I have chosen two sections from the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Social Document (see details below) which are found just prior to the concluding section because they contain crucial teachings regarding the non-human animal creation. My comments are in italics:
“Our reconciliation with God must necessarily express itself also in our reconciliation with nature, including our reconciliation with animals.” Human salvation is therefore in jeopardy if we fail to care for the animal creation.
” The animals that fill the world are testament to the bounty of God’s creative love, its variety and richness; and all the beasts of the natural order are enfolded in God’s love; not even a single sparrow falls without God seeing (Matthew 10:29). Moreover, animals by their very innocence remind us of the paradise that human sin has squandered, and their capacity for blameless suffering reminds us of the cosmic cataclysm induced by humanity’s alienation from God.” The suffering of animals ought to remind us of the innocent suffering of Christ.
“We must recall also that all the promises of scripture regarding the age that is to come concern not merely the spiritual destiny of humanity, but the future of a redeemed cosmos, in which plant and animal life are plentifully present, renewed in a condition of cosmic harmony.” Animals will be in the future Kingdom of God and are not to be dismissed as non-eternal beings.
On Friday, March 27, 2020 His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew appointed a special commission of theologians to prepare a document on the social teaching of the Orthodox Church, in the spirit of and reflecting upon the relevant decisions of the Holy and Great Council of Crete (June 2016). Commissioned in early 2017, the document assembled input from numerous eparchies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate throughout the world and was submitted to the Holy and Sacred Synod, which, in late 2019, congratulated the commission for its inspiring work and recommended the publication of this text.
For the Life of the Word: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church is now online in twelve languages. The statement does not pronounce clear-cut responses to social challenges, but instead proposes general guidelines to difficult questions. The purpose is to initiate reflection and conversation on what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7). In the words of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, “This text opens us up to the implications of what it means to be loved by God, and to respond to that love by loving one another.”
While the document was completed prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, it nonetheless addresses the importance of social responsibility, the voice of faith in a world of science, medicine and technology, as well as the response of the Church on matters related to health care, social justice, and public welfare. In this regard, the document provides a framework for addressing current challenges as well as challenges we haven’t yet imagined.
For the Life of the World presents a way of reaching out across social distancing at a time of global calamity – as our faithful are either self-isolated and quarantined (a term that literally refers to a period of forty days and reflects the church’s struggle during Great Lent) – in order to address the role of the Church at a time of spiritual crisis, challenge, and concern. Therefore, the document is being released during Great Lent as a period of self-discipline and reflection on our interdependence and vocation to care for one another. It is offered with humility and love for reflection and conversation as all of us “shelter in place.”
77 We must also recall, moreover, that human beings are part of the intricate and delicate web of creation, and that their welfare cannot be isolated from the welfare of the whole natural world. As St. Maximus the Confessor argued, in Christ all the dimensions of humanity’s alienation from its proper nature are overcome, including its alienation from the rest of the physical cosmos; and Christ came in part to restore to material creation its original nature as God’s earthly paradise. Our reconciliation with God, therefore, must necessarily express itself also in our reconciliation with nature, including our reconciliation with animals. It is no coincidence that the creation narrative of Genesis describes the making of animal life and the making of humanity as occurring on the same day (Genesis 1:24–31). Nor should it be forgotten that, according to the story of the Great Flood, Noah’s covenant with God encompasses the animals in the ark and all their descendants, in perpetuity (Genesis 9:9–11). The unique grandeur of humanity in this world, the image of God within each person, is also a unique responsibility and ministry, a priesthood in service to the whole of creation in its anxious longing for God’s glory. Humanity shares the earth with all other living things, but singularly among living creatures possesses the ability and authority to care for it (or, sadly, to destroy it). The animals that fill the world are testament to the bounty of God’s creative love, its variety and richness; and all the beasts of the natural order are enfolded in God’s love; not even a single sparrow falls without God seeing (Matthew 10:29). Moreover, animals by their very innocence remind us of the paradise that human sin has squandered, and their capacity for blameless suffering reminds us of the cosmic cataclysm induced by humanity’s alienation from God. We must recall also that all the promises of scripture regarding the age that is to come concern not merely the spiritual destiny of humanity, but the future of a redeemed cosmos, in which plant and animal life are plentifully present, renewed in a condition of cosmic harmony.
§78 Thus, in the lives of the saints, there are numerous stories about wild beasts, of the kind that would normally be horrifying or hostile to human beings, drawn to the kindness of holy men and women. In the seventh century, Abba Isaac of Nineveh defined a merciful heart as “a heart burning for the sake of the entire creation, for people, for birds, for animals . . . and for every created thing.” This is a consistent theme in the witness of the saints. St. Gerasimos healed a wounded lion near the Jordan River; St. Hubertus, having received a vision of Christ while hunting deer, proclaimed an ethic of conservation for hunters; St. Columbanus befriended wolves, bears, birds, and rabbits; St. Sergius tamed a wild bear; St. Seraphim of Sarov fed the wild animals; St. Mary of Egypt may well have befriended the lion that guarded her remains; St. Innocent healed a wounded eagle; St. Melangell was known for her protection of wild rabbits and the taming of their predators; in the modern period, St. Paisios lived in harmony with snakes. And not only animals, but plants as well, must be objects of our love. St. Kosmas the Aetolian preached that “people will remain poor, because they have no love for trees” and St. Amphilochios of Patmos asked, “Do you know that God gave us one more commandment that is not recorded in scripture? It is the commandment to love the trees.” The ascetic ethos and the Eucharistic spirit of the Orthodox Church perfectly coincide in this great sacramental vision of creation, which discerns the traces of God’s presence “everywhere present and filling all things” (Prayer to the Holy Spirit) even in a world still as yet languishing in bondage to sin and death. It is a vision, moreover, that perceives human beings as bound to all of creation, as well as one that encourages them to rejoice in the goodness and beauty of the whole world. This ethos and this spirit together remind us that gratitude and wonder, hope and joy, are our only appropriate—indeed, our truly creative and fruitful—attitude in the face of the ecological crisis now confronting the planet, because they alone can give us the willingness and the resolve to serve the good of creation as unremittingly as we must, out of love for it and its creator.