The Creation and the Christian


This week I am in Pittsburgh for the All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America. We have many difficult things to deal with and I ask your prayers. I will try to work with the blog as I have time. Today I offer some thoughts of Met. Kallistos Ware, who led the pilgrimage I recently made to the Holy Land. His thoughts are on creation and our Christian relationship to the world around us. He offered a small book (The Beginning of the Day) to the pilgrims on our last night – which contained this small meditation, and quite a bit more. I share it with gratitude to God.

The  Cosmic Christ

Before I end my reflections upon the Orthodox vision of creation – upon the bonds that unite us with the animals in a single ‘earth community’ – I ask you to recall with me how every part of the created order played a part in the story of Christ’s life and death:

  • a star appeared at His birth (Matt. 2:9-10);
  • an ox and and ass stood beside His crib as He lay in swaddling clothes (cf. Isa. 1:30)
  • during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness He was with the wild beasts ( Mark 1:13);
  • repeatedly He spoke of Himself as a shepherd, and of His disciples as sheep (Luke 15:3-7; Matt. 18:10-14; John 10-1-16);
  • He likened His love for Jerusalem to the maternal love of a hen for her chickens (Matt. 23:37);
  • He taught that every sparrow is precious in the sight of God the Father (Matt. 10:29);
  • He illustrated His parables with references to the lilies (Matt. 6:28-30), to the mustard bush full of nesting birds (Mark 4:32);, to a domestic animal that has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath day (Matt. 12:11);
  • He urged us to show reptilian subtlety and avian guilelessness: ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt.l 10:16);
  • as Lord of creation, He stillled the storm (Mark 4:35-41) and walked upon water (Mark 6:45-51);

Most notably of all, the created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’

‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’

‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’

Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

Such, then, is our Orthodox vision of creation; such is our vocation as priests of the created order; such is our Christian reponse to the ecological crisis. Such is the deeper meaning implicit in the words that we say daily at the beginning of Vespers: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.






20 responses to “The Creation and the Christian”

  1. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    God bless the Orthodox for safeguarding this truth for those of us who have lost sight of it.

  2. […] 2008 Fr Stephen posts a meditation offered by Met. Kallistos Ware. You can read the entire post HERE. The quote below contains the final thoughts of that meditation: “Do we reflect sufficiently, […]

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    I particularly liked the citation of the role Creation played in the suffering of Christ. I can hear Met. Kallistos saying these things as I read.

  4. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Don’t forget (but how could you?) the thorns around his head (the thorns and thistles of the curse woven into the crown of the King) or the wooden tree upon which he hung (the tree which curses anyone hung on it, becoming the tree of life and the throne of the ruler of all).

  5. luciasclay Avatar

    Prayers for the Council.

    ‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’ ‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

    In the above passage this strikes me as very similar to the things spoken of in the Olivet Discourse. Is that the meaning intended ? Is it assumed that the moon and sun being darkened happened at the resurrection of Christ, and that was Christ’s meaning when he said that ?

    Realizing its a rather involved passage.

    Also, was this the same Kallistos Ware who wrote The Orthodox Way ?

  6. Cameron Avatar

    Lucias, it’s the same Kallistos Ware.

    Father, is this book available for purchase?

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not know about it’s avaiability. It’s in Greek and English.

  8. […] Father Stephen quotes Kallistos Ware’s Cosmic Christ and it is worth reading to get an Eastern Orthodox perspective on […]

  9. Visibilium Avatar

    Father Stephen, are time and location integral aspects of Creation?

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Not entirely. They certainly play a part in creation. But I do not think they have an immutable character nor a sovereign role.

  11. Andrew Avatar

    I’d like to ask what kind of redeeming effect did the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection had to things like black holes, or to all the animals that live and perish from the face of the earth? For humans, I can understand the vision of resurrection, but for animals, and other creatures, how is anything changed?

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Creation shares in the same hope we do. All of Creation will share in the resurrection. Things have changed, but are not yet manifest, see Romans 8

  13. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Andrew, I wrote about this here (though not black holes specifically) – thinking about the implications of such an all encompassing hope:

    Mt. St. Michel and the Chicago Suburbs.

    I’m not Orthodox, but I certainly hope nothing that I’m saying is out of harmony with what Father Stephen and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware are saying. If I can detect anything lacking in fullness looking back over what I wrote, it would be the emphasis that such heavenly fullness is breaking in even now.

  14. Andrew Avatar

    Poetic as that might sound, I can’t understand what it means. Father Stephen, very practically, what does the redemption Christ brought into the world mean for an animal that was torn apart while it was still alive by a dinosaur millions of years ago? What meaning does redemption have for that poor creature that no longer exists?

    Perhaps I find it difficult to understand what you mean because of the brevity of the posts. I apologize for not “getting it”.

  15. shevaberakhot Avatar


    How can we forget? Never! Never!

    Kyrie eleison.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar


    Though the opinion within the Fathers is far from unanimous on your question (some said animals only have this life) there are others who think differently. Personally, and I cannot say this as the dogmatic teaching of the Church, I think nothing is lost in Christ (or cease to exist). The redemption in Christ is good news to the whole of Creation – past present and future. I don’t know how else to read the 8th chapter of Romans.

  17. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar


    My response to you got tied up in comment moderation because it had a link, so you may have missed it. But I don’t see that the promise of resurrection from the dead is any less relevant or hopeful to a poor creature torn apart millions of years ago than my late grandfather who died two years ago.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    A Comment by Shevaberakhot (moved from a mis posting).

    Koestler’s Act of Creation (1964) offers some insight into how ‘the world’ deals with the ‘problem’ of psychic phenomenon:

    “One Archetype remains to be discussed, which is of special significance for the act of creation. It is variously known as the Night Journey, or the Death-and-Rebirth motif; but one might as well call it the meeting of the Tragic and Trivial Planes. It appears in many guises; its basic pattern can be roughly described as follows. Under the effect of some overwhelming experience, the hero is made to realise the shallowness of his life, the futility and frivolity of the daily pursuits of man in the trivial routines of existence. This realisation may come to him as a sudden shock caused by some catastrophic event, or as the cumulative effect of a slow inner development, or through the trigger action of some apparently banal experience which assumes an unexpected significance. The hero then suffers a crisis that involves the very foundations of his being; he embarks on the Night Journey, is suddenly transferred to the Tragic Plane– from which he emerges purified, enriched by new insight, regenerated on a higher level of integration. The symbolic expressions of this pattern are as old as humanity. The crisis or Night Journey may take the form of a visit to the underworld (Orpheus, Odysseus in mythology),; or the hero is cast to teh bottom of a well (Joseph), buried in a grave (Jesus), swallowed by a fish (Jonah);or he retires alone into the desert, as Buddha, Mahomet, Christ and other prophets and founders of religions did at the crucial turn in their lives.

    I went to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me forever.

    The journey always represents a plunge downward and backward to the sources and tragic undercurrents of existence, into the fluid magma, of which the Trivial Plane of everyday life is merely the thin crust. In most tribal societies, the plunge is symbolically enacted in the initiation-rites which precede the turning points in the life of the individual such as puberty and marriage. He is made to undertake a minor Night Journey; segregated from the community, he must fast, endure physical hardships and various ordeals, so that he may experience the essential solitude of man, and establish contact with the Tragic Plane. A similar purpose is served by the symbolic drowning and rebirth of baptism; the institution of periods of retreat found in most religions; in fasts and other purification rituals; in the initiation ceremonies of religious or masonic orders, even of university societies. Illumination must be proceeded by the ordeals of incubation.

    (Koestler, 1989, p.p. 358-359)

    Of course, Koestler equates ‘mother church’ to ‘mother earth’ or ‘mother ocean’ — the baptismal font is only a ‘womb’ the ‘immaculatus divini fontis uterus’ and the maternal aspect of the Church is only impersonated by the Virgin. He calls it the ‘craving for the womb’ for the dissolution of the self in a lost, vegitative oness.’ Mythology apparently, is full of such symbols of the collective unconscious.

    What we have in Christ is far different to what Koestler is proposing. Only, I wouldn’t call it a Cosmic Christ for to do so implies that there are other Christs, offshore and false, and this is in fact, what the world would have us believe.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Cosmic, I think, is a perfectly fine word, though I know that many in the New Age movement misuse it. I am one of those who doesn’t like to give up good theological terms just because someone else stole it. In the sense that Met. Kallistos uses the term, it is perfectly fine.

    Next thing you know, they will be trying to steal homoousios and perichoresis!

  20. shevaberakhot Avatar

    No problem Father. Bless! 🙂

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