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Vigen Guroian

Inheriting Paradise

I am an Armenian Orthodox believer and theologian. The Orthodox faith is a sacramental faith. When Orthodox Christians perform the great rite of the blessing of the water by ocean beach or riverbank, they behave, as the Armenian liturgy says, like the holy apostles who became "cleansers of the whole world." While God might have driven Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Paradise, God still ensured that the living waters issuing from the garden continued to irrigate the whole earth and cleanse its polluted streams and lakes. When we bless water, we acknowledge God's grace and desire to cleanse the world and make it paradise.

Water is the blood of creation. Our own bodies are 80 percent water. Water is also the element of baptism. Saint Thomas Aquinas said: "Because water is transparent, it can receive light; and so it is fitting that it should be used in baptism, inasmuch as it is the sacrament of faith." By cleansing the water we make it clear again. By expelling the demonic pollutants we ready it for greater service to God. We tend not only the garden that we call nature but also the garden that is ourselves, insofar as we are constituted of water and are born anew by it.

We ought not to draw a line that neatly marks off nature from human kind. This is a modern heresy that we have inherited from the Enlightenment. Contrary to environmentalists' accusations of anthropocentrism, Christians believe that human beings are especially responsible for tending the creation. This is no less a responsibility than the duty to care for our own bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. God has given human beings this responsibility as an emblem of his own great love for all of creation. The fourth-century church father Saint Ephrem the Syrian says in his Hymns on Paradise:

The fool, who is unwilling to realize his honorable state, prefers to become just an animal, rather than a man, so that, without incurring judgment, he may serve naught but his lusts. But had there been sown in ...

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