Fake Love, or a Cautionary Tale

About a Demoniac Cat

The word “sin” in ancient Greek literally means the “missing of the mark.” Indeed, the mass of sins in which modern man is often immersed are by no means direct and defiant transgressions against the Law of God, but rather a blind and hollow-hearted choice of the non-essential over the essential.

Or, how about bringing a useful and even healthy idea to the point of absurdity?

There are examples galore. Radical feminism, transhumanism, offensively assertive eco-activists, or certain vegetarians who fiercely attack carnivores…

The boundless and cultish love of animals would be one of the most striking examples close to the heart of the average citizen.

No, please don’t assume that I don’t like “our furry friends!” By the way, the Bible says: A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast (Proverbs 12:10).

Besides, our family has a wonderful Border Collie as a pet and I have to tell you in all honesty, that being a dog owner is quite an insightful experience! I sometimes think that if we had the same level of love and devotion for God that a dog has for its owner, I’d be a holy man by now…

But when I see how people, young and old, are busy pampering their tiny well-groomed pooches, their fur trimmed and coiffed nicely at some specialized ultra expensive pet care salon, or when hundreds of thousands of rubles are raised on social media for the medical treatment of animals, while at the same time our charity organizations fail to timely collect the necessary funds for sick children. Or two-thirds of our schoolchildren’s essays entitled, “My Good Deed” are written exclusively about rescuing a lonely kitten from a nearby basement, or feeding a stray dog… That’s when I begin to realize that it is some kind of a surrogate. It is the same “missed mark” of sin.

It’s fake love for a man and, ultimately, for God.


Archimandrite Abel (Makedonov) Archimandrite Abel (Makedonov) When I think about this, a truly cautionary tale on this subject comes to mind that I once heard from Archimandrite Abel (Makedonov) of blessed memory.

It is a funny story, but also somewhat terrifying. It has to do with our town and the Lenten fasting period.

Before the revolution, a nun in the Kazan convent, which is still located on Zatinnaya Street, had a cat. This nun truly adored her kitty. Returning to her cell after a long monastic prayer rule, she’d often spoil it with all kinds of delicacies and hold long conversations with her furry charge.

Once, on a sunny day in March, the cat, sensing the call of awakening nature, trampled all those monastic vows it had frankly never even signed on to, jumped through the open ventilation window and… off it went.

But its owner lost everything: her sleep, her appetite, and even the desire to pray.

She spent practically all of her free time after monastic obedience trying to search for her beloved pet. She worriedly thought of it even when she was at church.

“It will return, that cat of yours. He’ll get tired of freedom and come back by the end of the spring! Don’t worry so much!” the other sisters consoled her as best they could.

The cat, sensing the call of awakening nature, jumped into the open ventilation window and… off it went

Still, the nun couldn’t help but suffer…

The ascetic time of Great Lent arrived. The nuns stood in the church in silence, like candles. Life in their monastery, despite the abundance of pilgrims, seemed to stand still, as did the time…

But our cat-loving nun still couldn’t pull herself together. She was still haunted by thoughts of her helpless little creature whose life had fully depended on her only a short time ago.

Nothing helped—not the entreaties of her strict abbess to come to her senses, nor the gentle admonitions of her father confessor. Not even her sister-nuns’ concern for her sanity could help.

All her thoughts were fixed solely on the cat.

Then came the Bright Resurrection of Christ. The soul of the nun of the Kazan Convent grew warmer. Still, it wasn’t like it was before, when she would share all her joys and sorrows with her beloved pet.

But then, one day, as the Bright Week of Pascha was drawing to its end, the nun was on her way back from church—and lo and behold, she saw her cat!

The animal, serenely basking in the rays of the spring sun, was sitting next to the flowerbed, and as if oblivious to its owner, was looking the other way.

The nun felt her legs wobble, her heart was pierced with unspeakable joy…

“My kitty! Kittyyy! Christ Is Risen!” she screamed, impulsively stepping into the flowerbed and clutching her precious charge in her arms.

“No! Woe unto us that He Is Risen!” the cat bellowed violently in a bass voice and, leaping from the hands of its horror-stricken owner, scampered off on its feline business.

“Thus,” concluded Father Abel, “an animal, deliriously glorified by this unfortunate woman, became possessed. That’s how the Lord showed her what is undesirable to Him—when instead of love for God and neighbor there is such a deceitful substitution.”

By the way, Fr. Abel himself actually loved animals…

Priest Dimitry Fetisov
Translation by Liubov Ambrose



Steward of Beasts11/13/2023 6:24 am
John and Co. doth protest too much, methinks. There shall always be a distinction between loving the creatures of God's creation, and obsessing over surrogate "fur babies" as I have unfortunately witnessed among animal-obsessed ladies here in America. That said, animals are tremendous beings, albeit fallen due to our unfortunate errors as their stewards.
Mary4/6/2023 1:10 pm
John, I am so happy that your son's life was preserved. Thank you for sharing that wonderful chain of events. Thank God for little Joseph. Though not in a life or death situation, I have experienced the same thing with cats: that they are alert to protect, and are especially tender to children. I think that it is often easier for God to work through animals than through people because they are innocent and pure, not like us corrupted humans. In Russia, animals are often called "our younger brothers". This is also the attitude that I have seen to animals in the Russian monasteries I have visited. I have been particularly impressed with the development of the animals themselves when living in monasteries (horses, cows, cats, dogs, birds)... They seem more "conscious", more aware and communicative. Blessed. An example. The Cave Monastery in Pskov has different animals living in it (above ground!), roedeer, storks, a crow called Dobrynya that likes to help the ringers pull the ropes of the church bells, squirrels, and last but not least, cats, among them the Metropolitan Tikhon's ginger cat Vladyka, who is much loved by all. He has his own duties, such as welcoming visiting pilgrims and helping to rehome stray animals. Here is his channel: https://t.me/s/vladyka_the_cat To be honest, the story with the monks who wanted to drown cats is very strange to me. I mean, the Christian way to overcome a distraction has always been to kill the distractedness in your own heart, not to kill another living being. Punishing another of God's creatures for one's own lack of self control...? That makes no sense. If the monks felt that the cats were taking up too much attention, they could just have rehomed them. No need to kill. This indicates that what drove them was something different. The story is, in my opinion, an example of how any humans, including monastics, can be tempted into sin if not constantly vigilant... Thankfully, the Abbot helped his monks out, as he should. It is hardly a coincidence that Christ chose to be born surrounded by animals. Perhaps he meant to remind us that what we do to even the smallest brother, we do to him.
Pfmd3/31/2023 6:22 pm
where God and Christ exist, it is not possible to find demons. Demons exist in a mind and soul where God and Christ are missing.
Myron3/31/2023 12:15 pm
I have heard that being excessively devoted or attached to any object, not only animals, can cause them to become habitations for evil spirits. It would seem that the very act of idolatry attracts demons. I call to mind the scene from the film "Остров" when father Anatoly destroys a blanket and a pair of boots that the abbot especially loved. And many times things that I have been attached to or fixated on have been damaged or sometimes taken away in unlikely ways, destroying my obsessive attitude.
John3/30/2023 4:47 pm
Thank YOU Mary for the heartwarming Optina cats video and the beautiful paintings. They did much to allay my fears about the Russian Orthodox attitude towards cats. In my experience, cats are protective spirits. My little cat Joseph saved the life of our baby son when he came to us in the night and led us to our son (now a monk) who was going into respiratory arrest. We got our son to the emergency room in time to save his life. We became indebted to this little black cat. The Church now has a monk that it wouldn’t have had it not been for the intercession of little Joseph. We have been blessed greatly by these small creatures, these cats in our lives, which is why I have a low threshold for any abuse directed towards them. By the way, please do not hold a cat the way that Archimandrite Abel us holding the cat in the photo: squeezing the belly and by the throat. That is a sure way to get scratched by a cat trying to escape such a hold. Hold a cat gently, like a baby, please.
Mary3/30/2023 9:33 am
John, Thank you for all the beautiful reflections and quotations. My cat, who usually is not interested in anything on tv, has faithfully sat watching the Easter service, not moving her eyes or ears from it. She is a tabby with an "M" - I did not know that legend, it is lovely. It is not a Russian thing to be against cats. On the contrary. A cat is the only animal that is allowed to touch the altar in church. Many cats live in monasteries and churches. You might like this video from the famous monastery Optina Pustyn. The cats accompany a blessing of the monastery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu9EgmeFH2c It is a Russian popular custom, when entering a newly bought property, to let a cat be the first to walk into all rooms, because cats are thought to chase evil spirits away and warn if any are present. Tsars will often be depicted with cats in art. Here are some examples by Pavel Ryzhenko, who painted both tsars and monks with cats: https://art-cats.livejournal.com/3155747.html
John3/28/2023 5:25 pm
“No! Woe unto us that He Is Risen!” the cat bellowed violently in a bass voice and, leaping from the hands of its horror-stricken owner, scampered off on its feline business.“ —- This part of the story does not ring true, especially on Pascha, the day of days when all creation doth rejoice. The fact that the demons can impersonate angels of light, monsters, and animals (e.g. a black dog, flock of blackbirds) makes it certain that if this event happened as told, the cat was a demon in the guise of this Nun’s cat. My son’s advice in this kind of situation (he’s a monk) would be: “Just ignore it. The demons are just making mischief.” Hopefully this Nun realized this later and just looked for her cat again.
John3/28/2023 3:23 pm
Fedya, no need to wonder in my case at least. My Priest has a cat in his household.
Fedya3/28/2023 3:03 am
The intentional misreading of this article proves how much how people in the west worship animals. People don't understand what the article is getting at: you can have true love for animals, but you can have demonic idol-worship of your animals. Yes, saints treat animals how they should be treated, with love and respect, but would they let a missing cat distract them through all of Lent and ruin their struggle? When something happens to an animal that drives you to distraction through all of Lent as did happen in this story, it is an obsession and idolatry. I wonder how all your priests manage to give sermons without stepping on your sensitive toes...
John3/27/2023 4:20 pm
St. Ciaran (Kieran) of Saighir, profiled here https://orthochristian.com/91544.html demonstrated the immense power of the love of God, not just to his fellow humans (by raising the dead) but by his paradisiacal relationships with the first “brothers” in his monastery. - - - “One day, feeling the need for a period of quiet, Ciaran went to a lonely woodland district and started to build himself a cell. Sitting down by a tree, he noticed a fierce looking boar. Ciaran spoke gently to the boar calling him ‘Brother Boar’, as he treated all animals as his brother and sister. The boar realised that Ciaran was a friend and not a foe and so he helped Ciaran to build his cell, tearing down strong branches with his teeth and bringing them to Ciaran. When the cell was finished the boar stayed with Ciaran and soon many other animals joined them, including a wolf, a fox, a badger, a deer and many birds. Ciaran called them all the first brother monks of his little monastery. Later, as people joined them and Ciaran started a larger monastery, he never forgot his animal friends who continued to live with him.”
AF3/27/2023 8:21 am
Animals become part of the family. They are companions especially for people who live alone. As an owner I care for my dog as I did for my children who are now adults and out in the world making their way. I feed him, assure he is always safe, provide medical care when needed, and preventive medicine, and I always cater to to his preferences, and animals do have preferences, just as long as it will not bring him harm. I feed him with the finest meats, use only organic vegetables and give him filtered water. He is a beautiful animal that is cooperative and even corrects his behavior when spoken to. He is a devoted companion that creates only joy. I believe in God and I do pray for my dog if I feel something requires prayer. I do it without shame and without hesitation. The created nonsense of idolatry is not only shameful but even sinful. I think that people who create this idolatry nonsense have a serious disability and the inability to express love both for God and others. These people are alone and lonely even when around others and always feel unloved. If my dog, God forbid ever disappeared, I would also be be as devastated as the nun in the story and would expand all energies, time and finances until I secured his safety and return. I have never considered my dog as an idol. What a sickening thought, and a supremely stupid and imbecilic concept to consider. The ability to give your love to a person or an animal is not only healthy but Godly as well.
Andrew3/26/2023 3:40 am
I found this article to be very pertinent and thoughtful. The fact that some people have such knee jerk, hysterical reactions to it I believe proves the point entirely. People don't understand that there is a difference between not being cruel to animals (an obvious sin) and pampering them with ridiculous amounts of care and emotional attention.
John3/25/2023 11:14 pm
There is a legend that the “M” mark on the heads of tabby cats was bestowed by the Theotokos/Bogoroditsa Mary Herself. When the newborn baby Jesus wouldn’t stop crying, a cat climbed into the manger to warm Him and started to purr, sending him off to sleep. In gratitude, the Virgin Mary marked the cat’s face with the first letter of her name and from then on all tabby cats bore her special mark of gratitude. Just a legend, right? But this story brought so much joy to my children when they saw the M on our cats’ forehead, little living icons to show how even the smallest mercy, by one of God’s smallest creatures, is not beneath the notice of God.
Pfmd3/25/2023 3:02 am
What demented mind and corrupted soul could possibly accuse a person who cares for innocent animals as idolatry?
John3/24/2023 10:06 pm
Father Dimitry surely knows this prayer from the Liturgy of St. Basil: “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou has given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realise that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.”
John3/24/2023 6:22 pm
RE: "Animals are nice but too many people turn them into idols". Should we be disposing of our parents and children next? The Lord gave more warnings about turning people into idol -- for example: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." -- than He ever did about making an idol of a family pet. In fact, He never spoke a word against God's innocent creatures. This "Fake Love" piece is making a mountain out of a molehill.
John3/24/2023 6:06 pm
There was this time I went to a Russian-American monastery. I noticed some of the cats walking about and expressed my admiration to one of the Fathers about the size (biggest cats I have ever seen) and beauty of these monastery cats. The Father told me that there had been some controversy over the lives of these cats that was obviously resolved in favor of them. Some of the older monks from Russia believed the cats to be a "distraction" and even hired a man to literally bag the cats and drown them in the pond. The younger monks got wind of this scheme and protested to the Abbot and begged for the bagged cats' lives to be spared. So yes, there were two schools of thought at this monastery cats are idols-distractions versus cats are comfort-God's creatures. Thank God, the latter school prevailed. Idolatry is apparently judged by the eye of the beholder, but God is ultimately the true Judge. Is it an Old Country Russian-thing to be against cats? Seriously, I don't know. Judging from this posting on OrthoChristian and my experience at the Russian monastery.... I wish some Orthodox Christians could take some lessons from the Saints of Ireland (for example St. Kieran of Saighir who has been profiled on OrthoChristian) who universally loved and had compassion on God's creatures, or from St. Paisios of Mount Athos, or at least from St. Isaac the Syrian.
Mariam Visagio3/24/2023 3:45 am
Animals are nice but too many people turn them into idols, which is sinful.
John3/23/2023 3:58 pm
"Fr. Nektary [St. Nektary of Optina] had a cat with which he played. He tied a piece of paper with a string for it. The cat obeyed him like a human being. The Elder said, 'Gerasimos was a great elder, and he had a great lion; but we're small so we have a cat.' And he would tell a story how a cat saved Noah's ark. When an unclean spirit entered into a mouse and tried to gnaw through the bottom of the ark, the cat caught that pernicious mouse and ate it. And for this all cats go to heaven." Our cat Billy loved to pray. From his days as a kitten to the end of his life he would wake us up in the middle of the night for vigil before the icon corner. Same for morning prayers. In the evening he would call us for compline and lead us to the icon corner. He was a little angelic being whom we loved and doted on. Nothing “fake” went on there. St. Isaac of Syria teaches: “What is a charitable heart? It is a heart that is burning with charity for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons — for all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes becoming filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion that seizes his heart, a heart that is softened and can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted upon a creature. This is why such a man never ceases to pray also for the animals, for the enemies of the Truth, and for those who do him evil, that they may be preserved and purified. He will pray even for the reptiles, moved by the infinite pity that reigns in the hearts of those who are becoming united to God.”
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