Everything you do, all your work, can contribute towards your salvation. It depends on you, on the way you do it. History is replete with monks who became great saints while working in the kitchen or washing sheets. The way of salvation consists in working without passion, in prayer….
May God give you the strength to keep your spirit, your mind, and your heart in the spirit of Christ. Then everything that happens to you can very quickly be radically transformed. What was tiresome and discouraging will disappear, transfigured by your desire to be there where Christ your God is….
Elder Sophrony of Essex
The wise elder’s words are not only good for our salvation (which is always at hand) but also remind us that we should not divide our lives into two worlds. Even monks have to wash dishes…
If we concede that some of our life is drudgery, mindless, but needful, while other parts of our life are interesting and of value to God, then we have ourselves created a two-storey universe of our inner world. “This part of my life is of no value – while this part is of great value.” This, of course, is nonsense. Even service in the Holy Altar frequently includes washing dishes.
The words of the elder teach us that the problem of the two-storey universe is to be found primarily in our own heart – not in the culture around us nor in the tasks we find at hand. God is everywhere present and filling all things. He is even present and filling the various tasks of “drudgery” we undertake. No task is beneath us. The Mother of God changed the diapers of the God of heaven. Our love for those around us should be no less. We are moved when we read in John that ‘Jesus wept’ at the grave of Lazarus, His friend. The Theotokos had long before heard Him weap and wail as all children do. Nor should any mother (or father) give less value to the weeping of their own children. God has invested everything with His love, transforming the world into the stage of our salvation. Glory to God for all things and in all things – always and everywhere.
do you know if there is any movement toward canonization of Fr Sophrony?
Thanks for the reminder. My struggle with my own desire to achieve and do, rather than be and accept where I am and live the life I have, not the one I wish I had has been a long hard process. And, I am not finished with it yet.
Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement
I do not know of anything official, though the community at Essex certainly considers him to be such. His canonization would normally come from the Holy Synod of Constantinople, since he was under that Patriarch. I expect it someday. His life is very much of a piece with that of St. Silouan.
“All things are sent down from God” (from the Prayer of the Elders of Optina). This is a truly difficult mystery for us all. May God give us strength and the heart of thanksgiving.
I, like you, struggle with accepting where I am and to live the life God has given me, rather than wishing my life were different. Christ is chipping away at my wrong thinking, stripping me of the impulse to live in regret. This wrong thinking has often crippled me so that I am not even peaceful in the things I am doing in the present.
As I increasingly submit to a rule of prayer, I have come to a deep appreciation for the prayer of the Optina Elders. This prayer directs us to see with “spiritual” eyes that God is involved in our lives every moment of the day, and we call upon Him to make us aware of His spirit at work in all that we do.
‘Grant to me, my Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. For every hour of the day instruct and prepare me in all things. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all comes down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none. Bestow on me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my part in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive and to love. Amen
I believe you and I were thinking the same in the Spirit because I hadn’t read your response to Jon, yet I was led to think of the prayer of the Optina Elders as well.
Glory to God for all things.
Peace to you, Father Stephen.
Thank you for this meditation today. I started the day with inconvenience at work, that escalated to frustration, and then to a fit of rage (thankfully private, in my car, with no one but God as witness). Now, as things have settled down, and I find time to stop and recover a little, here are these words.
Well, God did not see fit to give me the strength to keep my mind and heart in the spirit of Christ this morning. It was instead a lesson in weakness, perhaps, or in self-revelation. May it bear fruit of repentence…
One of my FAVORITE books of all times was “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. I read it first in High School and then have re-read it throughout the years. Your post summarizes the message of what I try to share with my friends when they are overwhelmed by the mundane. Thanks again (as always!).
ahhhhh! Learning to be content where God has put us does not have to be difficult. My experience has been that I have different expectations for my situation than God has. Bringing my expectations into line with His, surrendering my desires and learning His desires for my situation is all it takes. And when we give Him the freedom to work with us, the stuff just seems to fall into place. Ah what freedom follows. “Lead me Lord.”
Thank you so very much for posting these thoughts, Fr. Stephen! (And the quote!!!)
And thanks to Lina, your comment reflects my experience also!
Father, I have a question about the quote. Why should I work “without passion”? That sounds to me too much like what someone from an ‘eastern religion’ would say. Why shouldn’t I work with zeal, doing my best and enjoying my work as an offering to my Lord?
Jeremy, there is a difference in the way the Eastern Orthodox Fathers use the word “passions” and our modern use of the term “passion.” For the Eastern Fathers, the “passions” would be roughly equivalent to “sinful urges, habits, and inclinations of the heart.” It doesn’t mean godly zeal (which is a virtue, and which is the way in which many modern Christians use the term “passion”), against which there is no prohibition.
Thanks for the response – I had a feeling that’s how to think of it. But it still bothers me a little – it seems dangerous to the (English-speaking) lay person to read things like that. It seems to me that emotions, and even desires, are important and good things, and that we should see God as the ultimate fulfillment of all our deepest desires. But then it’s a little misleading to see so many people saying that we should get rid of desires and passions. It may be a little cumbersome, but especially in translation I would like to see such phrases translated as “sinful desires” or “misplaced passions” or something like that.
Jeremy, I think yours is a common concern among Christians not yet very familiar with the Patristic terminology. In my own experience, the more familiar the language of the Fathers becomes, the easier it is to make that translation in your mind. Obviously, as a former Evangelical, now Orthodox, I think there is a great value to becoming more conversant in the language of our early Christian forebears because there is a whole mindset that goes with that language (which comes directly from the Greek of the LXX and the NT) that illumines the gospel and the Scriptures to us more fully. They have a lot to teach us. It’s nice to have a place like Fr. Stephen’s blog (or a local Orthodox parish) to find those who can help out with some of the translation difficulties in the meantime. It seems to me your instinct that it is right to see God as the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest desires is quite consonant with the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor on the “natural” human will (which is necessarily, by virtue of creation, oriented toward the love of God) vs. what he terms the “gnomic” will (fallen sinful man’s blinded independent will which, having become alienated from God, results in many disordered loves or sinful passions).
It was very helpful to me to learn from my son who was a seminary student and now a Greek scholar that the word we translate as ‘passions’ simply means “things we suffer.” And so it is proper that we speak of our passions as weaknesses and sins, for we suffer from them. But the connotation of the word need not be exclusively negative. For example, we speak of the passion (suffering) of Christ. The same essential meaning applies when we say that we have a passion for something good such as working heartily unto the Lord as in your case; by using the word in this way you are saying that working with any motivation other than this would be suffering for you.
“The world is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honour which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancour and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it”
‑ St. Isaac the Syrian
Forgive me if this comment takes the post off-course from both the original intent as well as the direction of the discussion in the comments box….
After reading syrian88’s quote from St. Isaac the Syrian, I’m confused about reconciling our journey to subdue (eliminate?) the passions with the passion of self-giving we work to cultivate in the marriage bed.
Many of the fathers speak of the passions (they are energies of the soul or body, etc.) as disordered rather than evil. Thus spiritually, we subdue them, not when they are abolished or banished, but when they are properly ordered. The passions are not meant to be in control of us (then we are their slaves) but we are meant to be in control of them. Thus we can feel as we should towards what we should in the right measure, etc. We can hunger for what we should in the right measure, etc. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession, and the cultivation of humility are the major tools in this struggle.
Lossky is great – but way over the top as a comments response. Jeremy’s point is well-taken, I think. The vocabulary of classical Orthodoxy is foreign to most modern Christians, and even frequently misunderstood in one manner or another by many Orthodox. The comments will be most helpful when they try not to exceed the level of conversation as set by the post itself.
I cannot agree that “the first heaven and the first earth” are entirely lacking in their relation to God. This would establish a Manichaen dichotomy (material=bad). I have chosen to delete the comment for the sake of clarity and lack of confusion. Forgive me.
Father and Jeremy,
Please forgive me. The Lossky quote was misplaced– Karen’s comment clarified what was meant by passion in the Orthodox usage.
Once again, I humbly ask your forgiveness, all.
Peace –Christ is Risen!
Thank you. I constantly have to remind myself of this truth. I don’t want to give into sloth–to despising the good I have in my everyday life. Also thank you for the clarification on passions.
I have a question that doesn’t even relate to this,but is troubling me. A gentleman at our parish church told me that drug addicts go straight to hell, because they are in mortal sin. I don’t think this is true. It bothers me because I am an addict, whose trying everything I can possibly think of to get off of the horrible prescription medication that I have been on for many years. I go to mass daily, confession weekly, am involved in many different prayer groups at our parish. I have read some of Saint Augustine’s works (Confessions is the one I am reading now) and he states that some sin is not actually sin, because sometimes, a person commits a sin while under diress or ignorance, even while weeping and torment. I feel that relates to my situation,as I do what I do not want to do, and while in distress i sin. My question is this: Do you think that a person whose addicted to drugs or alchohol , that is trying everything that they can think of to get off of it , if they should die would they go to hell? Please help me with this. I do not want to go to hell, and I have prayed many times and asked God to remove this thorn from my side, if it be HIs will. Thank you Father for your help. Can you please email your response to my email address?> Thank you and God bless you
The man in your parish is confused about God and does not understand what he is saying. Continue to work on the addiction, love God and trust in His mercy. God is good and has no desire to see you punished. Go to confession to a good and merciful priest (if you know one). But don’t be afraid. God is good.
Father Stephen, ‘
Thank you so very much. Thank you. I do forgive that man because he doesn’t understand addiction, and he obviously, doesn’t understand God’s love and mercy. I am grateful to you for replyin g back to me. Father Stephen, have you ever heard of teh Devotion to the Precious Blood of OUr Lord Jesus Christ? It is a powerful devotion that was started in Africa by the seer and prophet Barnabas, who was going to be a priest but God told Barnabas to not become a priest so that he could spread this devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ;. I would like to send you the devotion if you would like so please let me know if you would like it or not. It HAS been approved by the Bishops in South Africa and also, Our lady wants this devotion spread through out the world. Right now, I am getting readty to start teh Gethsemene Hour, which is in the book of debtions, so please let me send thi to you. We here in Houston texas,have already started forming cenacles of prayer from 10:30pm until 4am, which is the Gethsemene Hour, I have suprisinly found a priest here in Houston whiose teh most compassionate man and understands addictions, he is like 90 years old. An d is my spiritual director. Also, I have a nun whose going to be my spiritual director as well starting on next Thursday. I am truly blessed. So know that even though am addictded to this methodone, I am loved by God and am beingm led by the Holy Spirit, an am being fed by teh body and blood od Jesus. I also know that I am starting back to university of St Thomas in
Fall, for Chemcial dependcy conselor and psychologhy and Pre law. Because people like me, are going to need help. so I am going to helpo them through Christ Jesus OIr lord. Thank yo all for letting me share. Thank yoFather Stephen. You are the best. where are yo located so that I cna send yo teh booklet? Gd bles you and everyone who visits this site
Great post Father Stephen…
In fact many tasks that are thought as “inferior” and “boring”, are very important from the spiritual perspective. Contemplative prayer is itself a repetitive task in fact. What is not understood by most is that in such lowly tasks lie the best conditions for hesychia, inner stilness, that is an essential prerequisite for prayer of the heart.
The very simplicity and repetitiveness aid us to return and focus the monkey mind. These are key tasks for internal stability and for cultivating calm abiding ie an attentive mental attitude that is alert without being strenuous. In fact, this is the ideal mind set for working, training etc.
There is a story from the Desert Fathers in which a faithful upon ariving at the outter walls of a monastery asked the first monk he saw in exasperation what are the means of salvation. The monk was making rope at the time, and, without even taking his eyes off his work he replied: “You are looking at it”.
PS I have not read the other comments while writing this (apologies), so it does not reply or is addressed to any of them.