"We are all painfully aware
of the fundamental obstacle that confronts us in our work for the
environment. It is precisely this: how are we to move from theory to
action, from words to deeds? We do not lack technical scientific
information about the nature of the present ecological crisis. We know,
not simply what needs to be done, but also how to do it. Yet, despite all
this information, unfortunately little is actually done. It is a long
journey from the head to the heart, and an even longer journey from the
heart to the hands.
"How shall we bridge this tragic
gap between theory and practice, between ideas and actuality? There is
only one way: through the missing dimension of sacrifice. We are thinking
here of a sacrifice that is not cheap but costly: ‘I will not offer to the
Lord my God that which costs me nothing’ (2 Samuel 24:24).
"There will be an effective,
transforming change in the environment if, and only if, we are prepared to
make sacrifices that are radical, painful and genuinely unselfish. If we
sacrifice nothing, we shall achieve nothing. Needless to say, as regards
both nations and individuals, so much more is demanded from the rich than
from the poor. Nevertheless, all are asked to sacrifice something for the
sake of their fellow humans.
"Sacrifice is primarily a
spiritual issue and less an economic one. We often refer to an environmental crisis; but the real crisis
lies not in the environment but in the human heart. The fundamental
problem is to be found not outside but inside ourselves, not in the
ecosystem but in the way we think.
"What is asked of us is not greater technological skill but
deeper repentance, metanoia, in the literal sense of the Greek
word, which signifies ‘change of mind.’ The root cause of our
environmental sin lies in our self-centeredness and in the mistaken order
of values, which we inherit and accept without any critical evaluation. We
need a new way of thinking about our own selves, about our relationship
with the world and with God. Without this revolutionary ‘change of mind,’
all our conservation projects, however well-intentioned, will remain
ultimately ineffective. For, we shall be dealing only with the symptoms,
not with their cause.
"Speaking about sacrifice is
unfashionable, and even unpopular in the modern world. But, if the idea of
sacrifice is unpopular, this is primarily because many people have a false
notion of what sacrifice actually means. They imagine that sacrifice
involves loss or death; they see sacrifice as somber or gloomy. Perhaps
this is because, throughout the centuries, religious concepts have been
used to introduce distinctions between those who have and those who have
not, as well as to justify avarice, abuse and arrogance.
"But if we consider how sacrifice was understood in the Old Testament, we
find that the Israelites had a totally different view of its significance.
To them, sacrifice meant not loss but gain, not death but life. Sacrifice
was costly, but it brought about not diminution but fulfillment; it was a
change not for the worse but for the better. Above all, for the
Israelites, sacrifice signified not primarily giving up but simply giving.
In its basic essence, a sacrifice is a gift – a voluntary offering in
worship by humanity to God. For the
Israelites, the fasts – and the sacrifices that went with them – were
‘seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals’ (Zechariah 8:19).
"An essential element of any sacrifice is that it should be willing and
voluntary. That which is extracted from us by force and violence, against
our will, is not a sacrifice. Only what we offer in freedom and in love is
truly a sacrifice. There is no sacrifice without love. When we surrender
something unwillingly, we suffer loss; but when we offer something
voluntarily, out of love, we only gain.
"Christ proclaimed this seemingly contradictory mystery when He taught:
‘Whosoever wishes to save his life must lose it’ (Matthew 10.39, 16.25).
When we sacrifice our life and share our wealth, we gain life in abundance
and enrich the entire world. Such is the experience of humankind over the
ages: Kenosis means plerosis; voluntary self-emptying brings
"All this we need to apply to our work for the environment. There can be no
salvation for the world, no healing, no hope of a better future, without
the missing dimension of sacrifice. Without a sacrifice that is costly and
uncompromising, we shall never be able to act as priests of the creation
in order to reverse the descending spiral of ecological degradation.
"The Cross is our guiding symbol
in the supreme sacrifice to which we are all called. The Cross must be at
the very centre of our vision. Without the Cross, without sacrifice, there
can be no blessing and no cosmic transfiguration."
Archbishop of Constantinople,
New Rome & Ecumenical Patriarch.
Quoted from Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension, his
address at the Closing Ceremony of the 4th International Environmental
Symposium, Venice, Italy, 2001.
Photograph: The American Bison
(Bison bison) was saved from extinction by the costly sacrifices
of many people in the United States and Canada. Photo taken at Yellowstone
National Park by Craig Johnson (USA).