If your teenagers or children are enrolled in public school, chances are, they're learning about evolution - and more specifically, that we, as humans, evolved from apes, monkeys, and chimps. What is your response as parents? Does this discussion arise in your homes? Yesterday, on our visit to the Zoo, I was discussing this with an 11 year old boy, from a devout Orthodox family...but, he was pretty convinced that this "theory" he learned in school was factual. Here are a few ways to tackle the challenge:
1. If monkeys evolved into humans, why are there still monkeys in the world? It doesn't make sense that some monkeys would become human over time but not all of them.
2. If humans were once monkeys, who do we say our Lord, Jesus Christ was and is? Was He too once a monkey?
(This is crazy and quite blasphemous, but should get the point across) The answer is, of course not! Jesus became man, like us, while remaining fully God. In this way, He shows us what it means to be perfect and made in God's image without sin, revealing to us our potential to share in His holiness.
The animals, although created by God for man, were not made in the image and likeness of God. Rather, as St Basil writes in his Oration on Creation, we are called to work in harmony with the animals, with love and thankfulness for the assistance they provide us. For example, there is a reason a horse can run faster than us, or that animals have fur for the winter, and claws for food. We need them, as they need us. For more examples, look at the lives of St Gerasimos and the Lion, St Herman of Alaska and the bear, or St Mamas the lover of animals. You might be surprised to discover experiences of deer entering the Church, birds singing the Divine Liturgy, and a lion who appeared to bury St Mary of Egypt.
Lastly, our rich Orthodox tradition teaches that before the fall, the animals lived without fear of man, aggression against one another, or violence. It was only after the fall that man witnessed animals scurrying away from them. Even so, we can find God's all-powerful authority over His creation and in return, the obedience of the animals to Him, through examples like Jonah and the whale, David and the Lions, Christ and His choice donkey, and God's taming of the animals at the feet of our Orthodox martyrs during their sufferings.
*Clarification* Yes, it is true, the world and its state continues to evolve, adapt and change. Man arrives at new theories, various species are being discovered and cloned, and medicines developed. However, to Orthodox Christians, God is central to the equation, always, as Creator and Lord. Our anthropology, or understanding of the human, is defined by Christ and perfected in Christ alone. We understand who we are, by understanding who He is.