The Eucharist and Our Environmental Vocation

In this post I am continuing the discussion of how the Eucharistic Prayers for the Great Thanksgiving in the 1979 prayer book help form our environmental discipleship.

To begin with, it’s important to notice that the environmental affinity of these prayers is in no way limited to simply acknowledging that God made the cosmos.  Rather, humanity’s particular vocation of ordering, nurturing, hallowing, and offering creation back to God is acknowledged and enacted in these eucharistic celebrations.

The prayer book’s version of the liturgy of St Basil (Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer D) clearly addresses this vocation: “You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures.”[1]   Further, in Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer B the words of self-oblation (i.e., the prayer offering ourselves as living sacrifices) are stated in this fashion: “And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you from your creation, this bread and wine.”[2]  Prayer D presents the oblation as “…offering to you, from the gifts you have given us, this bread and this cup.”[3] These simple phrases contain the linchpin of environmental theology:  Humans are created to be priests who offer the creation back to God as a cosmic Eucharist.

Such a theology of humanity’s relation to the environment is rooted in patristic anthropology which sees the human person as a microcosm in which all created things, material and immaterial, are brought together for the purpose of being directed back to God.[4]  St Maximus the confessor clearly has this in mind when he, commenting on St Gregory the Theologian, writes:

For this reason the anthropos (human being) was introduced last among beings, as a kind of natural bond, mediating between the extremities of the universe…, in order to bring about the union of everything with God as its cause.[5]

Fr Alexander Schmemann takes up this theme and expands on it in, For the Life of the World:

“The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God – and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world into the life in God , into communion with Him.  The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.[6]

Engaging the environment “eucharistically” means that humans are invited to creatively manipulate the material world in ways that honor God.  Wild grain and wild grapes are not offered in the Sacrament, but bread and wine.  These natural things have been transformed and beautified through human activity that brings to bear other natural elements and processes.  The grain is ground, mixed with the element of water, and baked.  Likewise grapes are crushed and their juice is fermented through natural processes ordered and perfected by humans.  The eucharistic elements are gifts from God returned to God, but they are gifts that bear the mark of human shaping.  By extension all of nature can be tended and perfected in ways that exalt and honor God.

So, in our priestly role as followers of Jesus Christ our vocation is to steward and bless the natural world and finally to offer it back to God in love.  And this ecological stewardship involves dynamic human interaction with the world so that the natural realm will bear the marks of human activity.  Yet the marks of human involvement in this scheme will enhance the beauty, biodiversity, and flourishing of planet earth.

In my next and final post in this series I will introduce a means of discerning whether or not a particular human activity fulfills the criteria for “eucharistic environmental engagement.”

Ben+


[1] BCP, 373, emphasis added.

[2] BCP, 369.

[3] BCP, 374.

[4] See St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45, the Second Oration for Easter, section 7,

http://home.newadvent.com/fathers/310245.htm.

[5] St Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 41.  My emphasis is added to this quote.

[6] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 2004) 15.

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