Theology of Nature

Ecclesiological Paradigms for Ecology
Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora

Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora

Fr. Dr. Jaroslaw Buciora

Humanity faces one of the most difficult problems of its existence: world-wide environmental disaster. Man is being challenged with the prospect of global warming, ozone depletion, deforestation, desertification, acid rain, and global pollution. All we need to do is mention Chornobyl, Bhopal, Times Beach, or Love Canal to be reminded of the dangers lurking in toxic, radioactive, and chemical contamination. The pollution of streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans threatens our most valuable resource — water. Wetlands, beaches, and valuable farm lands are disappearing as a result of the greed and ignorance of development. Our next most valuable resource is arable land, over 50 percent of which has been irrevocable lost over the last 10,000 years due to destructive agricultural practices. Of the remaining land, 30 percent may be lost in the near future due to continued erosion and poisoning by chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This would leave us with only 4 percent of the earth’s surface to feed an exponentially global population. An environmental holocaust of epic proportions might exceed those of the Roman Empire in North Africa and the Maya in Mesoamerica.

The destruction and depletion of natural resources by humanity challenges the entire spectrum of the consumerism of modern society, which is the main theme of this conference. The discussion of consumerism in the Christian perspective has to be based on the fundamental Christian doctrine of creation, which can lead us into the discussion of the related themes. A deadly threat to human existence and the entire global environment asks us to provide a new look at the relationship of man and nature. The reexamination of this relationship is essential to the life of our planet and our approach to consumerism. In order to understand the authentic message of Christianity on creation we have to place ourselves in a theocentric theological setting which brings us to the mystery of God the Trinity and His relationship to the world.


Orthodox theology offers a Trinitarian view of creation that acknowledges the Holy Trinity in the creation of the world. According to the Christian cosmology and eschatology, the very existence of creation at any moment depends totally on the work of the Trinitarian God. The beauty of the created world is the manifestation of the divine energy, which reflects the Trinitarian mode of life.

Following the development of contemporary Orthodox thought, the foundation of the entire Christian theology is the dogma of the Holy Trinity. In the same direction, the theology of creation is also founded upon the Holy Trinity. Based on this strong and fundamental theological principle, the Orthodox Church affirms that the Church reflects the life and action of the Divine Trinity in the world. The Holy Trinity is the ultimate foundation and source of the Church’s existence. In essence, the Church has a Trinitarian character and expression. The Church becomes the living icon of the Holy Trinity.

Continuing the analysis of the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, we have to emphasize that ecclesiology also has Christological, pneumatological, eschatological, and cosmic dimensions. The total integration of the Divine Trinity in the life of the Church is expressed in those dimensions. The main purpose of the existence of the Church is the vision of the Kingdom of God. Because of this eschatological presupposition, in her existence, the Church strives to model herself on the pattern of the Kingdom of God and should never cease to do so. Any compromise with the powers of the fallen world would be detrimental to her identity. The main purpose of the Church is the nourishment and cultivation of the Christian “life-style” for people of any time under any conditions and difficulties. The Church is life in God and “not of this world (John 18:36), and as such she cannot be categorized and discussed as any other ideology. If the Church is the “living icon of the Holy Trinity” in the world then the entire world, with all its complexity and problems, is the domain of the Church. According to Maximos the Confessor,

“the Church is the print and image of the whole context, which consists of visible and invisible substances”.

In this context the problems of man in the world are the Church’s problems. All the daily dilemmas of human beings, including the political, economic, cultural, and environmental problems, are being transferred to the Church, where they are being sanctified and overcome in the Holy Eucharist. The Orthodox Church is the life of the world and by participating in the struggle of human beings for man’s theosis, the Church transforms the world. Although the Church has a distinctive identity with a specific mission in the world, actions for the environmental stability of the world are constitutive dimensions of the Church’s mission. The Church is never associated with the indifference or excessive detachment that is part of the horror of the world. Indifference and apathy bring life to death, while participation and action change and transform the world. If a local Church associates itself with indifference, it is not a Church. From the other side, we have to state as well that although the problems of the world are being brought to the Church, they are never being identified with the Church. The Church, because of its ontological nature expressed in an apophatic theology, cannot identify itself with either national or social ideologies or with any other ideological trend of the society. It has to be emphasized that the Church incarnates people, refusing to accept any ideas or beliefs.

If the Church is the “living icon of the Holy Trinity” and the entire world is the domain of the Church then the entire creation is an imprint of the Trinitarian life. This might be the reason why St. Maximos calls the world the “cosmic church”. The nature of the world has a Trinitarian character. The Church is the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity and as such the Holy Trinity constitutes her being in the world and of the world. The Church reflects God’s unity in the Holy Trinity which is being reflected on the nature of the world. In other words, the Church mirrors the communion and otherness that exists in the Holy Trinity. Ideally, the life of members of the Church reflects the ineffable life of the Holy Trinity. In addition, the Church cannot function without continual reference to the Triune God.

The doctrine of the Trinity introduced by the Orthodox Church based on the diversity of person has an immense significance in the discussion of the nature of the world. The Three Persons are one in nature, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are absolutely different. Based on the above, God is relational and God is koinonia. The relationship of the Trinity not only acquires the Trinitarian mode, but also is directed towards the entire creation. The Trinitarian God relates to His created world. God participates in the nature of the world as He relates in the Divine mode of interrelationship between the Persons of the Trinity. The identity and value of the created world are rooted in the fundamental relationship with the Triune God. For Orthodoxy, based on the above, the nature of the world has a theocentric view of creation. Theocentricism is the cornerstone of Christian ecology. As a consequence, the Orthodox Christian cosmology recognizes the Trinitarian God in the creation of the world. According to the Orthodox theological thought, the creation of the world by the Trinitarian God became God’s second revelation or the sacred Scripture written by Logos. Creation has a holy origin which is to be found in the Holy Trinity. In the ecclesiological perspective it also involves the healthy relationship to the other human being and to the entire creation.


Based on the above said let me present three possible paradigms or examples, out of many others, offered by Orthodoxy solely based on the Trinitarian model introduced above. We have to be aware of the limitations of those paradigms that have to be approached on the higher level of the human ideology of life. These paradigms are not ready solutions to the ecological crisis of the world, but they allow us to look beyond our rational mind in order to comprehend the problem and find possible directives for recovery.

1. God, the Holy Trinity is relational within the context of the Trinity and towards the entire creation which includes the nature of the world and the human being. The presence of God is, therefore, relational in the context of the human being and nature. God is present in the world and the existence of creation totally depends on the continual presence of the Trinity in the world. It is expressed in words found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri:

“Lift the stone and there you will find me: cleave the wood and there am I.”

Because creation has a non-ontological source the only way creation can find its destiny is to relate to God Who relates to creation through its creation and energies.

According to contemporary theological thought, because God in the Trinity is relational to the entire creation, the nature of creation is also situated in the relational context. Nature is the “other” that human being is being called to bring into a proper communion with himself and God. Man is being called by God to use his personal creativity in order to affirm the goodness of creation and redeem nature in the context of Eucharist. The ultimate destiny of creation is found in the concept of the Orthodox Eucharist where the natural elements of bread and wine, in the event of the Holy Spirit, acquire the personal qualities of Body and Blood of Christ. The Orthodox Church affirms not a form of pantheism, but a healthy relationship within creation deriving from the Trinitarian concept. A proper relationship within the Trinitarian concept has also to be understood as a negation of paganism and syncretism developed by some Christian circles. In the context of Eucharist, nature achieves its final destiny – deification and the participation in the Godhead. In Eucharist the Church affirms the final destiny of nature and the place of human being in God’s creation. In the context of Eucharist we must recover our sense of joy and wonder of nature and to treat nature as a sacrament of communion with God. Based on the sacramental aspect, a Christian must love the world in order to place God’s love for the world for the deification. As a sacrament of communion with God the creation deserves a sense of respect and care discussed further down in this paper. According to this argumentation, man cannot fulfil his destiny and develop a proper relationship with God being isolated from nature. Man has established a certain relationship with nature and because of this relationship he began to understand its distinctive nature. The element of otherness of creation, so crucial for the Orthodox theology, is very often ignored or unforgivably absent in the ecological debate. In order to move towards the solution to the problem of ecology we have to treat nature as “other” in relationship with man and God. The subordination of nature by human being for the reason of exploitation of natural resources deprived creation of a sense of coexistence with man. This leads us to the problem we face today in the world.

Orthodox theology acknowledges man as an integral and irreplaceable composition of creation. He is linked with it in his creation from the “dust of the earth” on the sixth day. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, all things exist in each other and all things, including man, mutually support each other. Man’s designed role in the world is to become a priest of creation. Being ontologically joined with creation, man according to St. Maximos the Confessor, is a microcosm of the universe. Man is the summary of all creation to the point, according to Johannes Scotus Eriugena, that everything is recapitulated in him. As a priest, man is a mediator or an agent to bring the entire creation into deification, into a proper relationship with God. Man, according to St. Gregory Palamas, is an inexhaustible source of sanctification of the entire creation. As a living icon of God, man can do two things: he can reshape and alter the world or he can bring the entire world back to God. According to the Christian Orthodox theological thought, man is challenged to acknowledge and to recognize the theocentric view of creation despite the dominating and growing concept of biocentricism.

Unfortunately for the entire world, the tragedy of nature in the ecological context is the crisis between the human being and the otherness of the creation. The lack of acknowledgement of the “otherness” of creation by the human being creates the aspect of imposition of authority on the world by man. Man’s contemporary self-centredness or exclusive anthropocentric view of himself has immediate consequences on the entire aspect of creation. The lack of recognition of the “otherness” of creation by the human being corrupts the relationship with creation. The contemporary understanding of “progress” and “development” with their ultimate consequences of the crisis of ecology proved to be a rape of nature and her corruption. In other words, it is a rape of the “other” nature of its right to function. In the contemporary world, the Church as koinonia and an icon of the Trinitarian God has to become conscious of the proclamation of the integral intrinsic koinonia between human being and natural environment. The ethos of the Church denotes a reverence for nature, the world around us. It is a reverence of a proper relationship between nature and man. Until the relationship towards nature is restored to its original setting, the rape will only increase. The Trinitarian concept of God and the relationship within the Trinity exemplifies dignity and respect towards each other. In retrospect of the ecological disaster of the world, the relationship between nature and man has to be seen again in the context of respect and reverence. The contemporary world knows how to defend life and the value of human life. Is it possible for the same world to defend the value and dignity of the “otherness” of nature? In the prospect of the ecological crisis of the world, humanity must also defend the right of nature. It might be time to mobilize the international community to defend the right of nature on the level of international law. The natural resources of nature are being exploited by the entire humanity regardless of the economic or political status of the country. In return, is it possible that the entire civilization will defend and respect the right of nature? In the Trinitarian context of God there is no cost involved in the relationship which is known as self-sacrifice. Based on this Trinitarian concept, is it possible for humanity to establish a proper relationship with nature without looking at the economic or financial aspect of life? In the context of the interrelationships among men, the loss of a dignified relationship in the community is a tragedy. In the context of the symphony between man and nature the extorted relationship is a catastrophe for the entire world. As humanity we have to strengthen our efforts to defend the right of nature to exist and to give us the basis for coexistence. As humanity we have to realize that the depravation of the “otherness” of nature in the context of economic development is a beginning of the self-destruction which will affect the entire civilization. Before making any kind of decision regarding the defense of nature, we have to acknowledge that there is a problem. The denial of the ecological problem by humanity is the denial of the “otherness” of creation and the coexistence of man and nature. In fact, it is a denial of theocentric view of creation and eventually denial of God. The denial of the theocentric value of creation is an indication of the weakening of the ethical problem of man. The weakening of the ethical aspect of humanity is linked with the environmental and social problems facing contemporary humanity. The denial of the “otherness” of nature is the denial of right for nature to exist. As long as man continues this process, creation dies and human being will die too because man shares the destiny of the natural world.

The acknowledgement of the right of nature to coexist has to be addressed on the level of the law where we can implement the practical solution to address the problem of ecology. The second step of the implementation of the practical steps towards the ecological problem has to be addressed by the Christian Churches immediately. The ethos of faith of the Christian Churches cannot allow for the destructive cataclysm of nature. To be uninterested in the life of the world is to be uninterested in the practice of religion. This last statement might be addressed to every religion or any ideology of the world. If we are serious about our faith or ideology we have to be consequential about the pragmatic implication of our belief.

The second paradigm, also based on the principle of the Trinitarian concept, is directed towards the mystery of God. In His essence God is a mystery. In order for the human being to participate in the mystery of God, man is being asked to search for God in his inner life. The mystery of God brings with itself the wealth and satisfaction of all the needs of humanity. Because God is relational, the mystery of His essence is also seen in His creation. We recognize God and the wealth of life in His creation. God reveals Himself in creation. Because God, as a mystery, reveals Himself in creation, nature becomes the mystery of God’s revelation. The ultimate revelation of God, as the ultimate mystery, was the incarnation of His only begotten Son. Incarnation testifies God’s presence in nature. The entire Christianity never defined the act of incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity including the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 453, which is quite puzzling. The revelation of God in the incarnation of the Second Person of the triune God and the mystery of God in His essence brings us to the point of thinking of our nature. Man must understand the material nature in order to behave accordingly. Nature is a mystery that we have been called to discover. Man must be not only an explorer in the discovery of nature/logoi but also a creator in order to respect it. The call for man to enter the realm of discovery of nature is a dynamic movement which leads us towards the discovery of the Holy Trinity in nature. It is a mystery that brings us in front of the potentiality of natural resources and energy so needed to maintain the level of contemporary consumption. Even the contemporary theologians insist, although they are not scientists that the tiniest particle of matter of nature contains within itself tremendous energy and power. We have to learn how to read our nature in order to bring her closer to ourselves and discover the potential resources. If we are facing the ecological problem it is because we have lost a reverence for matter and ability to understand the logoi that are inherent in it. At this point we, as humanity, have learned how to manage and discover natural resources already existing in nature: natural gas, oil, the treasury of oceans, water, etc. At this point we have to ask ourselves how to sustain our consumption in a world where the natural resources are shrinking rapidly. If nature is a second revelation of God and in itself it is a mystery, then we have to direct our resources to discover the potential contained in nature. We have learned to apply the economic element of our life to everything that we manufacture. It will be right to say that economy has to be a religious activity that penetrates the life of humanity and creation. In the context of growing market economy and shrinking natural resources we have to ask ourselves: what kind of economy do we see in the future if we want to be responsible to nature and to the consumerism of tomorrow. It is time for us to spend more financial resources on research to study nature in order to maintain it and to sustain the consumerism of today. The discovery of new natural resources, pollution control, and a reversal of the destruction of nature with the entire spectrum of related challenges and problems depends on the technological knowledge and a greater wisdom and skill of human kind. This in return asks us to rethink and reshape our approach to nature and the entire world. The mystery of nature offers us a potential to satisfy the needs of contemporary consumption and the future for the generations to come.

The third paradigm has to be placed in the context of the destiny of man and creation.
As pointed out before, the ultimate destiny of creation is the deification of man and the salvation of nature. The Trinitarian God reveals Himself towards His creation as a relational God. Analogically, if human being is also relational, then the final destiny of humanity is found in the relationship and unity with God. The ultimate task for man is to be in unity with God and to bring the entire creation to salvation. It is a challenge to respond to God’s call. The task of bringing the entire creation, including himself, to God is related to the responsibility for creation at the present time. It also means to know the place and function of nature within the cosmos. We have to ask ourselves if we are responsible for the environmental crisis facing humanity. We are used to blaming others for anything bad. In the context of the natural disaster we have to blame ourselves and be responsible for future actions. According to Orthodox theology, God gave us the entire creation to be responsible for as we relate to it. Are we in the position of responding to God with honour for ourselves and for the dignity of the creation? On a daily basis are we responsible for the pollution of rivers, seas, and the atmosphere, the destruction of trees, the forests turned into lunar landscapes, the accumulation of radioactive residues in living creatures, etc.? The recovery of nature to its original state follows the acknowledged recognition of our action. The world has to act together in order to bring those responsible for destruction of nature to justice. The Kyoto agreement on the emission of greenhouse gases might be the best opportunity for humanity to act and to press our governments to act. The lobbying of environmental agencies and resources of the world would be the right step towards this path. The only difficulty we can perceive here is the fact that all of us should be responsible for the world. The fact that we have to lobby for the strength against our governments and companies indicates the weakness of humanity and interest of man. The environmental crisis affects not only the chosen ones, but the entire humanity all together. The other question which has to be addressed here is the question of this conference on consumerism. Is consumerism responsible for the contemporary crisis in ecology? Another question would be the definition of responsible consumerism in today’s society? If we are responsible for the entire creation then are we also responsible for the development of today’s consumerism? If consumerism embraces the entire spectrum of our life, it might be the right step to redefine the contemporary consumerism in the context of the theology of nature. It is a question that will be debated and asked for generations to come.


The ethos of Christianity regarding nature is dynamic and proactive. In retrospect, the natural ethos of Christianity calls the entire humanity to challenge and to rediscover the origin and destiny of creation. In the process of the technological development of humanity and the changing philosophy of life, man forgot to maintain or consciously change the order of creation. Because of the technological development of modern society and the failure to respect the natural aspect of life, humanity faces the ecological crisis. It is a crisis that penetrates all the spheres of human life. In the context of an ecological disaster we have to look for the possible solution to the problem. In the context of consumerism we have to analyze the source of the environmental crisis which immediately effects consumerism. From the Christian Orthodox perspective, humanity is at the point of realization of epochal disaster which has to be confronted. From the perspective of the Christian Church, humanity might discover the path which leads man towards the discovery of the destiny of man and nature. The entire process of revaluation of the contemporary philosophy of life has to be seen according to the Christian perspective, in the prism of the theocentric dimension of creation. A theocentric approach towards nature affirms the reverence and sanctity of creation. It also affirms man being responsible for the entire creation. Because of the Trinitarian relational affirmation towards nature, Christianity has to reclaim the salvific approach to nature which includes a human being. Based on the Trinitarian theology the Christian Church offers many paradigms towards the ecological problem. The most valuable for our discussion are those which offer us some possibilities for the problem of consumerism. It is reasonable to think that the idea of reshaping and revolutionizing our consumption in the immediate future is vague. We also cannot expect the entire humanity to return to the patristic age, where the veneration and care for creation was at the peak. The possible paradigms offered by Christianity that seem to appeal to humanity are those that are directed towards man’s creativity and expansion towards nature. This kind of approach never abolishes the holistic approach to nature. The theocentric paradigm towards nature affirms the sanctity of creation and at the same time expands human ability to discover the supreme mystery of creation.

In our approach towards the ecological nightmare from the Christian perspective we have to reestablish the identity of nature which is safeguard in the “otherness” of nature. The recovery of the identity of creation, based on the Trinitarian theology, allows us to see and appreciate creation in another perspective. The return of the “otherness” to nature would allow us to codify certain law in order to defend nature. The theocentric paradigm would also allow us to investigate other sides of nature and maintain a sustainable consumerism. It would also ask us to respect and safeguard existing nature. The offered paradigms are not easy to achieve and implement. They offer humanity a potential future which might be accepted universally. The restoration of the creation to the theocentric perspective faces many challenges which deal mainly with the human approach towards nature and the entire world. The lack of response from the perspective of humanity only deepens the ecological crisis of the natural world, which has to be stopped by man. If we want to be responsible before the generations to come, let us act so that they can see what we are losing every moment of our life.