Saturday, June 9, 2012

How a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christian can make a difference for the environment

The United Nations based World Environment Day (WED) was held on Wednesday, June 5th in several parts of the world including India. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is instrumental in the conduct of the WED has as this year’s theme “Green Economy: Does it include you?” The Indian media was filled with interviews with environmentalists and some had a list of human made ecological disasters in India. On the whole it was a day when we were all encouraged to do something for our mother earth and for the generations to come.

Solutions for the crisis that we are facing include decreasing our consumption of various commodities which make use of water, natural resources and fuel to be delivered to us. Local produce will not only ensure food security but will also ensure that less resources will be used and less communities will be robbed of what is theirs to use. Other local solutions include using modes of transportation which do not run on petrol and diesel, using less electricity and water, managing waste and recycling.

As churches are also encouraged to set apart a day for the environment and remind people of the importance of integrating the gospel learning's in our lives, it is important to reflect on what each church can contribute to this. The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in India is seen as traditional, old, ritualistic, repeating, and rigid by other members of society. Yet all these very nomenclatures may eventually show us something which will help us to see the environment as part of our lives and therefore as “our environment.”

For the purpose of looking into one’s own church for offering contributions for WED, one can look at four points. One, reducing our carbon foot print, two, reducing the usage of water and electricity, three, using natural energy and four, recycling and renewing. All these four things have corresponding contributions from our ancestors in the church.

Festivals in the JSOC are a part and parcel of the church. Festivals are conducted in the name of several saints and St. Mary. One of the significant parts of a festival is the long walk undertaken by the faithful to the said church. This is a walk which is done with meagre resources and the only fuel burnt is "one’s own." One such walking pilgrimage that I have witnessed and been part of several times is the Manjinikara festival in Kerala. People walk for several kilometres together to reach the destination. This walk of faith uses as less as possible. People are in fact told that one should survive on the least possible means. The essence of this walk of faith is to consume as less as possible. If more people were to take part in these festivals and make this as a part of their very lives, we would be able to reduce our carbon foot print significantly.

People earlier also believed in communitarian live styles. Everything was done together. House prayers were conducted by all in the family sitting together in one room and in the process switching everything else off. The communitarian lifestyle thus ensured single energy use in comparison to multiple energy uses. People were very conscious of the energy used and always wanted to consume and use less.

Natural sources of power were used abundantly. The sun as a source of power is indeed one of the strongest sources. People slept early and woke up early and in essence made use of solar power as much as possible. They used natural light for many things. Everything was put to use. The sun was used to dry coconuts and every perceivable thing which could be used as a food source. All the food was shared between humans and animals (cattle, dogs) and the rest was returned to the soil to provide manure for new life and supporting existing life. Instead of air conditioners for cooling down rooms, trees were planted and they did the job of two or three air conditioners at a time.

Finally houses in the old days were recycling centres and women were at the heart of recycling. Everything was re-used. Newspapers, bread packets, rubber bands, bottles, ropes, and wires were all reused for other purposes. Even old t-shirts were reused as table wiping cloth. Everything had a coming back effect. It was as if the ball had a strong thread attached to it. Whatever was thrown came back and was used again.

In John 6:1-13 Jesus feeds the five thousand plus crowd with five loaves and two fish. Everything here was also highly environment friendly. Jesus shared the little food that was there with everyone. The community sharing of food made sure that very little energy was consumed to make it. What remained was shared again. Jesus’ model suggests a “sharing without ceasing” and has something in common with the church understanding of "liturgy after liturgy". Sharing simply cannot end. The Holy Qurbana or communion in the JSOC is also like this. The bread is single bread which is shared among all. The bread for the next communion is made from the part of the dough from the previous communion. This is the yeast which works on the bread. Here the concept of sharing without ceasing continues. The church thus contains the secret to renewing, recycling and reforming.

Therefore a church member can say that I belong to a green economy. But the challenge is to bring the past into the present. Instead of saying I belonged to the green economy or my fore mothers and fathers belonged to a green economy, can we translate this tradition of being green into our own lives? This WED let us take small steps to continue our tradition of sharing without ceasing.

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