The word of the day is “quiet.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, St. Paul gives some practical advice for living in a world of noisy frenzy such as ours. The Apostle writes, “… that you aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands as we commanded you” (vs. 10).
In Paul’s day, the city of Thessalonica was the hub of the government, politics, commerce, military, and culture of Greece. It was a multi-racial and cosmopolitan city at the crossroad of prosperous East-West and North-South trading routes. Moreover, it was a flourishing port city on the Aegean Sea.
Living a Quiet Life Amid the Frenzy
Imagine how turbulent life was in this city where all 200,000 residents were engaged in the pursuit of wealth, power, and prestige. Their lifestyle was the exact opposite of the peaceful and serene way of living that Paul advises in our reading.
Yet in this bustling metropolis, Paul advises his flock to aspire to lead a “quiet life” (vs. 11). Note the irony in Paul’s rhetoric. The word for “aspire” connotes an eager ambition and a resolute determination to gain honor (Strong’s #5389, 265). Yet paradoxically, Paul recommends that the Thessalonians pursue a serene life. The term in Greek is more than the thought of a quiet existence. It means living in “stillness,” “silence,” and even “rest.” The word gives the Hesychast movement its name. Hesychasm is devoted to the silent contemplation (hēsychia) of “unceasing prayer.” Whether monks or laity, many still practice this kind of “quietness” through the “Jesus Prayer.”
Living on the Horizon
However, St. Paul has a broader meaning in mind. Those who live a “quiet life” should attend to their own affairs. That is, they should only concern themselves with their own business (Strong’s #4238, 209) and resist meddling in the affairs of others. Furthermore, the Apostle recommends that they work with their own hands. Presumably, this kind of labor would avoid entanglement in the competitive trade that consumes the lives of the population of the city.
Paul’s counsel has special meaning for us during this Nativity Fast. This season teaches us to live as if the coming of Christ in glory were on the horizon. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that “the time is short” (1 Cor. 7:29). “The form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:32). With this in mind, Paul advises that in this interim time of waiting for the end of this world, we should strive to be free of worldly distractions” (1 Cor. 7:35).
We might suppose that Paul’s words are irrelevant since the day of Christ’s appearing is far away. But that attitude is exactly what Christ warned about (Luke 12:45-46). The often-repeated point that we do not know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return should make us even more watchful, not less. Paul expresses our hope for the Advent of Christ, “… our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far spent; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12).
These days of fasting, therefore, are the time to give heed to St. Paul’s words. In the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, we should pray for our rulers that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). Surely the scripture’s call to a life of tranquility before the return of Christ means more than adding a few more prayers and readings to our already busy daily routine.
In so far as possible, we should fast from the hectic pace of our ordinary lives. When we live at “warp speed,” we cannot get in touch with the state of our souls. When we keep pushing forward, we cannot reflect soberly on the course of our lives. When we rush from one thing to the next, prayer gets left behind. Thus, Paul’s recommendation of “stillness” means to be “silent.” But it also means slowing down. We should ease up on our feverish pace so that the Lord can catch up with us and inspire us with the hope for His coming.
The Eldress Theosemnie was the beloved Abbess who restored the Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi, Hania, Crete. She was known for her quiet way of life. She said, “That which moves me more than anything else,” she would say, “is the example of the Panagia [the Mother of God], Her humility, obedience, and silence. An angel went and told her that she would give birth to Christ God, and all she said was, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.’ She didn’t say anything else. Only obedience. And she was hidden. My prayer is that we will acquire these virtues” (Anon. 2017).
Anon. 2017. “Eldress Theosemni: a Quiet and Hidden Ascetic.” Pemptousia. https://pemptousia.com/2017/05/eldress-theosemni-a-quiet-and-hidden-.