“Rejoice, tree of leafy branches, under which believers are sheltered … Rejoice, O wood most blessed!” Akathist to the Cross, Oikos 7
Rocking around the Christmas tree in my little Norwegian hometown, I got to thinking how the Christian world is filled with trees. Not only the spruce. Not primarily anyway. But the spruce, perhaps, evoked in me just then what I might call an arboreal clarity: trunks appear on all sides of us. As soon as the human being was created, God placed this earthborn creature among leaves and branches. The Tree of Life resided in the center of primeval reality, as the source of life force. On the other side of the Fall emerged the Tree of the Cross, bearing the fruit of Salvation. Their circuit of vivacious power is broken only by another tree, the one of knowledge, whose fruits are fatal. Every Christian knows the story. Still, we tend to forget that Christianity is really a tree religion.
Early Christians knew this story well; imagining Christ as the new Adam and Mary as the new Eve, they also envisioned the Cross to be the new Tree of Life. The Lord himself, when wandering the dirt roads of this earth, might speak in Dendric: “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” (Mark 11.14) The fig tree listened, replying by withering—or so the evangelist says. Clearly Jesus identified with greenery. He called himself a vine whose branches were disciples (John 15). And he’d search for similes adequate to describe the divine reality. How can we imagine the Kingdom, he asked rhetorically? As a seed that grows and “becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Mark 4.30–32; Matthew 13.31–32). Wings hover freely above the buds that constantly grow and burst with ecclesiastical sap.
The UN Climate Change Conference taking place this week in Bonn, Germany, is once again revealing how unrestrained exceptionalism is digging our country only deeper into global isolationism. As an American citizen, I am often confronted with the U.S. announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the COP21 meeting two years ago. America, the sole country deciding to abstain from the agreement, is alone in the world at this critical moment. But is President Trump alone in emboldening this disturbing dissociation?
Whether in public affairs or church politics, there is a tendency to criticize leaders and those with prominence and privilege. In Australia, we call it “tall poppy syndrome.” Over time, it can prove a moderate social leveler; but so often, because it results in nothing, it constitutes a meaningless personal catharsis and denigration. And while it may be a temptation to lay blame solely at the feet of leaders, it can frequently lead to a distraction of concern and deflection of accountability. In my modest experience with men of power, and particularly men in black, I have learned that it is sometimes futile to concentrate exclusively on those at the top and generally more fruitful to observe the loyalist admirers on the coattails and the uncritical adherents at the base. This may not always be a foolproof litmus test, but it is certainly a compelling indicator.
In accord with his longstanding commitment to resolving the world’s ecological crisis, Patriarch Bartholomew has recently signed a joint letter with Pope Francis in commemoration of the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st. This day has been observed by the Orthodox Church since 1989 and was recognized by Pope Francis in 2015.
Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis have correctly denounced “greed for limitless profit in markets” as one of the primary sources of ecological devastation. It must be emphasized that it is not simply greed on the individual level that is the problem; there is a systemic problem with the notion of perpetual growth that makes individual ‘greed,’ so to speak, inevitable in our current socio-economic system. The neo-classical / neo-liberal paradigm of economics that now dominates the global market functions precisely on a model of perpetual growth and a utilitarian mindset that seeks to commodify an array of living beings as well as all forms of creative human activity. The point is that the ecological crises cannot be adequately addressed, and will surely never be resolved, without also addressing economics. Continue Reading…
On Friday, Sept. 1, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis issued a “Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation.” Just over one page long, the pithy document packs an ethical imperative into its message about prayer for creation. This isn’t the first time that a pope and Patriarch have opined together on the environment: in 2002, John Paul II and Bartholomew penned a “Common Declaration” that drew on Orthodox theologies of Creation and Catholic Social Teaching to critique the environmental outcomes of “an economic and technological progress which does not recognize and take into account its limits”. In that document, the leaders called for “a growth of an ecological awareness,” and pressed the importance of the notion of stewardship, humility, and alignment with the natural (moral) law. Such ideas can be found in many teachings from both ecclesial bodies, but it is unquestionable that this new, September 1, 2017, exhortation emphasizes solidarity, service, and collective responsibility and action in important new ways.
What does the document say? The first paragraph begins with Scripture; thereafter, climate change is the central concern, especially the negative impacts on “those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe.” Continue Reading…