Ancient Christians saw every flower, every bird, every star as part of God's divine mystery, says Fr. John Chryssagis.

Ancient Christians saw every flower, every bird, every star as part of God's divine mystery, says Fr. John Chryssagis.

November 17, 2014

We must stop polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink, and restore a sense of awe and delight in our relationship to the world, says Father John Chryssaygis.

Speaking about the environment, Chryssaygis said people must respond to nature with the same delicacy, the same sensitivity and the same tenderness with which they respond to another human being.

"Do we honestly believe that our endless and mindless manipulation of our planet and the earth's resources somehow will come without consequences?" asked the archdeacon, who is a theological advisor on environmental issues to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

"Our economy and our technology are toxic when they divorce from our calling to see the world as God would see the world," Chryssaygis said.

Patriarch Bartholomew is archbishop of Constantinople and considered first among equals among leaders of the Orthodox Church. He has become known as "the green patriarch" for his advocacy on environmental issues.

Born in Australia and now living in Maine, Chryssaygis is the author of more than 20 books on spiritual life, theology and the environment. He spoke at The King's University College Oct. 31 in a lecture sponsored by Augustana College of the University of Alberta.

Chryssaygis began his lecture with Genesis 1, saying whenever we think of the Genesis story, we focus for the most part on creation by a loving God.

"But we forget our connection to the rest of the world, to the environment," he lamented. "I think this is a sign of our arrogance as human beings.

"We tend to over-emphasize our creation in the image and likeness of God, but we tend to overlook our creation from the dust of the ground. The two should be much more closely connected. Our heavenliness should not overshadow our earthliness."


According to Chryssaygis, most people are unaware that in the creation story human beings did not get a day of their own.

Archdeacon John Chryssagis says humans should live in ways that reflect gratitude for creation and moderation in the use of it.


Archdeacon John Chryssagis says humans should live in ways that reflect gratitude for creation and moderation in the use of it.

"In fact we share that sixth day with all the sort of creeping and crawling things you wouldn't ever want in your bed at night. That's what was created on the sixth day. We share, we enjoy a binding unity with all of creation and it's helpful to remember that from time to time."

In classical traditions, human beings regarded themselves as descendants from God. They saw the world as sacred like them, not subject to them. In their experience and in their memory, every flower, every bird, every star, was holy, sacred. Nature was never an object for experimentation, certainly not for exploitation.


The early mystics of East and West in the Christian tradition recognized this. They recognized that everything that breathes praises God.

Our generation, however, is characterized by a sense of almost narcissism, self-centredness toward the rest of the world and by a lack of awareness of the beyond, lamented Chryssaygis. "We have broken that sacred covenant between ourselves and our world."

Nowadays we can't get away with treating people like things, he said. "May I suggest to you that it's high time that we learn not to treat even things like mere things?"

As Isaac of Syria said in the seventh century, we should acquire a merciful heart that burns with love for the whole of creation – for humans, for birds, for beasts, even for demons.

Or as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said in the 19th century, we should learn to love all of God's creation, including every grain of sand and every leaf. "If you love everything," Dostoyevsky said, "you will perceive the divine mystery in all things."

Chryssaygis said whenever we narrow our life to ourselves and our interests or even our national interests, we are neglecting our vocation to reconcile and transform God's creation.

"We cannot remain passive observers or active contributors to the merciless violation of our planet. Until we can perceive in the pollution of our planet the face of our children, we are not going to be able to comprehend easily the irreversible consequences of our actions."


What is required, he said, is nothing less than a reversal, a radical reversal of our perspectives and our practices.

"There is a price to pay for our wasting. The balance of the world, the covenant that we have with heaven, has been shattered. Our ecological crisis won't be solved with just sentimental slogans and with recycling programs alone."

Chryssaygis said we must assume responsibility for what we do in our world.

"How can we as intelligent human beings really believe that a century of pumping oil pollution into the atmosphere won't have ramifications?" he asked. "We have to ask, is what I have really what I need? Is the world's thirst for oil destroying my planet?

He urged his audience to live simpler lifestyles and to learn to recognize in the earth the very face of God.

"If we can live in ways that reflect the values of generosity and gratitude and sharing and communion and frugality and moderation, then we will hear the ocean groaning and we will feel the seals' heartbeat," he said.

"If God saw the world on that sixth day of creation and said it was very good, we too can begin to see the world that way."