The Saints heal or send away the animals
As Isaac the Syrian said: “a merciful heart is the fuel of all the creation…..and of the fowl and of the animals……for this to the benefit of the dumb animals….. blesses tearfully every hour”.
For this reason, flooded by the love for God and man, the saints have great reserves of love, that they pray also for the animals and in fact heal them, either because they suffer and feel compassion for them, or because they are useful to people while getting rid of the risks that hurt people.
In Saint Mark the ascetic a hyena visited him and brought her blind cub and acted as if she begged the Saint to cure it. The Saint having prayed spat in the eyes of the cub which was then healed. Few days later the hyena brought him a pelt of a large ram. The ascetic took it after making sure that the hyena understood she should not harm the sheep of the poor.
Many times the healing of the suffering animal was nothing more than from a pathological organic disease, but an animal could also be tormented by demons as we see in the Synarxis of Saint Martin of Tourins: “he met a cow that was tormented by a demon and was goring people with her horns. When the Saint approached, he lifted his hand and ordered the animal to stop. He sees the demon sitting on the back of the animal. “Go unclean from the animal and cease tormenting the innocent animal. When it was freed, the cow fell at the feet of the saint. He then ordered it to rejoin the herd, stronger than the sheep.
One of the common scourge of the plants and trees are the locust. Our Church then reads prayers of Saint Tryphon that has done a specific miracle with the locust. Similar case with harmful animals is also the following: Monk Joannikios once went to the island of Thasos. The island was infested with poisonous snakes that caused death. The people of Thasos, begged the ascetic to save them from the scourge. He prayed and immediately the snakes started coming out of their nests and head for the sea where they drowned.
The animals show gratitude and contrition to the Saints
The animals which received benefits from the saint – within the framework of communication that develops – express their gratitude with different ways to their benefactor, such that the biographer of Saint Martinus wrote: “…..for this we sigh that the beasts feel the kindness and the people do not revere it”.
The lion that benefitted from Saint Gerasimus volunteered to serve him by “hauling water”. From the life of Saint Martinus, again, we have the following: “an ascetic accepted a visit from a female wolf which he treated with whatever he had. Once while absent the wolf entered his cell and ate a piece of bread. The following days the animal did not come. This saddened the ascetic who then made it the object of his prayers. The seventh day the wolf came and sat at a distance ‘in a way that one could detect displeasure,’ with eyes looking down from deep shame, obviously asking to be forgiven…… The ascetic caressed her giving her joy….. Thus, as the biographer notes, the wolf renders service (companionship), feeling the wrongfulness of stealing, recalling and having a sense of forgiveness that was granted her….”
Something similar is also the previous example of the ascetic Mark with the hyena that gave him the sheepskin as a gift for the care she received and the healing of her cub.
The mourning of the animal for the death of a saint
The lion that served Saint Gerasimus the Jordanite in its customary visit to worship the elder, was informed by the attending monk of his demise and when it was led there (to the grave) “it roared greatly and then expired”.
Another lion helped the elder Zosimus to bury the relics of holy Mary of Egypt: “Immediately when the lion was told the required size of trench, it did so (dug it) and then buried the body”.
The animals talk about God
Between the other wonderful signs that we find in the collections, noteworthy are those where the animals appear to be talking with God or the Saint.
Holy Artemon of Laodecia was followed by two deer and six donkeys. When he was captured, he told the animals to report it to bishop Sisinius – who was surprised when a female deer told him of the arrest of Artemon. While the Saint was being tortured by being skewered over a fire, the deer would lick his burns and then said to the torturer: “know impious one that two big birds will grab you and will drop you in the boiler” as it happened. Also at the martyrdom of Saint Eutyhius the animals would speak.
Similar is the case of the wild mules which dragged the corpse of Saint martyr Zoticus, the orphan feeder, to the emperor Constantius. “Even when they were flogged violently by the torturers, the human voice invokes everybody to their triumph over the king’s atrocities and lack of reason, calling him blind and insensitive”.
This amazing phenomenon of talking animals is not foreign in the Old Testament where we have the conversation of Eve with the snake and the donkey of Valaam. Even as these two cases in the Old Testament, subsequently those in the New Testament are given different explanations. Through all these cases, the explanations given confirm the Jewish teaching that all the animals had the grace of speech in paradise until the expulsion of the first created there from.
Others, denying the historical validity of the Bible, consider such narrations as myths. More powerful is the explanation of Holy Chrysostom in his 16th speech on Genesis where he explains the conversation between Eve and the snake, through which it is apparently applicable to all the other similar stories in both the Old and New Testaments. “But perhaps someone may wonder and wish to know if the beast took part in the conversation. May this not be so, for always following the scripture it is necessary to consider that while the saying were of the devil…… the beast was used as a specific tool…….”.
According to this explanation by Saint Chrysostom it is not this animal but God Himself who gives us the message or the devil, as was with Eve and the snake.
Contemporary Saints and Elders
Because the lives of the earlier saints may seem somehow distant from the contemporary world, it would have been an oversight not to mention more recent saints and elders of our days.
a) Saint Seraphim of Sarov: in the life of the saint it is said that he was served by a bear which had as a “Deaconate” to “serve” the saint’s visitors: sometimes he would send the bear for some “need”. “Instead of scaring people, Misa, it is better you go and bring me something good….”. The bear would return holding in her front paws a cob of honey”.
b) In the collections of elder Hadzigeorgis, it is said that the elder made the sign of the cross on the wild boar that was destroying his garden and it remained motionless. He then took it by the ear and closed it in the stable under a “rule”. Three hours later he freed it telling it that if it stepped back he would receive a double “rule”. So it happened.
c) Saint Arsenius the Cappadocian never mounted animals because he did not wish to burden them.
d) From the life of elder Paisius we see that wild birds would approach him and feed from him. When some enlightened one told him that he believed in some power but not in Christ the Saint replied, “you are more stupid than the lizard”. To the great surprise of the man, the elder asked the lizard if Christ existed and the lizard replied by moving its head affirmatively.
Another characteristic with the elder Paisius that reminds us of the prophet Elijah, is the following: “On the Sunday of the blind, being sick, exhausted and hungry he went out to the garden somewhat unhappy because he had nothing to eat. He looked at the sea and saw a large bird rising to the sky, such as a hawk or an eagle that held in its talons a large fish. As it arrived over his cell, it let go of the fish which then dropped in front of his feet. The elder prayed, cooked it and then ate it”.
End of Part – 3