MORE ON INNOCENCE
“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150)
Actors are advised that they should never work with children or animals so perhaps I'm asking for trouble by turning from last week's look at the place of children in the Orthodox Church to those other innocents – the animals? Do dogs have souls? Will there be cats in Heaven? The theological, philosophical and even psychological arguments about this could fill a library and whatever I have to say on the subject is bound to upset someone or other!However, it could be argued that such questions are largely irrelevant to the true place of animals in Orthodox thought.
The question of whether or not animals have souls is largely a matter of how one defines a 'soul'. Certainly, there is no doubt in my own mind that at least the 'higher' mammals have some extra spark of life which, if it is not a soul, is something very like it. However, what is far more important is that the animals are, like us, the creatures and creation of God. It is for this reason that St. John Chrysostom, in the very early days of the Church reminded us that “Surely we ought to show kindness and gentleness to animals for many reasons and chiefly because they are of the same origins as ourselves” Another great Father of the Church, St. Basil the Great, put it unequivocally in a lovely prayer: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee better in their place than we in ours.”
As for animals in Heaven, since the Orthodox Church makes no dogmatic statements about what exactly happens to the soul between death and the Second Coming, we are not even sure that we will be in Heaven, let alone our pets. However, when it comes to the ultimate Resurrection of the Body at the end of time, the position becomes much clearer. The new Heaven and the new Earth will involve the sanctification of all creation, including the animals. Literally, “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” As I noted a few weeks ago, it's not for us to know the details of what we will be like in Heaven so it's unlikely that we can know exactly what our former pets will be like. What we can be sure of is that they'll be there. As St. Maximos the Confessor puts it, “Man is not a being isolated from the rest of creation; by his very nature he is bound up with the whole of the universe … On his way to union with God, man in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in his love the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may be transfigured by grace.”
|Gerasimos and his lion|
The story of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan gives a wonderful example of not leaving creatures aside and perhaps a hint of the answer to whether or not animals have souls. A severely ascetic monk of the 5th century, living near the Dead Sea, Gerasimos once found a lion in the desert in great pain from a thorn in its paw. Saying a brief prayer and making the sign of the cross, he carefully removed the thorn, whereupon the lion followed him back to the monastery where it stayed with him peacefully as a pet for many years. It is said that after Gerasimos died, the lion laid down on his grave and pined to death within a few days. The story is well documented but, whether you believe it or not, it certainly tells us something about what our relationship with animals should be and perhaps gives a hint of life in the New Jerusalem.
Certainly, the Orthodox Church has always taught respect for all living creatures, in spite of evidence to the contrary in many Orthodox countries! My favourite guidance is again from the lovely sermon of Elder Zossima in 'Brothers Karamazov': “Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and untroubled joy. Do not, therefore, trouble them, do not torture them, do not deprive them of their joy, do not go against God’s intent. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are without sin, while you with your majesty defile the earth by your appearance on it and you leave the traces of your defilement behind you – alas, this is true of almost every one of us!”
For a wonderful collection of Orthodox writings on the subject of animals, from the Bible to the Church Fathers to modern theologians see L.A. Christensen's website http://members.tripod.com/near_to_god
|A lighter view of the subject but not strictly Orthodox! (Source unknown but many thanks to the artist)|