This little verse was composed by a poet, Λάμπρος Πορφύρας, in memory of one of the most important writers of modern Greece, Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911). Although it’s written in very simple Greek, the four lines are difficult for me to translate into English and do them justice. So I prefer to paraphrase and summarize.
The poet prays to Christ that Papadiamantis will be granted in heaven the joy of seeing again the life he had lived by the sea, a life that he had so purely chanted and which must be made holy together with him in heaven.
In these simple but untranslatable words the poet captures the essence of Orthodoxy – the essence revealed in the liturgical life that Papadiamantis lived on his island of Skiathos and in Athens. The verb αγιάζω (to make holy, to sanctify – inadequate English translations) is at the core of life in the Orthodox world.
In his stories and novels, Papadiamantis shows us a life that has virtually disappeared in Greece and all other traditional Orthodox countries. It’s what I call a “liturgical life”. It is not simply a matter of going to Liturgy. It is about making life a liturgy – a sacrament, a celebration of holiness. It’s about being a sanctifying presence in the world. That is why the poet prays that the life Papadiamantis lived on earth will be holy with Papadiamantis in heaven.
Our life on earth is meant to be holy, meant to be a sacrament of God’s sanctifying presence. Thus earth itself is holy. Orthodoxy does not share the hang-ups of Christian fundamentalists who accuse us of idolatry when we speak of the earth being holy. It is no wonder Christian fundamentalists tend to be against protecting the environment. Because quite frankly they don’t care about the environment; they’re too busy waiting for the “rapture”! They accuse environmentalists of worshipping the earth; while they worship guns, and money and nuclear supremacy; and wars in the Middle East that promote their ideology.
No, we Orthodox don’t worship the earth. We don’t have to worship the earth! Because the earth is not our idol; the earth is our love and our home. Nothing manifests God’s love and God’s creative wonder than our beautiful planet set in its ideal location within the solar system amid the endless majesty of the universe that surrounds us. And that endless majesty is also here on this planet that is our home world. The variety of life on our planet is almost as inconceivable as the variety of stars and planets and galaxies. We live in paradise!
Papadiamantis lived a very humble life on the island Skiathos amid the humble goings on of ordinary people whose lives revolved around family, work and church. Their lives were liturgical because they were whole – and wholly in touch with the soil and the life that was nurtured by the soil, air and sea. They were environmentalists without knowing it. Unfortunately for us in this discombobulated life we live, to be an environmentalist becomes a political problem instead of the spiritual obligation it really is.
Today is Earth Day. But why only today? Shouldn’t every day be an earth day? Shouldn’t every day be a day in which we are in touch with the source of our being? Is there really any greater obligation for a Christian than to care for the home God has entrusted to us? The Ecumenical Patriarch several years ago instituted September 1st as an annual day of prayer for the protection of the environment. But I wonder how many of us observe this day?
Today is Earth Day. September 1st is the Orthodox “Earth Day.” But every day is a day to sanctify the earth, to sing and chant its goodness like Papadiamantis did. Every day is a day in which to protect life – ALL life! Every day is a day in which to demand action to halt global warming and the evils of pollution, fracking, fossil fuels, and the killing of wildlife for profit. Then, indeed, like Papadiamantis we will always enjoy the holiness of our home throughout all eternity. For the earth is made holy together with us. How holy do you feel on this Earth Day?