This morning I woke before the sun broke across the horizon next to my friends rambunctious black puppy in bed with me, my beagle basset mix in a heap on the floor and my cat pawing at my face. It was a typical morning. I got up, made coffee, took the boys outside in that predawn splendor and attempted to settle my mind with the Jesus Prayer while I did my best at holding two leashes. Somehow I got to thinking of animals and the spiritual life, or animals in the lives of saints and religious figures. Just the other day it was the feast of St Gerasimos who lived in the Egyptian desert and kept a lion as company. In my mind I made a note to buy an icon of him as a patron for my cat.
One year awhile back I lost my cat and she ended up returning on the feast of St. Paul of Obnora, a Russian Saint known for being surrounded by animals, like Adam in Paradise. I felt close to him from the moment I first picked up Seraphim Rose’s The Northern Thebaid years and years ago, but having my cat return on his feast brought home to me in a way that perhaps this business about the communion of saints is real in ways more mysterious than we can imagine.
One of my favorite of the Optina Elders is Barsanuphius, a man of regal bearing and deep intellectual ability who was in Optina quite close to the beginning of the Revolution. One thing I remember from the book about him is how he was always careful to note which Saint was commemorated each day, and to consider the ways in which certain saints seem to intervene in ones daily affairs. In the Orthodox tradition there are several saints on the calendar for each day, so there is a real variety of characters to get to know, from all over the Orthodox world, from the earliest apostles to the modern day, folks like the new martyrs and confessors of Russia.
If we start to pray the Office, keep a prayer rule and pay attention to the saints and seasons it’s as if we start to enter mystically into the eternal mysteries of Christ and the Church. God’s timelessness irrupts into our world, the veil becomes thinner, and there are little things here and there that bring us to believe that somehow our Faith is not just pious imaginings. It’s hard to really explain, but you must enter into it for a period of time to intuit it. Perhaps William James was right in that some truths are things you just have to live. Religious beliefs are like that. I could say much more about many things, but for now I’ve got a few things to attend to.