Drop and Give Me 40

At the end of January, on the Feast of Three Hierarchs, I began serving the Akathist to the Mother of God every day. My goal was to dedicate the 40 days before the Great Fast to the Theotokos. Sometimes I served the Akathist by itself, sometimes before or after Liturgy. Sometimes I served in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening – any time that would allow parishioners to come, though I did not expect a large crowd.

Quite naturally, parishioners asked why I chose to do this, and I deferred my answer until the end of the 40 days. Now, as we approach the final days of the Akathist and the beginning of the Fast, I hope to give an account.

A few months ago, before the Nativity, a friend stopped by with a few boxes of Orthodox books. This has become a common occurrence. When a parishioner passes away, their children bring their books, icons, and other religious articles to our parish. It’s often hard to find a home for these items. Even the rectory, which has its fair share of space for books, is nearing critical literary mass. But these books once belonged to a priest, and seeing that many of them were useful, I decided to make room. Sadly, most of these books are still waiting for me to open them for the first time.

One book stood out, though. I confess that it was not written by an Orthodox author, but by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His writings were a great help when I was a young atheist wrestling with Christianity. The copy of his greatest work, Either/Or, among the works of Schmemann and Hopko and Florovsky, caught my attention.

As I was thumbing through the pages of this massive book and “counting the cost” of reading it, a handwritten note fell out. The book itself was almost 20 years old, and the note could have been the same. It was scribbled in a barely legible hand.

The note was written on the priest’s personal stationery; it was dated November 9th, the commemoration of the Icon of the Mother of God, “She Who Is Quick To Hear.” I reproduce it here as best I can, and hope it suffices as an answer.

(N.B.: Words in italics were underlined in the note.)

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I realize I was tempted to despair by so many things, about the parish, about my family, about my own priesthood: What will be our future? How will I solve the (illegible) issue? What example am I setting for my children? Why am I always trying to fill three buckets with two buckets’ worth of water?

These questions and more brought to my knees. I could think only of my complete inability to respond worthily to all the gifts God had given me. I wished that I could do just one thing to glorify God, with no other reason or goal in mind. Not to impress anyone, or to escape embarrassment, or to fix (illegible), or to increase the census. I prayed that God would reveal some way that I could do this, despite my double-mindedness and (illegible).

Somehow it came to me: “Run to the Theotokos!” It sounded like a voice, but not the one in my head, which constantly went in circles. “Run to the Theotokos!” But how? Then I had the idea to serve the Akathist to the Theotokos for 40 days. And I thought: “Isn’t that excessive? Won’t it get boring? Will anyone come?”

But I had my answer, so I tried to be dead to these thoughts. I thought I would be serving by myself; parishioners always joined me. I thought I’d (illegible), but noticed something new and grace-filled every time. I thought it would be exhausting and I wouldn’t be able to complete all 40 days; I was renewed every time they raised their voices to sing, “O Victorious Leader…” and felt I had entered a different world…

Long-standing issues in the parish were resolved, though the outcomes were sometimes difficult. A small group of parishioners attended most, if not all, of the services, and did so joyfully. The temple continually smelled of incense. And I had peace doing the one thing the priest is supposed to do: intercede for his people.

Why is it so easy to forget deliverance from Pharoah’s slavery, water from the rock, manna from heaven, and all the rest? May God help me to remember these blessings even in my final days, to remember to run to Him and His saints in times of difficulty, trusting in His care and love for me, my family, and our parish.