Environmental Theology

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)

Math, God and Man

“God made the natural numbers,” the nineteenth-century algebraist Leopold Kronecker famously said, “and all the rest is the work of man.”  (Jordan Ellenberg,  How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, p 104)

Mathematics is one way that we can approach the universe around us – a way to know reality.  It is also an interpretation of reality – for math says reality can be known and predicted and described by formulas.  Math says there are patterns to be recognized everywhere in the cosmos, and that the entire cosmos can even be understood as a relationship of numbers and formulas.

We recognize the truth about mathematics and science in the Akathist Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things.”  There we sing:

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, you lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards you and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!  

 The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists.  The power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of your laws, who reveal the depths of your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of you. How great are you in your creation! How great are you in man!

Glory to You, showing your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.

Glory to You, for all nature is filled with your laws.

Glory to You for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.

Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.

Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind.

Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.

Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.

Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Music is another part of the universe which is very mathematical.  Anything with patterns is mathematical as well.  That is why beauty is said to be mathematical – what we see or hear as beautiful is often patterned and thus can be described by mathematics.  The patterns and order of the universe are all describable by math.  And in Orthodoxy we recognize God the Trinity as the Creator of all the order in the universe.

The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ (2012)

In Matthew 17:1-9 we read the lesson of the Transfiguration of Christ:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia writes about the Transfiguration:

“We human beings, in other words, are called to continue and to extend the mystery of Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain. As Metropolitian John of Pergamon has affirmed, the distinctive characteristic of the human animal 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 our ecological initiatives.” (In Communion, Fall 2006, pg. 6)

The Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things” offers us this additional thought related to  the Transfiguration:

“Why is it that on a feast-day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts, a gladness far beyond that of earth, and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of your gracious love; it is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing your praise…”   (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kindle Loc. 2665-69)

Psalm 19 Pictured

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

 Day to day pours forth speech,

 and night to night declares knowledge.

 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;

 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

 In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,  and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;

 the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.

 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

For a list with links to my other photo blogs go to My Photo Blogs.

“Glory to God for All Things”: The Akathist Illustrated (PDF)

Another of my Blog Series is now available as a PDF.

The Blog Series which began with Glory to God for All Things Ode 1 Illustrated can be read as a PDF at Glory to God for All Things: The Akathist Illustrated (PDF).

The Akasthist is attributed to Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Tryphon (d. 1934).

It is a hymn giving glory and thanksgiving to God for everything, in when the most dire of circumstances exists.  Metropolitan Tryphon is said to have suffered in Soviet concentration camps were he died.  I added some photographs to illustrate and illumine the wonderful text of the Akathist.

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power.

Your right arm controls the whole course of human life.

We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen:

For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be.

Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come.

Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Perambulating Through Life

Perambulating: what some used to call “taking their constitutional”, strolling, walking.  It is something I do everyday. 

Your tax dollars at work.

 It is for me spiritual, part of my walk with God. 

One year ago, I bought myself a camera which not only became my companion on many of my walks, but also caused me to leave my neighborhood and to walk in other places, especially through local, county and state parks.  The camera gave me reason to take note of what I was walking past.  Not only did I stop to smell the flowers, but I began to hear many more distinct sounds, especially the many and varied bird calls and songs.  So it is not only aging that slows my walk, but a new appreciation of God’s creation.  And despite all the complaints about paying taxes, I have thoroughly enjoyed and rejoiced in the many area parks which are paid for by our taxes.   The constitution perhaps did not require “big government” needed for a parks system, but I am grateful for all the parks which would not exist save for tax payer dollars and local, state and federal government oversight. 

My most recent walk through Cox Arboretum, part of the Dayton/Montgomery County Five Rivers Metroparks produces a set of photos which you can view at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/sets/72157623851993998/ .  There are a lot of photos there – if you have the time, enjoy the slideshow (click on the slideshow button, upper right above the photos).  

God created a beautiful world, endowing creation with DNA to bring forth new varieties of life and beauty

Just so happened that I was reading this morning from St. Gregory of Nyssa, FROM GLORY TO GLORY.  More than 1600 years ago, he was apparently perambulating himself, after which he commented in a sermon:  “How lovely is the Creator’s description of the springtime which He has made!  To Him David says: ‘The summer and the spring were formed by thee’  (Psalm 73:17).  He dissolves winter’s oppressiveness, and tells us that the sadness of the season has passed, and with it the unpleasant rains.  He shows us the meadows filled and blossoming with flowers.  The flowers, He tells us, are in full bloom and ready for the plucking…. Sounds of speech make the season joyful, the song of birds echoes in the glens, and the sweet voice of the dove resounds in our ears. … for the fig tree is putting forth its fruit, and the vine is blossoming with flowers, delighting our nostrils with their fragrance.  Thus the text revels in the picture of spring; it puts aside anything oppressive, and delights in pleasant descriptions.  And yet, I think, the mind must not rest in the picture of these lovely things, but it must penetrate through them to the mystery here revealed, so as to disclose the treasure of meaning concealed beneath the words.” 

Beauty reveals the limits of mathematical truth.

From the Pentecostarion, a hymn for Wednesday of the Second week after Pascha

You, O Lord, have renewed the earth! 

You have restored the leaves of the trees! 

You have opened the flowers of spring! 

Now restore my soul, by the increase of virtue.   


While flowers to us represent signs of life, beauty and the wonders of creation, in general in the Bible, flowers represent a particular kind of beauty:  beauty which is temporary, passing, fading away.   Indeed the glorious spring flowering trees and bulbs which stand out in our minds as signs of spring, like spring itself quickly pass away, and at most last a couple of weeks.   So flowers which are signs of life are also, and this we don’t think about much, signs of life passing away and of our mortality.  Orthodoxy in its realism, reminds us at funerals (where an over abundance of flowers are displayed) in the hymnody, “what earthly beauty is unmixed with grief?”    The funeral flowers represent life to us, and perhaps we try to mask the grievous unsightliness of a human bereft of life, but they are at best mixed with grief – a comfort perhaps and a hope about life beyond the grave and of the resurrection. 

"Beauty will save the world," said Dostoyevsky

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, 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” (Luke 12:27).  Of course in the very next verse he returns to the theme of how quickly flowers’ beauty fades away – by tomorrow it is gone. 

As I drive or walk around in the spring, I love seeing the flowering trees – bursts and explosions of color.  It is nature’s own Fourth of July come early – a veritable feast of colors and fragrant scents, and so welcomed after winter’s cold, gloomy dreariness.   When examined more closely each bud bursts into a display of color that pyrotechnicians dream about. 

Any or all of my photos can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/

God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (a)

See God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5 as a PDF document.

See God Questions His Creation: Genesis 5:28-32

It is worth making a few comments about the story of Noah and the flood before beginning the reflections on the verses of Genesis 6.  While the Patristic commentators certainly noted the variations, inconsistencies and contradictions which occur in the flood story (Genesis 6-9), they endeavored to interpret the story to show that it is really one story.  They assumed there was but one author for the text and therefore it fell upon them as the interpreters of the text to show how the text was internally consistent even when literally it couldn’t be so.  So they came up with ways to gloss over differences or harmonize them by offering explanations in which they tried to show how the text was consistent with itself.

Modern biblical scholarship on the other hand offers an insight into the scriptures which can help resolve some of the problems which a literal reading of the text presents.  The insight of modern scholars is that in fact Genesis 6-9 is actually two separate stories that have been interwoven together by a third editor.  This idea is contained in what is called Source Theory – an idea presented by modern biblical scholars based to a large degree on literary analysis of the biblical text.   Source Theory is based in scholarship not in theology.  Nevertheless it at times can be a very useful tool in helping to uncover a sensible understanding of some biblical passages and problems.  I am making use of this tool in my reflections but am not endorsing every idea that gets proposed under the guise of Source Theory.  Like most ideas in modern biblical scholarship Source Theory has branched in many directions, and not all of them are useful for an Orthodox reading of the Scriptures.  Any tool can be dangerous, but we don’t stop using a saw or a hammer because of the risk it represents; rather, we learn to use them with great caution.

Source Theory suggests that when reading a section of Scripture like Genesis 1-2 or Genesis 6-9, it becomes apparent that there are such strong literary/linguistic differences that the section cannot have been written by one author but is the work of several authors/editors/sources.    If you allow in these particular chapters of Genesis that there are two distinct stories which have been interwoven you can come to see how each of the two stories is consistent in itself.    The contradictions and inconsistencies are actually between the two stories which were woven together.   Source Theory reminds us that ancient texts were originally oral stories.  These stories belonged to and were authenticated by a religious community – the people of God, the Jews – not by a single “author.”  There often existed within the community more than one version of a story that was valued by the community.  It is only when the story gets committed to a written form that sometimes an effort is made to harmonize the stories, probably because the differences in the stories appear more jarring to us when actually written down.   Oral tradition tolerated some variations in the community’s story better than does a literary tradition.    Source Theory says it is at times in Scripture possible to unwind the various threads that have been woven together into one story and to reconstruct the different original stories from these threads.  This is merely a tool of interpretation.   It can’t undo the fact that the authorized version of the story as written down in our Scriptures presents one harmonized story.  But it can point out that if one carefully studies the Bible one can detect two interwoven stories in one text.  It is no different than looking at a bouquet of spring flowers – together they are quite beautiful, and yet they are “artificially” arranged as they don’t occur in nature they way they do occur in the vase.  Someone arranged the flowers in the vase, and the bouquet can to separated out to different kinds of flowers.  Each flower or each species is also beautiful and we can appreciate the flowers singularly, separated by species, or placed together in a bouquet.  

For our purposes, being able to distinguish a couple of stories within a biblical section does not mean that the scriptures are not inspired or from God.   We will make use of Source Theory to help clarify some of the problems that arise from a purely literal reading of the.   As it turns out, the biblical text of our immediate concern, Genesis 6-9, actually ends up having 3 “sources” which shaped it – the source of a first story, the source of a second story, and finally the editor who weaved the two stories together.  Discerning the different “hands” which had a role in composing the written story, can at times help us to understand what we otherwise note as inconsistencies or even contradictions.  Using Source Theory in reading the Flood story is using a tool to uncover the deeper meaning of the text.  Tools of interpretation are good servants and bad masters.  We do not need to become a slave to the theory in reading the Bible, but certainly using a tool of interpretation can help us uncover the deeper meanings of the text which the Fathers of the Church valued so highly.

We might call to mind here the Four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   While all four report the same basic story of the life of Christ, there is also variation in the stories between the Gospels and sometimes it is not possible to harmonize the details in anyone story reported in more than one Gospel.  Even where 3 of the Gospels seem to share a basic storyline (the synoptics – Matthew, Mark and Luke), the fourth Gospel follows a different timeline.  While some writers in history attempted to harmonize the four Gospels into One (like in the 2nd Century Tatian’s Diatessaron), the Church accepted all four Gospels as authentic and inspired without demanding or attempting to harmonize the four.

To take a totally secular comparison – this is like having two “competing” sports writers from two competing sports cities, newspapers and teams write a description of the big game.  One ends up writing from the position of the losing team and one is the writer of the game for the winning team.  They both will be describing the same game, but no doubt their emphases will be totally different.  Who gets credited for the win and loss, what went right and wrong, we would really have two different stories.  But then imagine that on Monday morning, a third sportswriter sits down and attempts to weave the two opposing accounts of the game together into a “harmonious” account.  Perhaps you get the picture – it might be very hard to get the two stories to correspond exactly because the authors would have emphasized different things.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: The Story of the Flood (b)

Happy New Year! (2010)

With thanksgiving to God for the past year, and asking God’s blessing on you for the New Year, I greet all of you as we disembark from 2009 and enter the 2010th Year of our Lord.

Atlantic Sunrise

“When you see the year coming to completion, give thanks to the Lord that he brought you to this period of years.  Put your heart at rest, count up the time of your life, say to yourself: The days move quickly and pass by, the years come to an end, we have already traversed much of the road— but what noble thing have we done? We will not go from here empty and lacking all righteousness.  The judgment is at the doors.  Life presses on and on toward our old age.”  (St. John Chrysostom)

Funny that we welcome the New Year without embracing the aging it represents.  They go hand in hand, each a blessing in its own way.   Time represents opportunity and change: our chance to take advantage of the moment, to make some memorable, to endure or survive others, and to turn some into transformational experiences.

Glory to God for all Things Ode 13 Illustrated

Akathist:  “Glory to God for all Things”   

by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Tryphon (+1934)

see Ode 12

ODE 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity,

receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness.

Make us worthy of Your blessings, so that,

when we have brought to fruit the talents You have entrusted to us,

we may enter into the joy of our Lord,

forever exulting in the shout of victory:



Archangel Michael
I was born a weak, defenseless child,
but Your angel spread his wings
over my cradle to defend me.
From birth until now,
Your love has illumined my path,
and has wondrously guided me
 towards the light of eternity.
From birth until now
the generous gifts of Your Providence
have been marvelously showered upon me.
I give You thanks,
with all who have come to know You,
who call upon Your Name:

Glory to You for calling me into being.
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom.
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to You, through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey, for every moment of glory.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.


Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power.

Your right arm controls the whole course of human life.

We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen:

For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be.

Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come.

Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Glory to God for All Things Ode 12 Illustrated

Akathist:  “Glory to God for all Things”   

by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Tryphon (+1934)

See Ode 11

Elder Joseph of Vatopedi

ODE 12

How oft have I seen the reflection of Your glory in the faces of the dead.

How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy;

how ethereal, how translucent their faces;

how triumphant over suffering and death, 

 their felicity and peace.

Even in the silence they were calling upon You.

In the hour of my death,

enlighten my soul, too,

 that it may cry out to You: Alleluia!


What sort of praise can I give You?

 I have never heard the song of the cherubim,

a joy reserved for the spirits above.

But I know the praises that nature sings to You.

In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight

the whole earth offers You prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds.

I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in You,

how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to You.

I have heard the mysterious murmurings of the forests about You,

and the winds singing Your praise as they stir the waters.

I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Your glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space.

 What is my poor worship?  All nature obeys You, I do not.

Yet while I live, I see Your love,

I long to thank You, pray to You, and call upon Your Name:

Saints of the 20th CenturyGlory to You, giving us light.
Glory to You, loving us with love so deep, divine, and infinite.

Glory to You, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints.
Glory to You, Father All-Holy, promising us a share in Your Kingdom.

Glory to You, Holy Spirit, Life-giving Sun of the world to come.
Glory to You for all things, holy and most merciful Trinity.

Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Next:  Ode 13