Volume 2012, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2218-7480
  • EISSN:


The Eastern Orthodox tradition perceives nature as sacred in two distinct ways: as the manifestation of God’s immanence and presence in creation, and as a transcendent unknowable being that can be sensed in the mystical encounter with creation. This paper illustrates how Orthodoxy expresses this paradoxical belief and outlines its potential resonance with our contemporary understanding of humankind’s responsibilities towards the environment. It discusses the theological principles that inform the Orthodox’ spiritual perception of the natural world including: the Holy Spirit as the source of the innate goodness and vitality of matter; Divine Wisdom, or ‘Sophia’, as the embodiment of this vitality on the Earth; the unique role assigned to humankind, as the link between the rest of creation and God’s Divine Word, or Logos. These concepts are illustrated through expressions of the holy found in imagery taken from nature and used in prayers, hymns and icons; and in the physical presence of water, incense, fruit, and flowers in various rites and customs of Orthodox ritual. Faith in the sanctity— though never divinity— of nature is exemplified in the case of Balkan folk belief, which includes areas of overlap between Muslim and Christian worship, such as natural sites of grace, or ‘barakah’, like caves and springs. The paper concludes with a brief summary of the position on the environment taken by Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and honorary head of the Eastern Orthodox Church— also known to the press as “the green patriarch.” The paper reflects His All Holiness’ argument that Orthodoxy can make a valuable contribution to finding a solution to the environmental crisis facing us today, by modelling behaviour through the unique “liturgical and ascetical” ethos of this ancient faith.


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