Souls, immortality and eternity
Guest_A Desert Aspirant
Posted 31 July 2003 - 02:56 PM
One of the Desert Fathers wrote words to the effect that: "if you see your brother being lifted heavenward by aerial beings, grab his foot and pull him back down, they might not be angels." Lucifer (angel of light) has appeared even to the Desert Fathers in the likeness of Christ).
No, flying on my own is not what this simple one seeks.
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Herman the simple
Posted 31 July 2003 - 03:07 PM
Scripture tells us that the human soul is neither incorruptible: "that through these (promises of Christ) you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and "for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2:19), nor immortal: "When you chastise man because of his iniquity, you condemn his soul to dissolution" (Psalms 39:12), "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28) and: "Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me" (26:38 and Mark 14:34).
So Borella accords with the Fathers - it is a 'grave error' (quotes signify nothing more than a terrible pun) to assume the soul is immortal.
Guest_A Desert Aspirant
Posted 31 July 2003 - 03:23 PM
Guest_A Desert Aspirant
Posted 31 July 2003 - 03:47 PM
Posted 31 July 2003 - 03:53 PM
Posted 31 July 2003 - 04:26 PM
One day you may get "pushed" out of your spiritual comfy zone & your Fr. won't be there to fly for you.
My Father (in Heaven) promised He would always be there, not to fly FOR me, but to carry me in His Arms. My comfy zone (and not so comfy zone sometimes) is in His Presence. God forbid I should ever get pushed out. I suppose I am free to STEP OUT, but that is another issue yes?
Guest_A Desert Aspirant
Posted 31 July 2003 - 06:02 PM
Posted 31 July 2003 - 07:32 PM
This simple mind would summarize the Orthodox teaching as follows:
Do animals have souls? - Yes, depending on your definition of soul
Do All Dogs go to Heaven (Gospel according to Disney)? - Not according to most Orthodox authorities
Will I see dear old Scruffy in Heaven (in deference to Fr. A)? - We'll find out if/when we get there...
Guest_Jurretta J. Heckscher
Posted 31 July 2003 - 09:54 PM
This topic of animals is very dear to my heart and one that I have pondered all my life, so please forgive me if I use up an inordinate amount of space on our Web pages to reflect on it. I promise to be quiet for a long time hereafter by way of compensation!
I thank everyone, especially Father Averky and Rebecca, for their insights. Like Father Averky, I have had countless occasions to thank God for His blessings in the form of the animals with which He has graced my life, who have taught me much about love (and about humility, and about patience, and about joy--and about the love great enough to insist on inflicting veterinary visits and injections and pills for healing, just as the Lord wills for us to be taught and healed by sufferings equally unfathomable to us humans!).
Surely this question of animal immortality is a matter of faith and of the heart more than of doctrine; after all, the Church--its theological wisdom long centered on far more essential questions such as the nature of Christ and the nature of man--has not found it necessary to give it sustained or concerted attention. So I do believe it falls within the realm of "theologoumena," private theological opinions that are not inconsistent with doctrine, and that what one believes about it depends very much on personal experience.
Speaking merely personally, since earliest childhood I have had a powerful sense that animals were not extinguished at death--at least, those animals (I do not speak of insects, for instance) capable of love and relationship. Of course, it is important to recognize the fundamental differences between animals and men; I suspect that a fear of blurring these differences lies behind the reluctance of some theological commentators to grant animals the possibility of immortality, but it seems to me that this fear is misplaced. Animals are not made in God's image, as we are; thus they do not have our freedom or our creativity and are not capable of reasoning and moral choice as are we.
And yet doesn't everything in creation bear in its depths some essential spark of God's life and of His being? (I believe St. Maximos the Confessor wrote deeply about that, but I will not attempt to harness his insights here.) The so-called "higher" animals, at least, clearly share with men and with angels--and with God Himself--the gift of unique personal distinctiveness (even my identical twin cats, brothers from the same litter who spent their whole lives together, differed greatly in personality--and now we learn that cloned cats, for example, have personalities demonstrably different from those of the cats from whom they were cloned!). Most tellingly, many kinds of animals love in a way recognizably like our own loving--and at the heart of our faith is the recognition that love is of God and is not quenched by death.
There are some beautiful hints about all this in Scripture. For instance, Mark 16: 15 (RSV) gives us the words of Christ Himself: "And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation'" (some other translations render this last phrase "all creatures" or "every creature"). I cannot begin to know the full meaning of this commandment, but since the essence of the Gospel is the invitation to repent because the Kingdom is at hand, and the Lord can hardly be telling us to tell animals to repent (because they lack the human capacity for choice), He must be telling us to proclaim to them by our words and our deeds the presence and reality for them of the Kingdom of love that knows no death.
And so some saints preach to animals quite literally: not merely the well-known St. Francis of Assissi (who because of his humble love for the whole of creation will probably be the first Western saint honored by the Orthodox if ever the Catholic Church is again reconciled with us!), but such beautiful modern icons of Christ as Blessed Father Isidore of Gethsemane Skete at the turn of the last century in Russia, spiritual father to (St.) Pavel Florensky (read his wonderful book about him, Salt of the Earth, if you can find it!), who loved animals and used to preach and sing psalms to the frogs who lived around his cell.
And here is Romans 8 (RSV), perhaps the most explicit Scriptural passage concerning the destiny of animals and of the whole of the non-human creation: "19: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
20: for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope;
21: because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;
23: and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
We know that animals share in the consequences of man's Fall: they suffer, they cannot avoid inflicting suffering (as when one animal hunts and kills another), and at times--as in the case of the Gerasene (Gadarene) swine (Mark 5: 1-13)--they are the sacrificial victims of man's entanglement with the Enemy. But St. Paul seems to be confirming for us in this passage that they also participate in our salvation, in our journey to resurrection and immortality in Christ. "In his way to union with God, man in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in his love the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may at last be transfigured by grace" (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 1976 ed., p. 111).
Don't we see many other hints of this in our own lives, and in the life of the Church? St. Isaac the Syrian tells us (Homily 77) that even fierce wild animals recognize the presence of holy people, and become tame and gentle with them--surely an image of the Kingdom to which animals are called along with us. In the presence of the saints, the wild beasts recognize their destiny, which is to share in God's eternal love and all-holy Presence. One thinks of St. Seraphim of Sarov and his beloved forest bear, to whom he used to give bread; or of St. Herman of Alaska, whose special companion was an Alaskan Kodiak bear (a fierce animal indeed!). In our own day, I believe it was Elder Joseph of Mt. Athos--a man of great holiness who died within living memory (though it may have been another recent Athonite saint)--who had a special love for snakes, and who astonished a man coming to see him for the first time by sorrowfully rebuking him for having killed one of the Elder's "friends"--a poisonous snake!--earlier the same day.
And of course there are countless stories of saints ministering tenderly to other animals; one of my favorites is the tale of St. Kevin of Glendalough, a great early Irish saint (6th century), who spent many a night praying with arms outstretched in the ancient fashion--and when, it is said, a blackbird came and made her nest in his outstretched hand, he remained standing thus until the baby birds had hatched and left the nest, so as not to disturb them!
In such saints one sees the fulfillment of St. Isaac the Syrian's portrait (Homily 8) of the "merciful heart," the heart which "cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation" and "continually offers up tearful prayer, even for the animals . . . because of the great compassion that burns in his heart without measure in the likeness of God." If the saints' compassionate love for animals indeed mirrors God's, how can we believe that God would countenance their final destruction in death? or that He Who will love for all eternity every demon who rejects Him will not also love for all eternity each of the blameless animals, whose dwelling first welcomed on earth His incarnate Son? For Christ our Emmanuel--"God with us"--was first of all not only with us but with the animals, and so I must believe it will be in His Kingdom. (And I think here of the beautiful old Russian folk custom which breaks the Christmas Eve fast by feeding the animals of the household first, in honor of their place in the Nativity.)
Another hint that animals are destined to enter the Kingdom is the way that God uses them, much as He uses His angels, to minister to us, to bring the light of the Kingdom into the fallen world even now. Think how often people who feel themselves unloved, or unlovable, or incapable of love--the elderly in nursing homes, or people whose inner wounds make it difficult or impossible for them to form deep human relationships--experience the real love they do not receive from their fellow men in the companionship of an animal. Don't we all know of "difficult," isolated, or eccentric people, outwardly unlovable by typical human standards, whose only sources of deep love seem to be God and their dog or cat? The therapeutic value of animals (patting a dog, for instance, has been proven to lower blood pressure) is now so widely recognized that there are many programs to bring pets into nursing homes and hospitals to "minister" to ill and lonely residents. And I know of a number of incarcerated violent criminals who began taking care of a group of stray cats at their prison--and who were able to show protective love to these cats as they had hitherto been unable to show it to human beings. The cats, it seemed obvious, were revealing to these brutal and bitter men that however dark their past and unlovable their present, they were capable of giving and receiving love.
Finally, there is the constant witness of little children: children seem naturally to love animals, to gravitate to them, reach out to them, and find spontaneous kinship with them. And "to such," the Lord tells us (Matt. 19: 14) "belongs the kingdom of heaven."
Well, I've said more than enough. But I will end with one more story: for many years, until his death perhaps 15 years ago, there lived at the monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos a monk, Fr. Gelasios ("the smiling one"), whose special ministry was to cats. In his youth a cat had saved his life by attacking (and being bitten by) a venomous snake that was about to strike him, and he nursed the cat back to health and spent the rest of his life taking care of the colony of cats around the monastery, even bringing them food from the refectory. (In the book Athos: The Holy Mountain, by Philip Sherrard, there is a wonderful picture of him walking along with a crowd of cats, all with their tails up in happiness.) His own holiness eventually became obvious to others, and at one point he was asked by a visitor (who told me the story) whether cats would enter the Kingdom. Of course, he replied. Why? asked the visitor. "Because," he replied, "they spend their entire lives making us joyful."
Surely that is true, and surely many cats and other animals will also be at home in the Kingdom because by loving them we have called forth from them their love and their response to ours. By loving them--"preaching the Gospel" to them, as Christ commanded--we prepare them and ourselves for eternity. Father Averky, my heart aches for what you must have felt in having to give up your dear Kublah. May the Lord comfort you and care for him all his remaining days, and reunite you where death has no dominion--but when he enters into God's presence in eternity, as I believe he will, surely he will recognize his home in Christ's love because of the love which he found in you!
Yours in Christ,
Guest_A Desert Aspirant
Posted 31 July 2003 - 10:11 PM
Posted 01 August 2003 - 11:27 AM
"That Divine and Celestial matters are fittingly revealed even through unlike symbols"
"In the case of the irrational or the insensitive things, such as brutes among living creatures, or inanimate objects, we rightly say that these are deprived of reason, or of sense-perception. But we fittingly proclaim the sovereignty, as Supermundane Beings, of the immaterial and intellectual Natures over our discursive and corporeal reasoning and sense-perceptions, which are remote from those Divine Intelligences.
It is therefore lawful to portray Celestial Beings in forms drawn from even the lowest of material things which are not discordant since they, too, having originated from That which is truly beautiful, have throughout the whole of their bodily constitution some vestiges of Intellectual Beauty, and through these we may be led to immaterial Archetypes; the similitudes being taken, as has been said, dissimilarly, and the same things being defined, not in the same way, but harmoniously and fittingly, in the case both of intellectual and sensible natures."
Posted 04 August 2003 - 02:29 PM
Benjamin Britten) I too am possessed of a cat of exceeding beauty and grace of being, a help in many troubled times, that I would wish to be with me for all eternity.
Posted 04 August 2003 - 09:43 PM
I do not recall seeing your name before, but I am glad to know that "at least" you are at one with me concerning cats. That at least is enough for me, and I will fervently pray that both you and your wonderful cat will spend eternity in heaven together.
"Pray for me
as I will for thee,
that we will merrily
meet in heaven,"
St. Thomas More
Posted 04 August 2003 - 09:55 PM
I just looked at your profile. I am sorry that Christianity was not what you have been seeking. We still have in common our mutual love for cats, and that makes me happy. I just got a new kitten, and I named him Stanley. He is a strawberry blond and white Tabby, and is quite bright and sensitive. His mother died when he was but a kitten, and he and his siblings were given to a farmer's wife who had a mother cat who was nursing at the time. She took the kittens in, but only Stanley survived. He must have a sense of that loss, for whenever I am in my work space where he lives, he wants me to hold him constantly.. I will be praying for you.
Posted 05 August 2003 - 03:38 PM
Many thanks for your prayers, which are welcome. I am a seeker after truth, wherever it may be found, and it would be more correct to say that I have for the present stepped off the escalator (no wonder, given the pitiful state of both the Church of England - my mother church - and the RC church of my adoption) than that I have abandoned Christianity altogether. For I am after all here, on this website, learning all the time from those well grounded in faith and learning.
Another thing we evidently have in common, as you will have seen from my profile, is a profound love of the monastic way, which I attempt to follow as best I can whilst living and working "in the world". Buddhism is, it seems to me, a sane place to be for following the spiritual path when other avenues are for whatever reason blocked. I do not know any Orthodox people other than those on this site, so cannot readily access their experience. Local churches here in North London are very ethnically specific (Greek Cypriot) and do not welcome enquiring outsiders.
I remain for now, sincerely, a seeker.
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