by Archbishop Job of Telmessos
Time magazine has labeled 2020 as the worst year ever in history. Many would agree with this statement and look forward to 2021, thinking that nothing could be worse from what we have experienced during last year. But will actually 2021 be a better year? It already started with the appearance of a mutating virus. If vaccination sounded like the hope for the new year, new questions already arise: will the vaccine be effective with the mutation of the virus? Will it be able to eradicate it totally from the earth? Or shall we “learn to live with the virus” forever?
The pandemic with which we have been confronted for a year has deeply impacted the economy of our countries, and not only businesses, but even our churches have been affected. The economic crisis which is spreading throughout the world is deepening a social crisis and one can observe psychological consequences on human beings. This inevitably raises the question: is man merely a homo economicus? But at the same time, the pandemic also shows the deep connection between humanity and the natural environment.
As I have underlined in my editorial last June, the lockdown observed last March-April all over the planet had positive consequences on the environment: air pollution dropped, waters became cleaner, animals reappeared in rivers, gulfs, harbors, forests and even cities where they have not been seen for a long time. In other words, nature had momently regained its rights, thus reminding us that we can do something to save the natural environment from the threat of the ecological crisis, and especially global warming.
The lesson that should be learned from the pandemic is that the world needs a complete change of our lifestyle. The pandemic has questioned our relationship with nature.
In his most recent book, Souls and Seasons, Psycho-ecology (2021), the French neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik has pointed out to the impact of the environment on our brain and how climate and geography affect our emotions. He is pointing out on the necessity of the harmony between man and the environment. He writes: “Our culture has lost the compass, we navigate by sight, shaken by events, wandering where the wind takes us. We must take a course, because we have just understood that man is not above nature, is not superior to animals, he is in nature. Domination, which was an adaptation to survive, today only produces misfortune. A shepherd’s star, however, indicates the new direction, towards the unity of the Earth and the living world.”
Therefore, we should look at the pandemic as an opportunity for us to rethink our way of life, living differently, returning to the basics. There is an urgent need for transformation, and not merely of compensation for the losses due to the pandemic and a passive desire to return to the previous situation.
As Fr. Alexander Schmemann prophetically affirmed many years ago: “I think no one can today doubt that we are in a deep crisis. Not only a political crisis, not only an economic crisis, but first of all a spiritual crisis. […] Discern the spirits! It is a spiritual discernment because what acts in this world are not abstract ideas nor anonymous impersonal phenomena. Behind everything there is a personal presence. […] Never stop believing that the battle is in this world, the struggle is not between structures and systems political or economic. […] No, the struggle is personal: it is the spirit of God, it is the spirit of evil. From that point of view, difficult as it may seem, every personal victory on evil, even unknown to the world, has an impact on the whole situation”.
Therefore, we must not approach the future by repeating the errors of the past, otherwise it will be worse than the past. The pandemic is an opportunity for a genuine metanoia of humanity in its relationship with God’s creation. For a better future, society needs to hear the prophetic and charismatic voice of solidarity, philanthropy, moderation, sobriety, thanksgiving, justice and peace from our Churches.