By Robert Flanagan
The animals serve the Saints.
Further to the cases of protection of the martyrs from being hurt by the wild animals -which were described above- our collections describe many cases where the animals served the Saints in different ways.
Saint Koprios as a baby was fed by a goat which "grazed with the other goats and when it was time to breastfeed' the baby, it descended from the mountain and having breastfed' the child it returned to her usual grazing. The same Saint was ascending the mountain with a laden donkey which was then wounded by a bear, he then got hold of the bear, loaded it with the wood and told it "you'll perform the service of the donkey until it recovers....".
In the case of Saint Makarios the Roman, the lions became the cause to feel his sinfulness: every day two lions would come to his cell and keep him company. One night he was tempted by a thought of the flesh and considered it a great sin, because the lions would not come close to him for ten days.
Well known is also the case of the lion and Saint Gerasimus the Jordanite, where the beast "was forced to carry water, while in many depictions it drags the donkey from the bridle (reins) and brings it to the Saint as a hunt quarry only to be falsely accused that it had killed it.
The care of the beasts however does not stop in serving a Saint, but continues to the taking care of the relics, as shown in the case of Saints Philomonas and Apollonius: Their relics were placed in bags and were cast into the sea where a large dolphin "took" the bags on its back and brought them to the coast of Alexandria.
In the life of Saint Martinus, bishop of Lougdoynoy, there is this happy story that shows the love of the animals towards the Saints: in the area of Nitria, an ascetic lived on wild herbs but did not know how to select the good from the poisonous, with the result that he would suffer with convulsions. This way he stopped eating for seven days and was on the verge of dying. Then an ibex (type of deer). Approached him and dropped him a bag of vegetables. The beast with its mouth selected the good from the poisonous herbs. This way the ascetic taking this as an example of what to eat, he was saved from death.
The Saints heal or send away the animals.
As Isaac the Syrian said: "a merciful heart is the fuel of all the creation.....and of the fowl and of the animals......for this to the benefit of the dumb animals..... blesses tearfully every hour. For this reason, flooded by the love for God and man, the saints have great reserves of love, that they pray also for the animals and in fact heal them, either because they suffer and feel compassion for them, or because they are useful to people while getting rid of the risks that hurt people.
In Saint Mark the ascetic a hyena visited him and brought her blind cub and acted as if she begged the Saint to cure it. The Saint having prayed spat in the eyes of the cub which was then healed. Few days later the hyena brought him a pelt of a large ram. The ascetic took it after making sure that the hyena understood she should not harm the sheep of the poor.
Many times the healing of the suffering animal was nothing more than from a pathological organic disease, but an animal could also be tormented by demons as we see in the Synarxis of Saint Martin of Tourins: "he met a cow that was tormented by a demon and was goring people with her horns. When the Saint approached, he lifted his hand and ordered the animal to stop. He sees the demon sitting on the back of the animal. "Go unclean from the animal and cease tormenting the innocent animal. When it was freed, the cow fell at the feet of the saint. He then ordered it to rejoin the herd, stronger than the sheep.
One of the common scourge of the plants and trees are the locust. Our Church then reads prayers of Saint Tryphon that has done a specific miracle with the locust. Similar case with harmful animals is also the following: Monk Joannikios once went to the island of Thasos. The island was infested with poisonous snakes that caused death. The people of Thasos, begged the ascetic to save them from the scourge. He prayed and immediately the snakes started coming out of their nests and head for the sea where they drowned.
The animals show gratitude and contrition to the Saints.
The animals which received benefits from the saint - within the framework of communication that develops - express their gratitude with different ways to their benefactor, such that the biographer of Saint Martinus wrote: ".....for this we sigh that the beasts feel the kindness and the people do not revere it".
The lion that benefitted from Saint Gerasimus volunteered to serve him by "hauling water". From the life of Saint Martinus, again, we have the following: "an ascetic accepted a visit from a female wolf which he treated with whatever he had. Once while absent the wolf entered his cell and ate a piece of bread. The following days the animal did not come.
This saddened the ascetic who then made it the object of his prayers. The seventh day the wolf came and sat at a distance in a way that one could detect displeasure,' with eyes looking down from deep shame, obviously asking to be forgiven...... The ascetic caressed her giving her joy..... Thus, as the biographer notes, the wolf renders service (companionship), feeling the wrongfulness of stealing, recalling and having a sense of forgiveness that was granted her...."
Something similar is also the previous example of the ascetic Mark with the hyena that gave him the sheepskin as a gift for the care she received and the healing of her cub.
The mourning of the animal for the death of a saint.
The lion that served Saint Gerasimus the Jordanian in its customary visit to worship the elder, was informed by the attending monk of his demise and when it was led there (to the grave) "it roared greatly and then expired". Another lion helped the elder Zosimus to bury the relics of holy Mary of Egypt: "Immediately when the lion was told the required size of trench, it did so (dug it) and then buried the body".
The animals talk about God
Between the other wonderful signs that we find in the collections, noteworthy are those where the animals appear to be talking with God or the Saint.
Holy Artemon of Laodecia was followed by two deer and six donkeys. When he was captured, he told the animals to report it to bishop Sisinius - who was surprised when a female deer told him of the arrest of Artemon. While the Saint was being tortured by being skewered over a fire, the deer would lick his burns and then said to the torturer: "know impious one that two big birds will grab you and will drop you in the boiler" as it happened. Also at the martyrdom of Saint Eutyhius the animals would speak.
Similar is the case of the wild mules which dragged the corpse of Saint martyr Zoticus, the orphan feeder, to the emperor Constantius. "Even when they were flogged violently by the torturers, the human voice invokes everybody to their triumph over the king's atrocities and lack of reason, calling him blind and insensitive".
This amazing phenomenon of talking animals is not foreign in the Old Testament where we have the conversation of Eve with the snake and the donkey of Valaam. Even as these two cases in the Old Testament, subsequently those in the New Testament are given different explanations. Through all these cases, the explanations given confirm the Jewish teaching that all the animals had the grace of speech in paradise until the expulsion of the first created there from.
Others, denying the historical validity of the Bible, consider such narrations as myths. More powerful is the explanation of Holy Chrysostom in his 16th speech on Genesis where he explains the conversation between Eve and the snake, through which it is apparently applicable to all the other similar stories in both the Old and New Testaments. "But perhaps someone may wonder and wish to know if the beast took part in the conversation. May this not be so, for always following the scripture it is necessary to consider that while the saying were of the devil...... the beast was used as a specific tool.......".
According to this explanation by Saint Chrysostom it is not this animal but God Himself who gives us the message or the devil, as was with Eve and the snake.