God’s Creation is prophet, evangelist, and teacher

In 1992, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, urged the Orthodox Churches to adopt September 1 (the Ecclesiastical New Year), or the nearest Sunday, as a day to pray for the environment.

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Industrial pollution in Benxi, China.

The arrogance of man's political and industrial power. Industrial pollution in Benxi, Communist China.

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For St John Chrysostom (+407), the opportunity to view the authentic and unspoilt beauty of God’s creation was an evangelical necessity.

WHAT then? Do they say that the Scriptures are not useful?

I reply; they are most useful and most necessary.

And if so useful, for what reason then, say they, were they not delivered to us from the beginning?

It was because God was desirous of instructing the nature of man, not by letters, but by things.

But what does the expression “by things” signify?

By means of the Creation itself.

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A view across Ullswater in the Lake District. © Chris Heaton, Geograph. Used under licence.

A view across Ullswater in the Lake District. © Chris Heaton, Geograph. Used under licence.

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St John immediately goes on:

OBSERVE then, how the Apostle, alighting upon this same topic, and directing himself to those very Greeks who said, that they had not from the beginning learnt the knowledge of God from the Scriptures, frames his answer.

Having said that, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18); when he saw that he was met by an objection, and that many would still enquire, from whence the Gentiles knew the truth of God, he goes on to add, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them.”

But how is it manifest in them? How were they able to know God, and who hath shewed? Declare this.

“God,” saith he, “hath shewed it unto them.”

In what manner?

By the sending of what kind of prophet? what evangelist? what kind of teacher? if the holy Scriptures were not yet given.

“The invisible things of Him,” says he, “from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal Power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20). […]

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The village Green in Lyddington, Rutland. © Ian Yarham, Geograph. Used under licence (click for original).

The natural harmony of the village Green in Lyddington, Rutland, shows man humble before nature. © Ian Yarham, Geograph. Used under licence (click for original).

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This is especially true, St John explains shortly afterwards, for the unlearned, the non-believer, and the poor, in an argument similar to St John Damascene’s justification for icons.

FOR if God had given instruction by means of books, and of letters, he who knew letters would have learnt what was written; but the illiterate man would have gone away without receiving any benefit from this source, unless some one else had introduced him to it; and the wealthy man would have purchased the Bible, but the poor man would not have been able to obtain it.

Again, he who knew the language that was expressed by the letters, might have known what was therein contained; but the Scythian, and the Barbarian, and the Indian, and the Egyptian, and all those who were excluded from that language, would have gone away without receiving any instruction.

This however cannot be said with respect to the heavens; but the Scythian, and Barbarian, and Indian, and Egyptian, and every man that walks upon the earth, shall hear this voice; for not by means of the ears, but through the sight, it reaches our understanding.

St John Chrysostom (+407), “Homilies on the Statues, to the People of Antioch”, Homily IX. Source.

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A hydro power station in Corra Linn near New Lanark, Scotland. © Gordon Brown, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

The needs of man met with humility before nature once again. A hydro power station dating from 1927 in Corra Linn near New Lanark, Scotland. © Gordon Brown, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

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Kontakion. Tone 2. With your blood.

WITH your all-powerful strength you framed all things, both visible and invisible; and so keep unharmed, we implore your goodness, the environment that surrounds the earth.

Ikos.

LOVING Saviour, we praise the manifestations of your providence and your many saving powers; because with ineffable wisdom and order and harmony you have established for all things laws and unalterable ordinances for the protection of us, your royal fashioning.

Keep us unshaken, Lord, from every corrupting activity, change and destruction, as guardian, protector and deliverer of all things, keeping in them the essential power unmoved, and especially watching over the environment that surrounds the earth.

Liturgy for the Environment (September 1), by Monk Gerasimon of Mount Athos. Official translation, by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash at Anastasis. The Greek text is at Analogion.

Postscript: None of this is intended to support solutions based on big government, any more than on big business. Communist and socialist countries are among the most grievous polluters of all.

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