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Vol. 1 No. 2 - Nativity 2006

Green Martyrdom

"Professing to be wise, they became fools...exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation, rather than the Creator," - Romans 1:24-25

Green politics is on the move. For years, environmentalist parties in Europe have seen electoral success, largely because of a voting system which favours smaller parties. Yet now in western parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom and Canada, the Green Party is breaking ground, and seems to be on the cusp of winning parliamentary seats. Even if it should fail to do so in the short term, its impact on the political debate has been overwhelming, effectively replacing religious voices as the moral force in public debate.

It is not difficult to see the reasons green politics have become popular. It rejects the evils of capitalistic materialism, and its destructive side effects on the physical world, so painfully evident both on the environmental front, and in the cost to human dignity in the workforce, in family life, in health, and in advertising. Like the spiritual malaise which has rejected the failed spiritual constructs of the last few centuries, the political rejection of establishment solutions to political problems is a shocking development. In the ongoing political revolution, however, the rise of green politics should not be unexpected.

Like every political movement, green politics is based on a spiritual idea. Capitalism finds its centre in materialistic monetary power, liberalism in a vague idea of the "spirit of man", and socialism in the idea of social progress through revolution: all these are fundamentally atheistic, rejecting anything beyond the material world, although their supporters will sometimes attempt to dovetail their ideologies with certain religious teachings.

Green politics is different, however. Rather than reject a spiritual worldview, green politics is based squarely on pantheism, the idea that God (or at least divinity) is in everything. This pantheism does not distinguish between the Creator and the creation, or the Divine Essence and the Divine Energies, as Saint Gregory Palamas and other Holy Fathers teach. Thus, the fate of the created world is somehow spiritualized, and the state of the material world is taken as normative.

This is the pseudo-spiritual worldview the fathers condemned when they found it in early heresies. Green politics simply takes this same worldview, and makes it modern and political. Generally speaking, the leadership of secular green politics views the world as an interconnected organism, with a unity of soul and spirit. Even inanimate living objects are seen to share in this "spirit"; animals are necessarily included as well. While it laudably advocates the protection of the created world, particularly animals, its solutions are not based on the Christian idea of stewardship of creation, but rather on the humanistic construction of the "rights" of animals. (Two centuries of the "rights revolution" since 1789 has shown that such rights are rather flimsy, and depend very much on the agreeability of the powers that be.)

Orthodox Christianity has since the earliest times had its own "green movement", that is, monasticism (and by extension, asceticism in general). It is through this vocation that Orthodox Christians endeavour to work out their salvation, and to find the original Likeness of Christ lost in the Fall. The Church refers to this as "green martyrdom":

"There are three kinds of martyrdom...white martyrdom, green martyrdom, and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man's abandoning everything he loves for God's sake ... Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labour he frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a Cross or death for Christ's sake" (Celtic text, 7th century).

Icons of the monastic saints often depict them in green, as do icons of Saint John the Baptist. Green is the traditional colour for the feastdays of monastic saints and prophets, and is also the colour used in the East to represent the Holy Spirit, acquired through ascetical life, whether by monastics or by faithful Orthodox Christians living out the true ascetical Christian calling. Like the advocates of green politics, such ascetics seek to transform the world. Unlike green politics, however, this transformation is focused entirely on self-transformation, with societal transformation as a possible byproduct, but only after the struggling Christian individual acquires some degree of holiness. For Christians, it is always the holiness that transforms the world, redeeming Creation, and re-acquiring the lost Image. The efforts of the fallen mind, and the fallen constructs of human government, are at best a mere shadow of the Truth, and at worst, a dark ideology which has separated itself from Christ. The tree is not then the Tree of the Cross, but the tree of Death, the tree of Eden, by which mankind trusted himself, and by himself, lost himself.

The nature of this tree is evident in its fruits. Green politics advocates the loosening of drug laws, even at a time when intoxicants and addictions already paralyze millions of lives. A carnal approach to questions of physical purity is not merely a consequence of the ideology (as it is in capitalism and socialism), but is a central belief: prostitution should be legalized and made "safe"; homosexual liaisons should be given the legitimacy of law, and those who would speak out to preserve a patristic understanding of the human person should be silenced by the weight of the same law.

In contrast, the green martyrdom of the monastic and ascetical life deals with such attachments at their core, in the spiritual heart. Affirming nature, while grieving its fall in the universal sense as well as in the personal, the ascetical Christian weeps for his or her sins, gathering the senses into the spiritual heart through prayer, so as to be freed from carnality. The world is holy; it is not God. For the Christian ascetic, the redemption of the world and society can never be achieved through a social movement, much less through individual activism. This is the foundation of western liberation theology: that God's Kingdom comes through outward struggle and activism. Yet the Christian ascetic - the true green martyr - knows that the Lord said, "The Kingdom of God is within you," (Luke 17:21), and thus fights on the battlefield of the spiritual heart, since it is only on this battlefield that victory can be won in the only war that counts: the unseen, spiritual warfare.

As the false gods of the old world crumble, based as they were on human rationalism, a new spirituality is taking form. It is a wholistic, pseudo-spirituality, which does not distinguish between the Creator and the Creation, which calls for personal struggle only within the context of a wider ideology. The green movement is the political expression of the spirituality of ecumenism, and will doubtlessly grow. For Orthodox Christians, however, the choice is forever between a passing ideology built on heresy, or the timeless asceticism of Christ and the saints. God knows that green martyrdom has brought the Church safely through darker days than this.

Father Geoffrey Korz, (Nativity, 2006)

© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.