On COVID-19 outbreaks predictions: Issues on stability, parameter sensitivity, and precision

This is a recently published collaborative article in Stochastic Analysis & Applications, Aug 2020, on the problems of calculating infection rates and outbreaks, etc, of Covid 19, by colleagues from Austria, Chile, Slovakia and  USA, namely:  M. Stehlik, J. Kiselak, M. Alejandro Dinamarca, Y. Li & Y. Ying.”

1. Introduction

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) produced by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is a disease first identified in late 2019 and declared pandemic on March 11. COVID-19 is an international, national and public health emergency [12]. Nevertheless, other important contagious routes such as fecal-oral transmission, has been reported [3]. Fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, and shortness of breath are characteristics symptoms of COVID-19, nevertheless, other such as, diarrhea, loss of smell and taste, and headache, associated with other organs and systems have been recently accepted. Symptoms may appear 2–14 days after exposure. According to [4], the experts extracted data regarding 1,099 patients with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 from 552 hospitals in 30 provinces. We can see that 1.18% of the infected people had direct contact with wild animals, 31.30% had been to Wuhan, and 71.80% had contact with people from Wuhan. The median incubation period for the virus is 3 days (range 0–24 days). In addition, studies have found that COVID-19 spreads rapidly from person to person.

Here we formulate selected statistical, mathematical, and real-life challenges of COVID-19 outbreak prediction. In particular we justify an exponential curve from microbiological point of view as a reasonable model for outbreak of COVID-19 epidemics. We need to point out that information criteria for estimation and prediction are not necessarily reaching their maximums/optimums on the same sampling schemes. Such ill posed information relationships can be formulated in the form of 1-st kind Fredholm equations. Under reasonable regularities and simplicity of the underling process, e.g., autoregressive statistical models, one can apply FIRCEP methodology [5] to obtain such relationships. Such kind of ill-posed information relationships can be formulated also from the perspective of information divergences, and ill-posedness can be translated to normal language as a not-avoidable imprecision of any model with respect to underlying parameter estimation/prediction.

The manuscript is organized as follows. In the following Section 2 we introduce some important information about ill-posed problems. We illustrate ill-posedness on sensitivity of parameter b in a simple exponential growth by using reported data from Iowa State, USA. From economical point of view, for the “restart of country” the correct prediction and estimation of exponential shape of COVID-19 curve plays an important role, this problem has been well visible in Chile. Chile’s economic model is neoliberal doctrine with an important role for the market. The pension system is managed by private operators, the economy is dependent on exports of raw materials such as copper, fishing and agriculture, and medium, small, and micro (family) enterprises. Thus facing the pandemic with strong quarantine measures (e.g., restricted mobility and limited public and private economic activities) is generally a complex problem. According to PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), since the pandemic came to Chile, today (July 1, 2020) there have been monitored 319.493 positive cases and 7.069 deaths. Chile has close to 18 millions of habitants. In this scenario the exponential slope of Chilean COVID-19 growth (positive accumulates cases) can be used as an analytic tool for the proper scaling of governmental policies. On the other hand, the behavior of the exponential growth of COVID-19 in Chile (positive cases) and in particular the slope or rate of contagion, can be used as one of indices of COVID-19 impact on the country’s economy. Since entering the exponential phase, the government has emitted actions and policies of economic aid to face the rise of unemployment to a historic 11.2% (Chilean Institute of Statistics INE) and the fall in the monthly index of economic activity (IMACEC) to −15,3 in May 2020 (Banco Central de Chile). IMACEC is predictive statistics of the per capita gross internal product (PIB) in Chile.

Above mentioned societal issues naturally justify the importance to study the stability and sensitivity of underlying dynamics of an individual outbreak models to the input data and estimated parameters. Also, we still have to analyze some special situations; for example, more samples can be detected daily in the later period, which will also cause the growth of number of infected cases. Moreover, the following observations shall be pointed out: each country is having a different COVID-19 approach and different modeling. Some of countries use discretization of SIR (Susceptible, Infectious, or Removed) model. But not each discretization will be convergent to the same solution of continuous SIR model. Moreover, several effects on equilibrium and stability of SIR has been found, see e.g., [6]. Data from COVID-19 outbreaks are briefly discussed in Section 3. Virological backgrounds for exponential shaped growth curves of COVID-19 outbreak are given in Section 4. In Section 5, we provide a parameter sensitivity study, both from theoretical and empirical perspective, for SIR model without vital dynamics. In the last Section 6, we give concluding remarks and overview of selected important issues for the proper modeling of COVID-19 outbreak.

2. A sensitivity of exponential model to the input/starting parameter

Ill posed problems and parameter estimation are difficult issues for COVID-19 growth models. The random perturbation of parameters can have serious effects on the quality of modeling. As said by Paul Krée in the Preface of [7]: “Random phenomena has increasing importance in Engineering and Physics, therefore theoretical results are strongly needed. But there is a gap between the probability theory used by mathematicians and practitioners. Two very different languages have been generated in this way…”

One can indeed observe several discrepancies between COVID-19 policy makers and modelers, possibly caused by the usage of different languages. In principle simple growth models (like the exponential one aebtaebt or SIR model) looks to be attractive for a straightforward implementation with ad-hoc disretization schemes and various estimation techniques. Thus sensitivity of these models to the principal parameters, e.g. b in case of exponential growth or β in the case of SIR may deceive its user. An independent observer may wonder why the same mistakes in the estimation of outbreaks has been repeated again and again in various countries by using the same models, even when time shift has allowed some possibilities to learn from the mistakes of others. On the other hand we did not want to simplify the whole situation and overemphasize the theory of calibration, estimation and regularization. But more caution is needed in these areas. In the next subsection, we introduce a distributed dynamical system from the stability perspective.

2.1. Distributed dynamical systems

Distributed parameter systems are everywhere. Because they are difficult to deal with, engineers generally avoid partial differential equations. They reason that lumped parameter models will generally suffice and in recent years, finite element analysis has provided a real verification of that idea and the tools to work with. However, there are still some benefits from thinking things in terms of continuum mechanics. The dynamical distributed systems can be very useful for so called inverse problems. Estimation of various flow and mass transport parameters can be seen as the inverse problem of groundwater modeling (see e.g., [8]).

The mathematical term well-posed problem stems from a definition given by Hadamard (see [9]). He believed that mathematical models of physical phenomena should have the properties that

  1. A solution exists
  2. The solution is unique
  3. The solution depends continuously on the data, in some reasonable topology.

Examples of archetypal well-posed problems include the Dirichlet problem for Laplace’s equation, and the heat equation with specified initial conditions. These might be regarded as “natural” problems in that there are physical processes that solve these problems. By contrast the backwards heat equation, deducing a previous distribution of temperature from final data is not well-posed in that the solution is highly sensitive to changes in the final data. Problems that are not well-posed in the sense of Hadamard are termed ill-posed. Inverse problems are often ill-posed. Such continuum problems must often be discretized in order to obtain a numerical solution. While in terms of functional analysis such problems are typically continuous, they may suffer from numerical instability when solved with finite precision, or from errors in the data. A measure of well-posedness of a discrete linear problem is the condition number. If a problem is well-posed, then it stands a good chance of solution on a computer using a stable algorithm. If it is not well-posed, it needs to be re-formulated for a numerical treatment. Typically this involves adding some additional assumptions, such as smoothness of the solution. Such a process is known as regularization.

To illustrate mathematical inverse problems, let us consider differentiation. We can construct a simple example with sequence fn,Δ(x)=f(x)+Δ sin (nxΔ),fn,Δ(x)=f(x)+Δ sin (nxΔ), where f and fn,Δfn,Δ are the exact and perturbed data. For an arbitrary small data error Δ,Δ, the error in the result can be arbitrary large: the derivative does not depend continuously on the data with respect to the uniform norm. Following [10] we have demonstrated some effects that are typical for ill-posed problems, i.e.,

  1. amplification of high frequency errors;
  2. restoration of stability by using a-priory information;
  3. two error terms of different nature, one for the approximation; error, the other one for the propagation of the data error, adding up to a total error;
  4. loss of information even under optimal circumstances;
  5. the appearance of an optimal discretization parameter, whose choice depends on a-priori information.

2.2. Parameter stability and sensitivity

Modeling of evolution of infectious disease is important since it can helps to predict the future course of an outbreak and to evaluate strategies to control an epidemic. Naturally, models are only as good as the assumptions on which they are based. We believe that parametric modeling is the most common form of modeling used (represented often by a distributed dynamical system). While it is rather straightforward to test the appropriateness of parameters, it can be more difficult to test the validity of the general mathematical form of a model. What is worse, even in the positive case, the sensitivity of the solution to parameter changes (initial conditions included) must be taken into account. In general, it doesn’t really matter if it is deterministic or stochastic, continuous or a discrete model. Similar considerations hold essentially to all of them.

Let X be a smooth manifold. The mapping ϕ:X×R→Xϕ:X×R→X (ϕ:X×Z→Xϕ:X×Z→X) is called the continuous (discrete) Ck-dynamical system on X if

  1. ϕ(x,0)=xϕ(x,0)=x for all x∈X;x∈X;
  2. mapping ϕt:X→X, ϕt(x)=ϕ(x,t)ϕt:X→X, ϕt(x)=ϕ(x,t) is the Ck -diffeomorphisms for all t∈R (Z);t∈R (Z);
  3. ϕt+s=ϕt°ϕsϕt+s=ϕt°ϕs for all t,s∈R (Z).t,s∈R (Z).

ϕ is often called the evolution function of the dynamical system and X a phase (state) space. Most common construction of dynamical systems is given by initial value problems of ordinary differential equations (or difference equations for discrete case). We illustrate it in the next on typical (evolving in time t) parametrized ODE systemẋ =f(x,θ,t),ẋ=f(x,θ,t),(1)where x∈Rnx∈Rn is the state vector, θ∈Rpθ∈Rp is the vector of parameters and f:Rn+p+1→Rnf:Rn+p+1→Rn represents the dynamics. Naturally, initial state is represented by the initial condition 1x(t0)=x0.x(t0)=x0.(2)

Here indisputable fact is that this condition may depend on the parameters, i.e., x0=x0(θ).x0=x0(θ). The above representation subsumes the case where the initial condition may itself be seen as a parameter. We assume here that all dependencies are smooth enough to do analysis. Notice that the solution of (2) is parametrized evolution function x(x0,t0;θ;t)=:ϕt(x0;θ),x(x0,t0;θ;t)=:ϕt(x0;θ), i.e., a parametrized dynamical system. Notice that in some literature a dynamical system is triple (T,X,ϕ),T(T,X,ϕ),T is a monoid (usually RR or ZZ).

2.2.1. Stability

Here we assume that x0x0 does not depend on θθ (however it might depend on other parameter ββ). Solution x(t;θ,t0,x0)x(t;θ,t0,x0) of given model is stable 2 if for every (small) ϵ>0,ϵ>0, there exists a δ>0δ>0 such that having initial conditions within distance δ i.e., ||x0−x1||<δ||x0−x1||<δ remains within distance ϵϵ i.e., ||x(t;θ,t0,x0)−x(t;θ,t0,x1)||<ϵ||x(t;θ,t0,x0)−x(t;θ,t0,x1)||<ϵ for all t≥t0.t≥t0. Notice that δ can depend only on ϵ.ϵ. That means a resistance to change in time (the trajectories do not change too much under small perturbations). The opposite situation means instability. Typical example of instable system is an exponential growth, which is a natural model of COVID-19 outbreak. Thus the main purpose of developing stability theory is to examine dynamic responses of a system to disturbances as the time approaches infinity. But in practical situations this is not the goal. The predictions we are interested in COVID-19 outbreak models, are short-term predictions, e.g., 2-weeks. These short-term predictions motivate the next notion, sensitivity. Here natural question arises, how the instability relates to sensitivity.

2.2.2. Sensitivity

Sensitivity analysis [11] is used to determine how the parameters of a model influence its outputs, i.e., to study of how the uncertainty in the output can depend on different sources of uncertainty in its inputs. If the observables are highly sensitive to perturbations in certain parameters then these parameters are likely to be identifiable. There is sometimes hard to answer the question how the magnitude of the sensitivities can be interpreted. What is also important to mention is that in linear case a nonzero right hand side (nonhomogeneous system) might influence sensitivity in contrast to stability. Due to smoothness in sensitivity analysis methods we use so called n × p matrix of sensitivity functionsS=∇θx,S=∇θx,(3)which can be understood as a local sensitivity measure. I.e., Sij is related to sensitivity of xi to parameter θj . It can be shown by the chain rule that it satisfies the following ODE matrix systemṠ =(∇xf) S+∇θfṠ=(∇xf) S+∇θf(4)with initial condition S(t0)=∇θx0(θ).S(t0)=∇θx0(θ). It is very helpful especially when the explicit form of solution is not known. I.e., we do need to solve dynamical system to study its sensitivity. S can also be used to study the evolution of the state covariance matrix of the joint vector of the state and the parameters under the assumption of multivariate Normal distribution and a first-order discretization of Equation (4).

It is often better to explain arising differences as a percentage. Here the elasticity can be used. For simplicity now assume f:R→R.f:R→R. The ratio of the relative (percentage) change in the function’s output with respect to the relative change in its input is called elasticity and when considering a smooth function f of a variable at point a it is defined asEf(a)=af(a)f'(a)=d ln f(a)d ln alimx→a1−f(x)f(a)1−xa≈%Δf(a)%Δa.Ef(a)=af(a)f′(a)=d ln f(a)d ln alimx→a1−f(x)f(a)1−xa≈%Δf(a)%Δa.

Clearly, the elasticity 3 can also be defined if the input and/or output is consistently negative (away from zero). The elasticity of a function f is a constant α if and only if the function has the form f(x)=Cxα,f(x)=Cxα, i.e., a power functions. There exist also generalizations to multi-input-multi-output cases in the literature. We also use notation EcfEcf for the elasticity of function f w.r.t to parameter c.

2.3 A Malthusian growth model (a simple exponential growth model)

This model is the unique solution of (1) with (2) in the formẋ =b x,ẋ=b x,(5)x(t0)=a,x(t0)=a,(6)

i.e., n=1, p=2,n=1, p=2, and θ=(a,b)T.θ=(a,b)T. We admit here only b > 0 and a > 0.Remark 2.1.

Of course in this case one can obtain all forthcoming information directly from explicit form of the solutionx(t)=a eb (t−t0)x(t)=a eb (t−t0)(7)since it is known.

From the stability point of view it is clear that here we deal with instability. This follows directly from the fact that derivative is positive. But we are more interested in sensitivity. This is because for COVID-19 outbreak estimation and prediction we have to know how the evolution behaves e.g., in two weeks, not in a long-term periods like twelve months. Sensitivity system of Equation (3) has the formṠ 1=b S1,Ṡ 2=b S2+x,Ṡ1=b S1,Ṡ2=b S2+x,(8)with S1(t0)=∂x∂a(t0)=1S1(t0)=∂x∂a(t0)=1 and S2(t0)=∂x∂b(t0)=0S2(t0)=∂x∂b(t0)=0 following from (6).

We do not need to solve system (8) either. Clearly one can find first integral as followsdxx=dS1S1,dxx=dS1S1,which is equivalent to S1=k x.S1=k x. Moreover, after appropriate multiplication and addition of equations we get Ṡ 2x−S2ẋ =x2,Ṡ2x−S2ẋ=x2, which yieldsddt(S2x)=1.ddt(S2x)=1.

Thus using initial states we have S1=xaS1=xa and S2=x(t−t0).S2=x(t−t0). Now we want to express the change in the output quantity as a percentage of the nominal value of parameters. Often we can computeEax=ax ∂x∂a=a S1x,   Ebx=bx ∂x∂b=b S2xEax=ax ∂x∂a=a S1x,   Ebx=bx ∂x∂b=b S2xeven if we do not know explicit form of a solution. Indeed, thanks to result above we have Eax=1Eax=1 and Ebx=b(t−t0).Ebx=b(t−t0). From percentage sensitivity functions we can conclude

  1. When parameter a is changed by 1%, the state change is also permanently 1%.
  2. When parameter b is changed by p%, the percentage change of state x increases with time linearly. The change in status is linear function of its nominal value, i.e., p100b(t−t0)%.p100b(t−t0)%.

For the better illustration see also Figures 1–4. To perform sensitivity analyses on the population sizes with respect to the uncertain parameters one can use a full factorial design. One can read a lot from graphical representation of sensitivity indices. In the lower subplot of Figure 5, the sensitivity indices (from package multisensi with design.args = list(b = c(0.08,0.12,0.16),a = c(82,122,162))) for the main effects and the first-order interactions at time t are given. Their lengths are normalized and differentiated by colors along the vertical bar. One would might to deduce that at first week the population size is sensitive to the main effect of a. However, the upper subplot illustrates how output quantiles (the extreme (tirets), inter-quartile (grey) and median (bold line) output values at all time steps) vary along the time steps. Thus, we can avoid over-interpretation of the sensitivity indices since the variability between simulations is low at these times.

Figure 1. A difference in parameter implies more than a double difference in output.

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Figure 2. A graphical justification of parameter sensitivity from Figure 1 by the means of elasticity.

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Figure 3. Equality of proportional change of parameter and data output.

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Figure 4. A graphical justification of parameter sensitivity from Figure 3 by the means of constant elasticity.

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Figure 5. Graphical representation of the sensitivity indices generated by the package multisensi.

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Here we comment on the recent number of COVID-19 infected in Iowa State, USA and we also compare such a real data to the models predicting the number of infections in Hubei Province in China and New York State, USA. By the visual check (see Figure 6) we adopt an exponential distribution model as a suitable fit for the initial prediction of the number of infected people during the outbreak. Microbiological justification of such model is given in Section 4. The number of people who touched the previous day is used as the starting point and it is calculated according to the exponential model. Several important questions related to challenges of outbreak modeling arisen, namely: What impact does the use of different starting points have? How does the growth rate change in short periods? Are the choices of starting point influential for the growth rate? As follows we will illustrate numerical instability of estimation of starting value bstart, naturally, further implementation of exponential nonlinear model x(t)=aebtx(t)=aebt will be effected by different bstart parameters.

Figure 6. Exponential fitting.

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In the next Figures 7–9, we plotted variability of parameters for the Iowa data. In Figure 7 we plotted the variability of bstart in the outbreak period in which cumulatively 300 people were infected. Here we used the previous date as date zero (starting date), thus astart serves as the starting point. At Figure 8a, we plot bstart prediction for the nearest 4 weeks, at Figure 8b, we calculated bstart for the nearest half-month and at Figure 8c, we calculated bstart for the nearest month. The graph on Figure 6 shows that the increase of infected people in Iowa approximately follow the exponential distribution. But if we count different period of time, will the growth rate change a lot? Can we use that to predict a future data? And why the changes happen? On Figure 9 we depict behavior of bstart parameter for a longer period from April 25th until May 23rd.

Figure 7. Fluctuation of bstart.

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Figure 8. Fluctuation of bstart.

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Figure 9. Behavior of bstart parameter based on Iowa data from April 25th until May 23rd 2020.

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We can conclude from the Figures 7–9 that the growth rate fluctuated a lot even during a relatively short period of time during COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa. But why this happens? We may thing about some main reasons: the changes of test approach, increase of tested cases, delays of getting test results, social distance policies, among others. Moreover, sensitivity of the parameters of the model and its ill-posedeness played a fundamental role.

We used the different growth rates from closed 2 weeks to predict for follow-up 2 weeks: Due to that, we can see the choice of growth rate causes the huge differences between individual predictions, the error between two rates is also increasing exponentially, see Figure 10. Summing up, it causes more than 10,000 difference only in 2 weeks, see Figure 11. These graphical exercises illustrate the importance of parameter sensitivity phenomenon in the COVID-19 outbreak models.

Figure 10. Fluctuation of bstart.

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Figure 11. Prediction for future 2 weeks.

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3. On COVID-19 outbreaks

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine Study also made predictions of COVID-19 in Iowa. The study conducted before the end of March 2020 said the most recent estimate predicts 349 deaths by August 4 with a peak on May 4. Nationwide the study predicts that 74,073 people will die by August 4, which is higher than the study’s previous estimate of 67,641, because longer epidemic peaks in some states and that deaths were not falling as quickly as anticipated.

We sampled (at the end of March) the populations and the number of confirmed cases and deaths in some counties in Iowa. We found that Polk county was the top one in both population and confirmed cases. But Black Hawk and Woodbury, with populations nearly four times smaller than Polk’s, are in the top three with more than 1,000 confirmed cases. We looked for the median age of several counties (Polk: 35.8; Black Hawk: 34.9; Woodbury: 35.6; Linn: 37.4; Marshall: 38.5; Dallas: 35.1; Johnson: 29.9). So we can conjecture that the number of confirmed cases in each county depends on age. Mortality Rate in Iowa State have been by then 2.1%.

Then we chosen the five counties with the highest number of confirmed cases. We found that adult and middle age groups have the highest rates of infection. In contrast, children and elderly have lower rates of confirmed cases. However, the death rate of elderly was significantly higher than that of other age groups. So, we can conjecture that older people, although they may not be confirmed of large amount like adult group due to the less activities and smaller population, they are also more likely to die from a variety of diseases and weakened immune systems. In fact, older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease, or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. All these factors can be good candidates for covariates of the outbreak models (Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1. Age groups with confirmed cases.

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Table 2. Age groups with deaths.

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3.1. Chile: Heterogeneity rules the country

Chile is a geographical and demographical heterogenous country, practically each region is having a different COVID-19 incidence curve, domination is given by Santiago (the most populated, 5.614 million habitants) and Valparaiso. There is a delay in data, namely 3–4 days, because of medical system. Quality of administrative data should be further analyzed. A common aspect is a possible correlation between population densities and incidence values. However, it can be seen that there are gaps in the entry into the increase phase of positive cases. According to the Chilean heath authorities the averages of positives for COVID-19 is 8.384 (with a DESVEST of 25,869 (Ministerio de Salud web page, June 7, 2020). The variation can be explained by demographical and geographical aspect in a first instance, nevertheless other factors such as ecology and undiscovered contagious routes can be also considered.

Chilean COVID-19 policies include promoting social distancing and the obligation to use personal protection elements in public areas. Quarantine-bound confinement is implemented gradually and slowly in large cities such as Santiago, considering the incidence and hospital capacity.

With the COVID-19 outbreak we can see that lots of infected cases online are growing almost exponentially. The reason why we use exponential growth to model coronavirus outbreaks is that, based on previous epidemics, the first phase of a pandemic follows exponential growth. Further justifications from the virological perspective are given in the next section 4. The exponential growth function is not necessarily the perfect representation of the COVID-19 growth, however, at the beginning of the covid outbreak it looks to be a reasonable surrogate.

4. Virological backgrounds for exponential shaped growth curves for COVID-19 outbreak

Before we start with microbiological backgrounds, we will illustrate in the following Example 4.1 the exponential growth function.Example 4.1.

Exponential growth function on NY and Hubei data

Graphs on Figure 12 plot the cumulative data of number of infected people and death for Hubei and New York state, and we can see the exponential growth of infected people at the initial stage of outbreak. This motivates an exponential model x(t)=aebt,x(t)=aebt, where x refers to the number of infected people, a > 0 is the starting point, b≥0b≥0 is a growth rate and time (days) t≥t0t≥t0 (here we set t0=0t0=0).

Figure 12. Number of infected and deceased people for Hubei (top) and NY (bottom).

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In this section we provide microbiological and virological reasons for the exponential growth function. At least three levels of virus spread must be considered in predictive models; cellular level (replicative mechanism), individuals level (organs, anatomy, age, live cycle), and community level (demography, economy, ecosystems).

  • Replication of SARS-COV-2 at the cellular level. SARS-COV-2 is an enveloped virus containing a single-stranded positive-sense RNA genome. Once the virus binds and enters to the target cell, a complex life cycle mechanism begins using directly the RNAss producing genomic a sub-genomic RNAs. At the same time, a complex mechanism to assemble and releases virions is activated. This process finally destroys the infected cell and spread millions of mature virions.
  • SARS-COV-2 spreading at the individuals level. Once the virus infects a person, SARS-COV-2 attack an important diversity of cell types affecting different tissues and organs present in the respiratory system, nervous system, digestive system and renal system. This happens because SARS-COV-2 targets tissues whose cells are expressing the widely present Human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). For this reason, the limited original symptoms were extended to a variety of symptoms ranging from headaches, sore throats, respiratory difficulties, loss of senses (smell and taste), and diarrhea. In this scenario, considering only the original symptoms for medical care or for circulation restriction measures dismisses potential virus disseminators and therefore does not limit the route of transmission. Likewise, since recently has been described that SARS-COV-2 is present in human feces and also has been detected in untreated urban wastewater samples, implies a potential second route of dissemination. The dissemination route currently recognized by the WHO is through the respiratory tract, however, food contaminated by feces (fecal-oral route) and contact with human secretions, among others, should not be ruled out a priori. It is important to consider and understand the rapid and wide spread of COVID-19 pathology in the global population.

4.1. Considerations and assumptions for predictive models of the evolution of COVID-19 in a population

4.1.1. The SARS-COV-2 contagion curves reflect microbial growth under controlled conditions

At the population level the tendencies of dissemination of SARS-COV-2 in each country (measured by the number of daily infected) follow the same trend of a classic microbial growth under controlled conditions. Thus we can consider three phases: a first phase is latency, a second phase is exponential growth, and finally a stabilization phase.

  • Latency phase It would correspond to the moment when SARS-COV-2 would cross the species barrier and reach man from its natural animal reservoir. From our point of view this event is neither necessarily unique and happening in a single city, nor it could be assumed that SARS-COV-2 has been in the human population since December 2019 to date. The first contact may have been much earlier and not necessarily associated with a single person exposed for the first time to a contaminated animal. The initially proposed scenario can generate inconsistency for any model that is currently used. That is, the so-called patient 0 and the trips to and from China do not necessarily help to explain the spread of the pandemic. Hence, understanding and studying the extent of the virus latency phase is very important, given that it was the time when the virus could have evolved through mutations, thus making humans a new host or reservoir suitable for the replication.
  • Exponential phase. The contagion trends, of positive SARS CoV 2 to rtPCR assay, in each country or city, reflect this phase of microbial growth in optimal conditions. In fact, it is possible to determine a slope, a growth rate and finally establish the maximum rate or rate of infection. For adequate predictive models, in this phase, it is essential to consider asymptomatic infected people or with mild symptoms as vectors of infection. Likewise, it is important to consider that the routes of contagion must be expanded and not necessarily limited to direct contact. For example, faecal-oral contamination should be considered as occurs with foodborne illness. This is very important considering that the virus has been reported to be present in human feces from symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. In fact, the presence of SARS-COV-2 has also been detected in urban wastewater.
  • Stationary phase. The objective of predictive models is to establish the time of COVID-19 arrival. Beside that proper protective policies can be created based on individuals behavior and governmental actions.

Taking into consideration that the exponential phase indicates the active presence and spread of SARS-COV-2 circulating in a city, region, or country, it is essential to develop models that can help to predict and/or reduce the impact on health systems and local economies. At the same time that they allow verifying the effectiveness of the implemented sanitary measures. A model based on the comparison of growth rates and their duration in a city or country, should take as reference the growth of a virus in its optimal conditions. For this, some analogies and assumptions must be taken into account. In the bacterial exponential growth model, each bacterium has unlimited nutritional resources, favorable environmental conditions and an adequate metabolism that permit the maximal rate of genome replication and cells division. In spite that viruses do not have metabolisms, like bacteria require replicates its genomes in an adequate environment (human cells and community). In this context, the following assumptions can be made:

  • Assumption 1: The current pandemic curves in each country reflect replication of microorganisms in an ecosystem with favorable conditions. When a microorganism such as bacteria find ideal conditions for their development, that is, they are adapted to the environment, they begin an exponential growth based on the duplication of each generation. The doubling time is the time it takes for a generation to double, and this stage of growth is exponential and the slope of the curve at this stage represents the rate of growth. In turn, during the exponential phase, the microorganism will reach what is called the maximum growth rate (μmax ) and that is the one in which the doubling occurs in the shortest time during the exponential phase.
  • Assumption 2: For SARS-COV-2 to be able to spread in a population, it is required that the individuals provide a metabolic, enzymatic and genetic machinery to produce infectious SARS-COV-2 particles. For this to be effective, individuals must have favorable conditions for viral replication and that involve: age, physiological status, immune status. These conditions should not represent barriers for SARS-COV-2 to replicate. For example, a healthy individual with an active immune system should not be considered as a contagion vector or, “as an adequate substrate for the success in the spread of SARS-COV-2.”
  • Assumption 3: The spread implies the interaction between SARS-COV-2 and people, being all the possible routes of contagion and that include, direct contact, fecal-oral contamination by contaminated food, spread in indoor closed spaces (similar to disease outbreaks). In practice, a person can be infected by at least three routes.

Consideration of a Monod-based model (see also [ 12 ]). In this sense, and taking into account what Monod proposed in 1947, it is possible to establish the following model proposal.

  • Evaluate the kinetics of the exponential phase at the country and city level.
  • Develop a statistical methodology to establish whether or not there is a correlation with the population size/density in the country.
  • Consider the concept of human vectors to the susceptible population.
  • Establish a risk factor to measure, at the city level, the number of people susceptible to becoming ill (symptomatic potentials: diabetics, hypertensive patients, age, pharmacological treatment, immunocompromised, etc.) and the total population of the city.

5. The SIR model without vital dynamics

The SIR model is one of the oldest and simplest of models of an infectious disease in a population that breaks the population into three groups. Birth and death are often omitted in simple compartmental models since the dynamics of an epidemic, for example, the flu, are often much faster. The SIR system can be expressed by the following set of ordinary differential equationsdSdt=−βIS,dIdt=βIS−γI,dRdt=γI,dSdt=−βIS,dIdt=βIS−γI,dRdt=γI,where S is the proportion of susceptible population, I is the proportion of infected, R is the proportion of removed population (either by death or recovery). Notice that there is not known an explicit form of the solution. However the fact that S(t)+I(t)+R(t)=1S(t)+I(t)+R(t)=1 implies that one need only study the equation for two of the three variables.Remark 5.1.

(EXPONENTIAL OUTBREAK). Notice that at the beginning S≈1S≈1 yields I’=(β−γ)I=bI.I′=(β−γ)I=bI. Thus at the beginning we are basically estimating exponential growth. This can allow us to determine starting condition for parameters discussed in Section 2.3.

We note that the dynamics of the infectious class depends on so-called basic reproduction number r0=βγ.r0=βγ. It can be thought of as the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection. It is not a biological constant for a pathogen as it is also affected by other factors such as environmental conditions and the behavior of the infected population. Thus it does not by itself give an estimate of how fast an infection spreads in the population. The most important uses of r 0 are determining if an emerging infectious disease can spread in a population.

We have used packages deSolve and FME to solve a system of differential equations and to perform a sensitivity analysis. Typical behavior of S and I is plotted on Figure 13(a). The choice of parameters is β=1.4β=1.4 and γ=0.2.γ=0.2. On Figure 13(b) one can see a global sensitivity analysis of parameters varied over a range β∈[1.2,1.6]β∈[1.2,1.6] and γ∈[0.1,0.3].γ∈[0.1,0.3]. The effect on model output variables is measured by defining a distribution for each sensitivity parameter and the model is run multiple times. Then envelopes are added to the variables showing the range and mean ± standard deviation. In a local sensitivity analysis, the effect of a parameter value in a very small region near its nominal value is estimated. It is good for example, to see which model parameters are more sensitive than the others. From Figure 14 we can deduce that β have the largest values for the sensitivity function, on average, suggesting that this model is most sensitive to this parameter. This is not so surprising. Furthermore, this sensitivity shows peaks on both parameters. This tells us the information about sensitivity of specific times. Finally on Figure 15 we can see how the 1% and 10% increase of β increase the proportion of infected individuals in specific times. Evidently it is not linear.

Figure 13. Behavior of S and I and global sensitivity analysis of parameters.

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Figure 14. Analysis of local sensitivity of parameters.

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Figure 15. Increase of the proportion of infected individuals.

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Now, imagine that we have reliable estimation of parameters β and γ. The question is if the forecast fitting is also qualitatively good. Thus one need a method to compare a goodness-of-fit. We have used an accuracy measure based on percentage (or relative) errors defined as follows:SMAPE/2=100%n∑t=1n|Ft−At||At|+|Ft|SMAPE/2=100%n∑t=1n|Ft−At||At|+|Ft|(9)

It is the half of symmetric mean absolute percentage error. Actually it is defined as the average of the difference of actual value At and the forecast value Ft weighted by their absolute values. The value of (9) is within range of 0% and 100% and thus it is easy to be interpreted. We illustrate this on SIR model fitting for 6 countries. See Figure 16, where on (a) we have used observation of 14 days for fitting (parameters estimation). Clearly in some cases (Iowa, Hubei, Chile) SIR fits quite well since SMAPE/2∈(7%,9%)./2∈(7%,9%). Nevertheless for NY, Slovakia it is worse and SMAPE/2∈(14%,29%)./2∈(14%,29%). However much more important is how the fitting will evolve in the near future. On Figure 16(b) we see the results. Evidently the prediction is not good even for the one week, since there is an increase to SMAPE/2∈(19%,25%)/2∈(19%,25%) and SMAPE/2∈(26%,38%),/2∈(26%,38%), respectively. Thus, SIR model is insensitive even within a short time periods.

Figure 16. COVID-19 fitted (red) vs. observed (black) incidence.

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6. Conclusions and discussion

The number of infected people is an integer valued mapping R→N.R→N. This is typical for modeling a phenomenon evolving in continuous time when the state variable can only take integer values. On the other hand, although we model time as continuum, in practice the measurement of time is always discrete. In particular in the medical sciences, economics etc. time is usually measured, for example, in minutes, days, months or years. One can use positive integers to denote a time. Even if we have short time differences it leads typically to discretization of the continuous model. But what is the effect of discretization (considered as mathematical modeling methodology) on the dynamical behavior of the outbreak model? Can the output change dramatically? What about stability or sensitivity? What about convergence of discretized solution to a continuous one?

One can have a closer look on the switch between discrete and continuous time for the model. From perspective of the fundamentals of dynamical systems see e.g., [13]. Since every continuous dynamical system defines the discrete dynamical system (indeed ϕ:X×Rϕ:X×R defines ϕ˜=ϕ∣∣X×Zϕ˜=ϕ|X×Z), a natural question arises, whether something similar holds in the backward direction. According to the following theorem by Palis (see [13], page 70) we know that there are only a few diffeomorphisms, which can be embedded into a continuous C 0-dynamical system. In a topological space (X,S)(X,S) a set A⊂XA⊂X is everywhere-dense if it is dense in X, i.e., A¯¯¯=X.A¯=X. Moreover we say that it is massive in X, if it contains a set that can be expressed as a countable intersection of open everywhere-dense sets. Notice that every complete metric space is a Baire space, i.e., every its massive subset is an everywhere-dense set.Theorem 6.1.

(J. Palis [13], page 70). Let X be a smooth manifold. There exist a massive subset G of the set of diffeomorphisms from X onto X such that if f∈Gf∈G then f cannot be embedded into a C0-dynamical system.

We can deduce from the previous theorem that the class of discrete dynamical systems is “broader” with respect to the structure of their trajectories than the class of continuous dynamical systems.

In [6] authors present four discrete epidemic models with the nonlinear incidence rate using the forward Euler and backward Euler methods. They discuss the effect of two discretizations on the stability of the endemic equilibrium for these models. The sufficient conditions for the stability of the endemic equilibria is established and they emphasize that it can lose stability and the Hopf bifurcation and chaos occur which is not present in the continuous models.

Summarizing, we point out some selected but important aspects for modeling of COVID-19 outbreaks as follows.

  • Quality of the data. Do we have perfect data for modeling? E.g., number of infected people usually comes from a controlled testing and not from the random sample.
  • Spatiotemporal parameter dependence. Parameters (e.g., β,γβ,γ) might often depend on time or space variables.
  • Real dimension of parametric space. These parameters can even depend on other factors, conditions or covariates (sex, age, social….), which makes modeling multidimensional. Clearly too few number of parameters can be insufficient, but over-parametrization is also unacceptable.
  • Delayed systems. Real processes often include aftereffect phenomena in their inner dynamics. Here come time-delay systems on the scene. In the worst case scenarios (time-varying delays, for instance), a lot of caution is needed. Ad-hoc fitting of the models may be potentially disastrous in terms of stability and oscillations.
  • Parameter identifiability. There is a question whether the parameters of a model can be identified (uniquely or with several solutions) from a specified input-output experiment if perfect data are available. E.g., for linear, time-invariant models, there are several approaches available for this aspect of identifiability analysis. In general identifiability is a property which must be satisfied in order the model can guarantee a precise inference. Usually the model is identifiable only under certain technical restrictions.
  • Discretization of model (see also the time scale calculus).
  • Non-uniqueness of the solution of the model and prediction. Bifurcations.
  • Misinterpretation of the results. E.g., the difference between cumulative and active variable of a dynamical system (active infected individuals vs. cumulative number of infected individuals)
  • Intrinsic and latent heterogeneity. In a specific country one can define several social groups which can contribute in a heterogeneous way to whole country epidemiological curves.


Authors acknowledge the Slovak Research and Development Agency under the contract no. APVV-17-0568. We acknowledge the professional support of Editor-in-Chief, the unknown Associate Editor and Referees for their constructive comments. The authors are grateful to the bilateral projects Bulgaria – Austria, 2016–2019, ‘Feasible statistical modeling for extremes in ecology and finance’, BNSF, Contract number 01/8, 23/08/2017 and WTZ Project No. BG 09/2017, https://pavlinakj.wordpress.com/.


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2 This is stability in the sense of Lyapunov. There exist also notions of other types of stability.

3 Notice, that thanks to logarithm the rules for finding the elasticity of products and quotients are simpler than those for derivatives but sum and subtraction rule does not hold.

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We have been contacted today by the CEO of the Save the Asian Elephant animal protection group www.stae.org. They have asked us to comment on the below question, which is part of their latest action – the presentation to the UK government of a draft Parliamentary Bill.

Q: Highly endangered baby and calf Asian elephants are routinely snatched from the wild, isolated, starved and tortured for weeks by stabbing and ripping, beatings with planks and iron rods to “break their spirits” for easy use in tourist “entertainment” – rides, tricks, selfies – reinforced by constant, often fatal beatings throughout their life. Hundreds of tour companies in UK profit from driving up demand for such venues.  A petition (http://bit.ly/STAEpetition) demanding new UK law to ban such adverts and sales, and to allow ads for genuine sanctuaries only, has 1 million signatures of support. Should the UK Govt now act to introduce such law?  

I learnt of this ‘training’ process some thirty years ago and yet this evil, like so many other forms of evil perpetrated upon His creation, continues unabated.

Here is our response:

” The Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals Charity and the Eastern Orthodox Church denounces all forms of cruelty to the animal creation. Our Patriarchs are clear – cruelty to the animal creation is a sin with consequences for human salvation. We urge the UK government to continue its historical mandate to lead the way in Animal Protection Law by adopting the STAE’s proposed Parliamentary Bill, in order to reduce and prevent extreme cruelty to Asian Elephants. ”

For those of you who do not know of the brutal treatment involved in ‘taming’ elephants for human entertainment, or indeed as part of the process of using them as working animals, here are three photos that depict the process:

Baby before treatment
Part of the spirit breaking ‘taming’ process
For those who survive the ‘taming’ – chained and submissive through fear.

Please sign the petition and share: http://bit.ly/STAEpetition

Dr Christina Nellist. B.Ed; Ph.D, FOCAE. Editor of Pan Orthodox Concern For Animals.

Christina Nellist’s ‘Eastern Orthodox Christianity And Animal Suffering:Ancient Voices in Modern Theology’ Reviewed By Nikolaos Asproulis

Due to its strong liturgical, or rather meta-historical vision, the Orthodox Church often expresses an ambiguity towards its engagement with historical and social affairs, focusing instead on the transfiguration of the present aeon through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That being said, one should not fail to point also to those few voices, either of clergy or lay people, who dare, following the example of the great Church Fathers of the past, to dialogue with the challenges posed by (post)modernity—not by rejecting the patristic character and liturgical/Eucharistic nature of the Church, but by robustly elaborating a theology of life and practice relevant for the needs of the world today.

In this light Christina Nellist’s study of Eastern Orthodoxy and animal suffering cannot but be received as a welcome surprise. It is the first scholarly book on this topic from an Orthodox point of view, although clearly influenced by the increasing concern in the broader world regarding ecological issues. Indeed, while this topic has been long debated in secular and other Christian contexts, the Orthodox now face the difficulty of responding to this challenge. In the introduction, the author presents her overarching hypothesis that Eastern Orthodoxy has the means, resources, and sufficient teachings to articulate a clear vision on the topic, something that she develops in detail in the subsequent chapters.

Christina Nellist’s Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering, reviewed by Nikolaos Asproulis
ISBN: 978-1527541269
Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing on January 1, 2020
Language: English
Pages: 436

From the very beginning, the author’s basic concern is to highlight the soteriological consequences for those who abuse animals in any way. Nellist strongly criticizes aspects of the Orthodox tradition that do not take seriously into account the suffering of animals, pointing to a “gap,” “lack of clarity,” or “ambiguity” between theory (debate about the care of the environment) and practice (addressing animal suffering). For example, in chapter 1 and particularly chapter 5, she illustrates this “gap” with a field research study in Cyprus, in order to substantiate her argument for the indifference of the majority of the Orthodox toward animal suffering. The results of this research are quite striking—for one thing, that among the Orthodox the matter of whether animals have souls is still an open question! In contrast to this modern mentality, the tradition of the Church provides considerable material for establishing a comprehensive theology of compassion for animals. According to this tradition, put forth in details in chapters 2–4, there is a clear vision of a God who created the world and everything in it through love. By no means could such a loving God create any creature in order for it to suffer. Thus, “something is seriously wrong in the way the animals are used” (315). Here Nellist challenges the still current and sometimes one-sided radical anthropocentric view of creation which has led to all these catastrophic results.

In chapter 3, the author provides a Christological account of animal suffering based on patristic resources to argue that everything in creation, including animals, will be recapitulated in Christ in the eschaton. This understanding points to the sacred character of creation in its entirety, in other words to the latent but clear “ontological connection” between all creatures, often forgotten in our (ab-)use of animals (not to mention human beings as well).

It is uncontested that the goal of Christian life is deification, theosis, in other words our adoption by God the Father in Christ through the Spirit. It is clear then that theosis is a gift from God. At the same time, however, theosis is a result of the human podvig (ascetic struggle) in history, a synergy with the grace of God towards the transfiguration, as we “sacrifice our fallen nature, with its self-indulgent sinful passions” (87) and of commending creation into the hands of the Creator. One cannot profess this and at the same time ignore the “rights” of all God’s creatures to be saved, even though this should be done through the priestly role of the human being and not directly as the author’s argument seems to imply. It is true that in the Christian tradition “humans are favoured over the non-human creation” (321) often due to humans’ rationality or other faculties and skills. Undoubtedly, such a view has contributed to the present-day irreversible ecological catastrophe of our planet. This does not mean, though, that humanity should be deprived of its central, although compassionate role.

In chapter 4, Nellist builds on the importance of “Christ-like love” on the part of humans “for all of His created beings” (322), stressing in this way the “ontological link” between humans and the rest of the created world. Along these lines, she points to “exemplars” (e.g. saints) of “compassionate and violence-free lives” (322), especially with regards to the abuse of animals. Not only does the tradition provide us with certain exemplars of this compassionate and loving attitude towards all the creatures of God, but also—although still the minority—certain voices of contemporary Hierarchs (chs. 6–7) who speak about “a cosmic dimension” of sin or a “mortal sin” (Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 222, 128) and “ecological sin” (Metropolitan John Zizioulas, 220; cf. Rom. 8:19). These figures call for a different ethos that expresses compassion, care, and love toward all creatures.

Quite interesting for a wider audience is chapter 8, where the author makes use of various secular scientific views (including ethology and economics) in order to challenge the traditional philosophical and theological views that distinguish between the superior human being and the inferior animals on account of certain abilities (language, cognition, etc.) attributed exclusively to human beings. Here we must raise a concern. Following certain developments of modern science, the author asserts that any difference between the creatures of God is a matter of degree. While this is true, and one has to admit certain misunderstandings of the role of humanity throughout history, one should avoid the danger of reductionism, which deprives humanity of its unique responsibility and role. On the one hand, the image of God with which humanity is endowed should also include all creatures due to the ontological connection between them (as well as to their common animalhood, which raises the question of to what extent the image of God partakes of animality). On the other hand, Christ himself became man, not an angel or any other creature, in order to save the world. One clearly needs to put away the “separationist ethos” implied in a false theological anthropocentrism, while retaining theologically the uniqueness of the specifically human vocation. In other words, what is at stake here is the very role and position of the human being within creation. Without being a master and possessor of creation, or being totally disconnected from the latter (false anthropocentrism), the human being should remain the primary agent of God in the image of Christ for the salvation of the world, and ecotheology should take this uniqueness into account.

The last chapter (9) is characterized by the author herself as the most challenging since it calls into question our daily practice, calling for a formulation of a new, deeply practical and not primarily theoretical ethos. By questioning the current animal food production system and the animal testing model, the author highlights the view that perceives animals as “resources, units of production or ‘disposable life’, rather than created beings with individual needs” (337). This runs strikingly counter to our worldview and lifestyle, but it is more or less based on the time-honored Christian tradition, which for centuries has provided concrete holy examples of a different way of life that respects and cares about all creatures in view of the coming Kingdom of God.

Such a book could not end without concrete suggestions put forward by the author. This is not a merely theoretical study, but a practical guide that seeks to present a concrete way of life, based on the foundations of our faith, and to challenge our customs and prejudices. To the question of “what we as individuals and as leaders of our Church can do” about animal suffering (345), Nellist points to prayer, engagement, stepping out into the secular world, teaching, and suggesting concrete alternatives to scientists and the food production system that will reverse the current situation of everyday animal abuse, giving hope that all creatures count in God’s eyes and are worthy of salvation.

Nellist has written a powerful and passionate book. It is suitable not only for theologians, philosophers, and scientists, but is also recommended for those who cannot tolerate animal suffering, who take their Christian identity seriously and desire to work alongside of God for the care, the “rights,” and the salvation of “all the things” within creation, including of course animals. It is not a matter of rationality or statistics, but of an ethos, a new culture, a new way of life implied in the very core of the Christian Gospel: the compassionate, loving relationship between God, human beings, and all creatures as it is foretasted in the Eucharist and will be fully realized in the eschaton.

Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis
Deputy Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies
Lecturer, Hellenic Open University

Good Science v Bad Science

This excellent video is by Scientist and Veterinarian Dr Andre Menache who explains why animal experimentation is bad, outdated science and how other methods provide better, more effective alternatives. This short video equips those campaigning against animal experimentation with the latest scientific arguments. I have written on this subject from a theological perspective and I concur with his findings, as do many other scientists. He will be writing a chapter on this topic for my new book on Climate Crisis and Creation Care: Eco-Economic Sustainability, Environmental Integrity and Justice.

Athanasius and the Resurrection of Non-Human Creatures

Three questions face the theologian as they confront atonement: ‘ how does Christ’s death effect human salvation?,’ ‘ what does humanity need salvation from?,’ and ‘ why would a good God bother saving a recalcitrant and corrupted species?’ Human self-regard normally narrows focus onto the first question; theories of atonement (especially as presented from the pulpit) often brush over more fundamental issues regarding the human condition, assuming that ‘sin,’ ‘guilt’ and ‘divine love’ are satisfying answers to the latter problems. Much can be gained, however, by carefully considering human corruption and divine love, not only because our view of human depravity and status before God determine our view of atonement, but because our self-conception gives substantial clues about the future salvation of non-human creation.

That creation will be renewed and delivered from corruption is uncontroversial; (1) what it means for creation to be renewed and delivered is, strangely, a heated topic. (2)

Here, I briefly explicate the views of St. Athanasius (approx. 296-373AD) regarding human corruption ( what God saves from) and divine mercy (why God saves) as developed in On the Incarnation of the Word (OIW from here ), with an eye towards adapting his central argument to the salvation of non-human creatures.

Ultimately, I suggest that the reasons given by Athanasius for divine mercy towards mankind apply equally well to the entire creation, providing us with good reason to think that God will bodily resurrect at least some non-human animals despite the metaphysical difficulties surrounding animal immortality.

Athanasius on the Human Condition
God, Athanasius presumes, is perfect, and lacks nothing in power, knowledge or goodness; out of goodness and love, God creates a species of animals (humans), gifting to them rationality (the image of God, a reflection of His Word), and intending for this species to (3) live eternally in
“true life” ( OIW, 3.3) and in “correspondence with God” (which I take to be a state of moral perfection, where the faculties are calibrated and activities in line with the will of God) ( OIW,5.1). However, mankind, being from the beginning naturally mortal, is at risk of non-existence without God’s direct intervention (i.e. God causes the immortal component of humans to survive
death, and without this direct intervention, death is truly the end of our being).(4 )Through its own freedom, humanity has taken on a moral rot which destroys (disintegrates) the individual.(5)
Additionally, God, to prevent human character from festering, has affirmed and promised that the natural consequences of sin will be upheld–immorality (beyond “mere misdemeanors,” ( OIW, 7.4)) will result in death unto non-being. Mankind then faces two problems: disintegrating moral rot and God’s legally-binding promise that those who have festered will disintegrate into nothing.(6)

The stage is set: all of mankind, upon death, will perish without both overcoming God’s decree and taking on significant moral repair (a change in character which ontically prevents self-inflicted disintegration). These are the conditions from which humanity must be rescued, and for which the Word becomes incarnate as Christ

Athanasius on Divine Mercy
Why, though, would God save us from ourselves, and why would He help His rotten children escape a law binding them for their own good? Athanasius’ explanation is simple: it is a moral stain on a creator to neglect their creation, and to allow their creation to perish, especially if perishing would be worse than having never been made ( OIW, 6.7-6.10).
There are, of course, many kinds of imperfections which a neglectful creator might possess, and so a variety of reasons why God cannot (given His absolute perfection and total power) fail to offer salvation to humanity. Athanasius recognizes at least the following:

(1) perishing by neglect would be less than perfectly loving ( OIW, 8.2); (2) perishing by neglect would blasphemy or insult the nature of God Himself (since humanity is an image and representation of God, as a painting is to its subject) ( OIW, 6.4, 14.1); (3) humanity perishing by neglect would imply a weakness in God or constitute a failure of God to succeed in making functional creatures after He intended to do so ( OIW, 6.8-6.9, 8.2); (4) perishing would make the world worse overall than if humans had never been made, implying that God, by making and then neglecting humanity, has made the world worse through creation ( OIW, 6.7-6.9). At least these four reasons, taken together, explain why God saves mankind. Granted the assumption that the intended function of humanity involves a bodily existence, Athanasius can then easily infer the bodily resurrection from the human condition and perfection of God (albeit by filling in the gaps with some tacit premises).

Athanasius’ explanation of divine mercy can be turned into a straightforward argument, as I have done below, emphasizing especially the proper functioning of human creatures:
P1. God is perfect (or perfectly loving) and the creator of humanity.
P2. It is an imperfection in (or unloving of) a creator to refrain from doing what is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of their creations, unless doing so would be outside their power or involve taking on a worse imperfection.
P3. All humans are meant to be (have the proper function of being) beautiful instances of their species, free from unnecessary suffering, regularly exercising their noetic powers in co-creation with God, and in a state of constant adoration of both God and His works.
P4. In order for any human to be a beautiful instance of its species, free from unnecessary suffering, regularly exercising their noetic powers in co-creation with God, and in a state of constant adoration of both God and His works, it is necessary that they be given both a bodily resurrection and at least an opportunity to repair the dysfunction (7) which prevents
satisfactory co-creation with and adoration of God and His works.
P4a. It would be an imperfection (or unloving of) the creator of humanity to refrain from giving all humans a bodily resurrection and at least an opportunity to repair the dysfunction which prevents satisfactory co-creation with and adoration of God and His works, unless doing so would be outside the creator’s power or involve taking on a worse imperfection. (P2, P3, P4)
P5. It is neither an imperfection in God, nor beyond His power, to give all humans both a bodily resurrection and at least an opportunity to repair the dysfunction which prevents satisfactory co-creation with and adoration of God and His works.
______________________________________________________________________________∴ God will give all humans a bodily resurrection and at least an opportunity to repair the dysfunction which prevents satisfactory co-creation with and adoration of God and His works. (P1, P4a, P5)

Note that (P2) involves a qualification of any creator’s duty to their creation. Athanasius, in line with the mainstream Christian tradition, still affirms that some will be damned, though not that they will perish ( OIW, 56.3). To avoid making damnation an imperfection in God, I have tried to be charitable towards Athanasius’ argument, treating neglect as an imperfection only when that neglect is not the lesser of two evils or beyond a creator’s power. This leaves room for the possibility that overriding human autonomy in order to save would involve a worse imperfection
than allowing some to perish or live eternally in a state of dysfunction.

Adapting Athanasius’ Argument
This argument can be easily adapted to the conclusion that God will resurrect some non-human animals. For all that must be assumed is the existence of some non-human creatures which God could (without taking on worse imperfections) resurrect and repair, and that these creatures
have not fulfilled their function prior to death. If this assumption is granted, then we have good reason to believe that some non-human animals will be resurrected, so as to have full opportunity to fulfill their proper functions, regardless of the metaphysical difficulties involved. A
general form of the argument might run as follows.
P1. God is perfect (or perfectly loving) and the creator of all non-human animals. P2. It is an imperfection in (or unloving of) a creator to refrain from doing what is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of their creations, unless doing so would be outside their power or involve taking on a worse imperfection.
P3. There are some non-human animals x with proper function f which have died without fulfilling f . P4. In order for these non-human animals x to fulfill f after having died without fulfilling f , they must be bodily resurrected and repaired in such a way as to give x opportunity to fulfill f.
P5. It is neither an imperfection in God, nor beyond His power, to bodily resurrect and repair these non-human animals x in such a way as to give x opportunity to fulfill f. ______________________________________________________________________________ ∴ God will bodily resurrect and repair these non-human animals x in such a way as to give x opportunity to fulfill f. (P1, P4a, P5)

(P3) is not a mere assumption. Consider domestic animals, such as dogs: dogs have been brought into being by purposive and intentional acts of humans over the course of tens of thousands of years. Modern dogs, because they have been quite literally designed (8) by humans, plausibly have proper functions, perhaps varying by breed. At least some are meant for human companionship and partnership in work and life. Since an artificer likely has the power to infuse a proper function into an artifact (as God has such an ability in creating humanity and humanity in creating tools), it seems plausible that dogs have such a function simply given the fact that humans formed them with such a function in mind. Dogs are not wild animals, but are, for better or worse, unable to be fully themselves without membership in human life. (This is evident in the ease with which abused dogs form human bonds while struggling, for the rest of theirs lives, to interact properly with members of their own species.) How horrible, then, is the great suffering we have inflicted on domestic dogs. Countless numbers die from starvation, abuse, neglect, and abandonment, and in their deaths they are deprived of human love, affection, and partnership.
Despite being our own creations, and inseperable from human influence, we torture and destroy them, stripping them of their ability to be what they are, and thereby showing our own depravity.

And what of the countless other domesticated and captured creatures? What of entire species driven to extinction by anthropogenic destruction of habitat and environment? Surely many of these animals have (as does every being just in virtue of being) the (9) proper function of being beautiful, wonderful beings in their own right, deserving of lives in which they can exist as fully themselves (though, of course, the life and happiness of some animals can simultaneously be beautifully and functionally subordinated to the life and happiness of others, as the breath of a field mouse is snuffed out by a corn snake without violation of function or beauty).(10) Surely humanity is not the sole, intrinsically valuable artwork of God (OIW, 14), but also the totality of the created order, as its gorgeous components form a functional, self-propelling whole through vast and incomprehensible relations of dependence.

Athanasius’ argument as it is applied to animals can be made even stronger by the suggestion that animals who have perished in this age without fulfilling their function have done so through no fault of their own. There is, in other words, no divine decree of death which non-human animals must be delivered from, thereby strengthening (P5*). How, then, can we assume that the burden of proof lies with those who would affirm the
bodily resurrection of non-human creatures? How can we, on the grounds of speculation, presume ourselves to know the proper functions of each component-animal we have destroyed, much less the entire creaturely economy? At the very least, a hopeful skepticism is warranted.


1 Isaiah 2:4, 65:17-25; Romans 8:19-23; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1
2 I have, many times, witnessed indignant anger towards those suggesting a resurrection of non-human animals. “They have no immortal soul!,” some, like Fr. Trenham, declare, as though the nature of mind and animal consciousness is a settled matter. Many fear, it seems to me, that resurrection of non-human animals would somehow cheapen the uniqueness of humanity, and react defensively to such a
suggestion (Fr. Josiah Trenham, “Pets.”). 3 “He gave them a further gift, and He did not barely create man, as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Word; so that having as it were a kind of reflexion of the Word, and being made rational, they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, living the truth life which belongs to the saints in paradise” (Athanasius. On the Incarnation, 3.3).
4 NT Wright, in The Resurrection of the Son of God , surveys a wide spectrum of Jewish and Christian views on the afterlife. Particularly interesting for our purposes is that Athanasius, by affirming humanity’s
natural mortality, seems to be tapping into a line of thought developed very early on, perhaps in the text of Genesis itself, which claimed that the human being would cease to be without direct, divine intervention, not due to their possessing some immortal component capable of surviving death on its own (Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God, pgs. 92, 104, 107-108).
5 “..in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption” (Athanasius. On the Incarnation , 4.5-4.6, also 5.1).
6 Both Athanasius and Augustine interpret Eden in this way, reading the commandment which forbids eating from the tree as a symbol of man’s choices and the law given to man to make these consequences clear. “But knowing once more how the will of man could sway to either side, in anticipation He secured the grace given them by a law…if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature …” (Athanasius. On the Incarnation, 3.4). “The reason for the prohibition was to show that the rational soul is not in its own power but ought to be subject to God, and must guard the order of its salvation by obedience, or by disobedience be corrupted. Hence God called the tree which he had forbidden to be touched the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, because anyone who had touched it contrary to the prohibition would discover the penalty of sin, and so would be able to distinguish between the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience” (Augustine. The Nature of the Good , XXXV). That is, man is free to live in accordance with beauty and goodness, with a plethora of possible expressions of this beauty, and, upon death, to be kept from perishing (“of every tree that is in
the garden, eating thou shalt eat”), or to live in the ways which lead to self-disintegration and non-existence (“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ye shall not eat of it, but on the day that ye eat, dying ye shall die”) (Athanasius. On the Incarnation, 3.5). God gives the law, as symbolized by
commandment and the trees, to show humanity the natural consequences of their sin. 7 By ‘beautiful animal of its species,’ I mean that a human being has the function of being truly human, a sort of animal with certain essential characteristics. In my view, being a human is to be bodily; that is, a
human being is a composite being, a sort of organism. The immaterial, perhaps immortal component of human beings (whatever this may be, I am not sure) which continues on after death is not fully or truly a human being, put part of a human being. 8 Though there is disagreement on the history of canine domestication, the domestic dog is estimated to have originated between 33,000 and 10,000 years ago. Though I myself take the findings of geneticists on their own authority, my more scientifically literate readers may be interested in the following: (Wang et al. “Out of Southern East Asia: The Natural History of Domestic Dogs across the World.”) 9 This doctrine of the goodness of all beings is, I am tempted to say, foundational to Christian thought, and should, if it is not already explicitly, be considered an essential article of faith. For a technical, philosophical introduction to the doctrine, see: (Macdonald, Scott (ed.). Being and Goodness ). Augustine’s work stands out as one of the most clear, non-technical expressions of the goodness of all created beings. Augustine writes, “Every natural being, so far as it is such, is good. There can be no
being which does not derive its existence from the most high and true God,” and “Even the thorns and thistles which the earth produces according to the will of God in judgement, in order to afflict the sinner by making him labour, are not rightly to be found fault with” (Augustine. On the Nature of the Good, I; XXXVI.). See also: (Augustine. Confessions, Bk. 7). See also my explication of Thomas Aquinas’ views on the correlation between being and goodness: (Marks, Pierce. “Aquinas’ Metaethic: The Link Between Being and Goodness in Aquinas’ Thought.”). To be clear, neither Agustine nor Aquinas would be very sympathetic to animal resurrection, and I mention them as clear expounders of the convertibility of being and goodness. 10 “When things pass away and others succeed them there is a specific beauty in the temporal order, so that those things which die or cease to be what they were, do not defile or disturb the measure, form or order of the created universe. A well-prepared speech is beautiful even though all its syllables and sounds pass in succession as if they are born to die” (Augustine. The Nature of the Good, VIII).

Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (V2-04), ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1891).

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions , ed. Mark Vessey, trans. Albert Outler (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2007).

Augustine of Hippo, “The Nature of the Good,” in Augustine: Earlier Writings, trans. John Burleigh (The Westminster Press, 1953), 326–248.

Scott MacDonald, ed., Being and Goodness : The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).

Pierce Marks, “Aquinas’ Metaethic: The Link Between Being and Goodness in Aquinas’ Thought,” (2020 Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies Multidisciplinary Graduate Conference, n.d.),

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress press, 2017).

RefeGuo-Dong Wang, Weiwei Zhai, He-Chuan Yang, Lu Wang, Li Zhong, Yan-Hu Liu, Ruo-Xi Fan, Ting-Ting Yin, Chun-Ling Zhu, Andrei D Poyarkov, David M Irwin, Marjo K Hytönen, Hannes Lohi, Chung-I Wu, Peter Savolainen, and Ya-Ping Zhang. “Out of Southern East Asia: The Natural History of Domestic Dogs across the World.” Cell Research 26, no. 1
(2015): 21-33.

Fr. Josiah Trenham, “Pets,” YouTube Video, Patristic Nectar Films, November 1, 2019,

THIS ARTICLE IS BY: Pierce Alexander Marks
June 23rd, 2020. USED WITH PERMISSION.

Coronavirus rips through Dutch mink farms, triggering culls to prevent human infections

By Martin Enserink Jun. 9, 2020 , 3:30 PM

Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

LELYSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS—In a sad sideshow to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in the Netherlands began to gas tens of thousands of mink on 6 June, most of them pups born only weeks ago. SARS-CoV-2 has attacked farms that raise the animals for fur, and the Dutch government worries infected mink could become a viral reservoir that could cause new outbreaks in humans.

The mink outbreaks are “spillover” from the human pandemic—a zoonosis in reverse that has offered scientists in the Netherlands a unique chance to study how the virus jumps between species and burns through large animal populations.

But they’re also a public health problem. Genetic and epidemiological sleuthing has shown that at least two farm workers have caught the virus from mink—the only patients anywhere known to have become infected by animals. SARS-CoV-2 can infect other animals, including cats, dogs, tigers, hamsters, ferrets, and macaques, but there are no known cases of transmission from these species back into the human population. (The virus originally spread to humans from an as-yet-unidentified animal species.)

The first two mink outbreaks were reported on 23 and 25 April at farms holding 12,000 and 7500 animals, respectively. More mink were dying than usual, and some had nasal discharge or difficulty breathing. In both cases, the virus was introduced by a farm worker who had COVID-19. Today, it has struck 12 of about 130 Dutch mink farms. Once COVID-19 reaches a farm, the virus appears to spread like wildfire, even though the animals are housed in separate cages. Scientists suspect it moves via infectious droplets, on feed or bedding, or in dust containing fecal matter.

That mink are susceptible wasn’t a surprise, because they are closely related to ferrets, says Wim van der Poel of Wageningen University & Research, which has an animal health laboratory here. (Both mink and ferrets can also contract human influenza viruses.) Like humans, infected mink can show no symptoms, or develop severe problems, including pneumonia. Mortality was negligible at one farm and almost 10% at another. “That’s strange—we don’t really understand it,” says virologist Marion Koopmans of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. Feral cats roaming the farms—and stealing the mink’s food—were found to be infected as well. The researchers published a preprint about their work on 18 May; a paper in Eurosurveillance may come out soon.

The Netherlands is the only country so far to have reported SARS-CoV-2 in mink. In Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, “We have not recorded any similar disease or outbreaks,” says Anne Sofie Hammer, a veterinary scientist at the University of Copenhagen. Neither has China, the second largest producer, says virologist Chen Hualan of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. (Hubei, the province hardest hit by COVID-19, does not have mink farms, she notes.)

The Dutch outbreaks are giving scientists a chance to study how the virus adapts as it spreads through a large, dense population. In some other animal viruses, such conditions trigger an evolution toward a more virulent form, because the virus isn’t penalized if it kills a host animal quickly as long as it can easily jump to the next one. (Avian influenza, for instance, usually spreads as a mild disease in wild birds but can become highly pathogenic when it lands in a poultry barn.) Although SARS-CoV-2 is undergoing plenty of mutations as it spreads through mink, its virulence shows no signs of increasing.

Even so, the Dutch outbreaks have alarmed people in North Brabant province, where mink farms are concentrated. The region’s burgeoning goat industry caused the world’s largest human epidemic of Q fever between 2007 and 2009. Anxious citizens feared a repeat with SARS-CoV-2 and mink. But Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever, forms hardy spores that wafted out of barns and blew off fields fertilized with goat manure. SARS-CoV-2 is far more fragile; environmental sampling has not turned up any virus outside mink sheds, says veterinary epidemiologist Arjan Stegeman of Utrecht University, who leads the research on mink outbreaks. Whereas farm workers should wear protective equipment, the population at large is at very low risk, Stegeman says.

Eventually, the virus seems to burn itself out at every farm, once more than 90% of the animals have contracted it and developed antibodies. Combined with the low mortality rate, that means the outbreaks are far less devastating for farmers than, for instance, bird flu in poultry or foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.

Even though just two of the Netherlands’s nearly 50,000 confirmed human COVID-19 cases have been linked to the farms, the government decided to cull the animals because the problem could become bigger in the months ahead. Female mink give birth in April and May, leading to a sixfold increase in populations. Antibodies in their mother’s milk probably protect pups for a while, but they might become vulnerable later to any virus lingering at the farm. “That could mean there’s a second wave in minks in the fall,” Van der Poel says—raising the risk of more human cases. The mink are culled by gassing them with carbon monoxide; the Dutch government will compensate farmers.

In the long run, their businesses were doomed anyway: A law approved by the Dutch parliament in 2012 bans mink farming as of 2024 for ethical reasons. The affected farmers may be allowed to reopen their farms for another 3 years if tests conclusively show the virus is gone—or they can decide to throw in the towel now.Posted in: 



An edited version of this short article appears in the latest edition of the Green Christian magazine:

I was recently asked by Green Christian Magazine to write a short article which incorporated the various topics outlined in the title. Obviously this short article cannot do justice to the multiple animal suffering issues caused by the use of animals for human/non-human food; I will therefore, give some links/references for further study.


I will begin by stating that the Covid 19 pandemic was entirely predictable and will undoubtedly, be followed by other epidemics and pandemics in the future. How can I be so sure? Numerous articles and scientific papers have informed us that similar zoonotic diseases such as the influenza pandemic of 1918, HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS, H1N1 Swine flu and H5N1 avian flu, have arisen from similar sources. It is entirely reasonable therefore, to postulate that new epi/pandemics will emerge over time, perhaps within the next decade, with similar outcomes.  

The overall loss of life for animals involved in these outbreaks is not recorded but an educated assessment would put the numbers in the billions. It would be naive to think that these animals have a pain-free death, for the usual mode of slaughter for such numbers is burying, drowning or burning them alive. Yet the fault lies not with the animals themselves but in the way humans keep them and use them.


In many traditional markets across Asia, both wild and domestic animals are kept together in appalling conditions and unnaturally occurring confined spaces. I have encountered wet-markets in many of the countries I have lived and worked in, although the vast majority, are found in countries like China, Vietnam and Cambodia. These countries have little, if any, animal protection laws and if they do exist, laws are unlikely to be enforced. Therefore, undercover investigations are vital in capturing the reality on the ground: https://animalequality.org.uk/act/ban-wet-markets.

The plight of the animals within these markets is often too distressing for people to view, but unless we take courage and view the reality we are unlikely to fully understand what we need to change and of equal importance, to convince others of the need to engage with the issues involved, one such, is the illegal trade in wild animals. What is abundantly clear to all who view this or similar videos is that the unsanitary conditions alone make it inevitable that future zoonotic diseases will arise.


Rather like Mt 7:3-5, we cannot simply point the finger at others, for our own intensive farming systems, by definition, also keep large numbers of animals in relatively small and confined spaces, where diseases easily spread and at times jump the human/non-human animal barrier. In order to keep infections low, it is common practice for farmers to use and overuse antibiotics. See the Compassion in World Farming website for details of how the misuse of antibiotics in the intensive farming industry has significantly contributed to the antibiotic resistant super-bugs now found in our societies.  Such systems also cause immense suffering to animals, e.g. the numerous versions of amputations on a variety of species and without analgesia.


The ever-increasing demand for cheap non-human animal food is also a considerable factor in Climate Change. Extensive deforestation has led to habitat loss and reductions in biodiversity. The sheer scale of the industry has also led to significant water, soil and air pollution, to levels that threaten human life on our planet. See my article in the International Journal of Orthodox Theology, 9:3 (2018) 144-172 and a short video on a this article was given at the International Orthodox Theological Association in Romania last year and is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H56_maAVdTk.

We must however, not overlook the fact that many non-intensive farming practices also cause significant suffering to animals and appear to be caused by the desire to increase profits, which in many cases is achieved by curtailing or ignoring animal welfare provision- see: ciwf.org, PETA and CEFAW: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/news/cefaw-policy-framework-consultation-underway.

It is clear that the Pastoral System and Organic farming methods are preferable to intensive practices but these cannot provide enough food for our country unless radical changes are made: to our methods of farming; the help given to farmers transitioning from animal to plant-based farming and increased encouragement to the public to significantly reduce their animal food consumption.

It is clear at this time of lock-down, that radical conditions are being imposed by governments and more importantly, accepted by society for the greater good. This is encouraging, for I would argue that it will never be more opportune than it is now, to formulate a radical rethink and approach to food provision in this country


By God’s grace, some churches have formed ‘animal protection’ societies such as the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals, Catholic Concern for Animals and Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals.  In order to make their voices stronger, these and other faith groups have established the Animal Interfaith Alliance.  The AIA recently sent a letter to the UN Environment Secretary asking for the banning of ‘wet-markets’ and a basic standard of welfare for animals across the globe. The letter’s contents are far-reaching: A worldwide ban on wet markets; A worldwide ban on the wildlife trade; A worldwide ban on the use of animals in traditional medicine; A worldwide ban on factory farming – all farming should be practised to a minimum of RSPCA Assured/Freedom Food standards; A worldwide ban on the long distance transport of animals and the promotion of plant-based sources of nutrition, which in turn, will promote the health of the world’s population.

It is important to remember that this last request is part of proposals advocated by scientists around the globe, including the UNFAO & IPCC, in order to address Climate Change, which silently and almost unobserved, is pushing us further towards the cliff-edge.

The AIA also recommend that the United Nations works in association with organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (the OIE), the International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to advise on animal welfare standards: https://animal-interfaith-alliance.com/2020/03/28/covid-19-when-will-we-heed-natures-warnings-2/

Most demands, if not all, will not be met but it is important that we try, for some things must change in order to reduce the risk of similar pan/epidemics in the future.

Other material is available from Christian magazines such as The Ark and Animal Watch, whilst other Christian groups focus on the wider yet interconnected issues of Climate Change, e.g. Green Christian. All of these endeavours are encouraging and blaze a path to a more enlightened view of the world and the creatures that live in it. 


In most, if not all societies, animals are simply things not beings; merely resources to use as humans see fit. In the West, this originates from laws created at the time of Emperor Justinian (Roman Law) where only humans are defined as ‘persons’ and everything else as a ‘thing’ or ‘object’. Unfortunately for animals, Christianity also accepted the ancient Greek philosophical tripartite system of souls – Human, Animal, and Vegetable, resulting in the common teaching that only humans have eternal souls.  If one is categorized as a soul-less ‘it’, it should not surprise us to find numerous examples of animal abuse in the rearing, selling and slaughtering of animals.

Yet, we can look to our sacred texts and find another, though less prominent tradition, which teaches us to care for animals in a variety of compassionate ways. This critical examination began with White’s article in 1967[i], which criticized Christianity’s anthropocentrism and ends (at present) with Nellist’s work in 2018/20, which found that compassion for animals is not new but found in the earliest teachings of the Christian church and offers an alternative and more inclusive view of the world.

The challenge for the Christian church is how to move from the flawed anthropocentric teachings of the past, to a position that incorporates compassionate teachings for the whole of God’s creation.   

Two courses that encourage compassion for animals are available to use with parishioners and/or youth groups are: Clough’s ‘Creature Kind’, (developed and running) https://www.becreaturekind.org/ and Nellist’s ‘Creation Care: Christian Responsibility’. The latter encourages other denominations to adapt the course and is developing videos to accompany the texts, see: http://panorthodoxconcernforanimals.org/creation-care-christian-responsibility-course/ This course has just received accreditation in South Africa from the Association of Christian Religious Practitioners for their Continual Professional Development program.

Ultimately, our role as individual Christians is to examine our consciences and decide if we can continue to consume animal-food sourced from systems that cause immense suffering for animals and a major contributor to climate change: http://panorthodoxconcernforanimals.org/uncategorized/climate-change-food-calculator-whats-your-diets-carbon-footprint/.


Regardless of whether Covid 19 is the creation Dr Shi Zengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or from the ‘wet markets’ of Asia, what is clear is that world governments and institutions have failed to address the suffering of animals within food production systems.  They have also failed to learn the lessons from previous epidemics.  Had these lessons been learnt, the suffering of animals would have been greatly reduced and the current pandemic, which is destroying so many human and non-human lives and prompting widespread economic meltdown, could have been prevented. 

As Image of God, we are called to care and love as Christ cares and loves us. This requires us at times to speak truth to power. At this most dangerous of times, I believe it is our Christian duty to call upon powerful organisations such as governments and the United Nations to do everything in their power to put measures in place that mitigate the risk of future pandemics from occurring.  These measures must include increasing the welfare of animals in all forms of food production systems.



Dr. Christina Nellist is an Eastern Orthodox Theologian specializing in Animal Suffering and Human Soteriology.  Her 2020 book Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Teachings in Modern Theology, is available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing. She is a Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics; a former Visiting Fellow in the Department of Theology, Religion and Philosophy at the University of Winchester and Guest Lecturer on Veterinary Ethics at the Iberia America University Veterinary School, Santiago, Chile. She is a board member of the Animal Interfaith Alliance and Editor & co-founder of the Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals charity. She is a former Advisor and Consultant in the Sciences and Special Education both in the UK and abroad and a former Animal Protection Consultant to the Chief Veterinary Officers of Chile and The Seychelles on stray-dog control and public health education programs.

[i] Lynn White, jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155, no. 3767 (10 March 1967), 1206.

Small Victory for those challenging misleading Dairy Industry advertising

This is an article from our friends in South Africa:

A victory for dairy cows – meagre, yes, but a victory nevertheless May 2020

A leading South African milk producer Fair Cape Dairies has been instructed to withdraw the use of the words/phrases ‘#happycows’ and ‘humane” from all its advertising. In terms of a ruling dated 30 April by the Advertising Appeals Committee of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), the concept of humane “means more than freedom from violence, pain and disease.”

This follows a series of complaints by concerned consumers led by Jo Fairbrother (jo@sentience.co.za) stating “there is no such thing as a happy cow in the dairy industry”. The complainants submitted: “The truth is dairy cows lead horrible lives, filled with grief, pain and suffering”. The complainants specifically noted that cows were being forcefully impregnated repeatedly and were robbed of their calves soon after birth. Therefore, they submitted, Fair Cape’s advertising was false and breached the Code of Advertising Practice which prohibits advertising that is likely to mislead the consumer.

When the complainants first approached the ARB in 2019, their complaints were dismissed by the Directorate on the grounds, inter alia, that within the context of the dairy industry, the cows are humanely treated, and therefore as “happy” as possible; that a reasonable consumer could not expect that cow’s milk could be sold without some compromise and it was naïve of any consumer to believe otherwise.

At that stage, the ARB ruled that Fair Cape’s advertising was not misleading and that the ARB could not “cater to the ignorant consumer, the uneducated consumer, or the willfully naïve consumer.”

However, Jo Fairbrother and her fellow complainants, did not accept this dismissal and set about requesting an appeal, with the help of Animal Lawyer Amy P. Wilson, director of Animal Law Reform South Africa and trustee of The Humane Education Trust. Now, their appeal has been upheld by the ARB Advertising Appeals Committee.

On 30 April 2020, the Advertising Appeals Committee ruled that the use of the terms “#happycows” and “humane” were a breach of clause 4.1 and 4.2.1 of the Code of Advertising Practice. The Advertising Appeals Committee stated that, in its view, the Directorate (of the ARB) had erred in holding that Fair Cape’s advertising must be viewed through the lens of the practices that are generally accepted in the commercial dairy industry. It continued that while Fair Cape Dairies contended that “in the context of dairy farming” the cows were “humanely” treated, it was nonetheless the view of the Advertising Appeals Committee that while this meant that no malicious or gratuitous violence was perpetrated against the cows, and as far as possible they were kept free of physical pain, injury and disease, it did not mean that the cows experienced no physical and emotional trauma. It stated: •

“… in our view, it cannot be said that the reasonable consumer who purchases milk expects the cow to have been raped, or her babies to have been taken from her at birth so as to maximize the milk available for sale. Nor does the reasonable consumer think of the fate of the cow’s babies, or the fate of the cow herself. None of this is uppermost in the mind of the reasonable consumer when purchasing a bottle of milk…In our view, humane treatment means more than freedom from violence, pain and disease; it means treatment characterised by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy. It does not include many of the practices complained of, such as the forced impregnation of cows, the forced separation of calves from their mothers immediately after birth, and the slaughter of male calves thereafter. It follows then, in our view, that the cows cannot be described as happy, or as humanely treated.”

Commented Jo Fairbrother: “Fair Cape Dairies do not only directly misinform consumers, but they actively conceal many of their practices while creating an illusion of transparency. This cruelty is not an anomaly, but is standard practice inherent in the industry.

We are extremely thankful to Compassion in World Farming South Africa who played an important role with their contribution of video footage exposing the suffering of boy calves discarded by the dairy industry. To be informed, is to be empowered. When we are informed we can make consumer choices that are authentic and genuinely in line with our values.”

POCA comment is that the above harmful practices are also found in the dairy industry in other countries including the UK.

Why is factory farming a pandemic risk?

This is the latest from Compassion in World Farming and offers more information to the growing movement to move from an animal-based diet, to a plant-based diet:

Our new report, ‘Is the next pandemic on our plate?’, details how the next pandemic could originate from a factory farm:

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three in four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. Examples include bacteria such as Escherichia Coli (E. Coli), Campylobacter and Salmonella, and viruses including Avian and Swine Influenza.
  • Globally, up to 70% of antibiotics are administered to farmed animals – a perfect storm for triggering the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Industrial livestock production is a major cause of air pollution. According to latest reports, this can result in serious respiratory disease that leaves people less able to survive COVID-19.

To protect human and animal health, farm animals should be kept in higher welfare systems that rear more robust breeds at lower densities. Under these conditions, viruses are less likely to spread, mutate and multiply. In addition, healthier animals need less antibiotic treatment for bacterial infections, which means these life-saving drugs may continue to be effective for human – and animal – use.

Of course, factory farming isn’t just a major pandemic risk. It’s also the leading cause of global animal suffering and a major contributor to the climate crisis.

What’s more, our over-reliance on low quality, factory farmed animal products decimates critical wildlife habitat, ravages vulnerable communities with air and water pollution and drives mass deforestation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, to save countless lives, we must end factory farming. Please, join the call for a food system that protects animal welfare, human health, and the environment.

World Animal Laboratory Day 24th April: The failure of the animal testing model

This is a small section of my analysis of the animal testing model which is taken from chapter nine of my recent book Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Teachings in Modern Theology.

When we examine the available research on the animal testing model, such as Linzey and Linzey (2017)[1], Bailey and Taylor (2016)[2] Kathrin Herrmann and Kimberley Jayne (2019) (2a),  we find that there are few systematic studies examining the validity of this model.

In answer to the question posed in their article entitled “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” Pound and Bracken (2014) conclude that it is:

…nearly impossible to rely on most animal data to predict whether or not an intervention will have a favourable clinical benefit-risk ratio in human subjects.[3]

Knight (2011)had already alerted us to this problem:

…the utility of many animal experiments in advancing human healthcare or even biomedical knowledge of significance is poor. [4]

These two statements alone ought to concern us. The obvious question arising is whether these statements can be verified? If this were not the case, we would expect the licensing of a large percentage of the drugs tested on animals for human use.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a well-respected and authoritative body and their comments here address this specific point:

Overall, in the US, 92% of drugs that pass pre-clinical tests, mostly animal tests, fail to make it to the market because they are proven to be ineffective and or unsafe in people. [5]

This report also concludes that if topical medicines are excluded the failure rate is around 97%. The first observation from the FDS report is that the failure rate of the animal testing model is extraordinarily high. The second observation is that the animal testing model is unreliable and thus flawed.

The model fails the caveat that the animal testing model is essential for the advancement of human health. In fact, such conclusions ought to lead us to ask whether the model is a benefit or a hindrance to human health. My argument here is that its use is an example of the “predetermined conclusion” that the model is “not harmful to humanity.”

The next question is to ask why the failure rate is so high. There are several contributing factors and the most obvious is that the species of animals used are not human; we are not dogs, rabbits, monkeys etc. This in and of itself ought to raise considerable doubt on the efficacy of the model.

An equally pertinent point is that animals experience physical pain and mental suffering, which includes fear, trauma, stress, distress, anticipation and terror, all of which alter their physiology; if one or a combination of these factors affects the animal, the results will be suspect.[6]

Knight (2011) includes several other factors in calculating stress and suffering, such as capture from the wild, transportation, housing etc., which he concludes, alter the physiology and mental capacities of the animals over time. [7] He states that these factors, in addition to creating significant animal welfare and ethical problems distort a wide range of experimental outcomes, such as those dependent on accurate determination of physiological, behavioural, or cognitive characteristics in animal models.[8] This also raises serious doubts over the efficacy of this model and this too ought to concern us.

There is another factor to consider which again brings us back to H. A. H. Bartholomew’s point on the dangers of the “predetermined conclusion that these are not harmful to humans” and the ethicist’s caveat that they are “necessary.” If we examine the evidence, the drugs that are licensed are not universally safe for humans and the tragedy of giving thalidomide to pregnant women is a well-known case in point. This sadly, is not the only example.

As I write this chapter the scandal of the epilepsy drug, sodium valproate (Epilim) is breaking news. Since its license, circa 20,000 children in the UK have physical abnormalities, autism, low IQ and learning disabilities after being exposed to the drug while in the womb. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have now changed the licensing because up to four in ten babies are at risk of developmental disorders and one in ten are at risk of birth defects.[9]

This is not a lone example. The organisation Nurses Movement for Responsible Medicine provides further examples and comments of licensed drugs that have caused considerable damage to humans. I condense their commentary:

Few people in the West are aware of the Clioquinol tragedy. Clioquinol caused 30,000 cases of blindness and/or paralysis in Japan alone. This drug also caused a new disease called SMON. “Clioquinol was tested on rats, cats, beagles and rabbits with no evidence of neurotoxicity.” “Oraflex (Opren) an antiarthritic drug meant to alleviate the pain and frequently crippling limitations of arthritis was found safe in nonhuman primates, at 7 times the maximum tolerated human dose for a year. It caused death in a number of elderly patients, mainly from liver damage.” “Butazolidine, a pain killer, caused kidney and red blood cell damage.” “Chloramphenicol caused bone marrow destruction and fatal aplastic anaemia…though human cell culture could have found what animal testing has failed to show.” “Isoprenaline aerosol during the 1960s, thousands of young asthmatics died following the use of Isoprenaline aerosol inhalers. Animal tests did not show nor predict the danger…cats could tolerate 175 times the dose found dangerous to asthmatics and the adverse complications could not be reproduced in guinea pigs, dogs and monkeys at doses much higher than the recommended dosage.” “Eraldin a heart medication; some patients who received it suffered intestinal and eye problems, blindness and many deaths resulted.” “Phenformin, to treat diabetes, caused 1,000 deaths annually until withdrawn from the market.” “Amydopyrine a pain killer caused a nasty blood disease.” “Reserpine to treat hypertension may cause restlessness, nightmares and depression, pancreatitis, severe anaemia and kidney failure. A number of epidemiologic studies pointed to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. It may cause foetal harm when given to pregnant women.” “Methotrexate to treat leukaemia and psoriasis caused intestinal haemorrhage, anaemia and tumours.” “Mitotane for leukaemia caused kidney damage.” “Cyclophosphamide used for cancer and transplants…led to liver and lung damage.” “Urethane for leukaemia caused cancer of the liver, lungs and bone marrow.” “Kanamycin an antibiotic caused deafness and kidney damage.” “Methaqualon a tranquilizer caused severe mental disturbances.” “Maxiton diet pills caused damage to the heart and nervous system.” “Halcion a hypnotic; reports of severe psychic problems with its use are surfacing which prompted Britain to ban its use.” “Tegretol for epilepsy, two potentially fatal blood diseases: aplastic anaemia and agranulocytosis are 5-8 times more likely to occur in patients on Tegretol than in the general population. Epidemiologic findings suggest an increased incidence of birth defects when pregnant women used Tegretol.[10]

The bold sections draw attention to the fact that alternatives are available and can offer data that is more reliable. Despite the animal testing model, all these licensed products resulted in injury, suffering and in some cases human death.

In addition to the poor ratio of usable drugs to animals used, there is now the additional problem of human safety for those drugs that are licensed.

An obvious criticism here is that I am simply selecting evidence from scientists that have a bias against animal testing. This statement from a report from leaders in the drug development industries addresses that criticism:

The poor predictability of animal experiments is one of the major challenges facing the drug discovery industry.[11]

This would not be the first time that manufacturers were aware of problems but failed to inform the public.

A forensic question to ask here is if this level of failure arose in any other industry, would we expect industry to continue with the model’s use or substitute it with procedures that are more reliable? The answer is obvious.

Why there has not been greater investment in alternative procedures is probably due to economics/profit and the lack of any challenge to the animal testing model by those other than animal protectionists. Many in society still believe philosophical and theological teachings that God created animals solely for our use but this is part of the second discussion and so I put this aside for the moment.

There is evidence of change. Sir David Attenborough, along with 20 other scientists, calls for an end to animal testing on primates and urges the use of currently available alternatives:

The recognition that apes, certainly, and to an extent other primates, are so akin to ourselves, and can suffer so much, as we can, has transformed our attitude, or should have transformed our attitude, to using them for our own benefit. They are sentient beings that have mental lives comparable to ours, and sensitivities, and pain and deprivation mean things to them, just as they mean things to us.[12]

We, the undersigned, are concerned at the level of suffering involved in many neuroscience experiments on non-human primates, especially where fluid deprivation and movement restraint are involved, and believe that there has now been sufficient progress in human-based alternatives to call into serious question whether further research of this type is necessary. We note the recent research in this area published in ATLA [Bailey J & Taylor K. (2016). Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity. ATLA 44, 43-69]. We therefore call on bodies responsible for the funding and licensing of this type of research to review their policies and specifically to end support for experiments involving deprivation of fluids and movement restraint.[13]

The words in bold type, bring into focus the scientific community’s recognition that there are human-based alternatives to primate testing already available.

Importantly, their arguments are equally valid for all other species of sentient creatures used in the animal testing model. The obvious question to ask is why scientists are not using suitable alternatives if they are available for use. I have given my answer. There is also the possibility of using ‘irrational’ creatures as units of ‘disposable life’ but again I leave this aside for the moment.

As noted, alternatives to the animal testing model are available and two useful journals are Alternatives to Laboratory Animals[14] and Laboratory Animals.[15]Several animal welfare organisations’ websites list examples of alternatives such as In vitro; Microfluidic chip; Micro-dosing; Imaging studies and computer models and simulations.[16] The Linzey and Linzey (2017) report gives examples of adult stem cell research; human organs-on-a-chip; lab-grown human organs and systems biology and compare the effectiveness of these methods to existing animal models.[17] Sharma (2015) suggests alternatives for use in university Zoology and Life Science courses in India (and elsewhere) and, makes us aware of the link between educational institutions, suppliers and hunters:

I estimate that employing these alternatives will save roughly 19 million animals belonging to a variety of species, from fish to mammals. In addition, the adoption of these non-animal methods will deal a death blow to the well-organised nexus between educational institutions and those who catch, kill and supply animals…inspection of breeding business have discovered ill and wounded animals crammed inside soiled cages, rats embalmed alive and workers who killed frogs by slamming their heads against hard surfaces. [18]

His comments on the link between hunting and experimentation and the abusive conditions and treatment of the animals should not surprise us. He also mentions the reestablishment of the concept of ahimsa in using humane alternatives and Christians may use the same argument using our concept of the non-violent Christ. In his summary of this section of the Linzey report, Andrew Linzey states:

The upshot of these scientific developments in cutting-edge human-based testing models is that it is no longer accurate or reasonable (if it ever was) to say that the only moral choice is between experimenting on animals and giving up on medical progress. This is a false dilemma. The choice instead is the choice between experimenting on animals and using improved human-based methods of testing.[19]

This indicates a further problem in the animal testing model-the phenomenon of publication bias. Knight outlines the problem:

Research demonstrating ‘no effect’ is less likely to be published than research falsely indicating an effect (false positives). When investigators later review the published literature, they find only the latter and draw false conclusions about the drug effects. This is partly why animal research translates so poorly to human patients.[20]

Apart from the false positive/negative problems, scientists are also less likely to publish failures. This in turn, gives a distorted view of the efficacy of the animal testing model.

In light of the above evidence, we gain an insight into why there are serious doubts both inside and outside of the scientific community on the reliability of the animal testing model to predict the suitability of a variety of medicines/drugs for human health and thus its advancement.

In light of the above evidence, I submit that the animal testing model fails several of the previously outlined caveats and parameters for scientific research. It ought therefore, to be rejected.

[1] Linzey and Linzey, The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, references over 200 different research papers and reports on the theme. Also, Knight, The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments.

[2] Bailey and Taylor, “Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity.” I am grateful to Prof. Knight for this reference.

2a Kathrin Herrmann and Kimberley Jayne Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. 51 experts have contributed to this book. E-Book Availability: Published ISBN: 978-90-04-39119-2 Publication Date: 30 Apr 2019 Hardback Availability: Published ISBN: 978-90-04-35618-4 Publication Date: 04 Apr 2019

[3] Pound and Bracken, “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” BMJ 348 (3387); also, BMJ editor F. Godlee’s accompanying editorial, “How Predictive and Productive is Animal Research?” BMJ 348: (3719).

[4] Knight, Costs and Benefits, 4, 57-9. For the number of animals used, see 9-17. For species, sources and categories of use, see 18-28; also, USFDA (2004) Innovation or Stagnation: Challenge and Opportunity on the Critical Path to New Medical Products.

[5] My emphasis. USFDA, Innovation or Stagnation: Challenge and Opportunity on the Critical Path to New Medical Products, 2004.

[6] Linzey, “Cruelty to Animals is as if a Man did not Love God.” In The Ark: Journal of Catholic Concern for Animals, 220 (Spring): 5. We may think this is a modern thought but as previously noted, Philo gives similar commentary when condemning practices which cause mental anguish to cows separated from their newly born calves.

[7] I add a personal note here to support Knight’s point. When my dogs were in quarantine in Bahrain I arrived to find three adult Baboons in the same block and that one had escaped. The chaos and the fear and distress of the apes were evident from their screams, their throwing of faeces and the attempt of the escapee to avoid recapture. The process took nearly an hour whereupon the animals were removed to the laboratory at Bahrain University.

[8] Knight, Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, 36.

[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43863191 24th April 2018.  Also, Zack Adesina, BBC Inside Out, London, UK 22 January 2018


[10] My emphasis. See, www.nmrm.org.

[11] Palfreyman, Vinod and Blander, “The importance of using human-based models in gene and drug discovery.” In Drug Discovery World Fall (2002): 33-44.

[12] https://www.crueltyfreeinternational.org/what-we-do/breaking-news/sir-david-attenborough-calls-end-brain-experiments-monkeys.  Also,         


[13]My emphasis. Signatories: Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist; Simon Bearder, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University; Marc Bekoff, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, VMD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis; Herbert H. Covert, PhD, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder; Paul Furlong, PhD, Professor of Clinical Neuroimaging, Director, Aston Brain Centre, School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University. John P. Gluck, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of New Mexico; Research Professor Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University; Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE-Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace. Colin Groves, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Bio anthropology, Australian National University; Eleonora Gullone, PhD, Affiliate Associate Professor, Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, Monash University; Steven Harnad, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Southampton. Catherine Hobaiter, PhD, Lecturer, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, St Andrews University; Jessica A. Mayhew, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology & Museum Studies and Primate Behavior & Ecology Program, Central Washington University; Dr Monika Merkes, PhD, (Public Health) Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing, La Trobe University. Anna Nekaris, PhD, Professor in Anthropology and Course Leader, MSc Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University; Hugh Notman, PhD, Associate Dean, Learning Technologies & Associate Professor, Anthropology, Biological, Athabasca University. Ian Redmond, OBE, Field biologist and conservationist, Ambassador, UNEP Convention on Migratory Species, former Envoy for UN-GRASP; Vernon Reynolds, PhD, Emeritus Professor, School of Anthropology, Oxford University and Founder of the Budongo Conservation Field Station, Uganda; Lori K. Sheeran, PhD, Professor, Department of Anthropology & Museum Studies and Primate Behavior & Ecology Program, Central Washington University. Jo Thompson, PhD, Executive Director, Lukuru Foundation, Democratic Republic of Congo; Richard Wrangham, PhD, Ruth B. Moore Professor and former Chair of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University and President Emeritus, International Primatological Society.

[14] http://www.atla.org.uk

[15] http://lan.sagepub.com.

[16] http://animalresearch.thehastingscenter.org.

[17] 2015:4.23-29. Published as Linzey & Linzey, 2017.

[18] Dr Sharma is a member of EGC-MHRD Core Expert Committee to Consider Discontinuation of Dissection of animals in Zoology/Life Science in Indian Universities and Colleges, The Ark (Spring 2012):29-30.

[19] Linzey and Linzey, The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, 4.29

[20] Discussions at Winchester University in 2017.

Earth Day 2020 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, whose mission is to work with civil and faith communities for developing local solutions to global problems, including climate change, plastic pollution, and threats to biodiversity. Earth Day promotes programs ranging from low-impact actions to “a billion acts of green” to address the paramount challenge of our time.

Of course, every day is earth day! Every day is an opportunity to celebrate “the earth as the Lord’s and that all who dwell therein belong to the Lord” (Psalm 24.1). Every day is a reminder of our vulnerability and solidarity. In fact, today, more than ever, we are also reminded of our responsibility to the earth and each other in light of that interdependence between the earth and all its inhabitants. The ecological responsibility and the respect of the sacredness and the beauty of every human person, of the elderly and the disabled, the poor and the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, are today the universal categorical imperative for the whole humanity.

In recent weeks, with the alarming spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), we have been painfully reminded of the interconnection among human beings throughout the world. So we are obliged to reflect further on the exigency and urgency of our response to issues that are increasingly gathering momentum and threatening our survival.

While it may be strained to draw sweeping comparisons or simplistic connections between the human impact on the natural environment and a global crisis like COVID-19, can we not wonder whether the mandated human isolation to prevent the spread of the virus has resulted in clearer water and cleaner air and in a reevaluation of our relationship with nature and its ability to heal us? We hasten to add, of course, that no loss of human life can ever justify any ecological renewal of the planet, but there is no doubt that individual action and community response are vital in encountering climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. And we fervently pray for the quick return of normalcy in these surreal times.

Crisis is a moment of clear and definitive judgment. And the COVID-19 crisis is a compelling moment of truth and assessment of our respect and regard for the precious gifts that we have received and been entrusted with by God. Over the past decades, we have underlined and declared that when we are isolated from God, then we, inevitably, if not inadvertently, also exploit the planet’s resources. Indeed, we have repeatedly associated and even identified such behavior against God’s creation with sin. Like us, the earth, too, is suffering from “isolation” and alienation. “The whole of creation is groaning with labor pains to this day . . . eagerly longing for . . . its liberation by the children of God” (Romans 8.19–22). This time of uncertainty and insecurity has taught us to care for one another. Will we also learn, at last, to mitigate our impact on the environment?

As a result of the ecological disruption created by the global crisis of this coronavirus pandemic, Earth Day will be celebrated electronically this year throughout the world. How paradoxical that the earth continues to inspire, instruct, and invite us toward a renewed commitment and restored covenant with creation. How will we respond? Our prayer is that this critical moment will be for all of us and for the entire planet an occasion for renewal and redemption, for liberation and transformation, as well as for inspiration and illumination.


Orthodox Christians are preparing to mark this week the most important holiday of the Christian world – Resurrection Sunday. The festive feeling is eclipsed by the tragedy of the situation and quarantine restrictions imposed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This year, we cannot traditionally gather at Holy Week liturgies and personally greet one another in temples at Easter services. We are aware that isolation, together with our deep faith and sincere prayer, will overcome evil.

On the eve of Resurrection Sunday, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform about the philosophy of existence in times of crisis, the lessons of the current situation, and about how believers should behave amid the pandemic in everyday life and while celebrating Easter.


Question: Your All-Holiness, the greatest Orthodox holiday of Easter is approaching. Would You be so kind to recall times from the history of Christianity when believers could not attend holy ordinances and perform sacraments for objective reasons? How have these obstacles been overcome in the past?

Answer: Easter is indeed the feast of feasts, the night that St. Gregory of Nyssa describes as “brighter than any day.” It is the source of all other feasts and the center of our liturgical calendar, the feast that gives meaning to our faith and life. This is why it is so vital and crucial for Christians all over the world.There have indeed been occasions in the past when Christians have been unable to celebrate Easter. History has experienced pandemics and plagues. And Christianity has experienced persecution and punishment. We need only think of the periods of oppression and martyrdom – both in the early Christian Church, but also in more recent times. The difference today is that we are aware of science and medicine, which in the case of the pandemic of COVID-19 propose a self-isolation for the protection of our lives.In the early Church, monasticism was described as “white martyrdom” in contrast to the “blood martyrdom” of the martyrs. Today, our moral decision as human beings in accepting “social distancing” is a way of confronting the virus and caring for our neighbor.

Question: There is much debate now about whether sacraments can become a source of infection. What is the best way now for communion, confession, baptism, church marriage, etc.?

Answer: It is tempting, but also a form of escapism to dwell on the details of sacramental life. In the Middle Ages, scholars and superstition thrived on discussing topics such as the exact moment when the bread and wine were transformed into Christ’s body and blood, and how precisely a confession or baptism was valid or invalid.As we indicated in one of our addresses to the faithful, what is at stake is not our identity as believers, but only our identity as human beings that “bear flesh and dwell in the world;”

Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us. And there, from our homes, strengthened by the power of our spiritual unity, let each and every one of us pray for all humankind.


Question: In Ukraine, we have examples when some churches and their leaders do not adhere to general quarantine rules, exposing the lives of believers to danger. Is there the responsibility for such actions in the church world?

Answer: As Orthodox Christians, it is important that we remember not simply our personal or pious obligations, but also our communal and social responsibility. The success of those working so hard to respond to and overcome COVID-19 depends on our participation and cooperation. This is an invaluable contribution to all of society, a sacrifice equally worthy of praise and gratitude as those fighting this battle on the front lines.

Question: How should practicing Christians behave during the quarantine? What tips for maintaining spiritual and moral stability can You give?

Answer: We speak of this time as a crisis – from the Greek word κρίσις – which means that we will be judged by our response to the circumstances that we face. This is an opportunity for us to learn life-changing and world-transforming lessons.

All of us recognize that what we previously considered “normal” in our world or “routine” in our life has been shattered and turned upside down. What we were accustomed to, what we have taken pleasure in, has abruptly changed or stopped. No longer can we take even the simplest things for granted.

For us as Orthodox Christians, this also applies to our relationship with the church and, above all, with God. We can no longer take traditional or conventional ways for granted – like attending a service, lighting a candle, kissing the icons, singing with the choir, lining up for communion.In this crisis, then, we have learned that the church is more than just a building. We have discovered that each of our homes and families are called to become and to be what St. John Chrysostom describes as a “small church” (ἐκκλησία μικρά) – not just in name, but in actual practice. We should all be thankful for this precious lesson to our Lord who assures us: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Indeed, Jesus Christ is closer to us than we to ourselves.


Question: Now we can see many examples of the “transition” of the church to the online mode. Is this a positive practice in Your opinion? Will there be a live broadcast of the festive Easter service from the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

Answer: One of the positive outcomes of this universal challenge is that we must now think deliberately and creatively about our relationships to one another. Working together from a distance, through the diverse means of modern technology, has provided not only the possibility of supporting one another as a means of consolation and survival but also of advancing our dreams and programs as a way of cooperation and progress.

We are deeply encouraged to learn of new ways ventured by churches, which were previously reserved toward such changes. After all, we are a living tradition, and the Body of Christ is an organic, vibrant community. We must always be attentive but never afraid in our use of technology, which must be employed as a means for the benefit of the people of God.So, we rejoice when we hear of the diverse ways with which churches are responding to their vocation at this critical moment. We are delighted to see how they are uniting their efforts in addressing their faithful and focusing their attention on their pastoral needs.The Ecumenical Patriarchate will indeed broadcast the Easter vigil from the Phanar, as well as all the services throughout Holy and Great Week.


Question: What lessons do You think we all need to learn from this situation of a common threat to humanity and a common confrontation with it?

Answer: The lessons that all of us have learned will prove indispensable when we emerge from this crisis. We have been reminded that the world is larger than our individual interests and concerns, larger than our jurisdictional parishes and congregations, larger than any single church or religious community.We have realized that we must always do something more than what only affects our lives or our families.

We have admired the doctors and nurses, who sacrifice their lives for the healing of others. We have witnessed those working in grocery stores and pharmacies, those driving trucks and delivering goods, and especially those volunteering their time or donating their money for our more vulnerable brothers and sisters. All these actions of selfless love exude the fragrance of the Resurrection.Ultimately, we have learned what the Scriptures and Saints have always known and declared – that “whoever does not love their brother, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

Permit us to close with our wholehearted and fervent wishes to all the people in Ukraine – to those who have already celebrated Easter on April 12 and to those who are celebrating Pascha on April 19 – our sincerest paternal wishes on the “feast of feasts” at this challenging time. Christ is Risen, my beloved brothers and sisters, my dearest families and children. The clouds of darkness and shadow of death have been overcome by His Resurrection.

Χριστός Ἀνέστη!Olga Budnyk, Istanbul-Ankara
* You can watch the services from the Ecumenical Patriarchate live on Facebook.

A Daily Reading Program on the Christian Theology of Creation- April 2020

The Vision and Spiritual Direction of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew along with Other Orthodox Patriarchs

A Course of Daily Theological Reflection on Christian Responsibility for the Care and Keeping of God’s Creation Month Four April 1 -30, 2020

The OFT is endorsed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States a P.O. Box 7348 a Santa Rosa, California 95407 a (707) 573-3161

Introduction During Great Lent, Christians are called to follow our Lord Jesus Christ onto the cross. This allows us to participate to some extent in His Resurrection at Pascha. This year, wherever we live, Lent will be different because we are facing a worldwide epidemic of the corona virus. This means that the manner in which we experience the cross in our Lenten journey will have a unique set of dimensions. Parishes and parishioners are already facing drastically new conditions with neighbors who may be fearful of infection and suffering from anxiety about illness or even a painful death. Food shortages are already emerging in some areas. How can we provide charity and help under these conditions? Church services are being interrupted and in many communities cancelled. How do we become more self-sufficient in our own prayers? This is a test that many of us are or will shortly be facing. As we pray for guidance, it will arrive in many forms and from different directions. Already from across the Orthodox Church we are learning of novel ways to respond.

From the Ukrainian Bishops in the USA we receive a prayer of healing that all of us may use. See: https://ukrainianorthodoxchurchusa.com/news_200310_1.

From the far-off tiny Church of Georgia, we hear that His Holiness Patriarch Ilya has been given a vision on how to address this new coronavirus. He tells us to fear not! See his vision related at: https://Orthochristian.com/129044.html

From the monks of Mount Athos we are invited to pray the Jesus Prayer every evening at 10:00 PM local time to restrain the impact of this worldwide epidemic.

From His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew we have a special letter of guidance and direction that applies to us all. (See April 2, below).

From parishes small and large we learn of shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and guidance for those who may be sick, stressed or facing some other need.

What we don’t yet have, but what these readings from Church hierarchs are steering us toward is a genuine Orthodox Christian way of life, i.e., a Christian culture. What appears to be guidance on ecologically conscious living should also be recognized as a gateway into a whole Orthodox way of life.

These writings from patriarchs and bishops provide vision and direction on our Christian responsibility to shape a lifestyle that is harmoniously connected to God and neighbor and harmless living. Their guidance gives direction for how to live in the modern world and the new earth that is now emerging.

Yours in service to God’s good earth, EM – MR – EC – FK editors


Wednesday The Great Challenge of Our Generation April 1, 2020

As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has written: “Climate change affects everyone. Unless we take radical and immediate measures to reduce emissions stemming from unsustainable excesses in the demands of our lifestyle, the impact will be both immediate and alarming.”

Therefore, each parish and every individual should seek out ways of practicing prayer and care for God’s creation by applying the fundamental principles of scripture, theology and tradition with regard to our relationship with the natural environment by considering changes in our attitudes and habits with regard to food and travel, by reducing consumption of fossil fuels and choosing alternative sources of energy with regard to lighting and heating, as well as by raising and promoting awareness with regard to the divine gifts of water and air.

Every parish and community is invited and encouraged to open a fruitful dialogue on this challenge of our generation. HE Archbishop Elpidophorus, Protocol No. 22/19, September 1, 2019

Q What is global climate change? Q How might members of a parish address climate change? Q Why is this an important issue for Orthodox parishes?



Thursday Message Regarding COVID-19 April 2, 2020

The voice of the Church cannot be silent in such times. Our words… take the form we have learned through the ages: through the liturgy and through instruction, with encouragement and consolation…. We entreat you to respond faithfully and patiently to all the difficult but necessary measures proposed by health authorities and nations. Everything is being done for our protection, for our common good, to contain the spread of this virus. Our liberation from this distress depends entirely on our cooperation.

Perhaps some have felt that these measures undermine or harm our faith. However, that which is at stake is not our faith – it is the faithful. It is not Christ – it is our Christians. It is not the divine-man – but human beings. Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us.

We see our neighbors suffering from the consequences of the virus, while others have already fallen and departed from among us. Our Church hopes and prays for the healing of the sick, for the souls of the departed, and for courage and strength to the families of the afflicted.

This trial, too, shall pass. The clouds will clear, and the Sun of Righteousness will eliminate the deadly effect of the virus. But our lives will have changed forever. This trial is an opportunity for us to change for the better. In the direction of establishing love and solidarity.

Beloved children in the Lord, may the blessing of the Lord, through… the All-Holy Mother of God, accompany us in our journey, transform our voluntary isolation into genuine communion, and become our prayer and destination to appreciate the meaning of this, so that we may return to that which is true [and] pleasing to God! Have courage! And may God be with us! HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, The Phanar, March 19, 2019

Q How can this COVID-19 trial be an opportunity for us to change for the better? Q. How might the coronavirus epidemic change our lives? Q. What will it take for the changes we make now to endure into the future? Reflection


Friday Responses to the Coronavirus Epidemic April 3, 2020.

We are in a special situation while facing a great problem, which is not only our problem but the problem of the whole world – the appearance of the coronavirus. I invite all our faithful to be disciplined and to accept everything that is proposed and to implement that in their life for their own interest. Life is the greatest gift of God that we must preserve. Let us be disciplined, let us listen to what expert people suggest…. HB Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, Belgrade, March 15, 2020

Be courageous, my brothers! Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos gives us hope! God created our planet with so much love and He will not abandon it. Be courageous and stay strong! HB Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All-Africa, Metropolis of Memphis, at prayers for protection from the deadly coronavirus, March 21, 2020

It is time to seek refuge in the privacy of our homes, until the wrath of this plague is past. HE Teofan, Archbishop of Iasi, Metropolitan of Moldova and Bucovina, Iasi, Romania, March 18, 2020

Turn every house into a small church and pray, asking for the immense grace and mercy of God on mankind. Abide by the self-protection measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Our Church is with you and by your side. She loves all of you and prays for you all. We act responsibly because we love, not because fear knocks at our door. We are looking forward, praying, to Easter. And then the whole Creation will shine in the light of Resurrection, joy, hope. Take courage, my brothers, The Lord is with you. HE Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, March, 2020

After each liturgy, the faithful will not be allowed to kiss the cross [or] holy icons, which must be cleaned systematically with disinfectant solution. With regard to Holy Communion, the Holy Mysteries of Christ should be offered and the spoon should be wiped after each partaker with a cloth impregnated with spirits (with regular refreshing the impregnation)…. The priests, the abbots and abbesses of the monasteries must adhere strictly to hygiene rules and disinfect their hands during the day at least once every two hours…. HB Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus, March 23, 2020


Saturday Another Type of Fasting April 4, 2020

In an age of technology we should extend our fasting rules to include technology in order to gain spiritual peace during Lent. At least during the beginning of Lent, us let try to be less dependent on cell phones, social networks, and email accounts, lest the anxiety, which they throw at us, get inside us.

Technology can be a blessing, but it also has a very subtle reverse dimension, because of the way it fragments our thinking to a large degree. We become so dependent on technology that it becomes very difficult for us to break away.

I think it is necessary, in the world in which we live, to embrace such a type of fasting, a media quarantine. Fasting is a sacrifice and I think it is a sacrifice to give up our phone. It would be very beneficial to detach ourselves as much as possible from those things that do not bring us peace. HG Bishop Ignatie of Huşi, Sunday Sermon, Romanian Orthodox Church, March 1, 2020

Q Why do Orthodox Christians fast? Q. What benefits emerge from fasting? Q. How might a fast from technology become beneficial? Reflection


Monday Voluntary Restraint in the Use of Material Goods April 6, 2020.

We should consider every act through which we abuse the world as having an immediate negative effect upon the future of our environment in which our posterity will live. The way in which we face our environment reflects the way we behave toward one another. It reflects upon the way in which we relate to our children, those born and those who are yet to be born.

Human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence. Humans are created as spiritual beings in which resides the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Our bodies are created from material nature, the dust of the earth. Interconnectedness between our nature and our environment lies at the center of our liturgy….

The asceticism of the Orthodox Church requires voluntary restraint regarding the use of material goods, leading to a harmonious symbiosis with the environment. We are required to practice restraint. When we curb our desire to consume, we guarantee the existence of treasured things for those who come after us and ensure the balanced functioning of the ecosystem. Restraint frees us from selfish demands so that we may offer what remains at the disposal of others. Avarice, which has its roots in the lack of faith and making of a god out of matter, we consider idolatry. Restraint is an act of self-control and confidence in God, but it is also an act of love. This willful asceticism is not only required of anchorite monks; it is required of all Orthodox Christians according to the measure of balance. Asceticism is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered utilization of the world. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, New York City, NY,November 13, 2000

Q How is our relationship to the environment related to our interaction with people? Q. In what ways does the liturgy connect our nature to our environment? Q. Why can asceticism be understood as an act of love? Reflections


Tuesday Facing a Global Climate Emergency April 7, 2020

Climate change is a result of greed, inequality and wanton destruction of God’s Earth, the repercussions of which are felt by all, most especially by the poor.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency…. The world is nowhere near meeting emission reduction targets and the latest IPCC report highlights that “only with rapid and far-reaching” transitions in the world economy, on a scale and at a rate without historical precedent, can the 1.5º climate [goal] be achieved. It is therefore a time to reconcile ourselves with creation through concrete repentance and urgent action. …

During this critical and trying time, we acknowledge …this current crisis and affirm ourselves as prophetic witnesses. Jesus has given us a choice between God and mammon and for those who choose to obey, we have no choice but to pursue Justice (Micah 6:8). His Eminence Seraphim, Metropolitan of Zimbabwe and Angola, Patriarchate of Alexandria and All-Africa,, December 3, 2019

Q How is global climate change a result of greed and inequality? Q. What does it mean that we are in the midst of a climate emergency? Q. What is prophetic witness? Q. How is justice a dimension of this witness? Reflections


Wednesday Unite to Combat Climate Change World April 8, 2020

World Environment Day, celebrated on 5th June every year, is the main method of the United Nations to make people aware of the worldwide environmental demolition and to attract the action of various political and human resources.

The day’s agenda gives a human face to environmental issues. It empowers people to becoming active agents of sustainable and equitable development; to promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes toward environmental issue; and to advocate partnerships which ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

World environment day is a popular event with colourful activities such as street rallies, bicycle parades, concerts, essay and poster competition in schools, tree planting as well as recycling and cleaning up campaigns. The theme of this year’s environment day is thought provoking “Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change!”

We in Kerala are worried about the weak and sporadic rains in this season of normally heavy and incessant downpour. It is explicitly felt that the rhythm and balance in nature is disturbed. Although climate change can seem complex, there are a variety of simple actions that individuals and communities can take to make a difference. A few of the actions which we can employ are energy conservation, education programmes to create awareness, planting trees, using less petrol vehicles and recycling projects.

I exhort all Church members to observe the day with seriousness and learn to go back to the nature. A simple, natural and unsophisticated lifestyle is the best cure for these maladies. Let us join our hands to save our planet. Let us all unite to combat climate change and make this planet a commodious dwelling place for the posterity. His Beatitude Metropolitan Paulose Mar Milithios, The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, (aka The Indian Orthodox Church), March 22, 2010

Q How is global climate change a result of greed and inequality? Q. What does it mean that we are in the midst of a climate emergency? Q. What might you do in your community to address climate change? Reflections


Thursday “Sub-Creators” in the Image of God April 9, 2020

We human beings… are called to continue and to extend the mystery of Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain. As Metropolitan John of Pergamon has affirmed, “the distinctive characteristic of the human is not so much that we are a logical animal, but rather that we are an animal that is creative.”

Endowed as we are with freedom and self-awareness, entrusted with the power of conscious choice – “sub-creators” formed in the image of God the Creator, living icons of the living God – we have the capacity not merely to manufacture or produce but to create, to set our personal seal upon the environment, to reveal new meanings within nature: in a word, to transfigure.

Through our creative powers, through science, technology, craftsmanship and art, we enlarge the radiance of the transfigured Christ, revealing in all material things the glory that is latent within them. That is precisely what we are seeking to achieve through all our ecological initiatives. HE Metropolitan Kalistos of Diokleia, Symposium on the Adriatic Sea, June 9, 2002

Q What does His Eminence mean by the concept of “Sub-Creators” Q. How may we reveal the glory latent within material nature? Q. How are these concepts part of the Church’s ecological initiatives? Reflection


Friday Our Huge Responsibility to Save our Planet April 10, 2020

In order to respect God’s creation we must become conscious that everything in the world belongs to God who created it. Consequently, we humans are under no circumstance proprietors of God’s creation, but people who accept his commandments, that is, the rules of His management.

Hence, we become conscious that we have a serious responsibility for environmental protection, which is associated directly with the respect, which we each and all owe to the Creator, that is, to God. Hence, the whole of creation, our planet and whatever exists on it, is God’s wider habitation…. Man, as an inseparable part of this habitation of God, must be protected in every way…. The same applies to every part of creation. In this way we show special reverence to the Creator.

Under no circumstances may man create an opposition with his environment; that is, the wider space of nature in which he lives. We must not fall victims to the new times where unfortunately many people from inhuman arrogance and the unacceptable issues of colonization and the inconceivable lack of control over the industrial revolution and the unjust exploitation of man towards his fellow human beings, see nature as their adversary and enemy which they should besiege, pillage, conquer and rudely rape, changing her… into a huge cemetery…. HB Patriarch Theodoros II, Pope of Alexandria and All-Africa, Alexandria, Egypt, September 8, 2012

Q Can you summarize human responsibility to God for the care of the earth? Q. What are consequences of failure to observe these responsibilities? Q. How are the duties of a custodian different from those of an owner? Reflection


Saturday Responsibility to Steward the World April 11, 2020

The world around us has changed. This is a simple, but true statement and it relates to a fact that cannot be denied. Advancements in medicine, science, and technology have reshaped how we live, work and interact in our daily reality; and in so many ways these advancements have benefitted and enhanced our earthly existence. However, we must acknowledge that they come with a cost.

As we look around us, we notice that the economic engines that drive our country, as well as the world economy, are causing a greater number of people to live in large urban areas, rather than rural locations where they lived in the past. These large concentrations of humanity result in people living farther away from the sources of their food, greater consumption of natural resources, and the build up of pollution of our land, water and air. Moreover, with the world population now topping seven billion, one must wonder how many people our planet can really sustain.

When we read the first and second chapters of Genesis, we see that the description of the earth is truly beautiful. This gift alone is reason enough for us to what to preserve what God has given to us, not to mention that it is the earth that sustains our physical needs. Beyond this, however, it is clear that God not only intended for us to be users of the planet, but He also bestowed on us the responsibility to be its stewards. HE Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Open letter, August 2019

Q How do the advancements in technology change our lives? Q. What is the difference between a user and a steward of the planet? Q. Is population an issue for Orthodox Christians? Q. Why? Reflection


Monday Our Spiritual and Religious Duty April 13, 2020

The human being is on earth, not as a stranger who came to receive a monetary profit, but as a careful owner who cultivates the earth for future generations and takes care, not only of his own profit, but also of the good of his neighbors and those far off.

Moreover, the care of protecting the Creation of God in all its beauty and harmony is not only our practical task but also a spiritual and religious duty, a fulfillment of the commandment of God and a trail of moral feeling.

The Black Sea region has suffered from many sad consequences of an unreasonable selfish use of nature and this has been especially dramatic in our century.

Today we must understand the need to work together for the transfiguration of this wonderful piece of land, for the improvement of the condition of the Black Sea, the pearl of our planet…. HB Patriarch +Alexey II, Primate, Russian Orthodox Church Yalta, Russia, September 24, 1997

Q What does it mean to live on earth and care for the good of future neighbors? Q. Why is protecting God’s Creation our spiritual and religious duty? Q. How can we Orthodox work together in peace and harmony? Reflection


Tuesday Respect and Holy Regard for Animals April 14, 2020

For members of the Orthodox Church an icon is not to be regarded in isolation, simply as a picture on a religious subject…. Much more significant is the fact that an icon exists within a specific context. It is part of an act of prayer and worship, and divorced from that context, it ceases to be authentically an icon. The art of the icon is par excellence a liturgical art.

If Orthodox icons depict not only humans, but animals, does this not imply that the animals have an accepted place in our liturgical celebration and our dialogue with God? We do not forget that, when Jesus withdrew to pray for forty days in the wilderness, he had the animals as his companions: “He was with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13).

What the icon shows us – that the animals share in our prayer and worship – is confirmed by the prayer books used in the Orthodox Church. It is true that, when we look at the main act of worship, the Service of the Eucharist, we are at first disappointed; for in its two chief forms – the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and that of St Basil the Great – there are no direct references to the animal creation. Yet, when we pray “for the peace of the whole world,” this surely includes animals. As one commentator puts it, “We pray for the peace of the universe, not only for mankind, but for every creature, for animals and plants, for the stars and all of nature.” HE Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, Iasi, Romania, January, 2019

Q What does Orthodox theology tell us about respect for animals? Q. How are Christians supposed to view icons? Q. What do icons teach us about how to view the world? Reflection


Wednesday Living Simply April 15, 2020

Dear friends, If we do not live more simply, we cannot learn to share. And if we do not learn to share, then how can we expect to survive? This may be a fundamental religious and spiritual value. Yet it is also a fundamental ethical and existential principle.

Each of us is called to draw a distinction between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs. Greed and gratification reduce the world to a survival of the fittest; whereas generosity and gratitude transform the world into a community of sharing.

We are invited to pursue a way of sacrifice – not a sacrifice that is cheap, but a sacrifice that is costly. As King David once said: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing” (Second Samuel 24.24). We must be prepared to make sacrifices – material and financial – that are genuine and even painful. And in this regard, whether we like it or not, more is demanded from the rich than from the poor. HAH, Halki Theological School, June 18, 2012

Q How are sharing and survival connected? Q. Why is sacrifice a virtue? Q. How can sharing transform the world? Reflection


Thursday The Long Journey from the Head to the Heart April 16, 2020

Sacrifice is primarily a spiritual issue and less an economic one. Similarly, in speaking of the environmental crisis, we are referring to an issue that is not technological or political, but ethical. The real crisis lies not in the environment but in the human heart. The fundamental problem is to be found, not outside, but inside ourselves, not in the ecosystem, but in the way we think. Without a revolutionary change within ourselves, all our conservation projects will ultimately remain insufficient and ineffective.

We know what needs to be done and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done.

It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and it is an even longer journey from the heart to the hands. We … will explore ways and means to bridge the unacceptable gap between theory and practice, between ideas and life. HAH, Halki, Turkey, June 12, 2012

Q How is the real crisis of the environment primarily in the human heart? Q. What do the words “revolutionary change within ourselves” mean to you? Q. How do we in daily activity change the attitudes of our hearts and mind? Reflection


Friday The Transforming Blessing of the Holy Spirit April 17, 2020

Without the Holy Spirit:

God is far away,

Christ stays in the past,

The Gospel is a dead letter,

The Church is simply an organization,

Authority a matter of domination,

Mission a matter of propaganda,

Liturgy is no more than an evocation,

Christian living a slave morality.

But with the Holy Spirit:

The cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the Kingdom, The risen Christ is there,

The Gospel is the power of life,

The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,

Authority is a liberating service,

Mission is a Pentecost,

The liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,

Human action is deified.

HB Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim), Statement to the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Antiochian Orthodox Church, July 20, 1968

Q Why is the health and life of the Church dependent upon the Holy Spirit? Q. What is necessary for the Holy Spirit to enliven your own life? Q. How is our Lord Jesus Christ connected to the Holy Spirit? Reflection


Saturday The Order of All Things is Troubled April 18, 2020

The order of all things is troubled. Nature’s forces are explored and exploited in ways unsuitable to the harmony of the natural order. Nature is assaulted by human egocentric will. The uniqueness and sanctity of the human person is directly threatened. And all of humanity, coerced by the uncontrolled powers of haughty reason and the incurable weaknesses of moral and spiritual conduct, is moving along the precipitous edge of a yawning abyss.

In view of such changes and developments toward the unforeseeable future, it is necessary to seek out the prophetic charisma of the Church through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter of our life and of the entire world. Moreover, this, not in order for us to disclose whatever human beings may be planning, or to forecast their consequences or to make known what only God has established by His own authority (Acts 1.7).

Christian young people do not limit themselves to the claim of respect for human rights. They also advocate another aspect of what is right, namely, human responsibility and duty, for without the latter the former proves equally inhuman, as much as its violation does. They advocate, as well, the notion of justice as mercy and the restoration of all things to a condition of harmony, that is to say, the transcending of transactional justice with a justice that combines collectively all virtues. HAH, The Millennial Youth Conference, Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2000

Q How are the forces of nature being exploited? Q. Why is it necessary to seek out the prophetic charisma of the Church? Q. What is the role of Christian youth in the notion of “justice as mercy”? Reflection


Monday Christ Brings Healing to the World April 20, 2020

The Resurrection of Christ grants to faithful Christians the certainty – and to all humanity the possibility – of transcending the adverse consequences of natural calamity and spiritual perversity.

Nature rebels when the arrogant human mind endeavors to tame its boundless forces endowed by the Creator to its seemingly insignificant and inactive elements. In considering from a spiritual perspective the grievous natural phenomena that plague our planet repeatedly and successively in recent times, we acknowledge that these are inseparable from the spiritual and ethical deviation of humanity. The signs of this deviation – such as greed, avarice, and an insatiable desire for material wealth, alongside an indifference toward the poverty endured by so many as a result of the imbalanced affluence of the few – may not be clearly related to the natural occurrences in the eyes of scientists. Yet, for someone examining the matter spiritually, sin disturbs the harmony of spiritual and natural relations alike. For, there is a mystical connection between moral and natural evil; if we wish to be liberated from the latter, we must reject the former.

Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the new Adam and God, constitutes the model for the beneficial influence of a saint on the natural world. For Christ healed physical and spiritual illness, granting comfort and healing to all people, while at the same time bringing calm and peace to stormy seas, multiplying five loaves of bread to feed the five thousand, thereby combining the reconciliation of spiritual and natural harmony.

If we want to exert a positive impact on the current negative natural and political conditions of our world, then we have no other alternative than faith in the Risen Christ and fulfillment of his saving commandments. HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pascha Letter, 2011

Q How may humans enter into and participate in the transfiguration of the earth? Q. How is the earth defiled by human action? Q. How do we understand Jesus Christ as a model for our own lives? Reflection


Tuesday Reading the ‘Signs of the Times’ April 21, 2020

In many parts of the world, indigenous cultures have been undermined by seductive images from the supposedly civilized world, propagating the idea that happiness is only to be found in consuming more and more material products.

For better or worse, we are living in an age when the destinies of all human beings and all human communities are ever more closely intertwined. Patterns of behavior and consumption in one corner of the globe can affect the lives and livelihood of people who live at the other extremity of the earth.

This new proximity, this closeness, need not be a bad thing if we learn to read the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). To some degree, we are all drawn closer by a common experience of fear and suffering as the consequences of climate change are felt in different ways. At a time when climatic emergencies of many different kinds are affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, we have no moral choice but to “bear one another’s burdens” as the New Testament (Galatians 6:2) enjoins us. HAH, Ilulissat, Greenland, September 7, 2002

Q How have indigenous cultures been undermined by the modern world? Q. How is all human destiny intertwined in the current age? Q. What are the signs of our times? Reflection


Wednesday The Starting-Point for an Environmental Ethic 22/4/2020

The Orthodox Church assumes as its starting point for an environmental ethos the teaching of the Bible…. Let us concentrate on the biblical account of the relationship between humanity and the creation. The first noteworthy point is the restriction placed on the first-created not to consume a certain fruit.

Beyond serving as a basis for Christian asceticism, this commandment indicates environmental significance a the authority granted to humanity over nature is not absolute. While humanity was created to rule over earth, its rules are subject to restrictions ordained by the Creator. Trespassing against these rules results in fatal consequences. Today we witness death approaching because of trespassing against limits that God has placed on our proper use of creation.

A second point is that the gift of paradise to the first-created was accompanied by the commandment and responsibility of humanity “to work it and preserve it.” Working and preserving constitute an active responsibility. Therefore, any passivity or indifference toward environmental concerns cannot be regarded as proper.

A third point is that the consequences of the transgression of the first-created [the Fall] had cosmic implications, producing thorns and thistles in the environment. This rebellion incurred the corruption and destruction of the ecological balance, which continues to this day, whenever we violate the commandment of preservation and abstinence, proceeding instead to misuse and abuse of the earth.

Finally, we should observe that the Creator took special care during the great Flood, so that through Noah, the plants, the clean animals useful to humanity as well as the unclean ones that appeared of no consequence, should be preserved from extinction. This divine concern constitutes a vindication of our interest in the survival of those species that are vulnerable to extinction. HAH, Symposium of the Adriatic, June 6, 2002

Q What is the purpose of an environmental ethic? Q. How would you describe each of the biblical principles that HAH lists? Q. Can you name other biblical principles not listed in this collection? Reflection


Thursday Developing a Spiritual Worldview April 23, 2020

Humanity’s reckless consumption of earth’s resources threatens us with irreversible climate change. Burning more fuel than we need, we contribute to droughts or floods thousands of miles away.

To restore the planet we need a spiritual worldview that cultivates frugality and simplicity, humility and respect. We must constantly be aware of the impact of our actions on creation. We must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs. We must care for creation. Otherwise, we do not really care about anything at all.

In our efforts to contain global warming, we are demonstrating how prepared we are to sacrifice our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: “Enough!”? When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible for the sake of future generations?

It is not too late to respond. We can still steer the earth toward a suitable future for our children. But we can no longer afford to wait. Together with our political leaders we must act with urgency. Deadlines can no longer be postponed; indecision and inaction are not options. We have choices to make. The time to make a commitment to heal the earth is now. HE Archbishop Seraphim of Zimbabwe, On Global Disruption, June, 2014

Q What is a spiritual worldview? Q. Why is it essential to develop a spiritual worldview? Q. How are frugality, simplicity, humility, and respect involved? Reflection


Friday Developing a Spiritual Worldview April 24, 2020

Developing a Spiritual Worldview Dear friends, If we do not live more simply, we cannot learn to share. And if we do not learn to share, how can we expect to survive? This may be a fundamental religious and spiritual value. Yet it is also a fundamental ethical and existential principle.

Each of us is called to draw a distinction between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs. Greed and gratification reduce the world to a survival of the fittest; whereas generosity and gratitude transform the world into a community of sharing.

We are invited to pursue a way of sacrifice – not a sacrifice that is cheap, but a sacrifice that is costly. As King David once said: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24.24). We must be prepared to make sacrifices – material and financial – that are genuine and even painful. And in this regard, whether we like it or not, more is demanded from the rich than from the poor. HAH, Halki, Turkey, June 12, 2012

Q What is the difference between wants and needs? Q. Distinguish between cheap and costly sacrifice? Q. Which do you choose? Q. Why does HAH say we must be prepared to make sacrifices? Reflection


Saturday Conservation and Compassion April 25, 2020

There is a close link between the economy of the poor and the warming of our planet. Conservation and compassion are intimately connected. The web of life is a sacred gift of God ― ever so precious and ever so delicate. We must serve our neighbor and preserve our world with both humility and generosity, in a perspective of frugality and solidarity alike.

Faith communities must undoubtedly put their own houses in order; their adherents must embrace the urgency of the issue. This process has already begun, although it must be intensified. Religions realize the primacy of the need for a change deep within people’s hearts. They are also emphasizing the connection between spiritual commitment and moral ecological practice.

Faith communities are well-placed to take a long-term view of the world as God’s creation. In theological jargon, that is called “eschatology.” Moreover, we have been taught that we are judged on the choices we make. Our virtue can never be assessed in isolation from others, but is always measured in solidarity with the most vulnerable. Breaking the vicious circle of economic stagnation and ecological degradation is a choice, with which we are uniquely endowed at this crucial moment in the history of our planet. HAH, Address before the World Council of Churches, August 12, 2005

Q Is there a link between the economy of the poor and global warming? Q. How are spiritual commitment and moral ecological practice connected? Q. Why is solidarity with the most vulnerable virtuous? Reflection


Monday Man Made Disasters April 27, 2020

Man Made Disasters Man-made disasters, which have been assuming an increasingly menacing scope as civilization is developing, reflect what is happening inside the human soul. Without a profound spiritual analysis of the role Man plays in the Universe such disasters cannot be prevented. Many people have failed to learn the lessons of the Chernobyl catastrophe that mankind has been treating the land, water and air, and the entire environment merely as a consumer.

It is impossible and not worthwhile to try and stop the development of science and technology. But people will not be guaranteed against tragedies similar to the one that occurred twenty-five years ago if they do not learn to use the natural materials and the technical achievements of civilization wisely, with care for each other and everything God has created.

[Scientific and technological development] cannot be non-ethical. It must be combined with devotion to the eternal moral standards and the ideals of mutual respect and love. This is the guarantee of a worthy future for our people and the world as a whole. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All-Russia, “Chernobyl is God’s Punishment,” April 27, 2011

Q Why are man made disasters a reflection of the human soul? Q. How does the Chernobyl disaster exemplify seeing the environment as a consumer? Q. Why is scientific and technological development an ethical issue? Reflection


Tuesday All In the Same Boat April 28, 2020

In the Arctic, melting glaciers are threatening the way of life of traditional hunters. In our home region of southern Europe, we have seen an alarming combination of heat waves, drought, fires and also floods. Scientists inform us that these phenomena are connected.

When we visited Brazil last year, the region was still recovering from a highly unusual drought. Brazilian scientists told us that illegal deforestation was leading to a decrease in rainfall and making fires more common. Fires and deforestation in Brazil are among the many factors which are altering the climate, and hence the environment, here on the northern edge of the earth.

These linkages ought to bring home to every nation and every community how closely involved it is with every other nation and community. It should be more obvious now than ever that no state or ethnic group or economic class can hope to advance its own interests indefinitely at the expense of the remainder of mankind. To restate a simple truth which has guided all of our floating symposia on Religion, Science and the Environment, “we are all in the same boat.” HAH, Nuuk, Greenland, September 9, 2007

Q How are traditional ways of life being threatened? Q. Why are melting glaciers and droughts in Southern Europe related? Q. How can mankind advance it’s collective interests? Reflections


Wednesday A Grieving Earth April 29, 2020

The holy hymnographer Joseph presents the earth as grieving and protesting voicelessly for the many evils with which we burden her.

If this holy hymnographer thought back then that the pollution of earth by humankind would cause the wrath of God today, humanity in its entirety should all the more realize our ultimate destructive behavior against the creation of God.

Certainly, the earth was created well-equipped to offer shelter to the human beings and was ordered by God to cover their needs. However, we do not draw from earth’s resources what we need in moderation, so that we allow its productive ability to remain sound and intact; instead we are depleting her natural resources.

The aforementioned holy hymnographer Joseph personifies earth, which, addressing man, complains that the Master of humankind and God whips her instead of him, for God wants to spare the human being; the earth, however, bemoans her suffering due to humankind’s mistakes and cries to people: “Come to your senses and appease God in repentance.” HAH, Day of Prayer for Creation, September 1, 2005

Q Why is the earth grieving and protesting? Q. Why is it important to preserve the productive ability of the earth? Q. How do human being come to their senses? Reflection


Thursday A Lost Identity April 30, 2020

We as Christians, taught by the Holy Tradition and by the experience of the Holy Church Fathers, link always the mentioned theme with the need of repentance because when man fell, due to his sin, he lost his identity. Because of his tendency toward transgression, man became weak and cannot find in himself strength to go back to his Creator. Man accepts God’s love and becomes a being of communication, a being as communion, improving, with alI the Saints, his God-likeness.

So man becomes the custodian of the creation which is created by the will of God for the only reason – to become one in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1, 22-23; 4,15).

The human being is called to protect the work of God’s hands because the deeds of God protect [nurture] him. The creation needs for its existence God, as it cannot exist by itself. Man is searching for eternity and he is determined to care for the conjunction of unity and differences. Love disables divisions, while the Spirit assembles all. His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej, Metropolitan of Belgrade and All-Serbia, Serbian Orthodox Church, August 31, 2012

Q How is the fall related to environmental destruction? Q. Why are human beings the protector of God’s works? Q. How can man reclaim his lost identity? Reflection


Friday Reuniting the Universe Under Jesus Christ May 1, 2020

Cosmology is a form of knowledge which is given to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit. “The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word,” wrote St. Maximus the Confessor, “contains within itself the whole meaning of the created world. He who understands the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows the meaning of all things, and he who is initiated into the hidden meaning of the Resurrection understands the purpose for which God created everything from the very beginning.”

If this is so, it means that everything has been created by and for the Word, as the Apostle says in Colossians 1:16-17, and that the meaning of this creation is revealed to us in the re-creation effected by the same Word taking flesh, by the Son of God becoming the son of the earth….

In this perspective the Fathers maintain that the historical Bible gives us the key to the cosmic Bible. In this they are faithful to the Hebrew notion of the Word, which not only speaks, but creates: God is “true” in the sense that his word is the source of all reality, not only historical, but also cosmic reality…. That is why, as St. Maximos says, we discover, or rather the Gospel discovers for us, that on the one hand, the Word “hides himself mysteriously in created things like so many letters,” and on the other hand, “he… expresses himself in the letters, symbols and sounds of Scripture.” HB Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, Zurich, Switzerland, March 10, 1989

Q What is Christian cosmology? Q. What is the ‘Logos,’ referring to what HB calls the Incarnation of the Word? Q. How does this relate to the created world? Reflection

Call for the United Nations to take Decisive Action to Prevent Further Pandemics

I have cut and pasted this from an email received from one of the groups we participate in Animal Interfaith Alliance.You can do the same from here. The more email pressure they receive the better:

Subject: Call for the United Nations to take Decisive Action to Prevent Further Pandemics
To: <sgcentral@un.org>
Cc: <unenvironment-executiveoffice@un.org>, Iyad Abu Moghli <iyad.abumoghli@un.org>

Your Excellency António Guterres📷Secretary-General of the United Nations United Nations 405 East 42nd StreetNew York NY, 10017 USA 9th April 2020

Your Excellency António Guterres, Call for the United Nations to take decisive action to prevent further pandemics.

On behalf of the faith based animal advocacy organisations listed below, the Animal Interfaith Alliance, their umbrella organisation, commends the United Nations on its current efforts in tackling the global pandemic caused by the outbreak of Covid-19.The major faiths, to which these organisations are associated, have over 4 billion followers worldwide.It is scientifically established that Covid-19 is just one in a series of epidemics that have been caused by our abuse of nature and, in particular, our abuse of animals. These include the influenza pandemic of 1918, rabies, HIV, Lassa fever, Ebola, Nipah, MERS, SARs, bovine TB, H1N1 Swine flu and H5N1 avian flu. We outline further details of how these epidemics were caused by the abuse of animals here:https://animal-interfaith-alliance.com/2020/03/28/covid-19-when-will-we-heed-natures-warnings-2/

Governments have failed to learn the clear lessons from these previous epidemics. Had those lessons been learned, the current pandemic, which is destroying so many lives through death and economic collapse, could have been prevented.We call on the United Nations to do everything in its power to ensure that governments around the world learn from this pandemic and put measures in place that mitigate against the risk of future pandemics occurring. These measures include:-

A worldwide ban on wet markets;-

A worldwide ban on the wildlife trade;-

A worldwide ban on the use of animals in traditional medicine;-

A worldwide ban on factory farming – all farming should be practised to a minimum of RSPCA Assured/Freedom Food standards;-

A worldwide ban on the long distance transport of animals;-

A ban on the use of all animals in entertainment with zoos held to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) standards;-

The promotion of non-animal based sources of nutrition (which will promote the health of the world’s population);

In order to implement these measures we would recommend that the United Nations works in association with organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (the OIE), the International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to advise on animal welfare standards.

As this is a critical and urgent issue, our members would very much appreciate a considered response to our letter.

Yours sincerely,

The Animal Interfaith Alliance, on behalf of the following 15 faith based organisations:

The Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals

Animals in Islam

Bhagvatinandji Education and Health Trust

Catholic Concern for Animals

Christian Vegetarians and Vegans UK

The Christian Vegetarian Association US

Dharma Voices for Animals

The Institute of Jainology

The Jewish Vegetarian Society

The Mahavir Trust

The Oshwal Association of the UK

Pan-Orthodox Concern for

Concern for Animals

The Romeera Foundation

The Sadhu Vaswani Centre

The Young Jains

Cc:Inger Anderson – UN Environment Chief

Iyad Abu Moghli – UN Environment Programme – Faith for Earth

Copies to media

Barbara Gardner Animal Interfaith Alliance

Free Humane Education: Rekindling the spirit of care and respect for life

This free offer/download, comes from our friends at The Humane Education Trust in partnership with Animal Voice South Africa.

As many parents have now home teaching their children this may be of use


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For more info about what we do please visit our website at

The Desert Tradition and the Natural Environment – John Chryssavgis

In this article Fr John Chryssavgis explores the rich tradition of the Desert Monastics and their relationship to animals and the natural world.

Used with permission.

In the early third to the late fourth centuries, the dry desert of Egypt became a testing ground for exploring hidden truths not only about heaven but also about earth. More precisely, it served as a forging ground for drawing connections between the two. The hermits who lived in that harsh spiritual laboratory analyzed what it means to be human in a natural world—with all the tensions and temptations, all the struggle and survival, all the contacts with good and conflicts with evil. These men and women dared to push the limits, to challenge the norms.

Their questions and responses are found in collections of aphorisms—or apophthegmata (“sayings”)—preserved in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic.[1] 

Listening to their words, meditating on them in silence and subsequently transmitting them to others, help us to live humanely, to be more human, to be truly alive. Their stories were ways in which the desert elders maintained a sense of continuity with their past, while fostering a sense of connection with future generations. These stories from the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Sinai are more than just a part of the Christian past. They are a part of our human heritage; they communicate eternal values, spiritual truths.

It may be surprising to find that such ancient texts are so fresh and accessible in our age. It was a strange way of life, strange even to secular society in the fourth century and perhaps for many Christians of the time. These were men and women who chose to live outside towns and villages, as far as possible from civilization, often entirely alone. They had very few possessions, choosing to do without them in order to be free for God. They lived in simple huts or rough caves, eating and drinking a sparse diet of bread or herbs with water. Their clothing entailed a simple garment, with a sheepskin that could be used as a blanket or rug. They were neither scholars nor preachers, neither teachers nor clerics, and they came from all kinds of backgrounds. They learned how to be still and silent, to know themselves and to know God, themselves ultimately becoming part of God’s redeeming work for the whole world.

So did these early desert hermits recognize or overlook the natural and aesthetic beauty of creation through their austere life and harsh discipline? What is the relationship of the desert dwellers who filled this region with their environment and with animals? In renouncing the world, did the Desert Fathers and Mothers overlook the world, or did they enjoy a new awareness of everything in the world—human, animal, and natural?

In the Life of Anthony, we are told by Athanasius of Alexandria that Abba Anthony saw the desert for the first time “fell in love with it” (Chapter 50). The desert was home for Antony and the other elders who lived there. It was there that they experienced a sense of connection with the earth as well as their communion with heaven. It is there that they also experienced a sense of continuity with the entire creation.

Abba John said: “Let us imitate our Fathers. For they lived in this place with much austerity and peace.” (John, Saying 4)

In the desert, holiness was part and parcel of wholeness. If at-one-ment with their neighbor was of the essence in the spirituality of the desert, so too was at-tune-ment to their environment, to the world, and to God.

Abba John said: “My children, let us not pollute this place, since our Fathers have previously cleansed it.” (Saying 5)

The same worldview and conviction informs the attitude of the desert hermits to animals. In fact, when it comes to respecting or relating to animals, there is an abundance of stories describing the connection that the desert dwellers enjoyed with their untamed “co-inhabitants.”

One of the Fathers used to talk about Abba Paul, from lower Egypt. He used to take various kinds of snakes in his bare hands. The brothers admired him, saying: “Tell us what you have done to receive this grace.” He replied: “Forgive me, but if someone acquires purity, then everything cooperates with that person, just as it was for Adam and Eve in paradise.” (Paul, Saying 1)

Abba Antony also said: “Reverence with moderation allows people to become stewards even over wild animals.” (Anthony, Saying 1)

Anthony certainly grasped the truth of this statement. He had, after all, persuaded the animals of his region to live at peace with him without disturbing him. In fact, the notion of resembling Adam and Eve before their Fall from the condition of grace, is the ideal to which the desert hermits aspired.

They said of Abba Pambo that his face was like that of Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. Pambo’s face likewise shone like fire. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes. (Pambo, Saying 12)

Of course, we find such a relationship with nature and animals in later mystics as well. It is a relationship that transcends place; we see it in the writing of Isaac the Syrian (in the seventh century) as well as in the life of Francis of Assisi (1181–1226). And it is a relationship that transcends time; we observe it in the lives of the early hermits as well as in the nineteenth-century life of Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833).

However, what is at stake here is much more than mere emotional attachment to animals. The connection of the early monks and of the later mystics with their natural surroundings as well as with the native animals is neither superficial nor sentimental; it is, in fact, deeply sacred and spiritual. It stems from an inner conviction that God created this world out of love, which further implies that God cares for the world and for all that exists in the world, both animate and inanimate.

Through this lens, then, the desert hermits are revealed to be—in a most intense and most intimate manner—“materialists.” In the desert, everything—including the smallest form of life and the slightest speck of dust—really mattered! In God’s eyes, the wild animals and the sand dunes are of sacred importance and have their unique place alongside humanity. In their understanding of heaven, birds and trees could never be eliminated or excluded.

For the early fathers and mothers of Egypt, the purpose of fleeing to the desert was precisely in order to restore a lost order, to reestablish a reconciliation with all creation, to reaffirm a connection between the natural world and God. The world becomes a wasteland unless it comes alive in an authentic human being, who in turn becomes the eyes, the conscience, and the heart of the world. So if we miss the story of the desert, we create an alienation between the world and ourselves, ultimately causing a division within ourselves. When we neglect the world of the spirit, we also neglect the spirit of the world. And when we disregard the world of the soul, we definitely overlook the living mystery of all God’s creation.

[1] For one of the most popular anthologies, see Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Mowbrays, 1975. Revised edition: Liturgical Press, 1984.

The Fr. John Chryssavgis is a Greek Orthodox theologian, environment adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and author of numerous books on the Church Fathers and Orthodox Spirituality, most recently Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality

Creation Care: Christian Responsibility Course

I have adjusted the formatting to make it easier to adapt. Aug 2020

This is a course/part/module for use in Christian Churches, parishes/youth groups/seminary institutions.

It is written for an Orthodox audience but its teachings are universal. Ideally, the course would be translated into different languages for use in Orthodox countries such as Romanian, Serbian, Russian, etc. It can of course, be used by other Christian denominations. We will develop short videos by leading theologians on each theme, which can be translated or replaced by theologians in these different countries. I give permission for priests to adapt the material as they see fit; all I ask is the professional courtesy of authorship recognition:

 Creation Care: Christian Responsibility

By Dr. Christina Nellist


Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?  Luke 14:5


This is a course/part/module for use in Christian Churches, parishes/youth groups/seminary institutions. It may also provide a useful framework for homilies.

This part/module establishes that concern and compassion for animals is not a modern phenomenon but one found both in the Bible and in the earliest teachings of the Christian Church. It provides an anamnesis of a lesser-known Orthodox tradition, where all animals are loved and protected by God and that their suffering is against God’s will. It reminds us that in our role as Image, we should strive to reflect the Archetype in our lives. It also highlights the soteriological implications of abuse and exploitation of God’s non-human animal beings. By causing harm to animals or by our indifference to it, human salvation is in jeopardy.

It is written for an Orthodox audience but its teachings are universal. Ideally, the course would be translated into different languages for use in Orthodox countries such as Romania, Serbia, Russia, etc. It can of course, be used by other Christian denominations. We will develop short videos by leading Orthodox theologians on each theme, which can be translated and/or replaced by theologians in different countries. I give permission for priests to adapt the material as they see fit; all I ask is the professional courtesy of authorship recognition.

The module is divided into seven/eight* themes/units/lessons:

1) The innate goodness of God’s creation.

2) The correct interpretation of Dominion.

3) Compassionate care through the Image of God.

4) Examples of Behavioural Guidance.

5) The concept of Sacramental Life.

6) Sins against the animal creation.

7) A role for the Church.

*8) Practical examples of Responsible Care.

*This unit may, if preferred, be incorporated into unit 7.


1) A 5000-word paper on either of the following themes:

a) Reflecting God’s love and compassion in our relationships and treatment of animals.

b) An Eastern Orthodox ethical approach to the use of animals and the environment.

2) Two 15 minute Homilies on Creation Care based on the material provided in the course.




Now, among the “all things” our world must be embraced. It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis.[1]

On reading the various patristic texts on Genesis, there is consensus that: humans and animals receive the “breath of life”; God’s description of all of His creatures is “good” and “very good”[2] and we learn of the innate harmony, unity and violence-free peaceableness of the original Edenic life.

The Fathers teach that God creates in order to be known to His creation and acknowledge not only the common ontology of all created beings but also their individual agency and integrity.[3] Such ideas are evident in the work of early commentators such as St. Athanasius who teaches that:

“No part of creation is left void of him: He has filled all things everywhere.”[4]

Knight (2017) observes that this has developed into an understanding that “everything is in God.”[5]

By choosing to create, fill and sustain all things, the Christian God of the Fathers is a God who is intimately connected to His creatures, unlike the gods of the heretics.[6]

The Fathers also recognized that only the human creatures had sinned and that only humans were in need of instruction and repentance. St. Irenaeus is clear:

While all things were made by God, certain of His creatures sinned and revolted from a state of submission to God, and others, indeed the great majority, persevered, and do still persevere, in [willing] subjection to Him who formed them. 7

Papavassiliou (2013) summarizes the different Christian theological interpretations of Genesis: those who dismiss Genesis as a myth of the pre-scientific world, those who try to work modern science into the creation narrative and those who take biblical texts literally as the Word of God. 8 He teaches that all three approaches are to some degree inaccurate for they view Genesis as an account of creation history rather than the traditional Eastern Orthodox perspective of theological revelation. In essence, Genesis gives us a glimpse into Who God is. 9 This theophany helps us to ‘know’ more about God and His will. This in turn, helps us define our role as Image and determine which behaviours are, and are not, acceptable to God. This revelation also establishes that unrighteous and sinful behaviours are part of the criteria used to judge those who fail to repent and desist from sinful ways.

God’s original choice of a plant-based diet not only evidences the violence-free harmony of Edenic life, it also indicates the ideal diet. Had that not been the case, God would not have chosen this diet for us.

Discussion points:

Q. In light of the above, ought we to be cautious of any teachings that try to justify the suffering of the animal creation?

Q. Do you believe that ‘all creation’ will be made anew?

Q. Do you believe that God’s original choice of diet was unsuitable for His creation?


1 St. Irenaeus, 2.2:5.

2 Gn 1:20-22, 24-5, 30-31.

3 See St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2.4; 2.6.2, “when even dumb animals tremble and yield at the invocation of His name”; 4.20.1; 2.1:1; 3.16.6 “summing up all things in Himself.”; 2.11.1; 3.8.3; 4.20.6; 4.9.1.

4 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, S: 8:1; see also St. Basil who informs us that nothing is outside God’s providence or neglected by him, Hexaemeron, 8: 5. CANNPNF 2-08. In a moment of inspired perception, which points to God’s constant involvement in creation, Maximus states, “God, properly speaking, is everything” St. Maximus, Scholia on the Divine Names 4.25 PG. 4. 296BC. This restates St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.2.5; also, St. Maximus, Amb 7 c.f. 1 Cor 15:28; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Homily 6:8; Ps 85:9. 

5 Panentheism.

6 E.g. Valentinus and the unbegotten Dyad-Proarch, which had nothing to do with creation of our world (kenoma) and was the result of ungovernable passions of a lower Aeon-Sophia, see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.3.

7 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.18.7; 3.9:1, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”; also, 4.4.3.

8 Papavassiliou, V. ‘The Theology of Genesis.’ Available at: http://gocas.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=39%3Alessons-in-orthodox-faith&id=113%3A280112-the-theology-of-genesis&Itemid=114. 

9 For an investigation of Orthodox understanding of early Church texts on Genesis, see Bouteneff, Beginnings. Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. 2008. 


O God of our fathers and the Lord of mercy, Who made all things by Your Word And in Your wisdom, built a man, That by You He might be the master of what is created, And manage the world in holiness and righteousness, And pass judgement with uprightness of soul; Give me the wisdom that sits by Your throne. 1

Met. Kallistos of Diokleia (Ware) reflects the contemporary Orthodox view:

It is said, that we are to have dominion as humans over the created order but dominion does not mean domination or ruthless tyranny. This dominion that humans are given is part of being in God’s Image, so what this means is that just as God cares for His creation and loves it, so we, after the image of God, are to care and love creation. This to me is the basic position of the Orthodox Church in regard to animals. 2

His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew speaks to the point:

Unfortunately, humanity has lost the liturgical relationship between the Creator God and the creation; instead of priests and stewards, human beings have been reduced to tyrants and abusers of nature. 3

These teachings not only support the premise that our behaviours should reflect the Image and Likeness of God but also acknowledge that some historical interpretations relevant to this subject are flawed. 4 Modern Eastern Orthodox scholarship accepts that the interpretation of dominion as domination is an error, as it ignores the blueprint of God as Archetype and fails to recognize God’s constraints on human freedom.

This Orthodox tradition stands in stark contrast to other flawed teachings exemplified by St. Aquinas (harking back to St. Augustine and Aristotle) who taught that animals ‘are naturally enslaved and accommodated to the uses of others.’ 5 This ‘enslavement’ portrays a negative mind-set that inevitable creates the potential for negative relationships with animals. They are no longer beings of God but objects for our use. Such teachings stand in direct opposition to Orthodox teachings on how our relationships with ‘all things’ should reflect the ‘Image and Likeness’ of an all-loving and compassionate God.

Unfortunately for animals, humans and continued life on this planet, the dominant historical traditions have tended to separate humans from the rest of God’s creation. The consequences of this separationist theology and philosophy, has led to the misuse of our God-given responsibility as Icon of God, to ensure the flourishing of all of God’s created beings. This in turn, has led to our present climate crisis, species extinction and the pollution of our air, land and water.

One important aspect of our misuse of our role as Icon of God has been our willingness to view dominion as giving us the right to do whatsoever we please with the rest of the created world. St Gregory of Nyssa warns us against such theories:

“Use; do not misuse; so, too, Paul teaches you. Find your rest in temperate relaxation. Do not indulge in a frenzy of pleasures. Don’t make yourself a destroyer of absolutely all living things, whether they be four-footed and large or four-footed and small, birds, fish, exotic or common a good bargain or expensive. The sweat of the hunter ought not to fill your stomach like a bottomless well that many men digging cannot fill. Our gourmands do not, in fact, spare even the bottom of the sea, nor do they limit themselves to the fish that swim in the water, but they also bring up the crawling marine beasts from the ocean bed and drag them to shore. One pillages the oyster banks, one pursues the sea urchin, one captures the creeping cuttlefish, one plucks the octopus from the rock it grips, one eradicates the molluscs from their pedestal. All animal species, those that swim in the surface waters or live in the depths of the sea, all are thus brought up into the atmosphere. The artful skills of the hedonist cleverly devise traps appropriate to each.” 6

Note the negative language used to depict those who hunt both land and marine animals; describing them as “artful hedonists” who pillage, pursue, capture, pluck and eradicate. ‘Artful’ describes one who acts in a sly, cunning, crafty or wily way, seeking to attain one’s ends by guileful or devious means. Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good and stands in opposition to the tenets of Christianity. This negative language indicates both ‘the mind’ of this Father and the misuse inherent in the acts.

An important teaching of use to leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church is St. Maximus’s teaching that those who eat food for purposes other than for nourishment or healing are to be condemned as self-indulgent because they misuse God gifts. Importantly, he states “in all things misuse is a sin.” 7

There are numerous contemporary studies detailing how our present levels of consumption and production of animal food products are not only the cause of high levels of suffering to animals and harmful to human health but also unsustainable from an environmental perspective and a significant factor in global warming. 8

Discussion points:

Q. Do you believe our treatment of animals reflects the Image and Likeness of God?

Q. Do you understand the impact of the animal-based diet upon global warming?


1. Wisdom 9:1-4.

2. Oxford interview, March 2014, see Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, Ch. 6.

3. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 364; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 2011. 

4. Recognition of errors in theological teachings is evidenced throughout the history of the Church.

5. St. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, “Whether it is Unlawful to Kill Any Living Thing” Second Part of the Second Part, (QQ. 1-189) Q. 64:1, Reply to Objection 2. It will be interesting to see how the Catholic Church reacts to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si which challenges this traditional view and also acknowledges that Christians “have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures” LS: 67, 68, 117. 

6. St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Love for the Poor, 198. 

7. St. Maximus, Three Centuries on Love, No 86.

8. See Knight, A. ‘Animal Agriculture and Climate Change’ in The Global Guide to Animal Protection, ed. A. Linzey, 254-256. 2013. 


God has foreseen all, He has neglected nothing. His eye… watches over all. He is present everywhere… If God has not left the sea urchin outside His providence, is He without care for you? 1                                     

If we believe that God’s theophany has a cosmic dimension and His relationship with all created beings is essentially a loving and compassionate one, this will determine, or at the very least, inform our own theological, ethical and moral positions in relation to our treatment and relationship with non-human animal beings and their environments.

The traditional Eastern Orthodox teaching is that we as Image are to strive to achieve the ‘Image and Likeness’ of an all-loving God by emulating His ‘qualities’ in our lives. 2 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew informs us that God’s blueprint “by definition predetermines an analogous ethos that is imposed upon us.” 3

Orthodoxy acknowledges that whilst we can never know God’s essence 4 we can know some things about God. Through St. Irenaeus and others, we learn that the Archetype is “the source of all that is good” 5 and “has in Himself the disposition [to show kindness], because He is good”. 6 God is “patient, benign, merciful, mighty to save.” 7 We also learn that he who “worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him” 8 for God “has loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.” 9 St. Irenaeus also teaches that God is desirous of “mercy not sacrifice” 10 and that God’s instruction “can never be exhausted.” 11

Good One, who in Your mercy sustain beings: above and those below and distribute the treasure of Your mercy to men and animals. 12

God’s loving, merciful and providential care for animals is not only taught by the Fathers such as St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who teaches that as the Father provides for animals, so too should we, 13 but also in the Psalms 14 and New Testament:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 15

The Fathers are equally clear that a God Who is the source of all love, compassion, mercy and goodness is “without blame, and worketh no evil,” 16 nor cruel, abusive or exploitative. 17 This too is an important part of reflecting the ‘Image and Likeness’ of God.

The Desert Fathers knew that a person with a pure heart was able to sense the connection with the rest of creation and especially with the animal world…This connection is not merely emotional; it is profoundly spiritual in its motive and context. It gives a sense of continuity and community with all of creation while providing an expression of identity and compassion with it [and] recognition that…all things were created in Christ and in Christ all things hold together. 18

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew not only gives legitimacy to calls for Eastern Orthodox theological discussions on the subject of animal suffering, he also supports the suggestion that the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church have a significant role to play in reducing that suffering.

Not only are we to live with a Eucharistic and liturgical ethos 19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that how we respond and treat those in need, “especially through the lifestyle we lead”, reflects how we worship God. 20 Importantly, he exhorts us:

to respond to nature with the same delicacy, the same sensitivity and tenderness, with which we respond to a human being in a relationship. 21

Thus, love for God, love for human beings, and love for animals cannot be separated sharply. There may be a hierarchy of priority, but it is not a sharp distinction of comparison. 22

This extension to the normative understanding of caring relationships might seem a contemporary fashion yet as we noted, this would be a misreading of Eastern Orthodox tradition. The early Fathers, like St. Cyril of Alexandria, used the following interpretation of Christ’s teaching in Luke 14:5:

Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?    

St Cyril and St John Chrysostom are very clear:

Christ refutes their unrelenting shamelessness by the convincing arguments that he uses. ”Whose son of you” he says, “or whose ox shall fall into a pit and he will not immediately draw him out on the Sabbath day.” If the law forbids showing mercy on the Sabbath, why do you take compassion on that which has fallen into the pit…The God of all does not cease to be kind. 23

Holy people are most loving and gentle in their dealings with their fellows, and even with the lower animals: for this reason, was it said that ‘A righteous man is merciful to the life of his beast.’ 24

Discussion points:

Q. In light of what we know of God, do we believe that God would be indifferent to the suffering of any of His created beings?


1 St. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron 7:5.

2 St. Irenaeus, The Doctrine of the Apostolic Preaching 32-4, 100; also Against Heresies, 3.21.10.

3 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Environment and Ethics’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 135; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

4 E.g., St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:13.4; 4.9.1. Knowing God also includes the wider sense of perceiving and experiencing God. 

5 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.13.3; 4.11.2.

6 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.29.2; 2.30.9.

7 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.20.

8 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.7.

9 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.6.1.

10 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.17.4.

11 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.28.3; 2.13.9.

12 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Table Blessings, Memra IX in Hansbury, Hymns of St Ephrem the Syrian, 36.

13 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies Homily 7:6; also Mt 10:29-30; Mt 6: 26; Lk 12:6; Jn 5:  17.

14 Ps 103:10-21. See also Psalms 35:7, 49:10-14; 144:9; 145:9; 146:9.

15 Mt 6:26; also 2 Cor 1:3. 

16 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.3.

17 St. Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, CANNPNF O2-1.

18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery 106.

19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 98-103; also, Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 118, 270-1, 351.

20 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘On the Theological and Spiritual Insights of Pope John Paul II’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 297. 

21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘On the Theological and Spiritual Insights of Pope John Paul II’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love.

22 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.

23 Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 101, 236. 24 Attwater, St. John Chrysostom, 59.


Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgements are a great deep; Men and cattle, You will save O Lord How you multiply Your mercy, O God. 1

Both the Old and New Testaments offer us numerous examples of universally accepted ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’ behaviours. 2 Such behaviours are an indication of God’s will and desired actions for humankind, which should “govern and rule in all things.” 3

The Fathers grounded their theology in scripture and the concept of an all-loving God, Who encourages righteous and merciful treatment of His non-human animals.

On occasion, there is also evidence of an equivalence of care, the most obvious of which is God’s condescension to save a remnant of each species of animal from the Flood, including those that some humans view as having no value and His subsequent covenant with them all. 4 There are also specific teachings from Exodus and Deuteronomy regarding animal protection, which includes instructions to act in order to reduce animal suffering.

In Exodus, we find two teachings that are striking because the instructions are to be undertaken even if the animal’s owner is an enemy:

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. 5

There is a similar teaching in Exodus 23:5 where compassion is also in play:

If you see your enemy’s donkey fallen beneath its load, you shall not walk away from it, but shall surely help him with it.

Such teachings emphasize the constant requirement to act with compassion and mercy to all created beings rather than indulging ourselves in the sinful passion of enmity. Significantly, Deuteronomy repeats these teachings, although here the animals belong to one’s family:

When you see your brother’s young bull or his sheep wandering on the road, you should not ignore them: you shall certainly return them to your brother. 6

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his young bull fall down on the road and ignore them: you shall surely help him lift them up again. 7

Repetition of teachings to protect, rescue and behave compassionately to animals that are lost or in danger of injury, be they owned by one’s family, neighbour, stranger or one’s enemy 8 are not to be ignored. They too are examples of the behavioural guidance that we as Image are to emulate. Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) speaks to the point:

All this calls for what we may describe as an ecological asceticism. It is noteworthy that the great figures of the Christian ascetical tradition were all sensitive towards the suffering of all creatures. The equivalent of a St. Francis of Assisi is abundantly present in the monastic tradition of the East. There are accounts of the lives of the desert saints, which present the ascetic as weeping for the suffering or death of every creature and as leading a peaceful and friendly co-existence even with the beasts. This is not romanticism. It springs from a loving heart and the conviction that between the natural world and ourselves there is an organic unity and interdependence that makes us share a common fate just as we have the same Creator. 9

If we apply these teachings to contemporary societies and include animals that are abandoned, we ought to be mindful of the above teachings before negatively labelling those in animal protection organisations who cooperate with God by acting in exactly the same compassionate ways. 10 Perhaps we ought to consider engaging with people or organisations who rescue animals that are lost, abandoned or in need of loving homes, for they can legitimately be viewed as cooperating with God. 11

Some might reject this point by arguing that the rescuing or taking animals into our homes and providing for them, is a modern phenomenon. This is not the case. Scripture provides us with a teaching on exactly these points:

But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring them to your own house and they shall remain with you until your brother seeks them: then you shall restore them to him 12

St. Gregory of Nyssa acknowledges early patristic affirmation of this teaching when asking:

Are we not willing to shelter pigs and dogs under our roof? 13

In addition, whilst these teachings depict animals falling onto the road rather than into a pit, they are the foreshadowing of Christ’s teachings in Matthew and Luke. 14

Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?

As such, these texts not only give ethical and moral guidance but also emphasize the spiritual teaching within the texts. In addition, we see that equivalence of care, first expounded in Genesis, is repeated in both Exodus and Deuteronomy:

Six days you shall labor and do all your works, but the seventh day…you shall do no work-you, your son and your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your ox, your donkey, and all of your cattle, and your resident alien dwelling among you; that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15

Such teachings indicate not only an equivalence of care and compassion but also that the Sabbath law is made for all created beings and importantly, that non-human animals may be viewed, as an extension of one’s family or household. This is an important point, which has relevance to later discussions on contemporary Eastern Orthodox teachings on extending justice, mercy and rights to the non-human animal creation.

Further examples on compassion and mercy being extended to non-human animals are found in Dt 22: 6-7 where we are instructed that the mother of young birds must not be taken with the young; in Dt 22:10 where we should not plough with animals of uneven strength and in Dt 25:4 where working animals should not be muzzled. 16 This is reinforced in Ps 144 which again informs us that God’s mercy extends to all, regardless of who receives it:

“The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” 17

As noted above, Ps 35 gives testimony to God’s righteousness, judgment and mercy linked to the saving of animals. 18 That cattle are to be saved and that they are to receive mercy should concern us in light of the great suffering they endure in our animal food production industries.

The ‘rightness’ of these types of behaviour is further evidenced in the traditional Orthodox interpretation of Proverbs where a righteous man is identified as one who has “compassion on the lives of his cattle.” 19   From this, we may reasonably conclude that an ‘unrighteous man’ is one who lacks compassion for his animals.

As noted, there is a patristic tradition of compassion and mercy to animals and the most famous commentary is from St. Isaac the Syrian who, we can argue, teaches that mercy is mercy, regardless of who receives it. 20 There are however, less well-known texts, where he teaches on mercy, justice, compassion, non-violence and oppression. 21 For example, he teaches us that the enactment of mercy brings us closer to God and importantly for this theme, of the criticisms we are likely to encounter because of such ascetic practices. 22 

Of equal importance is St. Isaac’s teaching below, which is both a profound observation and of relevance to all forms of suffering:

“Oppression is eradicated by compassion and renunciation” 23

For those who show compassion and mercy to animals, the criticisms and accusations of sentimentalism or indifference to human suffering is commonplace, yet research does not support either charge. 24 Despite criticisms and scorn, St. Isaac urges us to persist, for it is only through love and compassion that evil in all its forms is overcome.

Perhaps those who continue to extend their compassion and love to animals will take heart from these and the following teaching. Here St. Isaac offers a teaching on inclusivity, which extends to all of God’s created beings and is another key component of a compassionate Orthodox position on animal suffering:

And what is a merciful heart…the burning of the heart unto the whole creation, man, fowls and beasts, demons and whatever exists. So that by the recollection and the sight of them the eyes shed tears on account of the force of mercy which moves the heart by great compassion…Then the heart becomes weak and it is not able to bear hearing or examining injury or any insignificant suffering of anything in creation…And therefore, even in behalf of the irrational beings and the enemies of truth and even in behalf of those who do harm to it, at all time he offers prayers with tears that they may be guarded and strengthened: even in behalf of the kinds of reptiles, on account of his great compassion which is poured out in his heart without measure, after the example of God.25

In Lossky, the translation has “can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain being inflicted upon a creature.” In this teaching, St. Isaac draws us back to the key point of Image-mercy, love and compassion “are after the example of God.”

We find similar commentary from Lossky on St. Gregory’s teaching that the Image of God is conceivable “through the idea of participation in the infinite goodness of God.” 26

Teachings on Image through participation in God’s goodness requiring a heart full of mercy and compassion “after the example of God” reaffirm teachings on behavioural guidance and the need to reflect that Image in our treatment of animals and the wider environment. It is through such participation and behaviours that oppression in all its forms is overcome.

There are other sources to support St. Isaac’s teachings. For example, St. John Chrysostom observes that Holy people are loving and gentle in their dealings with animals and by Theodore the Studite, who asks:

Is not someone who sees a beast of burden being carried over a precipice seized with pity? 27

The above teachings not only serve to highlight the spiritual interconnection between all created beings they are also important for recognising the need for engagement with our contemporaries who cooperate with God by rescuing animals from harm. Indeed, we might view the modern-day animal shelters/sanctuaries as contemporary examples of the Ark.

The significance of these texts for the subject of animal suffering in contemporary societies cannot be understated. One such example is as follows. Too many people are unwilling to neuter their animals and many use the excuse that the church forbids this procedure. As a consequence, many animals become pregnant, which in turn, results in large numbers of animals being abandoned and poisoned. It is important to note that this is not the position of the Church. Metropolitan Kallistos informs us that:

To my knowledge, the Orthodox Church has never forbidden the neutering of animals and i consider that used in a responsible way this is a good method of preventing unwanted animals…Poisoning seems to me an evil way to dispose of animals because it will usually involve a lingering and painful death. There are more humane ways of dealing with the problem.28

These abandonments and/or poisonings are a dereliction of our duty as Image to care for God’s creation. They are two of the most intractable problems of animal protection and cause immense suffering to millions of animals throughout the world.

Discussion points:

Q. If, as the Fathers teach, we are to embrace all of creation 29 and if, we are to hear the cry of the earth, should we not therefore, be willing to hear the very real cries of the suffering animals?

Q. If incidents of compassionate care, reverence and respect between man and animals are a standard mark of Orthodox sanctity, ought we to be wary of dismissing our contemporaries who exhibit similar character traits?

Q. In light of the above, would you now consider neutering your animals?


1 Ps 35:7.

2 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.2; Gal 5:22.

3 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.34.4.

4 Gn 9: 9-10. 

5 Ex 23: 4.

6 Dt 22:1; also, Dt 22:3. 

7 Dt 22:4.

8 Here we may legitimately add ‘stranger’.

9 ‘Comments on Laudato Si’.’ 

10 Sentimentalism or indifference to human suffering is a frequent charge, though research does not support the charges.

11 See, Cyprus Case Study, Ch. Five of Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, which examines the relationship between the Eastern Orthodox Church and animal protection groups on the island.

12 Dt 22:2.

13 St. Gregory of Nyssa, 2nd Homily, On the Love of the Poor, 203. 

14 Mt 12:11-12; Lk 14:5.

15 Dt 5:13-14; also Ex 23:12. There is a similar teaching in St. Ephrem’s Hymns on the Nativity

16 Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok, inform us that the 3rd century scholar Levi directly interpreted this “biblical legislation” to prove the morally advanced position of the Jewish people, Numbers Rabbah, 10.1, 17.5, in Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah, 30.

17 Ps 144:9, 36.

18 Ps 35:7.

19 Pr 12:10. See St. John Chrysostom’s reference to this passage in relation to his comments on Holy people and kindness to animals in, Attwater, St. John Chrysostom, 59. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew text translates as “The righteous person knows the needs [nefesh, literally ‘soul’] of his animal” in Gross, ‘An Overview of Jewish Animal Ethics’ paper given at the Animal Welfare and Religion Symposium, Winchester University, 2nd Nov, 2016 and based on his chapter ‘Jewish Animal Ethics’ in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality, Ch. 26.

20 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Homily 74.

21 St. Isaac, Six Treaties on the Behaviour of Excellence, Treatise 1, Ch. 8, in Mystic Treatises.

22 Fr. J. Breck and Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) make similar comments for contemporary ethicists.

23 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties Ch. 1, 63.

24 The opposite appears to be the case. 

25 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Ch. 1, Homily 74. For slightly different translations, see Met. Kallistos (Ware) ‘The Soul in Greek Christianity’ in Crabbe, From Soul to Self, 49-69. Dr. Sebastian Brock, expert in Syriac studies, defines ‘compassionate’ as the closet to the original Syriac meaning.

26 Lossky, Mystical Theology, 118. 

27 Catecheses 52, Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160305063629/ http:/anastasis.org.uk/. I remind the reader of St Ephrem’s teaching that God’s mercy extends to non-human animals in his Table Blessings

28 Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, Chapter Six, pp. 162, 184.

29 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2:5. 


And do not wonder that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. 1

The Orthodox tradition recognizes that Christ sanctifies His creation through His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and the Eucharistic offering. 2

There are numerous biblical and patristic teachings where “the earth” and at times animals are portrayed as praising and knowing God, to support the point. Theokritoff (2009) and Gschwandtner (2012) provide numerous examples of this spiritual insight in ecclesial texts relating to the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection; where the entire created world is depicted as reacting to these salvific events with clear statements that the earth and all that is in it, recognizes and knows God.

All things proclaim your greatness and your strength. 3

The whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Word, that Thou holdest all in unity. 4

In the twenty-third year, let the ass praise Him, that gave its foal for Him to ride on, that lost the bonds, that opened the mouth of the dumb, that opened also the mouth of the wild asses. 5

The creatures complained that they were worshipped; in silence they sought release. The All-Releaser heard, and because He endured it not He came down put on the form of a servant in the womb, came forth, set free Creation. R., Blessed be He Who made his creation his gain! 6

Other texts indicate that creation has a voice that cries out to God and has ‘human’ characteristics ranging from fear to joy. 7 St. Anastasius of Sinai teaches that not only did creation rejoice, but also that it did so when it learnt of its “transformation from corruption to incorruption.” 8 To add further support to this argument, we may look to the corpus of patristic teachings on the sanctification of creation. Theokritoff (2009) informs us that St. Gregory Nazianzen taught that Christ sanctified everything He touched: Christ “sleeps in order to bless sleep” “weeps in order to make tears blessed” 9 and explicitly links Christ’s baptism with the sanctification of the baptismal waters. 10 St. Basil of Seleucia taught that Christ saved the world and liberated the earth 11 and recounts all the benefits of salvation including “a principle of purification for the world” and a “renewing of nature.” 12  This style of commentary exists until today. Met. Kallistos of Diokleia (Ware) often retells the following account from Mount Athos:

An elder is distracted in his morning prayer by the dawn chorus of frogs from a nearby marsh and sends his disciple to tell them to be quiet until the monks have finished the Midnight Office. When the disciple duly transmits the message, the frogs reply, `We have already said the Midnight Office and are in the middle of Matins; can’t you wait till we’ve finished? 13

One need not travel to Mount Athos to experience something similar, for all have encountered the dawn and dusk chorus of birdsong. Such texts appear to answer the above question by illustrating that all creation has a type of knowledge of God and that He in turn knows each of His created beings. 14 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that all creation also requires “an appropriate veneration” 15:

If the earth is sacred, then our relationship with the natural environment is mystical or sacramental…it contains the seed and trace of God…from this belief in the sacredness and beauty of all creation, the Orthodox Church articulates its crucial concept of cosmic transfiguration. 16

This mutual ontology has relevance for discussions on the sanctification and salvation of animals which ought to influence our treatment of animals in the ‘animal industries’ and elsewhere. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew refers to this as a “deep ecology” that is “inextricably linked with deep theology”:

“Even a stone,” writes Basil the Great, “bears the mark of God’s Word. This is true of an ant, a bee, and a mosquito, the smallest of creatures. For He spread the wide heavens and laid the immense seas; and He created the tiny hollow shaft of the bee’s sting.” 17

The fish, then, is a soteriological statement of faith…Therefore, any misuse or abuse of fishing and fisheries relates in a personal and profound way to Christ Himself. It leaves a scar on the very Body of Christ Himself. 18

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s teaching here lends support to the suggestion that in our cruelty and in the inflicting of pain to animals, we may continue to inflict suffering on Christ. His profound teachings have obvious implications for our treatment of all forms of animals.

Despite the fact that animals are not specifically mentioned in the new ecclesial text for the environment 19 we are nonetheless informed that “all things” and the “whole earth” sings Gods praise and importantly, that they are to be protected “from every abuse”:

You give life to all and conduct all things with ineffable judgments; from harmful pollutions and from every abuse save those who cry out, “God of our fathers, blessed are you!” By your will, Lord, you adorned the heavens with stars, while you made the whole earth fair with flowers and trees as it sings, “God of our fathers, blessed are you.” 20

We have therefore a tradition originating in the early Church, confirmed in biblical texts and lasting until today, of all created beings knowing God, calling to God and blessing and praising God. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew synthesizes these early teachings and illustrates their relevance for us today:

Our deep appreciation for the natural environment is directly related to Orthodox sacramental dimension of life and the world…somewhat resembling a wide-angle lens that we can better appreciate the broader implications of such problems as the threat to ocean fisheries, the disappearance of wetlands, the damage to coral reefs, or the destruction of animal and plant life. 21

Discussion points:

Q. If animals are sacred and to be saved, what are the soteriological implications for us if we allow violent and abusive practices to continue without comment?


1 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies, 13:2; see also 13:35 & 15:3.

2 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.6.

3 Mode 4, Joseph was amazed, in Mikrayiannanites, ‘Vespers for the Environment’ 386.

4 E.g. Holy Saturday, Mother Mary and Ware, Kallistos, The Lenton Triodion, 625, 627; also Col. 1:16-17. 

5 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Nineteen Hymns, 13:27.

6 St. Ephrem the Syrian, 14:35, refrain.

7 St. Andrew of Crete, On the Dormition of Mary, 145-146.

8 St. Anastasius of Sinai, (1985:163) Joie de la transfiguration: D’après les Pères d’Orient Spiritualité Orientale 39. Coune, D. M. (Ed.) Bégrolles-en-Mauges: Abbaye de Bellefontaine, cited in Gschwandtner, Role of Non-Human Creation, 134.

9 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, 37.2, On the Words of the Gospel.

10 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, 29.10, The Third Theological Oration. On The Son; also, 39.15-16 Theophany On the Holy Lights.

11 St. Basil of Seleucia, Third Homily on Pascha, SC.187:209. 

12 St. Basil of Seleucia, SC.187:215.

13 This a frequent story used by Met. Kallistos. Ref: Elder Joseph the Hésychaste, Letter 57 in, Expression of Monastic Experience, 315. Also cited in E. Theokritoff, Creation and Salvation in Orthodox Worship.

14 E.g., Mt 10:29.

15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 90.

16 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 92-3. 

17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishop’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 281; also, ‘Ecumenical Imperative: A Common Responsibility’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 261; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Sacredness of Fish’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 300-1. See also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven. Scotland’s fish farming creates as much nitrogen as yearly sewage from 3.2 million people; also, Lymbery, Farmageddon and Compassion in World Farming research available at http://www.ciwf.org.uk/research/?page=2.

19 Please note that there is only one mention of a plant 

20 Mikrayiannanites, Monk Gerasimos, ‘Vespers for the Environment’ in Chryssavgis and Foltz, 2013: 392. 

21 Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 360-361


Nothing in creation had gone astray in its notions of God, save the human being only. 1

Some humans may not have realised that their actions are abusive and thus have no idea of the resulting negative soteriological implications. Here, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Met. Kallistos of Diokleia informs us that this is not the case:

Those who do evil acts and just as importantly, those who are indifferent to those evil acts, together with those who harm creation even out of negligence constitute not simply an evil, but a grave sin. 2

As soon as you say that animals are part of God’s creation and we humans have a God given responsibility towards the creation, then at once, one sees that animal suffering is both a moral and spiritual question. That is why the Ecumenical Patriarch was so right to insist that the misuse of creation is a sin. 3

By defining which actions are sinful, Eastern Orthodoxy can provide the opportunity of bringing people closer to God. This in turn would lead to a reduction in animal suffering, which will be welcomed, by those who suffer the abuse and those who witness it.

Sinful practices would certainly include ‘traditional’ practices such as sport or recreational hunting and bullfighting.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem outlines the traditional view that all sins are the work of Satan and that if one continues to sin, one will be judged and found wanting. 4 Immediately following this passage St Cyril identifies a further three examples of sin and evil, two of which involve the abuse and exploitation of animals:

Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theatres, 5 and horse races, and hunting, and all such vanity from which that holy man praying to be delivered says to God, turn my eyes from looking vanity (Ps 118, 37) …Do not be interested…nor in the madness of them who in hunts expose themselves to wild beasts, that they may pamper their miserable appetite…Also ignore horse races, that frantic and soul-subverting spectacle. For all these are the pomp of the devil. 6

St. Cyril clearly identifies hunting and horse racing 7 as two examples of “the pomp of the devil”. Whilst we may debate what level of concern he had for the animals involved in these spectacles, the key point is that he defines them as sinful and “soul-subverting” spectacles. It is clear that these practices have negative soteriological implications for those who watch or indulge in such practices.

That St. Cyril identified hunting and horse racing as examples of the devil’s work is profoundly significant when examined in the light of species extinction; the social problems resulting from animal cruelty and interpersonal violence and gambling. 8 Note also his reference to vanity which I submit has relevance for some of the other animal suffering themes, such as the wearing of fur or ‘traditional medicines’ to enhance sexual prowess.

Such opinion is further supported by Canon Law. At the Council in Trullo, (A.D. 692) some three hundred years later, we find not only the same teachings but also an indication of how sinful these practices were believed to be by the severity of the penalties imposed – priests are “deposed” and laymen “cut off.” 9 This is confirmed by the Byzantine canonist Balsamon’s notes on the Ancient Epitome of Canon LI:

Wherefore those who have once sinned deliberately are admonished to cease. If they are not willing to obey, they are to be deposed. But those who are constantly engaged in this wickedness, if they are clerics, they must be deposed from their clerical place, if laymen they must be cut off. 10

The recognition of wickedness and the negative soteriological implications of these practices for human salvation several centuries after St Cyril’s warnings, together with their inclusion into Canon Law, is not something the Fathers would have undertaken without a great of deal of deliberation. As such, I believe we have a clear indication of the ‘mind of the Fathers’ on this theme and, the seriousness of the sin and evil inherent in these practices.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew highlights the soteriological implications of our choices:

We are all endowed with freedom and responsibility; all of us, therefore, bear the consequences of our choices in our use or abuse of the natural environment. 11

Justice extends even beyond one’s fellow human beings to the entire creation. The burning of forests, the criminal exploitation of natural resources…all of these constitutes expressions of transgressing the virtue of justice. 12

His teachings and choice of language corroborate the argument that the abuse and exploitation of animals have consequences for not only the abused animals in the form of pain, fear and suffering but also soteriological implications for humankind.

In addition to those who directly perpetrate acts of cruelty and exploitation, those who know of such acts but are indifferent to them and those who know but shy away from trying in some way to alleviate the abuse, are in a sense giving tacit approval to that process and are accessories after the fact. A useful analogy here is the judgement and guilt of those who accept stolen goods. Essentially, we create the demand.

In order to overcome our sins against animals we must endeavour not only to purify, consecrate and sanctify ourselves through kenosis, self-emptying and humility by living virtuous and violence-free lives, all of which we have heard numerous times before, we must also understand the soteriological consequences of animal abuse. I submit that the only institution that can offer this spiritual advice and teaching is the Church. Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) speaks to the point:

The Church must now introduce in its teaching about sin, the sin against the environment, the ecological sin. Repentance must be extended to cover also the damage we do to nature both as individuals and as societies. This must be brought to the conscience of every Christian who cares for his or her salvation. 13

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that ecological evils have their root both in a “destruction of religious piety within the human heart” 14 and a too narrow definition of sin in the individual’s sense of guilt or wrongdoing:

Yet, sin also contains a cosmic dimension; and repentance from environmental sin demands a radical transformation of the way that we choose to live. 15

Calls for the widening of our concept of sin to include the abuse and exploitation of creation and of the need for transfigured lives have clear relevance for animal suffering.

Such teachings from leading Eastern Orthodox theologians are tremendously important not only for the suffering animals but also for those who try to protect them and are sensitive to their suffering.

The laity (and priests) ought to be taught that even if abuse is not directly inflicted by us, we are culpable via our demands for cheap animal food products; by our vanity in demanding fur when alternatives are available; by our demands for sporting activities or traditions that demand the incarceration or death of innocent creatures and by our demands for cures for the numerous ailments caused by our gluttony and individual selfish behaviours.

This knowledge will materialise when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and academic institutions, include animal suffering in its education of its priests and, when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and its academics engage with the subject of animal suffering in their deliberations on sin and evil.

Discussion points:

Q. Are we sufficiently concerned about the suffering of animals?

Q. Do we believe the most effective method of bringing Orthodox teachings to the conscience of every Christian is through an occasional pronouncement by senior theologians in the hope that it will filter down to the laity?

Q. Do we believe Orthodox teachings on this subject are more likely to reach that audience via knowledgeable priests in every local community?


1 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 43:3, CANNPNF 2-04.

2 ‘The Ascetic Corrective’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, (2003); also ‘Message of the Synaxis’ (2009:201);  Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven

3 Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist p. 83.

4 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 5, 282.

5 Tsironi writes on the theatre at that time ending with “the stripping of women on stage.”

6 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 6, 283.

7 See https://www.animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/horse-racing/for details of the number of horses killed in British racecourses and the use of whips. 

8 There would be few within the Church who do not understand the consequences for society in general or for the individuals and their families, caught in the nightmare of addiction to gambling.

9 Canon LI, The Canons of the Council in Trullo, The Seven Ecumenical Councils.

10 Canon LI. 

11 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address by His All Holiness during the Presentation Ceremony of the Sophie Prize’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 284; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

12 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Justice: Environmental and Human’ composed as ‘Foreword’ to proceedings of the fourth summer seminar at Halki in June (1997) in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 173; also, ‘Environmental Rights’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 260; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven

13 ‘Comments on Laudato Si’.’ 

14 Also, Limouris, Justice, Peace, WCC, 1990: 20, where the distorted heart is defined as the root cause of idolatry, injustice, exploitation and belligerence in humanity and the lack of peace among human beings.

15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Orthodox Church and the Environment’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 360; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven


Religion today comprises a central dimension of human life, both on the personal and the social levels. No longer can religion be relegated to a matter of individual preference or private practice. Religion is becoming increasingly meaningful and momentous in appreciating the past, analysing the present, and even assessing the future of our world. In our day, religion claims a public face and a social profile; and it is invited to participate in contemporary communal discourse. 1

Eastern Orthodox theologians have repeatedly called for humanity to change its ethos from one based upon a theory of continual consumption, to one with a Eucharistic and aesthetic ethos of love, virtue, sacrifice, abstinence and purification of sin. 2 In essence, they remind us of patristic teachings to restrict and control our desires. This ascetic ethos:

 “is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered use of the world.” 3

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also draws our attention to the inconvenient truth of the missing dimension and need for sacrifice:

This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This is the missing dimension of our environmental ethos and ecological action. 4

He clarifies this point with teachings on self-limitation in consumption and interprets self-restraint in terms of love, humility, self-control, simplicity and social justice, all of which are important teachings for our choice of diet and the products we choose to purchase. 5 Crucially, he acknowledges the fundamental problem of inaction and the difficulties in effecting change:

We are all painfully aware of the fundamental obstacle that confronts us in our work for the environment. It is precisely this: how to move from the theory to action, from word to deeds. 6

For this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical metanoia, a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices, for ways that we have misused or abused God’s Word, God’s gifts, and God’s creation. 7

These are profound teachings and reminiscent of the warnings from the prophets of old. This spiritual revolution is also required for a conversion in the way we view animals and thus the way we treat them.

Many of his teachings urge us to reflect the asceticism of the early Fathers and of the urgent need for changes in human behaviour. In our greed and lust for ever increasing profit, we “violently and cunningly subordinate and exploit creation.” This not only destroys creation but also “undermines the foundations and conditions necessary for the survival of future generations.” 8 This aligns with Met. Kallistos of Diokleia’s (Ware) comment on “evil profit” 9, St. Irenaeus’s teaching that we must not use our freedom as a “cloak of maliciousness” 10 and St. John Chrysostom’s acknowledgement of the link between food and ill health:

Don’t you daily observe thousands of disorders stemming from laden tables and immoderate eating? 11

It also hints at the environmental crisis, which is beginning to evidence the devastating results of our continued abuse and misuse of animals. Our inability to move from theory to practice indicates that our weaknesses make it difficult for us to attain the Christian ideals. 12

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew advocates an important contemporary role for religion and in so doing buttresses the argument that the Church has an important role to play in the subject of animal suffering. He teaches that there is an urgent need to exercise “Christian responsibility towards” creation by:

fostering the forces of justice for manifestation of the Kingdom of God in human kind and in the whole creation. 13

The continuing challenge is how to apply these teachings on extending our understanding of community, justice, rights and caring relationships with animals, to contemporary practices that result in animal suffering.

These are inconvenient truths, yet necessary areas to consider and debate if we are to reduce animal suffering and effect real change in human hearts.

None of this will be easy, for there is acceptance of the gap between Eastern Orthodox theory and practice and of the difficulties in changing attitudes, habits and the ‘traditions of men’. 14 Despite these difficulties, the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church have the authority and responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless, in its stand against every form of sin and evil in the contemporary world.

Stylios (1989) offers a practical route for effecting this change:

This in practice means that Christians will be leaders in every ecological movement, which seeks to maintain and protect the natural environment. 15

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew affirms this view:

…we cannot but be convinced environmentalists and firm believers in the sanctity of the material world…It is a pledge that we make to God that we shall embrace all of creation. It is what Orthodox theologians call “inaugurated eschatology,” or the final state already established and being realized in the present. 16

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service. 17

He also buttresses the arguments on the sin of indifference and inaction:

For indifference entails inaction, which in turn encourages further abuse, increasing the causes that originally provoke and preserve this indifference. 18

Thus, the invocation and supplication of the Church and us all to God as the Lord of lords and Ruler of all for the restoration of creation are essentially a petition of repentance for our sinfulness in destroying the world instead of working to preserve and sustain its ever-flourishing resources reasonably and carefully. When we pray to and entreat God for the preservation of the natural environment, we are ultimately imploring God to change the mind-set of the powerful in the world, enlightening them not to destroy the planet’s ecosystem for reasons of financial profit and ephemeral interest. This in turn, however, also concerns each one of us inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage in our individual capacity and ignorance. 19

We need however, to be cautious of resting the blame of our current situation solely at the feet of the powerful. We as individuals are accountable for our own choices and actions. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew speaks to the point in his statement on theological praxis, which must move:

From the distant periphery of some abstract theology or religious institutionalism to the centre stage of our practical spirituality and pastoral ministry…our theology and spirituality must once again assume flesh; they must become “incarnate”. They must be closely connected to our fellow human beings as well as to the natural environment. 20

These are crucial teachings not only for the animal suffering theme but also for humanity. We can see this most clearly in the link between animal abuse and the Corona virus pandemic of 2019/20. He recognizes that the environment is crying for liberation 21; the soteriological implications of sins and indifference to that sufferingand, that the leaders of the Church and its academics and priests, must develop programs of practical application. He especially advises “the clergy and others in parish ministry to encourage and promote love for nature.” 22

In light of such statements and initiatives, it seems incongruous to suggest that involvement with animal protection and conservation groups would be excluded from Eastern Orthodox Church involvement; especially as the Patriarch “sealed a friendship of common purpose and active cooperation for the preservation of the environment” with the President of the WWF as far back as 1993. 23 In essence, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gives Eastern Orthodox Christians the authority to be leaders or involved in environmental, conservation and animal protection organisations.

Discussion points:

Q. How has your community been effected by the Corona Virus pandemic?

Q. If animals were truly to be included into our community and to be accorded ‘rights’ 24, ought we to refrain from referring to them as ‘resources’ and recognise them as other examples of God’s created beings?

Q. If animals were truly to receive justice, can we continue to justify for example, our present animal food production systems, which cause harm, suffering and death to trillions?

Q. If we are to ‘speak for the voiceless’ ought we to be requesting drastic alterations to the animal food industries so that they favoured the sentient beings over the vested interests or “evil profit”?

Q. If animals were included into our community and to receive justice, rights and mercy, are we right to justify the testing of a variety of chemicals and industrial products on animals, many of whom suffer terribly and die in their millions each year, because this method is cheaper than developing humane alternatives? 25

Q. Do animals have the right not to be abused or exploited in other ways? Examples here would be the right of protection from hunters who kill for fun or the latest fashion, or protection from the loss of their freedom to satisfy human entertainment needs.


1 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Creation Care and Ecological Justice: Reflections by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.’ The Oxford Union, 4th November 2015. https://www.patriarchate.org/-/creation-care-and-ecological-justice-reflections-by-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew

2 E.g. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Message of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew for the day of prayer for the protection of the Environment’ 1st Sept 2015.

3 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,  On Earth as in Heaven p. 113; also Cosmic Grace, 259.

4 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension’ 275; also, ‘The Ascetic Corrective’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 295-9; Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

5 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Ascetic Way’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 188; also, Speaking the Truth, 89-91, 352-3.

6 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension’  in Cosmic Grace, p. 275; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

7 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 283; also, Limouris, Justice, Peace, 11-12; St Cyril, Catechetical Homilies, Homily 2:5. 

8 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Foretaste of the Resurrection’ in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 41; also, ‘Creator and Creation’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 176. For similar sentiments, see Dimitrios 1, ‘Message on Environmental Protection Day’; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

9 See Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. p. 181

10 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.37.4; 4.16.5.

11 St. Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 10.5, 130.

12 E.g., Bishop Isaias, Chapter Seven of my book on Animal Suffering and Limouris, Justice, Peace, 23.28. 

13 Limouris, Justice, Peace, 6.

14 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:12. 

15 Stylios in Harakas, Ecological Reflections; also, Bartholomew, ‘Encounter and Dialogue’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 347; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

16 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.

17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation from the Vatican and from the Phanar’ 1st September 2017. https://www.patriarchate.org/-/joint-message-on-the-world-day-of-prayer-for-creation.

18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘A Collective Responsibility’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 374; also ‘The Immorality of Indifference’ 290;  also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven

19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Message by H. A. H. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew upon the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation’ https://www.patriarchate.org/-/patriarchikon-menyma-epi-te-eorte-tes-indiktou-2012

20 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, 358, 359-365. See also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Climate Change’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 350-1; also, ‘A New Worldview, a section from the lead article ‘Thine Own From Thine Own’ dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment, in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 330; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven

22 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Education and Parish Action’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 110-111; also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven.

23 Chryssavgis, ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality and the Sacraments’ 155.

24 An excellent discussion on this is Donaldson and Kymlicka, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights.  

25 See Knight, A. The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, 2011. When we examine the available research on the animal testing model, such as Linzey and Linzey The Ethical Case Against Animal Experiments, 2017 https://muse.jhu.edu/book/57527 (2017) and Bailey and Taylor ‘Non-human Primates in Neuroscience Research: The Case Against its Scientific Necessity.’ ATLA 44, (2016): 43-69, we find few systematic studies examining the validity of this model. According to Knight (2011) the use of this model in advancing human health or significant biomedical knowledge is poor. The USFDA state that between 92-97% of drugs that pass pre-clinical tests on animals “fail to make it to the market because they are proven to be ineffective and or unsafe in people.” If this level of failure were found in any other industry, it would be rejected and substituted with procedures that are more reliable.


Which man of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day? Christ’s teaching in Luke 14:5

The continuing challenge before us is how we are to apply both ancient and contemporary teachings on compassionate care for “all things” in creation and extending our understanding of community, justice, mercy and rights, to the animal creation and our environment.

Responsible care means that we consciously try to prevent animals from suffering and the destruction of their environment. For animals, this is often described as avoiding any form of treatment that is not to the animal’s benefit, such as any veterinary procedure that is entirely due to the preference of the owner or arbitrary breed requirements such as ear cropping and tail docking. It would also include any form of suffering caused by direct and indirect forms of abuse and exploitation such as direct cruelty and any circumstance that resulted in profits acquired at the expense of the animal’s physical and psychological well-being.

As a general rule we can use the following steps as guidelines for specific care for animals:

1) Provide food and clean water daily.

2) Provide adequate shelter.

3) Exercise your animals.

4) Provide veterinary care.

5) Neuter your cats, dogs, rabbits.

6) Educate your friends/family/priests.

In addition further practical proposals for the Church might include:

1) Promoting the vegan/vegetarian diet as the dietary ideal. In alignment with the leading scientific reports of our time, our leaders could urge Orthodox Christians to give up the animal-food based diets entirely or, as a first step, abstain from foods produced in intensive farming practices. In so doing, the Church reiterates God’s original intent; the concept of ascesis and the contemporary science, which highlights the damage caused by an animal-based diet to humans, animals and the planet.1  In so doing, the impact on animal suffering, human health and environmental damage would be enormous.

2) Patriarchs and Bishops could declare their intention not to consume or provide animal products at their meetings. This would send a strong message and example to both clergy and laity.

3) Prohibit intensive farming practices on Church land. This would reinforce and live-out the Church’s desire to prevent animal suffering and promote animal flourishing.

4) Our leaders could affirm the sin of inflicting harm upon God’s animal creation in order to achieve ever-increasing profits.

5) Restate patristic teachings on the negative soteriological consequences of hunting and horse racing.

6) Prohibit hunting on Church land in order to protect the animals and guide humans away from evil practices and towards salvation. Skeet clubs can be the substitute offered as a dispensation in order to facilitate the salvific plan.

7) Define the wearing of fur as an example of human ego and sin.

8) Educate our priests on the many problems associated with animal suffering. Training would enable priests to teach a coherent message that will result in:

reductions in animal suffering;

improvements in human health;

improvements in the environment;

advancing our spiritual journeys.


1 See www.ciwf.org.uk for details on the misuse of antibiotics in farming and the link with antibiotic resistance in humans. 


Chryssavgis, J. ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality, and the Sacraments’ in, Toward An Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation. Chryssavgis, J. and B. V. Foltz, (eds.) 152-162. NY: Fordham University Press, 2013.

————- On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (ed.) Fordham University Press, 2011.

————–Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green

Gschwandtner, K. The Role of Non-Human Creation in the Liturgical Feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: Towards an Orthodox Ecological Theology. 2012. Durham E-Theses. http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/4424.

Nellist, C. A. Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2018, 2020.

—————– ‘Towards an Animal Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church.’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Holy Cross Orthodox Press Volume 61, no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2016): 125-140.

Theokritoff, E, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology. Crestwood, NY: SVSP, 2009.

————— ‘Creation and Salvation in Orthodox Worship’ Journal of Religion, Nature & the Environment, Vol. 5. 10: 97-108. (Jan 2001)

Ware, K. Met. ‘Orthodox Christianity: Compassion for Animals’ in The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics, Andrew Linzey and Clair Linzey ((eds.), Routledge. 2018.

————–‘Saints and Beasts: The Undistorted Image’ The Franciscan, Vol V, No. 4, (Autumn 1963) 144-152.

Zizioulas, J. Met. ‘Preserving God’s Creation: Three Lectures on Theology and Ecology, Parts 1-3.’ King’s Theological Review 12 (Spring 1989):1-5; 12 (Autumn. 1989): 41-45; 13 (Spring 1990):1-5.

————–‘Proprietor or Priest of Creation?’ Keynote Address of the Fifth Symposium of Religion, Science and the Environment, 2nd June 2003. Available at: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles2/MetJohnCreation.php.


Ware, K. Met. 2019 ‘Compassion for Animals in the Orthodox Church.’ Available at:

Further videos are to be added.

The Traditional Christian Fast

Perspectives from the Saints, History and Medical Science

by Fred Krueger

Santa Rosa, California

Fasting has always been a pillar of spiritual formation in the Church of Christ. It builds discipline, restraint and cultivates obedience to Church guidance. Anciently the Christian fast was a total fast. No solid food was taken.

Over the centuries, a moderating influence entered parish life. Health and strength issues required special treatment and dispensations became normal for a variety of personal situations. At the same time, as Orthodox converged on America from European countries, they brought different assumptions about fasting. Archimandrite Akakios at the St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Etna, California, describes some of the problems with establishing a common rule for fasting in America.

The limited instances where fasting is practiced in modernist American Orthodox jurisdictions are beset by confusion and innovation…. Many of the Orthodox immigrants who came from the Old World failed to preserve their fasting routines in a land where new foods and new menus changed their way of life. Many came with an improper understanding of fasting to begin with…. The spirit of reform embraced by the calendar change… included specific proposals for the relaxation of fasting rules. Brought to the Americas by immigrants — some of them coming as Hierarchs to serve the Church — this revisionist spirit deeply affected the Orthodox population here. The Eastern European [Uniate] Catholics who converted to Orthodoxy in America came from a spiritual milieu in which fasting neither took the same form nor had the same theological significance as it does in the Orthodox Church. And the national Slavic Churches in the emigration also understood asceticism from a far more Western than Orthodox perspective. So it is that the ethnic Orthodox Churches saw the birth of “relaxed fasts” and “moderate” fasting rules…. All of this they passed on to a new generation of Orthodox and to converts…. Wholly unfamiliar with Orthodox fasting traditions, many Orthodox today have taken these contrived notions in the immigrant Churches as authentic practices and have come to treat them as part and parcel of Church teaching.

The current Orthodox fast as practiced in America is intertwined with the religious reforms that arose in Russia around the time of Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725). Prior to his era, fasting was far stricter and considered essential for spiritual growth. The consequence is that our modern fasting rules are largely an abstinence from heavy foods. This change explains why we no longer claim that the “fast” transforms, because by itself it does not. In our era, when we fast, we mostly become vegetarians for certain times of the year.

During the time when fasting rules were being relaxed, the Archbishop of Constantinople +Ecumenical Patriach Nicephorus Theotokis (1731-1800) wrote the following about the new rules:

When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth to collect seeds, fruits, spices, and every other edible thing; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, sea urchins, and anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and concoct many different dishes, seasoned with oil, sweeteners and spices. Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat. And yet we imagine that we are still fasting…. Whoever taught… that such a variety and such quantities of food constitutes a fast? Where did they hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, a great variety in food is another. Fasting is one thing, eating great  amounts of food another.

Prior to the 18th century, strict fasting was essential for Orthodox Christians. Listen to what Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes about fasting:

Canon 69 of the Holy Apostles declares that any hierarch, priest, deacon, subdeacon or reader… who does not fast during Great Lent and on Wednesday and Friday is to be deposed. If a layperson does not fast during these times (unless he cannot on account of illness), he is to be excommunicated.

To our modern thinking, the severity in this earlier rule seems shocking. Rather than criticize the old rule’s strictness or defend our modern dispensations, let’s review the implications of fasting. By subjecting the fasting rule to modern medical research, perhaps we can bring into focus some of the basic benefits that accompany fasting. To structure this examination, I will present simple conclusions about fasting from three perspectives: its effects on human physiology and functioning of the body, on the psychological state of our minds, and finally on our spiritual lives.

The physiological effects of fasting are many. When the body goes without food, medical research reports that a series of important physical changes occur. Initially, the digestive tract receives a rest. During this rest, the body uses its energies to increase its autolytic (or self-healing) actions. The body’s energies are then used to repair and restore bodily functions. In contrast, with a steady supply of nourishment, the systems of the body continually work to process food and maintain the system. Without rest, the body wears down over time. In those over thirty years of age, this causes a gradual, but steady buildup of toxins, plaque, and deposits which gradually stiffen and clog the system. This happens because a continual stream of food produces a continual accumulation of waste. In contrast, on a genuine no food fast day (i.e., the original Christian fast), the autolytic functions work from deep down at the cellular level of the body and perform a long series of “house-cleaning” functions so that a rejuvenation and mini-healing occurs. During these times the body uses its energies to attack and remove disease formations, tumors, or any unnatural growth in its system.  

Fasting provides more than rest to the assimilative organs. A cleansing also takes place. Body wastes and toxins are eliminated from the digestive and circulatory systems which freshen circulatory functions. It removes disease in its formative stage, including cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, diseases of the digestive system, and the locomotor system – including rheumatism, respiratory diseases and asthma, etc. At the same time a strengthening of the immune system occurs.

Research at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine finds other health benefits. These include a sharply reduced risk of cancer (because the autolytic process attacks and dissolves tumors at the stage of their formation as well as other abnormal pre-cancerous growths). The autolysis causes a slowing of the aging process. Several different studies show that the only proven method for improving health and increasing lifespan is to reduce caloric intake. According to Dr. Mark Mattson, chief of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, “fasting shows more ability to provide beneficial qualities to the older body” than any drug or medication.

The National Academy of Sciences cites additional benefits of stress reduction, increased insulin sensitivity and reduced morbidity.

Fasting is also highly beneficial to digestion health. When you are not eating, a different set of microbes emerges and cleans up your gut wall, processing the sugars which is important for maintain immune balance.

Besides the revitalization of digestive organs, the additional physiological benefits include clearer skin, improved hearing and taste, reduction of allergies, weight loss, drug detoxification, and heightened disease resistance. Fasting clears out problems from overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. No wonder so many of the desert fathers lived past 100 years of age! These physical benefits derive from genuine fasting, but most importantly they do not derive from merely an abstinence from meat and heavy foods. Generally what is happening physically reflects what is taking place psychically and spiritually.

Next a set of psychological and psychic benefits emerge from fasting. During a fast the mind develops clarity and the will is strengthened – because it is exercised through the denial of the desire to eat. Something fascinating now happens. True fasting (i.e., water only) causes a cautionary attitude to arise so that one is careful not to break the fast. Fasting then becomes a cornerstone for a life of restraint and thoughtfulness. This happens because fasting from all forms of food and nutrition stretches out and addresses the tendency toward consumerism and materialism. Fasting thus witnesses to the conflict between the indulgences cherished by the modern mentality and the ascetic life of the Church. An important implication is that traditional spiritual formation cannot be attained without old style fasting.

As the will is strengthened, the person who fasts increases in self-control. At the same time fasting results in a heightened sensitivity to others – because feelings become far more sensitive and acute. This causes those who fast to sense the plight of poor people. In this way alms-giving is connected to fasting because without fasting, we scarcely cultivate the sensitivities of the heart that foster compassion for those who have little.

On a longer fast – over more than a day, the body begins to stimulate the production of the hormone serotonin to insulate itself from the pangs of hunger. The initial day of fasting may at first be difficult, but the morning of the second day can be quite enjoyable because serotonin creates a distinct feeling of euphoria. The person who fasts will feel alert, active and often even excited to continue fasting. Studies show that most people who follow the original fasting rule report heightened mental clarity, a more positive mental outlook, and emotional serenity when embracing traditional fasting rules.

A regular pattern of once a week fasting produces an optimistic outlook on life as well as an overall feeling of purity, cleanliness and self-control. A conclusion from medical studies is that fasting can be enjoyable and healthy.

Medical studies on the spiritual side of fasting are elusive because science is not effective in probing into this aspect of life. Nevertheless we discern deeper implications to fasting when Jesus tells the apostles (after they  ask him why they could not heal the boy possessed with a demon) “…this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:15-21).

When the physical body is regularly cleansed by fasting, an additional result is that psychic and spiritual impressions become stronger and more frequent. One’s energy becomes more refined. The world may even appear transparent. At this time prayers have a higher and more uplifted quality. One’s whole being experiences a sense that the etheric and spiritual worlds intertwine and are drawing closer together. Sleep is deeper and more fulfilling. The saints frequently write that visions and holy experiences are more readily attained during times of fasting.

The enhanced sensitivities that accompany a fast open a realization that the fast cannot be restricted merely to a denial of meat and other heavy foods, but it must include a denial of negative thoughts, anger and all of the passionate tendencies. This is why Saint Basil writes, “there is a physical fast, but alongside it there is also a spiritual fast.” He continues:

In the physical fast the body abstains from food. In the spiritual fast, the faster abstains from evil intentions, words and deeds. One who truly fasts abstains from anger, rage, malice and vengeance. One who truly fasts abstains from idle and foul talk, gossip, condemnation, flattery, lying and all manner of spiteful talk. In a word, a real faster withdraws from all evil…. As much as you subtract from the body, so much will you add to the strength of the soul.

Saint John Chrysostom makes a similar observation.

“It is necessary for one who is fasting to curb anger, to accustom himself to condescension, to have a contrite heart, to repulse impure thoughts and desires, and to reflect on what good has been done by us in this or any other week, and which deficiency we have corrected in ourselves. This is true fasting.”

As for those who worry that fasting might harm their health, they need only recall the longevity of the saints who cultivated fasting as a way of life. Denial of food for them was the doorway to health and vitality.

 Saint Alypius the Stylite lived for 118 years; Saint Anthony the Great – 105; Saint Theodosius the Great – 105; Saint Paul of Thebes – 113; Saint Paul of Komel – 112; Saint Cyril the Anchorite – 108; Saint Kevin of Glendalough – 105.

This list is only a short beginning. These saints did not require special foods, vitamins or nutritional supplements to live long inspired and productive lives.

While our present fasting rules carry some benefit, we should recognize that they only scratch the surface of the potential latent in fasting to bring healing and transformation.

As Archbishop Nicephorus wrote several centuries ago, “fasting is one thing, but eating a great variety of vegetables and seeds is another thing entirely,” but it should not be called fasting. As we examine the many dimensions to fasting, we should recognize that a recovery of this ancient practice is necessary if we are also going to recover our rightful heritage of spiritual experiences and attainment.

For those individuals who might wish to start fasting in the traditional manner, here are a few guidelines.

Drink at least seven or eight full glasses of water during the fast day. This is because – at least in our western diet – so many toxins are released during the fast and the water helps to flush them out. Think of the task this way: “The solution to the body’s internal pollution is dilution.”

For those who are habitually champion meat eaters, there can be an acid buildup – the result of too many fats and toxins which are released during the fast. This can show up as a slight stomach ache. Address this by adding a  teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. This neutralizes the acid which is being cleansed out of the body into the stomach. This is usually experienced by first time or new fasters.

A headache may also occur at first and these are symptoms of psychological resistance to the fast. Those who possess obsessive-compulsive eating disorders usually have layers of issues and so they need a firm rule that holds them to guidelines – one day of fasting per week and no more.

A full day of fasting can begin after the evening meal on Tuesday, continue all through Wednesday and conclude at breakfast on Thursday. By following this simple rule every week, the traditional benefits of fasting can return in your experience.

Basically fasting is like a muscle. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes to fast. After several months of once a week fasting, your body becomes so adjusted to the fast that it does not miss the food. In fact you look forward to it because of the many spiritual, mental and physical benefits that arise from it.

Appendix A Biblical Accounts of Fasting

* Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the mountain with God. (Exodus 34:28)

* King Jehosaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah for victory over the Moabites and Ammonites who were attacking them (2 Chronicles 20:3).

* The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for their unrighteous methods in their fasting. He clarified the reasons for fasting and listed the benefits that would result. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your guard” (Isaiah 58:3-13).

* The prophet Joel called for a fast to avert the judgement of God.

* The people of Nineveh in response to Jonah’s prophecy, fasted to avert the judgement of God (Jonah 3:7).

* Jesus also warned against fasting to gain favor from men. He warned his followers that they should fast in private, not letting others know they were fasting (Matthew 6:16–18).

* Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights while in the desert, prior to the three temptations (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2).

* The prophetess Anna, who proclaimed the birth of Jesus in the Temple, fasted regularly (Luke 2:37).

Appendix B Quotes from the Saints on Fasting

 St Symeon the New Theologian:

Let each one of us keep in mind the benefit of fasting… For this healer of our souls is effective, in the case of one to quiet the fevers and impulses of the flesh, in another to assuage bad temper, in yet another to drive away sleep, in another to stir up zeal, and in yet another to restore purity of mind and to set him free from evil thoughts. In one it will control his unbridled tongue and restrain it by the fear of God and prevent it from uttering idle and corrupt words. In another it will invisibly guard his eyes and fix them on high instead of allowing them to roam hither and thither, and thus cause him to look on himself and teach him to be mindful of his own faults and shortcomings.

Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing.

Fasting, aided by vigil, penetrates and softens the hardness of heart. where once the vapors of drunkenness were causes of fountains of compunction to spring forth. I beseech you, brethren, let each of us strive that this may happen in us! Once this happens we shall readily, with God’s help, cleave through the whole sea of passions and pass through the waves of the temptations inflicted by the cruel tyrant, and so come to anchor in the port of impassibility.

Saint Nikolai of Zicha

Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. And the graces that come through fasting are countless….

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Bodily purity is primarily attained through fasting, and through bodily purity comes spiritual purity. Abstinence from food, according to the words of that son of grace, St. Ephraim the Syrian, means: ‘Not to desire or demand much food, either sweet or costly; to eat nothing outside the stated times; not to give one’s self over to gratification of the appetite; not to stir up hunger in oneself by looking at good food; and not to desire one or another sort of food.’

Abba Daniel of Sketis:

In proportion as the body grows fat, so does the soul wither away.

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

Everyone who wants to purify himself of the sins of the whole year during these days must first of all restrain himself from the pleasure of eating. For the pleasure of eating, as the Fathers say, caused all man’s evil. Likewise he must take care not to break the fast without great necessity or to look for pleasurable things to eat, or weigh himself down by eating and drinking until he is full.


The Holy Fathers have taught, as if with one voice, that the stomach is the gateway to the passions. Watchfulness in this area is, therefore, absolutely essential to spiritual progress.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

The holy fasters did not approach strict fasting suddenly, but little by little they became capable of being satisfied by the most meagre food. Despite all this they did not know weakness, but were always hale and ready for action. Among them sickness was rare, and their life was extraordinarily lengthy.


To the extent that the flesh of the faster becomes thin and light, spiritual life arrives at perfection and reveals itself through wondrous manifestations, and the spirit performs its actions as if in a bodiless body. External feelings are shut off, and the mind that renounces the earth is raised up to heaven and is wholly immersed in the contemplation of the spiritual world.

St. Shenuda, Coptic Orthodox Church:

Consistent fasting regulated the lives of the Fathers. A stable lifestyle, to which they become accustomed regulated their lives. As for the pitied laymen, they sway from one extreme to another when fasting. They deprive themselves of food only to break their fast to partake of anything they desire. They abstain for awhile to allow themselves what they want for another period, then go back to indulgence, thus they sway between abstention and indulgence. They build, then destroy, and then build again, only to demolish again without recovery. True fasting is to train oneself in self-control, to follow for the rest of your life. Self-control becomes a blessing for his life, not only during the time of fasting when we change the time and the food we eat, but also during the normal days.

Evagrios the Solitary, a student of Saint John Chrysostom and desert monk who lived in the remote Egyptian desert, describes why fasting is so prominent in Christian life:

Fast before the Lord according to your strength, for to do this will purge your iniquities and sins; it exalts the soul, sanctifies the mind, drives away the demons, and prepares you for God’s presence… To abstain from food, then, should be a matter of our own choice and an ascetic labor.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes,

Ultimately, to fast is to love, to see clearly, to restore the original beauty of the world. To fast is to move away from what I want to what the world needs. It is to liberate creation from control and compulsion. Fasting is to value everything for itself and not 12 simply for ourselves. It is to be filled with a sense of goodness, of Godliness. It is to see all things in God and God in all things.

Anestis Keselopoulos

The central position that fasting holds in the tradition of the Orthodox Church is neither coincidental nor unrelated to the ecological crisis but has unmistakable prophetic significance. Fasting is not some outward conventional act but the voluntary privation of food that heightens man’s awareness of his dependency on the outside world. This awareness has decisive importance for ethics. By fasting, man obediently accepts the divine commandment so that he can grow into the likeness of God. In so doing, he recognizes his created nature. In other words, he acknowledges that his ‘very being is on loan.’

Appendix C Glossary of Terms


The vital or functioning tissues of the fasting organism are nourished off the food reserves stored in the body. These reserves are stored as rather complex substances, such as sugar (glycogen), fat, protein, etc., and are no more fitted for entrance into the bloodstream and use by the cells than are the fats, proteins and carbohydrates of another animal, or another food. Before they can be taken up by the circulation and assimilated by the cells, they must first be digested. Autolysis (a-tol-i-sis) is derived from the Greek and means, literally, self-loosing. It is used in physiology to designate the process of digestion or disintegration of tissue by ferments (enzymes) generated in the cells themselves. It is a process of self-digestion–intra-cellular digestion.

 Fasting and tumors

Abnormal growths possess a lower grade of vitality than normal growths, hence are easier to destroy. I think it may be equally true that they do not command the support of the organism as do normal growths, as they are lacking in nerve and blood supply. This lack of support makes them the ready victims of the autolytic processes of the body. It is generally held by men with wide experience with the fast that abnormal tissues are broken down and eliminated more rapidly than normal tissue during periods of abstinence. Physiologists have studied the process of autolysis, although they have suggested no practical use that may be made of it save that of employing it to reduce weight. It now remains for physiologists to learn that by means of rigidly controlled autolysis, the body is able to digest tumors and utilize the proteins and other food elements contained in them to nourish its vital tissues. Why have they not investigated this vitally important subject? The facts have been before the world for more than a hundred years.

 More than a hundred years ago Sylvester Graham wrote: “It is a general law of the vital economy, that when, by any means, the general function of decomposition exceeds that of composition or nutrition, the decomposing absorbents always first lay hold of and remove those substances which are of least use to the economy; and hence, all morbid accumulations, such as wens, tumors, abscesses, etc., are rapidly diminished and often wholly removed under severe and protracted abstinence or fasting” (The Science of Life, pp. 194-195).

The process of autolysis may be put to great practical use and may be made to serve in getting rid of tumors and other growths. To fully understand this, it is necessary for the reader to know that tumors are made up of flesh and blood and bone. There are many names for the different kinds of tumors, but the names all indicate the kind of tissue of which the tumor is composed. For example, an osteoma is made up of bone tissue; a myoma is composed of muscular tissue; a neuroma is constituted of nerve tissue; a lipoma consists of fatty tissue; a fibroma is composed of fibrous tissues; an epithelioma is composed of epithelial tissue, etc. Growths of this nature are known, technically, as neoplasms (new growth) to distinguish them from mere swellings or enlargements. A large lump in the breast may be nothing more than an enlarged lymphatic gland, or an enlarged mammary gland. Such an enlarged gland may be very painful, but it is no neoplasm.

Tumors being composed of tissues, the same kinds of tissues as the other structures of the body, are susceptible of autolytic disintegration, the same as normal tissue, and do, as a matter of experience, undergo dissolution and absorption under a variety of circumstances, but especially during a fast. The reader who can understand how fasting reduces the amount of fat on the body and how it reduces the size of the muscles, can also understand how it will reduce the size of a tumor, or cause it to disappear altogether. He needs, then, only to realize that the process of disintegrating (autolyzing) the tumor takes place much more rapidly than it does in the normal tissues.

 Additional Information

The single most scientifically proven advantages to traditional fasting involve improved health, rejuvenation and extended life expectancy. Part of this phenomenon is caused by a number of the benefits mentioned above. These include a slower metabolic rate, more efficient protein production, an improved immune system, and the increased production of hormones all combine and contribute to these long-term benefits of fasting. In addition to the Human Growth Hormone that is released more frequently during a fast, an anti-aging hormone is also produced . The medical conclusion is “the only reliable way to extend the lifespan of a human, (or any mammal) is undernutrition without malnutrition.”

A study was performed on earthworms that demonstrated the benefits of an extension of life due to fasting. The initial experiment was performed in the 1930s by isolating one worm and putting it on a cycle of fasting and feeding. The isolated worm outlasted its relatives by an amazing nineteen generations, while still maintaining its youthful physiological traits. The worm was able to survive on its own tissue for months. Once the size of the worm began to decrease, the scientists would resume feeding it at which point it showed great vigor and renewed energy. “The life-span extension of these worms was the equivalent of keeping a man alive for 600 to 700 years.”