Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan
Green Sunday: Ecology and Liturgy
The second Sunday after Easter is one of the most beautiful and mysterious Sundays in the liturgical year of the Armenian Church. It has two names: Ganach Giragi - Green Sunday and Ashkharamadran Giragi - Sunday of World Church.
On Green Sunday the Armenian Church also holds the Antastan Service (Blessing of the Four Corners of the Earth Service), which can be compared to the Rogation days (major rogation on 25 April) in Western Christianity, traditional days when the fields were blessed prior to planting.
The word “Green” makes us think of nature, tranquility, and preservation, especially in this time of year when we watch with amazement all the changes going on in nature. All the different activities of nature seem to be part of a plan we can just barely fathom. Yet for all our scientific knowledge, the more we learn, the more we discover how much more is there for us to explore.
It is symbolic that in the month of April the world celebrates the International Earth Day (April 22) - a day when millions around the globe joined in giving thanks for the beauty and abundance of the earth, and to reflect on our responsibility to care for the earth.
It goes without saying that environmental issues have become a hot topic literally and figuratively. It doesn’t matter where you go or who you listen to, it seems like everyone these days is talking about the ecology, whether they are professors or professionals, actors or athletes, bureaucrats or business people.
And while we’re busy arguing about how our human activities affect what we see happening in nature and about how to provide for immediate human needs versus the long-term effects of our actions, nature just keeps moving forward and responding to all the influences of a changing world.
The Green Sunday, established thousands of years ago, rings so true to modern ears. Could our church fathers even have imagined the environmental crisis? Could they have imagined nuclear weaponry? Mass extinctions? I’m not sure they could have—which makes the Green Sunday all the more intriguing to us. There is wisdom here.
Before going any further, let’s define the word "ecology." Several meanings can be drawn from this word: to take care of the planet, of this world, which has been so much damaged; to be carry a new vision of the world and of life in order to move towards a humanism of responsibility, solidarity, and respect for nature; to protect the biosphere of which our life depends ...
But the word "ecology" (from the Greek oikos - logos) etymologically means: "study of the home" or “the logic of the house” --- the science and study of our dwelling place.
At this point, the question you may be asking is, "But what does any of it have to do with liturgy?"
Liturgy means, above all, using natural resources with thankfulness, offering them back to God. In the Divine Liturgy, humanity offers creation in the act of service and priestly sacrifice by returning it to God: “And we offer to you yours of your own from all and for all.” (from the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church).
The bread and wine of the Divine Liturgy are like the ambassadors of all the creation before Man, and of man’s life before God, who gives us the bread and the wine, the grapes and the wheat, fruits of the earth. The bread and the wine signify the most primary needs of our life: to eat and to drink. Yet when we eat, food becomes what we are, but when we communicate, we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.
Such an attitude is incompatible with wastefulness. Similarly, fasting and other ascetic practices make us recognize even the simplest of foods and other creature comforts as gifts, provided to satisfy our needs. They are not ours to abuse and waste just so long as we can pay for them.
The Bible reminds us that we live in a Garden, where we meet and worship our Creator. And everyone knows that we must keep our own house in good repair. Ecologically this means to keep it good for everyone.
During every Divine Liturgy, we proclaim the glory of God on earth: “Holy, holy, holy, Heaven and earth are full of your glory”. The earth is full of God’s glory. Hence, the second name of the Green Sunday Ashkharamadran Giragi - World Church Sunday. The cosmos is a Church built by God Himself, and human beings are not masters of the universe but worshipers of God.
We worship as a community, not as individuals; so liturgy is also a sharing. Long before the earth was seen as a whole from space, the Church knew that we stand before God together and that we hold in common the earthly blessings that He has given to humanity and all creatures.
In conclusion, the Green Sunday comes to remind us that the Divine Liturgy is neither alien, nor deaf, nor blind to what is happening, what is lived, what breathes, what exists in the world. On the other hand, it teaches that by the liturgy, the cosmos is invited to enter its true space, that of praise, of thanksgiving. It exhorts us to put in practice the Word of God in a renewed way: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Gn. 2,15) We are placed in the center of the garden not to neglect and abuse it, but to cultivate and to use it with respect, with a sense of sharing and with a concern for future generations.