A letter from Fr. Michael Oleks
- Dear Nina:
Since your posting on this topic has been brought to my attention, I hope you will allow me to respond.
[ND: My correspondent is Fr. Michael Oleksa....To my private list I circulated the Pebble Mine article which I posted to the Forum in message #114325 along with Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald's comments which appeared on the Indiana List on Wed., 9/14
https://listserv.indiana.edu/cgi-bin/wa-iub.exe A2=ind1109B&L=ORTHODOX&T=0&F=&S=&P=6966 .
Separately, Fr. Michael Oleksa Oleksa refers to an editorial which is slated to appear in tomorrow's ADN (Anchorage Daily News), "the only newspaper published in Alaska's largest city and circulated throughout the state, especially in its Sunday edition." I've left Fr. Michael a message asking him to clarify whether the editorial was contained in a message under what he wrote below.]
If God so loved the world, the whole creation, that He sent His Son, and if we invoke His
blessings upon the water without which no life can exist every January, then anyone who threatens to poison that sacred stream, that blessed lake, that holy sea, commits sacrilege, defiling what is considered, handled and used as touched by God. So apparently His Grace Bishop Tikhon does not view sacriledge, defiling what is holy and blessed, as sin. I don't want to argue the point, but the destruction of an authentic and indigenous Orthodox culture falls into the same category: the mine would bring thousands of outsiders to villages of a few hundred Alaska Natives. The indigenous Orthodox would be overwhelmed and marginalized by newcomers, half of whom would be fundamentalist Baptists and Pentecostals and the other half heavy drinkers and drug abusers. Our women and girls would no longer be treated respectfully, as happens whenever a gold rush occurs. The mine represents a threat to the Christian way of life we have struggled to introduce and maintain
for two centuries. Prior to this (and it does go back 10,000 years) the tribal peoples viewed their world as filled with sacred realities, and understood life as a sacred and mysterious presence in all things, which then had to be treated with reverence gratitude and respect--they (to use the Orthodox term) venerated all life and tried to live in a state of
reverence in relation to the animals who, they believed, offered themselves, sacrificed themselves to sustain human life. The Gospel made sense to the Alaska Native Peoples because it revealed that his paradigm of self-sacrifice originated in and has been revealed by God Himself, Who gives Himself as Food to the Faithful.
But that Heavenly Bread comes from flour, the flour from wheat which must first be planted, upon which the sun must shine, the rain fall, the wind blow. The soil into which it is planted must be pure, clean, unpolluted. And if the earth can bring forth a rich harvest of wheat and it can be ground into flour and those sacks shipped here so we can buy it in our grocery stores, then our parishes can buy it and use it to offer prosphora, and it can become the Body of Christ and unite us to Him. Can we then be indifferent to the possible pollution and destruction of the earth by "development" that threatens to poison it? Is this a political question for us as Orthodox Christians? Or is it a sacramental necessity for us, a moral obligation, to speak as the Voice of the Earth itself and defend the created world, which God so loved, and upon which we invoke His blessing and renew our perception, our experience of the natural, created world as God's Gift and
even His self-revelation, as the Holy Father say.
If the world is God's Self-Portrait, His own Icon of Himself, then can we allow it to be defaced? If we bless it can we allow others to poison it? I am convinced that these are spiritual, theological issues, and not problems to be addressed only by economists, politicians or bankers. The World is the Lord's. We are the workers but He is the owner of this Vineyard. It is not ours to use or abuse as we please: the "dominion" which God gave to Adam in Eden was granted before the Fall, before Sin. We were to be God's Viceroys on earth, but sin has made us enemies of God and enemies of the earth, exploiting and destroying the beautiful Gift which the Creator gave us. Is this not sin? I think Bishop Tikhon's view is too limited, a fundamentalist and narrow view. His focus is on what the books say, the texts, the literal interpretation of a rule or law on some scroll. The Church is much more than texts and restrictions. She is the Reality of the World to
Come already present here, now.
And that world is not some other reality, but this world "made new" transfigured, transformed, resurrected as Christ's Body was at Pascha: the same, (with the print of the nails and spear wound still there, but not a ghost). A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have! So the world will die and be resurrected in the same way, in a new, spiritualized body, the same yet different--improved and immortal. But that requires us to take care of what we have since it will not be annihilated or destroyed as some fundamentalist protestants think. We have an obligation to bless, renew and sanctify this world this earth, these waters--because they have eternal value. This is the basis for all our many rites of blessing and sanctyfing "this world." And to destroy or defile it is a sin, (no matter what His Grace Bishop Tikhon, in an apparently narrow and fundamentalist mentality might think).
We are contextualists, not fundamentalists, for this is the mind of the Holy Fathers, who sought to articulate and proclaim the Orthodox Faith in their society, and make it accessible and intelligible to them, in those days. We now must do the same here and now, in ours. Quoting old texts or rules will not suffice. We need to know and embrace the Faith and then apply it with courage, with faith, in love to our time and our place. That is our
sacred task and our mission in America today. Simply quoting a rule from another time and place repeats the attitude and approach of the Pharisees for whom Our Lord had so few kind words.
The Pebble problem is just one practical, clear situation in which the Church has been called upon to apply Her vision, her theology, her experience, Her Wisdom and most of all Her Holiness to a particular context. If we are blamed for this, I would maintain that we are only doing what the Church must alwaydo: proclaim the Kingdom in this place, for these people at this time.
If His All Holiness Bartholomew I is known in Europe as the Green Patriarch, we, I think, in North America, should be known as the Green Church.
And the Ecumenical Patriarch clearly believes there are sins against the earth. Here our Alaska Native People could not agree more.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]