The Crisis of Modernity and the Climate Crisis

This statement was made by the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irene in Sep 2020.

Modernity confronts us with many dilemmas. Man must answer challenges, and not
only those for which his teachers in his educational-upbringing process prepared
him, but also totally new and different problems that life places before us. And it has
always been so. Sociologists, pedagogues and culturologists generally agree that
today’s world is changing at a significantly faster pace than ever before. The
technological progress and social innovations of the 20th century have transformed
the world much faster than, for instance, the entire process of development during
medieval times. This process is characterized by a loss of values. Today’s world
functions as a marketplace, meaning that the market economy principle is seeking to
impose itself as the general norm.

The person is the central notion of Christianity: the person is the measure of all
values because it expresses the very designation of the human being, its possibility
and its goal to be in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1,26). To be sure, the
concept of person is not only a Christian category: more precisely, it is possible to
also find it in other theological conceptions. Nevertheless, only Christianity has
produced an integral ontology of personality and established a corresponding
personal pedagogy on its basis. It should be seen as the living experience of the
Church, founded in Christ’s Theandric personality. In that way – through an
Christological steadfastness of being and faith – as partakers in the new soteriological
existence of Redemption and Integration we can meet the challenges of modernity.

But, egotism encourages us to view the world as an opportunity for acquisition
and enjoyment. At every Divine Liturgy, St. John Chrysostom reminds us to
“commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.” A Man
who is captive of egotism is not able to build the right relationship either with God or
with other people: “when there is a feeling of higher worth, it does not only damage
relations between people, it clouds the relationship with God… egotism undermines
all life, which is why it is worth applying oneself towards its eradication.” That is
why the entire Liturgy is one great reminder to overcome our own “I” in order to
achieve communion in the life of the New Creation, in the future Kingdom.

Where must we live in the contemporary world? Only in the place where truth
resides – in Christ’s Church, in its dogmas and its worldview that is, before all –
liturgical. Truly, as a cosmic event, Liturgy cannot “fail” to witness to the world its
true designation in communion with God.

The Church has never avoided facing the crisis of the world that it is supposed
to change, due to its experiential knowledge that crisis – is the ontological state of
the world until Christ’s Second Coming. There is no other world than the “world in
crisis”; it is a world that the Church loves, that it does not anathematize for its
sinfulness but, rather, lavishes it with “works of love in Truth.”

Respected theologians of the Serbian Orthodox Church began to raise serious
concerns about environmental crisis and urgent problems of global warming, floods,
risk of forest fires, sea pollution from plastics, climate changes, etc. Pastors and
theologians of the Church, as well as Christians in general, have always erred, missed
and betrayed their ecclesial task whenever they argued and matched wits with “this
world” and their epoch using methods and arguments of “religious reason,” straining
to prove the world’s sinfulness and condemning it, from the heights of their supposed
“salvation,” to eternal perdition while, in fact, completely and irresponsibly
abandoning it to the power of anthropolatric ideologies and manipulations. And, on
the other hand, Church pastors and theologians have always triumphed over the
world and won it over for Christ’s “easy yoke” (Matthew 11,30) whenever they have
witnessed to it Christ’s Love for the life of the world, liturgical love and sacrifice “in
all and for all.”

What is expected of contemporary Christians, as members of Christ’s Church,
is neither aloof diagnosing of spiritual “illness” nor pronouncements of the “ruination
of the world,” nor panicked anathematizing of “this world” and its apostatic
modernity, but a responsible witnessing of the Truth of God-Man Christ, and an
unmasking of all the anthropolatric ideologies, falsities, misconceptions and
injustices through the love of Christ. The basis of Christian witnessing in the modern
world must be a liturgical love for that world, a love prepared to sacrifice for the life
of the world, instead of a dualistic puritanism that, from the heights of its righteous
self-satisfaction, abhors the “world (that) lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5,19) and
anathematizes it, hating, along with sin, the sinners themselves, contrary to the
example of Christ, Who came into the world for the sake of the sinners, to call them
to repentance (cf. Matthew 9,12-13).

The loss of the Christian experience of life, worldview, criterion of everything
and value system is the mark of the modern fall of the “Christian historical world.” After twenty centuries of her baptismal-resurrectional history, the Church finds
herself once again in a situation of existing in a world that is no longer “hers,” that is
no longer a Christian world, that defines itself as a “post-Christian” world, a “world
after Christianity,” a world that no longer bases itself on Christian foundations and
assumptions, that is either indifferent or openly rejects the Christian theory and
practice of life, thought and action, i.e., Christianity as a whole, together with its
theology and anthropology, ontology, ethics and esthetics, cosmology and ecology.
We have a crucial role as Orthodox Church in encouraging the world’s response to
the climate and ecological crisis through Church as Body of Christ. We give a clear
message for Orthodox climate leadership, focusing primarily on the Balkan Peninsula
and Mediterranean, which is facing mounting challenges caused or exacerbated by
climate change and the broader environmental crisis.

The experience of the entire creation (the World) as Home, is possible
exclusively and solely from that which is the Wholeness of Heaven and earth, history
and the Eschaton – from the Body of Christ and in the Body of Christ, Christ’s
Church, which is larger and higher and more encompassing than the world, “which
surpasses Heaven itself,” which contains within herself not only the entire cosmos,
not only the visible but also the invisible world, “all worlds” “life, immortality and
eternity, and theandricity.” That is because graceful ascetic knowledge of God is the
source of all other human knowledge – self-knowledge (anthropology) as well as
knowledge of the world (cosmology, ecology).

The ascetic experience of the Fathers, i.e., the “renunciation of the (fallen)
world,” commanded by the God-Man Christ Himself (“If any man will come after
Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me…” (Matthew 16,24),
“lies in the very nature of the Christian philosophy of life and means a radical change
of relationship with the world and with oneself, and a change of the way of life,
behind which lies a demand for freedom that only the Holy Spirit can grant.”
Let us all recall the commands of God regarding our use of the earth as Our
Home. Let us respond to the divine commandments so that the blessings of God may
be abundantly upon us in Liturgy and prayers. And let us responsibly discern the
right, holy and proper way to live in this time of change and challenge, as a life in
Church as a Body of Christ.

Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej (†)

Belgrade, Serbia
September 2020