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Interview: Fr. Michael Butler on Environmentalism and Orthodox Christianity

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Kevin Allen, host of a weekly call-in show on Ancient Faith Radio, interviewed Fr. Michael Butler over the weekend “about how we might address the environmental issues that confront us today by appealing to the authentic Orthodox Tradition.” Fr. Michael is the author, with Prof. Andrew Morriss, of the 2013 Acton monograph Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism.

In their April 23 commentary “Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism” the authors note:

The ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church includes many practices: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, keeping vigil, inter alia. They are the active part of the spiritual life, our voluntary cooperation with the grace of God. As such, it is important that we not be tempted to use the ascetical practices of the Church for ends they were not designed to serve. Thus, we need to be careful of “environmental consciousness” masquerading as authentic spiritual practice. Moreover, we must keep in mind that it is the believer’s practice of asceticism, not asceticism qua asceticism, that is important.

For example, fasting out of ecological conviction, or eating “lower on the food chain” (i.e., avoiding meat or eating a vegan diet) is spiritually useless for the Christian. Fasting is not dieting; neither is it an ecological statement. For a Christian, fasting is a spiritual discipline that is fruitful when it is joined with prayer and repentance, a discipline that is oriented toward God to effect the purification and transfiguration of the heart. What is more, for Orthodox Christians to use the ascetical discipline of fasting for any other purpose undermines its real purpose. If we do not use ascetical disciplines to grow in a right relationship with God, we will not grow in right relationships with our neighbor or with creation either.

Listen to Orthodoxy and the Environment, a conversation with Kevin Allen and Fr. Michael Butler, recorded May 25 and now available as a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

While you’re at it, listen to the AFR recording of a recent talk by Deacon Dr. John Chryssavgis, the theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (The Green Patriarch) on environmental issues. His “Creation Care and Spirituality” lecture was posted in January.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.