The catalyst for our current analysis was the recent extreme environmental events of wildfires and floods that wreaked death and destruction in various parts of Greece, as well as in other countries such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Canada, and the United States. We are talking about a violent outburst of nature, a retaliatory reaction, one could say, stemming from the heartless human ‘violation’ of it.
This limited space does not allow for an extensive and thorough discussion of the subject of the sanctity of the Creator’s world, which is the highest and most perfect expression of His love for us. However, we will attempt briefly to touch upon the significant topic of the relationship between humans and creation. It is now an open secret that the threat arising from the pollution and disruption of nature has begun to have deadly consequences for all of us. The polluting of the air, the contamination of the seas, the poisoning of rivers with the discharge of waste and byproducts from factories, and the harmful radioactive residues from nuclear facilities constitute the deadly threat we have given the mild name ‘pollution’, and it has become the immediate visible danger to our physical lives.
This menacing avalanche, this ‘violation of nature’, which has turned into a daily threat to our very lives, is the result of individualistic and selfish views and uses of the world – nature, creation – by humans.
Man, created by his Creator as a free being, has turned used this freedom to condemn himself to ruin, and Dostoyevsky, contemplating the human condition, is forced to say, “Man is condemned to be free.”
It is upon this free damnation of man by man that the damnation of the world by man rests, because man has failed to transform it in positive ways. Rather he has distorted the world – a fact that leads to violence, exploitation, and extreme individualism.
Man, immersed in the whirlpool of his exploitation, believed in the omnipotence of machines and sought to subjugate nature – the world, all of creation – to their power, not suspecting that he himself was becoming a mere component, incapable of escaping the operation the machines and his dependence upon them.
And because man’s distortion of the world is due to his flawed view of it, he does not feel guilty for the outrage he commits upon the beauty of nature, which is the fruit and work of God’s hands.
Man is thus, clueless. Man forgot how intimately related he is to the rest of creation – indeed I could boldly say that man is an incarnate dimension of the world, which has powerful ethical implications. Man lives the immediacy of his relationship with the world organically, as is illustrated by his reliance on nature for the food, clothing, and shelter that is necessary for his survival.
In other words, man constitutes an ‘organic and substantial participation in the world’ that extends beyond the limits of his individual needs – it touches the boundaries of his personhood – to the Eucharistic and idealogical bases of his existence. Man should live in gratitude for the world – that must be his mantra – and must contribute positively and word hard to maintain the creation of God until the last day.
The personal participation of man in this treasure of a world – which implies his relationship with all creation – should remind him of its prophetic, gratifying, and eschatological dimension. The personal relationship and humane use of the world by man finds its perfection in the Holy Eucharist, where man incorporates all creation into the elements of Bread and Wine.
I would like to add one more thing: in contrast to this use of the world, a way of life which is constituted and realized liturgically and transcendentally within the Holy Eucharist, there is also the way of personal gratification and the pursuit of glory, the perspective and attitude towards the world that has as its primary concern its mere use – the roots are ancient, enshrined in Roman Law as the so called rights of ‘usus, fructus, abusus’. It is the submission of creation to the atomistic, self-centered and autonomous, and arbitrary desires of the individual, with the sole goal being the improvement of one’s personal living conditions. These conditions appear to be “as if madness,” because instead of improving, they worsen and barbarize, so that despair eventually exacerbates the sense of impasse that leads to some of the worst human acts.
The violation of nature, the killing of the environment in every way, raises a significant ethical question that can be articulated as follows: By what right do we murder the Creation of God? As an expression of His love and free will, it does not belong to us. We are placed within Creation to play the roles of stewards and caretakers. As trustees, we are obligated to hand it over, if not in perfect condition, at least as we received it, ‘in reasonably good shape’, precisely because the world and humanity must continue to live in it.