The ecological problem is fundamentally a spiritual problem

Following on from the last post on St Isaac’s teaching on a compassionate heart, here is further commentary from HE Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, made on World Environment Day, June 4th 2019.

“The ecological problem is fundamentally a spiritual problem”

“47 years have passed since June 5, 1971, when work began for the first World Environment Day in Stockholm, as part of the United Nations consultation. For the first time, the political, social, and economic dimensions of the ecological problem were discussed, with the aim of taking corrective measures. Since then, June 4 has been set as a World Day for awareness and information on environmental issues.

Every year, on this day, we say that we “celebrate the environment!” However, this expression shows that for many, after so many years, ignorance and indifference still exist in the area of environment. Because it is not a celebration, but a day of reflection and taking stock of the efforts made to protect creation. It is a decisive day for the renewal of the fight for the salvation of our house, which was offered to us by the Creator, our planet Earth.

I have many times expressed the opinion that quite often, the discussions and the demonstrations on this subject are reminiscent of dialogues of the deaf. While in theory, all of us perceive the critical state of the issue and many do take initiatives or strive eagerly to contribute to its resolution, the problem remains and has not been corrected. 

But above all things, we must be led to the true knowledge of ourselves, in order to correctly interpret the word and the blessing of God given to the first created beings, with regard to creation and environment: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28).

The world is not the result of coincidences or accidental necessities, but is was conceived by the Creator as a springboard for salvation. We human beings have, or at least say we have, a regulatory role in creation, as its crowning. However, we often forget our relationship with God and our place in creation. We become autonomous, guided by dominating concepts and behaviors, which are oppressing towards our fellow beings and the environment.

The saints of the Orthodox Church, having accomplished the purpose of their existence as human beings and participating in the divine glory, show and teach us ecological idea. Thus St. Isaac the Syrian defines the merciful heart as “a heart burning for the whole creation, for people, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for all creatures.” As for Saint Cosmas of Aetolia, he prophesied that “people will become poor because they will not love trees.”

Therefore, the ecological problem is fundamentally a spiritual problem, with enormous moral dimensions. If we do not free ourselves from egocentrism and eudemonism, if we do not have an ascetic vision of creation and of our rational and conscious use of material goods and wealth, the ecological problem will spread, instead of being stopped. This is why the fundamental challenge of World Environment Day is for all to repent, to return to God the Creator, and to reintegrate ourselves in the perspective of the divine plan for creation and the environment.”