Everywhere Present

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 [now “Saint”] Sophrony

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The wise elder’s words are not only good for our salvation (which is always at hand) but 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 lives 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 consists in 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 weep 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.

24 comments:

  1. … and His Mercy is everywhere too if we repent especially if someone does “bad things to us”. I am finding that humility to be the essence of “turn the other cheek”. “Forgive those that despitefully use you” and the other ‘hard’ sayings of our Lord.
    I am an old man and my body is slowly ceasing to function. Hamlet proclaimed “the readiness is all”. So in my repentance I rely on His mercy to be ready. In joy and thanksgiving.
    His mercy endures forever.
    I also do a lot of dishes these days and laundry and grocery shopping. Plus a bit of cooking.

  2. Apologies in advance if I’m pulling this in the wrong direction, but perhaps there’s a different problem: we tell ourselves that much of what we do is drudgery, mindless but needful, but that this masks a deeper problem, that some of us are earning our livelihoods by the wrong means. Rather than admitting to this, we call it drudgery. For example, I work for a CEO who has a delusional messianic mission to reshape the world, and military applications are part of that. And he is a very successful businessman. So I choose to ignore that, focus on the boredom instead, and keep telling myself I need to do something to put bread on the table. Now I’m dealing with the choice of leaving this line of work for something I suspect will be spiritually much less problematic, but riskier financially.

  3. Ook,
    their is an article on Pravmir today, which may or may not be of interest to you, regarding your situation?

  4. It occurred to me today, looking back at this article, that it might be interesting to say, “God will save the world through washing dishes.” The think in such large terms (the nation, the culture, etc.) that we force ourselves into insignificance and fail to value the only “size” in which we can live. The “large” forces in our world mostly do the things they do (“changing history, etc.”) by doing evil on some level. Moving around large chess pieces on the global board, they measure in bigness, and fail to see the “insignificant” lives that are often crushed in the process. In truth, paradise is only found in the details, contrary to the popular saying.

  5. Ook,
    I don’t have an answer, but I understand. In November of 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, I was a senior in college who had just interviewed with an arm of the defense industrial complex. I was one of the last college students hired before the DoD consolidation and draw down following the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the collapse, some talked of a new world order of peace. That didn’t last long. By 1996 it was ramping up again, then 9/11 and the endless wars…..

    I have now worked 31 years for the DoD complex at various contractors. In my years in the evangelical world, I lived in a 2-storey universe, providing meaning in starting evangelical churches.

    As I now seek a one-story universe, the drudgery sets in. I have time to reflect as you have.

  6. According to my priest in his sermon today we need do only three things gor salvation: 1. Practice praying the Jesus Prayer; 2. Know and live in accordance with the Holy Scripture; 3. Attend the Divine Liturgy and receive the Body and Blood in thanksgiving.

    It brought to mind the resistable temptation to jump up and shout “Preach it, Rev.!” But I was not so crass.
    Most people I have known, including me, have made career choices that are troubling and possibly sinful and find it troubling. Fortunately, we always have step one to fall back on to allow His mercy to guide and heal.

    His mercy endures forever.

  7. “God will save the world through washing dishes.”

    What a lovely thought! Increasingly we live in a spectator culture. The media tells us about ‘all the important things’ – and alternative media tell us about ‘all the important things the media isn’t telling us about. Little of which connects to the everyday lived reality of the lives of so many who are sucked in and fail to see the glory of their own existence..

    Perhaps another way of saying it “the world will be saved in obscurity” ?

    Blessings

  8. to complement this piece…..Fr. Lev Gllet’s book In Thy Presence ( St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977) contains several meditations on quotidian activities that are anything but that, especially the section “Thy Presence Today”..

    In the first section titled “Limitless Love”, the very short meditation “I come to Thee in Small Things” –“thou doest wash a pate. Thou dost dry it. Let these actions carry withn them love toward all those who have eaten off this late, toward all those who will eat off it. ” And this,

    “A woman goes out of doors. She goes to hang the washing on the line so it will dry. Does this rapid movement of service not remnd thee of somethng? Those two arms spread out for an insant do they not make thee think of two other arms which were stretched out on sacred Wood?
    Everything becomes sacred,if thy love transfigures it.
    Love Himself is amogst us as He who serves.”
    Thank you for its message today

  9. God is everywhere present. Present in our humiliation. Present in our tears. But it is not by being a victim. We must not be without a boundary. Or we do disservice to ourselves and those we come into contact with. I fall short daily of keeping a rule for reading, listening, prayer and worship. How do I learn what is my God given boundary? I suspect unresolved shame and guilt are stumbling blocks there. Is it that when we love and honor God , that we can both love and honor ourselves and others? My adult daughter has mental illness and addiction challenges. I want to extend trust and love and acceptance, but find myself
    often in tears because I allow myself to be controlled by her sickness and my reaction. Praying to choose wisdom and daily failing is sometimes so devastating.
    I know thats the way of life. The al anon program helps. Maybe the real question is what is the loving action for those invloved?
    I work as a nurse in a county jail. At least 1/3 to 1/2 of the inmates have mental health issues. We have not had a full time mental health counselor for a few months now. The private corporation responsible for medical staffing has not been able to fill mental health provider vacancies at several of there facilities in this part of our state. What is my role? It does not seem enough to simply be there, though that should be enough if God is indeed in my heart. I just cannot move past tears sometimes. If God is always present, and I know He is and IS LIFE! ….it is so hard to keep stumbling through these tears. I want my Joy!
    Kind of embarrassed about this.. but thanks for listening.

    by
    but

  10. Michael Bauman per June 27, 2021 at 5:18 pm, my “three things” touchstone is Micah 6:8, which also seem to me to be more in accord with Fr.’s article. Your mercy theme is indeed arguably the central strand of those inter-related things. It’s also good guidance for dealing with workplaces.

  11. I have a different issue when it comes to work. I don’t mind drudgery as I can pray without ceasing however I work in cyber security and my mind has to often think on complex issues, frequent meetings with stakeholders, and constantly resolving problems and through it all I struggle to maintain my communion with God. I love to wash dishes or clean my house because I can pray internally but work does not allow me to do this. I pray before tasks, during (Lord help!) but my line of work is very difficult mentally which doesn’t help my prayer with God. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  12. Nina, I have read that if one allows the Jesus Prayer to descend into one’s heart, the prayer becomes constant, i. e. not a product of one’s memory or thought. That is prayer without ceasing. In that state mercy would also be a constant companion I would think.

  13. Nina
    What Michael rightly describes is a rare gift of Grace. Saint Sophrony, who had an unceasing, torrential prayer life while in his early days in the Holy Mountain, was once assigned a monastic obedience by his Abbot, to become a translator: this required pretty exclusive occupation of his mind. It clearly stopped the mind’s preoccupation with prayer in the heart. But for the sake of obedience he did it unswervingly. He apparently quickly came to realise that a profound sense of God’s presence was actually maintained when his will aligned with God’s will in this obedience (i.e.: to learn Greek in order be a translator), albeit in a different mode to that of exclusive prayer (or even of unceasing prayer while the hands are occupied with a job that requires little mental occupation).

  14. Ziton, thank you for the reference. It is quite apt especially when but into the context of what Micah is warning against in the rest of the chapter. At first glance that verse seems quite out of context but it has begun to sink in as I contemplate it.

  15. Teach me my God and King in all things thee to see. ( Herbert)
    ……
    A servant with this clause
    Makes drudgery divine:
    Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
    Makes that and th’ action fine.

  16. Dear Father Stephen , in being always a late comer to this blog, I find your setting of homilies most helpful in that you always give three further posts in your ‘related articles’ so that we who are latecomers and will always remain so can in a small way ‘catch up’.
    This little article has been relatively unchanged as far as I have gone along that trail.
    The part of it which has remained with me is the Theotokos changing our Lord’s diapers. And thank you, it has solved somewhat of a riddle to me that comes in the morning prayers . I should not say it is a riddle as it seems to me I always knew it, but that is the way with so much of Orthodox theology.
    At the end of the prayers we say “Most Holy Theotokos, save us.” How could this be, since she is human, not divine? I think she saves us by saying “Be it Unto Me According to Thy Word.” She didn’t have to say it. But she did. The way this takes me back is the way you were taken aback when reciting the Pentecostal prayer. And that I think is how she saves us. Glory to God for all things.

  17. Juliana,

    Your comment reminds me of a passage from Sally Read’s book, Annunciation. It is a book she wrote to her daughter and I found the following passage very thought provoking.

    I had no guarantee of how you would be, and yet I began to fall in love with you. And when I first felt the quickening of you within me, I began to know something of you and therefore to lose my heart completely. You see how important flesh can be?

    My creaky trust was the vaguest echo of the trust that Mary would have had in God from the very beginning. How weighty that trust must have been for her to say, “Let it be to me according to your word!”

    …Mary is exceptionally courageous. But it is courage built on trust in God, not recklessness…. In the face of incalculable uncertainty, she could know only that she had something unique and unfathomable within her womb. How much more awesome for her, then, would Christ’s quickening have been–disarmingly normal, but at the same time the first conscious physical touch between man and God: a presage of the Eucharist. (Remember this when you receive Communion: Mary was the first to know Christ physically in the dark of her body.)

    You see, when we feel incredulous about biblical events, we have to remember the incredible grace in ordinary lives.

  18. Thank you, Byron, very much. That is a beautiful passage. I certainly can’t approach the mystery that followed upon the saying of those words, but can only suggest that what we mean when we ask her to save us is that, in her, humanity rose to meet God, (if I can put it that way), as humanity had not been ready to do until she did it. We, like the rest of humanity, have not this standing, but we are, as she was, fully human, and we shelter in her purity. That’s how I think we can ask her to save us.

    I’m sorry if I am not saying that well. Thank you again for responding.

  19. I should also have said that the response of the Theotokos was also, and above all else, the meaningful obedience that was being discussed earlier, its relationship to ‘audire’ , to hear. She heard God’s word; it was that simple. (So simple that many do not take it into account.) What a graceful acceptance! It is so beautiful.

  20. CMD
    Thank you for your honest and vulnerability. I will be praying for you and your family and the situation in the jails.

    Lord have mercy

  21. This is a lovely meditation. I am reading your book of the same name right now and I am thinking about the ideas a lot moving through my daily life…..so far it’s mostly an internal conversation but I believe I am moving in a good direction. Also your ideas are among the more motivating and up building that linger in my mind so thanks for the encouragement.

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