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Helping victims of natural disasters and emergencies – the duty of religious organizations *

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(Part 2)

Author: Archbishop Sergius of Solnechnogorsk **

The irresistible desire to conquer nature, to subdue its internal forces and resources, although it becomes a source of new tragedies for man, is a powerful stimulus for the development of science and technology, allowing man to manage certain natural processes and to a lesser extent to feel his dependence on natural phenomena. However, the events of recent decades show how catastrophic the consequences of human activity can be, even when it is aimed at purely humanitarian purposes: water and air pollution, accidents at nuclear power plants that bring disease and suffering to humans, changes in environmental relationships.

Thus, the cosmic drama that began in the Garden of Eden is not limited by time or space.

We must not overlook the fact that there is a kind of relationship between natural disasters as a result of the Divine laws of existence, due to the ancestral fall and emergencies, the source of which is the reckless and vicious activity of man.

 In his quest to cope with the forces of nature, man interferes so much in the harmoniously arranged world that he creates with his inadequate actions a new wave of troubles and catastrophes. Where is the way out of this situation? How to break this vicious circle?

Yes, man is the image of God, and therefore he is not obliged and cannot be enslaved to the lower, material forces. But even nature cannot serve man as a slave to satisfy his momentary interests and selfish aspirations. The path of enslavement of the surrounding world leads to the fact that man himself tightens the slave roads even more. The salvation of man and all nature depends on whether he knows its inner essence, unattainable without love. The restoration of oneness with God, broken by the fall of man, is what every creature expects of the sons of men, in the words of the Apostle Paul: “For we know that all creatures groan and groan together until now” (Rom. 8:22; cf. Romans 8: 19-21).

All this makes man think again about the inexplicability of God’s creation. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? – say, if you know ”(John 38: 4) – this Divine verb to the Old Testament righteous man regains clarity and significance for man. As great a man as he is, he is a creation of God, and only in union with the rest of the created world is he able to preserve peace and justice.

Natural disasters and emergencies always ask us a single question: to be or not to be a specific person? Should we help him in his illness, suffering and sorrow – or should we leave him to his own devices? In this regard, I would like to dwell on the understanding of the problems of life of different religions and the resulting closeness in the life position of their followers.

All religions agree that the value of man’s earthly life is not limited to that life. Its significance lies in the fact that it represents a path that leads beyond the limits of earthly existence. Therefore, the motives that determine the actions of the believer must be determined not so much by the natural instinct for self-preservation, but by the awareness of responsibility for the content of his earthly life, taking into account its ultimate goal.

The second feature that distinguishes the religious view of life is that the believer is obliged to realize the inseparable organic connection with the lives of others and the existence of the whole world. Awareness of the unity of the human race, both in origin and purpose, nurtures a sense of solidarity with other people, near and far, deepens human responsibility for the lives of all people.

Every life, like every being, has its source in God, and everything exists only insofar as it enjoys the gift of the loving Creator, Whose hand holds the creature over the abyss of non-existence.

Life is a precious and incomparable gift of God: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). With these words the apostle James defines the sacred nature of the gift of life. Life at its core, in its depths, belongs not to us but to God. This is especially true of human life, because man is an image of God, which means that his life is sacred. But life is sacred not only because of its Source, but also because of its purpose, because “God created man for incorruption and made him the image of His eternal existence” (Proverbs 2:23), as the wise man speaks. Solomon. It is according to the purpose of life that its value is determined: without purpose and meaning, life would have no value.

The divine gift of life is not a fateful inevitability for man. The gift can be accepted or rejected. The freedom to choose between good and evil enables man to walk either the path of life or the path of death. Each of us finds ourselves at a similar crossroads when it comes to helping disaster victims, when it comes to saving the lives of victims of emergencies. We have the opportunity to overcome other people’s grief, we can close our eyes to other people’s pain, but we have no right to do that, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life ”(1 John 3:15).

We Christians have no moral right to indifferent contemplation when a person dies around us. We must always be aware that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2: 4).

The Christian, realizing his duty of co-operation with God (1 Cor. 3: 9), is obliged throughout his life to keep in his heart the words of the Apostle Paul: “None of us lives for himself and no one dies for himself. you are ”(Rom. 14: 7).

Love for people is not a philanthropic appeal, it is not a slogan. The love of people, the saving of human life, the provision of help to those who need it – this is the hard work of the day, which is based on Christian duty to God and people.

The negative consequences of the reckless invasion of man in the natural course of things often prove to be a source of new cataclysms – acid rain, melting glaciers, the formation of new deserts, frequent avalanches and landslides, salinization of soils. Accidents and catastrophes such as Chernobyl and Bhopal, the pollution of the Rhine, the depletion of the ozone layer – all these unplanned effects of “creative” human activity cause shock and force humanity to think about the looming threat to the living world.

In this regard, the protection of the environment can be seen by us as a basis for the protection of man from new emergencies, as the prevention of previous natural disasters, as a warning to man about the impending cataclysms. That is why ecology is a problem not so much material as spiritual-moral, because the most important aspect, the focus of the environmental problem is man himself.

True progress presupposes the domination of the higher manifestations of the human spirit over the lower ones, a reasonable self-limitation of needs. In this way we should focus on the experience of Christian ascetics, whose humble lives were in astonishing harmony with the world around them.

For decades, man has felt helpless in the face of the elements. Neither scientific and technological progress nor human reason has been able to prevent natural disasters. Man does not have the strength to stop a hurricane, stop a volcanic eruption, liquidate a storm, calm a storm, or prevent an earthquake. As a result of natural disasters, cities are disappearing from the face of the Earth, human lives are being destroyed, ruins remain in the place of homes, flora and fauna are dying.

Emergencies are so devastating and harmful in their consequences. As a result of poor hydromelioration, dried and irrigated lands become unsuitable for agriculture. An ecological catastrophe threatens Lakes Baikal, Ladoga, and the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Currently, the size of the ozone hole over Antarctica is larger than the territory of Western Europe, which could lead to rising sea levels. Ten years ago, there was an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but even today we are not able to fully realize and appreciate the disasters that this tragedy has brought to the lives of thousands of people.

The position of religious leaders on these issues is natural and natural when it comes to danger threatening the high purpose of human earthly life, insofar as earthly life is one of the means of spiritual and moral improvement.

Guided by a deep faith in the permanence of Christian truths, the Church carries out her service to God and man. As an important part of her ministry, she considers social activities aimed at meeting human needs and providing assistance. In this kind of activity the Church is in solidarity with people of good will – representatives of other religions and non-believers, expresses its support for specific decisions of state and public funds and organizations. But the Church is a God-man organism, so social recipes or political slogans should not be expected from her.

Ready to participate in providing assistance to victims of natural disasters and emergencies, the clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church do not have sufficient knowledge of the methods and forms of providing this type of assistance, which is why the methodological recommendations and advice of representatives of international and foreign organizations that have gained experience in working with victims of natural and technical disasters. This experience of the staff of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Red Cross Society and other organizations participating in this conference should not be underestimated.

Allow me, in the conclusion of my report, to express the hope that the exchange of information and views between the participants in the conference will be to the benefit of those who have been held hostage to natural disasters and emergencies.

May our common ministry bless those in need of help and support.

Authorized translation: Petar Gramatikov


* Source: Sergius, Archbishop of Solnechnogorsk. Assistance to victims of natural disasters and emergencies is the duty of religious organizations: [Report at an international seminar on November 13-14, 1996 in Moscow. The seminar is organized by the Department of Social Service and Charity, WCC and the UN]. – In: Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (JMP), Moscow, 1997, № 1, p. 50-55.

** According to a decree of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of December 25-26, 2013, the Voronezh Metropolitanate was formed within the Voronezh region, including the Voronezh, Borisoglebsk and Rososhan dioceses. The Most Reverend Metropolitan Sergius was appointed head of the Voronezh Metropolitanate with the title “Voronezh and Liskinsky”.

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