From the Editor—Friday Reflections

Been Under a Rock?

The Friday Reflection by James M. Kushiner

January 15th, 2021

Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Paul the Anchorite, Diego Velazquez, ca. 1634


magine facing a world of great turmoil, violence, even death threats. Saying, "Beam me up, Scotty!" doesn't seem to work.

One wealthy, radical youth named Paul, to escape the intensifying persecutions of the Emperor Decius, retired to a home out in the country. Upon discovering that his brother-in-law plotted to hand him over to the persecutors, Paul left all behind and fled in fear to the desert. Jerome wrote an account of his life.

Paul of Thebes preceded Anthony of Egypt into the desert. Anthony, at 90, was informed about this hermit Paul who at 113 was "a much better man than he." Anthony, thinking no one had surpassed him, had to meet him. He found Paul, but had to persuade him to open his door. Then, they exchanged a holy kiss, and gave thanks to God. Paul asked Anthony,

"How fares the human race? Are new homes springing up in the ancient cities? What government directs the world? Are there still some remaining for the demons to carry away by their delusions?"

This was 342, not long after the death of Constantine. Christianity was not only practiced legally; it was favored. What changes Paul had missed!

While Paul had escaped to the desert to save his skin, Jerome's story reveals how he regarded his station after years spent in solitude and fervent prayer:

Thus conversing they noticed with wonder a raven which...laid a whole loaf of bread before them. They were astonished, and when it had gone, "See," said Paul, "the Lord truly loving, truly merciful, has sent us a meal. For the last sixty years I have always received half a loaf: but at your coming Christ has doubled his soldier's rations."

Like good soldiers under command, the prayer warriors regarded their daily bread as a gift from their master and commander.

Accordingly, having returned thanks to the Lord, they sat down together on the brink of the glassy spring.

They were grateful, but a dispute broke out between them.

At this point a dispute arose as to who should break the bread, and nearly the whole day until eventide was spent in the discussion. Paul urged in support of his view the rites of hospitality, Antony pleaded age. At length, it was arranged that each should seize the loaf on the side nearest to himself, pull towards him, and keep for his own the part left in his hands. Then on hands and knees they drank a little water from the spring, and offering to God the sacrifice of praise passed the night in vigil.

The "sacrifice of praise" is something Jerome assumed his readers would know. Prayers of the Eucharist? If we were encouraged to pass the night (or day) in vigil, how would we do it? To Jerome, this would have meant spending the time in prayer and praise, like Paul and Silas, from the Psalms committed to memory.

On January 15, 2021, some may feel like going into hibernation to wake up later and ask, "How fares the human race?" If only we could be spared hearing "the news" which increasingly, it seems, consists of crafty formulas of fact, falsehood, and propaganda to mislead others to suit the purposes of those who desire power over others.

We don't have the ascetical luxury of a hermit, yet we can, by the choices we make, filter out much of the noise. Ending disputes and self-righteous thinking among us requires a firm anchor in the soul, the indwelling of Christ. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." Rule means to arbitrate, act like a judge.

And Christians also have hope, and not as a political slogan about earthly ends:

...set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:21) your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; (1 Peter 3:15)

Where is our hope? Do we feel our hope decrease or increase when a political candidate wins or loses? If so, then what is that hope?

If nothing in all God's creation can separate us from the love of Christ, can persecution, disputes, or news separate us from our hope in Christ? We should say not, and stay at our posts, for the demons are always looking to delude the unwary.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.