A little fish for the brother
Not long ago I posted a reflection on how our habits of rationalism prevent us from recognizing the miracles that sometimes occur right in front of our noses.
I’m now reading a fine book, Elder Païsios’ Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters. The Elder, who reposed in 1994, had mixed feelings about the modern-day revival of monasticism on the Holy Mountain. He rejoiced in the influx of monks, but felt that much of the simplicity and unreserved faith of previous generations was being lost.
In his book, he returns several times to the thought that miracles were once common and taken as part of everyday life among the brethren, but that the growth of a modern, rationalistic spirit now actually prevented miracles from occurring so easily. In writing about this, the Elder relates one delightful story that I’m happy to pass along:
When I was a beginner at the Monastery of Esphigmenou, I was told by the God-fearing Elder Dorotheos that an elder of great simplicity used to come to help at the monastery infirmary. He thought that the Ascension, the feast which the monastery celebrates, was a great saint, like Saint Barbara,* and when he prayed with his komboskini [prayer rope] he used to say “Saint of God, intercede for us!” One day, a sickly brother had arrived at the infirmary, and since there wasn’t any nutritious food there, the elder hurried down the steps leading to the cellar, stretched his hand out of a window overlooking the sea and said, “Saint Ascension, please give me a little fish for the brother.” What a miracle! A large fish leapt out into his hand. He took it quite naturally, as if nothing had happened, and happily went off to prepare it so as to strengthen the brother.
— Athonite Fathers, pp. 17–18
So, as I read, I’m continuing to ponder the “unbelief is the air we breathe” theme of the earlier post. Do our mostly-unconscious habits of unbelief not only prevent us from recognizing the miracles around us, but actually stand in their way — hinder the flow of divine grace in our lives and in the world?
I remember the very sobering words from the Gospel, of how in Nazareth Christ “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Mt 13:58; emphasis added).
* This makes more sense in Greek than in English: Where we say “Saint Nicholas,” Greek (like most languages) says “Holy Nicholas”; hence the simple elder’s confusion in thinking that “Holy Ascension” is the name of a saint.