The doctrine of Divine Providence, stated in various fashions, has always been problematic for me. Years ago it was problematic because I wrestled with issues of human freedom and how they related to God’s good provision. Today it is less an issue of freedom and more an issue of faith. Simply believing on a day to day basis that God is doing good for me in all the things that happen.
Famously, in the Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina we hear:
O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy will. At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.
This prayer simply prays what St. Paul has taught in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
This week I read yet another reflection on the same teaching, this time in the writings of Fr. John Krestiankin, a holy elder of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, who reposed in the Lord just this last year. His statement, however, seemed to me a more helpful statement of the teaching than I had encountered before:
There are no accidents in life; God the Provider rules the world. Every situation has its higher spiritual meaning, and is given by God in order to fulfill this eternal goal – knowledge of God. We must always remain true to this higher goal, true and faithful to Holy Orthodoxy, no matter what antagonistic external conditions we find ourselves in.
Fr. John was a survivor of Stalin’s camps and harassment for many years after that. He is not an individual who just glibly smiles and says, “All things work together for good.” To spend time in the heart of the Gulag, to be a witness to some of the worst the twentieth century had to offer, and yet state, “There are no accidents in life; God the Provider rules the world,” is to see with eyes that most do not have.
What I found most helpful was his statement that everything has a “higher meaning.” My great difficulty comes when all I see is before me and I refuse to see more. It’s as if I become a literalist about life around me, refusing to allow Christ to be the one who interprets life to me. But this is the faith of the Fathers. God rules, not man. Christ stood with calm in the face of Pilate’s threats. Pilate asserted Caesar’s power and yet Christ said, “You would have no power over me had it not been given to you from above.” Fr. John’s statement, St. Paul’s teaching, the Prayer of the Elders of Optina are simply the Church standing in that place before Pilate and saying, “You would have no power had it not been given to you from above.”
Where else could they stand?
God bless you, Fr. Stephen! This quote is truly, truly what I needed to hear in encouragement. This quote embodies what my Lord is revealing to me with each breath I take. I am so stubborn and consumed by living in this world and I so often forget.
Fr. Stephen: As a bibliophile, I must ask where you found the Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina and the works of Fr. John Krestiankin? May God bless your effort with this blog; you have enriched my life on so many occasions I have lost count!
At heart, the conversion and writings of C.S. Lewis were grounded on a lifetime’s experience of beauty and longing. He sometimes described our state with the German word Senschut.
BTW, Lewis’ writings are a tremendous source of beauty and sanctification for me.
The Prayer of the Elders of Optina came from the Daily Prayer Book published by St. Tikhon’s (which unfortunately is in and out of print). The new book of the Letters of Fr. John Krestiankin is a delight.
I say… Amen, Amen, and Amen!
Again, you warmly do theology within the womb of ecclesiology. The truth of God’s sovereignty is FOR the church not for an academic discussion about the decrees of God. That there are “no accidents in life” has massive repercussions for our faith and not just our knowledge about the faith. Romans 8:28 is only possible if “God the Provider rules the world”.
Well, this is one department where I have to agree: through personal experience, I can attest to that fact! See my original blog entry at http://scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com/2007/04/pain-is-not-evil.html – the whole story is a bit long to recount on this thread.
May God continue to keep you. Your story was indeed moving. Glad he brought you to Canada! Eh!
Frankly, I’m not so sure about higher meanings in a Gulag. Certainly, spiritual improvement and victory can arise from one’s response to adverse circumstances, but higher meanings? Maybe one needs to be a bit of a Pollyanna to be a saint, or maybe I’m missing the boat altogether.
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