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By the Very Rev. Dr Augustinos Bairactaris*

Text: Isaiah 33:15-16

Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly, who despise the gain of oppression, who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it, who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed and shut their eyes from looking on evil, they will live on the heights; their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks; their food will be supplied, their water assured.


How is the world to know that Jesus is the life of the world like the water is the life of earth? What can churches do to promote water justice and to what extent? How could we protect the environmental communities?

During the period of 40 days of Lent, the church prepares its faithful members to experience the passion of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection. It is the proper time for spiritually reconsidering and reconfiguring our life following Jesus forsaken on the cross. Jesus is the life of the world, like the water is the life of earth. Jesus said to her: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Therefore, Jesus’ water is the water of peace, justice, reconciliation, love, and eternity, becoming the source of light and life.

The Orthodox church, through the ecological initiatives of the current Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has reminded all people of faith of their responsibility to sustain and respect creations integrity. Earths life is equally important as it is humans’ life. Humans are endowed with freedom, but also with responsibility to reduce the damage of their actions in the natural environment. As a result, it has been noticed that environmental and social justice must go together, since it is impossible to split them. Likewise it is not possible to split the gospel of love from the gospel of justice, peace, and reconciliation, voicing solidarity with the poor, so all people have equal access to clean water and food. Love and justice constitute fundamental principles of the gospel of Christ.

In that framework, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew calls all people to pray together with creation and not for creation. Christians are called to listen to the voice of the suffering creation, moving toward the spiritual restoration of the broken relationship between humanity and earth. Nature was given to humans by God along with the commandment to serve and to preserve it as priests, guardians, stewards, and companions.

It is important to realise that water justice is not a theological task only for a few, but for all members of all ages and stages. The health of the water is vital to human civilization, to the stability of the worlds climate, and to biological diversity. Unfortunately, due to humans’ overfishing, to reshaping shores and to increasing pollution oceans, seas and rivers have nearly been exhausted. When we harm sea life, we harm all creation, including humanity, because of the interdependence of all species. Nothing can exist by itself; everything in life is relational. People actually destroy their common house when they strip earth from its natural resources and when they destroy its wetlands, oceans, and sea life.

The way people treat creation is a reflection of the way they pray to the Creator. As a result, it is urgent for humans to respect natures sacredness. As the oceans fill with rolling waters, the rivers and the seas generate nearly half of the oxygen so people can breathe, linking all people, coastal and landlocked, in trade and in communication. Likewise, the church must develop an eco-theology of stewardship” and of eco-ethics,” promoting a harmonious relationship between humanity and creation. Hence, environmental ethics are an integral part of theology while the earths survival provides the worlds religions with a common basis for ecological unity and a dialogue of trust and truth.

Churches are called to give priority to poor, weak, and marginalised people by promoting life-giving theology which includes not only preaching but mainly healing through justice and reconciliation. During Lent, Christians could pray, fast, and act together for a sustainable environment. In that context, water and environmental justice requires that all people, individually and collectively, consume as little of natural resources and to produce as little waste as possible, challenging their current lifestyles in order to ensure the wellbeing of the world for the sake of the present and future generations.

Consequently, environmental and water justice calls for universal protection from nuclear threat, production and disposal of toxic wastes, and poisons that threaten the fundamental right of people to have access to clean air, land, water, and food. Also, all people have the constitutional right to political, economic, cultural, and environmental self-determination. Injustice that arises from racial, economic, sexual, religious, and political fencing can also affect their future. Therefore, the water justice issue must be seen in relation to faith, health, economy, and education.

The root cause of the environmental and water crisis lies actually inside humans’ hearts. Unless we change our mind and heart through metanoia (repentance), we shall not be able to treat our ecosystem with dignity and respect. Hence, according to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, it is urgent for people to transform their way of thinking and living from arrogance and selfishness to altruism and to the Eucharistic spirit. The Orthodox church supports intensely an attitude of gratitude toward creation, receiving cosmos as a gift of God and as a way of communication with God and with fellow people, and condemning at the same time greedy behaviour, limitless acquisition of goods and materials, and the spirit of consumerism.

Questions for discussion 

1. What measures should be taken in public policy in order to secure ecological and water justice for all people away from discrimination or bias?

2. In which way could Lent be linked to water justice?

3. What is the relationship between our faith in God and environmentalism? How can we become partakers of His creation?

Actions to take

1. Learn the water policy of your country and make some proposals to your local parish or church in order to help the marginalised and poor communities of your area.

2. Organise school seminars or roundtable discussions about the environmental and water justice issue on a local level with the assistance of your parish and engage local youth.

3. During the period of Lent, Christians could develop an attitude of less consumerism, saying enough” to materialism.

*Very Rev. Dr Augustinos Bairactaris is the associate professor of Ecumenical Movement and Orthodox Theology, director of Studies at the Patriarchal Ecclesiastical Academy of Heraklion, Greece, and secretary of CEMES.