Thus our worship coincides with the same joyous worship in heaven and throughout history. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom himself affirms: “Those in heaven and those on earth form a single festival, a shared thanksgiving, one choir” (PG 56.97). Heaven and earth offer one prayer, one feast, one doxology. The Divine Liturgy is at once the heavenly kingdom and our home, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21.1), the ground and center where all things find their true meaning. The Liturgy teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions. In its spacious embrace, it includes the whole world, the communion of saints, and all of God’s creation. The entire universe becomes “a cosmic liturgy”, to recall the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated.
—Patriarch Bartholomew I, Homily during the Divine Liturgy on the Feast Day of St Andrew, 30 November 2006
Nobody can deny the beauty of these words, but what do they mean? How can the Liturgy really be the “ground and center where all things find their true meaning”? How does the Liturgy teach us “to broaden our horizon and vision”? I (this is Neil posting) would like to quickly look at a practical and important example, one that is close to the heart of the so-called “Green” Patriarch. (I hope that Pope Benedict’s visit to the Phanar has moved some of you to familiarize yourself with the Patriarch and his very interesting writings). One of the very last parts of the Common Declaration signed by the Pope and Patriarch reads:
At present, in the face of the great threats to the natural environment, we want to express our concern at the negative consequences for humanity and for the whole of creation which can result from economic and technological progress that does not know its limits. As religious leaders, we consider it one of our duties to encourage and to support all efforts made to protect God’s creation, and to bequeath to future generations a world in which they will be able to live.
How, then, can participating in the Liturgy possibly show us the “true meaning” of God’s creation? Let me quote from the opening address that Patriarch Bartholomew delivered at the Sixth Religion, Science, and the Environment Symposium, held this past July in Brazil, near the Amazon River. This address is entitled, “The Fragile Beauty of the World.” The excerpt might seem a bit long, but it does begin to answer our question, and is certainly worth reading:
Seeing clearly is precisely what the liturgy teaches us to do. Our eyes are opened to see the beauty of created things. The world of the liturgy reveals the eternal dimension in all that we see and experience. It enables us to hear new sounds and behold new images as we travel along the Amazon River. It creates in us a mystical appreciation and genuine affection for everything that surrounds us. The truth is that we have been inexorably locked within the self-centered confines of our own individual concerns with no access to the world beyond us. We have violated the sacred covenant between our selves, our world, and our God.
The liturgy restores this covenant; it reminds us of another way and of another world. It offers a corrective to a wasteful, consumer culture that gives value only to the here and now. The liturgy converts the attentive person from a restricted, limited point of view to a fuller, spiritual vision “in Him through whom all things live, move, and have their being” (Acts 17.28). It provides for us another means of comprehension and communication. The liturgy is the eternal celebration of the fragile beauty of this world.
In practical terms, this would naturally imply a way of life that would be respectful of the divine presence in creation. We should not be blindfolded by personal interests, but be sensitive to the sacredness of every peninsula and every island, every river and every stream, every basin and every landscape.
If we are guilty of relentless waste, it is because we have lost the spirit of liturgy and worship. We are no longer respectful pilgrims on this earth; we have been reduced to careless consumers or passing travellers. How tragic it would be, for us all as delegates of this symposium, if we were simply to pass through the Amazon, like the indifferent priest in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We must be responsible and responsive citizens of the world; we must be careful and caring pilgrims in this land. If we are not in fact moved to compassion, bandaging the wounds of the earth, assuming personal care, and contributing to the painful costs, then we might easily be confronted with the question, which of these do you resemble: the Good Samaritan or the indifferent priest?
The liturgy guides us to a life that sees more clearly and shares more fairly, moving away from what we want as individuals to what the world needs globally. This in turn requires that we move away from greed and control and gradually value everything for its place in creation and not simply its economic value to us, thereby restoring the original beauty of the world, seeing all things in God and God in all things.