It is said that St. Anthony, a young man steeped in the Christian faith and regularly worshipping at the Divine Liturgy, was wondering what to do with his life. He went to Church, heard the Gospel, “Go sell what you have” and went home and did just that. Still restless, he went back and heard again, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” and, arranging for the care of his sister, went out to the desert to wrestle with demons.
Though much less dramatic, I have known these “St. Anthony moments.” Three, in fact. All on hearing the Scripture read during the Divine Liturgy at All Saints Orthodox Church. 9 June, 15 December, 9 February. My journeying became not so much a tour, a vacation. It became a matter of obedience.
There have been three other moments, of a somewhat related nature, in the more recent past few months, the last and most recent occurring yesterday. I’ll unfold it in reverse chronology.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field which a certain man found and hid again, and from joy sold all he had and bought the field.”
Sometimes one just happens on things. Like reading the book of Job this month. I just followed a reading plan, and it just happened to include Job. The providence of this timing is enough to chew on for a few lifetimes. Demons wrestle with my family members. Bodies disintegrate. I sit in ashes.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.”
Sometimes things happen after long searches. I’ve been looking for Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm in hard cover for two years, ever since I first picked up a copy of American Childhood in hard cover out touring the wineries of Napa Valley. Oh, I’d had all the books in paperback. But the pages have been yellowing, the bindings become more rickety. After American Childhood, there followed Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, got from a bookstore in Gloucester. Then Teaching a Stone to Talk there in Evanston. Last night, wonder of wonders, I dropped in to buy books for my brother-in-law, Delane, to read while he recuperates. I got the books, then looked, in order, at the philosophy, classics, and theology sections. On a whim, I thought to myself, “What about that Dillard book?” And there it was. First edition.
I came here to study hard things–rock mountain and salt sea–and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend.
So I read. Angels, I read, belong to nine different orders. Seraphs are the highest; they are aflame with love for God, and stand closer to him than the others. Seraphs love God; cherubs, who are second, possess perfect knowledge of him. So love is greater than knowledge; how could I have forgotten?
I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.
The higher Christian churches–where, if anywhere, I belong–come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.
Early yesterday, I received this, from Robert:
[J]ust as the illiterate cannot read books like those who are literate, neither can those who have refused to go through the commandments of Christ by practicing them be granted the revelation of the Holy Spirit like those who have brooded over them and fulfilled them and shed their blood for them. (St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, Discourse 24, p. 264)
Today, Anna and I begin our five day journey to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri to see family (baby showers, two family reunions, much time spent in the car). God’s providential timing is exquisite. With these reflections, and those not written here, I am sent on a journey, to shed blood. Enforced blogging silence for at least five days. After that, we’ll see what God says. God once gave me three “St. Anthony moments” with regard to the Orthodox Church. Yesterday is now a third in a similar series of moments. This time I dare not disregard his voice. Elijah needed only a still, small whisper. I need a megaphone. But I get it, now. I get it.
Blessed Seraphim, ascetic of St. Herman, you know quite well my present state; pray for me, athlete of Christ.