The relationship of men towards animals perhaps should be presented under the prism of the creation of the world. We specifically read in Genesis, “and God created the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the animals after their kind and all that creep on the earth after their kind and God saw that it was good (Gen 1:25).
After his creation man is given dominion over all the animals “over the fish of the sea and over the foul of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Gen 1:28).The dominion over the animals extends in their naming when God brought all the animals in front of him to give them their name: “…and brought them unto Adam to call them and whatever Adam called every living thing, that was its name” (Gen 2:19).Thus man has authority over the animals as on all creation, being a creation “in the image of God”. The animals looked on man as a crown of the complete creation, for this they not only submitted to him but lived in harmony between themselves.
The fall of the first created did not only have a radical change in the relationship with God but also between man and creation. Having darkened the “image” and lacking the divine grace, man now is confronted with hostility by the dumb animals “the beasts and all the animals of the earth seeing him denuded of the former divine glory, ignore him and immediately became harsh towards him”. The result being that some animals he feared and other animals feared him.
After the fall the whole creation waits, like man, for its liberation from the fetters of sin, “for we know that the whole creation groans and suffers in pain until now” (Rom 8:22), the whole creation suffers- thus the animals as well- together with the suffering man.
In Genesis we also see the decision of God to destroy man “for them being of the flesh” but as He spares the just Noah and his family so also He takes care of the animals “for You took care of the animals in the Ark”
In the Deuteronomy it is noted that one of the main reasons for observing the Sabbath is due to the need for the animals to rest. In the preamble psalm (103) the caring of animals is mentioned, “they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst” (Ps 103:11). For the thirst” as to Joel “and the animals of the valley he cared when the water discharges dried up”. Where as at the second coming of Christ, “…I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven and with the creeping things of the ground…..” (Hosea 2:18)
In many instances in the Old Testament we see the pre-fall relationship of man with the animals, where an explicit promise is given to the Prophet Elijah, that he will be provided care for his feeding, “……and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1Kings 17:4). We see the raven is a bird by nature despised bird – that does not even care for its young – carrying meat and bread to the prophet.
Jonah remains three days in the belly of the whale (“mark of Jonah”) symbolizing the three day burial and resurrection of the Lord. Later, in Babylonian detention of Daniel, he remained unhurt in the den of the lions: “They placed him in the lions pit and he remained there for six days”, on which the Apostle Paul later said, “the mouths of the lions were sealed”.
The time of Christ
Our Lord coming to this world receives the affection of the dumb animals:”….. and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger…” (Luke 2:7).
Later when Christ was getting ready to preach the world, after the 40 day fast, we see Him living in the midst the beasts of the desert: “And He was there in the wilderness for forty days tempted of Satan and was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered unto Him” (Mark 1:13). In the miracle of the healing of the demonic, Christ orders the demons and they enter the swine, in impure animals, which then fell into the lake. This is proof that animals can be infested with demons.
The promise of Jesus to His disciples is that He will protect them from dangers, and He will give them authority “…..to tread on serpents and scorpions …….and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
Early Christian Times
After Apostle Paul was shipwrecked at Meliti, when the barbarians saw that he was bit by a viper, they shouted “….. no doubt this man is a murderer……… yet justice has not allowed him to live” (Acts 28:4).
When however they saw him remain unaffected, “they changed by saying that it is his God” Here we see the fulfillment of the promise “and snakes they will take up” and secondly the miracle results in the changing of the minds of the Melitians.
The cases are limitless of martyrs that are thrown as feed to the wild beasts and not only they are not hurt by them, but with their attitude they show (licking the head or wounds) they submit to the martyrs demonstrating through this that God “turns the beasts to submission, preserving them according to the image and likeness spotless”. From these miracles it is worth describing briefly some indicative cases from the collection of the saints.
The saints Trophimos and Dorymedon are given as feed to a wild bear and because they remain unhurt, they are thrown to a leopard and then to a lion. Because even the lion did not bother them, the beast tamer started prodding it to attack them, the lion lunged at him and torn him apart.
In the case of saint Golindouch not only the martyr remained unhurt by the dragon inside the pit, but the beast became tame and was resting on her. Similarly Saint John in a shaft of a dry well, was protected from scorpions and serpents.
Saint Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, was condemned to be torn apart by the beasts, however after his prayer, some of them worshipped him by bowing their heads and others were licking his wounds.
Impressive is the case of Saint Hypatius who killed in a spectacular way a huge snake that had entered in the castle of the emperor Constans. He placed his rod in the mouth of the beast and it followed him to the marketplace where he burnt it in a huge pyre.
The animals serve the Saints
Further to the cases of protection of the martyrs from being hurt by the wild animals -which were described above- our collections describe many cases where the animals served the Saints in different ways.
Saint Koprios as a baby was fed by a goat which “grazed with the other goats and when it was time to ‘breastfeed’ the baby, it descended from the mountain and having ‘breastfed’ the child it returned to her usual grazing. The same Saint was ascending the mountain with a laden donkey which was then wounded by a bear, he then got hold of the bear, loaded it with the wood and told it “you’ll perform the service of the donkey until it recovers….”.
In the case of Saint Makarios the Roman, the lions became the cause to feel his sinfulness: every day two lions would come to his cell and keep him company. One night he was tempted by a thought of the flesh and considered it a great sin, because the lions would not come close to him for ten days.
Well known is also the case of the lion and Saint Gerasimus the Jordanite, where the beast “was forced to carry water, while in many depictions it drags the donkey from the bridle (reins) and brings it to the Saint as a hunt quarry only to be falsely accused that it had killed it.
The care of the beasts however does not stop in serving a Saint, but continues to the taking care of the relics, as shown in the case of Saints Philomonas and Apollonius: Their relics were placed in bags and were cast into the sea where a large dolphin “took” the bags on its back and brought them to the coast of Alexandria.
In the life of Saint Martinus, bishop of Lougdoynoy, there is this happy story that shows the love of the animals towards the Saints: in the area of Nitria, an ascetic lived on wild herbs but did not know how to select the good from the poisonous, with the result that he would suffer with convulsions. This way he stopped eating for seven days and was on the verge of dying. Then an ibex (type of deer). Approached him and dropped him a bag of vegetables. The beast with its mouth selected the good from the poisonous herbs. This way the ascetic taking this as an example of what to eat, he was saved from death.
End of Part – 1