As is the perception of the environmental crisis through the prism of a “spiritual crisis” and man’s primordial sin.
And even if the environment is recognized as a legitimate matter of human concern, it is seen as “missionary” or catechetical-educational work: thinking about the environmental crisis can encourage a person to be closer to the Church, which makes them focus on their own spiritual and psychological problems.
The Orthodox clergy, along with believers, tend to look skeptically
at international environmental standards, seeing them as guided by socio-economic transformations and consumer goals rather than by the spiritual goals. The former are criticized as greed for gain that ignores the tradition of the careful use of natural resources.
In criticizing “sustainable development,” the Church echoes adherents of Dark Green or Deep Ecocentric Ethics like Arne Næss and Patric Curry
. Both Dark Green environmentalists and conservative Orthodox clergy speak against consumerist society, and both oppose prioritizing the economy, and even advocate zero economic growth.
Instead, they call for
“ascetic self-restraint”. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, however, that is deeply rooted in monasticism and is not elaborated as lay ethics. So, from the point of view of many Orthodox thinkers
, an alternative to consumerism is the asceticism peculiar to the monastic type of living found in medieval Russian monasteries, “whose economic activity was highly ecological, and the lights of monasteries... act as beacons on this right path of salvation.” However, as Galina Kruglova, a political scholar, rightly asserts,
“while praising the monastic economy... the clergy completely forgot about the low level of development of productive forces at that time.”
The ROC also criticizes the goals of sustainable development from a purely theological perspective: environmentalists, the argument goes,
seek to “bypass the redeeming sacrifice of Christ and achieve immortality by human ways,” meaning to solve the problem “without God.”From spiritual argument to conspiracy theory
Many Orthodox believers, especially ultraconservatives, go even further in their criticism, drawing on a conspiratorial-mythological argument by which the world is an arena of a battle between “Good” and “Evil.” The global – mostly, Western - elites are associated with “Evil” as, according to neocolonial logic, they are engaged in conspiracies against developing countries, especially against Russia. One of those conspiracies, as this theory goes, is the environmental policy of developed countries, whose aim is to impose control over developing countries and limit their sovereignty.
This view was popular especially among the faculty of the Ecological Department at the Russian Orthodox University
for about 15 years starting in 1996. Nikolai Krupenio, who served as the Ecology Department’s Dean from 1999 to 2009, claimed it was undesirable for Russia to join international conventions on climate change, like the Kyoto Protocol, as it does incomparably less harm to the environment than developed Western countries. The faculty members tried to inculcate it in their students. This view is also common among ROC ultraconservatives, and can be traced in the headlines
of ultraconservative media, such as Tsargrad TV or Russkaya Narodnaya Linia (The Russian People’s Line): consider for example, the headlines “Protocols of the Overseas Wise Men”
and “Protocols of the Ozone Wise Men,”
obviously alluding to the notorious anti-Semitic treatise The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
It is noteworthy that the author of the “Protocols of the Overseas Wise Men” was Pavel Florensky, the grandson and namesake of the famous Russian theologian
executed in 1937.
Some Orthodox ultraconservatives truly believe that there was a conspiracy against the Christian Orthodox faith by secret “Jewish Masonic forces,” which today has morphed into a conspiracy of global elites – in particular, those who pursue global environmental and climate action.
For instance, Andrei Karpov, a consistent contributor to Russkaya Narodnaya Linia, believes
that what lies behind the “climate agenda” is not genuine concern for the environment but a desire on the part of global elites to arrange a grandiose redivision of the world
, similar to what took place after World War I and World War II. Karpov argues that for Russia, open participation in an armed conflict can be more beneficial than involvement in the climate agenda: “The war can be won. By agreeing to a version of the climate agenda, we are definitely losing.” Orthodox ultraconservatives expressed such militarist views even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and moreover did so in such a peaceful realm as environmental protection.Divisions over demographic issues
Another, no less significant point of contention between the ROC and environmentalists is children. The ROC rejects the notion of birth control, family planning, etc. and insists that, ideally, an Orthodox family should have as many children as God grants. Since 2012, this idea has been supported by the state’s conservative population policy, which is aimed at increasing the birth rate.