The acceptable year of the Lord

September 1, 2017

 

ר֛וּחַ אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִ֖ה עָלָ֑י יַ֡עַן מָשַׁח֩
יְהוָ֨ה אֹתִ֜י לְבַשֵּׂ֣ר עֲנָוִ֗ים שְׁלָחַ֙נִי֙
לַחֲבֹ֣שׁ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵ֔ב לִקְרֹ֤א לִשְׁבוּיִם֙
דְּר֔וֹר וְלַאֲסוּרִ֖ים פְּקַח־קֽוֹחַ׃
לִקְרֹ֤א שְׁנַת־רָצוֹן֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וְי֥וֹם נָקָ֖ם
לֵאלֹהֵ֑ינוּ לְנַחֵ֖ם כָּל־אֲבֵלִֽים׃
לָשׂ֣וּם׀ לַאֲבֵלֵ֣י צִיּ֗וֹן לָתֵת֩ לָהֶ֨ם פְּאֵ֜ר
תַּ֣חַת אֵ֗פֶר שֶׁ֤מֶן שָׂשׂוֹן֙ תַּ֣חַת אֵ֔בֶל מַעֲטֵ֣ה
תְהִלָּ֔ה תַּ֖חַת ר֣וּחַ כֵּהָ֑ה וְקֹרָ֤א לָהֶם֙ אֵילֵ֣י
הַצֶּ֔דֶק מַטַּ֥ע יְהוָ֖ה לְהִתְפָּאֵֽר׃

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. (See the first two posts, John Bekkos in jail and Happy New Year.) It is also the beginning of the ecclesiastical year (year 7526 according to the Byzantine calendar), and a day, at least since 1989, on which prayers are made in the Orthodox Church for the welfare of the creation. (See the Vespers for the Preservation of Creation, composed by Monk Gerasimos of the Skete of Saint Anne and translated into English by the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.) The observance of September 1st as a day for prayer on behalf of the physical creation has, in recent years, spread from the Orthodox Church to other Christians; in 2015, Pope Francis instituted it as a day of observance for Catholics, Protestants appear to be observing it as well, and it now is referred to, at least in some places, as “the World Day of Prayer for Creation.” In connection with this, Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople jointly issued a statement today, which I think is worth reading, and will reprint here:

JOINT MESSAGE

On the World Day of Prayer for Creation

The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behavior towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.

Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on September 1st. On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labor in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the center of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.

From the Vatican and from the Phanar, 1 September 2017

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

There are, of course, plenty of people who deny that there exists an ecological crisis or that human-induced climate change is a reality or is anything to be concerned about. Frankly, I wonder how such people can look at what happened in Texas and Louisiana this past week and not change their minds.

I recognize that minds do not change easily. That is precisely why prayer is called for. Μετάνοια (“repentance,” literally, “a change of mind”), as St. Augustine saw, is not just a rational choice of a perfectly free moral agent: it is the movement of an enslaved moral agent into a state of freedom, and that movement requires a divine intervention, which he called grace. It may be that some would cavil at the implications of this: I seem to be implying that one’s response to the environment is a moral matter, and that those who refuse to see this are not merely intellectually in error, but morally blind. Well, so be it; on this matter, I agree with the Pope and the Patriarch.

May this year be, for all of us, a year of grace and repentance, the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

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