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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Sacramental Reality
A Sacramental Reality

A Cosmic Icon

Friday, April 29, 2022

When we discern the sacramental principle in the world—the presence of God in every person and every place—then we can rejoice and celebrate the fullness of life and the joy of creation. —John Chryssavgis, Creation as Sacrament

Greek Orthodox theologian John Chryssavgis compares creation to an “icon . . . the epiphany of God in the world and the existence of the world in the presence of God.” [1] He writes:

Just as the Spirit is the “air” that the whole world breathes, so too the earth is the “ground” which we all share. Were God not present in the density of a city, or in the beauty of a forest, or in the sand of a desert, then God would not be present in heaven either. So if, indeed, there exists today a vision that is able to transcend—perhaps transform—all national and denominational tensions, it may well be that of our environment understood as sacrament of the Spirit. The breath of the Spirit brings out the sacramentality of nature and bestows on it the fragrance of resurrection. . . . [2]

Everything is in some way sacramental. All depends on the receptiveness and openness of our hearts. . . . Nothing is secular or profane; nothing is pagan or foreign. . . . Were God not tangibly accessible in the very earthliness of this world, then [God] would not be the loving, albeit transcendent author of the universe. This is surely the implication of the basis of the Christian faith, namely, that “the Word assumed [or became] flesh (John 1:14), which we all too often, in a reductionist manner, take to mean “became human.” . . . Unless Christ may be discovered “in the least of his brethren” (Matthew 25:40) and in the least particle of matter, then he is too distant to matter [emphasis added]. There is a wonderful saying attributed to Jesus, which expresses the reality of his presence everywhere:

‘Lift up the stone, and there thou shalt find me, cleave the wood, and I am there.’ [3] [4]

Centered in Orthodox theology, Chryssavgis urges all Christians to care for the earth as an expression of our faith:

No matter how carefully [humans have] sought to foster material prosperity and self-sufficiency, it is now clear that grave “fissures” and “faults” have appeared on the face of the earth. . . . The image of God in creation has been shattered; the face of God on the world has been distorted; the integrity of natural life has been fragmented. Yet, it is precisely in this shattered world that we are called to discern the caring nature of the Creator and discover the sacramental nature of creation. . . .

The aim is to induce personal and societal transformation in making choices that respect creation as sacrament. Such transformation is only possible through divine grace, the energy of the Holy Spirit, the creative and motivating force for everyone and everything. [5]

[1] John Chryssavgis, “The World of the Icon and Creation” in Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans, ed. Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 84.

[2] Chryssavgis, “The World of the Icon and Creation,” 91.

[3] Joachim Jeremias, Unknown Sayings of Jesus, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 95.

[4] Chryssavgis, “The World of the Icon and Creation,” 90.

[5] John Chryssavgis, Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), 1, 2.

Explore Further:

Image credit: Patricia Duncan, Flight of Lesser Sandhill Cranes (detail), 1975, photograph, Nebraska, public domain, National Archives. Morgan Winston, Bread and Goblet of Juice for Communion (detail), 2020, photograph, Florida, free use. Jenna Keiper, Winter Trees (detail), 2021, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God’s sacramental reality is much bigger and more ordinary than what we often consider “holy.” The Divine Presence is found in bread, wine, a sedge of sandhill cranes, and trees in winter.

Story from Our Community:

Soft soil silences my steps as if to say, “Shh, this is sacred ground” / Maples, sycamores, and elms line the trail, / limbs reaching heavenward, forming a perfect cathedral arch… / Their translucent leaves, a thousand hues of green… living stained glass. / A swallowtail butterfly bounces ahead like an excited usher, beckoning me forward. / Turtle doves sing a solemn call to worship, / And then… the sermon of silence, (God’s first language said John of the Cross) / Finally, a cardinal proclaims the benediction: / “Blessed are they who find God in nature, for they are truly blessed!”
—Joan V.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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