Tag Archives: faith and ecology

What is meant by “sustainability” by Christians?

We are snowed-in today. The weather is treacherous with the snow and wind outside that I have been able to think about some other things today. Snow days are good for the soul. The recent years have found me thinking more and more about the reasonableness of faith and ecology. The leadership and advocacy for the proper use of the land, air and sea by Patriarch Bartholomew (Constantinople), Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have raised some good questions about the coherent Christian response to the needs of our environment. These religious leaders have provided good thinking and ways of proceeding without dipping into the reigning ideologies of the political left. For example, Benedict raised the horizons and limitations between human and environmental ecologies. Fast forward, across my computer screen came a very brief note about sustainability by Abbot Tryphon, an abbot in the Orthodox Church living in the Pacific Northwest. For me, the abbot’s words are the beginning of a much larger conversation I am having about the Christian fact of being anointed priest, prophet and king in the Church at baptism, and with Benedictines (monks, nuns and laity) viz. matters of land use, farming, food, as a manner of knowing the Trinity, faith, oneself, and the journey of the self as imago Dei. Benedictines have much to say because their 1500-plus year experiences in these matters of faith and ecology. How do we engage with the land as disciples of Christ in relationship with others?

Abbot Tryphon….

We are, in essence, called to be priests over creation. Sustainability is the current ‘buzzword’ regarding the need for protecting our environment, and is the word being used by environmentalists, governments, businesses, and many average people, as we all face the challenge of saving our world from climate changes, due to the overproduction depletion of the world’s resources. It has been applied to product sourcing, agricultural practices, and technology. It often implies a type of energy that will not—in the foreseeable future—be used up, as some scientists argued was imminent in the case of fossil fuels. It may mean a type of agriculture that doesn’t tax our soil as is being done at the current and alarming rate. The word sustainability is even being applied to waste treatment and water use. These are only a few of the applications that have made use of the phrase ‘sustainable,’ and even in these noted fields the technologies and practices developed have been amazing and immensely beneficial for our culture, humanity in general, and the natural world.

The use of the word “sustainability” is, for us Orthodox Christians, a positive word in relation to our responsibilities as stewards of all that God has given us. It is also a word that people can relate to. Yet despite the laudable achievements within the sustainability movement, there is a dark underside to the usage of the word and the application of the concept. “Sustainable” often means trying to find a “better” way to continue living as we currently do, and often bears within itself an underlying notion of stasis, or remaining the same. For Orthodox Christians, this is unquestionably dangerous.

Imagine a priest upon his deathbed speaking with his confessor about his parish, saying, “Yes, I leave them exactly as I found them; they don’t regularly commit any more sins than when I got to the parish.” Contrast this possibility with, “By the grace of God, they have grown.” All priests are charged with the responsibility of helping their parishioners grow, for there is in fact no such thing in the spiritual life as stasis. If someone is not growing, struggling, and working out his or her salvation, the seeds of degeneration are already planted.

But if we are not ordained priests, we might wonder how this could have anything to do with us. Yet as Orthodox Christians living in the God-created world, we are all, in the deepest sense, priests over creation. His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, said: “Endowed… from the beginning with ‘the image of God,’ humanity is called to continuous self-transcendence so that, in responsible synergy with God the Creator, each person might sanctify the entire world, thus becoming a faithful ‘minister’ and ‘steward.’” We are, in essence, called to be priests over creation, for as ministers of this created universe it is our responsibility to cease doing harm, for our final goal is the transfiguration of creation. The ultimate transformation that must take place within ourselves ultimately brings transformation to the entire cosmos.

The earth is God’s gift to all of us

Earth Day bears us to recall what Pope Benedict XVI said:

“On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God’s gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it… One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources.”

(Caritas in Veritate, 50)

Farming, faith and eating well: initiatives

Brooklyn Grange Roof

Interest in growing fresh vegetables and farming is real life these days in many urban settings.There is significant concern for wellness issues like where is our food coming from and how is it raised. The impact of bad practices and careless behavior is taking a toll on people in a multiplicity of ways: poverty, hunger, cancer, mental illness, human sustainability, and the like.

City farming is the subject of this video report by Monocle. It provides some very interesting things to think about like, space, soil, nutrients, people, being co-creators, etc. The three reports given in the Monocle video look at innovative work in Japan, NYC and Norway. Watch the report. In the New Haven area there are some community gardens sprouting up, for example, Yale University has a community garden the Yale Farm (Edwards Street) and then there are lots of modest initiatives. Plus, the growing of farmers’ markets.

I have a modest garden with edibles and decoratives. But I can’t sustain a family on what I grow. I have learned to make pickles from homegrown cucumbers, and I will can tomatoes, but if I had other favorable factors I could do more. My grandparents would be proud since that’s how they managed to live.  What I have concluded is that life is much better with homegrown produce than what is purchased in big stores like Walmart and Big Y. Well, that’s for the spring and summer. Come the autumn and winter we have to go back to the store.

But this matter is a part of a larger question of faith and ecology. The biblical and sacramental life of the Church have something to say to us today. In my mind, Christians have to reclaim what it means to live well with with what God has given through a sacramental lens. For this reason, I am thinking more and more about the role the Benedictines can play in the development of a faith and ecology project. The Benedictine charism is one in which simplicity, faith, work, study, mutual obedience, concern for the other and co-creation with God are high values. Plus, the monastic life with its emphasis on moderation lived in communion with others is key. I would also include the ecclesial movements of Communion & Liberation and Focolare as key infrastructures of grace and holiness. With a few spare moments here-and-there I am trying to think about a Christian’s response to the matter of food, wellness, farming, and the like. People like Ken Myers (Mars Hill Audio Journal), Norman Wirzba (Duke Divinity School), Fred Bahnson (Wake Forest Divinity School) and Wendell Berry (public intellectual) along with Pope Benedict XVI are setting the stage for new things.

The Primacy of the Human, develop a human ecology, Pope reminds

The primacy of the human is based on our belief in the transcendent. All aspects of the human person –politics, philosophy, ethics, economics and medicine– are rooted in the respect of and in engagement with the Divine. Catholics will further develop this idea of the transcendent by reflecting on the Trinity of the Godhead, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. A personal God who lives and is active in history. The pope addressed the new ambassadors of Moldova, Equatorial Guinea, Belize, Syria, Ghana and New Zealand on 9 June when they presented their diplomatic credentials to the Holy See. Ordinarily, one doesn’t pay lots of attention to papal discourses made to the diplomats but it seems that there is some serious thinking going on here with the Pope viz. this sector of his ministry.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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