Cosmology of the Eastern Church
Early Solar System
It began some 13.7 billion years ago, more or less, on a day without yesterday, when all of creation emerged from nothing except the will of God. The dark and immensely hot plasma of rapidly expanding primordial creation was eventually pierced by light and populated by the evolution of galaxies and stars interspersed by enormous quantities of gas, dust and energy. Some four and one half billion years ago, more or less, in a distant arm of an average spiral galaxy there formed an average star surrounded by an accreting disc of dust, debris and gases which in time took the form of the planets which we know today. On the third planet from that star, our sun, early life appeared which over the eons evolved into higher forms of animal and plant life dwelling in the seas and covering the land of the planet. Very late in this evolutionary process emerged a species of primate called man which was unlike all other primates and other forms of animate creation in that it possessed consciousness, intelligence, and reason - attributes of the divine spark which we call the human soul. Man, unlike the rest of animate creation, was a moral creature, for having “eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, he possessed the ability to chose between good and evil in his relationships with his Creator and others of his species. 
We do not know when ancient man came to view his relationship with God and his fellow man more expansively to include his relationship with creation. The ancient Jews have God telling us:
Increase and multiply, and fill the earth,
subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the
sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living
creatures that move upon the earth. 
Genesis 1, 28
Yet it was the ancient Jews who look in awe upon all of creation as the works of God:
He hath made all things beautiful in their
time, and hath delivered the world to their
consideration, so that man cannot find out
the work which God hath made from the
beginning to the end.
Ecclesiates 3, 11
The heavens shew forth the glory of God;
and the firmament declareth the works of
Psalm 18 (19), 2
I will behold Thy Heavens
For I will behold Thy heavens, the works
of Thy fingers: the moon and the stars
which Thou hast founded. What is man
that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son
of man that Thou visitest him? Thou hast
made him a little less than the angels: Thou
hast crowned him with glory and honor, and
hast set him over the works of Thy hands.
Psalm 8, 4 - 7
The ancient Jews summoned all of creation to praise God:
Praise ye Him, O sun and moon, praise Him,
all ye stars and light. Praise Him ye heavens
of heavens: and let the waters that are above
the heavens praise the name of the Lord, for
He spoke, and they were made; He commanded,
and they were created.
Psalm 148, 3 - 5
Beauty of Creation
Again all of creation is called upon to praise God:
All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord:
Praise and exalt Him above all forever.
Daniel 3, 57; see also 58 - 81
Like the ancient Jews, the early Christians who inherited the moral perspectives of the Jews, accepted the notion that creation as the works of God is good and that man's relationship to creation is more than that of lord and master. To the Early Church it became apparent that man was also the surrogate of creation who offered praise to the Creator as the representative of creation, of which he was the only rational part. Among the Church Fathers and in the liturgy and hymnology of the Eastern Church the concept of priesthood in which man offers all of creation back to God in praise appears time and again. 
In the splendid hymn, All Of Creation, by St. John Damascene (8th century) sung during the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great all of creation joins mankind in rejoicing in the Holy Virgin. So also in the vespers hymn following the Little Entrance the Church sings:
O joyful light of the holy glory of the Father
Immortal, the heavenly, holy, blessed One,
O Jesus Christ, Now that we have reached the
setting of the sun, and see the evening light,
we sing to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is fitting at all times to raise a song of praise
in measured melody to You, O Son of God,
the giver of life. Behold the universe sings Your
The Setting of the Sun
Again in the Kontakion in the 2nd tone we sing:
You arose from the grave, Almighty Savior.
Seeing the miracle, the Abyss was struck with
fear; the dead arose. At this sight, all creation
rejoices with You. Adam joins with exultation,
and the world, O My Savior, sings Your praises
In his Hymns On Paradise, St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th century) explains:
In his book, Moses described the creation of
the natural world so that both Nature and Scripture
might bear witness to the Creator. Nature, through
man's use of it, Scripture, through his reading of it.
These are the witnesses which reach everywhere.
Now everything is filled with light, heaven and
earth, and all things beneath the earth: so let all
creation celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on
which it is founded.
Pascal Canon, 3rd Ode
Today creation is illumined: today all things
rejoice in heaven and earth.
In the book, THE ORTHODOX WAY, by Bishop Kallistos Ware, (ISBN: 0913836583), pp. 53 - 54, we are reminded that man is priest and king of creation. First, man is able to bless and praise God for the world. Man is a “eucharistic” animal who does not merely live in the world, think about it and use it, but he is capable of seeing the world as God's gift, as a sacrament of God's peace and a means of communicating with Him. Besides blessing and praising God for the world, man is also able to reshape and alter it, so as to give it meaning. This creative role he fulfills not by brute force, but through the clarity of his spiritual vision; his vocation is not to dominate and exploit nature, but to transfigure and hallow it.
“So man is priest of the creation through his power
to give thanks and to offer the creation back to God;
and he is king of creation through his power to
mould and fashion, to connect and diversify.”
First Light 
Another author whom we commend to our readers is John Chryssavgis whose book, BEYOND THE SHATTERED IMAGE, (ISBN: 18809971429), invites us to learn from the world, to hear the sounds of the earth, to recognize the Creator in the face of creation. The sacramental character of creation defies all sacrilege on our part, reminding us at all times that creation embodies the divine. Thus humanity is less than humanity without the rest of creation. [5 & 6] The book reveals to us the rich tradition within the Eastern Church that has consistently taught the sacredness of creation and the interrelatedness of man with all life. This vision becomes clear in the patristic teaching that links the salvation of mankind with the salvation of the world, urging us to have compassion on all of creation and every living thing.
Perhaps no other hierarch in the Eastern Church is more persistent and articulate in reminding mankind of its role as surrogate and steward of creation than His All-Holiness, Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. In his numerous presentations, he reminds us repeatedly of the dangerous consequences of humanity's disregard for the survival of God's creation. He asserts that the Eucharist is at the very center of our worship, that our sin toward the world lies in our refusal to view life and the world as a sacrament of thanksgiving, and as a gift of constant communion with God. All of creation participates in a celebration which St. Maximos the Confessor has called the “cosmic liturgy”. In the form of the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist, as priest standing before the altar of the world, we offer creation back to the Creator and commemorate the life of the world. Thus it is that we offer creation at the Eucharist and receive it back as a blessing, as the living presence of God. By consuming the fruits of the earth unrestrained, we become consumed ourselves by avarice. We are called to be stewards and reflections of God's love by example thereby proclaiming the sanctity of all of creation.
For humans to cause species to become extinct, to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation, to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing climatic changes, by stripping the earth of its forests, destroying its wet lands, polluting its waters, land, air and life, with poisonous substances, we sin against God's creation. How we as stewards of creation treat creation defines the relationship we have with God. The Patriarch's views are consistent with the traditions of the Eastern Church in treating creation as a totality, the works of God, of which we are a part and to which we owe the paramount duty as stewards to safeguard.
Bishop Kallistos Ware
We close this page with the words of St. Leontius of Cyprus (7th century):
“Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and
stone, through all creation visible and invisible, I offer
veneration to the Creator and Master and Maker of all
things. For the creation does not venerate the Maker
directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens
declare the glory of God, through me the moon worships
God, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dews
and all of creation venerate God and give Him glory.”
We acknowledge our gratitude to Dr. James Murray, Professor Emeritus, Georgia State University, and to Fr. John Matusiak, Director of Communications of the ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA, and editor of “The Orthodox Church” for their contributions in reviewing the drafts of this page and for their constructive criticism thereof. We owe thanks to Ms Lorri Dukes for her creation of the image of the sun as a red giant which appears as the last graphic in this page.
- The above paragraph is not presented as Church doctrine, but as a brief explanation how physicists view the beginning and evolution of the cosmos as the result of scientific observation and the application of the scientific method to their work. Physicists or cosmologists hold that the cosmos began with an infinitely dense and tiny particle called a singularity which exploded (Big Bang) and expanded into the cosmos which we have today. The physicist can take us back to within a nanosecond of the beginning but dares not approach the veil which separates physics from metaphysics, space-time from eternity and the knowable from the unknowable. Moreover, physics does not admit "creation out of nothing", for to admit that would imply a creator, something physicists regard as beyond their competence. The restraints of the physicist, however, do not constrain the orthodox Christian from inquiring why the universe exists, where it came from, and why we are here with the intelligence to inquire about it. As stated in paragraphs 283 & 284 of the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: “The questions about the origins of the world and of man have been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give Him thanks for all His works and for the understanding and wisdom He gives to scholars and researchers. … The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good being called God? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?” Our Creed begins with the words: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” That belief, we assert, is the foundation of our Christian cosmology and the predicate for this page and site. See also the page Cosmology of St. Mamas the Great Martyr
- This is often construed out of the context of history and Holy Tradition by radical Protestants of the Calvinist sort as the license to plunder and abuse the earth without any moral restraint according to one's selfish purposes. It is the moral, viz. amoral, support of capitalism's exploitation of the world's resources. In this respect, communism was even worse.
- The Eastern Church perceives God as “uncreated essence”, transcendent yet immanent in all of creation as “divine energies”. God's sanctification of the universe is seen in the Incarnation in which the divine nature of Christ as Son of God joined with the human nature of Christ as man in the one person of Jesus Christ. This hypostatic union of the divine and the human sanctifies the latter and by extension all of creation. Similarly, in the baptism of Christ (Theophany) God sanctifies water and offers it to us as a sacrament of spiritual cleansing. In the Eucharist, the Holy Gifts of bread and wine cease to be such and become the Body and Blood of Christ. In Chrismation, holy oil is blessed and used as a sacrament of spiritual blessing. In marriage, husband and wife join as co-creators with God to generate new life. So also in the iconography of the Eastern Church, creation and physical imagery become the vehicle through which we pass from the material to the spiritual reality which lies beyond. Thus all of creation is sacramental.
- “Then God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” Genesis 1, 3 This image is a full sky map of the oldest light in the universe captured from 380,000 years after the Big Bang by the recent Microwave Anisotropy Probe of NASA. When the temperature of the rapidly expanding cosmos fell to about 3000 degrees Kelvin, the latter became transparent. Suddenly the universe was pierced by light. For more information, see www.map.gsfc.nasa.gov. For more information about the Microwave Anisotrophy Probe, see ECHO OF THE BIG BANG by Michael Lemonick; ISBN: 0691102783. Below is suggested reading for readers interested in learning more about the cosmos
- ONE UNIVERSE by Neil Tyson (ISBN: 0309064880)
- THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE BIG BANG by Craig Hogan (ISBN: 0387983856)
- Q IS FOR QUANTUM by John Gribbin (068485578x)
- COSMIC HORIZONS by Steven Soter (ISBN: 1565846028)
- THE BOOK OF THE COSMOS by Dennis Danielson (0738202474)
- A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME by Stephen Hawking (ISBN: 0553380168)
- COSMIC DISCOVERIES by David Levy (ISBN: 157392931x)
- THE VERY FIRST LIGHT by John Mather (ISBN: 046501576x)
- See also: THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY OF THE EASTERN CHURCH by Vladimir Lossky, ISBN: 0913836311.
- The perception of the cosmos as theophany may not be exclusive to the Eastern Church. St. Francis of Assisi in his canticles often invokes creation in his praise of God. The Roman Church recognizes that man's dominion over nature is not absolute, but limited by concern for the quality of life and welfare of all mankind, requiring a religious respect for the integrity of creation. See paragraph 2415 of the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. In his address of January 24, 2001 Pope John Paul II recognizes the stewardship of man toward creation and calls upon man to regard his role as ministerial. Nevertheless, the perception of the Roman Church remains essentially anthropocentric, rather than cosmological, lacking the perspective of the Eastern Church and the latter's profound respect for its ancient and venerable traditions going back to the ancient Jews.
In You all of Creation Rejoices
In you, O Woman, Full of Grace,
The angelic choirs and the human
race, All creation rejoices! All
creation rejoices! O Sanctified
Temple, Mystical Paradise and Glory
of Virgins, He, Who is our God, from
before all ages, took flesh from you
and became a child! He made your
womb a throne! A throne greater than
the heavens! In you, O Woman Full of
Grace, In you, O Woman Full of Grace,
All creation rejoices! All creation rejoices!
All praise be to you! All praise be to you! All praise be to you!
Hymn of St. John Damascene
St. Symeon The New Theologian
Patron Saint of Environmentalists
St. Symeon The New Theologian
Ten centuries ago in Constantinople there lived a monk, Symeon, born 949 AD, died 1022 AD (Feastday March 12), who directs our attention today to the fundamentals of orthodox Christian cosmology and anthropology, drawing on and illustrating the rich heritage of the Eastern Church derived from the ancient Jews, Scripture, and the Church Fathers. St. Symeon could not have foreseen the developments of capitalism and communism in the modern era which have organized modern societies in pursuit of political and social goals opposed to everything he preached. Our saint must be viewed in the context of the time and geography in which he lived. Nevertheless, the principles which he enunciated concerning man's relationship to God and to creation are of lasting application in our world today. The crisis in man's relationship with his natural environment, the pollution of air, land and water, the ruthless plundering of natural resources for the benefit of few and to the injury of many, the accumulation of radioactive wastes, and all other phenomena bearing witness to the existence of an acute ecological crisis draw us back ten centuries to this man whose ideas have meaning today.
The theology of Eastern Christianity does not reject material creation as did the gnostics/Manicheans, nor worship it as did heathens, not regard it as theologically or morally indifferent as do capitalists and communists. It ties our environmental crisis to social and economic problems bound to our abuse of the world and of material goods. St. Symeon proceeded from the basic premise that creation was by God, not on the basis of some pre-existing matter, but “out of nothing”. He who brought the whole creation out of non-being into being by His word and will alone did not create something which is autonomous of His will, but dependent entirely on it. He placed in that creation an intelligent being charged with the duty “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2, 15). The mandate to cultivate the earth is eminently clear, for the need to maintain ourselves in dignity implies use of the natural resources to support ourselves. Equally clear is the directive to care for it as rational custodians, stewards, or trustees upon whom the duty lies to care for the corpus of God's trust for the welfare of ourselves and of those who follow. God's works are good, beautiful and bountiful. We are bound to treat them not as potentates, but as fiduciaries.
“For You brought all things out of non-being
for no other reason than for me, who am in
Your image and likeness, having made me
king of everything on earth to the glory of
Your great work and Your goodness.”
Thanksgiving to God, Hom. 35
St. Symeon's understanding runs counter to modern perceptions of creation as autonomous from God. The present yardstick of “utility” transforms the world into an impersonal object of man's insatiable greed. By divorcing creation from Creator, man goes beyond the mandate of use to abuse - a great sin. By making creation autonomous, man turns away from the Creator. Unforeseen by St. Symeon is the proclivity of modern man to use his intellectual and technical capacities, themselves treated as autonomous, to serve mastery over as large a part of creation as possible. St. Symeon regarded the use of creation as eucharistic, i. e. in praise of God, and characterized the misuse of the world as sin. His views have a profound social impact because creation was given for the use of all men. He linked the misuse of creation to poverty, injustice, and other social problems of his time.
“For these indeed are they of whom Scripture
speaks, the highly esteemed, the rich, lording
it over everyone, who because of this believe
that they are really something, powerless to
perceive their own shame.”
Catechetical Orations, 2
Abuse of the world, he taught, has as its consequence everything that belongs to the transient life, vainglory, envy, greed, deceit, and all that is abominable in God's sight.
In conclusion we excerpt substantially from the work, MAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT, A STUDY OF St. SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN by Anestis Keselopoulos, ISBN: 088141221x, which we have paraphrased above. We recommend this book to our readers.
“The whole of material creation was given by God as a blessing and a gift. In an interpretation of the relevant passage in Genesis, St. Symeon underlines that God did not give man paradise alone, but the whole of the earth. In his exegesis of the expression [to cultivate and care for it] in the Old Testament, he says that these two verbs represent interrelated concepts which refer both to man's rights and to his responsibilities toward the environment in which he lives. A right use of creation, i. e. the [cultivation], necessarily implies also a duty of further protecting and conserving creation, the [caring for it]. Right use of creation without at the same time protecting it is not possible. Man is called to [cultivate] in a responsible manner as God's representative and steward, but also as the overseer and guard of the natural world. On the other hand, the command to subdue the earth does not constitute man's passport to irresponsible and unrestrained maltreatment and destruction of the natural environment. … Man's sovereignty over nature brings with it corresponding responsibilities, because it is an accountable authority. … It belongs in the context of his ability to use the potentialities of creation aright so that it helps and serves him. … Furthermore, individualistic domination of the world and the mentality of consumerism, as these are served and secured today by technology on the one hand and misguided economic notions on the other, are the practical application of a cosmology poles apart from that of St. Symeon and the Fathers - one that sees nature as an impersonal and neutral datum at the service of man's desires and endless 'needs'. The opposite pole from misuse of the world is the eucharistic use of it, which takes as its starting point a study of the inner principles of existent things and respect for these principles.”
End of Earth 
- We began our page with an image of the early Solar System and conclude it with a view of the end of our planet. Our sun, a main sequence star, is about half way through its life. In about 4 1/2 to 5 billion years from now, the sun's core, now composed mostly of hydrogen, will have converted most of it to helium. Stars convert hydrogen to helium and in the process produce light and other radiation. As time progresses, the heavier helium will sink to the center of the sun, with a shell of hydrogen around the helium center core. The depleted hydrogen in the core will no longer generate enough energy and pressure to support the outer layers of the sun. As the sun collapses, the pressure and temperature will increase until it is hot enough for helium to fuse into carbon. Therewith helium fusion will begin. To radiate the energy produced by such fusion, the sun will expand into a “red giant” large enough to swallow the inner planets, hot and bright enough to boil away the earth's atmosphere and oceans and to burn it to a cinder. Of course, long before then the earth will have become unbearable for life. Thus, our earth will end as it began - in fire.