THEOPHANY AND THE E.P.A.
Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released their final assessment of the Bristol Bay Environmental Impact Study in relation to the proposed Pebble Mine Project. On page 25 of that report the EPA states the following:
“If salmon quality or quantity was (or was perceived to be) adversely affected, the nutritional, social, and spiritual health of Alaska Natives would decline.”
The EPA has stated what we, as Orthodox Christians, have always held to be true, that you cannot separate our existence as human beings living on this planet from our existence as beings in relation to God. It has always been a part of Orthodox Theology to think of ourselves and the environment around us as a shared whole of Creation. In Orthodoxy there is no “us” versus “them” in any form aside from all things evil and demonic. One only has to look at the command in Genesis that God gave Adam at Creation when He said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." [Gen. 1:28] Note, that I have highlighted the word “fill” for a very good reason. The word does not give us a full understanding of the root Hebrew word used here, which is “Male’” and more properly means to be so involved in this Creation as to be able to Consecrate it back to God. It means to become so involved in it that you realize your use of it, your participation in it, is of itself a type of sacrament.
Too often we find people wanting to emphasize the second part of that command, the “subdue” part, and act like its all ours for the taking. This type of thinking as even generated a salvation theology based on the idea that it doesn’t matter how we treat the earth, we’re all going to leave it and go somewhere else anyway. It perceives the “Rapture” as a removal from this “corrupt” world and taken to someplace apart from it, as if God, Himself, didn’t think much of the earth after He Created it. But we all know that nothing could be further from the truth. Simply look at each day of Creation and how it ends in Genesis, Chapter one, “and God saw that it was good.” [Gen. 1:12, 14, 18, 21 & 25]
So the real question is, if God saw His Creation as good, why would He want to destroy it? The answer is, He didn’t. God put man out of Paradise, but He did not destroy that place; instead he prevented man from returning to it, until the time was right. If we read Revelation correctly, it is the devil and his minions that go somewhere else, to a lake of fire; the remnant become part of a New Jerusalem that is sent to earth. So our next question is, when is the right time? How would we know it, and is it even discoverable by us?
We need look no further than the Gospel of St. Matthew and the narrative of Christ’s Baptism. When Jesus approaches John, John asks Christ why He comes to him for Baptism, that it should be Jesus Baptizing him, John. But Jesus answers him, “"Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” The word used here that is translated as “righteousness” is again a word of stronger meaning than the English shows. In Greek, the word here is dikaiosynē, [Strong’s G1342] which translates better as “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God”. Said another way, Christ came and was Baptized in the River Jordan so that things could again be as they ought to be. This is how Christ restores His fallen Creation! He doesn’t throw it away, He renews it, He restores it through His descent into the waters of Baptism, thus renewing everything the water touches in the process. There is no new water on the earth, it continually recycles itself, thus when we bless water, we enter into that process that began when Jesus descended into the Jordan River and we renew the waters that sustain us, we make them good again!
It is not automatic, though, it requires the cooperation of man with God, of the Sacramental with the Sacred. How is the sacramental accomplished? By the proper priesthood, received by the Holy Apostles at Pentecost, and passed on through the laying on of hands to those who are given the honor of the priesthood in our present day. As with the waters of baptism, so it is with the waters blessed on Theophany, the priest must pray and call down the Holy Spirit to sanctify the water. There is a beautiful line in Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book Of Water and the Spirit, he describes the priest standing before the water he is about to bless in this manner: “And the priest, standing before the water as if facing the whole cosmos on the day of creation – as the first man opening his eyes to God’s glory and contemplating all that God has done in Christ for our redemption and salvation – proclaims:” and then gives the prayer.
This idea of the priest facing the whole cosmos on the day of creation is a reminder to us of the immense importance involved in the blessing of water. It is not magic, it is not the incorporation of some ancient pagan ritual into Christian life, but the very act of man in synergy with his Creator, coming again to the waters God created and renewing them yet again in the fulfillment of all righteousness. It is yet another reason why the priesthood exists, to continue the sanctifying work of God, the continual calling down of God’s grace upon all of us and all Creation for which we have been given the monumental task of maintaining until the Second Coming. A little later in his book, Fr. Alexander makes the explanative statement, “The water of creation, darkened and polluted by the fall, which had become the very symbol of death and demonic possession, now are revealed as the waters of Jordan, as the beginning of recreation and salvation.” First, notice his claim, that the waters were polluted by the fall, what we do by careless action today only adds to it. So now we understand, water does not just sustain our physical life, and the life of all living things, it is the source of renewal of our spiritual life as well. Water is a necessary element of body and soul. The fact that the E.P.A. has recognized this should come as no surprise. They spent a very long time with the Native population of the Bristol Bay area. They talked to many of its residents who articulated to them, in ways I cannot, how important that water was to their life, to their very existence. Those good people may not have gone to seminary, but they have studied in the field of life and learned it very well. Thanks to their efforts, their life will continue as it always has, a life blessed by God and sanctified by His Holy Priesthood.
In conclusion, the words form Fr. Alexander’s book ring so true for us at this time of year, “The time of salvation begins again, and we are witnesses and partakers of that beginning and we thank God for it.”