A pre-fall picture
As a crowning over all the wonderful cases in the relations of the Saints with animals, it is perhaps worth mentioning the description from the “Thebaid of the North”. Someone visited Saint Paul of Obnaras who lived in a remote area of the Russian forests. When he saw him he became witness to the following: “A great number of birds surrounded the Saint. The smaller ones even climbed in his shoulders and head and he would feed them with his hands. Close to him was a bear that waited to be fed. Foxes, hares and other animals would mingle without any aggression between them. It was a wonderful picture of the first created innocent Adam in the garden of Eden.
The protectors of the animals: Modesto and Mamas
Our Church expressing her love for the dumb animals made – in view of their specific miracles- the Saints Modesto and Mama their protectors. “Miracles brighten all the earth, from disease and danger you save every soul and your visit soon stops the pernicious infections of the nurslings (=animals).
In the martyrdom of Saint Mamanta it is mentioned that they threw him to the wild beasts, which however stood beside him, joyfully wagging their tails. In agiography, the saint is depicted sometimes riding a lion and other times holding defensively a little doe.
Apparently, from other cases, as well as from Saint Tryphon – protector of gardens- we see that some distinction is made between the wild animals: The saints, even though they generally love the animals, they send away or kill the damaging ones (birds, snakes, locusts) when they become the cause of hardship and suffering of man. The centre of love is God, then man and then the animals, in a relationship based on whether they benefit or harm man, who when benefiting glorifies God.
Church’s blessings on the animals
The Church with her blessings on all the creation – it is not possible not to pray for the animals as well – as for all the creation. This is concluded by the different blessings in the Book of Blessings (Efgologion): blessing against the transmission of animal diseases and of drought.
In particular we see some characteristic excerpts from the blessing of Saint Modesto: “….hearken to this supplication and remove all deadly disease and hurt from the animals (horses, donkeys, mules, sheep, goats, bees and the rest of the animals) that are useful in the lives of your servants…., pity all the suffering animals ….. their suffering and their grief miserably they announce ….. that your servants abundantly enjoy….. being fully self sufficient and having left over in every good work and glorify You, the provider of every thing good”.
Also, in the similar blessing of Saint Mananta we read, ” … the envy of the devil has befallen the flocks and cattle ….and results in evil……that they may be cured from all evil and in remembrance after this period for the glory of God”. Accordingly, in the prayer of silk that You may oversee on the worm…… protect from all poisons and entrapment. Grant the working one that it may not be burdened vainly but enable it to richly fulfill this blessing”. In the prayer for the animals, the Church implores the blessing of the animals as were the flocks of Abraham and ends by saying: “Keep them healthy and brawny…… and guard them oh Lord with Your holy angels”. Finally in a corresponding blessing on drought, ” …… look after the stricture of the birds, the boom of the beasts …. the seeds of the earth scatter for the sustenance of people and animals….”.
Concerning the above prayers we can make the following observations: Firstly, the Church prays -through the saints who composed the prayers- for the good health of the animals and the increase of the fruit of the earth, so that man be self sufficient in necessary goods, but this should not be self serving but “so that there should be left over in all goods” and “glorify” “in remembrance of this time, for the glory of God”. Three are therefore the reasons for the well being of the animals a) so that man may be adequately supplied and not suffer, b) to do good works and c) to glorify the name of God.
Secondly the reason that animals suffer – as was already said- it could be due to some demonic activity: “the devil’s envy”, “protect against all poison and entrapment” and thirdly what is truly impressive and is the punch line of the prayer is on the diseases of the cattle: “guard them oh Lord with the holy angels”.
The animals and the people today
Until the recent traditional society of our country, as life was based on small agricultural communities, the relationships between animals and people were very close as the animals were an integral part of agricultural life, either as domestic animals that were the basic derivative of agricultural pursuits, or as wild animals which sometimes by necessity, they had to be culled because of the damage caused by their overpopulating. There was a certain equilibrium and its basis was by how much was an animal beneficial to man.
In our contemporary, western style urban society, man has drifted away from his natural environment, thus the relationship between man and animal has been disturbed. Phenomena, such as excessive animal loving – such as adoption, hospitalization, inheritance and officially burying dead animals- consist in outrageous transformation of the normal relationship between humans and animals. All this is evidently the result of loneliness of contemporary man. However, is it possible that an ethical problem has been created by this precedence of affection? Towards whom should this love be manifested? Towards man or animals? Is it possible some extreme forms of animal love (“the animal has soul”) take us way back to animal worship? Dog, bird, crocodile worship etc of ancient Egypt?
When the Elder Paisius was asked on the relationship of man with the animals, his reply, despite his known love for the animals, was that the love of man must first be exhausted for man and if there is left over to be directed at the animals. However, while there is this sickly form of zoophilia (excessive love of animals) introduced from the West, we see in parallel another one, also of western origin manifestation towards the environment and the animals. In our days the continuing clashes in Serbia, despite the hypocritical disregard by the Westerners for human life, we become observers of their cynical disregard for the environment with the destruction of flora and fauna of the bombed out areas. It was ascertained that the deer and wild birds migrated en masse from the bombed out areas, why, perhaps because they felt that the intervention occurred for peaceful purposes!
From all that were briefly presented on the relationship of the saints with the animals, we see that before the fall of the first created period, the holiness and grace that covered man flowed from his relationship with the Creator, made the animals feel this grace and live peacefully with man.
After the fall, when the “according to the image” had darkened and the grace was removed, the relationship of man with all the creation became disturbed and the relationship between man and animal became hostile. Despite everything the care of the Father Creator did not stop, since He cared for them in the Ark (For You also cared for the animals in the Ark). In the Old Testament we have seen the saints and the just were protected unharmed by the wild animals (Daniel in the lion pit, Jonah in the belly of the whale, Prophet Elijah and the crow)
In the New Testament we have cases of martyrs who were protected from ‘wild beasts, saints healing wild animals, which not only served them but mourned for the death of saints. In parallel our Church prays for the animals – not however independently- but for the welfare of animals for the benefit of man but also for the glory of God (‘so that You be glorified”).
Besides it was ascertained that the relationship of saints with the animals is not far fetched and fairy tales, as many believe in our time but a tangible reality that continues to our days, as is apparent from the lives of contemporary saints and elders. Even though the answer for the happy relationship, that mostly could sound strange and unreal in our ears, has been exposed in many ways within this small reality and judged expedient – as punch line – to repeat the answer of Abba Paul to the specific question: ” They asked Abba Paul who was catching with his hand horned serpents, scorpions and snakes. Tell us what did you do to receive this gift? Forgive me fathers. If someone attains purity, everything submit to him, as for Adam when he was in Paradise, before he disobeyed the commandment of God”.