Animals and the Afterlife

Thoughts on the Oneness of Creation

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There is no formal doctrine in the Orthodox Church concerning the afterlife for animals, including our pets. Those Fathers of the Church who have expressed themselves on this matter were simply expressing theological opinions that have not become universally accepted, and remain known as “theologoumena” (personal opinion).

The Church has wisely refrained from pronouncing conclusively regarding the afterlife, for much remains unknown. We will not truly understand what awaits us after this life until we have entered into the afterlife. As Orthodox Christians, we simply accept the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed, reciting the words, “I look for….the life of the world to come.”

By God’s grace and our cooperation with this grace, we expect to inherit eternal life. We believe that all beings who have been a part of our lives will also be there. Some of us would even hope, along with C.S. Lewis, that it might be possible Paradise will also include our beloved pets, and even the animals that have contributed in a myriad of ways to our own well being. Would it be possible that the cow that provided milk for our children, and cheese for our table, might one day join us in a Paradise where there is no death and no pain?

C.S. Lewis describes something like this in his book “The Great Divorce” in which a sanctified lady in paradise is accompanied by a myriad of animals as she walks in glory through the fields of Paradise. As I have enjoyed the affection and loyalty of our monastery’s wonderful Norwegian Forest Cat, Hammi, it would seem to me a Paradise without this loving little creature, would be wanting. Even the eternal loss of our hens, who’ve provided us with so many wonderful, fresh eggs, and given me so much delight, as I’ve watched them enjoying their free range lives, would seem sad to me.

This is simply my opinion, and I look forward to the possibility of meeting with the many beloved dogs and cats whose lives I have shared, over my seventy years. The saints saw animals as creatures of God, created as gifts of God’s love, and therefore resisted negligence or indifference when these animals were under their charge.

Saint Paul of Obnora was known to converse with birds, and Saint Seraphim of Sarov made friends with a bear. Saint Anthony the Great had a friendship with a lion. Saint Modestos viewed animals as sublime and mysterious gifts from God, and would often bless the livestock of the faithful – praying for their health and survival and glorifying in the vastness and beauty of all that God made. I myself, for some thirteen years, have blessed our cat Hammi, as I’ve let him out of the library after his night of sleep.

The traditional lands of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, all lands of the Celtic peoples, which, until the 11th century were part of the unified Orthodox Catholic Church and whose saints and spiritual life have much to offer the contemporary world, saw all of reality as a single unity. These saints knew, as all of the holy saints of the Church have known, that the wholeness of creation had been torn apart by the sin of Adam, and was restored by the saving act of Christ. In their lives they embodied the restoration of wholeness in creation, whether by communication with angels and spirits, or by kinship with all of the natural world.

Saint Athanasius said,  “(God) provided the work of creation also as a means by which the Maker might be known … Three ways thus lay open to them, by which they might obtain the knowledge of God. (First), they could look up to the immensity of heaven, and by pondering the harmony of creation come to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father.” Thus, the natural world, seen in the light of Christ, remains a way to know God, that is, a way of salvation.

The oneness of our relationship with Creation is brought to life with the story of Saint Kevin of Glendalough. While standing at prayer in a traditional Celtic monastic position with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross, a blackbird built a nest on his arm and laid her eggs. Saint Kevin, not wanting to disturb her nest, stayed in the position until the eggs were hatched. The saint is said to have stated, “It is no great thing for me to bear this pain of holding my hand under the blackbird for the sake of heaven’s king.”

In the beginning of the restoration of the unity in the entire fallen cosmos, Christ went out into the desert and “He was with the wild beasts, and the angels served Him” (Mark 1:13). These heavenly and earthly creatures who were destined to become the new creation in the God-Man Jesus Christ were assembled around Him. There is a pointed reference to this restoration in the life of St Isaac of Syria, when he wrote:

The humble man approaches wild animals, and the moment they catch sight of him their ferocity is tamed. They come up and cling to him as their Master, wagging their tails and licking his hands and feet. They scent as coming from him the same fragrance that came from Adam before the transgression, the time when they were gathered together before him and he gave them names in Paradise. This scent was taken away from us, but Christ has renewed it and given it back to us at his coming. It is this which has sweetened the fragrance of humanity.

In other words, the state of likeness to God in Christ to which he had risen enabled him to be with the wild beasts just as Adam was in his naming of them. And, I suspect the reason pets are so important to we humans is that they aid in our journey into the restoration of kinship between two different parts of creation. Our pets become like all the animals were in the beginning, when Adam was charged with naming them.

When the human can lie down with the cat, or the dog, or the chicken, (to paraphrase Isaiah) we aid the advancement of the Kingdom just a little, work to recreate Paradise just a little, and so give new meaning to such menial tasks as cleaning out the chicken coop, or the litter box.

“Just as our bodies, although they dissolve for a time, do not pass away forever, but will be renewed again at the resurrection, so, too, will heaven and earth and all that is within them — that is, all of creation — be made anew and liberated from the bondage of corruption. The elements themselves will share with us in that incandescence from above, and in the same way that we shall be tried by fire, so, according to the Apostle, shall all creation be renewed through fire.” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourse I.4)

Finally, as one of my favorite bishops said, “Animals were with Adam and Eve in Paradise, so why on earth wouldn’t they also be in Heaven (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)?”

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

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Thursday June 30, 2016 / June 17, 2016
2nd Week after Pentecost. Tone eight.
Apostles’ (Peter & Paul) Fast. Food with Oil

Martyrs Manuel, Sabel, and Ismael of Persia (362).
New Hieromartyrs Aberkius priest and Nicander (1918).
New Hieromartyr Maximus (1934).
Virgin-Martyr Pelagia (1943).
Hieromartyr Philoneides, bishop of Kurion in Cyprus (306).
Venerables Joseph and Pior, disciples of St. Anthony the Great (4th c.).
Uncovering of the relics (1562) of the Alfanov Brothers of Novgorod (1389): Saints Nicetas, Cyril, Nicephorus, Clement, and Isaac of Novgorod, founders of the Sikolnitzki Monastery.
Venerable Ananias the Iconographer of Novgorod (1581).
Martyr Nectan of Hartland (Devon) (6th c.), and St. Botolph, abbot and confessor, of Boston (England) (680) (Celtic & British).
Martyr Isaurus, and with him Basil, Innocent, Felix, Hermes, and Peregrinus of Athens (Greek).
St. Aetius the Eunuch, enlightener of Ethiopia, baptized by the Apostle Philip (1st c.).
Martyr Shalva of Akhaltsikhe (1227) (Georgia).
St. Hypatius, abbot of monastery of Rufinianos (446).

Scripture Readings

Romans 5:10-16

10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.

Matthew 8:23-27

Wind and Wave Obey Jesus

23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The Monastery is under the omophore of The Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.

11 comments:

  1. Oh that is such a “Wegie” face! Our beloved Magick (his middle name was Melchior when we became a Christian household…) passed in March at the age of 18 years and 9 months and 1 day. We used to say that his “Native American” name was “Talks to Crows” as he would sit in the window for hours and click and chirp at the birds, crows being his favorite. The day after he died three crows stood in drive looking in the window for hours. Since we do not live in a permanent place, we have his ashes in a wooden box and I have an icon of our family saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov sitting next to it on a shelf. (We are amassing a collection now, all our pets are growing old! They will go with us when we are buried.) We do not venerate the relics, but we remember the joy they brought us and the blessings we were given by their sweet lives touching ours.

  2. If we are seeking theosis, the total union of our whole being with God, being completely fulfilled, satisfied and completed by living fully and eternally in the Divine Presence, transfigured and transformed by the Divine Energy, the presence of anything created and any attachment we might have to the material world would be a distraction and a detraction from the Divine Presence. All the blessings of the world are given by God to us in our earthly life separated from complete union with God, in this fallen world and our fallen and broken state, as consolations, comforts and foreshadowings of the future blessedness in theosis. If we fully have God and dwell completely in Him and He in us, nothing else would be needed or even wanted, and all our earthly attachments, as consoling, comforting and encouraging as they are now (as expressions of God’s love for us that we can understand and experience in our current condition) would become encumbrances.

  3. Thank you, Father. My cat died yesterday from renal failure. She was two weeks shy of her 18th birthday. I have had her since she was 7 weeks old. Your words today give me comfort.

  4. “Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”
    -Martin Luther.

    Thanks Father Tryphon. I have often tried to offer comfort to friends at the loss of a pet by reminding them that in Christ, God reconciled *the world* to Himself.

    Perhaps we don’t know more because it is enough for us to be concerned to work out our own salvation.

    Pray for me.

  5. Christ is among us!
    Hi very Rev. Fr. Tryphon, we hope that like you wrote about your cat and hens, there is a place for all of them in the world to come. We live in Northern New Mexico, we have many cats, and wild animals live around us. They were here before we did. So we are sharing in their space.

  6. Dear in Christ Father Tryphon,

    Father give thy blessing!

    This is a beautiful and very moving post. I just have a remark. I might be wrong but it is saint Gerasimus of Jordan who became friends with a lion, isn’t it!

    In Christ

    hypodeacon claude

  7. Animals have always been a delight and amusement to me and I have had some wonderful pets all my life. As I age I find it more difficult to face their death and cry for days. The recent death of my cat caused me to become very angry with God for taking her away from me. I needed her. She was a good companion and comfort. I am eighty and most of my friends and family have died so I feel more alone than ever. I want to believe she is in heaven and we will be reunited, but there is no proof of that. Only faith makes it seem real. There is so little we know about death and the possibility of life after death. So little, so little. All we have is faith in something that may or may not be true. I hate death with a passion and am angry with God for creating us and then destroying us. What kind of God is that?

  8. We of the Western tradition enjoy the great blessing of veneration of Blessed Francis of Assisi. Of all the saints, he is the one who loved all in the animal kingdom, even his pope, Gregory IX (whom he confronted & transformed over corruption in the Church). I carry, on my house key chain, a medal of St. Francis. We in the Anglican Communion have a special liturgy focused on him…..the custom of the Blessing of the Animals around the date of his feast day, Oct. 8th. Our pets in paradise?….I love the notion…film at 11!

  9. Thank you for fhis. Although, being in the Roman tradition, I was well aware of Saint Francis of Assisi”s relationship with animals and the natural world, I was not completely aware of our holy Fathers, Mothers opinion on this matter. Nate Kelley, Headland, Alabama

  10. Although this post is over two years old, I just discovered it today, and wanted to thank you. My husband and I will be having our beloved cat Princess put to sleep within the next week, and your thoughts about animals in the afterlife really resonated with me. It’s especially helpful to hear this from an Eastern Christian perspective (we’re Byzantine Catholic). So again, thank you so much!

    1. Our twenty-three year old cat, Hammi, has declined markedly over the past month. We’re facing the same thing. It is never easy to have a pet die, especially because they’ve become a member of the family. God be with you, Christine.

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