I’ve been mulling over a quote I read by Fr. Alexander Yelchaninov:
The effort expended in securing control over ourselves and our anarchic, autonomous nervous systems, is greatly facilitated, made quite easy, by the correct poise of attention and imagination. We shall inevitably stumble over every trifling obstacle until that which is not a trifle becomes sharply defined and convincing in our mind; until we strive with all our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual powers towards the Essential, and thus remove to their proper place the trifles that poison our everyday life.
The trifles that poison our everyday life. What a phrase.
This is the problem with being a 21st century Orthodox believer. The likelihood that I’ll be taken into the arena and asked to deny Christ are fairly slim. The likelihood that I’ll wait in long lines that don’t move, get honked at in bad traffic (and honk at others myself), get in some massive crush of people all going to the same place at the same time — airport, county fair or whatnot — and feel a strong temptation to dislike all of them … the likelihood that all that will happen? Well, 100%, right? Those things happen every day. And every day I feel like it would be too silly to pray over how much my nerves are fraying and my temper slipping over these insignificant nothings.
Only this is what life is like now. These nothings are the things that steal our humanity away by inches.
I remember reading a story about people that were made to stay on a plane that was at the gate at the end of a long flight for ten hours, because of some weather irregularity and a bureaucratic snafu. The food and beverages ran out, the bathrooms were overloaded and unusable and they were all sitting in the cramped tiny airplane seats that they had already flown in for many hours.
Ever since I read that story, I’ve used that as a sort of measuring stick for myself. Am I ready to stand something like that and still behave in a Christian way? Would I be able to act as if I had any shred of dignity, sanity, humanity or faith? I’m not sure, but then I know God gives you strength for what you need when you need it.
As Fr. Yelchaninov says, it does take a lot of attention and focus for Christians to get control of this aspect of modern life, but unless you do, you’ll always live in fear not of real things — the dread Judgment Seat, our own sinfulness or even the unclean spirits — but of nothings.
And so it seems with people in the world: they live in constant fear of tiny things that make them tinier still.