Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 23, 2010

Intentions

“We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.” – Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh

Talk about throwing down the gauntlet! I have enjoyed rediscovering Met. Anthony’s “Beginning to Pray”, and have recently acquired some of his other books as well (“Courage to Pray” and “Encounter“).  You have to appreciate anyone who has the courage and realism to acknowledge that (I’m paraphrasing as best as I can recall) “most of us will not ascend far from where we are now… from a stage where we are simply beginning to pray.” Moreover, he stresses we should not be discouraged on this account, but continue. Perhaps it might be that life lies more in continuation, than in the expectation of progress as more than a fantasy. Progress is change… and yet as Met. Anthony is keen to point out, our first encounters so often represents moments – even if only briefly – of wonder and recognition as the other emerges into our consciousness as uniquely and distinctly touched by the love of God… and draw us in to engagement… that if this sense were instead something we continued rather than something we felt pressed to “progress from”, perhaps our faith would be all the more.

He has such a direct and engaging style, that you tend to assume a level of understanding for the slings and arrows of daily life, rather than some sort of hard case. And yet consistent with the rest of the wonders of this Church is his ability to quickly remind us that for all of our heart’s understanding, there is nevertheless the steady truth that while there is mercy for where we are, we are called to become more fully human and ascend  along the way.

If I liked the internet more, I’d probably try to read everything available on this site. In particular, I recommend his explication on Mindfulness of Death – a term bandied about in many places without much definition, but he handles deftly:

There is a Russian children’s story in which a wise man is asked three questions: What is the most important moment in life? What is the most important action in life? And who is the most important person? As in all such stories, he seeks everywhere for an answer and finds none. Finally he meets a peasant girl who is surprised that he should even ask. ‘The most important moment in life is the present – it is the only one we have, for the past is gone, the future not yet here. The most important action in this present is to do the right thing. And the most important person in life is the person who is with you at this present moment and for whom you can either do the right thing or the wrong’. That is precisely what is meant by mindfulness of death.

In “Beginning to Pray” he gives an account of St. Silhouan’s management of one of the shops at the monastery on Mt. Athos, and how he ran his production responsibilities beyond his peers through a management style centered on prayer for others. If only Harvard returned to its roots, and had its Business School take a lesson, just think of the possibilities! But of course St. Silhouan’s point had less to do with efficient production, and more to do with the character of our prayer for others, calling us to rise far, far beyond simply naming them, but unveils his prayer in a way that without limiting or specifically petitioning, details his thoughts on their cares, the pressures on them, and his love for them that is inspiring.

Met. Anthony presents a rich vein and digesting his writings should keep me busy for a while. The good thing about books is that you can pass them on when you’re done, and of course this means scratching out a few notes ahead of time… so I’ll be recording some of my more favorite discoveries here. Now the bad thing is that this means I won’t get to giving up blogging anytime too soon.


Responses

  1. Thanks for the post, and looking forward to more. I just passed on “Beginning to Pray” to an inquiring couple at our Church who were looking for a book on “Orthodoxy”. Mp. Anthony is indeed direct and deeper than we can grasp.


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