Climate Change: Desecrating the Icon of Creation

Fr Maximos (Vincent) Rossi
Saint Silouan monastery
Sonora, California
(Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia)

ANTHROPOGENIC (HUMAN CAUSED) CLIMATE CHANGE IS AN INESCAPABLE challenge for humanity and a crisis for all living things. Our response to climate change must be based on the light our Orthodox tradition throws on creation, and upon our feet as we tread the path toward transfiguration or damnation. How can our Orthodox Tradition help us understand and respond to climate change? If one should summarize in a single sentence the teaching of the Orthodox Tradition on creation from Genesis to Revelation, through the witness of the Cappadocian Fathers, the great Byzantine spiritual writers, Saints Dionysios, Maximos the Confessor and John of Damascus, to Saints Simeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas and Nikodemos the Hagiorite, down to the present, that sentence would be:

“Creation is the love of God for man made visible.”

Love is not truly love unless it expresses itself toward the beloved in thought, word and action. Creation is the incarnation of the thoughts, words (logoi) and the providence of God, fashioned as a dialogue of love between Himself and humanity made in His image and likeness. The whole world is a single icon of God (St. John of Damascus). Creation is not a neutral “environment” outside of us; it is the living cosmic icon upon which our lives write in line and color our responses to God’s loving invitation to dialogue. Only as we realize that we are inside creation’s single icon will we enter into conscious dialogue with God through it, and will we realize what climate change means for the authenticity of the icon and our responsibility in co-creating it.

Our Orthodox faith teaches us that Tradition, the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, is both always the same and always new. Climate for the earth is akin to Tradition for the Church. Every definition of climate includes the weather conditions that prevail over a long period of time in a place, and the conditions which cause consistent variability.

Climate, like tradition, is the ever-same and ever-new support for life. But when certain variables in the living tradition of our Orthodox faith are overemphasized and others are suppressed, it can create a destructive change in Tradition’s capacity to nurture and save. Tradition-change is heresy. Climate is susceptible to our sinfulness. When billions of individual human choices and acts occur not in accord with the God-given cosmic “tradition” of climate, then the life nurturing capacity of climate becomes unpredictable and destructive. Anthropogenic climate change is a form of blasphemy. Our challenge is to write blessed not blasphemous images upon the divine icon of creation.