Somewhere along the way, Western culture quietly divorced the spiritual and sacred from the material and profane. Those elements and systems that historically connected humanity to the environment (or more accurately creation) faded away, leaving an ambiguous if not adversarial relationship with the natural world.
Whereas many cultures throughout the ages had found a divine meaning and context through their relationship with creation, this divorce of sorts reduced the relationship with the created world to simple respect and admiration of something untouched and beautiful, and exploitation as resources to be profited from.
This separated understanding has not impacted deeply affected the lives of most Western Christians (especially in the wake of the age of enlightenment and the Reformation). In a different way, it has dramatically affected Eastern Christians and many indigenous cultures around the world whose very existence and identity is deeply rooted in the land.
This was demonstrated this past fall when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that indigenous Ktunaxa peoples of British Columbia had no right to block the development of a ski resort on their traditional lands because they are the sacred dewling of the Grizzly Bear Spirit.
In the court’s unanimous judgement, the Ktunaxa’s people’s right to believe in the Grizzly Bear’s Spirit was upheld; but paradoxically the value of their traditional lands, that manifested their beliefs, was pronounced as having no significance beyond being an attraction to behold and a resource to be developed. It was as if the court had ruled that people (like the Ktunaxa) have a right to love, but they can’t have something tangible (like their traditional lands) that manifests that love.
This ruling that defined a religious belief as being divorced from the material creation, defies not only the relationship that many indigenous cultures (like the Ktunaxa peoples) have with the material and created world, but also the understanding and relationship that Orthodox Christians (and many traditionally- minded Christians) have with creation. Although Orthodox Christians might not share the same beliefs in the Grizzly Bear Spirit, or any other indigenous belief, nonetheless we have a great deal in common in our respect for creation. Some people can get lost and even worship the created instead of the Creator, However, the essential correct understanding for everyone is that God reveals Himself in and through creation, and we can approach Him in His creation
We see this in the feast of Theophany (Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River), and the tradition of blessing water, lakes and rivers that happens around the world at this time of year, not to mention the many prayers for the sanctification of lands, building and objects.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)
The beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, is a proclamation that the whole of the cosmos (from the tiniest atoms to the greatest galaxies) was created by the Lord, and that it being His creation, it bears witness to His life and love, For “All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16) .
From a traditional Christian point of view, creation isn’t some kind of random accident, or phenomenon, rather it is the work of God, in the same way human beings are in a particular way. By definition, creation has a value greater than being merely an extraneous element in the economy of salvation. Which is to say, creation, has a part to play in revealing “that light…that the darkness can not comprehend” ,
This sacred character of creation is fully brought to a fullness in the incarnation of our Lord (when He takes on a human body), and is revealed at His Theophany on the banks of the Jordan River. Jesus Christ, “true God of true God”, willingly submits to be submerged in the waters of the Jordan by the hand of John the Baptist, The Father confirms His love, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him.
It is important to see that this revelation of the Triune God doesn’t happen in some abstracted manner, or in the spiritual mind of those present. It happens in a river, or to the point, in creation.
By the work of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism, the elemental and natural (in this case water) reveal the supernatural. Some 2000 years later, this miracle is repeated around the world as Orthodox bishops and priests plunge the Cross of our Lord in water, lakes and rivers. Even in the Red River.
For us as Orthodox Christians “God’s eternal power and deiy have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rm. 1:20) His invisible attributes, His benevolent beauty, mercy and love for us are clearly seen. Creation offers us an encounter with the Creator. We should see creation not as means to holiness and the divine, but rather as His holy and divine work.
We bless our water, lakes and rivers, those elements of creation that for too long have been used and abused for the pursuit of pleasure and profit, and reclaim their holiness in the Lord. If “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 23/24:1), how can what we believe in be separated from what He has sanctified?
As Ktunaxa people of British Columbia, are defending the sacredness of creation, so we should be prepared to defend the truth which we have received n Christ, and the intimate care that God has for every atom of His creation; rejoicing with the mountains and the hills as they shall break forth into singing before the Lord, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12-13) .