On the publication of Climate Crisis and Creation Care: Historical Perspectives, Ecological Integrity and Justice and Climate Crisis and Sustainable Creaturely Care: Integrated Theology, Governance and Justice, both edited Christina Nellist (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2021).
Today, it is reasonable to suggest that most people understand that climate change is real and that it is dangerous. Our level of consumption and misuse of the natural world have negatively changed our atmosphere, weather patterns, oceans, environments, and the lives of the creatures within those environments. As Fr. John Chryssavgis reminds us, “We are at a moment of crisis and consequence. The Greek word for crisis (krisis) indicates a sense of responsibility and accountability for the way in which we respond to the unique and universal problems that we have created and face.” Our misuse and abuse of God’s gift threatens all forms of life, including our own. “For the church Fathers, it is clear that insofar as creation is a gift, it is a gift to all creatures in common” (Theokritoff, Climate Crisis and Sustainable Creaturely Care, 356).
With children to grandparents demonstrating on the streets in countries across the world, there is at last an acknowledgment that we can no longer prevaricate or leave promises unfulfilled—the time has come for urgent and decisive action. Many of these people are people of faith and part of our congregations, yet sadly, there is still a gap between the teachings of faith leaders and participation at the local/parish level. Yes, many will know that we should move away from “what we desire to what we need”—to create a lighter footprint on the earth—yet many will not, because little time is given at parish level for them to hear the teachings of our hierarchs or to discuss how to accommodate them. Bishops in every diocese and their priests are, therefore, essential for creating real change in individual behavior because few people read journals of theology or view metropolitan websites.
The forensic question to ask here is why many parishes are still inactive on this critical issue. Perhaps they feel inadequate to the task—this would not be surprising, for many causes of climate change are complex. Certainly, the young are interested, and recent research informs us that they are also very anxious and fearful of the future for they are informed on the likely death of millions/billions of people/flora/faunae as the “Hothouse-Earth” scenario becomes a reality. We know from research that the younger demographic is the smallest in terms of church attendance, and so perhaps this situation affords us the opportunity to bring them back to the church. As “Image of God” and “Priests of Creation,” we are duty-bound to consider their suffering and offer them comfort and hope. To do so will require our bishops to bless their priests to engage with this most pressing of issues—one that will worsen exponentially over time—and just as importantly, to provide their priests with the information they need to perform this vital role at this critical time. It has long been argued that it is incumbent upon people of faith and their clergy to engage with the issue of “Creation Care”—both individually and institutionally—because, as the early Church Fathers through today have taught us, everything is connected and interdependent. This was a key theme at Halki 111: we were urged not only to teach “Creation Care” in our seminaries but also to educate ourselves, our priests, and thus our congregations on the subject.
The seeds for these two substantial collections were sown at Halki 111 and from a meeting in Patmos later that year, where our focus was on living sustainable Christian lives. They also come from a personal mission to bring the voice of Orthodoxy to those who know little, if anything, about our faith; for the author is convinced that our theology holds the key to tackling the evil that abounds on this earth, taking harbor as it does in the reckless policies of powerful vested interests and the many corrupt individuals in power across the world.
While it is right and proper for us to talk to other Orthodox, it is also vital that we create opportunities for our teachings to reach other Christians and faiths, and equally, create opportunities for us to learn from them. These two collections do just that, but more than that—they also give space to voices outside of religion who can inform us—and be informed by us—on the spiritual dimension so frequently lost or silenced in the political or scientific discourse on the subject. Thus, over forty academics and experts from fourteen countries and six continents write with authority and clarity on aspects of the climate crisis and care for the natural world, which include, though are not limited to, the fields of theology, law, ethics, philosophy, science, medicine, business, and animal protection, and from multiple faiths, interfaith, and secular perspectives. Regardless of their expertise, they write in the hope that we, either as individuals or as decision makers in government and civil society, will respond to the climate crisis far more quickly than is currently the case. Some write with extreme bravery on rarely discussed subjects such as the corruption at the heart of the illegal wildlife trade and its links to organized crime, where the profits from this abomination are used to facilitate other abominations such as the modern slave trade and the trafficking of drugs and arms. (Kamasanyu, Climate Crisis and Sustainable Creaturely Care, 103). We are also informed of the complexities of population growth and climate change, and on how we may “green” theological education via the Tsalampouni & Antonopoulou chapter (Climate Crisis and Creation Care, 329-348), and the “Creation Care Christian Responsibility Course” for parishes, youth groups and individual study, (Nellist, Appendix). Others write from a scientific or legal perspective on the crisis in the Amazon; climate instability; rights to environmental protection, and medical unpreparedness. The list is long, seemingly disparate, yet interconnected, in a way oft quoted in Orthodoxy, as a communion of love and compassion. The result is a powerful collective voice that recognizes the interconnectedness of “all things” in the natural world and the need for urgent action by governments, civil society—including our churches, and individuals alike.
Christina Nellist is an Orthodox Theologian specializing in animal suffering and human soteriology. She is the author of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology and is co-founder of Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.