Are ecological sins defined in the Bible?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Yes, and I will note just three among many verses… “God saw how corrupt earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:12). “And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (Leviticus 18:28). “Do not pollute the land where you are” (Numbers 35:33).
What does “metanoia" mean in this context?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: We need to understand metanoia—or repentance—in the Bible in order to speak about “ecological metanoia.” Here’s an example: Consider Cain’s question in Genesis 4:9b “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In the ecological context, modern humans might ask: “Am I the keeper of the Planet?” Many theologians have studied repentance—or metanoia— as a fundamental change in thinking and living. Saint John the Baptist preaches “a baptism of repentance” in Luke 3:3, and again in his sermon in Matthew 3:2 he urges: “…repent, the kingdom of God is near.” Mathew 3:4 tells us to “prepare the way of the Lord,” and Matthew 3:8 urges “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
There are so many other verses I could mention!
Can you tell us a bit about the difference between forgiveness and metanoia?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: In many texts of the ecumenical movement, we refer to forgiveness without reference at the same time to metanoia. In other words, we call people who suffer to forgive the ones who caused them to suffer. But often we don’t propose the people who have done injustices to other people to behave in a way that brings metanoia. The tax collector Zacchaeus did! After his repentance (metanoia) he share his property with the people (Luke 19:1-10).
What could life look like if we lived in metanoia?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: It is a life described in Acts 2:44: "And all the believers were together and had everything in common.” Or in Acts 4:32: “…all the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”
There are 46 references to the terms “metanoia” and “metanoisate” in the New Testament. It’s time to see this term also in the future texts of the ecumenical movement.
Can ecological theology play a role in visible unity among churches?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Yes, ecological theology can play an important role in the interfaith dialogue of WCC and in practical ways of cooperation with all the religions to protect life as a gift of God and the whole Creation as a gift for the whole humanity.
The theme of the 11th WCC Assembly is: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” We should find ways to speak also about metanoia, as without restoration of justice there is not a way for real reconciliation.
“Upholding the integrity of Creation,” or ecological metanoia, should be a priority of the present and of the future of the ecumenical movement as a new way of thinking and living, according to the teaching of the Scriptures.
What role does the WCC Working Group on Climate Change play as we move in this direction?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Our close cooperation with the voices of the rights of the indigenous people and faith communities promotes one human family in justice and peace.
The working group also promotes ecumenical education for ecological metanoia, meaning restoration of social justice and reconciliation with God, with ourselves, with all the people we meet and with the Creation of God.
What about the science?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: From a scientific perspective we quickly can agree that it is the result of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plus methane and other greenhouse gases. There is no controversy about these facts. We know this because we are able to precisely measure the growth of these gases and compare their level with measurements from past decades and centuries. This allows us to see how much these gases have expanded over past centuries. Then when we include their nature of being heat-trapping gases, we gain an understanding of how climate change has come upon us. This physical side of our predicament is easy for us to understand.
And the spiritual side?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Here is what we do not like to admit: there are spiritual causes of this climate problem. First, we have forgotten the Christian vision of God and the Holy Spirit in all things. As St Paul tells us: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Second, we have forgotten the guidance from the Scriptures. In Genesis we are told to dress and keep the creation. This means we have, from the beginning, the command to take good care of the earth which belongs to God and not humans. Thus we are commanded to protect the earth from pollution. We should also remember that the earth is not ours, for the Scriptures tell us that Earth is the Lord’s (Psalms 24:1; I Corinthians 10:26).
Third, we have been told by scientists for over a hundred years that the burning of coal and oil and gas would have terrible side effects.
But industry, private individuals and governments too ignored the warnings and preferred speed, power and progress before any concern for the side effects.
What joins these examples of forgetfulness together is that we have forgotten God. This has allowed arrogance, ignorance and greed to become driving forces in our human experience. This has led to assumptions that we are adequate without God; that the poor are below us and they can take care of themselves. It has allowed many to think that comfort is more important than care for the poor. It has allowed arrogance to creep into our lives so that we can disregard the consequences of air pollution on others. It has allowed us to ignore what scientists have reported about the greenhouse effect or what the consequences of our actions might involve.
When we forget God, a cascade of vices creep into our lives. This leads to reckless attitudes and a lack of respect for the earth.
Without remembrance of God, we lose respect for the earth, for its life and its future.
When we forget God, we forget repentance.
A living Christianity always includes repentance. Without remembrance of God, we become comfortable becoming dependent on fossil fuels for the good life, meaning a life of luxury and an abundance of creature comforts.
When we forget God, we lose a sense of reverence for life and then we also lose restraint. Thus little restraint exists in modern society to seek more riches, more comfort, more ease of life through fossil fuels. In the process we disregard the possible need for fossil fuels by people in the future.
Does ecological metanoia have another side?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Yes, it has another side and that is a turning toward Jesus Christ and this means a turning toward alertness, observation, restraint and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Today all of us need to realize that our future comes from our ecological metanoia: our new way of green thinking and new ecological way of life, reducing in many ways our pollution.
How does this work for the future?
H.E. Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis: Once a person recalls the importance of ecological metanoia, it grows in a believer until it becomes a continual and steady state of being. It becomes a letting go of all concerns so that there is a spontaneous receptivity to the Holy Spirit. Letting go and letting God become the doorway to inspiration and a lifting up and above the sins of our time. Then there is a hope for restoration of social justice and for “Christ’s love leads the world to reconciliation and unity.”
Ecological metanoia is a step toward the healing of our planet and a doorway toward the building of the new earth.
Ecological metanoia can lead all of us to follow the love of God in order to work together for restoration of social and financial justice in order to live in peaceful co-existence with reconciliation and visible unity.
WCC executive committee appeals for 'fundamental conversion towards just and sustainable future' after COP26 (WCC news release 16 November 2021)
Learn more about the work of the WCC on care for creation and climate justice