Met. Kallistos Ware on Christ and Creation

The mystery of Christ’s Pascha, I noted in my previous post, is the meaning and fulfillment of all things. There are many ways to consider this in the heart. One is to look at creation from within the Scriptures. Today I offer some thoughts of Met. Kallistos Ware, from a small book of his The Beginning of the Day.  His thoughts are on creation and our Christian relationship to the world around us.

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The  Cosmic Christ

Before I end my reflections upon the Orthodox vision of creation – upon the bonds that unite us with the animals in a single ‘earth community’ – I ask you to recall with me how every part of the created order played a part in the story of Christ’s life and death:

  • a star appeared at His birth (Matt. 2:9-10);
  • an ox and and ass stood beside His crib as He lay in swaddling clothes (cf. Isa. 1:30)\
  • during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness He was with the wild beasts ( Mark 1:13);
  • repeatedly He spoke of Himself as a shepherd, and of His disciples as sheep (Luke 15:3-7; Matt. 18:10-14; John 10-1-16);
  • He likened His love for Jerusalem to the maternal love of a hen for her chickens (Matt. 23:37);
  • He taught that every sparrow is precious in the sight of God the Father (Matt. 10:29);
  • He illustrated His parables with references to the lilies (Matt. 6:28-30), to the mustard bush full of nesting birds (Mark 4:32);, to a domestic animal that has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath day (Matt. 12:11);
  • He urged us to show reptilian subtlety and avian guilelessness: ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt.l 10:16);
  • as Lord of creation, He stillled the storm (Mark 4:35-41) and walked upon water (Mark 6:45-51);

Most notably of all, the created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’

‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’

‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’

Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

Such, then, is our Orthodox vision of creation; such is our vocation as priests of the created order; such is our Christian reponse to the ecological crisis. Such is the deeper meaning implicit in the words that we say daily at the beginning of Vespers: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’.

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26 Responses to “Met. Kallistos Ware on Christ and Creation”

  1. Damaris Says:

    “We are not saved from but with the world” — That’s a life-changing statement!

  2. Brian Says:

    It is so refreshing to be reminded of “The Cosmic Christ.”

    Here are but a very few more examples.

    It was not only man whom God “remembered” in the flood:

    “And God remembered Noah, and all the beasts, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained…”

    Nor was it with man alone that He made the covenant after the flood:

    “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you. Of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you. Neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood. Neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”

    God’s love extends even to the very soil of the earth and the plant life thereon:

    “… if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

    “… to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.”

    “… If my land crieth out against me, And the furrows thereof weep together…”

    “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God.”

    “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah; for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

    “And I brought you into a plentiful land, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.”

    “How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of the whole country wither? For the wickedness of them that dwell therein, the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our latter end.”

    “Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.”

    “And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable things, and have filled mine inheritance with their abominations.”

    “For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. And their course is evil, and their might is not right…”

    “Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my wrath, because ye have borne the shame of the nations: therefore thus saith the Lord: I have sworn, saying, Surely the nations that are round about you, they shall bear their shame. But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they are at hand to come. For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn into you, and ye shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded; and I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited after your former estate, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”

    “Fear not, O land, be glad and rejoice; for the Lord hath done great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth its fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength.”

    St. Isaac speaks of the kind of love God has for all creation when he tells of the love that burns in the heart of him who shares His likeness:

    “‘And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pours forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he continually offers up tearful prayer, even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns in his heart without measure in the likeness of God.”

    The Incarnation of the Word has united ALL creation to God in His love…”both things in heaven and things on earth”…so much so that soil and water which produce wheat and grapes become for us the Bread of Life and True Spiritual Drink.

    Glory to God in the highest!

    Christ is risen!

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Excellent!

  4. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    Our priest gave a wonderful sermon on Holy Thursday, in which he noted that our Lord, as God, is constantly creating — and that that was the essence of His real presence in the Eucharist. I had never before understood exactly what went on in that moment: the Creator, creating the ultimate Gift of Himself for us.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    I would not contradict your priest (though truly God is always creating, sustaining everything that is). I’ve never heard that applied to the Holy Gifts. Since what we receive in the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of God, it cannot be “created.” God is uncreated. So I’m hesitant to use this illustration. “Making the change” is the phrase in the liturgy – which would seem different than creating.

  6. WW2 Marine Veteran Says:

    Good reminders here.

  7. Micah Says:

    Christ is Risen!

  8. Jeremiah Says:

    All I can say is, “Wow!”

  9. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! An apt reflection for when we are beginning to enjoy in the Spring season again: the eruption of a profusion of flowers, the greening of the grass, the budding of trees, the buzzing of bees, the fragrant balmy air, the rumble and power of thunderstorms. I’m hoping to finally plant a full vegetable garden this year, so I’ll be able to get closer to all those things than I have usually been. What joy to know the Lord is creating a New Heaven *and New Earth*–that He renews ALL of Creation through His redemptive work.

    Brian, great expansion on Father’s post. Thanks.

  10. Marlena Says:

    I take joy in knowing that God is going to redeem all things, that he cares for not just human beings, but for all of his creation. I remember reading through Genesis a few years ago and being delighted in discovering that God didn’t only make a promise to Noah, but to the animals on the ark. In all of Christendom, we should be at the forefront of creation care. However, it seems that some unbelievers are more aware of this truth (general revelation) than believers are. Thank you for including this wonderful post.

  11. Arnold E. Karr Says:

    Met. Kallistos is a wise man.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Arnold,
    Thanks for the note. I agree wholeheartedly. He is also a very kind soul.

  13. Michael Bauman Says:

    The care for creation is one of the highest callings we have as human beings. God commanded us in Genesis to ‘dress and keep the earth’. As St. Paul laments in Romans, our estrangement from God, our idol worship in particular has resulted in damage to all of creation because we are the stewards and the microcosom.

    For that reason we must take GREAT CARE not to be seduced by remedies offered from idelogies that are not compatible with Christianity in an anthropological sense. The ‘awareness’ of many unbelievers is most often couched in beliefs that do not have the same goal as Christianity and many times are specifically anti-Christian in content (support of abortion, tyrannical political ideologies, gross materialism, etc.).

    Our care for the earth is intimately tied up with our salvation. As we grow closer to God through the practice of the Church (prayer, almsgiving, fasting, repentence) the earth is healed. If we are distracted by wordly ideologies promulgated with the sole purpose of achieving political aims, we do a grave disservice to ourselves and the Church. It is an easy trap to fall into.

    IMO, it is vitally important to say far away from global ‘ecological’ causes. Pray, work personally and locally on efforts that really make a difference in one’s own community. Question a lot (wise as serpents and innocent as doves) especially one’s own political bias so as not to read that bias into the teachings of the Church (very hard to avoid).

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,
    I quite agree with you.

  15. Elizabeth Mahlou Says:

    When you grow up on a farm, as I did, it is easy to see the interconnection between nature and man. It is when we move into cities, I think, that these things get separated. Interesting post.

  16. Jerilyn Burgess Says:

    I’ve often thought that salvation is not only for man but for all creation, so I’m heartened by Met. Ware’s words. Of course God made man higher than the animals, but I truly hope these innocent creatures have a place in the New Creation. Having done some work for the ASPCA and humane societies, I often see horrible cases of animal abuse, and only today I read about a cat who had been nailed to a tree. The cruelty of man breaks my heart, and I think it greatly afflicts the God who created them.

    Fr. Stephen, what are your thoughts about animals in heaven?

  17. Michael Bauman Says:

    Elizabeth, in part you are correct. My father (memory eternal) grew up on the high plains of western New Mexico. His family homesteaded there in 1905. His experience there in a virtual desert left a profound impact on his soul. In short, he came to see that care of human beings was the ultimate ecology–which he defined as the inter-relationship between an organism and its environment. All is connected. He became a public health physician or as he would prefer, a doctor of community health who had the entire county as his patients. If he were alive today, his methodology and ideas would still be far ahead of their time.

    He lacked only the understanding of the Incarnation and communion with Jesus Christ to complete his vision.

    The chiliastic content of modern environmentalism is subversive to the Incarnational understanding of the Church.

    Human beings are either icon makers or idol makers. Idolatry is always destructive. Without the iconic understanding of creation, only more destruction will result. Unfortunately, most of what has been written from by Orthodox scholars on the subject leaves much to be desired. We are presented with the out and out heresy of Philip Sherrard’s work to the soft politicism of the rest that I have read. These works explictly or implicitly endorse a political/material approach as the solution.

    Whether ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ no approach that does not have the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior as its center piece is doomed to failure.

    The best ecological testament I can think of is Psalm 104(103) that begins vespers. Unity with the creator heals the creation.

  18. Michael Bauman Says:

    Jerilyn, the kind of cruelty you describe is wrenching. It is yet another indication of the violence that separation from God allows. Fr. John Behr has some challenging thoughts on human violence in his book: “The Mystery of Christ”.

    Our violence against God, one another, our fellow creatures and the rest of creation is all linked and reflects the same spiritual disease. I describe that disease as nililistic self-will. What Nietzche called “The Will to Power”.

    Man’s estrangement from God allows the violence, but eliminating man from the picture as some ‘animal rights’ folk want to do would only compound the problem. Man is not merely ‘higher’ than the animals, in a linear hierarchy, our inter-relationship reflects the Incarnation to a degree. God has given us dominion which means we are inter-dependent. Traditional hunting cultures have much to teach us here, IMO.

    Our urban/industrial culture poses significant challenges to living in a Biblical manner with respect to the rest of creation. Those challenges need to be explored from the mind of the Church.

  19. Mark Says:

    Christ is Risen!

    Michael I have really enjoyed and appreciated your comments; they have helped sooth some of my own pain and calm some confusion in my heart. I work in an elementary school that pays ideological lipservice to everthinggreen. Yet we are profoundly wasteful, consumptive; there is never any question of the heart of the matter.
    If do not work to keep our microcosm fresh and green in Christ then let our mouths keep shut about changing the macrocosm, indeed.
    Yet I think attention to the first is not mutually exclusive with something political, external to ourselves. Action does not have to wait until the very end of perfect contemplation. Inner work probably cannot even be completed without some external expression natural to it along the way.
    When it comes to ‘green politics’ I dont know what, though.

    with the feast!
    -Mark Basil

  20. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    There is always a danger of sentimental theologizing when it comes to nature or creation, but this is avoided when we recognize that it is the Pleromic Blood of Jesus that redeems the whole creation. The “Cosmic Christ” verges on a gnostic view when separated from the Blood. That is why such discussion should be posed with Romans 8:16-23.

    The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

  21. Michael Bauman Says:

    Mark, thank you. Remember the axiom: All politics is local. All eco-systems are local too.

    There will be a political expression of genuine Christian ecology. Human beings are political by nature.

    It is a far cry from that to the mass ideology of those who lust for power and control. Anyone who proposes a global solution to an ‘ecological crises’ is simply deluded. Anyone who believes that laws and economic policy imposed on others will do anything but add to the destruction is similarly deluded.

    As a matter for salvation, our care of the rest of creation is a personal, intimate matter that may become writ larger by cooperating in others to achieve certain goals or raise money (politics).

    Here are some ecological acts that are seldom thought of as such:

    Loving one’s spouse and taking care of one’s family
    Eschewing violence in thought word and deed
    Living in gratitude to God for all that He gives us.
    Giving thanks for one’s food before partaking.

    Central to the Biblical approach in Genesis is the complimentarity of man and woman both as partners in husbandry and as progenitors. It is a sacramental mystery

  22. JoanieD Says:

    I read Met. Kallistos Ware’s book, The Inner Kingdom. He’s an excellent writer and a wise man. Thank you for this excerpt from his other book.

  23. dbtcounselor Says:

    Christ is risen!

    Wonderful materials.

  24. Maggie Benson Says:

    Being on the Holy Lands pilgrimage with Metropolitan Kallistos and you…and all the other priests and pilgrims was indeed a great blessing and a wonderful learning experience. Christ Is Risen!

  25. Jeremiah Says:

    Who is the publisher of the book The Beginning of the Day? I would love to find a way to get a copy. Internet search has yielded nada.

  26. fatherstephen Says:

    Jeremiah,
    I would need to find my copy. The small book I have was a present give by Met. Kallistos to members of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that he led. It looked like a small, special priniting rather than otherwise. I’ll keep my eye open for it in my utterly cluttered office.

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