In the name of His Excellence Bishop Siluan of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Milan, the most numerous Christian Community in Italy after the Roman Catholics, and in the name of other Orthodox Churches, who have delegates present in this meeting in Expo Milano 2015, on this September 1, World Creation Day, with full conviction we sign the Milan Charter, which declares that the right to food is a fundamental human right.
We do so in coherence with our Christian Orthodox faith, which contemplates the equality of all men and women, whether believers or not, who are considered in the scriptures as being “in the image of God”, a God who is Father to everyone, who sacrificed his Son “for mankind and for our salvation”, and who desires that every person become enlightened and is saved.
We do so because God gave the first Man, Adam, the Garden of Eden, in other words everything necessary to eat and to live. And he did this with two instructions: to “…replenish the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis I, 28-30) and to “dress it and to keep it” (Genesis II, 15). Subdue it does not signify to be a disrespectful owner who seeks its fruits only for his own egotistical interests and pleasures, but rather not to let it subdue him, in other words not become a slave of the benefits which the earth offers. These should be considered as means in the service of the greatest gift, which is life itself. Of all our resources, food is fundamental, but it depends how we use it. Mankind’s task is not to exploit the earth in excessive ways without thinking of others and even less of future generations, but to cultivate it and take care of it. The theologian Dumitru Stăniloae considered that this reveals the great role played by mankind’s thought, imagination and creative activity in collaboration with nature. Through work, each person obtains the means necessary not only for themselves, but also for others. And so work brings the sign of love among mankind. With its nature of ascetic sacrifice, work spiritualizes both mankind and the fruits which nature provides for it (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol.1, p326).)
On the subject of the use of food, Orthodox spirituality proposes two main attitudes: asceticism and solidarity. The story of Adam and Eve tells us that, deceived by the tempting aspect of the forbidden fruit – which was “good to eat, pleasant to the eye and to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis III, 6) – they did not respect God’s prohibition, and ate some. And thus Original Sin appeared in the world. This is connected with food, which is necessary for living, but is not everything, is not an end in itself, and must not create distance between mankind and its Creator. The consequence of Adam and Eve’s transgression is that the first men were banished from Eden and become mortals.
Jesus Christ reverses this attitude. He begins his mission by fasting in the desert and “after forty days and forty nights he became hungry” (Matthew IV, 2). After the Devil had tempted him to eat, as if life depended only on this, Jesus answered with the well-known words “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew, IV, 3; cf Deuteronomy VIII, 3). And thus he restores the relation between eating, life and God. By fasting he frees humanity from eating, from matter, from the world without spiritual values. (cf. A. Schemann, Postul Mare (Great Lent), Ed. Sophia, Bucharest 2013, pp. 155-159). In fact we do not live in order to eat, we eat in order to live. We need to practice a degree of asceticism. It is necessary to limit our material needs, to respect the Earth more, its rhythms and the life it supports, in order to put into practice an indispensable planetary distribution, to establish a profound sim-pathy with nature and avoid the planetary massacre of fauna and flora.
The Patriarch Hazim IV of Antioch proposes a creative exorcism of technique, to render it more attentive and more open, to avoid the Promethean temptation to construct the world as a closed reality whose “little god” would be mankind. He considers that the sense of life does not come from technology but from humans who recognize in themselves the image of God, and confront the world as gifts and words from God.
But nature, when it offers food, does not offer it to a single person, nor to a group of people, nor to a nation. Jesus Christ teaches us to ask God for food not only for ourselves… “… give us this day our daily bread…” (Matthew VI, 11). This is why humanity needs to think in terms of solidarity when dealing with the gifts of nature. Jesus orders the Apostles to feed the crowd who have followed him (Matthew 14, 16; Mark 6, 37; Luke 9, 13) for which he multiplies the loaves (Matthew 14, 13-21, 15, 29-39; Mark 6, 34-44, 8, 1-9; Luke 9 10-17; John 6, 13). He even gives himself as the bread which comes from heaven (John 6, 35). Giving food and having pity for those who are in need (Matthew 5, 7) brings true happiness. “Come to the right hand of my Father, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat!” (Matthew 25, 34-35). Christian teaching on this subject is altruistic. Jesus offers his body and his blood, that’s to say everything. The first Christian community in Jerusalem appointed seven deacons to serve food to the poor (Acts 6, 1-6).
On the basis of these Biblical teachings, we affirm our awareness that we have the responsibility of leaving future generations a world which is healthier, fairer and more sustainable. This is why we identify with the commitments of the Milan Charter, which – without forgetting about spiritual hunger – we hope to fulfill: to be aware of and take care of the kinds of food we eat, in order to make responsible choices, to consume only the amount of food we need, to avoid wasting water in our everyday activities, to promote food education and environmental education in the family, and indeed in the church, in order to promote a growth in awareness in the new generations.
Only thus, creating collaboration between the spiritual hemispheres of the Orient and the Occident, will we become actors in renewing society and the world. Only thus will our faith show itself to be active in its work, which confirms it and makes it capable of renewing the world.