Don’t fret

Monday of the Second Week of Matthew

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Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is Matthew 6: 31-34, 7: 9-11

 The Lord said: Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

St. Theophan the Recluse deals effectively with the natural question that arises after one hears these words of Christ:   How can I follow this Gospel command and still take care of my material needs and the the needs of those for whom I am responsible?

Here’s what he says: 

Take no thought (Matt. 6:31). Then how is one to live? We have to eat, drink, and wear clothes. But the Saviour does not say, “do nothing,” but rather, take no thought. Do not weary yourself with care that consumes you both day and night, and gives you not a moment of peace. Such care is a sinful disease. It shows that a man is relying upon himself and has forgotten God; that he has lost hope in the Providence of God, wants to arrange everything for himself solely by his own efforts, to procure all that is necessary, and to preserve what he has procured by his own means. He has become chained in his heart to his property, and thinks to rest on it as if it were a solid foundation. Love of possessions has bound him and he only thinks of how to get more into his hands. This mammon has replaced God for him. Work by all means, but do not weary yourself with evil cares. Hope for every success from God and commit your lot into His hands. Accept all that you obtain as a gift from the Lord’s hand, and wait with a firm hope that He continue His generous giving. Know that if God so desires, a rich man can lose all he has in one minute. All is decay and dust. Is it worth it to weary yourself for that? So, take no thought! –  Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 123 

In these few short words of Our Lord, and in the short words of the saint commenting on the Lord’s words, we find a wealth of theology:  The dogma of God as the Creator Who brought all things from nothing into being, the dogma that we are creatures of dust and ashes, brought into being by God’s sovereign will, the dogma of God’s Providence, which sustains and guides all things – including us – to their appointed ends according to His will, the dogma of God’s infinite goodness and benevolence that desires to give man everything he needs in this life and the age to come, the dogma of the transitoriness of earthly life and the concomitant priority of spiritual concerns, the dogma of the heavenly Kingdom and the rewards that await those saved according to His will.  

Here we find also a wealth of practical spiritual counsel:  Remember God, remember that He is your Creator and you are only a creature; you cannot control everything as if you were God, and therefore be at peace.  He wants to give you good things, and above all spiritual good things, that is, graces and virtues; therefore you should ask Him for the cardinal virtue of courage and the theological virtue of hope, which virtues will totally replace your fearfulness, despondency,  and anxiety.   Practice gratitude for what you have and remember that God has provided and will provide all that you need.  Remember the hour of death and thereby put your current concerns into the only realistic perspective.  

The punchline of St. Theophan’s commentary consists of Our Lord’s own words:  “Take no thought!”  (The Greek original can be translated well by our old fashioned English word:  “Don’t fret!” )   It is our own thoughts, after all, usually distorted and exaggerated by demonic influence, that torture us.   In a recent sermon, our metropolitan has said that 5% of our problems are our outward circumstances and 95% of our problems are in our own heads.  But to deal with these problems, our real problems, we must become attentive to the interior life of the soul.   The Lord commands us in today’s Gospel to seek first the Kingdom of God.  In another place (Luke 17:21), He pinpoints the location of the Kingdom of God:  It is within us.   

When you are, therefore, beset by a multitude of concerns, the most practical thing you can do is to detach and to pray.  It is instructive that the Holy Fathers teach that the science and art of attaining sobriety, that is, making the transition from prayer as an occasional thing that interrupts our day to prayer as the state of continual spiritual attentiveness, is not a contemplative or theoretical subject for the few but a practical subject for everybody.  That is, it concerns us, who are in the stage of praxis, the prosaic warfare against the passions that comprises the first stage of spiritual life and is incumbent upon all Christians. For example, St. Theophan the Recluse, in his Russian translation of the Philokalia, quotes St. Photios saying this about the instructions of St. Hesychios on practicing the art of spiritual sobriety: 

…more than any other writings it is suitable for those who lead a life of striving for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  His exposition is clear and it is in every way suitable for men who do not go in for abstract researches but direct all their zeal and labour to the practical works of active life.    – Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Kadloubovsky and Palmer trans., p. 278

My point here is not to say that everyone should immediately run to read St. Hesychios – what Photios the Great regards as “clear” may not, indeed, be entirely clear to us!   My point is that setting aside ten minutes a day for the uninterrupted practice of the Jesus Prayer, and saying the Prayer throughout the day as often as you can remember to do so, is an extremely practical way of dealing with your problems. And the Prayer is not our only weapon in the fight:  When you are beset by worries, stop and read the Psalter aloud till you calm down.   Read the Gospel aloud, and the Lord’s own words will free you and empower you.   Go to confession and reveal your thoughts to your spiritual father.   Prepare for several days in advance, with conscious attention, for a truly beneficial reception of Holy Communion.  We have an enormous armory here, a huge toolbox.   We have only to open it up and use what’s there.   

God is with us, and He is within us.  What are we worried about? 

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