CREATION, HISTORY AND CHURCH
ASPECTS OF ECO-THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL ETHICS
In recent years humanity has been experiencing unprecedented situations of political, social and financial instability due to the accumulation of acute problems which influence people’s lives not only on the individual level, but also on the level of interpersonal relations and their reference to the natural environment. Following an extremely rationalist and individualist worldview and being addicted to an unlimited supremacy over nature for centuries, the human being has been trapped in its narcissism and ardent desire for power. Seeking for the constant increase of the economical profit in combination with the irrational and avaricious consumption of natural resourses and sources of energy, the (post) modern human being attempted to give meaning to its existence in terms of immanence, with concerted actions towards a utilitarian model which prioritizes the individual ephemeral enjoyment and wealth accumulation, while neglecting the future of Creation, the equalizing of goods, and social justice. In other words, the modern homo economicus thought that he could ex officio play the role of the King and Lord of the World and of History. This is evidenced by the gloomy global economic situation which is an after-effect of extreme Neo-Liberalism, along with the refugee crisis which afflicts the whole European continent and especially the Mediterranean basin, as a result of the war and religious fundamentalism in Middle East.
However, the reality of the past few years, made prominent in the most tragic way the deficiency and the dead ends of the predominant anthropological model, which in the end threatens Creation with annihilation.It is true that religions in general, and Christian Churches in particular, including Orthodoxy, consciously or not, served various expressions of the spirit of this world to such a degree that they were identified with unfree, suppressing and totally destructive structures, attitudes and actions. At the same time, many were the voices of eminent representatives of Churches at an individual and collective level, who made a decisive contribution with their example and work (academic, pastoral and missionary) to the utterance of another alternative morality concerning the composition of the human being and the adjustment of his/her relations with the fellow humans and the natural environment. It is a commonplace that both the continuing environmental destruction, a fact evidenced anew in the recent climate Summit (Paris, December 2015), and the progressive deepening of social and economic inequalities between North and South, which leadsto the impoverishment of great part of the global population, are mere manifestations of the critical question of the identity of the human being. Consequently, as it is noted by many and in particular by His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, anthropology lies at the core of theological, philosophical and wider concern. It is obvious that the way each tradition defines the human’s identity, leads to an equivalent anthropological model, a fact which highlights directly or indirectly the important responsibilities related to the ecological problem or the domination of extreme capitalistic management models of economical and natural wealth.
Although the Orthodox Church has not always risen to the occasion, it has kept alive the fundamental truths of its tradition in many aspects of its life, a fact which is reflected both in the constantly functional experience and life, and in various actions occasionally taken in order to address in the most expedient way the consequences of the environmental, economical and finally anthropological, spiritual and ethical crisis. (e.g. the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the environment). Despite however the conscientious efforts made by enlightened hierarchs or prominent theologians, worldwide Orthodoxy shows great difficulty in following the developments either on a local or a worldwide level, unable to offer in a persuasive or realistic way responsive solutions to the urgent problems and challenges . Following the traditional crisis management models, such as its nonetheless valuable and particularly useful charitable and pastoral work, the Orthodox Church is often unable to show the appropriate flexibility, to adopt new methods and means which are available so as to reinforce its word and work. Further, while problems increase daily, many voices surface calling for an almost passive attitude against the challenges or even to an escape from history, for the sake of soul’s salvation or theosis which is considered as a purely individual achievement. In the area of Orthodox theology there have been individual effortsrecently to articulate a “political” word taking into account the contemporaneous context of secularization and globalization and attempting to converse and be related to the surrounding world by virtue of a topical existential re-interpretation of the tradition’s richness. However, these efforts have not been coordinated and Orthodox theology, even though it should be the critical voice of the Church, remains introverted and, restricted to a sterile and unfruitful study of the tradition, neglecting the need that the Word of the Gospel should be incarnated according to the patristic ethos in any context, so as to properly address the questions of the (post)modern human being. To fulfill this need, and taking as a starting point the loving-communal-sacrificial ethos, manifested in the self-revelation of the Triune God in Christ, along with the personal mode of being that summarizes their soteriological proposal for the human being, the Orthodox Church and theology may propose a different model of life and social coexistence where the respect of personal freedom and difference, as well as the respect of the Creation’s integrity, will constitute a fundamental cultural condition. The anthropological ideal of personhood, as it is incarnated in the experience and life of the Church and witnessed throughout the ecclesiastical tradition constitutes a most valuable gift that Orthodoxy can offer to the contemporary human being, without of course this being the only or dominant proposal in the public area, While considering its eschatological identity, the active presence of the Church in the public area away from any favorable or privileged treatment due to its glorious historical role, and respecting the conditions and rules of this area, will offer various guarantees for its seamless process in History, focusing not only on human pain relief, but also the interception of the various problems which threaten the very existence of Creation.
In this perspective, a series of critical questions come to surface referring to the position and role of the Orthodox Church and theology in the contemporary world, their potentiality to discuss fruitfully not only with the progressive trends of society, but also with other religious traditions and cultures, in view of dealing with critical issues related to the deeply environmental, economical, moral and spiritual crisis. In the context of the present globalised society crucial questions rise that ask for an urgent response: Is the living ecclesiastical consciousness allowed to keep retreating into its shells, without a reference or at least an honest dialogue towards other Christian traditions, which due to their historical consistency can offer their valuable experience from their encounter with modernity, post-modernity, secularization and postsecularization? Is Orthodoxy able to emphatically utter a speech of love and solidarity towards every human, regardless their religious, social and cultural origin? Is the ethos and the way of life that Orthodoxy proposes compatible with the values and features of our modern world? Which alternative and social solution of management concerning the natural and economical wealth could Orthodoxy propose? To what extent the anthropological model of the human being, as a “priest of creation,” as proposed by prominent theologians, is realistic, and what are its practical consequences on dealing with theecological crisis, social injustice and inequality? Is Orthodox theology able to systematically utter a contemporary “political theology,” which although founded in a hermeneutical revision of its fundamental faith principles, could highlight the ethical parameters of ecclesiastical experience, incarnating the truth of the Gospel in all and aiming at the foretaste of the divine-human communion in History, however away from fallacious expectations of messianic and revealing type? Can Orthodoxy, while respecting its history and tradition, and recognizing its possible historical failures or deficiencies, anatomize its tradition in a creative way in order to meet the exigencies of time? Bearing in mind that the current academic year ends with the historically important event of the convention of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church (16-27 June 2016), after centuries of synodical inertia, it is obvious that the continuous discussion of issues related to creation and humansurvival, constitutes not only a duty but a central concern of ecclesiastical experience, which is expressed and culminated in the eschatological transformation of Creation into New Creation in the Kingdom of God.
The Volos Academy for Theological Studies will address the above issues and questions in a series of events, lectures, book presentations, conferences and seminars organized in cooperation with other Orthodox or inter-Christian ecumenical organizations, institutes, seminaries and academies, in the academic year 2015- 2016.
To download the full program, click here.