I am very satisfied that humankind has progressed and has found rules to keep us on a good path. I remember a big debate in America, about the ways animals are killed and that the animals should not be tortured in any way. Any killing should be done without pain and suffering to the animals. They have rules for how they breed them and how they kill them and I completely agree that such rules are necessary. We should be respectful and treat them with kindness. There are laws for how animals are bred and killed and if people do not follow these rules they are bad people.
Violence and mistreatment – when you hear of this, apart from the suffering of the poor animals, we also think of the person who has done this act. We ask who are these people and how could they do such things? The answer is because they have a bad heart. It is a psychological and psycho-pathological problem.
Presbytera Christina: Yes father, there is much evidence to show that those people who perpetrate extreme violence to other humans have already exhibited the same extreme violence to animals when they were children. In the past this connection was not made but now it is one of the key indicators for psychiatrists and the police in understanding a deeply disordered personality.
So Father, this is a great overview and a welcome and positive statement of the position of the Orthodox Church’s views about animals and their treatment. Could we now look at the specifics of the research in Cyprus? The original research showed that the Orthodox Church was thought of as not caring for animals. That is not what my research into the early church has shown. There, we have many examples of compassion for animals and so despite having a wealth of examples and texts, this appears not to be the practice on the ground. For example, when people have written to the Church they have not received any response. This lack of communication has reinforced this misunderstanding of the Orthodox Church’s teachings. Up until now, until my research, all that has been said recently has been on the environment -creation in its widest sense, but nothing has been said about the animals and how we should treat them. In my interview last week with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, I have a clear statement on the Orthodox Church’s position on a variety of animal themes but until this meeting that we have today, we have nothing from the Orthodox Church in Cyprus, can you explain why this is?
Bishop Isaias: It is traditional for us as Orthodox to have a good relationship with the animals. Our theology is favourable to the animals. We have never tolerated violence but we have never said anything because I think it was not seen as necessary. Now, however, we see more and more the ill treatment of animals and it is true, it is time that we in the Church said something. Before there did not seem the need but it is different now and this is why I am giving you this interview.
As Christians many of us have pets or had pets and many of us know the work of the groups who protect animals, some even helped in these groups. In the context of Cyprus we can do more and we should do more. That is why I am ready to do something. Now, when we see these instances of violence or people bring us information, we must do something about it.
I understand that there has been a lack of communication and I am happy to deal with this. I believe that when we have gatherings or go to Christian societies and talk to people, we should mention things that are troubling people in their everyday lives, like the treatment of animals. I am very disturbed to hear that some priests have misused animals and whilst this is not every priest, even if it is one priest – it is a priest and one bad priest can easily become two priests and so we must take care.
It is true that many of our teachings do not get through to the people but this is true for many other things as well as the animals. It has to do with the nature of the individual person, some will listen and understand whilst others will go their own way, against the teachings. It has to do with their character and their own weaknesses. If you are a good Christian you will love the animals and they will love you back and there are many books showing this through the lives of the early saints as I said before. You cannot find a Holy man who has mistreated animals.
In this country we have the Green party and they have spoken of the need to protect the environment and I agree with them. Some people have asked if it is possible to have a place where they can protect the animals in my district and I have said yes but I have told them that they must take care of them, not just put them there and leave them.
Now let me talk of the practical problems. We see now that there is more mistreatment of animals this is because of the moral crisis and of the economic crisis. Again it is a spiritual thing. It is covered in the teachings of the virtues. If there is any weakness in the person, evil will enter and this will be shown against the little children, the defenceless women and also against the animals. I understand that there is research that shows this to be so.
Specifically on the subject of communication I would propose that there is a reservation from some Christian Orthodox groups to discuss with people from these welfare groups because some of these people are not Christians and some are seen as difficult.
Presbytera Christina: But father all this reticence does is reinforce the belief that the Orthodox Church is not interested or concerned about the suffering of animals and is therefore counterproductive.
Bishop Isaias: Well I believe that a good way to show this is not true and I have been thinking of this for some time, is to open a dialogue by establishing an Orthodox Church group within my Diocese for the protection of animals and I think we should have some training sessions for our priests on this theme and some talks for our Christian groups.
Presbytera Christina: Well I have to say that this would be a wonderful initiative for it would to my knowledge, be the first in the Orthodox World. The Catholics have one, the Anglicans have one and the Muslims have one but as yet not the Orthodox Church and so this would be a very positive move. I will add that it is remarkable that this move would come from Cyprus who will now be seen as a leader in this field just as the Ecumenical Patriarch has been for his role in the environment.
Bishop Isaias: Many of my parishioners have cats and dogs and they love them and I am sure they will be happy to begin such a project.
Presbytera Christina: Well I expect they do have cats and dogs and I would like to bring up one related point Father and this is the need for clarity in Cyprus on the position of the Orthodox Church on the neutering of animals. It is suggested that the Church forbids this practice or that as it is against the animal’s nature so we must not interfere with that nature. If this is not the position of the Church can you give us the correct Orthodox position on neutering?
Bishop Isaias: There is no such statement. There has of course never been any need before to make such a statement but I am prepared to say quite clearly that the Orthodox Church has no such teaching. We do not forbid the neutering of animals. We shall make a statement and we shall publish it to ensure people understand our position and not as you rightly say, use this as an excuse for not having their animals neutered.
Presbytera Christina: Father this is an excellent idea but before we continue, I would like to ask you something further on the research. It is suggested that the Church has a representative or indeed representatives who are teaching in schools, that because an animal does not have a soul it does not matter how they treat it or, that because an animal does not have a soul it doesn’t matter if you are cruel to it or, that animals don’t feel pain. Can you make a clear statement on the Orthodox Church’s position on these ‘teachings’? Should we use the criteria of an animal’s soul as the criteria for the way we treat it?
Bishop Isaias: This is certainly not the case – this is not Orthodoxy and I would like the name of that person if you can find it. All creatures have a soul – this is the teaching from the earliest time. We need to define what is meant by soul. You mention Plato and Aristotle but these are philosophers not theologians. Aristotle said that there were three kinds of souls but what he meant was ‘life-force’ and this is true. You mention Metropolitan Kallistos’ statements on this and he is right when he says there is no dogma in the church on this and so yes it is a matter of opinion but in general, we do differentiate between a human soul and an animal soul. He is also right when he says that the issue of the soul in relation to how we treat animals only confuses the matter. What we seem to have is some people taking a bit of philosophy and a bit of theology and they mix them up and come up with something which is not Orthodox.
Let me be clear – animals are the creation of God and we should treat them with respect and not be cruel to them and what kind of soul they have has no part of that discussion. We should not be involved in this type of argument; it should not be used, as it only serves to confuse what should be very clear. We should not be cruel to animals – it is that simple. We should not be cruel, we should love.
Presbytera Christina: The next topic I would like to talk with you about Father is the matter of education, particularly theological education. Met. Kallistos has said that often, all too often in fact, theologians meet at conferences and agreements are made but that this information or teaching rarely gets to the people on the streets or to the village priest. He mentioned also that he had spoken with President Makarios and had asked him what he thought his biggest task was and his reply was that he wanted above all, to improve the education for the village priest. That was forty years ago. How do you think we can get these Orthodox teachings to the priests and their parishioners?
Bishop Isaias: President Makarios was correct. Now all of our priests who have chosen the priesthood as their vocation attend Seminary College but there are some who become priests later in life after a career elsewhere and these do not have that level of education, though we do have training courses for them.
Presbytera Christina: Are the priest taught anything on the environment or on the ethical treatment of animals?
Bishop Isaias: I do not think so, though I do know the Ecumenical Patriarch wants this. Perhaps he has something but let me say this, why do we not start this? We can make a programme for our priests here in Cyprus.
Presbytera Christina: Ok, but who has the knowledge on both Orthodox theology and the ethical treatment of animals and the environment? Who will do this?
Bishop Isaias: This is a good question and again this is something I have been thinking of for a while. I think it is time that we had someone from here, one of my students to do a Masters in this subject – Orthodoxy and the Animal Kingdom, I think this would be a very good start. We would then have the research available to us in Greek from which to write a programme for our priests, based on our research and in one year or two at the most, we can make a proposal to our Synod that this programme be taught in our seminaries. This would be for the new priests but we could also have training programmes for the existing Priests.
Presbytera Christina: Well Bishop Isaias may I say firstly that I thank you for the large amount of time you have spent discussing this subject with me as I know you are a very busy man. Can I also say that I am extremely encouraged by what you have said and feel that your comments, together with those by Metropolitan Kallistos, have enabled me to give a clear teaching of the Orthodox Church’s position on the welfare and treatment of animals in the 21st Century than would otherwise not have been the case.