Since 1989 the Orthodox Church has included in the commemoration for the church New Year (1st September) a “Day of Prayer for Creation”.
The Gospel reading for the feast is Luke 4:14-22 which tells us how Our Lord Jesus Christ began his public ministry by reading to the people from the prophet Isaiah and proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.”
These words describe the life and mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the things that matter to Him and that should matter to us as his followers and disciples. These words remind us that our God cares deeply and wants us to care deeply for the poor, the broken hearted, the oppressed and by extension the created world and everything in it.
Climate change, the use of fossil fuels and the impact of human activity on the created world and its consequences; for example extreme weather, destruction of habitat’s, loss of species, polluted air and water is making us all poorer, more broken hearted and we are held captive by a state of mind that says we can continue to consume finite resources infinitely. Can we use this day of prayer and everyday to do something about this situation? I would like to suggest two things we can do: watch and pray.
We need to watch. Watching means more than seeing, it means to pay attention and take notice of the world around us. When we see a bird, or a butterfly, a plant or an insect or a landscape take an interest and give thanks for it. Try growing flowers, herbs, fruit or vegetables. When we pray and bless something we are acknowledging our dependence on God and praising Him for His gifts to us. When we do this we will find we notice and appreciate these things more, we’ll be more inclined to care for creation.
As our watchfulness grows and we learn more about the created world and the dangers if faces from human activity we will find we will pay more attention to our actions, such as what and whether we buy something, where we buy it from and what we do with it once we have finished with it. We can ask questions; “do I really need this”? ”did the person who produced this get paid fairly for it”?, “is there a more ecological alternative”? We can pray a prayer of intercession for particular issues that concern us. The prayers in the Divine Liturgy for example for “seasonable weather” and for those in authority are an opportunity for us to offer these prayers to God.
Contemplating the state of the environment can be quite depressing. It can also lead you to feel helpless and angry which lead to negativity and despair. We need to recognise these feelings and turn them into positive actions. So we also need to watch and be kind to ourselves and to one another. We need to change, we need to be reconciled with God and this leads us to prayer and repentance by acknowledging our spiritual and physical needs.
In the Epistles to the Colossians 1:19-20 we read:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Our world is broken, and still needs to hear the “good news” Jesus spoke of in the Gospel reading. God is at work reconciling and restoring. Jesus didn’t come just to reconcile us with the Father, but all things in heaven and earth and we are invited to join Him in this work.
Here are two prayers from the services for the Church New Year which I think bring environmental concerns before God and offer us spiritual aid for the year ahead:
"Christ our Lord, You who provide the rains
and fruitful seasons, and hear the prayers
of those who humbly seek You,
accept also our requests about our needs
and concerns and deliver us
from worry, danger and sin.
Your mercies are as abundant as Your works.
Bless all our activities, direct our steps by
Your Holy Spirit, and forgive' our shortcomings.
Lord, bless the year with Your goodness
and make it a year of grace for all of us. Amen."
(Matins Hymn, September 1st)
O Lord, Creator of all things,
who by Your authority
have established times and seasons,
bless the beginning of our Church year with
Your goodness; preserve Your people in peace,
and through the intercessions
of the Theotokos, save us. Amen.
(Dismissal Hymn, September 1st)