Render The World Eucharistically To God

Render The World Eucharistically To God May 24, 2011

One of the most urgent problems of our era is that of the environment, because, for the first time in the history of humanity, nature is threatened together with humanity in a definitive and irreversible manner. The new element, which elevates the ecological problem to a level above that of the plagues of Pharaoh, is the irreversible character of many of the catastrophes that are occurring. [1]

The extreme destruction of our natural world is leading to the devastating weather patterns we see around us (earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and the like), hurting and destroying countless lives. The people of the world suffer as a consequence of their own actions. We treat the world as something to exploit. As with all such exploitation, there is a price to pay. The excessiveness of our consumption of the goods of the earth demonstrates a wounded spirit, one which tries to hold onto itself instead of to give over to others in love. In a world full of sin, such egotistical selfishness will be in the rise; excessive destruction of the environment is evidence that sin is not being properly identified and treated by society. It shows a society which is hurt, and seeking solutions, but does not know how to find its way out of its pain and sorrow:

Excessive consumption may be understood to issue from a worldview estranged from self, from land, from life, and from God. Consuming the fruits of the earth in an unrestrained manner, we become consumed ourselves by avarice and greed. Excessive consumption leaves us emptied, out of touch with our deepest self.[2]

Sin creates suffering, and massive, world-wide abuse of the earth is going to create massive suffering. We must not see it as if God is directly punishing us, judging us for our sins and making the world rebel against its stewards; rather, we must see it as the laws of nature, and that excessive exploitation of the earth will transform the earth, creating a harsh, cruel world to live upon.  To deny human responsibility for climate change is to deny human stewardship over the earth; it is to deny the consequences of sin. And make no mistake: abuse of the world is sin:

Justice extends even beyond one’s fellow human beings to the entire creation. The burning of forests, the criminal exploitation of natural resources, the gap between the wealthy ‘north’ and the needy ‘south,’ all of these constitute expressions of transgressing the virtue of justice.[3]

Many do not want to believe our sins, as they accumulate, will have worldly consequences. The saints, however, have always seen it differently. They have always understood that what humanity does in the world has a consequence to the world and the environment. “For it was possible for those abstaining from evil to suffer nothing terrible, but as for those enticed through pleasure into sin, to state the matter properly, do they not themselves become the cause of their sufferings?”[4]

Those who deny our proper relationship to the world, who deny that we are capable of transforming it and making its climate disastrous to ourselves must deny the Christian faith, which teaches that it was our sin, our action, which has some ontological connection to the fallen state of the world and causes nature itself to rebel against us:

Therefore, indeed, when it saw him leave Paradise, all of the created world which God had brought out of non-being into existence no longer wished to be subject to the transgressor. The sun did not want to shine by day, nor the moon by night, nor the stars to be seen by him. The springs of water did not want to well up for him, nor the rivers to flow. The very air itself thought about contracting itself and not providing breath for the rebel.[5]

The world changed as a result of human sin; humanity was brought in the world to help lead the world to God. We were meant to be priests, to mediate God’s grace to the world so as to help it raise itself up to God. However, when we closed ourselves off to that grace, the world also suffered. What can be seen by us as punishment must, rather, be seen as the ontological change that resulted from our fall:

Rather, it is God’s communication to humanity about the new ontological interaction that was created because of our disobedience. Instead of a situation where humanity was in communication with God and accepted the favorable influence of divine grace and love on humankind and on the world, a new situation was created because humankind tried to become independent of God, rejecting communion with Him and the influence of divine grace. From that point onward, humanity was therefore evolving independently, refusing the divine grace in the midst of a world whose initial harmony was now damaged.[6]

With the increase in sin, with the increase in exploitation of the world, we are to expect an increase in the world’s resistance to us. We should not be surprised when the world strikes back, trying to overcome the human tyrant which is actively destroying its ecosystems. The world is a gift, a gift of God, and it should be treated with respect; instead it is abused. When someone points out that such abuse will lead to human harm, they are ridiculed by those who enjoy the pleasures of sin. Sinners mock the righteous and the call towards righteousness. They do not want to hear how their own cruelty to the earth affects everyone. Many do not want to believe it, and will find any way they can to ignore the warnings. Some, of course, just do not care; they think they can get by with their fun and die before they have to face the consequences of their action. Or, if they think there is some truth to it, and some risk to themselves, they try to create a gated community for themselves, to keep out the ravaged earth from their dwelling place – it is, metaphorically, a condom placed on their lives; they hope that there will be no holes in which the diseased earth can get through their barrier to the world, because they know if one is found, they too will have to face the sickness which they have helped spread across the land.

Our original privilege and calling as human beings lies precisely in our ability to appreciate the world as God’s gift to us. And our original sin with regard to the natural environment lies, not in any legalistic transgression, but precisely in our refusal to accept the world as a sacrament of communion with God and neighbor. [7]

We must understand that we come to the world, not as individuals cut off from each other, but as people united together, one with the other, and with the world at large.  What we do affects everyone. “Human beings and the environment compose a seamless garment of existence, a multicolored cloth, which we believe to be woven in its entirety by God.”[8] This means that there is something positive to be said about those who are holy saints; the righteous ones help the world and all that is in it. Through their petitions and prayers   –“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16b RSV) – the holy ones have helped keep the world in balance, making sure that the excess of sin is balanced by their righteousness.[9]

In ancient times, it was understood that St Anthony of Great helped prevent disasters while he lived, but as soon as he died, the sins happening within and without the Church came to a full boil and caused much chaos, pain and suffering:[10]

See now, brothers! As soon as the old man departed from us – that blessed Antony, who had been an intercessor for the world – behold we were suddenly thrown down and laid low; and all the elements together were anguished; and the wrath of God from above first consumed Egypt. […]

As long as the saint was on earth he spoke and cried out. And he kept his holy hands stretched out to God; and by speaking with him, he was gloriously radiant before the Lord. He did not allow wrath to come down; and by faithfully lifting up his thoughts, the saint prevented God’s wrath from coming upon us.

But after his hand was withdrawn and no one was any longer found who could keep from us the descent of wrath, no suddenly it was poured out and came down to afflict the region and laid waste everything.[11]

We need, today, similar great, holy saints, lifting up the needs of the people, the needs of the earth to God, so as to have God’s grace preserve and protect the world from the natural consequences of our vices. We, however, also need to participate with these saints, helping them by trying to overcome sin and properly watch over the world. Even if we are not perfect and fail to live out our faith as we should, every good we do can and will have a positive effect. “Many simple people, in various small corners of the earth, with nominal but continuous daily concerns, are able to change the world, even if slightly, for the better.”[12]

We need to live eucharistic lives, taking the gift of the world, and, in our stewardship, help it mature and beautify itself before we thankfully return it to God. Abuse of the world, abuse of creation, is a rejection of the eucharistic way of life God desires for us; lifting it up, beautifying it, putting our gifts to use for the sake of the world and its beautification, is what God wants out of us. It allows us to thank God for the gift of creation. It also asks God to take it, take what we have done and to transfigure it, rendering it into eternity: our work for the earth has eternal significance.

The Incarnation of the Logos into the world has cosmic significance. He is the one who has made sure matter is capable of leading us to God. He is the one who took bread and wine and turned them into himself, showing that even the fruits of human creation can and do have a place in and with him:

 In this way, the natural world acquires deep significance, because it participates in the plan of divine economy. It is not a place of exile and imprisonment of the spirit, but an instrument and garment that is being sanctified and is participating in the divine economy. The natural world is destined to partake of the renewal and glorification that encompass the body of the Lord that ascended into heaven.[13]

This, however, does not end merely with the bread and the wine, nor with the work of Christ. The eucharist is for all of us, and it is for us to lift up the world to God and to have God take it and transform it. When we fail to do this, we sin. “The Eucharist is at the very center of our worship. And our sin toward the world, or the spiritual root of all our pollution, lies in our refusal to view life and the world eucharistically, as a sacrament of thanksgiving, as a gift of constant communion with God on a global scale.”[14]

God loves us, and loves it when we show love for his creation. That is what he wants out of us. We must show it love, and we must thankfully show that love to God. This is what allows us to become priests of God, to render to the world God’s grace so as to help it find its place in eternity. But this, of course, means we must come to the world in a different spirit than that of sinful, fallen humanity. We must return to our place as stewards of the world and render loving service to it out of our love for God:

A eucharistic spirit implies using the earth’s natural resources with thanksgiving, offering them back to God; indeed, not only them, but also ourselves. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we return to God what is His own: namely the bread and the wine, together with the entire community. All of us and all things represent the fruits of creation, which are no longer imprisoned by a fallen world, but returned as liberated, purified from their fallen state, and capable of receiving the divine presence within themselves. Whoever gives thanks also experiences the joy that comes from the appreciation of that for which he or she is thankful. Conversely, whoever does not feel the need to be thankful for the wonder and beauty of the world, but instead demonstrates only selfishness or indifference, can never experience a deeper, divine joy, but only sullen and inhumane satisfaction.[15]

Once we come to terms with what the Christian way of life means for us in the world, we can finally render to the world the grace which God wants us to give to it, lifting it with us to eternal life. This is God’s intention for us. God became one of us so as to raise us up to the divine life. But what is the divine life? It is the life of love, a life which gives and receives love, giving love to all and receives love from all. Any barrier to love, any selfish self-seeking, and the joy of the beatific vision will be lost and the experience of eternity will be the hell of the self. For that is what hell is: the closing off the self from love, trying to make oneself all that there is without the need of anything else.  “And again, the evils in hell do not have God as their cause, but we cause them.”[16] When we close ourselves to love, we create our own hell. If we do not want to suffer the hell of our making, we must now try to dwell in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, and render that love to all, including the world at large. This is why environmentalism itself is important, and a matter of heaven or hell; a rejection of it is a rejection of the path of love. As with any form of unlove, the souls of those who will not be converted, will find themselves suffering the miseries of that unlove, which is the miseries of  hell. Let us, therefore, have a change of heart before it is too late, and come God with a thankful heart, thanking him now and forever for the glory of his creation, so that together with the rest of creation we can experience the deifying grace of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now, and into world which is to come, the world without end, Amen.


[1] Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew. Ed. John Chryssavgis. Forward by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon. 2nd edition(Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009),179.

[2] Ibid., 189.

[3] Ibid., 173.

[4] St Basil the Great, On the Human Condition. Trans. Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 67.

[5] St Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses. Volume I: The Church and the Last Things. Trans. Alexander Golitzin (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 29.

[6] Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, 221.

[7] Ibid., 284.

[8] Ibid., 258.

[9] This is why Sodom and Gomorrah could have been saved if there were righteous people living in them. Their righteousness is able to transcend the effects of sin, to balance it out; but when the righteous vanish, when there is no one left to overcome evil, evil will accumulate and lead to destruction.

[10] Can we not say that this is also what is happening with the Church of today?

[11] Serapion of Thmuis, “Letter to the Disciples of Antony,” in Athanasius of Alexandria: The Life of Antony. The Coptic Life and the Greek Life. Trans. Tim Vivian and Apostolos N. Athanassakis (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2003), 42-3. From the Armenian version of the letter.

[12] Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, 112.

[13] Ibid., 236.

[14] Ibid., 187.

[15] Ibid., 328-9.

[16] St Basil the Great, On the Human Condition, 67.

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  • Jasper

    “The extreme destruction of our natural world is leading to the devastating weather patterns we see around us (earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and the like), hurting and destroying countless lives. The people of the world suffer as a consequence of their own actions.”

    Henry,

    What weather patterns can not be attributed to man made global warming, no, I mean global climate change?

  • amin.

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you for this Henry. Nicely done. Two things in particular stood out for me:

    1. It did a nice job of highlighting that social sins are personal sins and personal sins are social sins. Too often we treat social sin in abstraction from personal sin either so that we can ignore it as irrelevant to our growth in holiness (a failure more likely to occur on the right) or so that we can emphasize it so that we can pretend to care a lot about things without ever having to change our own lives (a failure more likely to occur on the left). In any case, personal and social sin are always intertwined so that we must both reform ourselves and work for systematic justice.

    2. It highlighted a crucial aspect of Eucharistic doctrine that is often lost on the West, namely the fundamental nature of Thanksgiving for the sacrament. That “Eucharist” became the common term early on shows how important this aspect was to the early Church but much of Western theology treats this aspect as an appendix if at all. But Thanksgiving is intimately related to the Western emphasis on sacrifice. One cannot make a sacrifice pleasing to God if one is not grateful. In fact, gratitude is a sacrifice. It says precisely that “This is not about me,” and the essence of any sacrifice is to get over yourself.

    • Thanks, Brett.

      I really only got a small bit of what was going on in my head out with this post. I focused mostly on the writings of the Ecumenical Patriarch (the work which collects them is great, and also goes into questions of war and peace, inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue, poverty, et. al. important themes). However, there were many more things I had going on in my mind, such as the fundamental religious spirit that understands human influence over the earth and its preservation. But I noticed how long this was going and I did think the highlight was going to be the eucharistic dimension of environmentalism, which the Ecumenical Patriarch beautifully explores in his speeches. As you point out, this is a sacrificial nature, and it ties with what I wanted to do with inter-religious thoughts on this matter, exploring how human sacrifice has always been seen as keeping the world in order (but the sacrifices often were misconstrued, leading to abuses). It’s one of the things which ties traditional thought together vs modern thought. Yet, the social and personal dimensions you brought up really ties into the ancient view; sacrificial understanding can only be understood in that kind of personal-social relations (just as Christ’s death and resurrection can only make sense if the two are tied together).

      Thank you again – and yes, when I got to writing this, I was looking forward to what you had to think since you work on eucharistic themes quite often.