An interesting theme within the holy Scriptures is the “voice of Creation.” The famous Old Testament Canticle, Song of the Three Young Men, in English traditionally known as the Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, and which in Orthodoxy forms the basis of the Seventh and Eighth odes of the Canon, very famously calls on creation to offer praise to God:
O let the earth bless the Lord;
O ye mountains and hills, bless ye the Lord’
O all ye green things upon the earth, bless ye the Lord;
praise him and magnify him for ever….
In the New Testament the same understanding is taken even deeper in St. Paul’s famous 8th chapter of Romans in which he speaks of “creation groaning and travailing unto now” as it “waits for the manifestation of the sons of God” (the general resurrection).
This “animation” of creation does not in the least seem to be an anthropomorphizing (attributing human abilities to non human things) of creation, but rather a revelation of creation’s true status. The Scripture does not see the creation as inert. In Leviticus there are many warnings as well as blessings. But the imagery used contains this same animation of creation:
Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled); lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. (18:24-28)
We do not live within a universe in which we are the animate and everything around us is inert – at least not in the Scriptural account. The winds and seas “obey” Christ. they are not described as having merely been stilled, but that they obeyed the voice of His command.
This same relationship is frequently described in the lives of the saints, whether it is the story of St. Gerasimos and the lion, or St. Seraphim and the wild bears. In the presence of the holy, trees and flowers behave differently – blooming out of season as well as other behaviors.
Orthodox Christianity does not attribute a “spirit” to the things of creation – but neither does it describe creation as mute or as a secularized, universal no-man’s land. The universe is decidedly on the side of God and resists those who do evil. This is not to say that creation behaves in a way in which we are always pleased. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. The righteous die of cancer as well as the wicked. There is a fallenness to the world in which we live, but it has not been stripped of its character or nature. The winds and the seas obeyed the voice of Christ, even as the universe itself came into being through His voice.
Neither does Orthodoxy see creation has having been brought into existence and simply left alone to its own laws and devices. Instead we confess that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” God is not a stranger to the universe at any point. He sustains us and everything around us.
All of this means that how we interact with creation is not properly that of the “masters of the universe” lording it over some inert lump of stuff. The passage in Leviticus points rather to a proper stewardship of everything around us. The earth does not belong to us: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).
In recent years the Patriarch of Constantinople added a new emphasis to the Orthodox feast of the New Year (marked on September 1). To the new year he added an emphasis on celebrating our relationship with the whole of the created order and our right treatment of all things. This was ratified by the other patriarchs of the Church within the past month.
The voice of creation is not always heard by all. But it is heard by some. St. Anthony of Egypt said (when asked why he had no books), “My book is the whole creation.” It apparently taught him into paradise.
Orthodox sacraments are not bringing into the the created order something which is foreign to it – but rather – according famously to Fr. Alexander Schmemann – revealing things “to be what they already are.” The Body and Blood of Christ that we consume in the Liturgy also reveals our right communion with all that we eat. The waters which we blessed are not blessed to become something other than water, but to be what water was created to be.
By the same token, those sacraments that are directed particularly at human beings are not making us other than what we were intended to be, but are bringing us back and re-establishing us in the communion where alone we may find ourselves becoming truly human. It is also entirely appropriate that such a restoration occurs within the context of other created things – water, oil, wax, etc. All things begin to take their proper place and the liturgy releases the voices of all – man, water, oil, etc. And all proclaim the wonders of God.
We are taught, (and therefore we think of) the universe in terms of finite, tangible and empirical conceptualisations and frameworks, but:
From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumour of it with our ears.’
God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
“For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything* under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to man,’Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.'”
Perfect understanding (which leads to holy unity) is first received in the supernatural state (such as in Job’s thunderstorm, for instance) for there all things are revealed as they really are in relation to the eternal God. They are either in sublime and perfect harmony, or at enmity with Him.
As we grown in wisdom and understanding, we realise that though we differ in substance to the angels and archangels, we share their divine nature through Christ who redeemed us from the state of enmity — by the power of His word, as Fr. Stephen says, and because God loved us first.
In Christ, man, water, oil, and wax etc, can do nothing but, proclaim the wonders of God.
* My emphasis
Father, bless. Thank you for this post.
I’ve been reading Olive Dickason’s ‘Canada’s First Nations’ and have found, within Amerindian religion, a deep respect for the land. The interplay between Amerindian and French and British understandings of land is very interesting to see as the latter view land as property with all the rights that individual ownership contains whereas the former view land as given by the Creator and, ultimately, belonging to the Creator. There is a distinction in the Amerindian view of land between one tribe’s hunting area and another’s, and trespassers are definitely not welcomed, but the fundamental distinction between the two views is that land belongs to the Creator instead of us.
It is, I think, an interesting parallel. Again, thanks for this post.
“God is not a stranger to the universe at any point. He sustains us and everything around us.”
This truth that God is in all and not just in us is one not expressed often enough. The entire world, no, the entire universe is his creation and his custody.
Even beyong the limits of our understanding or our inability to fully grasp what we know to be true He is there. Beyond the Milky Way, beyond the ever expanding universe He is there. With our limited senses we see and hear only a small part of His creation. In the air around us are waves of energy that we cannot experience yet He is there.
We are not the only miracles in the universe. When it comes to our Creator we cannot even imagine what we don’t know.
Thank you Fr. for sharing your insights and deepening our understanding.
Elder Sebastian of Optina Monastery said, ” It’s neither wine nor women nor money nor riches that are to blame for our sins and our passions, as some who wish to justify themselves say, but our own immoderacy. Drunkards blame wine, fornicators blame men or women, misers blame money, rich people blame wealth, and so on. That would mean that if there weren’t wine, women, money, or riches, then sinners wouldn’t sin. Everything is created very wisely and wonderfully by God. But due to unreasonable application and use of these things, evil is wrought.”
We stand on holy ground. We decide whether to leave it holy.
“We stand on holy ground. We decide whether to leave it holy.”
I like this. Too often we only see the insides of our churches as ‘holy ground’ and we forget that everything was created by God, and so is holy.
Father, this is a fine presentation of the biblical view of creation and order in creation. Now what does one say to the homosexual who argues that God created him or her that way?
God is everywhere present, and filling all things. Even in creation as fallen, He is at work. But none of us, regardless of orientation, genome, etc., can say, “God made me this way,” in the sense that we would Biblically say of Adam, “God made him that way.” In the Biblical story (you’re the Genesis expert!) it is said of Seth that he was born in “Adam’s” image, recognizing that something has not been fulfilled in Seth that was promised in Adam.
We are all earthen vessels in which God does move and speak, and renew and recreate. The homosexual, like the alcoholic, can find a form of sobriety in Christ – which is not necessarily to say that he or she will find an end of disordered attractions. Neither does the alcoholic necessarily find that alcohol never comes to mind. But sobriety is a healing and has a fullness in it that is deeply of God.
The fullness, even within a Christian marriage, is rarely the fullness that it should be, I think because we do not treat it seriously enough and settle for too little.
But we should not attribute to God what God has not done. He has not made us sick or dysfunctional. Sin has distorted everything. Nothing is seen in completion until it is seen in Christ and the fullness of His resurrection.
Nature has always “spoken” to me of the divine. Not that nature is divine but rather one seems to become more aware of God in nature.
Sometimes I believe that the modern existence is more of a curse than a blessing. We never interact wtih nature. We are more likely to believe that we control our destinies and fail to recognize our real place in things.
Tonite I have been, and soon will return, to watching the stars. God is always apparent when one looks at the works he has done throughout the skies.
This reminds me of the quote I came across when reading St. Augustine. In regards to sacraments, he says “”the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but … invisible things themselves are also honored in them.”
It is sad how looked down upon St. Augustine is in the Orthodox world. A lot of the “false” doctrines that are attributed to him didn’t actually come from him, but from the late middle ages and the reformation twisting what he said to serve their own purposes.
But, anyways, I thought this quote was beneficial to this discussion.
Thank you, Father. Your response will be helpful to many who might be wondering how to respond to the question of homosexuality.
Many seem to think of God as a rubber stamp on all that falls short of the promise. It is a self-justifying deceit and bad theology.