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
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This is a course for use in Christian parishes, youth groups, seminary institutions or for individual study. It may also provide a useful framework for homilies.
If your parish would like to undertake this course and would be interested in participating in an academic study, please contact the author, Dr Nellist at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This course 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 Christian 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. At times, it also highlights the soteriological implications of our abuse and exploitation of God’s non-human animal beings. It reminds us that by causing harm to animals or by our indifference to it, human salvation is in jeopardy. It is written to facilitate Christian Church engagement with the subjects of climate change and animal suffering, which, though separate subjects, are deeply interconnected.
It was originally written for an Orthodox audience. I was invited to speak at His All-Holiness Bartholomew’s Halki Summit 111 (2019) on behalf of the animal creation, who are frequently overlooked in Orthodox discussions. There I was asked by Met. Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola, to write a program on care for animals for his priests. This developed into the ‘Creation Care: Christian Responsibility Course’, which I believe, can be adapted by other denominations, as its teachings are universal. Ideally, the course would be translated into different languages. It has undergone several revisions. I will produce short videos by leading Eastern Orthodox theologians on each theme, which can be subtitled or replaced by theologians in other countries. I give permission for priests to adapt the material as they see fit; all I ask is the professional courtesy of authorship recognition.
1] See the following link for an explanation of ‘Christ Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering’ Icon and its origins: http://panorthodoxconcernforanimals.org/uncategorized/icon-christ-breaking-the-bonds-of-animal-suffering-2/
The module is divided into seven/eight* themes/lessons:
1) IN THE BEGINNING: GOD’S GOOD CREATION.
2) COMPASSIONATE CARE: IMAGE OF GOD.
3) WHAT IS DOMINION?
4) BEHAVIOURAL GUIDANCE.
5) SACRAMENTAL LIFE.
6) WHAT IS SIN AGAINST ANIMALS?
7) A ROLE FOR THE CHURCH.
8) PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF RESPONSIBLE CARE. *
*This unit may, if preferred, be incorporated into unit 7.
Videos will be created, which can be used as part of a theme/lesson or as individual sessions.
PARISH AND YOUTH MINISTRY USE
This course can be used as part of an introduction to our integrated Orthodox theology; as a parish led study-course; as part of a ‘Greening the Orthodox Parish’ program and as part of parish or national youth program. It can also be used as a resource for Homilies/Sermons on God’s care for His “very good” creation.
The course can also be linked to a deeper and wider discussion in Eastern Orthodox Seminary and Academic institutions. Suggested assignments might be:
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, using the material from this course.
1) IN THE BEGINNING: GOD’S GOOD CREATION
Nothing in creation had gone astray in its notions of God, save the human being only. 1
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 that He made all things connected with our world with His Word 2
On reading the various patristic texts on Genesis, there is consensus that: humans and non-human animals receive the “breath of life”; that God’s description of all His creatures is “good” and “very good” 3 and we learn of the innate harmony, unity, and violence-free peacefulness 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:4
But He Himself…predestinating all things, formed them as He pleased, bestowing harmony on all things, and assigning them their own place, and the beginning of the creation. In this was He conferred on spiritual things a spiritual and invisible nature…on animals an animal, on beings that swim in the sea a nature suited to the water, and on those that live on the land one fitted for the land-on all, in short, a nature suitable to the character of the life assigned them-while he formed all things that were made by His Word that never wearies.5
Such ideas are evident in the work of other early commentators such as St. Athanasius who teaches that:
For no part of creation is left void of him: He has filled all things everywhere.6
Knight (2017) observes that this has developed into an understanding that “everything is in God.” 7
St. Irenaeus teaches us that God is intimately involved with His creation:
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.8
When referring to teachings in Genesis, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia gives the following teaching:
We humans are bound to God and to one another in a cosmic covenant that also includes all the other living creatures on the face of the earth: ‘I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground’ (Hos. 2:18; cf. Gen. 9:15). We humans are not saved from the world but with the world; and that means, with the animals. Moreover, this cosmic covenant is not something that we humans have devised, but it has its source in the divine realm. It is conferred upon us as a gift by God.9
The Fathers also recognized that only the human creatures had sinned and that only humans needed 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. 10
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. 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. 11 In essence, Genesis gives us a glimpse into Who God is.12 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 behaviors are, and are not, acceptable to God. This revelation also establishes that unrighteous and sinful behaviors are part of the criteria used to judge those who fail to repent and desist from sinful ways.
Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia notes:
A reverence for animals, sensitivity to their position, their suffering is not new. It is part of our Orthodox Church faith. We start from the principle laid down in the first chapter of Genesis – that the world is God’s creation, God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good-Genesis 1:31. The world is God’s creation, and it is a good and beautiful world. Therefore, the question of animals and how we treat them, links up with our view that animals are part of God’s creation and just as we should treat the whole of creation with reverence and respect so we should more particularly treat the animals with reverence and respect. It is said in the first chapter of Genesis, that humans have a unique position in God’s creation because we are created in the Image and Likeness of God and that is not said of animals but being created in God’s Image and Likeness, gives us a responsibility towards creation as a whole and towards animals in particular. We are up against the basic problem that all too many people, clergy, and laity, think as Christians that this does not matter; that the treatment of animals is not a moral issue. But as soon as you say that animals are part of God’s creation and we humans have a God-given responsibility towards creation, then at once, one sees that it is both a moral and spiritual question. That is why the Ecumenical Patriarch was so right to insist that the misuse of any part of creation is a sin but all too many people do not see it that way. 13
God’s original and enduring choice of a plant-based diet, first outlined in Genesis, not only evidences the violence-free harmony of Edenic life, but it also indicates the ideal diet. Had that not been the case, God would not have chosen this diet for us.
Q. What types of behaviors are acceptable to God?
Q. As Image moving towards the Likeness of God, how should we behave towards His creation?
Q. What does God’s original and enduring choice of diet tell us about His intention for all things in creation?
1 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word S 43:3, CANNPNF 2-04.
2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2:5.
3. Gn 1:20-22, 24-5, 30-31.
4. See St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2.4.
5. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2.5
6. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, S: 8:1.
7. Panentheism. Knight, C. 2017  3rd ed. ‘Natural Theology and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition’ in,The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology (eds.) John Hedley Brooke, Russell Re Manning, and Fraser Watts. (OUP, USA)
8. 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.
9. Ware. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, ‘Orthodoxy and Animals’, in, Linzey. A. and C. Linzey, (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics (Routledge Handbooks in Religion), (Routledge, Oxford. UK. 2018).
10. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.18.7; 3.9:1, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
11. 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.
12. For an investigation of Orthodox understanding of early Church texts on Genesis, see Bouteneff, Beginnings. Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. (Baker Academics, 2008).
13. Interview in, Nellist. C. Eastern Orthodox Theology and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing. UK. 2020), Ch. 6.
2) COMPASSIONATE CARE: IMAGE OF GOD
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. 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. 17
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew not only gives legitimacy to calls for Eastern Orthodox theological discussions on the subjects of climate change and animal suffering, but he also supports the suggestion that the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church have a significant role to play in reducing that crisis and suffering.
Not only are we to live with a Eucharistic and liturgical ethos 18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that how we respond and treat creation, “especially through the lifestyle we lead”, reflects how we worship God. 19 Importantly, he links our fasting to our liturgy and response to nature:
Our fasting, too, should not be disconnected from our liturgy. The truth is that we respond to nature with the same delicacy, the same sensitivity and tenderness, with which we respond to a human being in a relationship. 20
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. 21
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. 22
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.’ 23
Q. In light of what we know of God, do you believe He would be indifferent to the suffering of any of His created beings?
Q. Why do you think Christ includes humans and animals in his teaching in Luke 14.5?
Q Do you believe your present lifestyle and treatment of animals reflects the Image of our compassionate God?
Q In what ways can you and your parish facilitate the flourishing of all God’s creation?
1 St. Basil the Great, Hexaemeron, Homily 7:5.
2 St. Irenaeus, “The Doctrine of the Apostolic Preaching” 32-4, 100. See also Against Heresies, 3.21.10.
3 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Environment and Ethics” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 135-6.
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.
6 St. Irenaeus, 2.29.2.
7 St. Irenaeus, 3.20. Title.
8 St. Irenaeus, 3.12.7.
9 St. Irenaeus, 3.6.1.
10 St. Irenaeus, 4.17.4.
11 St. Irenaeus, 2.28.3; 2.13.9.
12 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Table Blessings, Memra X, in Hansbury, M. Hymns of St Ephrem the Syrian, Convent on the Incarnation, (Fairacres, Oxford, SLG Press, 2006) 37.
13 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies Homily 7:6; See also Mt 10:29-30; Lk 12:6.
14 Ps 103:10-21.
15 Mt 6:26.
16 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.3.
17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Fifth and Sixth Day of Creation’, Encountering the Mystery 106.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Orthodox Liturgy and The Natural Environment’ Encountering the Mystery, 98-103.
19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “For the Life of the World” in, Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 297.
20 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “For the Life of the World” in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth in Love, 297.
21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.
22 Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke Homily 101, in, Just Jr, A. A. (Ed.) & Oden, T. (Gen. Ed.) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament: III Luke (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press 2003) 235-6.
23 Attwater, D. St. John Chrysostom, (London: Catholic Book Club, 1960) 59.
3) WHAT IS DOMINION?
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 nature3
It is crucial, then, that we recognize and respond to the interconnection and interdependence between caring for the poor and caring for the earth. They are two sides of one and the same coin. Indeed, the way that we treat those who are suffering is reflected in the way that we approach the ecological crisis. And both of these in turn mirror the way that we perceive the divine mystery in all people and things, the way that we kneel in prayer before the living God.4
The above teachings not only support the premise that our behaviors should reflect the Image and Likeness of God but also acknowledge that some historical Christian interpretations relevant to this subject are flawed.5 Modern Eastern Orthodox scholarship accepts, for example, 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. Orthodoxy teaches that our relationships with “all things” should reflect the Image and Likeness of an all-loving and compassionate God.
Orthodox Christian tradition also stands in stark contrast to other historical Christian teachings that taught that animals “are naturally enslaved and accommodated to the uses of others.”6 This ‘enslavement’ portrays a negative mind-set that inevitable creates the potential for negative relationships with animals. Animals were no longer viewed as beings of God but rather, as objects for our use.
One important aspect of the 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. Unfortunately for animals, humans and continued life on this planet, this dominant narrative has helped 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. 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. 7
The full text is full of negative language, which is 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. St. Maximus makes an important point when 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.” 8
Today, scientists and theologians alike warn us of the environmental consequences of our greed. 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 humans and animals and harmful to human health but also unsustainable from an environmental perspective and a significant factor in global warming and food insecurity. 9 The Ecumenical Patriarch is one among many who recognize the sin inherent in our thoughtless actions:
Responding to the environmental crisis is a matter of truthfulness to God, humanity and the created order. In fact, it is not too farfetched to speak of environmental damage as being a contemporary heresy or natural terrorism. We have repeatedly condemned this behavior as nothing less than sinful.10
Q. What do you consider to be the correct interpretation of dominion?
Q. A common theme in patristic teaching is the interconnectedness of ‘all things’ in God’s creation. Can you give examples of these patristic teachings for your group to discuss?
Q What can you and your parish do to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation?
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, ‘Environment as the Responsibility of All’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 364; See also Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 2011.
4. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Environment as the Responsibility of All’, in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 365.
5. Recognition of errors in some theological teachings is evidenced throughout the history of the Church.
6. 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.
7. St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Love for the Poor, Holman S. (Trans.) The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia, (Oxford: OUP 2001) 198.
8. St. Maximus, Three Centuries on Love, Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Trans & Eds) Philokalia Vol 2:86.
9. See Knight, A. ‘Animal Agriculture and Climate Change’ in Linzey, A (ed.) The Global Guide to Animal Protection, (Urbena, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press. 2013) 254-256.
10. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Ascetic Ethos’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 359.
4) BEHAVIOURAL GUIDANCE
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
Scripture offers us numerous examples of universally accepted ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’ behaviours.2 The Fathers teach that these behaviors are an indication of God’s will and desired actions for humankind, which St Irenaeus informs us 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 the Noahic narrative, where God saves a remnant of each species of animal from the Flood, including those that some humans view as having no value; His subsequent covenant with them all and, Christ’s teaching in the Sabbath narrative in Luke:
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? 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 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 in 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, neighbor, stranger, or one’s enemy are not to be ignored. They too are examples of the behavioral 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. 8
If we apply these teachings to contemporary societies and include animals that are abandoned, we ought to be mindful of the above teachings when considering the social benefits derived from those in animal protection organizations who cooperate with God by acting in exactly the same compassionate ways.9 Perhaps we as individuals and parishes, ought to consider engaging with people or organizations who rescue animals that are lost, abandoned or in need of loving homes, for they can legitimately be viewed as cooperating with God.10 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 11
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? 12
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.13 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. 14
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 our love, concepts of community, justice, mercy, and rights to include the non-human animal creation:
Justice extends even beyond one’s fellow human beings to the entire creation. The burning of forests, the criminal exploitation of natural resources, the gap between the wealthy “north” and the needy “south”, all of these constitute expressions of transgressing the virtue of justice. 15
Thus love for God, love for human beings, and love for animals cannot be separated sharply. 16
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.17 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.18
As noted above, Ps 35 gives testimony to God’s righteousness, judgment and mercy linked to the saving of animals.19 The ‘rightness’ of these types of behavior 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.”20 From this, we may reasonably conclude that an ‘unrighteous man’ is one who lacks compassion for his animals. That cattle are to be saved and that they are to receive mercy ought to concern us in light of the well documented and scientifically proven suffering they endure in our contemporary animal food production industries. 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:
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.21
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.” There are, however, less well-known texts, where St. Isaac teaches on mercy, justice, compassion, non-violence, and oppression.His teaching here, is both a profound observation and of relevance to all forms of suffering:
Oppression is eradicated by compassion and renunciation 22
He also 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. 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 in our clergy and congregations who continue to extend their compassion and love to animals will take heart from St. Isaac’s teaching on inclusivity, which extends to all of God’s created beings.
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.” 25 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 behavioral guidance and the need to reflect that Image in our treatment of animals and the wider environment. It is through such participation and behaviors that oppression in all its forms is overcome.
There are other sources to support St. Isaac’s teachings. As previously noted, 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? 26
The above teachings not only serve to highlight the spiritual interconnectedness between all created beings they are also important for recognizing 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. Consequently, 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 of Diokleia speaks to the point:
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.27
These abandonments and/or poisonings/drownings/killings are a dereliction of our duty as Image to care for God’s creation. It is also one of the most intractable problems of animal protection and causes immense suffering to millions of animals throughout the world.
Q. If, as the Fathers teach, we are to embrace all of creation 28 and if, we are to hear the cry of the earth, do you believe we should be willing to hear the very real cries of the suffering animals in contemporary societies?
Q Do you believe that there are soteriological consequences for humans who abuse/abandon animals?
Q. If incidents of compassionate care, reverence and respect between man and animals are a standard mark of Orthodox sanctity, can we use this tradition to help us engage with contemporaries who exhibit similar character traits?
Q. Would you consider neutering your companion animals and are you aware of the benefits of doing so?
1 Ps 35:7-8.
2 E.g., Gal 5:22.
3 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.34.4.
4 Luke 14:5.
5 Ex 23: 4.
6 Dt 22:1; also, Dt 22:3.
7 Dt 22:4.
8 ‘A Comment on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ by Elder Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon’https://www.patriarchate.org/-/a-comment-on-pope-francis-encyclical-laudato-si-
9 Sentimentalism or indifference to human suffering is a frequent charge, though research does not support the charges.
11 Dt 22:2.
12 St. Gregory of Nyssa, 2nd Homily On the Love of the Poor, Holman S. (Trans.) The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia, (Oxford: OUP 2001) 203.
13 Lk 14:5; Also, Mt 12:11.
14 Dt 5:13-14. See also Ex 23:12. There is a similar teaching in St. Ephrem’s Hymns on the Nativity.
15 H.A.H. Bartholomew 1, ‘Justice: Environmental and Human’ composed as ‘Foreword’ to proceedings of the fourth summer seminar at Halki in June (1997) in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew 1, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009)173.
16 H.A.H. Bartholomew 1, ‘The Wonder of Creation, Religion and Ecology’ in, Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today (NY: Doubleday, 2008) 107.
17 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 After Noah, 30.
18 Ps 144:9.
19 Ps 35:7.
20 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 Dorff. E. & Crane, J. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality, Oxford: O.U.P, Ch. 26.
21 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties,74:507 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.
22 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Six Treaties on the Behaviour of Excellence5: 63.
23 St. Isaac, Mystic Treaties, Six Treaties on the Behaviour of Excellence, 3: 54. Fr. J. Breck and Met. John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) make similar comments for contemporary ethicists.
24 The opposite appears to be the case.
25 Lossky, Mystical Theology, 1991;111.
26 Catecheses 52. I remind the reader of St Ephrem’s teaching that God’s mercy extends to non-human animals in his Table Blessings.
27 Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering, Chapter Six, pp. 162, 184.
28 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.2:5.
5) SACRAMENTAL LIFE
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
He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed.2
The Orthodox tradition recognizes that Christ sanctifies His creation through His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Eucharistic offering. 3 There are numerous biblical and patristic teachings where “the earth” and at times animals are portrayed as praising and knowing God. 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. 4
The whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Word, that Thou holdest all in unity. 5
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. 6
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! 7
Other texts indicate that creation has a voice that cries out to God and has ‘human’ characteristics ranging from fear to joy. 8 St. Anastasias 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.” 9 To add further support to this argument, we may look to the corpus of patristic teachings on the sanctification of creation. Gschwandtner (2012) 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” 10 and explicitly links Christ’s baptism with the sanctification of the baptismal waters.11 St. Basil of Seleucia taught that Christ saved the world and liberated the earth 12 and recounts all the benefits of salvation including “a principle of purification for the world” and a “renewing of nature.” 13 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? 14
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. 15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew teaches that all creation also requires “an appropriate veneration” 16:
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. 17
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.” Recalling our minuteness in God’s wide and wonderful creation only underlines our central role in God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world.18
The fish, then, is a soteriological statement of faith. Christ has been intimately and integrally identified with the fish of the sea. 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. 19
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, the environment and for our salvation.
Even though animals are not specifically mentioned in the new ecclesial text for the environment 20 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.” 21
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…The natural environment seemed to provide a broader, panoramic vision of the world…somewhat resembling a wide-angle lens…it is through this spiritual 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. 22
Q Do you believe ‘that the whole world’ was ransomed by Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection?
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?
Q What can we as individuals and parishes do to include the rest of creation in our prayers and practice?
1 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homilies, 13:2.
2. St Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, S.37:7.
3 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.18.6.
4 Mode 4, Joseph was amazed in, Mikrayiannanites, “Vespers for the Environment,” 386.
5 E.g., Holy Saturday, Mother Mary, and Ware, Kallistos, The Lenton Triodion, 625, 627; See also Col. 1:16-17.
6 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Nineteen Hymns, 13:27.
7 St. Ephrem the Syrian, 14:35, refrain.
8 St. Andrew of Crete, On the Dormition of Mary, 145-146.
9 St. Anastasias 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.
10 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, On the Words of the Gospel, 37.2. NPNF:338
11 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Select Orations, The Third Theological Oration. On The Son, 29.10, NPNF:221
12 St. Basil of Seleucia, Third Homily on Pascha, SC.187:209.
13 St. Basil of Seleucia, SC.187:215.
14 This a frequent story used by Met. Kallistos. Ref: Elder Joseph the Hésychaste, Letter 57 in, Expression of Monastic Experience, 315.
15 E.g., Mt 10:29.
16 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 90.
17 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 92.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishop.” in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 281.
19 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “The Sacredness of Fish” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 300. Scotland’s fish farming creates as much nitrogen as yearly sewage from 3.2 million people.
20 Please note that there is only one mention of a plant
21 Mikrayiannanites, Monk Gerasimos, ‘Vespers for the Environment’ in Chryssavgis and Foltz, (2013) Toward Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation. (NY: Fordham University Press, 2013) 392.
22 Bartholomew, “The Orthodox Church and the Environment” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 360-361
6) WHAT IS SIN AGAINST ANIMALS?
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. 1
Some humans may not have realized that their actions are abusive and thus have no idea of the resulting negative soteriological implications. From the above teaching from Met. Kallistos of Diokleia and this teaching by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, it is clear 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
By defining which actions are sinful, Christianity provides the opportunity of bringing people closer to God and salvation. 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. 3 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, 4 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. 5
St. Cyril clearly identifies hunting and horse racing 6 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.7 Also note his reference to vanity which 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:”
If any one despises the present canon, and gives himself to any of the things which are forbidden, if he be a cleric he shall ne deposed, but if a layman let him be cut off. 8
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. 9
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. The Fathers even add a note of clarification specifically stating that this applies to all those who attend hunts “shall be cut off. Should he be a cleric he shall be deposed.” This is a clear indication of the ‘mind of the Fathers’ on this theme and, the seriousness of the sin and evil inherent in these practices yet hunting as a form of recreational sport is common in Orthodox countries.
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. 10
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. 11
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.
Our responsibility for whatever happens around us is an unavoidable given.12
To overcome our sins against the environment and the animals, we must endeavor 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. The Christian Church and its parish priests can offer this spiritual advice and teaching at ground level. 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:
For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease by contaminating the earth’s waters, its land, its air and its life, with poisonous substances-all of these are sins before God, humanity and the world…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 Christians to widen our concept of sin to include the abuse and exploitation of creation and of the need for transfigured lives, clearly have 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 are sensitive to their suffering and try to protect them.
It is also clear that both laity and clergy ought to consider that even if misuse or abuse is not directly inflicted by us, we are culpable for example, via our demands for cheap animal-food products; by our vanity in buying fur when alternatives are available; by 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 behaviors. This knowledge will materialize when the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and academic institutions, include environmental and animal suffering in its education of its priests and, when other leaders of the Christian Church and its academics engage with the subject of animal suffering in their deliberations on sin and evil.
Q. Are you concerned about the suffering of creation?
Q What can you and your parish do to relieve animal suffering and facilitate their flourishing?
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 or are these teachings more likely to reach you and your parish via knowledgeable parish priests?
1.Met. Kallistos of Diokleia, in Nellist, C. Eastern Orthodox Theology and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020) p. 83.
2 “The Ascetic Corrective” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, (2003); also “Message of the Synaxis,” (2009:201)
3 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 5, p. 282.
4 Tsironi writes on the theatre at that time ending with “the stripping of women on stage.” Tsironi,N. Liturgy as Re-Enactment in the Light of Eric Kandel’s Theory of Memory. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/7844552.
5 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, First Mystagogical Catechesis, 6, [. 283.
6 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.
7 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.
8 Canon LI, The Canons of the Council in Trullo, The Seven Ecumenical Councils.
9 Canon LI.
10 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Address by His All Holiness during the Presentation Ceremony of the Sophie Prize” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 284.
11 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.
12 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Environmental Rights’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 260.
13 ‘A Comment on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ by Elder Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon. Available at: https://www.patriarchate.org/-/a-comment-on-pope-francis-encyclical-laudato-si-
14 See also, Limouris, Justice, Peace, (II:15) 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. (WCC, 1990: 20).
15 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Ascetic Ethos’ in, Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 359-360.
7) A ROLE FOR THE CHURCH
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
At last, the leaders of the world are beginning to respond to the most urgent of matters-the climate crisis. For decades, indeed millennia, 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
Asceticism, even the monastic form, is not negation, but a reasonable and tempered use of the world. 3
So let us acquire a “eucharistic spirit” and an “ascetic ethos” bearing in mind that everything in the natural world, whether great or small, has its importance within the universe and for the life of the world; nothing whatsoever is useless or contemptible. Let us regard ourselves as responsible before God for every living creature and for the whole of natural creation. Let us treat everything with proper love and utmost care.4
As noted previously, Fathers like St Gregory of Nyssa warned us not to abuse the animal creation, using negative language to describe those who hunt both land and marine animals as “artful hedonists” who pillage, pursue, capture, pluck and eradicate.5 And as we have also seen, this abuse of the natural world is also a common theme in teachings by some of our leading contemporary theologians. However, to overcome this abuse it also requires similar teachings from our monastic guides and parish priests. 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. 6
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 actions; our choice of diet and the products we choose to purchase.7
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. 8
Yet, 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. 9
Our inability to move from theory to practice indicates that our weaknesses make it difficult for us to attain the Christian ideals. 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 behavior. 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.”10 This aligns with Met. Kallistos of Diokleia’s (Ware) comment on “evil profit” when referring to intensive farming practices 11, St. Irenaeus’s teaching that we must not use our freedom as a “cloak of maliciousness” 12 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? 13
Such teachings also hint at the devastating results of our continued abuse and misuse of animals. 14
In numerous declarations, 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 environmental and animal suffering. He and others like Limouris, teach 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 humankind and in the whole creation. 15
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 environmental destruction and animal suffering. These are inconvenient truths, yet necessary areas to consider and debate. if we are to reduce the impact of the climate crisis and animal suffering, and effect real change in human hearts. None of this will be easy for, as noted, 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”.16 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. As far back as 1989, Stylios offered 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. 17
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. 18
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. 19
In light of such statements, 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. 20
He also teaches 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. 21
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. 22
It is clear from this, that we need 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. 23
These are crucial teachings not only for the subjects of climate crisis and animal suffering but also for humanity. We can see this most clearly in the link between animal abuse and the Corona virus pandemic. He recognizes that the environment is crying for liberation 24; the soteriological implications of sins and indifference to that suffering and, 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.” 25
In essence, our early Fathers and our contemporary Church leaders, such as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, give Eastern Orthodox and other Christians the authority not only to cooperate and engage with environmental, conservation and animal protection organizations, but also to actively teach these subjects at parish level, as part of their mission to reflect God’s love and compassion to “all things” in God’s “very good” creation.
Q Can you identify some harmful practices against the environment and against animals?
Q. If animals are to receive love, justice, mercy and be included into our community, what can we, as a parish or as individuals, do to reduce animal suffering and how can we promote their flourishing?
Q. Do you understand the science and impact of the animal-based diet upon global warming?
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 St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Love for the Poor, 198.
4 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Conclusion: A New worldview’ in Encountering the Mystery, 118.
5 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Contribution of Orthodoxy’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 259.
6 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension,’ in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 275.
7 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘Responding to the Environmental Crisis’, Speaking the Truth, 352-3.
8 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Sacrifice: The Missing Dimension,” in Cosmic Grace, p. 275.
9 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Address before the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly” in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 283.
10 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Foretaste of the Resurrection” in Chryssavgis, Speaking the Truth, 41. For similar sentiments, see Dimitrios 1, “Message on Environmental Protection Day.”
11 See Nellist, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. p. 181
12 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.37.4.
13 Chrysostom, St. John. On Repentance and Almsgiving. Christo, G.G. (trans.) The Fathers
of the Church, (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press 1998) 10.5, p.130.
14 The recent pandemics and the potential dangers within the intensive farming systems are cases in point.
15 Limouris, Justice, Peace, ‘Human Sin and forms of Justice’, p. 6.
16 St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:12. Title, 1.
17 Stylios, Bishop Euthymios. K. ‘Man and Natural Environment: A Historical-Philosophical-Theological Survey of the Ecological Problem’ in, Harakas, S. (1990) ‘Ecological Reflections on Contemporary Orthodox Thought in Greece’ Epiphany Journal. 10 (3): 46-61.
18 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, 107.
19 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.
20 Chryssavgis, J. ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology, Spirituality and the Sacraments,’ in, Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration, p. 155.
21 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “A Collective Responsibility” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 374; also “The Immorality of Indifference,” 290.
22 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
23 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Cosmic Grace, 358.
24 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Climate Change” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 350.
25 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “Education and Parish Action” in Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, 110-111.
8) PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF RESPONSIBLE CARE.
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
Christ’s teaching here is that we are to act, and act immediately, to prevent the suffering of God’s human and non-human animal creatures. 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 prevent the destruction of the 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. Orthodoxy teaches that all things are interconnected and so we must also try to prevent the destruction of their and our environments.
As a rule, we can use the following steps as guidelines for specific care for animals:
1.Provide love, friendship, and compassion daily.
2.Provide food and clean water daily.
3.Provide adequate shelter.
4.Exercise your animals.
5.Provide veterinary care.
6.Neuter your cats, dogs, rabbits.
7.Educate your friends/family on creation care and environmental issues.
In environmental terms we can:
a) Limit our consumption of goods.
b) Reduce our carbon footprint both as parishes and as individuals.
c) Where possible, reduce our consumption of animal-food products.
d) Reduce our food waste.
e) Buy local, organic, and high welfare food products.
f) Grow vegetables and fruit in our Church grounds and homes.
g) Purchase products that are not tested on animals.
h) Refrain from using harmful pesticides and poisons.
j) Reduce our flying.
In addition, further practical proposals for the Church might include:
1)Promoting God’s original and enduring vegan diet as the dietary ideal. In alignment with the leading scientific reports of our time, our leaders could advise Orthodox Christians where possible, to give up the animal-food based diets entirely or, as a first step, reduce their consumption and 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, non-human animals, and the planet. In so doing, the impact on human and animal suffering, human health and environmental damage would be enormous.
2) Where possible, Patriarchs and Bishops could provide mainly vegan or vegetarian food at meetings, with a smaller proportion of animal-based food from organic, high welfare and local farms.
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 and its priests could affirm the sin of inflicting harm upon God’s animal creation 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 to protect the animals and guide humans away from evil practices and towards salvation. Skeet clubs can be the substitute offered as a dispensation to facilitate God’s salvific plan.
7) Educate our priests on the many problems associated with environmental abuse and animal suffering. Training would enable priests to teach a coherent message that will result in:
advancing our spiritual journey.
the reduction of animal and human suffering.
improvements in human health.
improvements in the environment.
Secure a sustainable future for God’s good creation.
Chryssavgis, J. Toward An Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation. Chryssavgis, J. and B. V. Foltz, (eds.) (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 Patriarch Bartholomew 1. (ed.) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).
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.
Limouris, G. Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation: Insights from Orthodoxy. (Geneva: WCC. 1990).
Nellist, C. A. Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. (Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2018/2020).
Nellist, C. A. Climate Crisis and Creation Care: Historical Perspectives, Ecological Integrity and Justice; (Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2021).
Nellist, C. A. Climate Crisis and Sustainable Creaturely Care: Integrated Theology, Governance and Justice, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2021).
—————– ‘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:
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