by St. John of Tobolsk
God is the most solicitous caretaker. In His hands He holds all of life’s great and wealthy resources, and only from Him should we ask for them in fervent prayer. The desert-dweller Mark used to say: Whoever has no hope of receiving temporary necessities from God, would have even less hope of receiving from Him that which leads into eternal life. But if God has given us a body, will He not clothe it? Is not life (the soul) superior to victuals and the body to clothes? Just as He granted us life (without any merit on our part, when we did not even yet exist), so undoubtedly will He give us all that is needful for preserving life and nourishing the body. Even more so will He not deny us this, since He Himself, in His supreme goodness, has wished to grant us existence and life.
And if He freely and willingly gave us what is most important for us, then He can give, and wishes to give, and always sends us the less important things too. But He will send them on condition that we do not remain idle: for He has created us and placed us on earth for us to cultivate it and maintain it in order, and not for idleness, and for us to place our hope in Him alone, the All-powerful and All-generous One, and not in ourselves.
Christ Himself teaches us, saying:
“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them” (Matt. 6:26).
The same Heavenly Teacher goes on to say:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father’s will. For the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29).
This first argument against our lack of faith is presented to us in the form of living creatures who feed themselves without any care, – so that at least from their example we would learn to recognize the omnipotence of God’s Providence – our sole source of tranquility and inner peace.
The second argument comes in the form of wild flowers. Having pointed out God’s Providence in regard to sparrows, the Lord Christ then says:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt. 6:28-29).
And from this Christ draws the following conclusion:
“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (6:30).
To this our Saviour adds a third point on the futility of our self-concern, saying:
“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (6:27).
Every self-concern of ours that is not joined with hope in God is futile and vain, of which the Lord goes on to say:
“If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” (Luke 12:26).
If God does not bless it, our entire effort is in vain, idle, useless. In your every affair and activity place all your hopes in God, and He (without any effort on your part) will arrange everything for the best by His ineffable mercy.
Thus, if the Lord God concerns Himself with satisfying the basic needs of all creatures in general, for He created both the great and the small and takes care of all equally, why are there so many beggars and deprived people everywhere? Brethren, God’s Providence in regard to poor people is truly wondrous. St. John Chrysostom has rightly said of this, that not only the poor have need of the rich, but the rich have even greater need of the poor. Everything that was and is good and God-pleasing in the world has been created through the effort and activity of poor but hard-working and God-fearing people. Being deprived of comfort and money, they worked diligently and did not forget God, but prayed to their Creator and Caretaker, Who was a benefactor to them even in the midst of their need. Many of God’s saints, living in extreme poverty, loved it much more than wealth and were always the recipients of God’s greatest Providence.
In truth, God is so solicitous of people who have entrusted themselves to Him wholeheartedly, that when they are deprived of human help, He sends them His divine help. Although we often receive the same grace from God in our needs and deprivations, there is still much lack of faith among many of us, who fear to lose sufficient and requisite necessities for maintaining our life here. O, how faint-hearted we are! Our Heavenly Father knows of all our needs: do we think that God’s mercy has now dwindled in comparison with former times?
For 60 years St. Paul, the first desert-dweller, was brought half-a-loaf of bread each day by a raven; however, when the saint was visited by St. Anthony the Great, the raven brought a whole loaf. St. John the desert-dweller did not see any people for 14 years, and all this while he subsisted on a doe’s milk. Many hermits had food and clothes from fig trees. In 603 A.D. Judoc, son of the Breton king, renounced his throne, became a monastic, and later became a hermit. On an island surrounded by water he built a church and founded a monastery. He was so generous to the poor that the monastery once remained with only a single loaf of bread for the working brothers, and even that loaf he ordered to be cut into four parts and the first part given to a beggar. This beggar, changing his clothes, came up four times on the same day to ask for charity and thus received all four pieces of the bread, so that there was nothing left for feeding the brothers. Consequently one of them began to grumble and berate his abbot for latter’s extreme generosity. Judoc then comforted him and told him to wait for help from above. A few hours later, four ships sailed up to the monastery, laden with foodstuffs which abundantly fed the starving brothers. The blessed Augustine rightly said:
“Do you think that the one who feeds Christ (i.e. the poor) will not himself be fed by Christ?”
The abbot of a certain monastery sent two brothers out on business affairs. When evening came, the two travelers, exhausted by their labors, being hungry and depressed, began to bemoan the fact that they would soon arrive at a poor town, and not knowing anyone there, they would find no respite or sustenance. A certain stranger met them on the way and asked them about their depressed state, and when the monks revealed their sorrow to him, he said:
“You have left everything for the sake of God, placing your entire hope in Him, and now you sorrow as though left without any hope! God feeds the cattle – do you think He will let His sons perish from hunger?”
Saying thus, the stranger became invisible. When the monks entered the town and prayed in the church, the mayor himself invited them over for supper, they went to his house, and he fed them abundantly. However, such examples do not eradicate our lack of faith; despite everything that God sends us, we fear privation, and if we do not have everything in overabundance, we are greatly saddened.
Here is an example of our lack of belief: it is said about a certain beggar, that having looked into his basket and seeing it full of loaves of bread gathered from many benefactors, he then declared: now I feel myself well provided for. We ourselves are very like this beggar: only then do we feel assured in our hope in God, when our storerooms are full of all kinds of goods that will last us for many years.
St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, was not like that at all. Having suffered enormous losses after a tempest destroyed thirteen church ships loaded with grain, each ship carrying ten thousand measures of grain, he placed all his hope in God and in Him alone found his greatest comfort. At that time practically half of Alexandria’s citizens suffered similar losses and, moreover, all the seamen and the passengers who were saved from the storm gathered in Alexandria as in a safe haven. To all of them St. John immediately sent a letter of consolation, in which he wrote words of comfort to all:
“The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; as the Lord wished, so it came about; blessed be the name of the Lord! Be patient, children, and do not fear anything!”
The next day many of the most prominent citizens gathered at St. John’s residence to comfort him in his losses. But he, however, took all the blame upon himself, saying:
“God preserved me from a great sin: if this had not happened, I would have prided myself on handing out so much charity to the poor, and I would have had a high opinion of my own generosity; and for this reason the loving Father justly punished the vain son to prevent his growing pride. God mercifully instructs us by allowing us to suffer some traumas, in order for us to come to our senses and quickly turn to Him. But He is the very same God Who existed in Job’s time, just as omnipotent and just as merciful, and He will not abandon us.”
With these words the patriarch comforted those who had come to comfort him. And, in truth, very soon the Lord God replenished St. John’s losses a hundredfold, while the latter continued to give out the most abundant charity to the poor. To entertain doubt or disbelief in such cases is the same as to assert that God is either miserly or forgetful; but such opinions belong to the iniquitous and the godless; they should be totally rejected by us.
St. Amateus the desert-dweller was in his own time like a mirror for all those who understand God’s Providence incorrectly, reject it, or blaspheme against it. After having labored in a monastery for thirty years, Amateus went off into the desert, where he lived on a chosen rock in great abstinence. Every three days one of the monastic brothers brought him a loaf of bread and a cup of water – this was his only sustenance. Such abstinence was not pleasing to the devil: and so a raven flew up, overturned the cup of water with his feet, snatched up the loaf of bread in his beak and flew away. Thus the monastic was deprived of 3 days’ worth of sustenance. How did the righteous man take this occurrence? Perhaps he swore at the raven, or uttered blasphemous words at God’s Providence, or began to curse the demon’s wiles? Not at all! It is we who act thusly in such cases, while he, lifting his hands and his mind to heaven, declared:
“I thank Thee, my Lord God, that by Thy holy will Thou wast pleased to retain me in a more prolonged period of fasting. I know that this will be of greater advantage to me in the future, for nothing in the world happens without Thy Providence, and not even a single leaf will fall from the tree without it.”
Yet we, sinners, think that the destruction of homes by fire, the drowning of ships, the loss of property, and all personal affronts take place while God’s Providence sleeps or does not keep watch, – in other words, we do not believe in God’s Providence. Even the pagans knew better than we do, for the intelligent ones among them reasoned that everything in the world occurs not by the will of man, nor by blind chance. In fact, everything comes from God, according to His just Providence: so why are we full of indignation and often even protest against it?
Countless examples and images bring us to a realization of the omnipotence of God’s Providence. Nevertheless, we have so little hope in this Providence! If our vessels, caskets, chests, and granaries are not overflowing with all kinds of goods, then our spirit fails; but when our bags are full, when our pockets are bulging with money, then we have hope. O, how blind we are! True hope in God is when we, finding ourselves in great penury, deprivation, and poverty, do not fall into despair, but patiently overcome all our tribulations, for the more suffering we endure, the greater glory and crowns are prepared for us. The ancients had a memorable saying: “If only we did what we should, then God would do for us what we want.” Blessed Jerome, explaining this principle, said:
“May man be what he is destined to be, and immediately the One Who created everything will send him everything.”
Blessed Augustine rightly exclaims:
“O, my God! You have so much concern for a single person, as though You had to take care of only him alone: as much for all, as for each one.”
And St. Gregory says:
“God takes care of each person individually as much as of everyone together, and concerns Himself over everyone as though over a single person.”
Thus God’s Providence takes care of thee, brother, just as though He had no other concerns. The great number of people in God’s care neither awes, nor burdens God’s Providence; for Him the care of a single person is the same as the care of countless millions of people. Just as before God took care of Noah and his family, or of the single Adam in paradise, so now God’s Providence takes equal care of all.