Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Connecting to God with the Help of the Natural Environment

A Presentation for the Observance of the Protection of the Environment

by Fr Ted Toppses

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It was morning in the pre-dawn hours and the sun had not yet risen, the beginnings of light were now starting to spill over the horizon.  The water was cold and the air crisp as I entered my kayak and my mind quickly began to calm. The world that I knew in my day to day existence seems to be very far away as I gently rode on the water.  Soon the sun began to peek over the horizon and the water was filled with thousands of dazzling diamonds and I was at peace reaching out in silent prayer to the Lord who flooded my heart in the boundless beauty of what I beheld.

There are many ways to reach to God in our prayers and our lives.  When our physical bodies are calm and quiet the prayer of the spirit can be made more clearly.  From Christ we are given the direction to take time to separate ourselves from the hustle and bustle and go into the wilderness. Christ was led by the Holy Spirit to go into the wilderness and allow Himself to be tempted by the devil.  Christ fasted and through His time in this isolation He demonstrates to us that we can use periodic isolation in nature to combat the temptations of this life.

In Luke 6:12 we learn of Christ taking time apart and praying in the nature of the mountain.
Luke 6:12 reads “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”

The natural environment is gift from God for us to have a transformative place to go and pray. The Lord directed His people to the wilderness as recorded in Exodus 5.1:
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.”

St. Porphyrios when inundated by many people visiting him would relive the peacefulness of his youth on Mount Athos by going into the woods and setting up a bed in a tree giving himself a peaceful evening and night calming his mind and connecting his heart to Christ’s.

St. Symeon the New Theologian in his experience of the Uncreated Light of God saw in his vision that the light of God supports all things and touches all things.  St. Symeon saw the natural would as one of the ways to connect with God who shines His light within it.
We cannot underestimate the need for peace during our prayer life, to connect to Christ in a way in order that our Lord becomes truly known to us.  The External peace and magnificence of God found in nature can lead to the internal peace of the heart when we take more and more time to pray while being affected by the Glory of God in nature. 

What happens when we partake of this God given gift? The external peace found in nature, when allowed to penetrate through the experience of peace and prayer, will transform the heart in a calm and miraculous way as we carry the Presence of Christ within us.
St. Nektarios writes about finding God in nature when approaching it with a pure heart.  The following is from the Writtings Of Saint Nectarios Of Aegina
St. Nektarios writes:
When the man of pure heart looks at the World of Nature, that is, at the sky, the earth, and the sea and at all things in them, and observes the systems constituting them, the infinite multitude of stars of heaven, the innumerable multitudes of birds and quadrupeds and every kind of animal of the earth, the variety of plants on it, the abundance of fish in the sea, he is immediately amazed and exclaims with the Prophet David: "How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all." Such a man, impelled by his pure heart, discovers God also in the World of Grace of the Church, from which the evil man is far removed. The man of pure heart believes in the Church, admires her spiritual system, discovers God in the Mysteria, in the heights of the theology, in the light of the Divine revelations, in the truths of the teachings, in the commandments of the Law, in the achievements of the Saints, in the very good deed, in every perfect gift, and in general in the whole of the creation. Justly then did the Lord say in His Beatitudes of those possessing purity of the heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." – St. Nektarios
-          From Selected Passages From The Writtings Of Orthodox Saints Compiled by Father Demetrios Serfes

So with our task today of remembering the protection of the Environment we are reminded that protecting the proper use of Nature is protecting a path to God.  This natural path can remove us from the daily grind of the world of man and give us an additional glimpse into the world of God.  We must not only protect our natural environment from improper use or destruction, we must go and immerse ourselves in nature regularly in order to give us a time of peaceful Godly renewal.  In this way we are assisted to be at peace and readily connect with God.

Take time to immerse yourself in the beauty and magnificence of God’s creation in nature.  Allow yourself to reach to our Lord in prayer while experiencing this awe inspiring beauty.