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Contentment and Godliness

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Written by Basil on 07/9/2004 2:26 PM. Filed under:


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The other day, my priest told me in passing that he had just returned from the wedding of another priest’s daughter. The groom, too, was a priest’s kid. My reaction is typical: I was depressed. This shows just how deeply selfish I am. Someone tells me about a wonderful, joyous event, a cause for universal celebration, and I react with sadness because I’m not the one being married.

Ultimately, selfishness grows out of pride. I deserve to be married because I’m so special. Furthermore, I am deprived by not being married to someone perfect and wonderful. As we say in the Navy, “Negative, shipmate.” You are exactly where God intends for you to be.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain,” the Apostle tells St. Timothy, warning him against those who use godliness as a pretext for financial profit. However, contentment in general has been a foundational virtue of the Christian ascetical tradition since the first century. Our Lord said to St. Peter, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” Do not worry about others, nor about what will come, follow the Lord without reservation.

More recently, the Priest Alexander Elchaninov wrote in The Diary of a Russian Priest:

Our continual mistake is that we do not concentrate upon the present day, the actual hour, of our life; we live in the past or in the future; we are continually expecting the coming of some special moment when our life will unfold itself in its full significance. And we do not notice that life is flowing like water through our fingers, sifting like precious grain from a loosely fastened bag.

Constantly, each day, each hour, God is sending us people, circumstances, tasks, which should mark the beginning of our renewal; yet we pay them no attention, and thus continually we resist God’s will for us. Indeed, how can God help us? Only by sending us in our daily life certain people, and certain coincidences of circumstance. If we accepted every hour of our life as the hour of God’s will for us, as the decisive, most important, unique hour of our life — what sources of joy, love, strength, as yet hidden from us, would spring from the depths of our soul!

Let us then be serious in our attitude towards each person we meet in our life, towards every opportunity of performing a good deed; be sure that you will then fulfill God’s will for you in these very circumstances, on that very day, in that very hour. (Quoted in “The Handicapped Convert” by Priest Joseph Huneycutt)

I read that quote on Laura’s Front Porch recently, perhaps just after my pity party over the wedding that was not mine. God has been trying to convince me of this attitude for many years now. It is funny how some things require a slow, gentle drilling until they finally penetrate my proud heart which thinks itself wise.

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17 Responses to “Contentment and Godliness”

  1. Karl Thienes Says:

    What’s ironic is that even after you get married, you’ll still
    fall into this temptation! I sure did!

    For me, it is feeling jealous of people who’ve gotten their BA degree.

  2. James Says:

    You are right Basil, but at the same time maybe I wouldn’t tell an alcoholic about a clearance sale at the Liquor Barn. And before anyone says, “I don’t get it,” what I mean is what other reaction did he expect you to have? It seems like there are weddings in the Orthodox Church all over the place, but how can that be? There are no single people in the Orthodox Church. (I’m hyperbolizing of course.) I’m also not meaning to criticize Fr. David either… I know that the evil one would love for me to do that and I’m becoming very conscious of that.

    Like I wrote in a letter to our priest recently (so recently he probably hasn’t read it yet), I know that most women out there in the world would not make good Orthodox wives. Our culture isn’t so unlike Rome or Ephesus in St. Paul’s days on this earth, so full of paganism and wacky ideas about God. And then there is Terry Mattingly’s article in “Again Magazine” about this whole thing. I hope that html came out okay. You know I’m no computer whiz.

  3. basil Says:

    James: Notice how I immediately recognized that the problem lies within myself. Marriage in general, and any particular wedding of two souls together — provided that each is relatively healthy to begin with, is objectively a source of joy and celebration. A person with rightly ordered passions is exactly right to observe the event with joy, and he naturally wants to share that joy with others.

    I am the one with the disordered passions, and the weight is on me to recognize that they are disordered, not force others to treat me as some kind of victim or special case because of my disordered heart, mind, and passions. To do so would result in a disordered, chaotic society of the worst sort. Indeed, one could argue that it already has begun to result in just such a disordered society.

    I am not putting Fr. David on a pedestal; I know he probably has disodered passions in many areas, too. With regard to marriage, though, I think he and Matushka Rozanne probably have the most rational and healthy balance of heart, mind and passions of anyone I know.

  4. Erich Says:

    I gotta tell you, Kevin. Honestly, I think you may be kicking yourself too much. Such a reaction is to be expected on some level, and even if it isn’t the ideal reaction, there’s no point in getting down over the lack of an ideal nature to the reaction. We’re all in process, and usually a long one. The process itself is highly necessary, most times, to the end result. Thus, I would say, perhaps recognize where you are, but don’t lament too long. Guilt won’t do you so much good in the end. Perhaps this is the result of being both a Protestant and a Catholic before becoming Orthodox. Reminds me of the Creed song “My own Prison.”

  5. basil Says:

    Erich, that’s an excellent point, though I have tried to not dwell in shame for feeling something. I’m simply recognizing where my passions are taking control, where I need to take control, by God’s grace. Better yet, where I need to cooperate in letting the gracious Spirit of peace take control. The beginning of that reordering of my heart is in simply recognizing that there is a problem. “Knowing is half the battle.” (That last was for Dmitri.)

    Passionlessness is not so much the absence of passion as it is the reordering of the passions. I have talked about this before. The Fathers, in general, speak of the ordering of the heart this way: An ordered heart is one in which the spirit (nous) controls the mind which controls the passions; a disordered heart is one in which the passions overrun the mind and the spirit is caught in this chaos as in a turbulent whirlwind. Our asceticism consists in subjecting the passions to the mind and spirit. St. Maximus the Confessor writes that the Lord subjected us to the passions — that is, to death, to mortality and corruptibility — so that we would be able to recognize our need for God. Then, in the fulness of time, the Logos became enfleshed, deifying our human nature, making possible the reordering of our passions — apatheia, passionlessness, the lack of being controlled by the passions.

    May it be so in all of the children of God.

  6. Chris Dmitri Says:

    “Knowing is half the battle.� (That last was for Dmitri.)
    And it was gratefully received.

  7. James Says:

    Basil,
    I linked to an article about how churches seem to have left all the marriage and romance issues to the secular “powers that be” as it were. I wonder what your thoughts are on that. I blogged about it and Alana asked the obvious question, “What should we do?” The problem is, I don’t know the answer to that. What are your thoughts? If the Church isn’t a place to meet your future wife (sort of iconographic of the Church being Christ’s bride), then where should a man meet her? On the Internet? In a bar? Mail ordered from the Ukraine? I think I’d rather stay single than visit those options.

  8. basil Says:

    James, working on the text field issue. It should work fine now. Internet Explorer was barfing on some default WordPress styling.

    Also working on a reply to your query in a separate post.

  9. Erich Says:

    mail order from the ukraine.

  10. James Says:

    I’ve heard you (generic “you”) don’t want to mess with those Ukrainian women. 😉

  11. Erich Says:

    Depends on what you’re looking for. They’re traditional in a lot of ways, but generals in the house!

  12. James Says:

    Erich,
    Exactly!

  13. Victoria Says:

    Basil, I can relate to how you felt, as many people have said. Have you read “Robots and Empire” by Isaac Asimov? One of the robots can read human emotions and is always confused by the fact that humans can have more than one emotion, and not only that, but what would seem to be mutually exclusive emotions. Also don’t confuse passions with emotions, my friend. Passions are things we DO SOMETHING ABOUT. Feelings…they go away.

    In short, I agree with Erich. :)

    BTW, when are we going to see you again?!

  14. basil Says:

    Victoria: Excellent! We all seem to be in agreement. The motion is passed by consensus.

  15. Simeon Says:

    Guellingly painful to hear. I have to sit back and tell myself, is that what I really need or want right now? It was that way about marriage. It has also been that way for me dealing with not being tonsured. Sure, I want to feel like what I do is earth-shattering. That without me the place would fall to a mess. I realized early on, “Eh, they will go on.!” Sometimes I would rather retreat. I believe that all those things that can get us “caught up” are burdens. I clean the church, lately, I have been doing it, because others who are on the list to do it have not done it. It can be frustrating, since I have sent notes out continually and have been told “send more notes out.” So, I do it, the heck with recognition. It gets to me at times, but I have to remind myself of what would actually make me satisfied.

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