Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fr Jose Thomas

Orthodoxy literally means right glorification. To enjoy right glory we need right words, concepts, reflections and good experiences. For that experience, we need a good contact with all creation. Unfortunately, we have lost the art of such attachment and experience. Companionship changed into consumerism; subject-subject relationship is changed into subject-object relationship.

St Basil, in his homilies on the six days of creation explains the orderly arrangement of the created beings. This created order has its existence because of the participation of the creation in the order, will and wisdom of Creator. According to St Basil, the harmony, order and fellowship of the creation is a product of God’s gracious will. There exists a firm fellowship between the diverse parts of the created universe. All are united in one harmoniously and in accordance with the universal sympathy. Isaac of Nineveh says that before the fall, humans’ odour was pleasing to animals and other creatures, thus they were not afraid each other. They were in good harmony, but after the fall there began gap between the humans and animals. Enmity started between them and mutual harmony is lost.

In fact, all living beings have bodies composed of the same elements as found in the earth. Man shares this aspect of his being with animals, plants and inorganic matter. Man as the crown of creation is co-creator with God. St. Gregory of Nyssa held that man in a sense recapitulates and represents the whole universe: that in man the cosmos consciously responds to the Creator. So, man can not exist apart from the universe.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that Christ’s is a single personality formed by the union of perfect Godhead and perfect manhood. This integral unity of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ also reveals nature’s integral unity with the created being; and also the purpose and the responsibility of creation. Human encounter with nature should have the effect of the same status as that of the incarnate Word – where in Christ’s nature we could experience the divinity and humanity in all perfection. Thus human association with nature should be for the implication that for the growth of humanity and the nature together; rather than humans development meant for the endangering of nature as what we experience today’s commercially exploited consumer society, where there has least concern or reverence for the nature. The Biblical message of incarnation is not only for humanity’s salvation but of the entire cosmic order, with the ascent of human through and with human. Christ combines both divinity and humanity, spirit and matter, heavenly and earthly etc. In Christ there is no subject-object dualism. In Christ everything is fulfilled con-summated, integrated and united in wholeness.

The Orthodox worship is one of the profound ways of understanding creation, and is dominated by the Holy Scripture and Patristic tradition. For example, Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, all His works. In all places of His dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul.” This Psalm tells us of the sanctification of all creation. There are other Psalms as well used for Orthodox liturgy. In the Indian Orthodox Church worship, daily prayers use Ps. 141, 142, 119, 105, 106, 111 and 117. These Psalms pictures an obedient worshipper who keeps the commandment of the Lord and preserves the harmony with the nature and fellow beings, and to his own Creator.
The Orthodox Church’s Sacraments and Festivals are not aimed at the benefit of the humans alone but for the entire created order. For example, elements used for the holy Eucharist are bread, wine, water, incense, coal and fire, that is, the fruits of human toil – products of what the earth so graciously gives us as a result of our labour. God created the whole living and non-living things out of the same earth. Therefore, the whole creation including human beings is of the earth. It is to symbolise the whole creation that the priest “offers the products of the earth”, namely, bread and wine as objects of sacrifice. The bread and wine represent not only the whole creation of the earth but also the sun, the moon, millions of stars and the whole universe. Therefore, by offering these products of earth for the holy Eucharistic worship the Church is engaged itself in creating ecological harmony. These are offered with gratitude, reverence and thankfulness. After offering the elements, they are returned to the creation; thus the creation becomes one with the Creator. This sort of offering and receiving completes one Eucharistic cycle. This cycle continues in every Eucharist. The Church teaches us that in this process the creation should get transformed and returned to the experience of paradise, that is, the experience of absolute unity, love and reconciliation.

On Epiphany, we bless the waters, which are drawn from the springs of the earth. In the blessing of the water, we bless all waters in the earth. After the blessings we take them to our homes, to fields of nature, and to everything that lives. We bless the whole creation in this way with holy water. In the liturgy we pray: “By Thy Baptism, Holy Lord Who has sanctified all the water reservoir (oceans and seas) and rivers… O Lord, the water placed before us may rescue all creation from the dangers of the spheres of air, from all evil situations; make seeds grow, protect the seedlings, and let ripe the fruits.”

In the worship of the Palm Sunday the Church blesses palms, trees and branches, thus blessing the entire vegetation on the earth. One of the prayers is as follows: “O Lord, by thy gracious mercy, blesses these branches and trees from which these have been cut and all the plants thou have created.” Thus Sacramental approach to creation is filled with the Orthodox liturgy. The prayers, readings from Psalms and other all suggest that worship that humans celebrate is not by them alone but the whole of God’s creation participate in for sanctifying and blessing.

Art, paintings and architecture of church buildings also reveal Church’s eco-friendliness with nature and God’s creations. It shows that the earth in its wholeness filled with the glory of God and used in the liturgy as symbols with immense meaning. The nature also participates in the worship. These images as in the worship can also be used for meditation. Since these are part of the divine sacrament the worshipper always revere with respect and devotion.
Anointing the sick with the oil reveals the potential of healing – oil seeds are the product of the earth. Holy Oil is also used in Baptism and for Chrismation. As anointing a person with Holy Oil, a church (building) also blesses with the Holy Oil in its inauguration. It thus becomes part of the nature, and the presence of the divine is cantered upon.

In short, we can say that the theology, liturgy, sacraments and the spirituality of the Orthodox Church are related with the nature. The character of the Holy Orthodox Church is eco-friendliness. But the question is that how many of the Orthodox Christians experience it in good spirit and save the nature.

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