by Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas



We are living in an age of ethical and moral crisis. We must examine the question "What is ethics?" in the Christian or Orthodox context. In fact, Christian ethics are the study of Christian ethos, and therefore of Christ's life. The scope of Orthodox ethics is cosmic in character; it reaches out and involves the whole world or cosmos.

In applying Orthodox ethics to contemporary life, we must distinguish between the descriptive language of "is" and the normative language of "ought." It can be said that we derive the "ought" of our ethics from the "is" of our faith.

The goal or purpose of Orthodox Christian living is theosis, or becoming God's creation. Among the Orthodox responses to this challenge have been the naysayers, the spiritualizers, the reductionists, the compartmentalists and the partial affirmers.

Biblical ethics do not provide just a personal morality since the ethic of love requires both a subject and an object.

There are many Orthodox Christian sources for ethical decision-making; among them the Old and New Testaments, the teachings of the Church Fathers, Canon Law and various liturgical sources.

How does Orthodox theology relate these ethics? Humans, God's creatures, comprised of both matter and spirit, are made in the image and potential likeness of God (imago Dei). The image of God is the triune God; eternally a community of persons in love and unity. We are called into this image and to the struggle to become fully human, which none of us truly are. When this "is" of our faith is interpreted in the context of the environmental crisis we discover that at the root of the crisis is our broken relationship with nature. Our salvation from brokenness comes through Christ who is the perfect union of humanity and divinity.


Analyzing Texts for their Ethical Dimension

Using the following form of analysis, three texts with an environmental theme will be examined in three separate workshops. These texts can be classified under the following headings:

Bible, Fathers, Spiritual Writers: Extract from the Address of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to a plenary session of the European Parliament, 1994.

Liturgical Text, Epiphany Services: the text of the Divine Liturgy for the Blessing of Water.

Contemporary Ecumenical Report: "Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation," an Orthodox Approach for the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Canberra, February 6-21, 1991


A. Background/Context


  1. Political, theological and ecclesiastical context:
  2. Historical, cultural and legal context:
  3. Linguistic peculiarities:


B. Ethical Analysis


  1. Topic:
  2. Subject(s) — to whom is it directed?
  3. Motives referred to:
  4. Motives implied:
  5. Intents referred to:
  6. Intents implied:
  7. Means advocated or criticized:
  8. Values promoted:
  9. Disvalues/vices proscribed:
  10. Situational factors:
  11. Ecclesial/individual dimensions:
  12. Consequences:
  13. Sanctions ordered:


C. Contemporary Application


  1. Primary ethical teaching:
  2. Secondary or derived ethical teaching:
  3. Procedural indications:


D. Consequences For Theological Reflection


  1. Expression of "mind of the Church":
  2. Theological insights:


Text 1: Except from the address of His All Holiness The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to a plenary of the European Parliament, Strasbourg, April 19, 1994

"We believe that similar conclusions can be derived from the issue equally critical and distressing in our times ñ the problem of ecology. All of us are aware of the nightmarish proportions of this problem as it increases day by day. Permit us to hold to our conviction that the ecological problem of our times demands a radical reevaluation of our understanding of how we see the entire world; it demands another interpretation of matter and the world; another perception of the attitude of humankind towards nature, and another understanding of how we acquire and make use of our material goods. Within the measure of our spiritual capacity, the Orthodox Church and theology endeavors to contribute to the necessary dialogue concerning this problem. Thus, upon the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we, however, the Orthodox have established September 1st of each year as a day of meditation and prayer on the continuing ecological destruction of our planet. Having convened an international conference in Crete, we have further inaugurated a systematic theological study of this problem. Our efforts, however, will be meaningless if they remain fragmented. Therefore, taking advantage of the fact that we stand here before you, we hasten to declare that we are prepared to place our modest efforts at the disposal of the European Parliament for any future study and concern of a pan-European response to the ecological problem …"


Text 2

Then, in the Ainoi [Lauds] the following six idiomela are sung in the First Tone.

By Patriarch Germanus

Christ our God who is Light of Light, God manifest, hath shone forth to the world. Let us, O nations, worship him. (Repeat.)

How shall we servants fittingly honour thee, O Christ Master; for by water thou didst renew us all.

When thou west baptized in the Jordan, O our Saviour, thou didst sanctify the courses by the laying of thy servant's hand upon thee, healing the sufferings of the world. Wherefore, great is the mystery of thy dispensation. O Lord, Lover of mankind, glory to thee.

The true Light hath appeared, granting illumination to all. And Christ transcending all purity is baptized with us, charging the water with sanctity for the purification of souls.

Verily, the thing apparent is earthly, but its significance transcendeth the heavens; for by washing salvation is attained, by water the Spirit, and by immersion ascent to God. Wherefore, great are thy works, O Lord, glory to thee.

He that encompasseth the heavens with clouds putteth on today the courses of the Jordan; and he that lifteth the sin of the world, cleanseth and purifieth me. Yea, the Spirit hath testified of him from on high that he is the only Son of the Father on high. Let us, therefore, shout to him, crying, O thou who didst appear and save us. Glory to thee.

"Glory …, in the Sixth Tone

By Anatolius

O SAVIOUR, who putteth on light like a robe, thou hast put on the waters of the Jordan, bowing thy head to the Forerunner, O thou who measures" the heaven with a span, that thou mayest restore the world from error and save our souls.

Now …, in the Sixth Tone

By Anatolius

TODAY Christ cometh to the Jordan to be baptized. Today John toucheth the head of the Master. The powers of heaven were astonished at beholding the strange mystery. The sea saw and fled. Jordan, beholding, turned back. But we who were lighted shout, saying Glory to God who was manifest on earth and lighted the world. Today the land and the sea have divided between them the joy of the world, and the world hath been filled with rejoicing. The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee: they were afraid. Jordan turned back when it beheld the fire of the Godhead coming down and descending upon it in the flesh. Jordan turned beck et beholding the Holy Spirit descending in the likeness of a dove and hovering over thee. Jordan turned back when it saw the Invisible visible, the Creator incarnate, and the Master in the likeness of a servant. Jordan turned back and the mountains shouted with joy at beholding God in the flesh. And the clouds gave voice, wondering at him that cometh, who is Light of Light, true God of true God, drowning in the Jordan the death of sin, the thorn of error and bond of Hades, granting the world the baptism of salvation. So also 1, shine unworthy sinning servant, as I proclaim thy great wonders, am encompassed by fear, crying reverently unto thee, and saying,

And at once, he saith in a louder voice:

GREAT art thou, O Lord, and wonderful are thy works, and no word doeth justice to the praise of thy wonders (three times); for by thy will thou didst bring out all things from nonexistence to existence and by thy might thou cost control creation, and by thy providence thou cost govern the world. Thou it is who didst organize creation from four elements, and crowned the cycle of the year with four seasons. Before thee tremble supersensual powers; thee the sun praiseth, the moon worshippeth, the stars submit to thee, the light obeyeth, the tempests tremble, the springs worship thee. Thou didst spread out the heaven like a tent: thou didst establish the earth on the waters. Thou didst surround the sea with sand. Thou didst pour out the air for breathing. Thee do the angelic hosts serve; thee the ranks of the archangels do worship, the many eyed cherubim, the six-winged seraphim, as they stand in thy presence and fly about thee, hiding with fear from shine unapproachable glory; for while remaining a boundless God, beginningless and ineffable, thou didst come to earth, taking the likeness of a servant, and became like men. By the feeling of thy compassion, O Master, thou couldest not bear to see mankind defeated by Satan, but didst come and save us; for to thee do we attribute grace, and preach mercy, and conceal not benevolence. The sons of our nature thou didst free; the virginal womb by thy Nativity thou didst sanctify. Therefore, all creation hath praised thee in shine appearance; for thou our God didst appear on earth, and among men thou didst walk. The courses of the Jordan thou didst sanctify, having sent unto it from heaven shine all-holy Spirit, and didst crush the heads of the dragons nestling therein. Wherefore, thou King and Lover of mankind, be present now by the descent of thy Holy Spirit and sanctify this water (three times). And grant it the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a fount of incorruptibility, a gift for sanctification, a redemption for sins, an elixir for maladies, destroyer of Satans, unapproachable by the adversary powers and full of angelic powers; so that to all who drink therefrom and receive thereof it may be for the sanctification of their souls and bodies, for the healing of sufferings, and for the sanctification of homes, and for every befitting benefit; for thou art our God who with water and the Spirit renewed our nature made old by sin. Thou art our God who didst drown sin in the water at the time of Noah. Thou art our God who in the sea deliveredst the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh at the hands of Moses. Thou art our God who didst cleave the rock in the wilderness, so that the waters rushed out and the valleys overflowed thus satisfying thy thirsty people. Thou art our God who with fire and water deliveredst Israel from the error of Baal at the hands of Elisha. Wherefore, O Master, sanctify this water by thy Holy Spirit (three times). Grant to all who touch it and who are anointed by it and who receive thereof, sanctification, blessing, cleansing, and health. Save, O Lord, thy servants, our believing kings (three times). Keep them under thy shadow in peace. Subdue under their feet every enemy and adversary. Grant to them the means of salvation.


Text 3

"Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the whole Creation"

An Orthodox Approach for the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Canberra, Australia
6-21 February 1991

Edited by Gennadios Limouris

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Consultation on: Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation: An Orthodox Approach


5. Transcendence, communion, Church, sacramental and particularly eucharistic life, transformation and glorification through holiness, foretaste of the Kingdom within history, through constant metanoia and struggle against the powers of sir and evil — these are some of the fundamental principles which Orthodox theology attaches to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In the pages of this report these principles will play a central role in dealing with the sub-themes of the Assembly theme. It is hoped that they can be of some significance and use to the Orthodox themselves as well as to those who are interested in what the Orthodox would have to say to the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

Sub-theme 1: "Giver of Life — Sustain Your Creation"

6. Creation is the work of God the Father accomplished through his Word and his Spirit (Gen 1:1-5), these "two hands of God," as they are called by one of the early Church Fathers, Saint Irenaios of Lyons. Therefore the mystery of created life and existence as a whole is rooted in the divine will of the Holy Trinity. The world exists because God, the Holy Trinity, willed and wills it to exist. Creation is a free gift, not a necessity. It has not always been there and does not possess any natural capacity for eternal life and self-existence. It is only by being constantly related to God that it can enjoy life and survive.

7. This dependence of the whole creation on God makes it a reality of communion. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of communion (2 Cor 13:13) is the "giver of life" (cf. 2 Cor 3.6: 6.63) precisely because the Spirit opens up the world to communicate with God, and in this way allows it to transcend its limitations and share the life of the eternal God, the life of the Holy Trinity. In acknowledging, therefore, that the world is not self-existent and self-sufficient, we confess that any breach of its communion with God brings creation back to its natural limitations and threatens it with death.

8. Creation, although created by God as "very good," exists now in a state of disintegration and under the yoke of death. All parts of nature experience this as if it were inevitable and "natural" reality. Life is so intermingled with death that creatures enter the process of disintegration and decay as soon as they are brought into being.

9. Related with this physical disintegration is a moral and spiritual disintegration brought about by human sin. Natural evil and moral evil are two aspects of the same reality which has to do with the creation's relationship with God. The world "groans in travail in all its parts" (cf. Rom X:22) because "the prince of creation," the human being, refuses to relate it to God and regards it as its own possession. Sin is essentially a revolt against God; it is the self-proclamation of the human being as the ultimate point of reference in creation and its self-divinization. As this was the suggestion submitted to Adam by the Devil, all tendencies in human existence towards regarding creation as centered on the human being and as existing only for its sake amount to the demonic dimension in existence. The devil constantly tempts man to regard everyone and everything outside himself as existing for his own pleasure and satisfaction. Life is thus constantly confronted with the demonic forces in existence, and the Christian is called to be aware of his life as a confrontation and fight with the devil. The Holy Spirit is thus a "spirit of power" (Rom 15:19) involving humankind in a constant struggle for life and against all forms of disintegration and death.

10. These powers of disintegration and death operate in many cases of our actual life and culture. Although one could make a long list of such cases, the following will suffice to make us aware of certain acute problems facing us today in our civilization:


  • The misuse of nuclear power to create weapons that can annihilate all life on earth and consolidate structures of exploitative power and domination.
  • The criminal testing of nuclear weapons in the lands of the poor and powerless people, especially in the Pacific, depriving these people of the dignity and right for life.
  • The production and sale of arms that deliberately maintain conflicts and political instability in many parts of the world for the benefit of rich and powerful nations.
  • Exploitative imbalances in international trade and the demonic presence of transnational corporations that suck the blood of the poor and kill the economic growth of poor nations.
  • The fatal disfiguring of the face of the earth by a consumerist style of life that devastates the biosphere and kills the gift of life.
  • Complicity of the economic and political powers in the maintenance of apartheid regimes and the encouragement of discrimination on the basis of color, race and sex.
  • Denial of the land rights of indigenous peoples and violent encroachments on their self-respect and God-given dignity as human beings.
  • Unscrupulous and selfish manipulation of life in genetic engineering and biotechnology without any sense of the mystery of life as a gift of God.


11. In the face of these problems we call upon the Holy Spirit to intervene and sustain God's creation. We acknowledge and confess that salvation can only come from God and that the Holy Spirit as the "giver of life" can help us find a way out of this vicious circle of life and death, of light and darkness, in which creation is caught up.

12. In invoking the Holy Spirit we do not shake off our shoulders our own responsibility as human beings. The first thing, therefore, that we ask of the Holy Spirit is to create in us a state of true and genuine repentance, a metanoia, which means a reversal of our ways and attitudes, so that they may be turned from self interest and egocentricism to true love, concern, and care for the others and for all of God's creation. Without this repentance God cannot intervene, for He respects human freedom and wishes to co-operate with the human being (in synergy).

13. This turning of ourselves away from self-centredness towards communion with others, this deep and true metanoia, involves the denouncing of all demonic powers that keep us in the realm of self- interested individualism and makes us members of the Body of Christ, which was given and broken for the life of others, indeed for the whole creation. By so doing the Holy Spirit brings about the Church as the Body of Christ, the community which constitutes in the midst of a disintegrated creation the sign of life and the proclamation of a world liberated from all powers of disintegration and death. It is, therefore, in and through this body of Christ, the Church, that the Spirit sustains creation. Baptism as the sacrament of entrance into this body through metanoia and renunciation of all demonic powers, through the death of self-centred individualism and the rising in the communion of saints, is the door that the Spirit opens for the world to enjoy true life.

Chrismation (Confirmation) as the sacrament of personal receiving of the Holy Spirit heals us from sin and enables us to combat the powers of darkness. Above all, the Holy Eucharist makes us partakers of the life of the Holy Trinity in the Body of Christ and allows us to offer with him as the head of the new humanity the whole creation to its Creator: "Thine own of shine own we offer thee in all and for all" (Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom). It is this sacramental and eucharistic experience that allows us to bring back, in the Holy Spirit, creation to God, acknowledging that we are not the possessors but the stewards of creation. All this is done through the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epilkesis), who alone through Christ's body can sustain creation by reuniting it to God, the source of life.


Workshop Report: Group I

Many environmentalists are shocked when they read Gen. 1:28. Yet, we are not talking about tyrannical dominion. The first Adam did not manage to recapitulate creation and refer it back to God; this was done by the second Adam, Christ. The purpose of our role as priests of creation is its freedom from death and pain. When man is not in communion with God, creation cannot overcome death. According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, the sun freaked when it saw the fallen man and the earth found it too hard to carry the sinner on its back. Nature did not agree with the fall of man. All those theological ideas should be communicated to all Christians.

This text is part of Patriarch Bartholomew's speech to the EU concerning the greatest of Europe's problems. The Patriarch always refers to this issue. A different view of the world has to be developed. Many of us have grown within the Church, receiving the Manichaean message that matter is evil. But in Orthodox theology everything revolves around the transfiguration of matter. Through this process the plan of God is realized and man returns to the condition he was in before the fall. We should never forget that the human body sits to the right of the Father. This has great significance for the salvation of creation.

The hymns and prayers of the Epiphany and the blessing of water are of great theological value. The entire creation praises the Lord. Creation is transfigured so that it can be saved. This process can only happen through the mediation of man, the priest who refers creation back to the Creator. Creation expects fallen man to mediate for its salvation. It is only today that we are heading towards. eternity. We cannot postpone anything for tomorrow. It is the duty of the Church to pass the mystery of creation to all humans. Each one of us should contribute as much as we can.

The Rev. Dr. Stanley Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA, from which he recently retired. He was graduated from Holy Cross and earned his Doctor of Theology from Boston University. An active member of numerous professional societies, he is also the author of eleven books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred published articles. He is married and is the father of five children.