GARLINGTON: Riches To Rags

A disturbing (but unfortunately all too common) scene developed in NYC last weekend:

A social media influencer’s giveaway in Union Square Park Friday quickly descended into chaos, with the young attendees throwing bottles, jumping on vehicles and screaming ‘F–k the PD” — as NYPD cops were assaulted and some eventgoers were nearly trampled.

Twitch gamer Kai Cenat, who has over 20 million followers on the gaming platform, scheduled the real-world meet-up at 3:30 p.m. and planned to give away PlayStation 5s, computers, microphones and other gaming accessories.

But within a half-hour, the crowd of nearly 1,000 kids broke down into chaos with the attendees tossing cones and brawling.

The New York Post via Newswars.com.

There are reasons this sort of thing keeps happening.  We have become much too one-sided in our focus in the US and in the West in general:  We have reduced life to a pursuit of money and acquiring stuff.  The generally accepted theory of government gives credence to this.  Per John Locke, James Madison, and other modern political philosophers of the West, it exists mainly to protect the property of citizens.  Even thinkers like Marx aren’t far different, using government as a way to redistribute property to the proletariat.

Contemporary Western heroes, too, reinforce this mindset:  They are often men like John D. Rockefeller, men who are exemplars of the ‘rags to riches’ story, who rose from poor beginnings to become extraordinarily wealthy.

Virtues like thrift and a good work ethic are commendable, but, as we are increasingly seeing, they are not enough to ward off the moral sickness that is convulsing the body and soul of the West.  Western society needs a bit of balance in her view of what constitutes ‘the good life’.  To that end, instead of exalting solely the ‘rags to riches’ stories, some effort ought to go into the praise and exaltation of the lives of those who traded their earthly riches for rags so that they might attain the greatest treasure of all – union with God Himself.

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St. Theodora, a 17th-century saint of Romania, is an excellent example of the latter.  She left everything – possessions, family, physical comfort, etc. – in order to pursue God.  The following are some bits and pieces from her holy life:

Saint Theodora of Sihla, who is one of the greatest of Romania’s women ascetics, was born in the village of Vânatori in Neamts County in the first half of the seventeenth century, and was one of the two daughters of Stephen Joldea and his wife.

. . . they married her to a young man who was working in their vicinity, and who went frequently to venerate the holy sites. After entering into a lawful marriage, they lived together in her husband’s house.

Since Saint Theodora and her husband did not have any children, they both decided to enter monasteries in the Buzau valley. Her husband went to the Skete of Poiana Mărului, where he was tonsured with the name Eleutherios. He was also found worthy of ordination to the holy priesthood. Saint Theodora also received the monastic tonsure in the Skete of Poiana Mărului. In just a few short years, she advanced in obedience, prayer, and asceticism, acquiring the grace of unceasing prayer of the heart. She also had to endure many temptations from the Enemy.

When the Buzau valley was invaded by the Turks, Saint Theodora fled to the mountains with her Spiritual Mother, Schema-nun Paisia. They lived for several years in fasting, vigil and prayer, enduring cold, hunger, and other trials from the devil. When her Spiritual Mother fell asleep in the Lord (sometime between 1670 – 1675), Saint Theodora was led by God to the mountains of Neamț.  . . .

Father Paul left the nun on Mount Sihla, blessing her before he returned to the Sihăstria Skete. Saint Theodora lived in that cell for thirty years, glorifying God. Strengthened with power from on high, she vanquished all the attacks of the Enemy through patience and humility. She never left the mountain, and never saw another person except for Father Paul, who visited her from time to time to bring her the Spotless Mysteries of Christ and the supplies she needed in order to survive.

Saint Theodora made such progress in asceticism that she was able to keep vigil all night long with her arms lifted up toward heaven. When the morning sun touched her face, she would eat some herbs and other vegetation to break her fast. She drank the rain water which she collected from a channel cut into the cliff, which is still known as Saint Theodora’s spring. After Father Paul’s repose, she remained solely in God’s care.

. . .

As Saint Theodora grew old, she was completely forgotten and there was no one to care for her. Placing all her hope in God, she continued her spiritual struggles, and reached great heights of perfection. When she prayed her mind was raised up to Heaven, and her body was lifted up off the ground. Like the great saints of earlier times, her face shone with a radiant light, and a flame came forth from her mouth when she prayed.

Eventually her clothes became mere rags, and when her food ran out, she was fed by birds just as the Prophet Elias (July 20) was. The bread that they brought to her came from the Sihăstria Skete. Seeing the birds come to the Skete and then fly away with pieces of bread in their beaks, the Hegumen sent two monks to follow them, thinking that some ascetic was living there and that God was providing food for him. Night fell as they walked toward Sihla, and they lost their way in the woods. They decided to wait for daylight, and so they began to pray. One of them climbed a tree and looked for a place where someone might be living. Suddenly, they saw a bright light rising up into the sky, and went to investigate. As they approached, they saw a woman shining with light and levitating above the ground while she prayed.

. . .

The next day at dawn, Father Anthony went to Sihla with the deacon and two other monks. When they found Saint Theodora, she was praying by a fir tree in front of her cave. She made a Confession of her entire life to Father Anthony, and then she received the Holy Mysteries of Christ and gave her soul to God. Her last words were, “Glory to God for all things.’ The monks buried Saint Theodora in her cave with great reverence sometime during the first decade of the eighteenth century.

News of her death spread quickly, and people came from all over to venerate her tomb. Her holy relics remained incorrupt, and many miracles took place before them. Some kissed the relics; others touched the reliquary, while others washed in her spring. All who entreated Saint Theodora’s intercession received healing and consolation.

. . .

Saint Theodora’s relics were taken to the Kiev Caves Monastery between 1828 and 1834. There she is known as Saint Theodora of the Carpathians. Our Venerable Mother Theodora was glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church on June 20, 1992.

The inscription of Saint Theodora’s scroll [on her icon—W.G.] reads: “Life is blessed for those in the wilderness as they fly upon the wings of Divine love” (Sunday Matins, Hymn of Degrees, first Antiphon).

This deep spiritual dimension of life is more or less ignored in the modern West.  Nearly all effort is poured into improving the physical condition of man, while hardly any effort at all is made to improve his spiritual condition.  But, as August 5th in NYC shows us, that is a destructive path.  The cure is well within our reach, however.  We simply need parents, churches, teachers, politicians, etc., to give people – young and old – the lives of great Christians like St. Theodora of Sihla, St. Nektarios of Aegina, St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, and others to read/watch and meditate upon.

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