On Animals, Blood and Eating Meat (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Rudder, pp. 199-201; 355-358:

St nikodemos 1


If any Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon, and all on the clerical list, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that which a wild beast has killed, or that which has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman does this, let him be excommunicated. (Canon LXVII of 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canon II of Ancyra; Acts 15:28-29.)

Noah's Ark


Because of the fact that even God in giving the law about food to Noah said to him: “Everything shall be food for you; like the green herb have I given you all things. But meat in the blood of its soul shall ye not eat” (Genesis 9:8-4), in the present Canon the divine Apostles ordain that any bishop, or priest, or deacon, or anyone else on the list of priests and clergymen, shall be deposed if he eat meat with blood — which is the animal’s soul, meaning strangled, according to Chrysostom; or if he should eat meat killed by a wild beast — that is, an animal caught and killed by a wolf, or by a bear, or by any other beast, or by a vulture; or if he should eat meat that has died a natural death — that is, a carcass that has died of itself. Any clergyman that is guilty of eating such flesh shall be deposed, since the Law too prohibits the eating of it,1 including both the law given to Noah, as we have said, and that given to Moses in Ch. 17 of Leviticus. If, however, the one who ate it should be a layman, he shall be excommunicated.


However, in the new Law of the Gospel such things are also not allowed to be eaten. For these same Apostles held a synod and wrote to the heathen inhabitants of Antioch and of Syria and of Cilicia the following words: “It has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us not to impose any further burden upon you, except what is necessary in these matters, that is: to abstain from eating food offered to idols, and blood, and fornication” (Acts 15:28-29). The reason why animals killed by wild beasts or preyed upon by vultures, and those which have died a natural death or which have been strangled are forbidden, is that not all their blood has been removed, but on the contrary, most of it remains in them, being scattered throughout the veins of all the meat,2 from which veins there is no way for it to escape. Therefore those who eat them are eating meat in the blood of its soul. Accordingly, Canon LXVII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod deposes any clergyman that eats blood in any manner or by any device whatever, while, on the other hand, it also excommunicates a layman for doing so. Canon II of Gangra also forbids the eating of blood and strangled flesh and food offered to idols.

Creation of the Animals (Icon by Fr. Luke Dingman)
Creation of the Animals (Icon by Fr. Luke Dingman)


There are different reasons why God commanded men not to eat blood. Theodoret says that blood must not be eaten on account of the fact that it is the animal’s soul. Hence when anyone eats meat without blood it is the same as though he had been eating soulless vegetable. But if he eats it with the blood it is evident that he is eating an animal’s soul. Chrysostom says that the reason for not eating the blood is that it was consecrated to be offered only to God. Or it may be that God wanted to keep men from shedding human blood and for this reason commands that they should not eat even the blood of animals, lest as a result they gradually fall into the custom of killing human beings.

Adelos says that the reason why God commanded men to eat meat that is free from blood was to teach them by this not to be inhuman and blood-thirsty like the wild beasts, which eat all the animals they kill in the raw state as torn to pieces with the blood still in them; but on the contrary, to be different from wild beasts, and as rational men to sacrifice the animals first by pouring out their blood, and thus to cook their meat in various ways and then eat it. For it is enough for them to become so cruel and pitiless as to slaughter the animals, but certainly they ought not to be so excessively pitiless as to eat them with their blood.

Nevertheless, the main reason, and the one nearest the truth of the matter why God commanded men not to eat blood is the following. The blood has the type of man’s immaterial and inedible and immortal soul for two reasons: first, because just as the blood of animals, both as something warmer and as something more spirituous, and as something more mobile than other liquids, is their soul but an irrational and material soul, so too is man’s soul, though immaterial and rational, and albeit not blood, as something bodiless and immaterial, yet it uses human blood as a vehicle and instrument or organ of its activities for its own reasons or needs; second, because the blood was shed for the purpose of appeasing the rational souls of human beings, as God says in Leviticus (17:11), “the soul of all flesh is the blood thereof; and I have given it unto you upon my sacrificial altar for you to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood thereof that makes an atonement for the soul.”

So whoever eats blood is eating a rational soul, which that blood serves as a type. But if he does eat it, it is plain that it is something physical and material, and consequently renders the soul mortal. “For if you eat this,” says Theodoret in interpreting the above saying, “you are eating a soul. For this occupies the same position as that of a rational soul, because eating it is called murder.”

So that the Latins, and as many others that eat strangled meat, or meat killed by a wild beast, or meat that has died a natural death, and generally speaking meat with the blood in it, or what is the worst of all the blood alone, are sinning against a great dogma. For by so doing they are dogmatizing the rational soul to be both material and passive that is, it lacks self-control and is subject only to outside forces and to death and dissolution] like the bodies of man. For whatever occurs in the type, occurs also in that which is typified. That is the same as saying that whatever consequences result from the eating of blood will affect also the rational soul; and for this reason it was that God threatened those who eat blood with death: “Whoever eats it shall be destroyed” (Leviticus 17:14).

Possibly, too, in a more mystical sense the eating of blood was prohibited in order to make it plain that just as blood should not be eaten indifferently and similarly to meat, so too the incorruptible blood of the God-man Jesus ought not to be eaten indifferently like other foods, but, on the contrary, with special and extraordinary reverence, and with unhesitating faith. As for the fact that the blood of sacrifices had the type of the blood of Christ, that is one to which the divine Apostle is a witness, since he confirms it throughout his Epistle to the Hebrews, as do the choir of divine Fathers. But concerning what Origen says in his discourse against Celsus, to the effect that we must not eat blood, in order to avoid being nourished with the food of demons (for there were some men who asserted that demons were nourished by the exhalations of blood); and also as to that which Clement of Alexandria, Origen’s teacher, asserted, to the effect that men ought not to eat blood, because their own flesh is nourished and regulated with the blood — all these ideas, I say, have been placed last in order due to the fact that they do not possess so much force .

St. Mamas Protector of Animals
St. Mamas Protector of Animals


Hence those who kill quadrupeds or birds with a gun and who fail to slaughter them at once so as to drain out all their blood, sin greatly, as eating meat in the blood of its soul and transgressing the present Apostolic Canon. For in what respect do they differ, I ask, from animals killed by wild beasts or preyed upon by vultures, whether they be land animals or fowls of the air, all of which are forbidden by the Canon, from those which are killed with lead shot? Very little. For just as inside the former there always remains a lot of blood, so too is there always blood in the latter. So as soon as hunters kill game, they ought immediately to slaughter it and drain out all the blood in it, just as is commanded by God, who says: “And whatever man there is among men of the sons of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, hunts and catches any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall drain out the blood thereof and cover it with earth” (Leviticus 17:13).

Hence John of Kitros says that if any insect or other little animals from among those called unclean should fall into a vessel, provided that it be not rotten and if it has fallen there into but a short while, the contents of the vessel should not be thrown away, but on the contrary, when duly sanctified it may be used as food, except only in case its possessor abhors eating it or he may have his health harmed thereby. But if the insect should become rotten, the liquid contents of the vessel must be thrown away, not only because the eating of it as food would injure the health, but also to avoid appearing to eat anything strangled or anything that has died a natural death or the blood of an animal (these things which are indeed expressly forbidden). Hence also Novel 58 of Leo the Wise ordains that those who sell or eat any kind of food containing blood are to be beaten with staves and be shorn and be condemned to perpetual exile, and their property is to be plundered and set aside so no one can use it. All rulers, on the other hand, and judges that fail to chastise such offenders are to be fined ten liters of gold.