The world, despite all its problems, is still a beautiful place. How can faith groups celebrate this, either through existing festivals or new platforms? In this webinar, we looked at ways in which existing festivals harness the essence of celebration from an Orthodox Christian perspective and also how a new annual day for Muslims to celebrate the environment has taken off in Uganda over the past decade.
Spirydoula Fotinis, Coordinator of Programs, Inter-Orthodox Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Hajjat Sebyala Aphwa, Director, Energising Solutions and initiator of Greening Fridays, Uganda
If you missed the webinar, you can catch up by clicking below.
Hosted by FaithInvest's interim CEO Martin Palmer, the webinar began by exploring the ways in which the faiths are so well-placed to be at the heart of celebrating the natural world. Martin said: “Yes, we know how to fast, how to push for simpler lifestyles, but we also know how to celebrate.”
One of the roles of the faiths is to remind humanity that all that life, and all that is good about the world, should be celebrated, he said. Through existing celebrations of creation and religious festivals, and the development of new festivals and traditions, faith groups can inspire celebration of the potential for sustainable ecosystems that are beneficial to all of humanity.
The webinar started with a short video on how trees are being ordained as monks by the Buddhist communities in places like Cambodia and Thailand, so that devout Buddhists will not cut them down. Cambodia has lost much of its forest to rubber plantations and timber logging in the last 20 years – with more trees being cut down even than in Brazil. Martin dubbed this: “A remarkable new ritual, a new tradition, a new celebration – brought into being because the Buddhists went deep into their own teachings to find something new.”
You can watch the video by clicking below.
We are called to be priests of creation
Our first speaker was Spirydoula Fotinis, Coordinator of Programs, Inter-Orthodox Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. She discussed how the Orthodox Day of the Environment stemmed from Orthodox love of silence and love of the natural world. In 1988, a proposal was made that a day of the year must be set aside to pray for the preservation of the natural creation. A year later, the first encyclical on the environment was published. With HRH Prince Phillip, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, worked to promote the protection of the environment through common understanding.
“We look forward to the feast of Easter after forty days of fasting. Food, dance and song are central to how we celebrate all feast days.” Spirydoula said: “In the orthodox tradition, we are called to be priests of creation. On Sundays, we celebrate the divine liturgy. The bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ. We are united to all creation and must take steps to nurture our world. Creation plays a central role in hymns and sacraments, for example in the use of holy water and water for baptism.” Creation and worship intertwine – as seen in how Christ was baptised in the Jordan river. Christ appeared in the Jordan river to sanctify the water, and in the Orthodox church there is an annual practice of blessing water by throwing a cross into it. People then dive into the water in celebration and try to be the first to catch the cross. Spirydoula went on to describe the “indestructible bond between our creation and our creator”. She said: “We look forward to the feast of Easter after forty days of fasting. Food, dance and song are central to how we celebrate all feast days.” On September 1st, the Orthodox church holds a Day of Protection of the Environment, and through this, they are trying to encourage parishes and parishioners to become more green.
Our second and final speaker was Hajjat Sebyala Aphwa, Director of Energising Solutions and initiator of Greening Fridays, from Uganda. Hajjat is also known as Mama Green, her personal impact on the environment has been phenomenal and she is one of the most powerful women in Islam around the world.
Greening Fridays is an annual day, set aside by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC), to celebrate and protect the environment through the use of Islamic teachings. Greening Fridays started in 2010 as a pledge at an interfaith workshop, and is now held during the holy month of Ramadan, every second Friday of this month.
In 2012, Greening Fridays was included in the UMSC’s seven year plan. Through Greening Fridays, people are encouraged to speak out about the environment. Other aims include improving understanding and inspiring positive action. Hajjat is keen to mainstream sensitivity to the environment and green all celebrations so that awareness is spread of the importance of the natural world.
Friday prayer is held, along with talks on the environment, distribution of seedlings, and planting of symbolic fruit trees at the National Mosque. In the years to come, Greening Fridays follows these symbolic fruit trees as they grow. In 2019, fruit from these trees was distributed at the mosque.
So far, around 250,000 trees have been planted and distributed, and the project has garnered press coverage and international attention. Hajjat has taken Greening Fridays to prisons, primary and secondary schools, and universities. The project had spread to 12 Ugandan districts by 2013.
Greening Fridays has also entered into a partnership with the National Forestry Authority. In 2013, Hajjat was recognised as the Muslim Achiever of the Year, and presented with an Environment Award. Greening Fridays was even held during lockdown, although it was celebrated very differently.
Some challenges have arisen, as it is logistically difficult to effectively monitor the operation, there are questions to be answered around the environmental impact of eucalyptus trees and the challenge of demand exceeding capacity.
However, with Greening Fridays, Hajjat aims to cover the entire country of Uganda within seven years and to ensure that the idea spreads past the Ugandan borders.