Encountering God

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We’ve now arrived at the end of the academic year. Students have got a huge amount of hard work behind them.  Others have a work pattern which is more of a continuum, often relentless.  At this time of year many of us are looking forward to holidays.  Whatever you are doing I hope it will be rewarding and refreshing.   (I know one new graduate who is planning to walk from John O’Groats to Lands End, sleeping in the open as much as possible!)

For people who are facing a big change in their lives, there may be many questions about the future.  These may include questions about support and friendship: ‘Where am I going to make new friends?  Where will I go for support?  Where am I going to find God, now I am going to be “out there, on my own”?’

In one of the very old spiritual texts of my tradition we find the following striking statement by someone called Mark the Monk: “The Lord is hidden in his own commandments[1].

Here’s a story which illustrates this.  During a persecution of the church in 20th century a certain priest found himself in prison.  He desperately wanted to be faithful to the Lord despite the difficulties of his imprisonment.  But he was tormented by the fact that because of his hunger, all he could think about was food.  He wanted to speak about God to his fellow prisoners, to pray, to share his meagre rations, but all he could think about was roast chicken and chocolate mousse!  He begged the Lord to free him from his obsession with food, but nothing happened.  One day a food parcel arrived for him.  He opened it and found it full of all kinds of delicious things.  As he gazed into the package, he was faced with a terrible choice.  Was he going to eat the food himself, or share it with the other people? He reached into the parcel and with a stupendous effort he took out the first thing that came to his hand and forced it into the hand of the person next to him. At that moment he was freed from his obsession! From then on, he was able to act as a true priest in the prison; in exactly the way he had begged the Lord to enable him. Indeed, the Lord was hidden in his commandment!

So, if the Lord is hidden in his commandments, there are a multitude of encounters with God waiting for us out there in the market place of our daily lives. Father Porphyrios, an outstanding elder who died in 1991, used to urge his spiritual children to remember that the Lord came to people when they were doing things: threshing, looking after sheep, mending nets, fishing, etc. This elder had a great love of work, and he saw it as an aid, rather than a hindrance to prayer.

This principle of the Lord being hidden in his commandments opens up for us the meaning of the repeated plea in the great Torah psalm[2]: “Blessed art Thou Lord, teach me Thy commandments, blessed art Thou O Lord, enlighten me with Thy commandments, Blessed art Thou O Lord, make me to understand Thy commandments”. It could also shed light on the puzzling words of our Lord to the woman who said “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts which nursed you”. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it”[3]

Does he mean that in obedience to the word of God a real encounter is waiting for each of us, the coming of the Lord to dwell in the depths of our hearts?

Mother Sarah


[1] Philokalia Vol 1 p122

[2] Psalm 118/119

[3] Luke 11:28

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