A maddening life, pulling our thoughts apart!
How is one supposed to meditate, to reflect?
While the heart and mind are drawn and quartered by deathly-wild horses, not once, but many times in a day.
The first response – I quit! I’ll just leave! Find some place quiet, seek out that scene that I saw of some guy doing yoga at sunrise on a beach.
But the beach is crowded with other people looking for the same thing.
And if I’m honest, the problem’s not the environment, it’s me.
Draw some saving conclusions from the life of St. Porphyrios, from a temptation he experienced soon after being appointed as the priest of a hospital in busy 1940’s Athens.
“On the first Sunday I went to celebrate the Liturgy full of joy. My desire to work in a hospital was about to be fulfilled. God had given me this gift. But what happened to me! Just as I was about to begin, I heard the noise of a gramophone blaring out love songs from just outside the church: ‘I love you, I love you…’ etc. I started the service… the noise boomed on unabated. I read the prayers, the Divine Liturgy. Outside the crooning continued relentlessly. Inside the church was full of people. I came to the Holy Doors and said, ‘Peace be to all’, but the Liturgy was far from peaceful. When I finished in a state of despair, I consumed the Holy Gifts, took my vestments, folded them and went out at once. Opposite the church was a shop that advertised gramophones and gramophone records. I went politely to the shop-owner, Mr. Kouretas, and I asked him, if possible, to switch off the gramophone, at least during the Divine Liturgy. ‘I’ve got my living to earn,’ he replied, ‘There’s no way I can do what you want. I’ve children to look after and a rent to pay.’ ‘Please,’ I insisted, ‘It’s distracting for me and it’s not right.’ ‘Mind your own business!’ Was his response.”
This exchange with the shop owner threw Porphyrios into despair. He was so disturbed that he considered asking to be reassigned, feeling utterly unable to continue serving Liturgy while competing with lewd love songs:
“I said to myself that I would have to leave; I couldn’t stay any longer. How could I live in there? How could I celebrate the Liturgy? Especially as someone who had come from the desert, from complete and utter silence, how could I endure such a satanic noise? All the buses from Nikaia, from Peristeri and from Piraeus passed in front of the church door and you could hear the constant sound of their horns hooting as they went up and down. I resolved to leave. But how would I announce it? I returned home dejected. I didn’t know what to do…”
But, thankfully, he never did ask to be reassigned.
Instead he prayed:
“‘My God,’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to speak to me; I don’t want you to show me a sign. But with your love reveal to me something simple that will enable me to know whether I should leave or stay. Something very simple. I’m not asking for some miracle. I’m ashamed to.’ And so I decided to fast for three days without even putting water in my mouth, praying in complete silence and waiting for an answer from God.”
And a surprising answer came.
Fr. Porphyrios was in the church while he was fasting. Often people would come in to light a candle. A woman came in with her about twelve year old son. He had his schoolbooks. One of them, a physics textbook. Fr. Pophyrios asked to have a look at it, and leafing through found the following experiment:
“If you throw a small stone into a calm lake you see the water making ripples over a small area. If you them throw in a larger stone, the ripples become larger and extend over a larger area so that they outflank the first ripples. At that moment I received the answer to my dilemma. It was divine illumination. I reasoned as follows: the small ripples from the singing outside the church can be outflanked by the prayers of great spiritual intensity that are being said inside the church. And at the same time there came at once into my mind forcefully, very forcefully: ‘And if you celebrate here and have your mind on God, who can cause you any harm?'”
“If you celebrate here and have your mind on God…” Here is the answer to our contemporary despondent malaise as well.
If we keep life rooted in prayer and Liturgy, a stillness of great spiritual intensity overwhelms and overtakes the nervous ripples of contemporary life.