It is quite normal for a believer to try to find out God’s will concerning himself and his life. The problem is how to do it. Is it okay, for example, to pray and then tell one’s fortune based on the Gospel? Is it okay to seek God’s will with regard to tomatoes? Here is a story by Archimandrite Savva (Mazhuko) from his new book Spiritual Training published recently by Nicea Publishers.
A friend of mine tells fortunes based on Brodsky’s poems. She takes the thick volume in a green cover, shuts her eyelids, opens a random page, and reads out the first line she sees. She is so accustomed to it that she never leaves her house without that book.
“You have to try it. This way, you’ll find out everything. All mysteries. Come on, think of any question.” I laugh and nod. The prophetic book springs into her hands. I read,
“Though I risk being called a sacrilegist,
I’ll ask to enlarge the saints’ list.”
“You see! You’re a priest, and the book gave you this answer. What does it mean? Do you get it?”
I don’t respond. I burst out laughing. My impressionable friend decides to bind the Brodsky’s book in velvet, out of gratitude and awe.
“So that it would look sacred and awe-inspiring like the Bible.”
A good priest would rebuke her but I don’t: I find it too funny. People’s affectionate attitude to fortune-tellers and diviners is amusing if they don’t take it for real. Divination can be tolerated only if it’s printed where it belongs, that is, the Humor section. Why not have a hearty laugh? We at the monastery read horoscopes sometimes, just for fun, because we know that those texts (at least where I live) are written by professional psychologists who use these newspaper prophecies to raise the readers’ spirits and even motivate them to do good.
If anything, the horoscope of your boss makes for a really fun reading. For example, your metropolitan is a Leo, and you read that in the beginning of the week, Leos will have new ideas and have an urge to travel. We can hardly contain our laughter when we find out that our metropolitan indeed decided to visit some of his parishes, spouting out new ideas and daring projects, as usual.
Did the stars foretell that?
No, they didn’t. Clever psychologists, who know how to juggle generic phrases to entertain and encourage people. It isn’t a prophecy. It’s just a joke.
Telling fortunes based on a Brodsky’s book is a grave sin for an Orthodox person. It’s so shameful that you are unlikely even to confess it. That’s why people use the Gospel as a divination tool; but first, you’ve got to pray and drink three glasses of holy water – otherwise, it won’t work.
Isn’t it abhorrent?
Well, I don’t do it just for fun! I want to find out God’s will about my life.
God’s will. Sounds serious, huh? All critics fall silent.
Should I proceed to the graduate school? Should I buy Gazprom stocks? Should I marry this brunette or that blonde who lives next door? Should I sell my mansion near Nice? Should I have that surgery? Should I agree to play this part? Is it time for me to cut my hair?
A million of questions! You can be mistaken in any of them and go against God’s will!
That’s why reasonable people don’t read their fortunes in the Bible: instead, they go out looking for reliable, tried and tested, elders with good credentials. Parish priests sigh with relief because there isn’t any priest who wants to become an oracle.
“What kind of a priest you are! You blessed me to plant tomatoes last night but there was a cold spell! I spent all night insulating my tomato plants. Shame on you!”
Well, the priest didn’t find out God’s will with regard to the poor tomato plants! He must have sunk into worldly cares and didn’t read his prayer rule.
There isn’t anything worse than anatomizing humor. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do without it. Why do phrases like ‘a horoscope for the bishop’ or ‘God’s will for tomato plants’ make us laugh? It is because we combine incompatible notions in one phrase. That’s what makes it funny. This is the way humor works. It must be noted, though, that God’s will and tomatoes are as incompatible as God’s will and buying a house or graduate studies, a mansion near Nice, a marriage, stocks, and deals.
Don’t we believe that the Lord blesses every tiny detail of our life, every moment of it, albeit insignificant, to the extent that He is glad when we manage to cook a delicious cake, or find a nice wallpaper, or when our cat gives birth to cute little kittens? Why can’t we pray for tomatoes to him?
That’s where the paradox lies. Our God loves humankind – I am convinced of that. He is happy when we are happy and sad when we are sad, even if the reason for that is frozen tomato plants but God’s will is another story.
What does God want from a human being? Does He want us to be holy? Does He want us to observe his commandments? Does He want us to replace the fallen angels when we die?
The Lord loves us disinterestedly. He doesn’t need anything. God’s will about us is the bedrock of our existence. We all remember these Savior’s words very well, I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
Jesus is the way; Jesus is the truth; but most importantly, Jesus is the life, and his Incarnation served the sole purpose: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).
The created world began to wither away because the chief characteristic of sin is that it kills all life. The Creator came into the aging world to fill it with his own life.
God’s will about each person can be boiled down to one and only commandment: JUST BE!
The Lord wants us to exist. He selflessly grants us the opportunity to be because it is hard to imagine how great it is to just exist! He wants us to live. We often recall the Ten Commandments but we tend to forget that the very first commandment was Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it… (Gen. 1:28).
This primordial commandment can be expressed in just one word: Be!
It is great to be alive. The Lord simply wants each of us to partake of this incredible fullness and joy of being. That’s God’s will about us humans. Life is right because it’s life. Life is the most amazing gift. God shares this gift with all his creation magnanimously and lavishly.
The primary commandment is: Be! The rest of the commandments aim to protect life. It is noteworthy that the Ten Commandments weren’t given to one individual: they were given to the entire nation, and it points us at the fact that no man is an island. We’re branches of one big tree and whatever good or bad I do will bring blessings or curses on the rest of humanity.
The Human is a special creature in this world. We are God’s prophets and priests for the entire created Cosmos; that is why we are entitled to own it. Hence, we must not only take care of the created world but also be responsible for it before God.
Fragment of “Spiritual Training”, a book by Archimandrite Savva (Mazhuko) published by Nicea Publishers