delicate. We must serve our neighbor and preserve our world with both humility and generosity, in a perspective of frugality and solidarity alike.

Faith communities must undoubtedly put their own houses in order; their adherents must embrace the urgency of the issue. This process has already begun, although it must be intensified. Religions realize the primacy of the need for a change deep within people’s hearts. They are also emphasizing the connection between spiritual commitment and moral ecological practice.

Faith communities are well-placed to take a long-term view of the world as God’s creation. In theological jargon, that is called “eschatology.” Moreover, we have been taught that we are judged on the choices we make. Our virtue can never be assessed in isolation from others, but is always measured in solidarity with the most vulnerable. Breaking the vicious circle of economic stagnation and ecological degradation is a choice, with which we are uniquely endowed at this crucial moment in the history of our planet. HAH, Address before the World Council of Churches, August 12, 2005

Q Is there a link between the economy of the poor and global warming? Q. How are spiritual commitment and moral ecological practice connected? Q. Why is solidarity with the most vulnerable virtuous? Reflection


Monday Man Made Disasters April 27, 2020

Man Made Disasters Man-made disasters, which have been assuming an increasingly menacing scope as civilization is developing, reflect what is happening inside the human soul. Without a profound spiritual analysis of the role Man plays in the Universe such disasters cannot be prevented. Many people have failed to learn the lessons of the Chernobyl catastrophe that mankind has been treating the land, water and air, and the entire environment merely as a consumer.

It is impossible and not worthwhile to try and stop the development of science and technology. But people will not be guaranteed against tragedies similar to the one that occurred twenty-five years ago if they do not learn to use the natural materials and the technical achievements of civilization wisely, with care for each other and everything God has created.

[Scientific and technological development] cannot be non-ethical. It must be combined with devotion to the eternal moral standards and the ideals of mutual respect and love. This is the guarantee of a worthy future for our people and the world as a whole. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All-Russia, “Chernobyl is God’s Punishment,” April 27, 2011

Q Why are man made disasters a reflection of the human soul? Q. How does the Chernobyl disaster exemplify seeing the environment as a consumer? Q. Why is scientific and technological development an ethical issue? Reflection


Tuesday All In the Same Boat April 28, 2020

In the Arctic, melting glaciers are threatening the way of life of traditional hunters. In our home region of southern Europe, we have seen an alarming combination of heat waves, drought, fires and also floods. Scientists inform us that these phenomena are connected.

When we visited Brazil last year, the region was still recovering from a highly unusual drought. Brazilian scientists told us that illegal deforestation was leading to a decrease in rainfall and making fires more common. Fires and deforestation in Brazil are among the many factors which are altering the climate, and hence the environment, here on the northern edge of the earth.

These linkages ought to bring home to every nation and every community how closely involved it is with every other nation and community. It should be more obvious now than ever that no state or ethnic group or economic class can hope to advance its own interests indefinitely at the expense of the remainder of mankind. To restate a simple truth which has guided all of our floating symposia on Religion, Science and the Environment, “we are all in the same boat.” HAH, Nuuk, Greenland, September 9, 2007

Q How are traditional ways of life being threatened? Q. Why are melting glaciers and droughts in Southern Europe related? Q. How can mankind advance it’s collective interests? Reflections


Wednesday A Grieving Earth April 29, 2020

The holy hymnographer Joseph presents the earth as grieving and protesting voicelessly for the many evils with which we burden her.

If this holy hymnographer thought back then that the pollution of earth by humankind would cause the wrath of God today, humanity in its entirety should all the more realize our ultimate destructive behavior against the creation of God.

Certainly, the earth was created well-equipped to offer shelter to the human beings and was ordered by God to cover their needs. However, we do not draw from earth’s resources what we need in moderation, so that we allow its productive ability to remain sound and intact; instead we are depleting her natural resources.

The aforementioned holy hymnographer Joseph personifies earth, which, addressing man, complains that the Master of humankind and God whips her instead of him, for God wants to spare the human being; the earth, however, bemoans her suffering due to humankind’s mistakes and cries to people: “Come to your senses and appease God in repentance.” HAH, Day of Prayer for Creation, September 1, 2005

Q Why is the earth grieving and protesting? Q. Why is it important to preserve the productive ability of the earth? Q. How do human being come to their senses? Reflection


Thursday A Lost Identity April 30, 2020

We as Christians, taught by the Holy Tradition and by the experience of the Holy Church Fathers, link always the mentioned theme with the need of repentance because when man fell, due to his sin, he lost his identity. Because of his tendency toward transgression, man became weak and cannot find in himself strength to go back to his Creator. Man accepts God’s love and becomes a being of communication, a being as communion, improving, with alI the Saints, his God-likeness.

So man becomes the custodian of the creation which is created by the will of God for the only reason – to become one in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1, 22-23; 4,15).

The human being is called to protect the work of God’s hands because the deeds of God protect [nurture] him. The creation needs for its existence God, as it cannot exist by itself. Man is searching for eternity and he is determined to care for the conjunction of unity and differences. Love disables divisions, while the Spirit assembles all. His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej, Metropolitan of Belgrade and All-Serbia, Serbian Orthodox Church, August 31, 2012

Q How is the fall related to environmental destruction? Q. Why are human beings the protector of God’s works? Q. How can man reclaim his lost identity? Reflection


Friday Reuniting the Universe Under Jesus Christ May 1, 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 in 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? Q. What is the ‘Logos,’ referring to what HB calls the Incarnation of the Word? Q. How does this relate to the created world? Reflection

Call for the United Nations to take Decisive Action to Prevent Further Pandemics

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:

Subject: Call for the United Nations to take Decisive Action to Prevent Further Pandemics
To: <>
Cc: <>, Iyad Abu Moghli <>

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:

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.

Yours sincerely,

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

Free Humane Education: Rekindling the spirit of care and respect for life

This free offer/download, comes from our friends at The Humane Education Trust in partnership with Animal Voice South Africa.

As many parents have now home teaching their children this may be of use


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For more info about what we do please visit our website at

The Desert Tradition and the Natural Environment – John Chryssavgis

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.[1] 

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.

[1] 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

Creation Care: Christian Responsibility Course

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.


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.




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.[1]

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”[2] 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.[3] 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.”[4]

Knight (2017) observes that this has developed into an understanding that “everything is in God.”[5]

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.[6]

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.

Discussion points:

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. 

5 Panentheism.

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: 

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. 


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

Discussion points:

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. 


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

Discussion points:

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.


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.

Discussion points:

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: http:/ 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. 


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

Discussion points:

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

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


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.

Discussion points:

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 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


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.

Discussion points:

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.

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.

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’

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 (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.


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 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.

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:


Ware, K. Met. 2019 ‘Compassion for Animals in the Orthodox Church.’ Available at:

Further videos are to be added.

The Traditional Christian Fast

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.

Anestis Keselopoulos

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.

 Additional Information

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.”

A Course of Daily Theological Reflection on Christian Responsibility for the Care and Keeping of God’s Creation

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:

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.


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



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

Government extends consultation on hunting trophy ban

  • 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.

Climate change food calculator: What’s your diet’s carbon footprint?

By Nassos Stylianou, Clara Guibourg and Helen BriggsBBC News

  • First published on 9 August 2019
Illustration for calculator on environmental impact of different foods

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.

Presentational grey line

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.

Chart: A quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food

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.

Chart showing the climate impacts of different foods: Beef has the highest carbon footprint, but the same food can have very different impacts

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.

Chart: The climate impact of beef production is highest in Latin America

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.

Seeing the Forest For the Trees: The Meaning and Message of Forests and Trees in the Christian Tradition

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.

Appetite for ‘warm meat’ drives risk of disease in Hong Kong and China

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.

Food for sale at a food market in Sichuan.
 ‘Wet’ markets are a huge part of life in China but have been linked to disease outbreaks. Photograph: Alamy

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 poulterer carries chicken at the market, in Xizhou, Yunnan, China.
 ‘It is an important thing for the older generation to go to the wet market and chat’ – Prof Dirk Pfeiffer. Photograph: Alamy

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.

Pigs about to be buried alive in a pit after an outbreak of African swine fever in Guangxi, in February 2019.
 Pigs about to be buried alive in a pit after an outbreak of African swine fever in Guangxi in February 2019. Photograph: Reuters

“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.

What should we do about zoos?

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.

Aquarium in Dubai
 David Attenborough argues that aquariums, such as this one in Dubai, are more successful than zoos at conserving species in captivity. Photograph: John Kellerman/Alamy Stock Photo

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.”

Damian Aspinall
 Damian Aspinall, chairman of the Aspinall Foundation, plans to close the charity’s zoos. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

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 camel enclosure at Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in 1835.
 The camel enclosure at Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in 1835. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

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.

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.