There exists within us this internal Way, or as some of the Eastern ancients called it, the Tao. St. John Cassian records one desert father speaking of this internal Way that was still quite strong in the pre-Flood days. People could walk into the woods and know which plants were edible, which were toxic, and which were good for medicines. The knowledge was intuitive, and did not necessarily have to be taught. Humans simply flowed with this internal rhythm.
The animals sensed when man was flowing with the rhythm of this internal Way and were at peace with him. It was not until after the great Flood that we see animals fearing mankind,
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. (Gen. 9:2)
When we fall into sin, which most of us do daily, we are moving contrary to our own nature, we are quieting the inner Tao, this Way that seeks to guide us into the most natural state of being.
Our sinful tendencies have become so ingrained within us for so many generations that we think of this as being natural or human. But sin is an alien intruder within our humanity, and it has one goal: total destruction of the human being. And unfortunately, humanity has been working for thousands of years with this alien intruder to create a world that is stifling to the inner Tao.
THE RENEWED HUMAN
But in the Orthodox Church I find hope. Christianity teaches that the Tao took on flesh and invaded this hostile world. It lived a life in complete accordance with the Tao, because it was the enfleshed Tao.
In Orthodoxy, I see countless examples of people who have overcome their sinful passions and who walk in sync with this inner Tao. Perhaps St. Seraphim of Sarov (who was one of them) would say they “acquired the Holy Spirit,” and in doing so, walked in simple harmony with all of nature. There are stories of lions following saints around like puppy dogs or digging the grave for a beloved saint when no one else was capable of doing so.
Some modern people dismiss these stories as nothing more than pious fables, but I think that is only because we modern people have drifted so far away from the inner Tao that when we hear about it, we immediately disbelieve it. We have created a world that is in opposition to both nature and the Tao.
Fairy tales in which men and animals are friends and talk with one another are popular because they reveal how many of us, deep down inside, think the world ought to look. In some sense, these fairy tales are closer to truth than our current state.
A HARMONIOUS SOUL
But we can have confidence that the stories of the saints are true simply by looking at modern examples. St. Paisios, who passed away in the 1990’s, was one such individual who lived in accordance with the true nature, and even beyond that.
St. Paisios was a friend to a multitude of wild animals. He had one woodpecker whom he named Olet (Arabic for child). Paisios wrote,
When I call for Olet to come, it brings other birds, its friends, that run straight to the food; but Olet comes out of obedience and love. Even when it is hungry, it sits with me for a long time and forgets about food; I have to remind it. And now that the weather is nice and it can find plenty of bugs to eat, when I call it, it still comes out of obedience, even though it is full and not looking for food…
All of the animals who come to my Kalyvi, not only the flying birds but jackals, rabbits, weasels, turtles, lizards, snakes, are filled with the overflowing of my love and I am filled when they are filled, and so all of us together…”we praise, we bless, and we worship the Lord!”
At another time, the holy elder discussed his time at a monastery in Sinai,
The birds followed me everywhere I went. When I would climb up onto some ledges to chant, they would gather there beside me and at the end, I would throw them some rice. If I wanted some quiet, then I could not chant at all, because they would all gather around me! I remember one time when my back was stiff and I had to lie flat for several days, that a little bird entered my cell and stood on my chest. It just stood there and looked me in the face while chirping very sweetly for hours on end. It made such an impression on me!
When asked about animals coming to his Kalyvi, he replied
Of course they come! Jackals come, and wild boars…Now and then a small fox will come, too. Once the cats leave, then the little fox comes. The wild boars do not show up in the summer because they are afraid of the hunters; only snakes come out in the summer, because people fear them.
When explaining how and why this happens, the holy elder stated,
Nowadays, when one approaches God anew by observing His commandments, he is once again vested in divine Grace, whereupon he returns to the condition man had been in before the Fall, and the animals recognize him again as their master. That is when one can move fearlessly among the wild animals, which then cease to be wild, since their master is now tamed.
Image sources: Fox photo is from http://www.boredpanda.com/finnish-wildlife-feeding-squirrel-whisperer-konsta-punkka/ and the photo of Geronda Paisios is by Pietro Chiaranz (wikimedia commons).
My source for the stories of St. Paisios was Chapter Three, Love for All Creation from Passions and Virtues by Holy Hesychasterion “Evangelist John the Theologian.” A copy can be purchased here or here.
For further reading on the inner Tao and how it has been followed throughout the ages, I highly recommend Christ the Eternal Tao. It is a beautiful and inspiring read.