The document was adopted by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, February 4, 2013.
(Since the original document is in Russian, an English translation has been provided by Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration web volunteer Olesya Siewers.)
Holy Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church
(2-5 February 2013)
The position of the Russian Orthodox Church on the issues of ecology
All of humanity is responsible for the state of nature – God’s creation. Resource depletion, and environmental pollution, amid rising world population, raise with special urgency the question of concerted efforts by all nations to preserve the variety of life, the diligent use of natural resources, and the prevention of environmental disasters provoked by human activities.
Ancestral sin resulted in a distortion of primordial nature. Scripture testifies to this: “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by the will of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). Pollution and destruction of nature is a direct consequence of human sin, its visible embodiment. Various manifestations of the sinful attitude toward nature are characteristic of modern consumer society, which emphasizes the main purpose of making a profit. The only possibility to restore the health of nature is spiritual rebirth of the individual and society, in a true Christian, ascetic, human relation to one’s own needs, curbing the passions, in consistent self-restraint.
The main provisions of the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on the conservation of wildlife and the environment are contained in its statement on “The Basis of the Social Concept,” in Section XIII, “The Church and ecological problems,” and in teachings of human dignity, freedom and human rights, in Section III.5. (See https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/)
Guided by God’s commandment about protecting the created world (Genesis 2:15), and caring for human spiritual and physical health,
the Russian Orthodox Church is committed to continue to participate in the discussion of environmental issues, and to work on this problem, in collaboration with all who are concerned about our environment
1. Theological interpretation of environmental issues
The Russian Orthodox Church, confessing biblical teaching about the relationship between man and the created world, is ready to contribute to the understanding of philosophical bases of environmental research and environmental performance. The Church testifies to the unity of the God-created world, and offers a complete picture of human existence. This idea emphasizes the difference between the position of the theocentric worldview and humanistic anthropocentrism, which views the environment as a source of “selfish and irresponsible consumption” (“The Basis of the Social Concept” of the Russian Orthodox Church,” XIII.4), and the pagan deification of nature, which sometimes raises nature above human beings, and that people should not change or interfere with nature.
The Word of God teaches that the world is a home created by the Lord, in which he placed man (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, man is steward of the created world, and not intended to worship nature, but to worship the one Creator (Romans 1:25). A good relation with nature is based on the deep knowledge of the fact that God created the world and that all life in it is good (Genesis 1:8-25). Together with the holy prophet David, each person may exclaim, “You made me glad, O Lord, through thy work: I admire the works of thy hands” (Psalm 91:5).
In the light of Scripture, environmental activity is understood to be as the Lord commanded, a right relationship to the created world. God blessed persons to use material goods to sustain bodily life (Gen. 1:29). Genesis also shows that the Lord revealed to humanity the opportunity to learn and study the creation, as they have done. To have dominion over it (Genesis 1:28), in accordance with the plan of God, is impossible without the knowledge of the laws of nature. Of particular importance for the proper understanding of man’s place in the universe is the biblical doctrine of man’s dominion over the world created by God, which should be aligned with the all-good work of the Creator of the universe, because man is created in God’s image. Holy Abba Dorotheus says: “Let us all keep our conscience in everything: in relation to God, one’s neighbor and to things.” People are called to participate in the creative being of creation, the protection and preservation of it, as “The Lord God took the man [which He created] and put him into the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
One consequence of the fall of the first human was a violation of the God-established relationship between humans and nature. Man was guided primarily by selfish and consumer motivations. Therefore, environmental activities will not achieve the desired results, if people will not seek to overcome their alienation from God, and live according to His commandments.
Given the importance of environmental issues, it is necessary to develop, in the Church’s institutions of higher education, church theological studies of the relationship of man and the created world, and to address environmental issues in the Church of forums on applied science. There is also a need to maintain a theological discussion of ecological problems with fraternal local Orthodox Churches, as well as exchange of experience in this field of inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue. Turning to environmental issues, the Church compares theological teaching to scientific evidence about the world, and considers methods of study and discipline regarding ecological issues and public opinion.
2. The liturgical life of the Church and ecology
The Church calls for the grace of the Holy Spirit not only for humanity, but also for the whole world around us. The Divine Eucharist sanctifies the created cosmos.
Fruits of the earth and the works of human hands – bread and wine – are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, and sanctify the faithful.
In terms of environmental crises and disasters people are in desperate need of prayer support. It is important to publish existing, adapted, and newly developed Moleben services, with the invocation of God’s help for agricultural activities, as well as for various works aimed at preserving the environment. In addition to the current pryaers, other liturgical and individual prayers can be created and offered during natural disasters and man-made disasters.
3. Environmental education
The Russian Orthodox Church maintains that a person changes the world in accordance with his inner world, therefore, the transformation of nature should begin with addressing the spiritual crisis of humanity.
A real alternative to consumerism is the Christian way of life. Orthodox Christianity teaches people to cultivate moderation and restraint in the necessities of life, responsibility for their actions, avoiding excesses, including the wasteful use of food, respect for the needs of others, and understanding the importance of spiritual values for each person.
An example of careful and thoughtful concern for the environment are often found in Orthodox monasteries, in the fruitful interaction of human good will and sanctifying power of God, including in the field of agriculture.
The initiation of priests to the fundamentals of ecology as a science and the laws of the functioning of the biosphere should be encouraged. For the education of children and young people, a spirit of responsibility for the state of nature is necessary, by purposefully introducing themes of Christian environmental ethics in the Church, and, if possible, to the secular program of education and training, in order to promote the introduction of environmental issues in the range of research and teaching in higher religious schools, Sunday schools, Orthodox summer camps, as well as additional spiritual education and retraining. The organization of special courses and religious education programs, revealing the Orthodox understanding of environmental issues to the students and the academic community, is desirable, as well as regular theoretical and practical environmental activities for children and adults.
4. The Church’s involvement in environmental activities
Clergy and laity are called to active efforts to protect the environment. This activity should first be directed to evidence that only restraint, respect for others, and responsibility for each person, based on consciously obeying commandments of God, will enable humanity to overcome environmental problems.
Orthodox believers are encouraged to promote the development and implementation of technologies and methods of economic management, focused on respect for the environment.
Environmental programs can be organized as a special direction of diocesan and parish work. The theme of ecology can be considered as a component of the pastoral, missionary, social, and youth ministries. Monasteries and parishes have great potential for the practical implementation of the Orthodox approach to ecology, which includes community care for nature. The development in the monasteries and rural parishes of environmentally safe agricultural production should be an example of environmental management for surrounding farms.
5. Co-working with community, national and international institutions in the field of ecology
In working to protect nature, the Russian Orthodox Church is open to dialogue and co-operation with community, national, and international institutions. In this case, the Church emphasizes that environmental issues cannot be manipulated using the subject as a tool of political struggle and economic competition, or as a way to satisfy the selfish interests of individuals and communities. In such cases, the Church reserves the right to refrain from cooperation in environmental and related projects. The Church reserves the right to make a critical assessment of the actions of public authorities, international organizations, public and scientific institutions, which can have a negative impact on the environment, and, through this, on human health and life.
Of particular importance is the dialogue of the Church with experts and policy makers in order to seek solutions involving strategies for urban, agricultural, industrial, and mining development, and support of research in the field of resource conservation, development, and deployment of clean technologies, alternative sources of energy, and conservation of environment-shaping functions of natural systems.
Dioceses, deaneries, and parishes may sign agreements on cooperation with regional and local authorities, which are aimed at preserving the environment.
In partnership with the state and society on environmental issues, the church is open to:
- participate in forums, conferences and focus on environmental issues, to acquaint all parties with the Church’s understanding of environmental issues and the expertise available to resolve them;
- assess the public interest economic projects affecting the state of nature and the environment;
- implement joint projects with community, national and international institutions;
- actively promote the presence of the church in social and scientific environmental work at the international, national, and regional levels;
- participate in the development, negotiation, and implementation of information, education, and educational programs with an environmental component, as well as laws and other regulations affecting to some extent environmental issues.
In a dialogue with representatives of society, government, and international organizations, the Russian Orthodox Church considers it its duty to promote, in people belonging to different social, ethnic, cultural, age, and professional backgrounds, a sense of shared responsibility for the safety of God’s creation, and to support their work in this direction.