The first teaching given to us in writing is, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” and all the other statements about creation. By faith we understand that the ages were brought to completion by the word of God so that what is seen might be made from what is invisible (Hebrews 11:3): the body’s eye did not recognize the God of all as creator; instead, faith instructed us that God, who has always existed, created what did not exist. There is, after all, no example of this among human beings; yet though learning nothing of the kind from nature, we have in faith a teacher of the unexpected. Human beings, of course, make something out of something, whereas the God of all produced what exists out of nothing.
The bee is the worship of God (St Macarius, d. 392AD)
I have posted several accounts about bees through the years, noting how bees are kept in high regard by many spiritual writers in the Orthodox tradition (see for example:
“Let your works form as it were a honeycomb of sweetness, for virginity deserves to be compared to bees, being so industrious, so modest, so self-controlled. The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage bed, it forms honey. The dew of the virgin is the divine utterance – because the words of God descend like dew. …. Daughter, how I wish you to be an imitator of this little bee whose food is the flower, whose offspring is gathered by mouth and formed by mouth. Imitate it, daughter.” (St Ambrose of Milan (d. 397AD), EARLY CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, pp 93-94)
Bees are used as models of virtue, inspiring us to good behavior. They are used to teach about the spiritual life, sometimes allegorized to make specific points to help us understand the world as Christians. They are used to explain the mysteries of God’s own activity in our lives. Usually it is the honey bee (apis mellifera) that is being mentioned in these Orthodox writings, but my posts have photos of all kinds of bees, just because I like the bees in general. The honey bee has been domesticated by humans since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. It is the only insect I know for which there are specific Orthodox prayers asking God to bless them and their hives.
The brother inquired again, “Tell me about constancy in God, my father.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is like the honeybee flying in the midst of the green plants and the flowers of the field, sucking honey until it fills its hive with what it has gathered: unless someone smokes out the hive, it cannot be robbed of its sweetness.” The brother said to him, “What is the smoke and what is the sweetness, my father?” The old man said to him, “Acts of fornication and defilements and abominations and pollutions and envious thoughts and hatreds and vain imaginings and the remaining pleasures: these are the smoke. The flowers on the other hand are the virtues;
the bee is the worship of God; the hive is the heart; the sweetness itself is our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the person who shows constancy and who fills his soul with all the virtues and with all purity is the one who demonstrates constancy in God. Go, my child.” (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 2409-2418)
A Syrian monk of the 4th Century writes:
“Like a bee that secretly fashions its comb in the hive, so also grace secretly forms in hearts its own love. It changes to sweetness what is bitter, what is rough into that which is smooth.” (PSEUDO-MACARIUS: THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 132)
“Look at the bee, how diligently it labors! It gives of itself without reserve, unsparingly. The lifespan of a bee is a month and a half at the most. It often dies working without going back to its home, the hive. And we? How we pity ourselves and spare ourselves! . . . we give up immediately if things do not go the way we want them to!” (Elder Thaddeus, OUR THOUGHTS DETERMINE OUR LIVES, p 90)
You can find other of my bee photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/ Search for bees or bee and click on Search Photos.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. (Psalms 33:6)
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalms 19:1)
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. (Habakkuk 3:3)
One of the most wonderful things to contemplate from the Scriptures are relationships. We have of course the mysterious relationship between Creator and creation. Then within the Godhead there is the relationship of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of the Persons of the Trinity has a relationship with creation. In Genesis 1:1-3, the Spirit (the Breath of God) hovers over the face of the earth and when God speaks the Word (the Son of God), Light comes into existence, but not the light of the sun which does not yet exist.
“It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth . . .” (Exodus 31:17)
Then there is the relationship between heaven and earth and the relationship of both heaven and earth to the Creator. Heaven is the mysterious abode of God, and yet it is related to the rest of creation, all of it together is “not God” but created by God. According to Christ, “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35), they are not eternal and yet God the Eternal One fills them with His glory and becomes united to them. Heaven and earth are both dwelling places. Dwellings are temporary places, and yet significant to our eternal God. We see the mystery in these two statements by father and son. King David declares part of the wonder and glory of God on earth, while his son Solomon realizes the inadequacy of the earth for fulfilling its role.
King David says: “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” (Psalms 26:8)
King Solomon says: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
The exact relationship of God the Creator to God’s own creation defies easy explanation and yet we still can experience it, as we sing in the Liturgy:
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. “
Heaven and earth, though created, are full of God’s glory. Both heaven and earth are full of God’s glory and both proclaim God’s glory to all beings who are capable of hearing and seeing.
Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24)
Not only does God’s glory fill heaven and earth, the Lord God fills heaven and earth. God’s glory is not something other than God. Creation, that which is “not God” is filled by God’s glory by God’s existence. The relationship between God and that which is “not God” is a mystery indeed. For how can God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) fill the heaven and earth which are created and circumscribed by God? We are in God and God is in us! A relationship fully exemplified by Mary the Theotokos. Mary like Christ, each in their own way, personify the mystery of the interpenetration of Creator and creation.
Then we have St Irenaeus saying: “The glory (shekinah) of God is a human being fully alive.” So how can heaven and earth be full of a human being? The mystery deepens for it is Christ as the incarnate God who fills the universe with Himself. So St Paul can write: “and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.” Christ fills not only the entire universe but each of us.
all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD (Numbers 14:21)
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen. (Psalms 72:19)
Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:2-3)
Our very existence makes us part of the mystery of God’s own relationship with all of creation. We experience the glory of God, perhaps most intently and clearly in the Liturgy, but that should open our eyes to seeing God’s glory in all of creation including in our fellow human beings. It is also why the Fall, sin and the fallen world are so painful to us for they obscure the glory of God reducing everything to mere materiality void of its natural spirituality.
Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chronicles 29:11)
An After Dinner Thanksgiving Prayer
And after you have been filled, give thanks as follows:
We thank you, Holy Father, for your holy Name
which you have made to dwell in our hearts
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
which you have made known to us through Jesus your Servant.
Glory to you forever!
You, Almighty Master, created everything for Your Name’s sake;
You have given food and drink to men for their pleasure,
so that they might give you thanks.
and to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink
and life eternal through Jesus your Servant.
Most of all, we thank you because you are mighty.
Glory to you forever!
“But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process.
The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.
At the same time other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments.
Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.
The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns.
All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.” (College of Environmental Science and Forestry)
The autumn leaf color change can be given a description both prosaic or poetic and scientific or sentimental. The beauty is neither hard to picture or imagine. The season comes with its own unique scents and has a particular climatic feel to it. The year is winding down, nature is getting sleepy, getting ready for its blanket of snow. The burst of color is a delight to the eyes, even if its scientific cause is a bit dull.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Previous: Creation: God’s Gift to Us
Some years ago Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew declared September 1 as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment. This declaration was also endorsed by the other Orthodox Primates as well as by the Pope of Rome. In honor of this day, here is a meditation on Environmental Theology or, if you prefer, ecological spirituality.
First, Chrysostom argues that the image of God is reflected in humanity’s control and authority over the natural world. As Chrysostom expresses it, “God created the human being as having control over everything on earth…nothing on earth is greater than the human being, under whose authority everything falls.” This authority and control is a gift of love, given to humanity to be exercised responsibly. Indeed, the exercises of a responsible dominion, Chrysostom believes, rebukes the fallen human tendency toward irresponsibility, laziness and self-indulgence. Responsible care for the environment is to be a “stabilizing influence” in our lives, forcing us to look beyond ourselves toward the well-being of our broader world with all its varied inhabitants. To exploit or ignore that environment is to deface God’s own image in us.
Second, God has exhibited, as Chrysostom puts it, an amazing “prodigality” or extravagance in God’s creation of the world. Certain characteristics of the natural order – the seasons and their rhythms, for example – have been created to facilitate humanity’s life and understanding of God’s love and care. Other aspects of nature – reptiles and wild beasts come to mind – illustrate the abundance of God’s creation, an extravagant prodigality designed to “overwhelm” us and teach us “that all these things were produced by a certain wisdom and ineffable love out of regard for the human being that was destined to come into being.
Even if we struggle to identify all of nature’s utility and benefit, we are called to preserve it in its entirety.”
(essay by Christopher A. Hall, from Ancient & Postmodern Christianity, pp. 36-37)
If we extend our discourse to the boundless multitude of fishes – those in ponds, those in the springs, those in the rivers, those in the navigable sea, and those in the unnavigable –
or if we consider the untold numbers of flocks of birds – those in the air, those on land, those in the water as well as on the land (for there are a great number of aquatic birds among them), wild ones, tame ones, wild ones that have been domesticated,
those that always remain wild, edible ones, inedible ones – and if we investigate the beauty, the feathers, and the musical sound of each; if we but closely examine the differences in their singing, their food, their way of life, and if we recount their habits, their haunts, all the benefits and services they provide to us, their sizes, great and small,
their young and the rearing of them, and the great and inexpressible diversity among them, and if we also do the same with the fishes; and if from there we also go on to plants, which grow everywhere on the earth, and if for each of them we look at its fruit and its usefulness and its fragrance and its appearance,
its structure, its leaves, its color, its shape, its size, great or small, its benefits, its methods of cultivation, its kind of bark, trunk, branch, those growing in meadows and those in enclosed gardens; then if we go on to the various herbs and investigate the manifold places where they grow and the ways to find them,
to care for them, and to cultivate them, as well as their usefulness to us for healing; and if we also move on to the ore-bearing mountains, of which there are many; and if we search through all the other created things, which are even more numerous –
then, what words or what amount of time would be enough for us to come to a precise understanding of them?
And all that, O man, is for your sake: arts for your sake, and ways of living and cities and villages and sleep for your sake,
and death for your sake, and life for your sake, and growth, and so many works of nature and such a good world for your sake now – and for your sake it will be better still. Concerning the fact that it will be better and that it will be better for your sake,
listen to what the apostle Paul says: Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, that is, from being corruptible. And how it will enjoy such an honor he shows by adding: into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).
Next: Environmental Theology
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part… (1 Corinthians 12:22-24)
Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! (Psalms 103:1)
St Cyril of Jerusalem writes:
Look within yourself. From your own nature you can learn something of your Maker.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in your body. If you are in control of its members, they are not in the slightest evil. Adam and Eve in paradise were naked at first and their bodies did not appear shameful or disgusting. Our limbs do not cause sin, but the wrong use of them does. The Creator of our bodies knew what he was doing.
Who makes the secret parts of the mother’s womb able to bear children? Who gives life to the lifeless fruit of conception? Who shapes the sinews and bones, who covers all with flesh and skin? When the baby comes to the light, who gives the milk that it can suck? How does the newborn infant grow to become a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, and then in the end an old person?
Who imposes on the heart the regularity of its beat? Who protects so skilfully our eyes with their eyelashes? Who makes our whole bodies able to be kept alive by our breathing?
Look at your Maker. Admire your wise Creator. The greatness and the beauty of his creatures will help you to contemplate him.
(Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, p. 60)
“If we perceive the spiritual principles of visible things we learn that the world has a Maker. But we do not ask what is the nature of that Maker, because we recognize that this is beyond our scope. Visible creation clearly enables us to grasp that there is a Maker, but it does not enable us to grasp His nature.” (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17646-50)
Natural theology has its limits according to the Fathers of the Church. Creation tells us there is a Creator, but creation cannot reveal to us the nature of the God who created us. Our ability to read creation like a book of theology requires us to have more experience and knowledge than creation alone can give us. God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself and His nature to us, a revelation found in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the sacramental life of the Church and also in the spiritual lives of the saints. Even the Scriptures alone do not give us the full experience of God’s revelation and grace. St. Basil the Great notes about the book of Genesis:
In saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the sacred writer passed over many things in silence—e.g., water, air, fire, and their effects—which, all forming in reality the true complement of the world, were without doubt made at the same time as the universe. By this silence, the text plainly wishes to train the activity of our intelligence, giving it a weak point for starting, to impel it to the discovery of the truth.” (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. Loc. 3593-96)
Scripture does not tell us everything there is to know about creation – it is silent about many things, but for St. Basil, this silence is exactly telling us there is much more to know. The fact that Scripture does not give us every detail about creation tells us we need to search and discover the truth which is in creation and which leads us beyond creation to the Creator. The Scriptures speak to us about the Creator, but they are not a scientific text book. Humans have pursued a study of God’s creation and uncovered a great many facts and truths about the material cosmos. What we commonly call science is really the result of human study into the truths of the natural world, the things about which the Scriptures are silent. God reveals to us the natural order and allows us to discover the truth about nature, as when in the beginning God allowed Adam to name all of the animals of creation and God waited to see what the human would name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). God rejoices in our scientific curiosity and our search into the nature of the universe. In allowing the human to name the animals God was giving us opportunity to understand the nature of each part of creation.
Of course some have decided the empirical world is the only reality we can know, but the godly realize just as there is more to know about nature than the Scriptures reveal, so too there is more to be known about creation than science can reveal. St. Gregory Nazianzus comments:
“For we should not neglect the heavens, earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them and honored God’s works instead of God; instead, we should reap whatever advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers, not raising creation as foolish people do in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker and, as the divine apostle says, “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Cor 10:5.)” (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4004-8)
As St Gregory notes, just because some people might use scientific investigation to proclaim the empirical creation as the only thing that exists and so deny the Creator, that is no reason for us to completely reject science itself. Those denying the Creator’s existence are wrong about God but that doesn’t mean that science is therefore wrong about all of its claims. Science does know things about the physical creation not found in Scriptures, and we in the modern world live with the many advantages of science, technology, medicine and industry.
Scripture was not written to be science, but do reveal the truth to us.
“The creation stories are ancient and should be understood on that level. Rather than merge the two creation stories—the scientific and the biblical—we should respect that they each speak a different language. The fact that Paul considered Adam to be the progenitor of the human race does not mean that we need to find some way to maintain his view within an evolutionary scheme. Rather, we should gladly acknowledge his ancient view of cosmic and human origins and see in that very scenario the face of a God who seems far less reluctant to accommodate to ancient points of view than we are sometimes comfortable with.” (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3131-35)
God chose His own time and place to make His revelations known, and the people to whom He made those revelations recorded them with all the limits of their time and place. As Peter Enns points out, God was willing to accommodate Himself and His revelation to the point of view of the ancient world. God did not leave the ancients in the dark saying “no use to reveal myself until the people have a better understanding of creation through modern science.” God was comfortable with revealing Himself to a people whose “ancient” way of thinking caused them to understand the revelation and the creation in their own pre-modern terms. God did not wait until the modern times to make Himself known. It is we moderns who have trouble with pre-modern understanding, not God. Enns continues:
“In my view, reading the Adam story as it was intended to be understood by those who shaped the Bible—primarily as a story of Israel within the larger stage of universal world history—is the most fruitful approach. The Adam story is not an obligatory nod on the part of ancient Israelites to account for how humanity came to be. The primary question Israel was asking was not, ‘Where do people come from?’ (a scientific curiosity), but ‘Where do we come from?’ (a matter of national identity).” (The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3179-82)
Israel needed to discover its own identity to know its relationship to the rest of history, of the world, of the entire universe. Scripture gave them that identity which helped them understand themselves in the bigger picture of humanity as well as the entire cosmos. In understanding themselves, they could then understand creation, the empirical world. It is in this learning process that they came to know their Creator and the importance of the created world in realizing their place in it.
“Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.” (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17632-39)
The created order, the empirical world contextualize our place in the cosmos. Our task is to learn from both nature and the Scriptures about our role in God’s creation. The scientific study of the empirical world also helps us realize our relationship to the rest of creation including our moral responsibilities since we are creatures with free will whose choices have consequences for the rest of creation.
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.