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Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration

Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation

John Chryssavgis, Bruce V. Foltz, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Publication Year: 2013

There are few topics today that are so timely, and at the same time so momentous, as those concerning our relationship to the natural environment. This publication is the first substantial and most extensive collection of articles, in any language, to address environmental issues from the point of view of Orthodox Christianity. Its contributors include many of the most highly respected as well as influential theologians and philosophers in world Orthodoxy today. In addition, the collection combines new and original contributions with articles that have become classics in Orthodox circles, but which are currently unobtainable because they were first printed in small editions. Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation is a landmark volume and a textbook reference, not just as pointing toward new horizons in environmental thought, but also as a contribution to the admirable effort to reconcile East and West. This is a book that should engage a very wide audience, in academic as well more popular circles—resonating not only with Orthodox audiences, but especially among those in search of a fresh approach to environmental theory that brings to bear the resources of ancient spirituality upon modern perplexities.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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Prefatory Letter

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pp. xi-xii

It is with particular satisfaction and personal joy that we welcome this publication, being originally the fruit of an innovative conference held from October 25– 28, 2007, in California, at the St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, for the purpose of gathering Orthodox thinkers from a variety of disciplines and...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This remarkable volume helps answer a worldly question that’s interested me for some years: Why has Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch and spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, been such a standout fi gure among religious leaders in his call for environmental care? A Western Christian such as myself can establish an ethic of stewardship from the...

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Introduction. “The Sweetness of Heaven Overflows onto the Earth”: Orthodox Christianity and Environmental Thought

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pp. 1-6

During the past few de cades, the world has witnessed alarming envi-ronmental degradation— the threat of anthropogenic climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the pollution of natural resources— along with the widening gap between rich and poor, as well as the increasing failure to implement environmental policies. We are reminded— in a painful way— of this crisis when we learn of the cruel extinction of fl ora and fauna and of ir-...


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The Logoi of Beings in GreekPatristic Thought

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pp. 9-22

One of the most intriguing aspects of Greek patristic thought about nature is the concept of the logoi of beings. The logoi are the “inner essences” of things, the value and significance they have in the eyes of the Creator rather than in our faulty human estimation. To perceive the logoi in beings is the act known as theōria phusikē, the second of the three stages of ...

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Hierarchy and Love in St. Dionysius the Areopagite

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pp. 23-33

The idea that human beings, as rational, as persons, made “in the image and likeness of God,” are radically set apart from and above all lesser beings is often pointed to, with some justice, as one of the major sources of today’s degradation of the natural environment. In its extreme form, that idea implies that subhuman beings have no intrinsic purpose or value, and ...

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The Beauty of the World and Its Significance in St. Gregory the Theologian

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pp. 34-45

This paper sets out to consider some of the ways one of the most eminent of the Greek Fathers spoke about the loveliness of the world and to examine what motives lay behind his rhetorical celebration of Cosmic beauty in that much- deliberated elegance of the chosen word. In this instance, Gregory of Nazianzus (329– 390; known in the Eastern Christian...

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Natural Contemplation in St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Isaac the Syrian

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pp. 46-58

Natural contemplation, theoria physike, is an essential category in Orthodox spiritual terminology for the relationship of man with the environment. Natural contemplation is a stage in spiritual growth wherein the soul of a person has been cleansed of the eff ects of the passions and has returned to the natural state of human being, of human nature as it was created...

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Man and Cosmos in St. Maximus the Confessor

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pp. 59-72

I want to do something more in this paper1 than simply expound the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, for the subject— Man and Cosmos— is not some arcane bit of teaching from late antiquity, like, for instance, St. Maximus’s understanding of the links between the passions and the various internal organs of the human body— liver, kidneys, etc.— though ...


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Ecology, Theology, and the World

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pp. 75-85

The church today, confronted by the ecological revolution, is in danger of suff ering just as it did during the technological and other revolutions. 1 It is in danger of being entirely unprepared, since the effective preparation for radical changes in human thought and behavior is neither an easy nor simple process. It demands serious theological adaptation and large-scale...

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Through Creation to the Creator

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pp. 86-105

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”...

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Creation as Communion in Contemporary Orthodox Theology

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pp. 106-120

This paper will critically compare the creation theologies of Sergius Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky, and John Zizioulas. I offer this critical comparison of the three most infl uential trajectories in contemporary Orthodox theology to discern whether, in fact, contemporary Orthodox theology has anything to offer to the wider, global discussion of Orthodoxy’s...

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The Theological- Ethical Contributions of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) to Environmental Issues

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pp. 121-130

The subject of environmental issues and Orthodox Christianity does not, typically, bring to mind the names of Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) or his mentor in the spiritual life, St. Silouan the Athonite. Indeed, even those who knew Elder Sophrony personally or who are familiar with his writing would likely not identify “the environment” as a subject on which he had...

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The Cosmology of the Eucharist

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pp. 131-135

Here, in a statement that focuses on the work of God in the Eucharist, St. Irenaeus summarizes the essence of the Cosmology of the Eucharist in a seemingly simple yet profound statement. What I propose to do here is to approach this Cosmology from a different perspective, drawing on what we know of the workings of the Cosmos. We could usefully start by...

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“A ‘Tradition’ That Never Existed”: Orthodox Christianity and the Failures of Environmental History

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pp. 136-151

A particular understanding of historical Christianity’s approach to nature is now accepted in the academic study of environmental history (here defined to mean any account of the man-nature relationship that engages the realm of history) and among the general public throughout much of the world. The present paper explores this understanding with particular reference to English-language scholarship, to demonstrate that it depends on ...

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A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality, and the Sacraments

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pp. 152-162

Contributing to the ecumenical statement by the National Council of Churches on the environment, published in the form of an open letter in 2005 and entitled “God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States” ...

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Proprietors or Priests of Creation?

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pp. 163-172

The development of ecological awareness and sensitivity in the last years has led to the use of various models of speaking about the relation of the human being to nature.1 The prevailing model is that of steward: the human being is the steward of creation. This terminology has become widespread not only among secular ecologists but also among religious ones, and ...


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Sedimentation of Meaning in the Concepts of Nature and the Environment

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pp. 175-185

One of the concerns of present- day philosophy is the problem identified by Edmund Husserl as “sedimentation.” In the history of human thought, a concept emerges that captures an insight or a new way of looking at things. This concept contains a certain density of meaning for those who first come up with it, label it with a name, and incorporate it into their discourse. ...

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Existential versus Regulative Approaches: The Environmental Issue as an Existential and Not a Canonical Problem

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pp. 186-192

The Apocalypse of St. John has been regarded as the supreme symbol of the decisive cultural shift that occurred with the advent of Christianity: a shift from nature to history.1 The problem of the environment— the violation of nature, its unrestrained exploitation by the human race— is judged to be a necessary consequence of the priority that Christianity gave to history, ...

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Nature and Creation: A Comment on the Environmental Problem from a Philosophical and Theological Standpoint

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pp. 193-203

Philosophical thinking has been in large part anthropocentric, in a peculiar way: it has regarded man as the center of creation on the basis of his intellect and, more specifi cally, of rational thought.1 In this way, philosophy has been the foundation for the intellectual culture and the particular technological culture known as rationalistic; it is given a practical application ...

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Physis and Ktisis: Two Different Ways of Thinking of the World

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pp. 204-209

My purpose in this paper is to offer some thoughts by means of an elucidation of this statement by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, a pioneer in environmental theology. What does it mean that creation will be saved through incorporation in the human being? How are we to understand this incorporation of the world in the human person? Before ...

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Human Image, World Image: The Renewal of Sacred Cosmology

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pp. 210-225

One thing we no longer need to be told is that we are in the throes of a crisis of the most appalling dimensions.1 We tend to call this crisis the ecological crisis, and this is a fair description insofar as its effects are manifest above all in the ecological sphere. For here the message is quite clear: our entire way of life is humanly and environmentally suicidal, and...

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Environment and Security: Toward a Systemic Crisis of Humanity?

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pp. 226-234

This paper is based on two fundamental observations.1 First, environmental causes might not only be at the root of social and ethnic conflict— as a result, for instance, of shortages of water and power— but might also provide opportunities for different groups to work together in order to avoid serious crises or indeed catastrophes that may appear otherwise...

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Church Walls and Wilderness Boundaries: Defining the Spaces of Sanctuary

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pp. 235-242

Most of us know Sequoia-King’s Canyon only as a national park, which part of it has been since 1890, but nearly all of it became a federally designated wilderness area in 1984 under the California Wilderness Act, and it is one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. When I use the term “wilderness,” I mean only such federally designated...

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Orthodoxy and Ecopoetics: The Green World in the Desert Sea

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pp. 243-262

The early Irish story Tochmarc Étaíne (“The Wooing of Étaín”), c. 800, describes a spiritual realm that is entered through portals in Neolithic mounds in the landscape, but also in other texts through islands, springs, or encounters in the countryside itself. This “Otherworld,” a framework for a number of early Christian Irish and Welsh texts, is always present but not...

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Perspectives on Orthodoxy, Evolution, and Ecology

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pp. 263-275

The goal of this paper is to establish two claims: first, that ancient Christianity is not based on concepts that permit humans to “abuse” nature and the environment, and second, that ecology and evolution as scientific disciplines are tightly linked and that a failure to recognize one or the other as valid will have significant societal impact. These views are synergistic: ...

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Ecology, Morality, and the Challenges of the Twenty- First Century: The Earth in the Hands of the Sons of Noah

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pp. 276-290

Orthodox Christianity can tell us about how to go to heaven but not how the heavens go. The Church does not possess special sensible, empirical, scientific knowledge (although this can be the case in the instance of great ascetics, true theologians) that can inform us about whether and how much global warming can be attributed to the presence of humans, what the...


The Fragile Surround

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pp. 293-294

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Liturgy, Cosmic Worship, and Christian Cosmology

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pp. 295-306

Hearing “liturgy” and “cosmology” in the same breath is unlikely to strike anyone as odd. We are all familiar with the term “cosmic liturgy” felicitously used (so far as I know, coined) by Hans Urs von Balthasar to describe Maximus’s vision of the world. Here “liturgy” seems to be used as an analogy for the way the cosmos functions in relation to its Creator. It is a...

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“All Creation Rejoices in You”: Creation in the Liturgies for the Feasts of the Theotokos

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pp. 307-323

Transfiguration is at the very core of Orthodox liturgy. It is well known that the notion of theosis as the transfiguring and deifying of believers is the central redemptive thrust of Eastern theology. This belief and goal is expressed and made real in liturgical practice. Yet such transfiguring does not apply only to the human person. Rather, the liturgy takes up and transforms ...

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Traces of Divine Fragrance, Droplets of Divine Love: On the Beauty of Visible Creation

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pp. 324-336

In discussing beauty, which is extraordinary, I want to begin from everyday, ordinary experience, to suggest that ordinariness itself is a constraint we heedlessly impose upon the extraordinary. I want to begin with the small owl unexpectedly encountered, bathing in a pool of water after a rain, whose beauty illumines the remainder of the evening with a certain ...

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Natural and Supernatural Revelation in Early Irish and Greek Monastic Thought: A Comparative Approach

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pp. 337-347

Some striking similarities have been traced between Irish and Eastern Christianity in the field of theology and spiritual life, with monasticism being the meeting point of these physically distant traditions. Here we will discuss theological theses expressed in early Irish and Greek religious literature of the first Byzantine period in the context of comparative spirituality,...

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Ecology and Monasticism

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pp. 348-355

I ask for your blessing, because I have nothing to say. I ask for your blessing, but I ask your indulgence as well, because I have nothing to give. I wish to thank all of you because I believe this gathering has been holy and sacred. That we are all working together and have come to some mutual understanding...

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The Prophetic Charisma in Pastoral Theology: Asceticism, Fasting, and the Ecological Crisis

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pp. 356-364

In the Orthodox Church, the core of the prophetic charisma is neither the gift of making apocalyptic statements about impending doom nor the gift of uttering words of encouragement about a resolution to contemporary problems in the future. The heart of prophecy consists of an experience of revelation in which the vision of Christ in glory transfigures the person who...

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The Spirit of God Moved upon the Face of the Waters: Orthodox Holiness and the Natural World

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pp. 364-376

In the Prima Vita of the nineteenth-century Russian saint known as Herman of Alaska, this passage occurs:
In the middle of Spruce Island [a tiny island a few miles out to sea from Kodiak, Alaska] a little river runs from the mountain into the sea. There were always large logs of driftwood at the mouth of this river,...


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pp. 377-414


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pp. 415-468


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pp. 469-474

Index of Names (Classical)

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pp. 475-476

Index of Names (Contemporary)

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pp. 477-479

General Index

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pp. 480-492

E-ISBN-13: 9780823251469
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823251445

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth
Series Title: Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Orthodox Eastern Church -- Doctrines.
  • Ecology -- Religious aspects -- Orthodox Eastern Church.
  • Nature -- Religious aspects -- Orthodox Eastern Church.
  • Creation.
  • Human ecology -- Religious aspects -- Orthodox Eastern Church.
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