Vol. 2 No. 6 - Nativity 2007
"O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all." - Psalm 103 (104):24
They watch and they wait. Every February second, Canadians watch Wiarton Willie. Americans watch Punxsutawney Phil. Addicted to predictions about the future, even the movements of an unremarkable rodent become the stuff of auguries, portents, and signs.
We should not be surprised that the animal kingdom would gain such acclaim. Even the saints, such as Seraphim of Sarov, recognized that animals (especially those living in the wild) are much closer to the condition of their ancestors before the Fall than are human beings. Naturalists will point to animal instincts, noting that as human beings, we have lost many of our human "instincts" with the advent of technology, and before that, civilization. Living in Scarborough, or Richmond, or Westmount, one simply loses sight of the movements of honey bees, or the daily unfolding and nightly closing of certain flowers.
Neo-pagans - the spiritualized naturalists who deny the Christian context of the Fall - take this a step further, and call us to emulate the animals. Why not, they argue: animals never go to war, do little to destroy the environment, rarely abandon their children, and almost never produce second-rate game shows (or even first-rate ones for that matter). To improve upon humanity, they argue, is to become more like Chippy or Bambi or Fufu, leaving our modern sense of humanity behind.
Of course, they have something there. Animals lack the full consequences of the Fall, since although they have spirit and life, they lack an eternal soul. The impact of the Fall on animals was more limited in its effect on their physiology and mental state, and has by necessity left intact many of the instincts which are so wondrous to human observers. At their death, their existence ceases, however - or as we once explained to a puppy-loving lass who mourned her dog, animals do not go to heaven or hell: they remain forever part of God's created world. Since they do not have a soul, they do not have a soul to corrupt, to lose, or to darken.
And therein lies the real difference between human beings and animals: human beings have been created with an eternal soul, and the Fall has had a catastrophic impact on its condition. In nearly all the writings of the Church Fathers (and certainly, in the Desert Fathers), we read about the darkening of the eyes of the soul, the faculty that beholds God, or the nous, as it is usually called. With this faculty in darkness, mankind is left isolated and disoriented, often spending an entire lifetime spinning between the distorted pictures the darkened minds of philosophy, politics, and worldly religion have painted over the centuries. The essential activity of enlightening the spiritual mind with the Light of Christ, through stillness, prayer, and silent hesychia, is often overlooked - and overlooked at our peril.
As a result, we stand, fixed in awe, before the televised image of the favorite rodent son of Wiarton or Punxsutawney every February second, hoping to gain a glimpse of that trace of instinct that remains in God's creatures, even after the Fall. Yet as fellow creatures of God - creatures who are also blessed with an eternal soul, albeit one darkened - our quest for grace is so much more fully found in the prayers of the Church, and the Holy Mysteries, which provide for us a path back to God, back to our created and true nature, to eyes that do not struggle with shadows, but which behold the Uncreated Light of God.
So let us watch and wait, and see what God's creatures do on February second - and every other day, for that matter. For even this strange example of animal instinct is a reminder to us of our own lost nature, a grace that is far beyond animal instinct. And let us be inspired to begin anew our quest for paradise lost, not the construct of the scientific naturalists or the carnal utopia of the neo-pagans. Instead, let us embark upon the ladder of divine ascent, repenting of the sins that distort our likeness, joining our prayers to the prayers of the saints, and uniting our life to Christ in every way His Body the Church gives us.
And perhaps, if we can, let us leave a prayer rope at Wiarton... just in case someone picks it up and begins to use it.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Nativity, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.