Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

Ecology is an Orthodox word

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The Greek word oikos (house, home, dwelling) has fallen on hard times. It is now a brand of Greek-style yo-gurt. I guess it could be worse; it could have become the name for a house-shaped bucket of KFC artery-clogging grease! Even in modern Greek, people say spiti instead of oikos.

But thank God the Greek word survives in more than the name of a yogurt. It survives, for example, in the English word ecology, which derives from the two Greek words oikos and logos. Ecology is the study of eco-systems. (How’s that for a double dose of oikos?) An ecosystem is a community of organisms and ecology is the study of ecosystems and their interactions with the environment. Because humans have the largest impact on our planet, ecology most often has to do with our place in the environment and how we interact with other organisms that share our home, our oikos, our planet Earth.

But oikos is only half of the word ecology. The other half is logos. In the Gospel of John, Logos is the eternal name of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Logos… the Logos was God… And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14). The Fathers and Mothers of the ancient church were inspired by John’s Gospel to conclude that the ultimate purpose of humanity and the universe is to be deified: to be filled with the divine presence. The world we live in, the world that is our home, is the world in which the Logos became incarnate.

Contrary to widespread opinions, the Christian tradition is what makes it possible to care about the environment! In 1989, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios established September 1st in the church’s calendar as the day of prayer for the protection of the environment. But not only prayers; our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is to be inspired by our spiritual tradition and cultivate an attitude of living simply and reducing consumption. We are called to love our home, to live in harmony with all life, to avoid needless waste and poisons. Ecumenical Patriarch Barthol-omew: “The spiritual root of our pollution—our sin against the world—consists in our refusal to face life and the world as God’s gift to humankind, which humans have to utilize with discernment, with respect, and with thanksgiving… Our sin toward the world lies in our refusal to view life and the world as a sacrament of thanksgiving.” The Orthodox Church has a sacramental vision of life and the world. And that is why we are in the best position to actively proclaim and protect the sacredness of creation. Ecology for us is not just the scientific study of the environment, but a vision of our home (oikos) made holy by the presence of the Logos. Ecology is an Orthodox word. Let’s live it.

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