Stones Cry Out

Christ, in a dialog with the rulers of His time, refused to ask His followers to be quiet. His answer is very instructive:

As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:37-40).

It is a profound proclamation that what Christ has to say, and Who He is, are not just appeals to the religious questions of humanity, but an answer to the very universe itself. The very stones would cry out.

In truth, Creation has been crying out since the very beginning of creation. St. Paul refers to creation as “made subject to futility,” because man himself had sinned and could only live in a broken world – a world whose very brokenness would help bring man to his right mind – to repentance before God.

Today we live in a time when the reigning ideology (as an ideology) is environmentalism. The only absolutes taught in our schools today are environmental absolutes. The result is a predictable concern for the environment – but not a Christian-informed concern for the environment. Thus the environmental teachings of the Patriarch of Constantinople (the so-called “Green” Patriarch) are likely to be heard in terms other than those he speaks, and simply as an endorsement of political environmentalism.

There is a true “Green” that belongs to the gospel. I would say that one of the proper characteristics of this “Green” is an understanding that Christ is not speaking metaphorically when He says the “very stones would cry out.” In truth, many may absolutize the creation (or the earth) for their own political ends, but they do not believe that stones can “cry out.” That is to say, though they care about stones, they do not actually know stones at all.

This is a witness of the saints of Orthodoxy, whose many stories of miraculous relationships with nature litter the landscape of Orthodox hagiography. In the presence of saints, wild animals become tame. In their presence flowers bloom out of season. All of this is similar to the gospel image of Christ, in whose presence and at whose word the winds and sea became quiet, and the waters became as a solid surface.

Environmentalism, true Christian environmentalism, begins with the repentance of Christians and our seeking of true union with God. Mere care for the earth is a poor political substitute (not to be despised) for the ontological reality promised us in Scripture.

The silence of the saints found in the depths of the heart is also a silence that can hear the crying of the stones and the voice of creation itself. It is thus that creation loves the saints as creation loves God.

We must all begin where we are. We should be good stewards of creation and recognize in every stone, a fellow creature of the One God. But we should not stop at mere environmentalism lest we become pawns in someone else’s game. We press forward to the goal of all things being gathered together in Christ, the great environmental movement, in which not only stones sing, but all of creation rejoices. What music there will be!


  1. That will be music indeed. I hear the opening notes whenever I stand at the border of land and ocean, watching, listening, and sensing the creation of God. And I look forward to the full-blast chorus with all my heart.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Good post. When we view our environmental concerns through the lens of repentance from sin, and union with God, then we will be all the less likely swayed by every wind (hot or cold) to come from environmental debates and concerns.

  3. The problem that the stones, and the trees, and the bees, and the butterflies, and the gravel has is us. We are their voices, and poor voices we are to that. The stones are still wanting to cry out even now. We should be doing it for them.

  4. Respectfully, I disagree. We are their problem – I readily grant that. But they have their own voice. We will not have to speak for them, but with them.

  5. Fr. Stephen, as you may expect, my perspective on environmental issues is somewhat different. The unwillingness to specify private property rights to air and water defaults to a commonality of ownership–which means common exploitation with zero accountability. Little wonder that, under such a regime, clean air and fresh water disappear rapidly. Denouncing the sinfulness of man is an easy job, but harnessing the superior utilitarian benefits of private property requires considerably more mental ingenuity. Until finitude and scarcity are made irrelevant at our Resurrection, private property will underlie enduring human civilizations.

    On a separate note, I have come to regard animals as especially intriguing providential messengers.

  6. Visibilium,

    I don’t doubt that more mental ingenuity would doubtless help harness superior utilitarian benefits, etc. I have to work with a lot less mental ingenuity and do my best to write as a priest. As I have noted before on several occasions: I am an ignorant man.

  7. Ангели Твоји знају, а људи не знају, да су све моћи Твоје, у Теби и од Тебе, и да их Ти показујеш свету кроз чисте канале. Шта – ако је камен чист а човек нечист? Неће ли сила Господња показати се пре кроз камен него кроз човека?

    Your angels know, yet people do not know, that all powers are Yours, in You and from You, and that You manifest them through pure channels. What if a stone is pure while a man is impure? Will not the Lord’s might be manifested through the stone rather than through the man?

    St. Nikolai of Žiča, Prayers by the Lake

  8. But they have their own voice. We will not have to speak for them, but with them.

    Indeed they have their own voice – but does that really mean we don’t speak for them? We are their kings and lords, and it seems that we may rightly speak for them even as Christ speaks for us to the Father.

  9. I suppose what I was guarding against in this statement was the reduction of the voice of creation to a metaphor, in which we are the real voice. If you read the text of the Song of the Three Young Men (in Daniel LXX), they do not seem to be giving voice to creation, but directing creation to speak.

  10. The photograph shows what a single river and the passage of time can do.

    May the river of God’s love and power flowing and working through His Church also penetrate and replicate His beauty and grandeur upon the earth. May we be faithful, and persevere through the time, place and circumstances and against all that opposes the will and power of God.

  11. A brief excursion into a vast topic fraught with the possibility for easy misunderstanding and the temptation to lapse into all sorts of ideologies.

    Two words we must eschew (and the concepts that go with them): environmentalism and ‘green’.

    Any one who talks in terms of ‘the environment’ has already gotten it wrong. Such language is a symptom of a massive surrender to the two-story universe as well as a denial of mankind’s true vocation. Ultimately what results is a kind of reverse Gnosticism of the type to which Phillip Sherrard so unfortunately surrendered toward the end of his life. What should proplerly be spoken of is ecology: the inter-relationship that exists between God, the angels, man and the rest of creation. The ontological (as opposed to ideological) connection revealed fully in the Incarnation. Our vocation to dress and keep the earth is a necessary part of our salvation, it is both liturgical and sacramental (thine own of thine own we offer unto thee…). Our dominion is not tryannical in content but kenotic consisting of love, not power. Yet we have a right to use what God has made.

    The ‘green’ philosophy is part neo-paganism, part philosphical naturalism, part anti-captialism. Christianity has NOTHING in common with it and we should run from all of its precepts. It is a lie.

    Neither should we put our trust in an ideological approach to ‘private’ property. If we follow the sacramental example, there is no such thing as ‘private’ property, but it should not be debased to ‘common’ property either.

    Unfortunately, I have to say that the comments of Patriarch Bartholomew are not just viewed through an ideological prism, they are infected with worldly ideology that should not be a part of a traditional approach. Despite that, I commend him for making the attempt to speak. We owe it to him and to ourselves to go much more deeply into the wisdom of the Church and not leave it to him alone.

    What is required is to live more fully the life to which we are already called, a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving focused on God. The degradation in the natural world will be with us until our Lord returns, it will get worse if we are to believe the Scripture. As we must work hard to avoid all ideological approaches, we must likewise avoid the heresy of chiliastic utopianism that attempts to create a new Eden from the fallen world without the necessity for repentance. All of the current solutions in the marketplace are of that type to one degree or another. The more focused they are on ‘economic justice’ and mass political restructuring of economic activity, the more saturated they are with such wrong headedness.

    “If the people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14

  12. I, too, agree that the only way forward for those of us called by the name of Christ, is to allow ourselves to be transformed. Then through that transformation comes the transformation of the world. I have no hope in political solutions. Put not your trust in Princes nor in the Sons of Men.

  13. The classic battle between the closed versus the open universe. Father, you really have opened a can of worms with this topic: a veritable full frontal assault on modernity. In the closed and two storey universe it is trespassing man pitted against the environment. In the open, redeemed and one storey universe it is man and all of creation taking their proper role in singing *together* in their own way hymns of praise to God. Man’s God given role is as caretaker of creation. This in my view is true “green”.

  14. The classic battle between the closed versus the open universe. Father, you really have opened a can of worms with this topic: a veritable full frontal assault on modernity. In the closed and two storey universe it is trespassing man pitted against the environment. In the open, redeemed and one storey universe it is man and all of creation taking their proper role in singing *together* in their own way hymns of praise to God. Man’s God given role is as caretaker of creation. This in my view is true “green”.

  15. Dejan, please tell me what language it is that you wrote your post in. It is very like Russian (of which I know only a little) but not the same. And thank you for what you said.

  16. Damaris,

    I apologize if you understood that those were my words. Actually I quoted Saint Nikolai Velimirovich from his book “Молитве на језеру” (Prayers by the Lake). As Fr. James said, that is Serbian language and it is similar to Russian but again different – so I cannot understand Russian language. All variants of cyrillic alphabet have roots in works of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who lived in Byzantine Greece in 9th century. They devised the Glagolitic alphabet to translate the Holy Scriptures and other Christian writings into what is now called Old Church Slavonic language.

    If you liked that quotation above, here is the link where you can read more what St. Nikolai said about stones, it is from the same book:

  17. Fr. George Florevsky in his book, Creation and Redemption, makes this comment: “The fallen world is decenralized, or it is oriented around an imaninary or fictitious center. One could say perhaps that the circle (with a unique center) is deformed, becoming and ellipse with two points of reference—God and anti-God. Being, in any case, is dynamically divided in two”

    The bifurcation of man and therefore of creation is a persistent difficulty. The anti-God is not an illusion and it is something more than a mere shadow. It is, as Fr. Forevsky describes it, a parasite. As we recognize the sacred and strive to sanctify and be sanctified, we starve the parasite. It is when the creation, any part of the creation, becomes a mere thing, a utilitarian entity that the parasite feeds and grows stonger. Again, the liturgical, sacramental attitude: “holy things are for the holy”.

    It is a tough concept to communicate in today’s largely desacralized world, even tougher to actually do. One example–food. The eating and preparing of food has become a spectator sport. It is becoming less and less about sharing God’s sustenance in thanksgiving, unity and peace. It is either wholly utilitarian, as in fast food, or massively ornate and specialized prepared as some kind of personal artistic expression. The plate even the ingrediants called the chef’s canvas. Massive obesity accompanied by anorexia and bullimia. It is almost pornographic in quality. Indeed the sins of lust and gluttony are closely connected.

    Even worse is the vocation of farming be turned into an assembly line factory job. Yield, not husbandry is the goal.

    The problems are almost endless, the solutions simple but difficult and quite intimate and personal.

  18. Thank you, Dejan and Father James, for the explanation and the link. I hadn’t realized that Serbian was written in the Cyrillic alphabet — I learn something every day!

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