Orthodox Christians as Priests of Creation

Orthodox Christians as Priests of Creation

The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration

Scripture and Tradition teach that everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a living sacrament of the face of God. The entire cosmos is a burning bush of God’s created and uncreated energies. And each person stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. This is the true nature of things.

Here are several biblical themes that define the nature of our priestly service and requirements:

O Humans are made “in the image and toward the likeness of God.” The principle of image links humans to the nature of God and implies the priestly requirements to function as a mediator and achieve some degree of the quality of “likeness.” This means the task of transformation must be part of each person’s spiritual striving.

O We are given the task of “dominion.” The Church gives us the Prophet Elijah as our model of right dominion. For dominion to come alive, it is first interior and involves the control of one’s passions and a listening for the voice of God within in order for a right exterior dominion to manifest. As one practices dominion, which literally means “Lord,” it relentlessly leads to a deeper understanding and imitation of Jesus Christ.

O We are to “fill” or “replenish” the earth. This word requires study and reflection to properly understand as it has not been well taught. This term, found in Genesis 1:28, derives originally from the Hebrew word “ml•.” The translators of the Bible into English faced the steep challenge that no English word captures the meaning of this ancient Hebrew concept. Besides it is only used twice in the entire Bible which further complicats the translation task.

In Hebrew this word translates as a consecration of the world back to God; it means humans are to preserve the original Garden of Delight; thus it can be understood as simply “restoring Eden!” Even though our English translation of this term has been only partial, the Church in her wisdom embraces the meaning of this term in the epiclesis of the divine liturgy. In elaborate and elegant language the priest declares at the consecration, “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all.”

This scriptural command is given to all Christians, even to all people. It means that the offering and the consecration of the world back to God applies to and is a responsibility of all people and particularly all believers. When one in prayer gives the world and all its life back to God, an act for which each person is responsible, it sometimes happens in this consecration that the individual is so caught up in this consecration prayer that we include ourselves in this returning of the world back to God. This accelerates our own transformation.

O We are to “dress and keep” the creation (Genesis 2:15). This can also be translated as “serve and protect.” These English words derive from the Hebrew Avad and Shamar which originally were agricultural terms. We are to serve the earth and allow it to flourish (“avad”), but we are also to protect it from any degradation or corruption or pollution (“shamar”).

O We are to obey the laws of God as they foster harmony with creation and the fruitfulness of our actions. “If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, the land shall yield her increase… and your works shall become fruitful…” (Lev. 26:3-9). As humans obey God, creation responds, flourishes, and provides for all of our human needs.

O Scripture repeatedly declares, “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Ex. 9:29; Psalm 24:1; 1 Cor. 10, ff). Because the Earth belongs first to God, we are not its owners. We are its servants. The idea of stewards or protectors of creation follows from this principle. Thus we are to assume the attitudes and the mind of the Lord in our care for the earth. This applies to our relationships as well as all that is entrusted into our care.

O The Apostle Peter tells us, “You are… a royal priesthood, a holy nation”
(1 Peter 2:9), “as lively stones, [you] are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”
(1 Peter 2:5). Saint Peter explicitly affirms to all believers that we all share a role as priests before God, to offer up all that is within our lives and capability.

Over a hundred similar and related passages can be found throughout Scripture which further define and elaborate upon our human role as priests of creation. As we read and absorb the writings of HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomew and our other hierarchs, we find a detailed modern articulation of right Christian behavior as priests of creation. In their words some dimensions of our role as priests of creation follow:

Principles That Define ‘Priests of Creation’

Assume Responsibility for All Creation

“Beloved brothers and spiritual children: Use the natural environment as its stewards and not as owners. Acquire an ascetic ethos, bearing in mind that everything in the natural world, whether great or small, has importance for the life of the world, and nothing is useless or contemptible.

“Regard yourselves as being responsible before God for every creature and treat everything with love and care.

“Only in this way shall we be able to prevent the threatening destruction of our planet and secure a physical environment where life for the coming generations of humankind will be healthy and happy…”.

HAH Ecumenical Patriarch +Dimitrios, Encyclical Letter, September 1, 1990

Self-Sacrifice for the Common Good

“We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources…. There can be no salvation for the world, no healing, no hope of a better future, without sacrifice…. Without a sacrifice that is costly and uncompromising, we shall never be able to act as priests of the creation in order to reverse the descending spiral of ecological degradation.”

HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Venice, Italy, June 10, 2002

Microcosm and Mediator at the Altar of Creation

“Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator.”

HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, May 24, 1999

Acquire an All-Encompassing Love and Continuous Connection

“Let us love one another, and lovingly learn from one another, for the edification of God’s people, for the sanctification of God’s creation, and for the glorification of God’s most holy Name. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation.”

HAH, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, November 3, 2009

An Environmental Creed

“We believe that the human person constitutes the crown of creation, endowed with the sacred features of self-conscience, freedom, love, knowledge and will.

“We believe that the natural creation is a gift from God to the world, entrusted to humanity as its governor, provider, steward, and priest, in accordance with the commandments “to work and keep it,” as well as to abstain from it partially. In this way, we admit the limitations as well as the responsibilities of humanity with regard to the natural environment.”

HAH, Oslo, Norway, June 12, 2002

Our Privilege and Purpose

“Our original privilege and calling as human beings lies in our ability to appreciate the world as God’s gift…. And our original sin with regard to the environment lies… in our refusal to accept the world as a sacrament of communion with God and neighbor. Then, we are able to embrace all … with love and joy.

“When we care for the plants and the animals, for the trees and rivers, for the mountains and the seas, for all human beings and for the whole natural environment, then we discover joy – rather than inflicting sorrow – in our life and in our world. Then, we are creating instruments of life and not tools of death. Then, creation on the one hand and humanity on the other hand, cooperate and correspond. Then, they are no longer in contradiction or in conflict. Then, as humanity offers creation in an act of priestly service and sacrifice to God, so also does creation offer itself in return as a gift to humanity. Then, everything becomes an exchange, an abundance, and a fulfillment of love.”

HAH, Presentation Ceremony for the Sophie Prize, Oslo, Norway, June 12, 2002

Transfigure Every Detail, Every Particle of Life

“The Lord suffuses all of creation with His Divine presence in one continuous legato [song] from the substance of the atoms to the Mind of God.

“Let us renew the harmony between heaven and earth, and transfigure every detail, every particle of life.”

HAH, Santa Barbara, California, November 8, 1997

The Cross is Our Guiding Symbol

“Sacrifice… is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action.

“The Cross is our guiding symbol in the supreme sacrifice to which we are all called. It sanctifies the waters and, through them, transforms the entire world.

“Such is the model of our ecological endeavors. Such is the foundation of any environmental ethic. The Cross must be plunged into the waters. The Cross must be at the very center of our vision. Without the Cross, without sacrifice, there can be no blessing and no cosmic transfiguration.”

HAH, Venice, Italy, June 10, 2002

The Priestly Requirement of Asceticism

“The cross reminds us of the … need for a cosmic repentance. In order to alter our attitudes and lifestyles, what is required is a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.

“The environmental crisis will not be solved by expressions of regret…. The ‘tree of the cross’ reveals the way out of our ecological impasse by proposing the solution of self-denial, the denial of selfishness or self-centeredness. It is the spirit of asceticism that leads to the spirit of gratitude and love, to a rediscovery of wonder and beauty.

“Asceticism is traveling lightly, it is using and consuming less. We can manage with much less than we imagine. We are to learn to relinquish our desire to possess and control. We must stop wounding the natural resources of earth and learn to live simply, no longer competing against one another and nature for survival.

“What is called for is a softening in our relations toward each other and toward nature…. This means acquiring a merciful attitude, a compassionate heart. St. Isaac of Syria defined this attitude as:

Having a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation: for humans, for birds, for beasts, even for demons – for all of God's creatures.

“Asceticism aims at a sense of refinement, asceticism is positive, not negative. Without asceticism, none of us can hope to heal our broken environment.

“Asceticism requires voluntary restraint to live in harmony with our environment. Asceticism offers practical examples of conservation. By reducing consumption – what we call enkrateia or self-control – we ensure that sufficient resources are left for others in the world to share and enjoy.

“Humanity is not to act as a tyrannical overlord but as a servant and minister, who kneels in prayer for the preservation of creation. In this way, humanity restores harmony with the world and reconciles all people and things to God….

“Humans are called to be priests and not proprietors of nature. Humanity has a moral responsibility to assume creation in an act of giving in order to refer it to God in an act of thanksgiving.

“The voluntary ascetical life is not required only of monastics. It is also demanded for all Orthodox Christians, according to the measure of balance. Each Orthodox Christian is called to practice a voluntary self-limitation in the consumption of food and resources. We have to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need.”

HAH, “The Ascetic Corrective,” Utstein Monastery, Norway, June 28, 2004

Priests of All Creation

“By broadly teaching this principle of our duty of consecration of creation and all in our realm back to God, we become caught up in our return of the world and lifted along with everything else. This will initiate the start of our own journey into the bright Light of Christ and the treatment of all things now living as holy creations of God.

“In this way we will cease whatever we do that furthers the wrong treatment of animals and encourage the individual and social repentance that will bring to animals and all things living the blessings and grace which is due all life.”

HAH, Homily, Santa Barbara, November 8, 1997

Man is not a Master of the House, but a Priest

In the Christian view, nature is not a repository of resources intended for egotistical and irresponsible consumption. Rather, it is a house in which man is not the master, but a housekeeper. It is a temple in which he is the priest, serving not nature, but the one Creator. The conception of nature as temple is based on the principle of theocentrism: God Who gives to all “life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25) is the Source of being. Therefore, life itself is sacred, being a gift of God.

HB Patriarch Kyrill, Patriarch of All-Russia, June 1, 2012

The Duty of Every Christian

Every Christian is called to be a “steward, protector and ‘priest’ of creation, offering it by way of doxology to the Creator.”

We must recall that climate change is an issue closely related to our current model of economic development. An economy that ignores human beings and human needs inevitably leads to an exploitation of the natural environment. Nevertheless, we continue to threaten humanity’s existence and deplete nature’s resources in the name of short-term profit…. How can we possibly imagine a sustainable development that comes at the expense of the natural environment?

There is always a tangible and local dimension to caring for creation. Preserving and protecting the natural environment, as well as respecting and serving our fellow human beings. These are two sides of one and the same coin. The consequences of the ecological crisis… are a serious threat for social cohesion and integration.

Moreover, there is an intimate link between caring for creation and worshipping the Creator, between an economy for the poor and an ecology for the planet. When we hurt people, we harm the earth. So, our extreme greed and excessive waste are not only economically unacceptable; they are ecologically unsustainable….

Dear friends, all of us are called to challenge—but also to change—the way that we consume in order to learn how to conserve for the sake of our planet and for the benefit of its people. When we con-serve, we recognize that we must serve one another. “Con-serving” implies sharing our concern for the earth and its inhabitants. It signifies the ability to see in our neighbor—and in every other person—the face of every human being and ultimately the face of God.

HAH, Athens, June 5, 2018

FOR THESE PRIESTLY QUALITIES TO MANIFEST IN OUR LIVES and become exemplary action, the prayer of the faithful must include a striving to fulfill all of these requirements of the priesthood of all believers.

Each Christian must strive not only for personal transformation, but also to see the transformation and the consecration of our communities and even the whole world back to God. Thus our reasonable service to our Lord Jesus Christ must also include this service to His creation and through our transformation, the transfiguration of the world.

Commentary from the Saints

St. Clement of Rome (37-101) The good and the transgressors

It is just and holy, then, brethren, that we should be obedient to God rather than follow those who in self vaunting and disorder are leaders in abominable jealousy. For we shall incur no ordinary harm, but rather great danger, if we wantonly entrust ourselves to the wills of men who aim at strife and sedition, to alienate us from what is good. Let us be kindly to them according to the compassion and sweetness of him who created us. For it is written, “The kindly shall be inhabitors of the land, and the innocent shall be left in it: but the transgressors shall be destroyed from off it.” … “Keep innocency and regard uprightness; for there is a remnant for the peaceable man.”

1 Clement 14:1-4

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (129 – 203)

How knowledge of God comes through creation

God, by wisdom, founded the earth, and by understanding hath He established the heaven, declares Solomon….

There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things; but this is the Creator who has granted this world to the human race, and who as regards His greatness, is indeed unknown to all who have been made by Him…; but as regards His love, He is always known through Him by whose means He ordained all things. Now this is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times was made a man among men, that He might join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God. … Wherefore the prophets… (and) the Word of God foretelling from the beginning that God should be seen by men, and hold converse with them upon earth, should confer with them, and should be present with His own creation, saving it, and becoming capable of being perceived by it, and freeing us from the hands of all that hate us, that is, from every spirit of wickedness; and causing us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days, in order that man, having embraced the Spirit of God, might pass into the glory of the Father….

The prophets indicated beforehand that God should be seen by men; as the Lord also says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But in response to His greatness and His wonderful glory, “no man shall see God and live” (Ex. 33:20)… For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He wills and as He wills. For God is powerful in all things… and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers incorruption upon him for eternal life, which comes to every one from the fact of his seeing God. For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor. And His splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life….

Men, therefore, shall see God, that they may live, being made immortal by that sight, and attaining even unto God….
For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.

For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

“Against Heresies,” Book IV, ch. 20:1-7, Ante- Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, Edinburgh, 1865, pg. 439-444.

St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 220) 

Food and diet

Other men, indeed, live that they may eat, just like unreasoning animals; for them life is only their belly. But as for us, our Educator has given the command that we eat only to live. Eating is not our main occupation, nor is pleasure our chief ambition. Food is permitted us simply because of our stay in this world, which the Word is shaping for immortality by His education. Our food should be plain and ungarnished, suitable to children who are plain and unpretentious, adapted to maintaining life, not self-indulgence.

Excessive variety of food must be avoided, for it gives rise to every kind of bad effect…. Yet there are those who grow dissatisfied with this truth in their restless ostentation, and reject simplicity of diet to engage in a frantic search for expensive menus that must be imported from across the seas. …

It is a natural law that the body is not benefitted by excessively rich food: quite the contrary, those who live on simpler foods are stronger and healthier and more alert, as servants are, for example, in comparison with their masters, or farmer-tenants in comparison with their landlords.

Let the meal be plain and restrained, of such sort that it will quicken the spirit. Let it be free of too rich a variety, and let not such a meal be withdrawn from the guidance of the Educator…. If the diet oversteps the limits of self-sufficiency, it harms man by dulling his mind and making his body susceptible to disease. Indeed, the pleasures of a luxurious table inflict untold damage: gluttony, squeamishness, gourmandizing, insatiability of appetite, voraciousness.

If a person is wealthy, yet eats without restraint and shows himself insatiable, he disgraces himself in a special way and does wrong on two scores: first he adds to the burden of those who do not have, and he lays bare, before those who do have, his own lack of temperance.

Clement also speaks against the scouring of the world for expensive foods. “Do not for the sake of food destroy the work of God…. We must restrain the belly and keep it under the control of heaven. True food is thanksgiving. He who offers up thanks will not indulge excessively in pleasure. Our examples of virtue will draw out fellow banqueters to virtue.”

The Christian way of life is not achieved by self-indulgence. Far from "lust-exciting delicacies" is the table of truth. Even though all things have been created particularly for man, it is not well to make use of all things, nor to use them at all times. Surely the occasion and the time, the manner and the motive, make some difference to one who is educated (by Christ) to what is profitable. It is this goal that provides the strength we need to restrain ourselves from living lives centered around the table. Wealth chooses that sort of life, for its vision is blunted; it is abundance that blinds in the matter of gluttony.

Christ the Educator, Book II:1-2

The use of possessions

To spend money on foolish desires comes more under the heading of destruction than under expenditure. God has given us the authority to use our possessions, I admit, but only to the extent that it is necessary: He wishes them to be common. It is absurd that one man live in luxury when there are so many who labor in poverty. He who holds possessions holds them as gifts of God…. and knows that he possesses them for his brother’s sake rather than his own…. Such is the man who is blessed by the Lord and a ready inheritor of the kingdom of God.

Homily: “Quis Dives Salvatur?” 16

A Christian’s choice of food

Some men live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, “whose life is their belly, and nothing else.” But the Instructor (Christ) enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, not is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. Wherefore there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food. Our food is to be simple, truly plain, as ministering unto life, not to luxury…. Plain fare is conducive to digestion and lightness of body from which come growth and health and strength….

There is no limit to epicurianism among men. For it has driven them to sweetmeats, and honey cakes, and sugar plums; inventing a multitude of deserts, hunting after all manner of dishes. A man like this seems to me to be all jaw and nothing else. “Desire not,” says the scripture, “rich men’s dainties” (Proverbs 23:3) for they belong to a false and base life. But we who seek the heavenly bread must rule the belly….

For excess, which in all things is an evil, is very highly reprehensible in the manner of food.

The Instructor, Book II:1

How the universe has become an ocean of blessing

For with a celerity unsurpassable and benevolence, the divine power, casting its radiance on the earth, hath filled the universe with the seed of salvation. For it was not without divine care that so great a work was accomplished in so brief a space by the Lord, who, though despised as to appearance, was in reality adored, the expiator of sin, the Saviour, the clement, the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because He was His Son, and the Word was in God, not disbelieved in by all when He was first preached, nor altogether unknown when, assuming the character of man, and fashioning Himself in flesh, He enacted the drama of human salvation: for He was a true champion and a fellow-champion with the creature. And being communicated most speedily to men, having dawned from His Father’s counsel quicker than the sun, with the most perfect ease He made God shine on us. Whence He was and what He was, He showed by what He taught and exhibited, manifesting Himself as the Herald of the Covenant, …diffused over the whole face of the earth; by whom the universe has become an ocean of blessings.

Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 10

Men and women in creation

Regarding monks and the suitability of men and women to contemplate creation and find the transcendence of person necessary to come to experiences of the celestial realms, Clement asserts equal dignity and access to spiritual verities between men and women.

Woman has the same spiritual dignity as man. Both of them have the same God, the same Teacher, the same Church. They breathe, see, hear, hope and love in the same way. Beings who have the same life, grace and salvation are called... to the same manner of being.

Tutor, 1:4 (PG 8:260), as quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 1995, p. 292.

Origen (185 – 254)

If you obey God, creation serves you

Regarding the parting of the Dead Sea by Moses when the Israelites were fleeing the Egyptians, Origen writes,

Notice the goodness of God, the Creator. If you obey his will, if you follow his Law, he compels the elements themselves to serve you even against their own nature.

Commentary on Exodus, Homily V

A key requirement for the contemplation of nature

Contemplation begins only after the completion of ascetical exercises (praxis), the aim of which is the achievement of interior freedom (apatheia); that is to say, the possibility of loving. Contemplation consists of two stages: direct communion with God is the aim, of course, but first we must come to ‘knowledge of creatures’ or ‘contemplation of nature’ (physike theoria), that is, the contemplation ‘of the secrets of the glory of God hidden in his creatures’.

Commentary on Psalm 1,3 (PG 12,1081)

St. Anthony the Great (251 – 356)

Creation declares its Creator

For creation, as if written in characters and by means of its order and harmony, declares in a loud voice its own Master and Creator…. For this reason, God, by his own Word, gave creation such order as is found therein, so that while He is by nature invisible, men might yet be able to know Him through His works.

“Treatise Against the Pagans,” Ref. 746-747, in The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 320.

St. Athanasius (297 – 373)

Only humans fail in their purpose in all creation

Nothing in creation has erred from the path of God’s purpose for it, save only man. Sun, moon, stars, water, air, none of these has swerved from their order, but, knowing the Word as their Maker and their King, remained as they were made. Men alone, having rejected what is good, have invented nothings instead of the truth, and have ascribed the honor due to God and knowledge concerning Him to demons and men in the form of stones.

On the Incarnation of the Word of God

Apply tests for discerning the true cosmology

Athanasius tells us that there are many opinions about creation, but that a true cosmology must accord with all of the other elements of Christian faith. This means that a holy unity exists within Christian doctrine in which each part integrates with all of the other parts. It also means that tests are necessary to discern whether a new doctrine about creation is valid or not:

In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things, there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste.... But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith.

De Incarnatione Verbi Dei 2

The wisdom of God harmonizes creation

Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony.

Contra Gentes, 41, pg. 26, in George Maloney, SJ, The Cosmic Christ, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1968, p. 261

St. Ephraim the Syrian (306 – 373)

The symbols of God fill creation

Wherever you turn your eyes, there is God’s symbol; wherever you read, you will find there his archetypes… Look and see how nature and scripture are linked together…. Praise for the Lord of Nature. Glory for the Lord of Scripture.

The Harp of the Spirit

The keys to knowledge of creation

The keys of doctrine which unlock all of Scripture’s books, have opened up before my eyes the Book of Creation. The treasure house of the Ark, the crown of the Law, this is a book which above its companions has in its narrative made the Creator perceptible and transmitted his actions; It has envisioned all His craftsmanship, made manifest His works of art.

Hymns of Paradise, Hymn VI

St. Basil the Great (329-379)

Creation as a theophany of wisdom

You have then heaven and earth adorned, earth beautified, the sea peopled with its own creatures, the air filled with birds which scour in every direction. Studious listener, think of all these creations…, think of all those which my narration has left out to avoid tediousness; recognize everywhere the wisdom of God; never cease to wonder, and through every creature, to glorify the Creator.

Hexaemeron VIII, “The Creation of Fowl and Water Animals,” 7

The land as a common inheritance

God has poured the rains on a land tilled by avaricious hands; He has given the sun to keep the seeds warm, and to multiply the fruit through His productivity. Things of this kind are from God: the fertile land, moderate winds, abundance of seeds, the work of the oxen, and other things by which a farm is brought into productivity and abundance…. But the avaricious one has not remembered our common nature and has not thought of distribution.

Sermon IV:1, On Ownership

Magnifying the Lord through creation

He magnifies the Lord who observes with a keen understanding and most profound contemplation the greatness of creation, so that from the greatness and beauty of creatures he may contemplate their Creator. The deeper one penetrates into the reasons for which things in existence were made and were governed, the more he contemplates the magnificence of the Lord and, as far as it lies in him, magnifies the Lord.

Homily 16:3

Creation helps us to know the Creator

May He who has given us intelligence to recognize in the smallest objects of creation the great wisdom of the Contriver make us find in great celestial bodies a still higher idea of their Creator. However, compared with their Author, the sun and moon are but a fly and an ant. The whole universe cannot give us a right idea of the greatness of God; and it is o nly by signs, weak and slight in themselves, often by the help of the smallest insects and of the least plants, that we raise ourselves to Him.

Hexaemeron, “The creation of Luminous Bodies,” Homily VI, 11

A definition of self-control

Let this be the best definition and rule of self-control, to look neither after luxury of flesh nor its mortification, but to avoid the lack of proportion in each of these, so that it should not become gross and disturbed, nor yet fall ill and thus unable to carry out the work of the commandments…

“Ascetical Discourse,” as quoted in Orthodoxy and Ecology: Orthodox Youth Environmental Training Seminar Resource Book, Neamt, Romania, April 10-17, 1994, pg. 25.

Before this world

Even before this world, an order of things existed of which our mind can form an idea, but which was left untold [in Genesis], because it is too lofty a subject for men who are but beginners and are still babes in knowledge. The birth of the world was preceded by a condition of things suitable for the exercise of supernatural powers, out-stripping the limits of time, eternal and infinite… the intellectual and invisible natures, all the orderly arrangement of pure intelligences who are beyond the reach of our mind and of whom we cannot ever discover the names… the host of angels or the dignities of archangels.

Hexameron 1:5, (alternate translation) this version quoted in Alexandre Kalomiros, “The Eternal Will,” The Christian Activist, Vol. 11, Winter, 1997, p. 8.

St. Gregory “the Theologian” Nazianzus (329 – 389)

The Craftsman-Word… produced a single living being formed out of both (I mean the invisible and the visible natures); he produced man. He took the body from already existing matter and put in it a breath taken from himself (which the Word [of Scripture] knows as the intelligent soul and image of God).

This man He (God) set upon the earth as a kind of second world, a microcosm; another kind of angel, a worshiper of blended nature, a full initiate of the visible creation but a mere neophyte in respect of the intelligible world. He was king of all upon the earth, but a subject of heaven; earthly and heavenly, transient yet immortal; belonging both to the visible and to the intelligible order; midway between greatness and lowliness; combining in the same being spirit and flesh; spirit because of God’s grace; flesh because raised up from the dust; spirit, so that he may endure, and glory his benefactor; flesh that he may suffer, and by suffering, may be reminded and chastened when his greatness makes him ambitious. Thus he is a living creature under God’s Providence here, while in transition to another state and … in process of deification by reason of his natural tendency toward God.

Orations 45:8 The challenge to each person of selflessness

God created man like an animal who has received the order to become God. To execute this order, one must refuse it.

Orations, quoted by Vladimir Lossky

Humanity is called to contemplate creation

The great architect of the universe conceived and produced a being endowed with both natures, the visible and the invisible. God created the human being, bringing its body forth from the pre-existing matter which he animated with His own Spirit…. Thus in some way a new universe was born, small and great at one and the same time.

God set this “hybrid” worshiper on earth to contemplate the visible world, and to be initiated into the invisible; to reign over earth’s creatures, and to obey orders from on high. He created a being at once earthly and heavenly, insecure and immortal, visible and invisible, halfway between greatness and nothingness, flesh and spirit at the same time… an animal en route to another native land, and, most mysterious of all, made to resemble God by simple submission to the divine will.

Oration 45, For Easter 7 (PG 36:850) as quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, New City Press, New York, NY, 1995, p. 77.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (330 – 395)

The creation proclaims the Creator

The creation proclaims outright the Creator. For the very heavens, as the Psalmist says, declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1)with their unutterable words. We see the universal harmony in the wondrous sky and on the wondrous earth; how elements essentially opposed to each other are all woven together in an ineffable union to serve one common end, each contributing its particular force to maintain the whole….

We see all this with the piercing eyes of mind, nor can we fail to be taught by means of such a spectacle that a Divine power, working with skill and method, is manifesting itself in this actual world, and, penetrating each portion, combines those portions with the whole and completes the whole by the portions, and encompasses the universe with a single all-controlling force, self-centered, never ceasing from its motion, yet never altering the position which it holds.

On the Soul and the Resurrection 4

Woman are in the image of God

Woman is in the image of God equally with man. The sexes are of equal worth. Their virtues are equal, their struggles are equal… Would a man be able to compete with a woman who lives her life to its fullness?

Let us make man in our image and likeness, second discourse, (PG 44:276)

In God there is no past or future

To the power of God, there is nothing that has passed nor anything that is yet to happen, but even that which is expected later on as well as that which is present are equally grasped by the all-embracing power.

On the Making of Man, ch. XVI

The great catechism

Belief in God rests on the art and wisdom displayed in the order of the world: the belief in the Unity of God, on the perfection that must belong to Him in respect of power, goodness, wisdom, etc

The Great Catechism, Prologue to ch. 1

St. Ambrose of Milan (340 – 397)

It is not from part of your own goods that you give to the poor, but rather from what belongs to them. This is because you have appropriated to yourself what was originally given for the use of everyone. The earth has been given for the whole world and not merely for use by the wealthy.

De Nabuthe 12:53

The private usurpation of nature

Nature has poured forth all things for the common use of all men. And God has ordained that all things should be produced that there might be food in common for all. Nature created common rights, but usurpation has transformed them into private rights.

On the Duties of the Clergy 

The elements of creation are free gifts to all

Although you may lack money, you are not therefore devoid of grace. Although your house is not commodious, your possessions are not limited. For the sky is open and the expanse of the world is free. The elements have been granted to all for their common use. Rich and poor alike enjoy the splendid ornaments of the universe.

The Six Days of Creation III

The value of natural foods

Some may wonder why sustenance for animals was provided before food for man was created. In this manner we ought to take note of the depths of God’s wisdom, in that He does not neglect the least of things. For the Divine Wisdom utters these words in the Gospel: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of much more value than they?” If these birds have their food through the kindness of God, then no one ought to pride himself on his own industry and natural ability. And no one ought to despise simple and natural food…. The former is the food of the temperate; the rest of foods contribute to delight and luxury. One is common to all living things; the other to a few. Hence, such a fact furnishes us with an example for frugal living, and is a wise injunction that we ought to be content to live on simple herbs, on cheap vegetables and fruits such as nature has presented to us and the generosity of God has offered to us. This sort of food is also wholesome and useful in that it wards off disease and prevents indigestion.

The Six Days of Creation Book 3, Ch. 7:28

The Image of God

The image of God is virtue, not infirmity. The image of God is wisdom. The image of God is He alone who has said, “I and the Father are one,” thus possessing the likeness of the Father so as to have a unity of divinity and of plentitude.

Six Days of Creation, Book VI: The Sixth Day, The Ninth Homily, 7:41

The originating cause of creation

The causes of the beginnings of all things are in seeds. And the Apostle of the Gentiles has said that the human body is a seed. And so in succession after sowing there is the substance needful for the resurrection. But even if there were no substance and no cause, who could think it difficult for God to create man anew whence He will and as He wills. Who commanded the world to come into being out of no matter and no substance? Look at the heavens, behold the earth. Whence are the fires of the stars? Whence the orb and rays of the sun? Whence the globe of the moon? Whence the mountain heights or the woodland groves? Whence are the air diffused around, and the waters, whether enclosed or poured abroad? But if God made all these things out of nothing, for “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created” (Ps. 147:5), why should we wonder that that which has been should be brought to life again, since we see produced that which had not been.

On Belief in the Resurrection, Book II, Nr. 64, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second series, Vol. X, A. Cleveland Coxe translation, 1888, Eerdmans Printing, Co., 1989, p. 184.

St. John Chrysostom (347-407)

Love for the creatures

The saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to the beasts…. Surely we ought to show them great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves.

Homily XXXIX: 35
Comentary on Epistle to the Romans

Not to share possessions is robbery

This is robbery not to share one’s resources. Perhaps what I am saying astonishes you. Yet be not astonished. For I shall offer you the testimony of the sacred scriptures, which say that not only to rob others’ property, but also not to share your own with others, is robbery and greediness and theft… “for the robbery of the poor is in your houses” (Malachi 3:10). Because you have not made offerings, the prophet says, therefore have you robbed the things that belong to the poor. This he says by way of showing the rich that they are in possession of the property of the poor, even if it is a patrimony that they have received, even if they have gathered their money elsewhere.

De Lazaro 2, 4, 48:987

Doing God’s Will on Earth

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” … For you must long, says He, for heaven; however, even before heaven, He has bidden us to make the earth a heaven and do and say all things, even while we are continuing in it, as having our conversation there…. For there is nothing to hinder our reaching the perfection of the powers above, because we inhabit the earth; but it is possible even while abiding here, to do all, as though already placed on high. What He says, therefore is this: “As there all things are done without hindrance, and the angels are not partly obedient and partly disobedient, but in all things yield and obey; so vouchsafe that we men may not do Thy will by halves, but perform all things as Thou willest.”

Do you see how He has also taught us to be modest, by making it clear that virtue is not of our endeavors only, but also of the grace from above? And again, He has enjoined each one of us, who pray, to take upon himself the care of the whole world. For He did not at all say, “Thy will be done,” in me, or in us, but everywhere on the earth; so that error may be destroyed, and truth implanted, and all wickedness cast out, and virtue return, and no difference in this respect be henceforth between heaven and earth.

Commentary on St. Matthew, Homily 19:7

From creation, learn to admire the Lord

From the creation, learn to admire the Lord! And if any of the things which you see exceed your comprehension, and you are not able to find the reason for its existence, then for this reason, glorify the Creator that the wisdom of His works surpasses your own understanding.

On the Statutes 12:7

We shall give account for all that we have used

We do all things ignoring the fact that we shall have to give account of everything that goes beyond our use, for we thus misuse the gifts of God. For He has not given us these things that we alone may use them, but that we may alleviate the need of our fellow human beings.

Homilies on Genesis, 4

Nature is our best teacher

Indeed the magnitude and beauty of creation, and also the very manner of it, display a God Who is the artificer of the universe. He has made the mode of this creation to be our best teacher, by compounding all things in a manner that transcends the course of nature.

Concerning the Statutes

St. Benedict of Nursia (480 – 547)

Monastery tools should be treated as sacred vessels

In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is a requirement to treat with the utmost of care the equipment which the monks product. A stewardship of barnyard implements is to be as careful as the implements of the altar.

Look upon all the tools and all the property of the monastery as if they were sacred altar vessels.

Rule of St. Benedict, Nr. XXI, 10

St. Columba (521 – 597)

The Will of God

What is the will of God for us in this world? That we should do what he has ordered, that is, that we should live in righteousness and seek devotedly those things which are eternal. How do we arrive at this? By study. We must therefore study devotedly and righteously. What is our best help in maintaining this study? The Intellect, which probes everything and, finding none of the world’s goods in which it can permanently rest, is converted by reason toward the one good which is that which is eternal.

Life of Columba

St. Maximus the Confessor (580 – 662) 

Creation as cosmic Church

The Church is one and the same in and throughout each section. The wise thus glimpse the universe of things brought into existence by God’s creation, divided between the spiritual world, containing incorporeal intelligent substances, and the corporeal world, the object of sense (so marvelously woven together from many natures and kinds of things) as if they were all another church, not built by hands, but suggested by the ones we build; its sanctuary in the world above, allotted to the powers above, its nave the world below, assigned to those whose lot it is to live in the senses.

The universe too is one, not split between its visible and invisible parts; on the contrary, but the force of their reference to its own unity and indivisibility, it circumscribes their differences in character. It shows itself to be the same, in the visible and invisible mutually joined without confusion with each other. Each is wholly fixed in the whole of the other. As parts of the whole, both make up the world, and as parts in the whole, both are completed and fulfilled in a single form. For the whole intelligible world of thought is visible to those who have eyes to see, spiritually expressed in symbolic form by the whole sensible universe. And the sensible world is mentally present in the whole intelligible universe when it is verbally expressed in the mind. For this visible world is verbally present in the world of thought; the world of thought is present in its visible images. Their end result or work is all one, “as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel,” says Ezekiel (1:16), that wonderful spectator of wonders, speaking, I think, about these two worlds. And the divine Apostle says, “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20).

If visible things can be observed through sense data, as it is written, visible phenomena will often be understood spiritually through the medium of what is sensibly imperceptible, by persons who devote themselves to spiritual contemplation. The contemplation of objects of thought symbolized through the objects of sight means the spiritual understanding of the seen through the unseen. Things which are significative of each other are bound to contain clear and perfectly true expressions of each other, and a flawless relation to them.

The Mystagogia

Creation as a mirror for God

We do not know God in His essence. We know Him rather from the grandeur of his creation and from His providential care for all creatures. By this means, as if using a mirror, we attain insight into His infinite goodness, wisdom and power.

Philokalia, Vol. II, First Century on Love, Nr. 96, Faber and Faber, London, pg. 64

Humans are part of creation in order to raise it up

Man is not isolated from the rest of creation. By his very nature, he is bound up with the whole of the universe…. In his way to union with God, man in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in his love the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may be transfigured by grace.

Wholeness and Transfiguration, pg. 5

How the saints will inherit the earth

It is clear that the kingdom of God the Father belongs to the humble and gentle. “For blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). It is not this physical earth, which by nature occupies a middle place in the universe, that God promises as an inheritance for those who love Him — not, at least, if He is speaking truly when He says, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30)….

Since these things have been promised to those who love the Lord, what man prompted by intelligence and wishing to serve it would ever say, from a literal reading of scripture alone, that heaven, and the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, and the mystically hidden joy of the Lord… are to be identified with the earth? In this text (Matt. 5:5) … the word “earth” signifies the resolution and strength of the inner stability, immovably rooted in goodness, that is possessed by gentle people. This state of stability exists eternally with the Lord, contains unfailing joy, enables the gentle to attain the kingdom prepared from the beginning, and has its station and dignity in heaven.

On the Lord’s Prayer, quoted in The Philokalia, Vol. II, pg. 292.

Contemplating the inner essence of creatures

If, instead of stopping short at the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses, you seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences, seeing them as images of spiritual realities or as the inward principles of sensible objects, you will be taught that nothing belonging to the visible world is unclean. For by nature all things were created good.

“First Century of Various Texts,” in The Philokalia, Vol. II, Nr. 92, Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1981, pg. 185.

Attaining knowledge of the mysteries of creation

Those who have been followers and ministers of the Logos have been directly initiated into a knowledge of created things. They have received the continuous tradition from the ancient and holy writers who have found all beings divided into five different categories. …

Man comes at the end of all creatures as a natural link joining through his own members himself with the other creatures, and joining in himself those things which naturally are very distinct from one another. By union with God Who is the universal cause Who made creatures distinct from one another in the beginning, man can then gradually and orderly progress through means to the end in a sublime ascension. This union of all things is found in God in Whom there is no distinction, as we said above, such as that which exists in man according to male and female. In God this category does not exist, but man is represented in his true essence, not distinguished by being male or female, and not insofar as he is divided into parts, but rather man exists in God in his perfection that makes him truly man, namely his reason (logos) from which comes knowledge.

Then man makes one earth by uniting paradise with his inhabited world through caste conversation. His united world then becomes no longer distinct by reason of the diversity of so many parts, but rather it is brought together into a synthesis so that man no longer suffers proliferation into separated parts. Then heaven and earth are united through a virtuous life similar to that of angels. Man no longer is bound down by his bodily condition, but rises through an elevation of his soul to the invisible presence of God.

Ambigua, PG XCI, 1304D-1307

Contemplation of creation

How can the intellect not marvel when it contemplates that immense and more than astonishing sea of goodness [which is creation]? Or how is it not astounded when it reflects on how and from what source there have come into being both nature endowed with intelligence and intellect, and the four elements which compose physical bodies…? What kind of potentiality was it which, once actualized, brought these things into being? …

God is the Creator from all eternity…. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him from all eternity….

Try to learn why God created; for that is true knowledge. But do not try to learn how He created or why He did so comparatively recently; for that does not come within the compass of your intellect. Of divine realities some may be apprehended by men and others may not. Unbridled speculation, as one of the saints has said, can drive one headlong over the precipice.

Fourth Century on Love, Nrs. 2-5, Philokalia, Vol. II, Faber & Faber, London, pg. 100-101

What hinders the contemplation of created things?

When a sparrow tied by the leg tries to fly, it is held back by the string and pulled down to the earth. Similarly, when the intellect that has not yet attained dispassion flies up towards heavenly knowledge, it is held back by the passions and pulled down to earth.

The intellect, once totally free from passions, proceeds undistracted to the contemplation of created beings, making its way towards knowledge of the Holy Trinity. …

He who has succeeded in attaining the virtues and is enriched with spiritual knowledge sees things clearly in their true nature. Consequently, he both acts and speaks with regard to all things in a manner which is fitting, and he is never deluded. For according to whether we use things rightly or wrongly, we become either good or bad.

Philokalia, Vol. II, First Century on Love, Nrs 85-86, 92, Faber & Faber, London, pg. 63

St. Isaac the Syrian (640? – eighth century)

 A charitable heart

What is a charitable heart? It is a heart which is burning with a loving charity for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons — for all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes his heart; a heart which is so softened and can no longer bear to hear or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted upon any creature. This is why such a man never ceases to pray also for the animals, for the enemies of truth, and for those who do him evil, that they may be preserved and purified. He will pray even for the lizards and reptiles, moved by the infinite pity which reigns in the hearts of those who are becoming united with God.

Mystic Treatises XXIII

Peace with the world through peace with God

Be at peace with your soul; then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven; for there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the kingdom is hidden within your soul. Flee from sin, dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.

Mystic Treatises

St. John Damascene (675 – 749)

Worship God and honor the creation

I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God…. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.

Treatise On the Divine Images 1:15-16

There is usefulness in every plant

Among plants and herbs, some are fruit bearing, others edible, others fragrant and flowery, given to us for our enjoyment, such as the rose. Others have healing properties. For there is not a single animal or plant in which the Creator has not implanted some form of energy capable of being used to satisfy man’s needs.

Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, “Concerning Earth and its Products,” ch. 10.

Man is a microcosm of the community of life

Man, it is to be noted, has community with things inanimate and participates in the life of the unreasoning creatures, and shares in the mental processes of those endowed with reason. For the bond of union between man and inanimate things is the body and its composition out of the four elements: and the bond between man and plants consists, in addition to these things, of their powers of nourishment and growth and seeding, that is, generation: and finally, over and above these links, man is connected with unreasoning animals by appetite, that is anger and desire, and sense and impulsive movement. … plus the five physical senses….

Lastly, man’s reason unites him to incorporeal and intelligent natures, for he applies his reason and mind and judgement to everything and pursues after virtues and eagerly follows after piety, which is the crown of the virtues. And so man is a microcosm.

Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, “Concerning Man,” ch. 12.

Criteria for a healthy intelligence

The intelligence is healthy when, restrained and enlightened when it has the passions under control, when it perceives the inner essences of God’s creatures spiritually, and when it is raised up toward the Blessed and Holy Trinity.

“On the virtues and vices,” as translated by Kallistos Ware and Philip Sherrard, The Philokalia, Vol. II, section on St. John of Damaskos, 1981, London, p. 339.

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