This is a shortened version of a text written by sisters at Annunciation Monastery at Ormylia in Greece, a monastery re-introducing organic farming methods in a region badly damaged by agricultural pesticides. The booklet includes a message from the former Patriarch of Constamntinople, Dimitrios. and details about the project being launched at Ormylia. It is available without charge from World Wide Fund for Nature, Ave. du Mont Blanc, 1196 Gland, Switzerland. The icon — part of sequence on the seven days of creation — is a mosaic at the cathedral of Monreal, Sicily. More
by Catherine Frye
Down through the centuries Orthodox Christians have fed the hungry, provided shelter for the homeless and cared for those who have need. While these traditional ministries are forever important, a deteriorating environment may threaten the ability of mankind to sustain life as we know it. Caring for the environment now becomes an additional way that we care for our neighbors – those near us in our communities as well as those in future generations.
If we are going to be responsible stewards of God’s creation, as the Scriptures and the Fathers command, we have to reach into our holy Orthodox tradition and discern how the principles in our faith address a variety of new predicaments. Solar power is one way that we can do this. Like “new wine out of old wineskins,” clean solar power allows us to fuel our needs for energy without harming our neighbors. Fr. Lawrence Margitich, pastor at Protection of the Holy Virgin-St. Seraphim of Sarov Church, a parish of the Diocese of the West for the Orthodox Church in America, describes how his parish addressed its need for energy.
“Almost every Church community, particularly small Orthodox parishes,” he says, “struggles to balance expenses and income. A large part of annual expenses are the utilities, the costs of gas and electricity. Parishes in cold climates obviously have a problem with this expense.
“Here in Santa Rosa, California, we felt that utility costs, even in our temperate climate, were too much. We worried about this aspect of the yearly budget for years, but felt helpless. Not only did we have this large expense, but we knew that burning oil and gas contribute to pollution.
“Thanks to the providence and good will of God, a solution came to us to solve these worries. We have in our parish community a chemical engineer, Christopher Frye, whose company, Alternative Energy, installs electrical solar panels. “Chris came to me with the idea that the parish could install solar panels to supply its electrical needs. He explained that with a solar electrical system, our parish would use renewable green energy, rather than energy from fossil fuel pollutants.
“It quickly became clear to me and to members of the Parish Council that by using clean solar power, our parish would not only practice Orthodoxy in our faith, worship, and relationships with God and man, but also in our relationships to the world. We would have an environmental Orthopraxy!
“It is fitting then that the Orthodox Church take the lead in our community by setting an example that will show the way for society. Solar energy turned out to be a wonderful way to accomplish this. We live in a culture that is excessively dependent upon hydrocarbon resources, primarily petroleum. By replacing hydrocarbons with photovoltaics, we are reducing greenhouse emissions and other toxics that pollute the air and water.”
Parishioners were enthused with idea. Laurel Counts, parish bookkeeper, says, “I thought it was a great idea from the beginning. Financially, ecologically, economically, also spiritually, this was the right choice.”
Seraphim Strobel, a petroleum exploration engineer, observed that with the parish using solar power, our parish will operate in ways that honor God by respecting what He has created.
Fr. Lawrence, reflecting further, added, “Isn’t it true, we thought, that any Orthodox parish or monastery ought to tend its landscape and grounds in order to make it beautiful, to shape it into a garden, as a humble icon of God’s Paradise? You may ask, ‘But are solar panels beautiful?’ I would say yes. “For some people four rows of solar panels are not the most beautiful sight to see, although they do occupy a portion of our parish’s five acres that is not all that visible. But for others, our solar panels represent a clear commitment to avoiding fossil fuels.
“In that sense, it is a pleasure to see these beautiful technological components in our field. Had we not enough ground area, the panels could easily have been mounted on the roof.
“The savings gained by using green energy are substantial – over thirty years we expect to save $500,000 in utility expense. That figure is calculated using current costs, though it is likely that natural gas prices will rise in the years to come.” “This was a wise, long term decision for our parish,” added Laurel Counts, “but each parish should investigate the short term expenses. What struck me afterwards about our installation of solar power is that it gave me a surprising sense of greater integrity. That makes me feel very good about our parish.”
Seraphim Strobel added, “The sun will shine until the end of days, but as a petroleum exploration engineer, I know that petroleum resources will be exhausted within the lifetime of our grandchildren. One of the most loving things that we can do for them and for generations still to come is to develop these alternative energy resources now.”
Should your parish install solar power?
Chris Frye, owner of Alternative Energy, suggests that if a parish is interested in installing solar power, it should start by appointing a technically-qualified church member to serve as a coordinator. The coordinator can contact several qualified companies to receive bids. Ask the bidders if some tasks can be conducted by parishioners which could lower their price. At St. Seraphim’s, trenching and other non-technical tasks were performed by church members. This reduced the installation costs substantially.
Let the various bidders suggest sizes, design, placement and types of equipment. With any con- tractor check references, state records, and ask to see other solar installations that they have installed in your area.
Have the last twelve utility bills available for each bidder to review so they can quote a system appropriate for your parish energy needs. If future expansion is planned, this should be communicated to the bidders. Evaluate the bids on price and technical quality. As with all trades, the cheapest bid may not be the most cost-effective bid. There are some very creative financing projects suitable for church non-profits. Some programs may require only a small payment followed by an agreement to purchase the power generated by the solar panels.
Solar panels can be mounted on either roofs or the ground. They can form a roof for parking structures, car ports, patio covers or arbors. Any new structures being built on church properties can have solar panels designed into them at the architectural stage resulting in an attractive and efficient installation.
Along with installing solar panels an evaluation of existing appliances should be considered. At St. Seraphim we were able to install an excess of solar panels so changing from gas-fired to electric-powered appliances makes economic sense. Water heating, space-heating and some cooking can be done with electrical appliances thus reducing your natural gas or propane costs.
At St. Seraphim, we cover 100 percent of our electric bill, and this save us over $1,000 per month. We hope to further reduce our natural gas bill by replacing a boiler used for radiant heating with an electric unit. Additionally, as other water heaters reach the end of their useful life they will be replaced with electric units. Even with a planned expansion of the parish hall, we expect our electric demand to be met with our solar array.
Although solar power is becoming more common, local media may provide some publicity should a church install solar panels. For an Orthodox parish, installing solar panels can call peoples’ attention to what is usually the low-key presence most Orthodox churches have within a community.
Being good stewards of the planet is clearly mandated in Holy Scripture. As we use systems that are benign and harmless in their impact upon the larger community, we serve God by restraining from the harm which commercial electricity does to our neighbors and all the earth.
Catherine Frye is a member of St. Seraphim’s Orthodox Church (OCA) in Santa Rosa, California and President of Alternative Energy. See her website at http://www.SolarSonoma.com. If your parish needs additional help in turning to solar power, contact the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration. This organization is endorsed by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America and offers parishes and individuals information and materials on an Orthodox view of environmental issues. Write them at The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration, 887 Sebastopol Road, Suite A, Santa Rosa, CA 95407. E-mail: [email protected] Membership is $25 per year.
In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007
by Fr. John Jillions
Concern for the environment has become such a standard topic of daily life that many have become bored with the subject. Despite the best efforts of Patriarch Bartholomeos, now known among environmentalists as “the green patriarch,” it is difficult to find much sustained grass-roots enthusiasm among the Orthodox for environmental issues. After all, is anyone against protecting the environment? Add to this the scientific and political complexities that beset environmental policy-making, and the tendency of most Orthodox to focus on personal spirituality rather than social and ethical issues, it is not surprising that the environment is not high on the agenda of most Orthodox. But the question of our relation to the natural world goes much deeper than the used of plastic coffee cups, recycling and international summits.
Our attitudes to nature and what is “natural” affect our decisions on a host of issues. For example, when should we allow nature to “take its course” and when should we intervene to prevent it from doing so? Is the world of nature the ideal from which all other life has fallen? Should we be striving for a return to nature and natural living? And what exactly is “natural living”? Is an agrarian life far from the hustle and bustle of the city the one most suited to living the Gospel?
Looking at the issue of how we relate to the natural environment raises the question of how I view what is mine or not mine and my responsibilities toward each. How do I relate to the world beyond my own front door? Many people spend great efforts and money in beautifying their own home, but have little or no sense of personal responsibility for the surrounding neighborhood because it’s “not mine.” On a wider scale, this may mean communities of people, indeed entire countries, with little sense of civic responsibility for maintaining or beautifying the larger community beyond the borders of “mine” or “ours.”
More deeply still, what we think is “natural” affects what we think should be left alone or changed, and our willingness or unwillingness to take steps to make changes. If we view all events as “natural,” we might adopt a fatalistic attitude that is sometimes characteristic of the East. Whatever happens is “natural,” in God’s hands alone, so there is little point in taking action. Each and every tragedy can be met with a shrug of the shoulders and a “that’s life” attitude. The human being is minimally responsible. At the other extreme, if we take a high view of human intervention, we may be convinced that there is almost always something we can do — or should be able to do as science advances — to control nature. According to this latter view, the human being is maximally responsible, except for those rare cataclysmic events which are entirely beyond his control and thus labeled by the insurance industry as “acts of God.”
For Christians the first place to go to begin to look for answers to these questions is to the person of Jesus. His approach to the natural world gives important guideposts for a Christian response.
In the Gospels we most often encounter people who are thoroughly familiar with country ways. The images Jesus uses in his parables and are for the most part from the natural world, although he never once uses the word “nature.” And mostly he refers to agriculture rather than nature in the wild.
Yet in one of his few sayings about nature as such Jesus says there is no human glory that can begin to match the wonder of the created world: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Mt 6:28-29)
Jesus spent much time out of doors. Gospel texts reveal that he noticed what was going on around him in the natural world, reflected upon it, and had great affection for it. If we take for example just the first chapter of Mark, we have references to the various natural settings that were so familiar to Jesus.
Nazareth, where he grew up, in the hills of Galilee. The most famous of Jesus’ teaching takes place in the mountains, “the Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5-7). Jesus often withdrew to a hill or mountain to pray alone or with his disciples, and it was in the mountains that Jesus would have seen shepherds guiding their sheep on narrow mountain paths, carrying the lambs in their arms, chasing away wolves. It was in the mountains that Jesus appointed the twelve (Mk 3:13), a mountain was the site of the Transfiguration, and his favorite place in Jerusalem was outdoors on the Mount of Olives, where he often sat, taught or prayed, outside the walls of the city opposite the Temple. Here too was the garden of Gethsemani. It was also on a mountain in Galilee that the risen Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19)
The wilderness around the Jordan river where John was living and baptizing and where Jesus spent forty days being tempted by Satan (Mk 1:9-12). But there was also consolation in the midst of temptation, for “he was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.” (Mk 1:13)
The Sea of Galilee (Mk 1:16) where time and again we find him teaching on the shore (or out of a boat) or getting into a boat and crossing again to the other side (e.g. Mk 5:21). Here is the setting for his call of the first disciples, the fishermen. Here also — in the Gospel of John — is where the risen Jesus meets for the last time with his disciples as they are fishing, where he makes a fire, cooks them a breakfast of fresh fish, talks with them on the shore and tells Peter, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17). And it was a storm on the Sea of Galilee that so frightened the disciples, which Jesus calmed with a word, so that they wondered “who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him.” (Mk 4:41)
The countryside (Mk 1:45): so many people flocked to Jesus for healing that the Gospel of Mark says he “could no longer enter a town, but was out in the country, though even there, “people came to him from every quarter.” (Mk 1:45) Out in the countryside, walking past the fields and farms of Palestine Jesus picked up many of the images that would re-appear in his teaching: the sower going out to sow his seed (Mk 4:3ff), the fields ripe for harvest (Mk 4:29), the vineyard, (Mk 12:1 ff) and fig trees (Mk 13:28ff).
Jesus was immersed in the natural world. But we should not romanticize this. He also spent much of his time confronting a natural world gone wrong. The first chapter of Mark also shows this darker side of nature. A madman shouting and convulsing in the synagogue (Mk 1:23ff); Peter’s mother-in-law lying sick with a fever (Mk 1:30-31); a leper who begs to be healed (Mk 1:40ff); crowds coming to Jesus with their diseased and demented (Mk 1:32-34).
The wonder of the natural world remains more glorious than Solomon, but in Jesus we find no idolizing of nature. For all the matchless glory of creation, the Father cares infinitely more for the human beings he created. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt 6:26) This immediately puts the Christian view of creation and the natural world at odds with much of secular environmentalism for which human beings are just another species. For Christians, human beings are the summit of the creation and have a unique role of care and oversight. More than that, the destiny of creation is mysteriously linked to human beings, such that St Paul can say, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we await for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:22-23) Jesus is less concerned about nature than about the redemption of the human race, through which the rest of creation will also end its “groaning.” Jesus does not see a natural world independent of the human world.
Perhaps this is why the most frequent analogies Jesus makes to the natural world are from farming, fishing, vineyards and shepherds: human beings working together with nature, transforming the raw materials of nature into food and drink and clothing. The images Jesus uses are dominated by a picture of the environment that shows human beings using, domesticating and cultivating nature for their own use: mustard seed, yeast, bread, sowing and seeds, vineyards and vines, new and old wine, sheep and goats, the good shepherd, the sheepfold, the flock, weeds among the wheat, fishermen, a net full of fish.
The natural world into which Jesus comes is not the world as it was in the beginning when all was “very good.” Although there is a theological debate as to whether the first creation was truly perfect or only potentially perfect (with Church Fathers of differing views), it is clear that much has gone wrong in the natural world. The desert, for example, is seen as a forbidding, hostile place, the dwelling place of Satan, the personification of all that is destructive and diseased and opposed to God’s purposes in creation. Yet it precisely to the desert that Jesus goes first before beginning his public ministry. All that now keeps the creation groaning is part of the “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21) which we see in the natural world as a kind of infection that St. Paul calls “the mystery of lawlessness.” (2 Th 2:7) In this sense the natural world is no longer pure and therefore is no longer natural. Here too the Christian view of the environment must differ from secular environmentalists. Jesus never accepts the world as it is as the “natural” world for he never accepts sickness and death as “natural.” At the tomb of Lazarus he does not tell Martha and Mary that the sickness, suffering and death of their brother Lazarus was “natural.” No, he weeps at the tomb because all of this is a terrible deformation of God’s creation. And most people, regardless of their view of Jesus, share his view of death. They weep, because something deep within them protests at the loss and says this ought not to be.
The natural world continues to be a place of ambivalence. On the one hand it refreshes body and soul. Indeed, an article on pastoral life published in the
Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1970s recommended long walks in parks and countryside as an essential ingredient for a priest’s spiritual health! At the same time the natural world is a source of suffering and disease and we look forward to the time when “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) We look forward to a “new heaven and a new earth.” (Rev 21:1)
Yet it is significant that the New Testament’s final image of the Kingdom is no rural idyll but a bustling city. The kingdom of God is the “new Jerusalem.” (Rev 21:2) This is all the more striking because the city of Jerusalem was such a troubling place for Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:38) He was persecuted in the city and stayed away for long periods of time and his disciples were afraid of returning. And their fears were proved right. After a brief triumphal entry, the city becomes the setting for Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trials, torture and crucifixion.
But the city was also the place of Christ’s resurrection, where as Risen Lord he first appeared to his disciples, where he told the disciples to remain “until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)
None of us is unfamiliar with the temptations and irritations of cities with their congestion, traffic, crowds, stress, pollution, politics, corruption and crime. But throughout history cities have always been the centers of civilization and culture. The city, like the natural world, needs to be transfigured and redeemed, not abandoned. And the new Jerusalem is the image of the redeemed city, of redeemed human culture, the holy city where there is no mourning, nor crying nor pain (Rev 21:4). In this new Jerusalem, the city is not cut off from nature, for the river of the water of life runs through its main street, and the tree of life grows on either side, “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22:1-2)
Fr. John Jillions is Principal of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge. For information about the Institute, visit their web site: www.iocs.cam.ac.uk.