Interview with Bishop Isaias of Tamasou & Orinis, Cyprus. Animal Suffering Pt 1

This article is part of an interview with Bishop Isaias of |Tamasou & Orinis, Cyprus in response to social science research which indicated a lack of engagement/clarity by the Church on animal cruelty and suffering.

Presbytera Christina: Firstly I would like to thank you for this interview which will be part of my research for my PhD entitled: – Ancient Voices in Modern Theology: Orthodox Teaching and Practice in Animal Suffering and Welfare.[1]

Bishop Isaias: Let me give a general statement of our approach to animals and the Creation. From the time we realise that everything is from God, the animals, the plants, the earth, the planets, we are humbled before God and thankful for His Creation because of all this was created for us, for the service of mankind. Of course the main creation is the human life and everything else is to help the preservation of the human life.  This means that we must be thankful for this creation which is created for our well-being.

Presbytera Christina: Father if I may point out one problem here. The danger with that one approach or perspective is that this view alone leads to the situation we have today where the rest of creation is seen purely for our use and not there for us to protect and prosper as stewards or priests of God’s creation, which is now a common theme within Orthodoxy.

Bishop Isaias: Yes you are right they are connected. It is a combination of these together with a spiritual connection – you cannot separate them.  For example, sheep are used for my food but it is a creation of God that is now given for me to eat so that I survive.  I should protect it, firstly because it is a creation of God and secondly it is for my benefit.  I cannot mistreat animals that are used in the food-chains just because they are for that purpose.

Presbytera Christina: So to clarify what you are saying is that we need to protect them for three reasons:-

  • They are part of God’s Creation and we should love them for themselves.
  • We should protect them because some of them are also for our food.
  • We should protect them because if we abuse them this is bad for us in the spiritual context.

Bishop Isaias: Yes, there are several threads. We have a spiritual connection and how we treat animals is a spiritual matter. There is a special connection with the animals and plants because we are all part of the Holy providence.  God did not make anything by mistake, all things were made with perfection and as created beings we are all connected.  Yes there is a discrimination of levels.  We use hierarchical levels in tradition, so I cannot put the rest of the animal kingdom or planets in the same level as humans but this does not mean that humans should be disrespectful of the rest of the Creation. We must be proud that it is given for us and all of us must protect it. Otherwise we are not good curators and do not respect the Creation of God.

It is a spiritual thing because our intentions and our actions define who we are.  If you are violent to an animal you can easily be violent to human beings. If you are disrespectful to nature and to forests this too means that you will easily be disrespectful to humans because we are all connected.  Everything is connected.

Animals are our companions and they also give us food and they make the world more beautiful so we can see the beauty of God through the Creation. People feel comfortable near to animals and this is why they have pets and this is a good thing on many levels. It is important that people should try to stop the cruelty to animals and try to protect them, this is a good thing. It is also good that the people protect the nature, the forests – the green kingdom shall we say.

So whilst we say that humans are the main creation this is not to denigrate the rest of creation.  They are God’s Creation and we must respect that and treat them respectfully.

If you express negative thoughts or actions to the Creation this means that you are a bad person, a bad human being. Because man was created with a conscience of virtue – perfect and clear- you cannot or should not do bad things.  We have circumstances in the way we are brought up and this will affect us but our aim is to keep our conscience clear and to have a good heart.  This is why Jesus Christ said that if you want to inherit the kingdom of God you must become like the children.  Children have clear hearts and clear consciences – without destructions.  They have not learnt bad things, they have no hatred and they have no vested interests.  We can easily identify bad people because we see how they act – they will disrespect creation and also the people.  God gave man a conscience and this must be kept clear of bad actions, it must be without hatred and free of vested interests.

We have a tradition in the Church of Staretz – Holy people who have had a very good relationship with animals, even the wild animals.  These Fathers had a pure heart, a good heart and a good conscience.  They have shown us how we should behave and have given us clear examples of how to live our lives.  Not one of them did anything wrong to the animals or to nature – they understood their place and were connected to all of nature. Some examples are St. Mammas and St. Gerasimus, or Daniel in the cave with the lions and lately, Holy Father Paisius who used to talk to the animals. This shows us that people who have a clear conscience can become more approachable to animals, can have a closer relationship with animals because the animals recognise the love that is reflected in their life.  They have no fear of these men.

Of course the devil interferes with the animals and as we are tempted, so animals are tempted. You can see bad behaviour in animals as you do in humans. We see some people making bad use of animals and making them bad as they are bad and so we have to be careful of some animals but this is another subject.

Presbytera Christina: Yes father, this is one of the subjects the animal welfarists have to deal with.  The research would show that it is not the animal that was bad but the bad person who owned that animal that made it bad, they brutalise them and we can give for example the way animals are made to fight each other for the profit of some bad people.

Bishop Isaias:  Yes exactly. So temptation is everywhere, where there are bad actions and thoughts, there too is the devil. So we have to take care of our own actions to safeguard our own souls.

Presbytera Christina: From this you would seem to suggest that animals have their own consciousness.  Is that what you mean?

Bishop Isaias: Well yes, in a way. They have their instincts and they have their genes. We can bring up a lion with a kind heart from the time it is born but at all times we must understand that it is a lion and if it is provoked or it is hungry it may turn against us.  It is true that there is research which shows that many animals have intelligence and understanding and now we cannot say they do not but still we need to be aware of their innate character in this fallen world.

We can say that the animals have their justice and that is different from the justice in the humans.  We have a consciousness that is different.  For example an animal that is hungry will eat what is before it but a man who is hungry and needs to survive, must be tolerant. He must not mistreat other people and also he must not harm the environment because he has some needs. We have been given all by God but we must not misuse them.

We have been given our reason and our freedom and we are free to choose what we do, this is not so easily said for the animals that have strong instincts to act as they do.  This does not detract from what I said before, in fact it is more so.  We must choose to act for the benefit of all of the Creation not just for our own selfish will.  We must act for the good of all Creation. Unfortunately, we are mistreating this free will – or misusing this free will because everywhere we can see how we are misusing the Creation.

Now there are animals that have excellent reason and instincts and have very similar abilities to human beings, like the chimpanzees for example.  I have done my own research and I know that there are many studies now that show how close many species are to us and this is a good thing because it helps us to see how connected we are to the other animals in the kingdom of God.  This should help us to understand our connectedness and to treat them well.

So we must not idolize animals but at the same time we must take measures to protect them.  I think it is important to say that we understand the people who try to stop the cruelty to the animals do not idolize them but instead, they see that connection that many others do not see.

We have to be kind to all creatures.  Kindness should show no discrimination.  We must not discriminate against the animals. We must not have a selfish kindness; I mean here that we should not be kind to animals just because it benefits us, like for our food, or for our companions or that they decorate the world; we need to be kind to animals because it is who we are, we are made in the image of God and we must reflect the love of God in his kindness to all things and because they belong to God.

We have a conscience given to us by love, initiated by God who is love and we must use it to love all things. So human beings who are not kind and thoughtful, who are not protective of animals, are bad human beings. They are bad people because their violence and mistreatment of animals means that they have complexes – they have problems.  It is not the animals that are the problem but the people and the problems are inside their hearts.

1.] This was the original title of the thesis.