Hagiographical Bestiary: Two Stories from the Russian Orthodox



“One early evening in winter I was walking alone through the woods toward a town which I could already see and where I wanted to find lodging.  Suddenly a big wolf came upon me and jumped at me.  I had the woolen prayer rope which had belonged to my late starets in my hands, and in my attempt to defend myself with it the prayer rope slipped out of my hands and lodged around the neck of the wolf.  The wolf jumped away from and got caught in a thorny bush with his hind legs and with the prayer rope on a branch of a dry tree.  He tried desperately to free himself but was unable to because the prayer rope was choking him.  With faith I blessed myself and went to free the wolf and especially to get my precious prayer rope, for I feared that the wolf would run away with it.  And, sure enough, the moment I approached the wolf and touched the prayer rope, he broke it and ran away without leaving a trace.  I thanked God for His help in retrieving my prayer rope and remembered my late starets.  Then I happily reached the town and stopped at an inn to ask for lodging…

The clerk [of the inn] looked at me and asked, “Were you making prostrations so earnestly that you even broke your prayer rope?”

“No, it was not I who broke it; it was a wolf,” I said.

“Really?  Do wolves pray?” asked the clerk.”

From The Way of a Pilgrim, trans. Helen Bacovcin


The famous Russian hermit and starets St. Seraphim of Sarov was one day visited at his hovel in the woods by an enormous bear.  As his daily rations had recently arrived, the holy man, who was known to be a fastidious observer Christian hospitality, offered half of his food to his guest, .  The next day the bear returned and St. Seraphim again shared his food.  This happened throughout the winter and on into the spring.  The bear prefered to eat at the saint’s table rather than hibernate.  Soon, it was time for Great Lent.  At that time, it was customary for the monk’s rations to be cut in half for those 40 days of fasting and repentance.  So, when the bear continued to visit, St. Seraphim began giving the bear all of his rations, leaving nothing for himself.  One day while this was going on, the Abbot visited St. Seraphim, and was astonished and frightened to discover a bear being fed and gently spoken to by the venerable old monk.  When St. Seraphim explained that he had been giving his Lenten rations to the bear all along the Abbot got angry.

“You ought not to be doing this, and during Lent of all times!” he chided.

To which St. Seraphim replied, “But, Abbot, the poor bear does not know that it is Lent.”

What is your favorite story involving saints and animals?



  1. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, said his nightly prayers on the shore of the ocean. As he was praying otters would come out of the water and wrap themselves around his naked feet to keep them warm.


  2. Celtic saint, Kevin of Glenduloc, is said to have had a vision in which an angel appeared to him, telling him to build a large monastery. The angel said that, to prepare the way, he was going to level a nearby small mountain. Kevin thought about it and told the angel, “No, thank you. There are creatures who live on that mountain. That is the habitat and the home of many of God’s creatures and to destroy it – even for something as good and noble as a monastery – would be to make them homeless.”


  3. The early monks who went into the desert in Egypt hoped to begin living into the promise of creation in total harmony as Isaiah envisioned in his prophecies where the lion and the lamb will lie down and the little child will play safely at the den of the snake.

    Apparently, some of the monastics took that seriously, or at least the stories about them take it seriously. There are stories of monks in the desert of Egypt who slept with lions.

    There is a particular story of the death of such a monk. Another monk came across his body in the desert.
    Lacking the tools, he was unable to bury this saintly man. As he was wondering what he was going to do, two
    lions came up, knelt before the body of the dead saint, roared out their lamentation, and then went aside and
    began digging. They dug the hole for the monk’s grave.

    Those early monks believed that Christ was the first fruits of the new creation, was the first fruits of that peace and harmony that is God’s desire. They wanted to begin living into it now.


  4. I love stories about St. Seraphim. I myself don’t know any particular animal stories off the top of my head but I have definitely heard some.

    You know James, you really ought to do some research into various hagiographical bestiary seeing as how it seems to be a topic about which you are quite interested. You’d be quite good on it I’ll bet.


  5. Matt, what great stories, I especially like the one about the Egyptian monk whose lion-friends dug his grave, thanks!

    Tony, thanks, it is something I’m interested in I guess, though I’m not sure how I got interested in it. As lame as this sounds (and as much as Shawn is going to give me a really hard time about this), it may be because of my dog. He’s no Lassie or anything, actually he’s a demon sometimes, but he gets me thinking about animals and their relation to God’s plan of reconciliation.

    Peter, I guess if I can go on about St. Bob Dylan, you can have your St. Michael, but we’re probably both heretics.


  6. Hi nice story about the wolf and the prayer rope,

    I know about the story of Saint Anthony the Great and his encounter with wild animals,

    The one where the devil tried to torment him with phantoms of Bears, Wolfs, Snakes, Scorpions and lions. When it seemed the Saint would be attacked by the animals he just Laughed, and said “If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me.” After saying this the phantoms dissapeared .


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