looking to write a book? :: orthodox eco-theology

Whenever theology and ecology come to the same table for a chat, inevitably, Eastern Orthodoxy comes up as a church that has “gotten it right.” Someone will say that they’ve never divorced flesh and spirit the way we have in the West; laud the Eastern understanding of the sacramentality of all creation; talk about the Theophany and the blessing of all waters; or connect the dots between the Incarnation, icons and the sanctity of all matter. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is known as the “green” Patriarch for his work advocating for ecological responsibility from a deeply Christian standpoint. 

So where is the book on ecological theology from an Eastern perspective? 

No one has written it. 

There are bits and pieces here and there—articles, chapters, and allusions—but when you go looking for something more, there is, well, not much more. I’m calling the bluff: Given the deep resources within the Orthodox tradition for ecological thinking, I’d like to see someone synthesize all this iconography and liturgy into something more explicit, more direct. Heck, in my library, there are already eight shelves full of eco-conscious Protestants and Catholics selling books on the subject!  

And if you’re willing to take me up on it, would you mind writing this before my term paper is due?

14 Replies to “looking to write a book? :: orthodox eco-theology”

  1. Eric,

    I wonder how the orthodox understanding of and place in history and tradition shapes their ‘response’ to such things as the ecological crises. I found the same thing you did when trying to do a term paper on an Eastern Orthodox response to Modern Science. Except for one excellent book by Alexei V. Nesteruk entitled “Light from the East”, I was left pulling together what articles and sections I could, usually on the doctrine of creation or what we could loosely dub ‘sacrament’ – Schmemann, et al.

    But what struck me most was not that such a void was to be found in Orthodox writing on such things, but to compare this with such an overwhelming mass of literature (plenty of good and bad!) from we ever-pragmatic protestants. It is amazing that while we hussle away trying to solve all the puzzles and problems of our own creation, the ‘light from the east’ shines in a completely different direction. Which makes me wonder if the sort of questions we are now asking simply remain foreign to the orthodox mind, just as they were once foreign to the western mind of 400 years ago.

    I don’t wish to suggest this is a good or bad thing, necessarily (though I fear my bias might be clear) I can see both some good and some bad coming from the Eastern mind so steeped in the rich tradition and ritual of the Church as to render ‘the problems of the day’ secondary. Yet, one also must face the fact that the environmental crises has emerged precisely in the context of the Modern West and not in the Orthodox East (read: drab, backwards-thinking, pre-modern, etc) Thus it seems to me quite ironic that we now turn to them for help in sorting things out.

    Perhaps you are the one to write this book after all. But my hope if you do is not to present “an orthodox response” so much as an ‘apologia’ for another way of being and seeing which answers our western questions by subverting them and leads deeper into mystery rather than out of it.

    (p.s. sorry, no can do on getting that book done before your assignment is due. hope these thoughts help you in your musings.)

  2. Matt,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. No way am I writing that book.

    2. I think that you are right. I’ve only got my toes in the ocean, but it seems to me that EO folks have a radically different way of understanding what theology is and does. Drawing straight lines toward “the problems of the day” from theological solutions might does not make a lot of sense when theology is mostly about remembering (and re-remembering) what the Fathers have said. There is something right about that attention to tradition. On some level, theology has to pursue its own questions, not bustle around lobbing its answers at whatever questions have the most attention in the public eye.

    Yet, for all the silliness attending the shelves and shelves of practical books written in the last few years, there is an energy represented there that might just be starting to catch more and more people’s attention. Whether it represents a groundswell large enough to get us to cut our consumption in half? I’m doubtful, even as I hope…

    Off to bed… test tomorrow…

  3. Eric,
    I guess I’d add that, in my explorations of Orthodoxy, all of life is viewed through sacramental and liturgical lenses. Through the liturgy and the sacraments (and obviously Scripture and Holy Tradition) we receive and are taught all that we need to be the kind of people who care for all of creation. One of the things I love about Eastern thought is that it is not systematic and therefore avoids much of our Western tendency to compartmentalize issues. I look forward to discussing this further in Chicago!!!

  4. This isn’t exactly eco-theology proper, but UVA prof Vigen Guorian, an Orthodox theologian, has written a couple of books on theology and gardening: Inheriting Paradise and the Fragrance of God.

  5. Joey,

    Thanks for your suggestion—I think that those will actually be really helpful and they hadn’t yet come up in my searches.

    Hope you are well. Are you at UVA these days?

  6. Glad that they might be of assistance.
    Nope, I’m a pastor at a church way down in the state of Mississippi! I was at Regent this summer for a week-long class and thought of you. I just missed catching up with Paulus up there…

  7. Some books that comes to mind for me when I read this were…
    7 men who ruled the world from the grave author David Breese
    A woman rides the beast author Dave Hunt

    It’s all apart of a big New World Order plan, right under our noses. Too bad Americans have been sleeping through it. The best kinds of slaves to have are the kind that think they are free and that’s what we are. I did a huge study on the Book of Revelation with Chuck Missler. It was awesome.

  8. Genius,

    Can’t say that I’m much of a fan of apocalyptic schemes, New World Order plans under our noses, or mind-blowing studies of Revelation mentioned in conjunction with the above. I don’t know Mr. Missler, but in my experience, the sorts of projects distort scripture to fit current events and thoroughly misunderstand prophecy and apocalyptic. Glad you enjoyed it though.

  9. This is probably far too late a suggestion, but I’d also recommend a book edited by John Chryssavgis, “Cosmic Grace | Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew I”. You can find it on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Cosmic-Grace-Humble-Prayer-Bartholomew/dp/0802862616/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229274821&sr=8-1. Zizioulas (who wrote the preface) and Patriarch Bartholomew are probably two of the most significant voices in writing theology which is sensitive to ecological issues, and I commend this volume, which is a collection of speeches, lectures, and short articles on a variety of ecological topics.

  10. Thanks Jeremy,

    I found that volume in our library and put it to good use in preparing the paper (though the nature of the genre meant that there was a fair amount of platitude and repetition).

    I’ve got a huge respect for Patriarch Bartholomew and his efforts to use his office for the good of the whole planet—if only more church “institutional sorts” would get their hands dirty!

    I ended up focusing the paper on St. Symeon the New Theologian who is not very earthy (or earthly), but whose thoughts on contemplation and asceticism can be given, or so I think, an ecological “turn.” Of course, to make that move, I had to use a lot of contemporary figures (Chryssavgis and Zizioulas among them).

    Congratulations again!

  11. Eric,
    [Here’s a fourth member of that Regent CTC group logging in. . . Mary Ruth found your blog and the icon in the process of our putting a book of readings together for the “Creation Care Study Program” where we’ll be teaching (again, ironically, given the carbon footprint of flying us down there) this October.]

    You have probably found Paulos Gregorios, IN THE HUMAN PRESENCE. It’s the best Orthodox thing I know on the subject–though a bit dated, and polemical. (I believe it was written in response to a World Council of Churches meeting where he found the theological resources brought to bear on the problem woefully inadequate.

    He draws quite bt on Maximus the Confessor, as I recall, whose idea of the Cosmic role of the human are intriguing.

    But I think Matt is on to something–it may take a kind of combination of Orthodox sacramentalism and Protestant wordiness to produce the book you’re looking for. The Orthodox are likely to say: “it’s all in the liturgy”. I remember Gregorios, at a meeting of the AuSable forum about 30 years ago, saying the main problem with we Protestants is that we talk too much.

    SO you will probably have to write the book you’re asking for.

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