Several weeks ago, I spoke to my lawyer about providence. She and her partner had remarked with some happy surprise on the “lottery” selection of the judge who was to hear the particular matter about which we were engaged at that time. I said to my lawyer, “I believe strongly in the providence of God. It is a cornerstone of the faith of our Church.”
I had that short conversation in mind again as I was reading from the Psalms at breakfast this morning. I read aloud these verses from Psalm 43:
O God, with our ears have we heard, for our fathers have told us the work which Thou hadst wrought in their days, in the days of old.
Of course, this immediately brought to mind a specific example of “the work which Thou hadst wrought in their days,” one of my favorite episodes from the life of St. Benedict:
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: OF TWO HUNDRED BUSHELS OF MEAL, FOUND BEFORE THE MAN OF GOD’S CELL.
At another time, there was a great dearth in the same country of Campania: so that all kind of people tasted of the misery: and all the wheat of Benedict’s monastery was spent, and likewise all the bread, so that there remained no more than five loaves for dinner. The venerable man, beholding the monks sad, both rebuked them modestly for their pusillanimity, and again comforted them with a promise. “Why,” said he, “are you so grieved in your minds for lack of bread? Indeed, today there is some want, but tomorrow you shall have plenty.”
And so it fell out, for the next day two hundred bushels of meal were found in sacks before his cell door, which almighty God sent them: but by whom, or what means, that is unknown to this very day: which miracle when the monks saw, they gave God thanks, and by this learned in want, not to make any doubt of plenty.
I’m reminded, too, through the instrumentality of St. John Maximovitch’s prayers, of provision of money to pay for the drilling of a well at the monastery Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim founded. Indeed, the provision was for the precise amount. And Abbot Jonah spoke recently (mp3 link) of the provision of funds to pay for the purchase of the new location of the monastery, and how, out of thanksgiving, he vowed to build a church in honor of the saint, St. Dimitri, whose prayers had helped the abbot, and once again was provided funds for the church . . . by a donor named Dimitri. (His account is about 50 minutes in.)
I have had a recent experience of just this sort of thing: unlooked-for gifts coming at just the right time, the arrangement of provisions that when first encountered seemed a deprivation but on hindsight were revealed to be precisely what was needed and the at first unseen benefits made manifest. It takes a faith that is beyond me at the moment to walk in the ever-present awareness of this always timely, never late providence of God.
This provision is not merely material and financial, though it is that. God also providentially arranges his outpourings of grace. He has given me recently such moments of pure and undiluted joy that it is difficult to describe. All I’ve been able to do in such moments is bless my daughters with the sign of the Cross and to thank God.
In a more particular example, I was very recently attempting to make my confession. It had been weeks since last I had done so, and I felt something of a sense of urgency to make confession. Unfortunately there were constraints upon my priest’s time to do so–he was unable to do so through the normal liturgical schedules. So I called to attempt to work an appointment during the day. Then events began to happen to frustrate those efforts. I locked the keys in the car. When Father called to leave me a message affirming his availability, the phone did not register that message. By the time Father and I made connections, I myself had constraints that very nearly prohibited me getting to the Church. Father remarked to me, “Satan doesn’t want you to make confession today.” But thankfully, I was able to do so.
And that brings to mind this: A couple of days before my chrismation, I posted this reminder to myself:
At the same time the Bishop [Nektary] warned the fathers not to fall into pride. When they visited him in San Francisco in 1975 he told them: “Don’t think that anything you have is by your own efforts or merit. It’s a gift of God.” In Optina, his brother Ivan Kontzevitch used to say, the monks walked as if on tiptoes before God. There was some joking and kidding, but no one ever said anything that would disturb their inner quietness and God’s presence among them. As Bishop Nektary explained, “They were treasuring the grace.” This was perhaps the most important lesson that Bishop Nektary had learned at Optina and therefore he often told the Platina fathers: “Do not spill the grace of God.”
. . .
Spiritual vigilance kept with special strictness during Great Lent was to be maintained during and after Pascha as well. Without the guarding of oneself, there was a tendency to fall into a state of sourness after tasting so much sweetness. One young convert, radiant after experiencing his first Pascha in the wilderness, was asked by Fr. Seraphim: “Well, how did you like the Feast?”
“It was wonderful!” replied the elated pilgrim.
“Don’t waste what you’ve been given,” Fr. Seraphim said, echoing the words of Bishop Nektary. “Don’t spill the grace. Keep it there!” As he said this, Fr. Seraphim tapped the young man’s chest, right on his heart.
–Hieromonk Damascene, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood: 2003), pp. 587-588, 600
O man-befriending God, help me not to forget these things. Win for me this war of thoughts. Bless my faith that it may stand.