Category: Work


The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Proof of [St. Antony’s] virtue and that his soul was loved by God is found in the fact that he is famous everywhere and is marveled at by everyone, and is dearly missed by people who never saw him. Neither from writings, nor from pagan wisdom, nor from some craft was Antony acclaimed, but on account of religion alone. That this was something given by God no one would deny. For how is it that he was heard of, though concealed and sitting in a mountain, in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa, unless if it was the God who everywhere makes his men known who also promised this to Antony in the beginning? For even though they themselves act in secret, and may want to be forgotten, nevertheless the Lord shows them like lamps to everyone, so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.

~ St. Athanasius, Life of Antony, 93

In a time before Facebook, according to St. Athanasius, St. Antony (also “Anthony”) was “famous everywhere and [was] marveled at by everyone,” even “in Spain and Gaul, and in Rome and Africa.” He wasn’t tweeting instagrams of the bread and salt he ate once a day (if that) either. No, people knew about this man who lived “concealed and sitting in a mountain” because “his soul was loved by God” and “on account of religion alone.” St. Athanasius is furthermore convinced that this is a sign of God’s grace, “so that those who hear may know that the commandments have power for amendment of life, and may gain zeal for the way of virtue.” Continue reading

The True Theologian

If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

~ Evagrios the Solitary (of Pontus), 153 Texts on Prayer 61

Abba Evagrios (=”Evagrius”) gives a different definition of “theologian” than what is often the popular one. I have studied theology and even received a degree or two, but I do not accept the title of theologian. A theologian, according to Evagrios, is not primarily one who has read many books, but one who can truly pray. And that I struggle to do, and what I manage hardly matches up to his description. Continue reading

Reverse Procrastination

A brother fell hungry at dawn, and struggled with his soul not to eat until 9 o’clock. And when 9 o’clock came, he extracted from himself a resolution to wait till noon. At noon he dipped his bread and sat down to eat—but then rose up again, saying: “I will wait till three.” And at 3 o’clock he prayed, and he saw the devil’s work going out of him like smoke; and his hunger ceased.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 4.58

We are not told any other details concerning the brother in this story. We can only speculate that perhaps he struggled with gluttony or, at any rate, for some reason had resolved to observe a total fast for the day. Yet, “at dawn” he finds himself hungry. In order not to give in to his hunger, he implements a strategy that I would refer to as “reverse procrastination.”
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Symphony

Being servants of love and peace, the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke 15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing.

~ St. Theodore the Great Ascetic,
A Century of Spiritual Texts 20

Through the generosity of a coworker, Kelly and I got to go on a free date last night! We went to see the Grand Rapids Symphony perform a variety of pieces from Stravinsky to Mozart to Mendelssohn and including some original work by a young composer a year younger than myself. As part of the program, he was there and was able to comment on his two contributions, bringing further life into an already vibrant performance. In addition, there was a very talented pianist (a full five years younger than me!) who performed beautifully on the Mendelssohn piece that closed the night. On the few occasions that I have been blessed to attend the symphony, I always find my mind wondering to reflect on what a great illustration it is for our spiritual life. Continue reading

The Fruit in the Seed

And this tenant of [St. Antony’s] was also truly wonderful, that neither the way of virtue nor the separation from the world for its sake ought to be measured in terms of time spent, but by the aspirant’s desire and purposefulness.

~ Life of Antony 7

It is easy, I think, to presume that time equals experience. However, as the old man from my previous post put it, age must give way to conduct. The same is true of time. How many composers, I wonder, were utterly humbled by Mozart, composing already at five years old? Nevertheless, St. Antony’s rule is especially helpful. Not only does he not measure the way of virtue or worldly detachment “in terms of time spent,” but he also does not mention accomplishments, either. Rather, he gives a much more comforting standard: “the aspirant’s desire and purposefulness.” Continue reading

An Apologia for Martha

A brother came to Abba Silvanus on Mount Sinai. And when he saw the brothers working, he said to the old man: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth”: and “Mary hath chosen the best part.” [John 6:27; Luke 10:42] And the old man said to his disciple: “Call Zacharias, and put this brother in a cell where there is nothing.” And when three o’clock came, he kept looking at the door, to see when they would send someone and summon him to eat. But no one spoke to him. So he rose and went to the old man and said: “Abba, do not the brethren eat today?” And the old man said: “Yes, they have eaten already.” And the brother said: “Why did you not call me?” And the old man answered: “You are a spiritual person and do not need food. We are earthy, and since we want to eat, we work with our hands. But you have chosen the good part, reading all day, and not wanting to take earthly food.” When the brother heard this he prostrated himself in penitence and said: “Forgive me, Abba.” And the old man said: “I think Mary always needs Martha, and by Martha’s help Mary is praised.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 10.69

Mary Magdalene and Martha, the sisters of Lazaras, whom Christ raised from the dead according to the Gospel of John (see John 11), are often used as symbols of the famous dictum attributed to St. Benedict: ora et labora or “pray and work,” respectively. Continue reading