Christianity is the religion of incarnation. One of the fundamental points of Christian theology is that the Word of God “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). Therefore, from a Christian perspective, religion is neither an escape from the body nor an evasion from the world. Although Christians await the coming of the Kingdom of God in fulness, they should never forget that it has been already inaugurated among us. For this reason, Christians ought not to be disinterested in public life, but on the contrary, should be engaged in public issues.
According to the Orthodox tradition, one of the concerns of the Christian should be the transfiguration of our world. Recently, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which gathered on the island of Crete in 2016, stressed that “the Church as the Body of the incarnate Word of God constitutes the living presence as the sign and image of the Kingdom of the Triune God in history” (Mission of the Orthodox Church in today’s world, introduction). This has been the conviction of the Orthodox Church for centuries, and even more within these last decades, when she has been particularly sensible to issues of ecology, social justice and ethical issues.
One can say that the Orthodox Church has been a pioneer in addressing the environmental crisis since 1986. She did not do this out of political correctness or for demagogic reasons, but on the basis of theological convictions. The world has been created good by God (Gn 1), and man has been established as its guardian (Gn 2:15).
This led the Ecumenical Patriarchate to take an active part in various international ecological initiatives and to the establishment of 1stSeptember as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment in 1989. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church emphasised the spiritual and moral causes of the ecological crisis, connected with greed, avarice and egoism, which lead to over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and to climate change, and states that “the Christian response to the problem demands repentance for the abuses, an ascetic frame of mind as an antidote to overconsumption, and at the same time a cultivation of the consciousness that man is a steward and not a possessor of creation” (Message, 8). The council also reminds us that “the approach to the ecological problem […] presupposes our greatest responsibility to hand down a viable natural environment to future generations and to use it according to divine will and blessing” (Encyclical, V, 14).
Although the Orthodox Church considers that she does not directly involve herself in politics, she is particularly sensible to the question of social justice and human rights for theological reasons as well. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church stated clearly that “the Orthodox Church confesses that every human being, regardless of skin color, religion, race, sex, ethnicity, and language, is created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:26), and enjoys equal rights in society” (Mission, E2). For this reason, the Council also noted that “the Church cannot remain indifferent before economic conditions that negatively impact humanity as a whole” (Mission, F3). The Orthodox Church throughout centuries has always promoted a culture of solidarity and treated the persecuted ones, those in danger and in need, on the basis of Christ’s words: “whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). Based on this commandment of Christ, the Council of Crete stressed that “at no time was the Church’s philanthropic work limited merely to circumstantial good deeds toward the needy and suffering, but rather it sought to eradicate the causes which create social problems” (Encyclical, V, 19).
Besides the problems we have already mentioned, we all are aware that several ethical issues have occupied the political and public sphere these recent years, particularly regarding the beginning and end of life. The Orthodox Church strongly believes that these questions cannot be dealt exclusively from a political, sociological or scientific point of view, but should also involve religious and theological principles. The Holy and Great Council underlined in its document on the Mission of the Orthodox Church in today’s world that since man is created in the image of God (Gn 1:26), it cannot be considered merely as a composition of cells, bones, and organs nor defined solely by biological factors. Based on this theological principle, the Council stated that “in the process of scientific investigation as well as in the practical application of new discoveries and innovations, we should preserve the absolute right of each individual to be respected and honored at all stages of life” and that “research must take into account ethical and spiritual principles, as well as Christian precepts”(Mission, F12).
For these reasons, we strongly believe that the Church cannot be absent, nor marginalized, from the public sphere. We should never forget that the Orthodox Church has always been involved in public issues, being in dialogue with the society of her time, not with the aim of solving all the problems of humanity, but rather in order to give to the world a message of light, consolation and hope, emphasising the Christians’ responsibility in time and place, always in the perspective of eternity, as the Holy and Great Council reminded us (Message, 12).