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RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The meaning of Religion is wide and is interpreted as man's search for salvation and his turn towards the absolute. This search is the originating cause of the various religions.

From his creation, man appears to be dependent on a higher power since he reached the point of deifying elements of nature and worshipping creations instead of the Creator. The positions of different religions on environmental issues range from being variant to negative. There have been, and still are, religions that consider nature a bad creation. Christianity however has a Founder who was Born, Crucified, Entombed and Arisen from the Dead, Returning in Glory to "where He was before".

Our Orthodox Faith is more than just a religion, but rather, God's revelation of the truth and consequently, the revelation of the true relationship between man and his natural environment. Nature which surrounds us is a creation of the God of love. There is nothing on this earth that does not have its Creator. The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, testifies to this: "In the beginning, God created the sky and earth" (GenI.I.). This belief in God the Creator we express through our Symbol of Belief: "I believe in one God, Lord of the Universe, Creator of sky and earth, of all things visible and invisible".
Man was created and placed on this world to "labor and protect it", meaning that God appointed man as administrator and warden of the world. To enjoy the world, to utilize and develop the natural world, but also to protect, take care of it and preserve it. HOW? By remembering the Creator, staying close to Him, being dependent on Him, accepting His will, and, cooperating with Him. What actually happened and continues to happen is known to us all. Man preferred the road of autonomy, independence and deification of his own powers.

He rejected, even showing contempt for, His will and His Commandments, this being the essence of the Original Sin which marks the beginning of the so-called ecological catastrophy.

If man turned against God it is even simpler for him to turn against nature and the environment. Godless man becomes an abuser of the proprietory rights granted to him, an exploiter of the gift of God, using the environment in a senseless and egocentric manner, and while destroying it commiting a sin which in turn destroys him.

It is to this man that Christ comes. He assumes human body and enters this world to bring salvation, salvation from sin and every kind of deterioration, and deliverance from death itselft. His salvation work, the immense undertaking of saving man and the world, assumed throughout the ages through His Church, proposes faith as an the answer and the solution to the ecological problem - proclaiming that:
a.The epicenter of life and the world is God's Son Jesus Christ. This, according to the teachings of our Church, means that the solution of the environmental problem of our times depends solely on the proposition of relationship between man and his physical environment.
b. The physical environment, as a creation of God and a gift of His love for us, as well as an entrusted consignment to us, requires respect, love, protection, and concern; "Nature was created for man, not man for nature" (Mark V. 27)
c. The world that surrounds us is not a mere object for gainful utilization but is also a revelation of God and man's sacred destiny. What is needed today is a new theoretical relationship between man and his environment.
d. Man, acknowledging his erroneous choices and seeing their devastating results, must decidedly strive to achieve a personal change for the better, the sacred, the highest. This is the road of salvation, the road of return towards God, the return to ageless values called for by Christianity. This escape of the present impasse not only seems impossible under the present circumstances, but we can say that the mass desstruction of mankind and the world appears to be imminent.

Our Church with its embedded Orthodox Christian tradition, further contributes to dealing with the problem through its noticable and special position on the natural environment. Basically, a Christian must respect himself and God the Creator in order to be able to respect the environment in which he lives. The present condition of our environment is related to the spiritual and moral status of modern man. The basic value of Christian life is sufficiency, in other words, the rational use of material things. A Christian does not seek wealth, he is content with what is necessary in order to live. The adherence of man to God's will is of definitive importance in dealing with the ecological problem. Experts claim that "sufficiency" and "ecological ascetism" would contribute immensely to solving the problem of our times.

Justice, as a way of life - along with love - are very important for our relationship to the natural environment. Consequently, Christian scientists are called upon to contribute to the control of environmental pollution and to the discovery of new materials and sources of energy. The Church is certain that their faith will bring about enlightenment from God so that may continiously discover effective solutions for the varioius problems. It is pleasing to see that the interest in the environment is not a priviledge of the few but has been transmitted to government officials and to the top of the Church Hierarchy, evidenced by the recent event on the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch where a lot of useful information was heard on the subject. A few days ago a conference was held on board a ship aiming at saving Efxinos Pontos from environmental catastrophy, with the Patriarch emphasizing - while in Thessaloniki - that his concern is expanded to the Aegean, the Mediteranean, and the Ionian Sea.

The Church blesses and supports all those interested in and working for the protection of the environment.

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