Sustainable Lifestyle

The Monastery Garden at the End of the Season

The Orthodox Monk has a particular attachment to the earth.  It is difficult to speak about attachment, and the monastic as our whole life is about detachment but in this case the monk has this attachment.

The Orthodox Church has a fairly well developed theology around the care for the earth.  We view all of creation as just that creation, created by God, and as God said in Genesis it is good.  We are stewards of this creation, and it is our responsibility to care for it.  God gave us dominion over the creation, but that dominion comes with an immense amount of responsibility.  We have to care for the land so that the land will produce what we need to survive.

As an Orthodox Monk, I try to live a sustainable lifestyle.  What does this mean?  We are to try to live a life that leaves as small a foot print on creation as possible.  We do this in many ways.  Here at the monastery we keep the heat at a low temperature and wear a sweater when it gets cold, but we also cover the windows and make sure that the heat we do use is used in the most efficient way.  We limit the amount of water that we use.  How many of us run the water whilst we are brushing our teeth in the morning, or do not fill the washing machine when we do a load of laundry.  Our machine has a setting that limits the amount of water, or I wait until I have a full load to wash the clothes.  In the warm months, we use the clothesline to dry the clothes, and I am considering an indoor clothesline for the winter months.

We try to turn off the lights in the rooms we are not using or only use the light when needed.  Several years ago we switched the lights we could to compact florescent lights.  These use less power and last longer.  They need to be disposed of properly, so that causes us to recycle.

The Town we live in has an excellent recycling program.  It is a single stream program, so we throw all of our recycle stuff into one large, 90 gallon, container that is collected every other week.  This makes the task of recycling remarkably simple.  We compost all that we can so that limits the amount of waste that is heading to the land fill.  Yes this requires additional effort, but once you establish a system it works fantastic and the soil that is created from this composting is perfect for the garden.

We are fortunate that we have a large piece of land here at the monastery.  We are able to raise chickens and have a rather large garden.  I was able to can several pints of summer squash, zucchini, and bread and butter pickles this year all from the garden.  The tomatoes that were grown were used as they were harvested and the basil has made a delightful addition to many of the recipes that we cook.  Anyone, no matter how small a plot of land you have, can produce something one it.  If not consider shopping at a farmer’s market.

Buying local food is more expensive but in the long run it is better for you and it uses less fuel to transport it.  Yes it’s satisfying to have all sorts of fruits and veggies available all year long but at what cost?  Studies show that eating what is grown locally and what is in season is far better for you than the diet most of us have now.  Commercially grown fruits and veggies are produced with pesticides and all sorts on garbage that is weakening our immune systems and causing all sorts of health issues.  Looking the farmer in the eye and asking him what he uses on his plants is worth the price of admission.

We have plans this year to use the rain barrels that we purchased several years ago to collect water to water the garden.  We have plans to raise chickens for meat and turkeys this year and to keep up with what we already have.  Garden expansion is also in the works, and I am using the “off season” to plan what that will look like in the spring when we are able to plant again.  The ultimate goal here is to produce enough of our own food, or to sell what we do not use, to be able to sustain our life here.

Recently, on his podcast The Morning Offering, Abbot Trypon of All Merciful Savior Monastery in Washington State talked about sustainability and what they are doing at their monastery.  It is a short podcast and well worth listening too.

This about what you can do to reduce your foot print and aid in the sustainability of the earth that we all share.


  1. I’m on board with most of the things that you are doing.

    Unfortunately, some people have respiratory problems and just can’t deal with breathing cold air. I’ve been that way since childhood. The amount of blankets doesn’t seem to make any difference. My parents would turn the heat off at night to save money and I’d get sick over and over every winter. I still have major respiratory issues (up to and including pneumonia) if I’m out in the cold too long, or if I have to sleep in a room that gets too cold at night.

  2. Becoming a good good steward of the earth is not only noble, it’s necessary. Laypeople, like Monks, must continually find ways to work together. My idea is that everyone should do their best to have a garden, to the best of their ability, no matter how small their plot of land. At the Monastery, and in other places, we should strive to not only share our crops, but to share our land and garden space with others (whenever possible). We must also share the things we have and don’t need, like the clothes, dishes, and other stuff we don’t use. Why let things collect dust in our cabinets and closets when others are in need? Why keep the things we do not need, when others have none? This is hording. Hording is not being a good steward of God’s earth, in my opinion. There are many ways to become a good steward of God’s creation.

    To me, conservation, planting and caring for our world is Godly, like perfect prayer. And perfect prayer brings peace and joy! But this is only me. Not everyone feels this way. However, when we look at the rising cost of food and fuel, it would not be surprised if more tried to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Even planting patio tomatoes can help. This is a very good use of time and energy.

    Patio planting, in pots, is a great urban alternative when there is not enough land, or time, for a larger garden. There are over 314 million people living in the US today. If each person planted only one patio tomato, saving $5.00 per year, we could save over 1.5 billion dollars in food expense, annually. According to “40 shocking facts about water” by MATT SCOTT on JUNE 30, 2009, it only takes one dollar to provide one child with clean water for a year. By transferring this savings over to clean water for others, we could save over 1.5 billion lives in the course of a year! It doesn’t take much to help others. If we strive to work together, many of us can accomplish a great deal.

    There are many other ways to conserve, like hanging out clothes, using cloth diapers, breast feeding longer, repairing things we tend to throw away and using the things we have? To me, this is as much a part of the prayer of our lives as our daily prayer rule.

    Godly transformation is not that complicated. How can believe we are doing God’s work, while we let food rot in own refrigerators? How can we believe we are living a Godly life when we hoard clothes and other things we do not use? Does it make sense to build bigger barns (homes and garages, storage sheds and closets) to hold all our stuff, when we don’t use what we have? I am of the strong opinion that we must become smart consumers and share with others what we don’t use. We must ask God to help us learn to become better consumers and stewards. We must ask God to have Mercy on us and help us to improve our own faults and flaws. This Godly transformation process begins by learning to eat leftovers, rather than wasting them or learning how to plant a patio tomato, to eat fresh and save money. Many times, it’s as simple as this!

    My spiritual Father explained to me that prayer, in conjunction with staying close to the Church, conquers many evils. Waste and carelessness are evils. By learning to become better people, we grow in God’s grace and love. In my opinion, living a good Godly life does not mean resting on our Laurels. It means taking care of what we have and working to become good stewards. Becoming better people involves hard work, effort and prayer! This is what living a good life looks like and all of this works together, like Monks, Nuns and Laypeople.

    Monks and Nuns are not the only ones required to pray and care for God’s creation (recycle, plant and conserve energy, not hoard things we don’t need). Monks and Nuns share in this responsibility with laypeople. God calls us all to care for His kingdom, both the spiritual and the earthly. I am also convinced that God showers His blessings on those who strive to become better people. Based on my understanding of the Christian life, I believe that becoming better stewards of the earth, and of earthly things, as well as the spiritual, is a big part of what it means to live our lives as good Orthodox Christians.

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