Work Pray Be Saved! Back to Mikrokastro monastery, my spiritual basis in Greece! For the Transfiguration Feast. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” I feel so safe, protected and loved here! It is always like this: the Mother of God always comforts me; the peace, stillness and hesychia of the monastery invades me; the fellowship of the nuns warms me; the motherly affection of its Abbess, Mother Theologia’s love nurtures me; the nuns’ combination of discipline, structure, work and prayer ‘stabilises’ me; their wise ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation!‘ centers’ me, ‘grounds’ me on peace and the Holy Spirit.
Just today, I felt so happy harvesting, curing and storing potatoes after the Matins service and Holy Liturgy in the monastery chapel! It felt so exhilaratingly Van Goghean!
Certainly one eats his meal afterwards, roast potatoes😃, with gratitude and thanksgiving.
Fr Jonathan Hemmings has written a whole chapter on this ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation! in his book, Fountains in the Desert, which I have found most useful and often turn to for life balance ‘tips’.
When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie (ἀκηδία) and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down again and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Our human condition requires dependency upon God and interdependency on others. Correct spiritual examination requires the help and direction of a spiritual father who helps us grow into the image of Christ. Self examination alone without such an external reference point can put us in jeopardy such that we choose the wrong direction, make false judgements, become disappointed, lack faith, and fall into the trap of hopelessness and despair. Here we find ourselves in that spiritual malaise of accidie whereby because of our sense of sinfulness before a Holy God, we become inactive, paralysed and reach a state of torpor.
We ponder on the contradiction “How can we be Christians and have such sinful thoughts?” St Antony addresses this dilemma in the desert where he meets the devil, himself and God
“Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone;”
We notice that St Antony wants to be saved, he is aware of his own condition. Like the Prodigal son and Zacchaeus we must first come to our right mind and possess a desire (a zeal) for change. St Antony’s request is simple and succinct:
“What shall I do in my affliction. How can I be saved?”
We must be direct in our prayer to God; vagueness in repentance or in our requests is a form of obfuscation.
These two questions of St Antony remind us of that question the Lawyer posed to Christ before the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25 “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Inactivity is not an option for Christians; Christians are verbs not nouns!
Antony sees a man sitting at his work then getting up to pray, returning to his work and again rising to pray. The angel was sent by God to correct and reassure St Antony. Consumed by ourselves we lose focus and the source of our strength-we lose the will to work or pray! Work and Prayer= Salvation! This is an equation for all and not just for monks. Full of self loathing we need not only correction but reassurance. When called upon, the compassion and conviction of the All Holy Spirit assists us by His comfort and strength.
Just as our Lord was ministered to by angels in the wilderness after the Temptations Matthew 4:11
“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”
So with St Antony an angel ministers to him instructing him and restoring courage and joy. “ Do this and you will be saved.”
The Fathers teach us that we should not trust too readily in our own thoughts and opinions but take heed to God’s Word Who provides us with the pattern of salvation.
In our modern western culture, Life balance is a much discussed topic today. When mums have to juggle careers with caring and the ever increasing demand for dads to prioritize we need to drink from the fountains of the desert. Without work we become indolent and listless; too much work makes us tired and stressed. Without prayer we become detached from our source of strength and the deeper reality Who created us. Likewise prayer without action is fruitless, as St James says in his epistle:
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Prayer will warm and revive us in the love of God; work will warm and energise us in the love for others thus fulfilling the Divine equation for salvation:
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”
28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”