Living in God’s creation, 3
Thoughts on reading Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2009).
After having talked in my last post about some of the problems I see in the introduction to this book, I had promised to look at some of the positive things I find. I’ll do so in this post.
In the first place, I am very encouraged to see an Orthodox writer bringing the wisdom of the Fathers to bear on a contemporary issue. As a student of the Fathers myself, I appreciate not only the great treasures available in the patristic tradition, but also the difficulty one has in translating their wisdom into a contemporary milieu and bringing it to bear on a new context which the Fathers themselves never addressed directly. To be sure, issues of Christian life, theosis, and morality don’t change, and patristic teaching on these issues is easily fungible across the centuries. But issues like environmentalism, which the Fathers never addressed directly, are not so easy. I think Theokritoff gets major kudos for undertaking her study and a contributing something Orthodox to the discussion.
Secondly, she frankly acknowledges this difficulty and speaks to the limits of theology. She says,
It is vital to come to a deeper theological understanding of God’s creation and our own place in it; but this on its own will not show us how to address specific social and environmental problems. It is not the task of theology to come up with such solutions, and there will sometimes be genuine differences among Christians about the practicalities of remedying various ills. (pp. 29-30)
Thirdly, I was happy to see her make a simple but helpful distinction between the “environment” and the “creation” (p. 26). As she points out, the “environment” means something around us, and is defined in relation and in contradistinction to humans, whereas “creation” is defined in contradistinction to the Creator alone. I think it helpful to distinguish humans vis-à-vis the environment who are nevertheless creatures in creation vis-à-vis their Creator.