Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Sylvester of Obnora

Today is the Feast of St. Sylvester of Obnora, which is a monastery in the southern part of Vologda Oblast in Russia. Originally founded in the 14th century, it was destroyed by Tartars in the 16th century. It was later rebuilt in the 17th century.

St. Sylvester was a monastic at Holy Trinity Monastery and was a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who gave him the blessing to become a hermit, which he was for many years. As often happens with hermits, people were drawn to St. Sylvester for advice and spiritual needs. He fulfilled this role at Obnora by becoming abbot.

Despite this, St. Sylvester still yearned for solitude. Therefore, he found a grove of trees which he commanded to be left alone so that he always had a place to pray in peace. This became known as the Commanded Grove or Sanctuary Grove.

St. Sylvester died of illness in A.D. 1479.

In 1645, the hieromonk Job, who re-built the monastery, ordered trees from the Commanded Grove to be cut down. He was struck blind and only regained his sight after repenting and going to the reliquary of St. Sylvester.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am not a fan of the Druid as a PC class, although I am happy to use them as monsters. Given that Earth Day was this past week and the seemingly druidic command of St. Sylvester to keep and defend a sacred grove of trees, I thought it apropos to scratch that itch again.

Whenever I introduce the idea of druids as monsters, a common reaction is to understand them as eco-terrorists. While I suppose interpreting them as a fantasy version of Earth Firsters might work, I have never imagined them that way. For me, the most terrifying monster is a human being who embraces sin as righteousness and consequently does horrible things. The best way to tell a horror story is to hold up a mirror to ourselves. For me, the druid is a fantasy version of Earth Day taken to its logical conclusion.

I doubt there are many people who are against the basic concept of environmentalism, which can be simply stated as: Don’t defecate where you eat.

From a theological perspective, Christianity is (for a lack of a better word) green and has always been green. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation having been endowed according to the image and likeness of God. We fulfill a priestly role of presenting God to creation and lifting up creation to God by being co-creators with God.

In the LXX Greek translation of the OT, the word “to create/make” used in Genesis and attributed to God shares the same root as the English words “poem” and “poet.” God is an artist. In other words, we are expected to use nature and the environment in creative ways that are beneficial for everybody and everything.

This POV can be expressed with this diagram:
God --> Humanity --> Creation (Co-Creation)
The proponents of Earth Day turn this diagram upside down. Nature becomes more important than humanity and humanity is more important than God. Thus, as I have heard from several sources, humanity becomes a virus that endangers Nature that needs to be reformed and controlled in order to save the Earth.

There is a dissonance in the logic of modern environmentalism that is frightening. Humanity is both undesirable and the mechanism of salvation. It is within this logic that I find the druid-as-monster. Nature is better off without humanity, which needs to get wiped out. Humanity, however, won’t go away without help. Thus, druids seek to destroy Civilization while abandoning their own humanity (in my own rendition, they seek to become one with Nature by becoming Elementals).

The mirror that needs to get held up to modern environmentalism is this: Since human beings are a part of Nature (whether you accept that God created it or not), mistreating and dismissing humanity is a misuse and abuse of Nature.


RandyB said...

Since D&D 3e the druid has continued to encapsulate this view, only now it is the blurring of the line between man and beast, the surrender of the created uniqueness granted to man.

Mercurius Aulicus said...

So druids are something like the Harrison Chase character in the classic Doctor Who epidsode "The Seeds of Doom."

Conrad Kinch said...

Another interesting post Reverend. Keep them coming.

FrDave said...

If you are looking for a sci-fi/fantasy analog, yes, Harrison Chase makes a very good druid-as-monster. BTW that episode creeped me out as a kid...

Unknown said...

" In other words, we are expected to use nature and the environment in creative ways that are beneficial for everybody and everything."

I'd put forward my own California as a before/after example of this: Before, up into the 1960s, the ruling party understood the need for intelligent exploitation of our resources that balanced a creative use of nature with conservation. Since then, we've gone from conservationism to an almost anti-human environmentalism, one that values preserving a bait fish over growing food, and refuses to build water storage sufficient to the population so that, when a bad drought hits, the effects are much worse. It's almost as if the "Father Dave" druids have taken over here. :/

Good essay, as usual. The "druids as lovable nature children" presented in D&D never interested me much. I like your version much better.