If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?
1 Timothy 3:5
So much of Orthodox Christian teaching emanates from monasteries. While every Christian should study these teachings, and strive to put them into practice, they nevertheless can leave householders with a feeling of despair. Often, when confronted with such teachings, non-monastics cannot help but to feel that their own lives are a second best, and that the ascetical feats of monks and nuns will always remain out of reach. Along with this comes the belief that they will never taste or touch the spiritual riches of noetic, contemplative prayer.
The good news is that fidelity to contemplative prayer and practice, and Christian fidelity in general, deepens the most in the ordinary, even the boring and routine. The deep, transfiguring works of God in the soul often go unnoticed. Christian growth, like leaven in a lump of dough,1Matthew 13:33. unfolds over long periods of time, seemingly of its own. The only provision we give it is continued faithfulness and stability in the Christian life. New relationships tend to be marked by drama; by strong, even stormy feelings, lofty and terrible thoughts in turn, and so on. But the relationships that last necessarily move beyond this. Otherwise, they self-destruct; they are unstable and so not dependable.
The awe-inspiring, fearful, even scandalous fact of God’s love is that it is utterly dependable. It is unshakable. It is there, whether we want it or not. It is what it is, whether or not it suits our fancies. The Christian life is not an extraordinary life. Rather, it is a life rooted in, emanating out of, the stable ground of being, which is this all-encompassing benediction that puts itself below everything and so nourishes everything. It is a life of sanity, seated in reality, and so shirks drama. While a great deal of drama unfolded around the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, he himself passed through it with peace, never having left the bosom of his Father.
The lives of monks and nuns are founded in routine, and the graces toward which their lives turn are the same graces toward which a mother or father of children, living and working in the world, turn. Like a monastery, a household is a place of boredom and drudgery. When the causes of boredom fall away (for example, pride and concupiscence), and boredom opens and flows, the hidden graces of God work the invisible, interior wonders of transfiguration, and the world around us is saved. Like a monastery, the Christian home is also a wonderfully mundane place. At least, it should be. It should have about it a great, pacifying stability and straightforward simplicity, lacking, as far as is possible, all the popular drama that fascinates and attracts so many people to their ruin. This is not to say that it should be rigid and dry; rather, life within it should flow like a stream.
Marriage, occupations, household life, life in the local parish: these comprise the householder’s arena of sanctification. They must be for us the field of deification and the battleground wherein the salvation of our souls is worked out with fear and trembling. The true heroism of these contexts is not in showy ascetical feats, but in a long, steadfast persistence in prayer, church life, and interior purgation through relationship and self-giving love. The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy quoted above assumes the ordinary household as the proving ground for Christian proficiency.
Grace is not amazing; it suffuses the whole universe. It is very normal, perhaps even boring, especially for those looking for a spiritual drama or seeking some kind of spiritual prowess. Grace is quiet and hidden, like an unnoticed flower blooming on the forest floor. It is like the very air we breathe, which sustains us faithfully. The Christian’s life must become this way: hidden with Christ in God.2Colossians 3:3.