November 10 - Daily Thoughts from St. Theophan, One of Russia's Favorite 19th Century Writers

"The Lord heeds their [parents] prayer and, indeed, gives their son the best ─ only not in the eyes of the parents, but as it really is: He sends the young man a lethal disease, and he dies. Those who do not see beyond the earthly life would view this as spiteful cruelty [...] Meanwhile, believers in eternal life would have no doubt about the disease and death: they have been sent by the Lord in response to the prayer, since it was better for the young man to depart this life than to stay on earth."

Originally appeared at: Global Orthodox

Editor's Note: Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) was one of the most prolific and beloved spiritual writers of 19th-century Russia. His works comprise over twenty volumes. Although he lived the last twenty-eight years of his life as a hermit, his impact on his homeland was immense. His articles appeared in the popular spiritual journals of his time, his books were in great demand, and he personally replied to an average of thirty letters daily. We will be publishing excerpts from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year (Amazon). In it, St. Theophan takes us through the yearly cycle of Gospel and Epistle readings, humbly and reverently offering us brief but powerful daily meditations on the word of God. He also addresses the problems of his day: lack of faith, coldness of heart, trust in the rational mind rather than in the revealed Truth of God - which are problems of our day as well.


Wednesday, 21st week after Pentecost
Epistle reading: Colossians 1:18-23.
Gospel reading: Luke 11:9-13

What We Ask For and What We Get

In the Lord’s Prayer [Luke 11:2-4], the Lord is motivating us to pray by His promise to hear us, giving an example of a father heeding to the needs of his children.  But He also gives us a hint about why our prayers and petitions sometimes do not get fulfilled. A natural father will never give his son a stone instead of bread, or a serpent instead of fish — much less so our Heavenly Father. 

What we ask for, however, is often very much like a serpent or a stone. It seems to us like bread and fish, but the Father in Heaven knows for sure that it will be nothing for us but a stone and a serpent ─ and declines our petition.

Look at this case: Parents are fervently praying for their son, that God gives him the best in his life, expressing in the meantime what they think will be the best ─ that is, long years, good health, much happiness. The Lord heeds their prayer and, indeed, gives their son the best ─ only not in the eyes of the parents, but as it really is: He sends the young man a lethal disease, and he dies. Those who do not see beyond the earthly life would view this as spiteful cruelty or cold indifference to human life at best. Meanwhile, believers in eternal life — for which this life is only a preface — would have no doubt about the disease and death in this case: they have been sent by the Lord in response to the prayer, since it was better for the young man to depart this life than to stay on earth.

Then wouldn't it make sense ─ someone might suggest ─ to drop our prayers altogether? No, we definitely have to pray, though our prayers for certain things in a sense should always be conditional: "...If in Thine eyes, O Lord, this is helpful for salvation".  St. Isaac of Syria even recommends to shorten any prayer like this: "Thou knowest, O Lord, what is good for me, so do unto me according to Thy will."

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