Tag Archive: watchfulness


“Watch and Pray”

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, therefore, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep; lest thou be given over to death, and shut out from the kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

~ “Behold the Bridegroom Cometh,” Bridegroom Matins

Tonight we had our first Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week. One of at least two recurring hymns at these services, which we observe Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night, this hymn highlights the central importance of the discipline of watchfulness: “blessed is the servant whom [Christ] shall find watching.” Continue reading

Bit by Bit

An old man said to a brother: “The devil is like a hostile neighbour and you are like a house. The enemy continually throws into you all the dirt that he can find. It is your business not to neglect to throw out whatever he throws in. If you neglect to do this, your house will be so full of mud that you will not be able to walk inside. From the moment he begins to throw, put it out again, bit by bit: and so by Christ’s grace your house shall remain clean.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 11.48

Who likes cleaning? Really. Possibly the only thing I dislike more than cleaning is being dirty. So I try to clean often when I can (and when I’m not overtaken by sloth). This old man uses this common chore to teach an important spiritual lesson: just as a house can only be cleaned “bit by bit,” so it is with our souls. Continue reading

Christ in the Boat

On another day; also, while St. Columba was engaged in his mother-church, he suddenly cried out, with a smile, “Columbanus, the son of Beogna, has just now set out on a voyage to us, and is in great danger in the rolling tides of Brecan’s whirlpool: he is sitting at the prow and raising both his hands to heaven: he is also blessing that angry and dreadful sea: yet in this the Lord only frightens him, for the ship in which he is shall not be wrecked in the storm; but this is rather to excite him to pray more fervently, that by God’s favour he may escape the danger of his voyage, and reach us in safety.”

~ St. Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba 5

St. Columcille of Iona (or St. Columba, as his name was Latinized) is one of my favorite saints. I’m not sure if the Columbanus (or Columbán) in this story is the St. Columbanus, but if so this would be quite the meeting of two Celtic saints.

In any case, however, this story is not about their meeting, but rather the journey of this Columbanus along the way. While sailing to meet St. Columcille, he suddenly encounters “great danger in the rolling tides of Brecan’s whirlpool.” Yet, according to St. Adamnan our narrator, St. Columcille is certain that his ship “shall not be wrecked in the storm; but this is rather to excite him to pray more fervently, that by God’s favour he may escape the danger of his voyage, and reach us in safety.” Continue reading

A brother was goaded by lust and the lust was like a fire burning day and night in his heart. But he struggled on, not coming to meet his temptation nor consenting to it. And after a long time, the goad left him, annihilated by his perseverance. And at once light appeared in his heart.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 5.12

Of all the sayings of the desert fathers, perhaps those on lust are the most relevant to our culture and world today. Our media has seized upon lust as a marketing tool, worsening the problem (though I doubt such a tool could be used in a different moral climate). I know people, indeed many Christians, myself included, who entered adolescence with little to no defense against such a vicious demon. Truth be told, many of us began the battle having already been defeated—it is a shame how early children become curious about sex. Even the strongest of soldiers can be defeated by sickness, sometimes much easier than any human enemy. In this case, all it takes is one older sibling or pseudo-role model to pass the disease on to those who do not yet even truly understand its draw, and a whole troop can be defeated even before entering basic training. Continue reading

Happy New Year

“[T]he ultimate goal of our life is the kingdom of heaven. But we have to ask what the immediate goal is: for if we do not find it we shall exhaust ourselves in futile efforts. Travellers who miss their way are still tiring themselves though they are walking no nearer to their destination.”

At this remark we stood and gaped. The old man [Abba Moses] went on:

“The ultimate goal of our way of life is, as I said, the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven. The immediate aim is purity of heart. For without purity of heart none can enter into that kingdom. We should fix our gaze on this target, and walk towards it in as straight a line as possible. If our thoughts wander away from it even a little, we should bring back our gaze towards it, and use it as a kind of test, which at once brings all our efforts back onto the one path.

~ Conferences of Cassian 1.4

This story, from the first conference with St. Moses the Ethiopian in the Conferences of St. John Cassian, is perhaps my favorite. Today, September 1, is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. Abba Moses so vividly gets to the heart of what the Christian life ought to be about and how easily and perilously we can veer from that goal if we do not truly know where to begin and how to proceed. Continue reading

New Beginnings

Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus: “Can a man live every day as though it were the first day of his religious life?” Abba Silvanus answered: “If a man is a labourer, he can live every day, nay every hour, as though it were the first day or hour of his religious life.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.29

Everyone knows the cliche, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I’m not sure how old it is, but I think that there are a few desert fathers who would caution us not to roll our eyes at it. Importantly, though, rather than using it to try to offer seemingly baseless hope, Abba Silvanus offers a challenging qualifier: “If a man is a labourer….” Indeed, the very fact that Abba Moses questions the possibility of actualizing such an idea indicates that the desert fathers took it on a much deeper level. Continue reading