Sunday, January 17, 2010

Post Twenty-Seven: " Animals and Man:A State of Blessedness" by Joanne Stefanatos D.V.M.

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I would like to commend to the reader this excellent little book.

One, among other more substantial reasons, is that I know its author. If you read the back cover's above image which you can enlarge by clicking, you will learn she has established here in my own parts, in Las Vegas, the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital. As well, with her husband David Ross(whom I also know) and her two siblings, she has established an animal sanctuary in the Las Vegas desert, for abandoned, abused and handicapped lions.

Several things interesting to me are attached to my enjoyment of this book. The first I have mentioned above and the second is that prior to reading this book, I had been reading the book, "Father Seraphim Rose-His Life and Works" which happens to be the post I did in my series on the books I have read prior to this selection. I had completed the book on Father Seraphim before Great Lent began in the year 2008.

In Hieromonk Damascene's book on Father Seraphim, he devotes a few chapters on some of Father Seraphim's books, giving over whole chapters to some of them. One such book by Father Seraphim which he covers with such a chapter is "The Soul After Death".

This book by Father Seraphim has had a powerful effect on those reading it because it sets forth the teaching of the Holy Fathers on what takes place in the afterlife.

Now why I am going to such trouble to include in this present post on Dr. Joanne Stefanatos' book such information having to do with another author and book will become apparent when I present the following selection from "Father Seraphim Rose-His Life and Works" found on pages 901-902:

The Orthodox teaching set forth in The Soul After Death produces a powerful impression on the human soul. "True experiences or visions of life after death," Fr. Seraphim wrote, "generally have the effect of shaking one to the depths of one's being and (if one has not been leading a zealous Christian life) of changing one's whole life to make preparation for the life to come." By not at all diluting the teaching and experience of the Orthodox Church to cater to the modern self-pampered mentality, Fr. Seraphim has created the same effect on people through his writings. Since his death, thousands of people have been changed forever by the sobering truth contained in his book, becoming inspired not only to repent and fight the unseen warfare, but to pray more fervently for the dead. The following account was sent to the Saint Herman Monastery in August of 1991 by a Greek Orthodox doctor of veterinary medicine. Among other things, her story sheds some light on the state of Fr. Seraphim's own soul after death:

I bought a copy of Fr. Seraphim Rose's Soul After Death from Epiphany Book Service. From the minute I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down; it was everything my mind and soul were thirsting for, the depth of the mysteries of Orthodoxy. I devoured the book and praised God that He allowed me to find the truth. The truth of which every Orthodox Christian should know about life and death. A truth that my own Greek Orthodox Church [in America] refuses to expound on.


Most of that week was spent reading, and experiencing celestial joy just to know the truth at last. I told my husband David that now we would know how to provide for our loved ones after death. My husband was anxiously waiting for me to finish the book so he could read it. When I finally finished reading the book, I told my husband that no matter where in the world Fr. Seraphim was, we were going to find him, speak to him, and be blessed by him.


I wrote a letter to Fr. Seraphim Rose at the monastery in Platina, but received an answer telling me that Fr. Seraphim was with the Lord. At the same time we received a brochure about the Pilgrimage and Theological Course to be given at the monastery in August, and so with heavy hearts we went to the monastery to visit Fr. Seraphim's grave and learn more about him. We stayed the whole week of the Pilgrimage, and what we experienced during that week was spiritual joy, God's agape (love), and a glimpse of heaven. This was the otherworldliness that was so struggled for by ascetics and saints throughout history, and we were blessed just being there to experience this magnificent state.


Ever since I found out that Fr. Seraphim had died of a blood coagulation condition, I knew in my heart that he could have been helped so much more with natural therapies than with what conventional medicine had offered him. I was grieving that he didn't have to die at the height of his spirituality, especially when we needed him so much, and he had touched so many hearts. We desperately needed him here, on the earth.


On the second night of the Pilgrimage, I saw Fr. Seraphim Rose in a dream. He came to me, wearing his black ryassa [robe], looking very humble and clasping his hands in front of him. His face radiated tranquility and deep concern. As soon as I saw him, I said, "Father Seraphim, I wanted to help you so much; you didn't have to die; why didn't you wait for me to help you? I know I could have helped you with natural therapies.... They would have saved you, I know it!" My heart was sick, and my voice to him was desperately crying. He looked at me with such forgiving love and grace, and said to me, "You couldn't help me, nothing could help me.... I'm where I want to be now, I'm with God."
As he started disappearing before my eyes, I kept repeating, "We love you, we love you so much."


It's a joy being there at the monastery. Ft. Seraphim's presence can be felt there.... Coming to the monastery allows us to step into the REAL world—the only world that truly counts.


God bless you all,
Joanne Stefanatos, D.V.M.
At the point I was reading the book and running across this section, I had not as yet really met Dr. Joanne and knew very little about her and her husband David, both of whom I had brushed shoulders with over the last several years at various Church services. I attend St. Paul's Orthodox Church(OCA) and they attend St. John's Greek Orthodox Church.

But my curiosity was piqued as to whether the person mentioned in Hieromonk Damascene's book was that Dr. Joanne as I strongly suspected it could be no one else.

Fast forward now to Great Lent, 2008.

In Las Vegas, as in many other cities, during Great Lent on Sundays, there are held Pan Orthodox Vespers Services. And the tradition usually follows that each Orthodox parish hosts the other Orthodox parishes for one of the Sundays of the Vespers services. After the service a lenten meal is served during which the host parish puts on feeding all the faithful who care to stay afterwards.

If memory serves me correctly, it was at St. Symeon's Serbian Orthodox Church that I was standing in line behind Dr. Joanne and her husband David. We struck up a conversation and during the course of the conversation I ascertained that, yes indeed, the person in the book about Fr. Seraphim was that Dr. Joanne.

We spoke some more about this and other various topics. So that will suffice to sum up the personal value I find in the book.

But to be clear, the book itself is actually commendable apart from any of the above I have written.

Dr. Joanne divides the book into Two Parts. The first of the two she lays out very basic Orthodox teaching but in a very Patristic tone and understanding.

I will make available for the reader the Table of Contents of the First Part.

INTRODUCTION:
Animals and Man:  A State of Blessedness........ 11
PARTI: MAN AND ANIMALS
Creation: The Visible and The Invisible......... 15
Creation: The Will, Wisdom and Power of God..... 20
In the Image of God................... 23
And In the Likeness of God............... 23
Dominion Over the Earth................ 30
The Peaceful Kingdom.................. 32
Adam Names the Animals................ 34
The Fall: Adam and Eve Fear the Animals........ 35
God Curses the Serpent................. 38
God's Covenant With Noah and the Animals:
The Rainbow..................... 40
God's Animal Kingdom...... ........... 42
The Human Soul .................... 44
The Spirit of Man.................... 48
Human Souls and Animal Souls............. 50
The Heart........................ 55
The Intellect of Man and the Instincts of Animals .... 57
The Nature of Animals: The Senses  .... ....... 60
Grace of the Holy Spirit................. 62
Jesus Christ—The Logos................. 63
Baptism of the Holy Spirit................ 65
God is the Creator, Protector and Owner of Animals   . . 68
The New Creation.................... 71
Transfiguration: Our Pilgrimage Back to Eden...... 73
Saints—Living Icons................... 78

The Second Part of the book is the stories themselves which are filled with the same Patristic tone and understanding. 

I myself happen to believe that this tone is one that, for believers who have suspended their disbelief at the incredible, is one that breathes forth the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. There is a certain "feel" or elevating quality to the writing that ushers in the believer into much the same Presence as iconography does. As with icons, so with hagiographical writings. They are written in the same manner to show forth the Glory of God which is ineffable and which rightly is experienced, not written of as to write of it, that is, to attempt to describe the Presence, is to immediately cause the effort to become earthbound and encased in mortality. The Person, persons or events in icons or hagiographical writings are transfigured by the Glory of God, or suffused with that which is not they themselves alone but they themselves in God the Holy Trinity. This of course does not hold true in the strict sense of the Lord because He is God of God Himself. With those who are created, however, they by Grace become what He is in Himself.

The following is the Table of Contents for Part II.

PART II: SAINTS AND ANIMALS
St. Aemilianus......................83
St. Anthony the Great..................86
St. Aredius........................89
Elder Athanasius.....................91
St. Athenogenes, Bishop and Martyr...........96
Hesychast Benjamin and the Wolves...........99
St. David of Garesja...................100
Desert Anchorite Stories.................106
St. Eleutherius......................119
Prophet Elias and the Raven...............141
St. Eustachius......................145
Elder Gabriel.......................178
St. Gerasimus and the Lion ...............182
St. Herman of Alaska ..................185
St. Hilarion and the Camel ...............187
St. Ignatius........................190
Elder Kulcsha.......................203
St. Macarius of Alexandria................206
Malchus the Solitary...................210
St. Mamas........................222
St. Martin of Tours ...................238
8
St. Mary of Egypt and the Lion.............244
St. Mavra ........................248
St. Melangell and the Hare................251
Elder Melchizedek....................255
Abbot Nazarius of Valaam................258
St. PaulofObnora....................260
St. Paul the Hermit ...................264
St. Perpetua and St. Feliciti ...............268
St. Prisca, the Child Martyr...............271
Elder Sebastian......................277
St. Seraphim of Sarov..................279
Martyrs Tharasius, Probus and Andronicus .......282
St.Thecla........................287
St. Theodora of Sihla...................305
St. Theophanes the Confessor..............310
St.Theophil.......................313
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk..................325
Elder Zosima.......................328
FOOTNOTES .....................335
BIBLIOGRAPHY....................339

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories collected in the book and for this reason I have found it difficult to decide which one to post in its entirety.  I entertained the idea of posting all the stories over a series of posts but decided to post just one.  I chose this one among all of them because for one, it is short and second because my Dad had heard this one and had relayed it to me before I read it here, though in a bit of a different form.

The stories in the book are quite varied  so I would like the reader to know that this particular story,  Saint Gerasim and the Lion, is not indicative of each and every story.  Each and every story is very unique and stands alone on its own merits.

I also think these stories would fascinate children and would be excellent to read to them. For such stories as no others bring to view for them men, women and children who love God and the stories involve animals which so many children love, to boot.

I leave you with Saint Gerasim and the Lion.

Saint Gerasim and the Lion


Commemorated on March 4


SAINT GERASIM (+475) was first a monk in the Egyptian desert, then later moved close to the Jordan River, gathering a community of about seventy monks, who lived by a strict ascetic rule, seeking to live for God and His Kingdom.

* * *

Once while walking along the hilly bank of the River Jordan, Abba Gerasim met a lion which let out a terrifying roar from pain in its paw. A sharp, slender reed had pierced his paw, and it had become infected. Seeing the Elder, the lion approached him and showed him his paw, injured by the puncture, and, as if weeping, asked for his assistance. The Elder, seeing the lion in such a plight, sat down, took his paw and, uncovering the wound, extracted the splinter and forced out the pus, then washed it and bound it with linen. The lion, having received help, would not forsake the Elder, but like a devoted disciple followed him wherever he went, so that the Elder marveled greatly at the devotion of the lion. The Elder began to feed him, throwing him bread and fresh beans.

At the lavra there was a donkey which carried water for the needs of the Elder, for they took water from the Jordan. The lavra stood a mile from the holy river. It came to pass that the Elder entrusted the care of the donkey to the lion that he might guard the donkey at the bank of the Jordan. Once while grazing, the donkey walked a great distance away from the lion, and at that time some camel drivers from Arabia passed by who took the donkey and departed. The lion, having lost the donkey, returned sullen and, as it were, ashamed to Abba Gerasim. The Abba supposed that he had devoured the donkey. "Where is the donkey?" he asked the lion. The latter like a man stood silent and lowered his eyes. "Didst thou eat the donkey? Blessed be the Lord! Henceforth thou must perform the duties of the donkey." So from that time forth at the command of the Elder the lion carried the vessel, which filled four buckets, and brought the water.

Once a soldier came for prayer to the Elder. Seeing the lion, grown weary carrying water, and learning the reason, he pitied him. Taking three pieces of money, he handed them to the Elder that they might buy a donkey to carry the water and free the lion from this obligation. A little time elapsed after the liberation of the lion from his work. The camel driver who had led away the donkey returned to ask for bread in the holy city, and the donkey was with him. Crossing through the Jordan with two other drivers, he chanced upon the lion. Seeing the lion, the donkey left the caravan and fled; but the lion, recognizing the donkey, leaped towards him and, grabbing him as he always had by the halter, he brought the donkey away from the camel drivers. Growling from joy that he had found the lost donkey, he returned to the Elder. The Elder, being of the opinion that the lion had devoured the donkey, only now learned that he had chastened the lion in vain. The Elder named the lion Jordan. Afterward the lion lived at the lavra for about five more years, never leaving the Elder.

At the time that Abba Gerasim departed to the Lord and the fathers buried him, by God's design the lion was not at the monastery. A short time passed, the lion returned and began to seek the Elder. A disciple of the Elder and Abba Sabbatius, seeing the lion, said, "Jordan, our Elder has left us orphans and has departed to the Lord, so go and eat!" The lion didn't want to eat, but looked about everywhere for the Elder. Not seeing him, he began to roar. Abba Sabbatius and the rest of the fathers patted him on the back and said, "The Elder has departed to the Lord, abandoning us." But speaking in this way they were unable to stop the lion's roaring and groans; on the contrary, the more they worried over him and tried to console him with words, the louder his roar grew and the greater his sorrow. His voice and eyes clearly reflected how he longed for the Elder.

Then Fr. Sabbatius said to him, "Well, follow me, if you don't believe us. I will show you where the Elder lies." And taking the lion he walked with him to the Elder's grave. It was located about half a mile from the Church. Standing over the grave of Abba Gerasim, Abba Sabbatius said to the lion, "Here is where our Elder is." And Abba Sabbatius knelt down. Seeing him bending over the earth, the lion with unusual strength smote his head upon the grave and, letting out a roar, died upon the Elder's grave.

This took place, not because the lion possessed a reasoning soul, but by the will of God, Who glorifies them that glorify Him, not only during their life but also after their death, and has shown us in what consists the obedience of even creatures to Adam before he transgressed the commandment of God and was cast out of the paradise of delight.


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