Faith and Providence

One of the distinctions between those the Church recognizes for their holy life (which recognition is manifested in canonization as Saint So-and-so) and those of us who struggle in the life of faith now is that the Saints exercised an expectant faith which sought for and often saw the workings of God in their daily lives, as well as in the critical moments. As Elder Porphyrios relates of his journey to Mt Athos to become a monk, while far below the age allowed:

By all this I want to show how God worked many miracles on me, unworthy as I am. His hand very manifestly protected me everywhere. And so in this case the hand of God led me into the hands of a holy elder and spiritual father who was to protect me. God had sent him and this elder saved me. It was a great miracle of God’s providence. In many things God’s providence has helped me but above all the great assistance I received was that I succeeded in going to the Holy Mountain at such an early age, in spite of the fact that it was forbidden. I knew nothing about monastic life. But God helped me. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p 9)

Certainly God’s Providence manifests itself in the miraculous–as in the story about how Elder Porphyrios acquired a walking stick. The lives of the saints are filled with dreams, visions, miraculous events. Sometimes, as Elder Sophrony relates, the Divine Providence works directly on the human heart, giving the grace of repentance.

Our God is intangible, invisible, searchless. Inscrutable, too, are the workings of His providence for us. How did His gentle but powerful hand catch hold of me when with the stubbornness of youthful folly I rushed headlong into the dark abyss of non-being? The heavenly fire burned into me and its heat melted my heart. Bitterly repentant, I prayed prostrate on the floor. . . . (Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p 37)

We today often think, due to our own paucity of such events, that these things are “abnormal,” unusual and not to be the expected fare of the day to day Christian. And, of course, to some degree this is true. After all, if everything is a “miracle,” then, well, nothing is a miracle.

But most of the time I think, when we call something “miraculous,” what we are really trying to express is the amazement and wonder at the way God weaves together so many normal, cause-and effect, free choices of untold numbers of human beings. Sometimes there’s that “inner voice,” directing a stranger to give a specific sum of money. But many more times, it is just the simple outworking of human choices.

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