Ancient Answers

The Bear in the Icon

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Seraphim of Sarov is one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church. In 1785 he became a monk and a year later went to live alone in a dense pine forest in Russia. He planted a vegetable garden and kept bees. Every day he would read several chapters from the New Testament. “The soul must be fed on the word of God,” he said later, “for the word of God is the bread of angels, and souls that are hungry for God are fed by it.”

RLSOS150In this way St. Seraphim spent the week alone in the forest, praying, fasting and working in his garden. On feast days and on week-ends he would go to the monastery and attend the services there. Then, taking some bread with him, he would return to his forest cell. He often shared his bread with the wild animals and birds. Sometimes he was visited by a bear who developed a close bond with the saint. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the icons of this saint include the bear! On the right, for example, is an icon that you can buy in various formats from Trinity Religious Artwork and Icons. (Click to enlarge.)

But there are countless icons and paintings dating all the way back to the 19th century that show Seraphim with the bear. You can do a Google search and find hundreds. Here are a few. (Click any icon to enlarge.)

m_20091106-092702-78173St Seraphim with Bearhr


Seraphim lived in harmony with nature, something we moderns have lost the ability to do. Someone very close to me once had an encounter with a skunk, and decided to talk to the skunk! “Now, you’re not going to spray me, are you? That wouldn’t be nice. Why don’t you just move along and go your way?” – or words to that effect. And yes, the skunk did leave without spraying! If an icon is ever painted of this person, I hope it would include the skunk, just like Seraphim’s icon includes the bear.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov in the Orthodox tradition, just like St. Francis of Assisi in the Roman Catholic tradition, and many other saints show us that God’s design is for humans to live in harmony with the natural world around us. The current debate over Question 1 on the November ballot in Maine shows all too clearly how far we have moved away from God’s designs. Is nature at war with us (as the NO vote would imply)? Or, are WE at war with nature? Next time you see one of those TV ads that show bears attacking humans, remember: There are icons with bears!

The following editorial comments are contributed by one of our church members, Elaine Tselikis:

Remember the saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Right now, something ugly is happening in our Maine forests. Black bears are suffering under needless and extreme human cruelty. These shy animals are crying for someone to be their voice. They are crying out for the conscience of Maine.

Worldwide, humans kill billions of animals and murder or oppress millions of humans. We’re the most destructive beings on earth. Wild animals don’t plot to hurt us; they seek to live in nature, as far away from us as possible.

This is why baiting, hounding and trapping our Maine bears are so cruel. Question 1 on the ballot asks us to ban these three cruelties. We lure these timid animals from their havens by dumping 7 million pounds of fatty human junk food in our woods for weeks each year. This pollution grows bear populations, trains them to like human food and makes them less wary of us. Then, at bait sites, we hound them, trap them and make them suffer excruciating pain, so out of state, unskilled trophy shooters can get an easy kill for a rug or wall mount. Many fair-chase Maine hunters are disgusted by these cowardly practices and confirm this is not hunting.  We’re feeding and breeding bears for canned execution, but we pretend this is “bear management.”  It’s humans who need “management.”

We demonize bears, scaring people with lies they’ll attack us if we don’t kill them. But there have been no unprovoked bear attacks in Maine for centuries. We concoct backroom deals with trophy and trapping lobbies to invent harmful practices against our wildlife, defying moral or scientific justification. We disrespect and interfere with nature’s wisdom. The normal diet of bears includes nuts and berries, not donuts. All sound wildlife programs don’t feed bears, to stabilize populations and prevent human-animal conflicts. Except Maine. Who should we fear?  Bad human policies and government propaganda – not bears!

Maine is the ONLY state that baits, hounds and traps bears. A bear or other animal can suffer long hours in a steel wire snare, even chewing their paws off, desperate to escape. Hounds pursue a terrified bear, often causing horrific injuries and death all around. These 40-year-old, barbaric acts are illegal for hunting deer, moose or turkeys. Bears deserve equal status. We debase God’s majestic creations when we lure them down into our garbage.

This is why voting YES to ban baiting-hounding-trapping is so important. Will we listen to the cries in our forests? Will we speak for the voiceless and end these cruelties, like other states? Will we lead with innovative, modern and compassionate wildlife policies that build positive revenue? Maine, let’s choose fairness and decency as “the way life should be” for our bears, environment, and our character.

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