One of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.”
—sayings of the desert
Toil is something most of us would prefer to avoid. Yet Abba John say that toil defines the monk, and Christians are defined by the work of monks. The monks are our prime examples of Christian living, because they have given all to follow Christ. I am sure that the “Father” who asked this question of John didn’t get the answer he expected. After all, monks are holy and just sit around getting holier all day long.
What is this toil?
I believe it is the keeping of the most important command of God, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Difficulties and toil abound when we seek to love others as we love ourselves. First, we may not really love ourselves. Many people are self-loathing and take it out on the rest of the world. God created us in His own image and for good; we must learn to believe that before we can accomplish anything. For quite a few people, that is toil. Second, we must believe that God loves everyone, and they are His special creation. Without that belief we find ourselves feeling very superior to a whole lot of people. The only way to put that aside is toil. Such toil puts us on our knees seeking His face so that we may more clearly see the faces of others.
All of this is toil – work, labor, drudgery but they are the calling of the Christian. We are to love God, ourselves and others. That is our task, and it is not an easy one.
Prayer Thought – Lord help me to put toil in its proper perspective so that I might see you in all of your glory.
In the early stages of the development of Christian development it was ridiculed and refuted as too mysterious and not liable to be understood by the human mind. The Church father Clement and his followers had the challenge of presenting Christianity as a form of philosophy without ever compromising the essence of the Christian faith. These early defenders of the faith worked against a twofold danger. While they genuinely tried to resolve the pagan antagonisms they experienced because they were Christians, it was their own fellow believers who were also hostile for any sort of theological compromise. (sounds familiar )
One of these early church peers observed, it seemed that a chance of any peace between the Greeks and Christians was virtually impossible:
On the one hand, the completely negative attitude of many uneducated Christians towards Greek philosophy prevented Christianity from assuming a scientific and philosophical character, and thus limited greatly its chances of success; on the other hand, the pagan world did not refrain from attacking the new religion.
However, the Alexandrian fathers found a solution. It was contained in the mission of the Alexandrian school and its teachers to develop once and for all a coherent synthesis of Greek science and religion. The result was Christian philosophy, which, Clement realized, was the only hope of joining the pagan and Christian parties together under one rational and acceptable Christian religion. While those in the like of Tertullian renounced the remolding of Christian doctrine to fit philosophical ideals, the Alexandrian party became a pioneer in both its fresh theological endeavors and in its success to finally spread the Christian faith among the intellectual circles of imperial society. Clement of Alexandria, one of the most revered deans of the Catechetical School for his philosophical theology and intellectual acumen, was one of the foremost figures who succeeded in uniting the missions of religion and science.
Our 21st century challenge is to reignite the dynamic dialogue that existed at the time of Clement- a dialogue that brought all parties together to explore the great mysteries of life. Such a dialogue could transform the mission of the church and revitalize it as a bastion of thinking and enlightenment to the world. We must battle the same uneducated and fearful bias that existed in the time of Clement, for by doing so, we open up a great avenue of opportunity for the gospel.
“We are often indifferent to our brethren who are distressed or upset, on the grounds that they are in this state through no fault of ours. The Doctor of souls, however, wishing to root out the soul’s excuses from the heart, tells us to leave our gift and to be reconciled not only if we happen to be upset by our brother, but also if he is upset by us, whether justly or unjustly; only when we have healed the breach through our apology should we offer our gift.”
The words of this father of the church take us to the heart of the Christian journey and demand our attention. We are in the midst of many upsetting and unsettling situations throughout our lives. This wise church Father instructs us not to look for blame or fault, but to rather take action to correct the situation. The most difficult challenge in life is to put aside our feelings for the sake of someone else. A Christian’s foremost goal is to develop a kindness of heart, because from the heart all else flows. If we have a good heart, we can accomplish much. This idea of reconciliation with someone who is upset by us, justly or unjustly, is a hard saying. However, the spirit of these words is that we should do all that we can to right the uncomfortable condition. The father tells us to offer our gift. I have pondered, “What is the gift?” The only conclusion I can offer is that it is the peace of Christ. His peace reconciles all hurts and ills of life. His peace was brought down to earth and manifested by his reconciling death and resurrection.