This past week I was quite saddened by what appears to be the end of my pursuit of a PhD. (I say “appears” because the graduate program director encouraged me to seek out official leave status, which will keep the financial problems at bay. But that may well be a long shot and/or the delay of the inevitable).
On the very day I sent the email to the graduate program director, I received in the mail the icon of Fr Seraphim I had ordered (pictured to the right, the jpeg link takes you to the supplier whence I purchased the icon). What a consolation. I did not take it to mean either that my PhD pursuits might be resurrected or that they are dead and done, but simply that Fr Seraphim could well understand my plight and was signaling to me his prayers on my behalf. The next morning I prayed the akathist to Fr Seraphim in thanksgiving for this blessing.
I no longer meet these coincidences with quite the same skepticism that I used to. I have found them to be so a propos of the time so as not to be all that, well, coincidental. I came by the skepticism quite naturally, of course, since the Restoration Movement churches themselves were heavily formed from Enlightenment empiricism (particularly of the Lockean kind), which functioned as a kind of reductionism that led, in many cases, to a denial of the miraculous after the time of the Apostles (on a entirely eisegetical reading of 1 Corinthians 13). And I have very little doubt that I have missed much of God’s fatherly care and love for us as “coincidences.” But over the years I have learned that God’s providence is always too precisely timed and too well-suited to our needs to be mere coincidence. Especially when surrounded by gobs and gobs of prayer.
Take as a case in point my job offer for the company for which I now work. I had sent more resumes and applications out of the Chicago area than I did in the Chicago area. (And of those outside Chicago, most went to Oklahoma.) I used personal contacts (either personal acquaintances or friends and relatives of personal acquaintances) for four spots–none of which panned out. So much for networking (grin). We prayed. Our friends and family prayed. Our church prayed. And when it all came down to it, I got two interviews and one offer. And the offer was not for the position to which I seemed a perfect match. God’s providence was pretty clear. And it has been a great blessing.
But I’ve digressed.
So I took the icon of Fr Seraphim, with a prayer rope Anna had brought back from the monastery for me, to be blessed on the altar today, and as it turns out, I also received the copy of Vita Patrum (translated by Fr Seraphim), from one of the members of the parish. The book is out of print, and I have checked out the library copy some three times in the last five years, so I was greatly anticipating receiving the book. The fellow parish member and I had previously agreed to the exchange a couple of months ago or more, but just had not made connections. Today ended up being the day. Yet another consolation.
But this seems to be how God works, at least some of the time. We receive that which we need at just the right time we need it. A Bible college professor, himself well acquainted with suffering and providence, used to say often: God is seldom early, never late. (I don’t know whether the proverb is original, but his was the first source from whom I’d heard it.)
Fr Seraphim’s own life is a testimony to such providential timing of God’s mercy and love. How often did the fathers of St Herman’s receive an icon or an out of print copy of a Russian text–just when it was needed or spiritually beneficial? What about the offering they received toward the drilling of a well–that was just enough to cover the costs?
Truly God is merciful and his providence is full and rich and always surrounds us.
Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim pray to God for us that our souls may be saved.