“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)
Dear Honored Hierarchs, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Welcome to this new website, sponsored by the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration (OFT), which is dedicated to fostering awareness among Orthodox Christians and, indeed, all people of faith and good will around the world, of the serious spiritual and existential threat which global climate change poses to all of us. We hope that you will be inspired by and learn from our beautiful new film, The Face of God: The Orthodox Church on Climate Change, which was created and directed for us by the Rev. Father John Kaleeg Hainsworth, a dedicated environmental scholar, filmmaker, and Orthodox Christian priest, who currently serves the Holy Theophany Mission Station in Gibsons, British Columbia.
Our organization is an Affiliate Ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States. Our motto is: “Proclaiming the ecological mission of the Orthodox Church as the reconciliation of all things in Christ.” We see our work as an effort to awaken our faithful to an awareness of the profound love which God has for this world, our home, and for all of humanity – past, present, and future. We have been working since 2002 to call attention to both the beauty and the fragility of God’s good creation – which is being threatened, in ever more serious ways (without us necessarily intending it), by human activity. Indeed, our technologically‐sophisticated modern way of life is poisoning and damaging the earth and killing billions of wild animals – all while also alienating us from our heavenly Father rather than drawing us closer to Him. That is because the emphasis of our worldwide consumer‐oriented culture is more and more on the selfish satisfaction of human desires – especially wealth, entertainment, and pleasure. Our most serious concern in the OFT, meanwhile, is for our children and unborn generations to come, who will have to contend with the deadly consequences of the pollution, trash, excessive heat, barren earth, and whatever other detritus we leave behind.
Our primary focus for many years now has been on global climate change, because we have come to realize that this phenomenon is the most dangerous environmental threat we face. As climate scientists around the world have confirmed again and again, it results primarily from the burning of fossil fuels on a massive scale, and it is rapidly changing our planet in ways that will severely impact life on earth as we know it for centuries to come. Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gas, result from the recovery of what remains in the ground from the extravagant vegetative growth that characterized the earth during exceedingly warm, wet geological eras millions of years ago. It is a simple matter of physics, provable in the lab, that when they are burned, they release enormous quantities of “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere that trap the heat from the sun and warm the entire planet. The more that are released, the hotter it gets. There is no limit to how much hotter it can become – other than the quantity of fossil fuels that are consumed.
It is indeed regrettable that this issue has become such a lethal political football, so controversial that it has contributed greatly to the serious divisions plaguing our country and the entire faith community, including Orthodox Christians. So, let us say at the outset, that this is not, for the members of the OFT, a political issue, so much as it is a moral one. In fact, it is a pro‐life issue – because it has to do with the continued thriving and, indeed (eventually), survival of vast numbers of our children worldwide, for generations to come.
The reason we can make such a bold assertion is because we have been paying attention to worldwide climate trends. Already, we can see that numerous places, such as parts of the Middle East, South Asia (India), Africa, and even the southwestern United States and Latin America are experiencing an increasing number of summer days when it becomes so hot that it can be lethal to human beings. The heat can become so intense that air conditioners no longer work, and jet airplanes cannot land. In the meantime, vast summer forest fires – the product of heat plus drought – have devastated much of Australia, Africa, California and the rest of the American West, while Brazil is busy deliberately burning down the Amazon Rainforest, which is the largest living reservoir of carbon dioxide in the world (sometimes called the “lungs of the world,” because the lush vegetation there gives off oxygen while absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide). Drought has devastated much of these same areas and more, leading to starvation, wars over precious resources in some places, and disease, while unprecedented numbers of hurricanes and other violent storms have flooded and ravaged other areas. At the same time, rising sea levels, caused primarily by the melting of glaciers, is threatening the very existence of numerous major cities and regional population centers throughout the world.
The bottom line is that this is not a recipe for human thriving – nor for the long‐term survival of much of life on earth, not just human beings. But, for a brief time yet, we still have a chance to at least slow this process down, and thus mitigate the worst consequences. The human race is not over yet – we still have a long way to go! As with the coronavirus, prudent incremental changes in human behavior (that is, the deliberate choice of more and more people to live in a simpler, less energy‐intensive way), is important, and can certainly make a tremendous difference. However, it will not go far enough. Unless and until our worldwide economy weans itself off fossil fuels once and for all, the existential threat from climate change will only get worse. The good news is that real, technologically feasible solutions already exist – so there is reason for hope – and more are on the way. It is our fervent prayer that our leaders in government and the corporate world will rise to the challenge and embrace these innovations – for the benefit of all of us, and for generations yet to come (including their own children).
Advocacy by the faith community is certainly in order here. The gift that Orthodox Christians can bring to the table in this regard is our traditional understanding of the sacred nature of God’s creation and of humanity’s place in it as its priests, who offer back to God in thanksgiving what He has given us, for the life of the world. Our witness is to the necessity for humanity to foster what is crucial for the continuing well‐being of both the human community and the natural world, for which God gave His Son out of love for us.
We are introducing our new film, The Face of God, during this difficult pandemic season, not to lead to further pessimism and alarm, but rather, to promote an attitude of gratitude towards our Creator for providing us with such a beautiful world as our home, as well as to foster a spirit of hope and resolve as we consider what steps we can take together that will contribute to slowing the warming of the earth and healing the grave damage that has already been done due to human greed, ignorance, and indifference. The title of our film, The Face of God, is taken from a quote attributed to St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.” It reminds us of our common duty to love and reverence the earth, recognizing all that it reveals about the providential love that God has for us, his human children by grace.
We owe Fr. Hainsworth a great debt of gratitude for this beautiful and profound achievement, along with the Producer, Angela Doll, his partner in Brightwing Media. It is also important to thank the Rev. Archdeacon John Chrysavgis, Executive Producer of the film, for his oversight, as well as the entire Steering Committee of the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration, and especially Fred Krueger, the hard‐working and dedicated Director of the OFT since its inception. Thank you also to all those who agreed to be interviewed for the film, both ordained and lay – your insights and your witness are a gift to all of us, and comprise the heart of the film. We especially want to express our deepest condolences to the family and the flock of His Eminence David (Mahaffey), Archbishop of Sitka and Alaska, who fell asleep in the Lord after the filming was completed. The eloquent and heartfelt message he shared with us for the movie will remain as an inspiration for all those who will view it, now and for years to come.
Finally, we also want to acknowledge with much respect, love, and gratitude His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, whose profound theological insights about the sacredness of God’s creation, as well as his unflagging commitment to advocating for the urgent need to protect all life on earth, have been our inspiration and our guide in the work we do, in defining our priorities, and in embarking on this project.
We know that no single film can provide a full description of a challenge as serious and multi‐faceted as global climate change. So, we invite you to study this issue further. On the following pages, we provide resources and encourage you to examine the climate challenge up close for yourself.
You may also consider setting up a parish study group. Working together, you can learn about the causes, consequences, and solutions to climate warming. Examine the science. Learn about the surprisingly simple dynamics of global climate change. We hope that our materials can help you to become aware of how our Church and its theology leads to an understanding of this predicament and a pathway that can reduce its impacts. Once you grasp the dimensions of this issue, you are better prepared to address its causes. See the information below.
Yours in service to our Lord Jesus Christ,
Rev. Protopresbyter Christopher H. Bender,
Chair, Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration Dean, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
To encourage us in this emerging crisis, a modern “Cloud of Orthodox Witnesses” is arising and declaring that it is time to address climate change. Listen to the voices of a sampling of our Orthodox hierarchs and their messages:
His All‐Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople:
The greatest threat to our world is climate change and its destructive consequences for our survival on the planet.... The Orthodox believer cannot remain indifferent to [this] crisis.... (September 1, 2018)
His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros II, Pope of Alexandria and All Africa:
The risk of our planet being changed into a dangerous hot‐house constitutes a visible threat for all of us.... As Christians, we should respond to our responsibilities to save our Planet. (September 8, 2012)
His Beatitude Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and All‐Russia:
Clergy and laity are called to protect the environment. Only through restraint, respect for others and personal responsibility, based on God’s commandments, will humanity overcome its environmental problems. (February 4, 2013)
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:
Climate change... has ... become exacerbated.... As Orthodox Christians, we must admit our failure to integrate our theology with our practice. ... The challenge [now] requires a more urgent response by the Church. Each parish and every individual should seek ways of... applying the principles of scripture, theology and tradition... to our relationship with the natural environment.... Every parish... is encouraged to open a fruitful dialogue on this challenge of our generation. (September 1, 2019)
His Eminence Archbishop Serafim of Zimbabwe, Director, The Orthodox Climate Office, Patriarchate of Alexandria, Cairo, Egypt:
When we address the climate issue, we are dealing with a profoundly moral and spiritual problem.... Climate change presents an unprecedented threat to life on earth....” (June 18, 2014)