There is an aspect of the modern use of the word “miracle,” that is more than a little problematic. While it is true that a number of Orthodox hymns in referring to certain dramatic events use the phrase, “the order of nature is overthrown,” this is far from being a complete theological account of what we know as the miraculous. A common understanding in the secular world of the miraculous is that it is somehow a disruption of the natural order – something that does not belong in our world. The classic “proof” of a miracle used in some parts of the Christian world is that it must not have any “natural” or “scientific” explanation. It seems to me that this approach makes an inappropriate and radical distinction between the actions of God and the actions of nature: it is more of the “two-storey universe” about which I have written at length.
The two animal stories I have posted to the site are both explainable by natural means. Thus many, both believers and non-believers, would say, “These are not miracles.” However, in our secularized two-storey universe this is tantamount to saying, “It has nothing to do with God.” And this is problematic.
The redemption for which we await is not a redemption that destroys nature or discards nature. Our redemption is equally a redemption of the material order:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance (Romans 8:18-25).
The redemption of the world does not make it into something other than the world – though it raises it to a new manner of existence. So, too, we do not cease to be human in the resurrection, nor do we cease to have bodies: our bodies, however, exist in a new manner.
Miracles as the world understands them are things that prove the existence of God – and thus become points of argumentation with those who do not believe. Such argumentation based on miraculous proofs is not the foundation of true faith. The God who has made Himself known to us in Christ is “everywhere present and filling all things” as is said in the prayer, “O Heavenly King.” Isaiah says that “the whole earth is full of Thy glory” (Is. 6:3). The present age has so constructed its worldview that the glory of God is nowhere to be seen. But this is a perversion of sight – a modern manifestation of the fall.
With such limitations even well-meaning efforts can be misdirected. Thus there is a tendency in our present moment to equate global warming with the apocalypse and imagine that failure to control and manage this phenomenon will bring the judgment of God down on our heads. That we should live rightly with creation and as stewards of what we have been given is true. But our hope is not to be found in a new technology or ecology by which we manage to control the climate. No God is needed for such imaginative projects – though many will use His name to underwrite their efforts.
A more radical transformation (as well as stewardship) is asked of us. That transformation is first made known to us in the incarnation of Christ in which “matter becomes the means of my salvation” (in the writings of St. John of Damascus). It is daily made known to us in the mysteries of the Church in which the simple elements of bread, wine, water, oil, the laying on of hands and other actions are means by which our salvation is made effective within us and made known to us. It is the transformation of Creation that beckons to us and the transformation of our very selves by the mercies of God.
The blessing of objects in this world does not make them to be something other than what they are (I make an exception of the Eucharistic elements which must be reserved for a different discussion). It reveals them to be in a unique position with God and His Divine Energies. But the Great Blessing of the Waters or the blessing of Water at Holy Baptism does not make the water to be something that is not water. This was strongly emphasized in my heart when, standing at the Jordan River last year, I heard the words of the Great Blessing from the Bishop who was presiding, “Send the blessing of Jordan…” Do we pray to make the Jordan River to be the Jordan River? Yes, in an important sense, we do.
Our redemption in the course of this life is, among other things, a recovery of our true humanity. Christ is “fully human” (and “fully Divine”). In the words of Met. Kallistos Ware, and He is the first “fully human.” At the least we may say that in comparison to the humanity of Christ – our humanity is broken. Thus this life is lived in a recovery of the glory that is proper to human beings.
I believe that glory is revealed in many ways – most of which might not be recognized as “miraculous.” Love of enemy, which is probably “miraculous” when it actually occurs, is one of the ways in which that glory is revealed. Love of friend – love of wolf and bird (and all creation) are also revelatory. The icon of the New Creation is made manifest in such moments.
I believe a proper view of our world is to see its iconic character. Creation is a “window” to heaven – the glory that is being made manifest. St. John Chrysostom once said that “he who gives to the poor is greater than he who raises a man from the dead.” It is a simple echo of St. Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 13 (“if I have not love…”).
I do not know the truly full account of St. Seraphim and the Bear or of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio (and similar stories). But they contain more than the story of a circus performance. The friendship of man and nature is a reflection of the God who saw creation and said, “It is good.”
I know that when I see a monk walking with a wolf, friend to friend, something in my heart leaps and says, “It is good.”