It was almost time for the noonday meal when Sr. Seraphima came in from working in the garden. She was washing her hands while I was drying the dishes.
“Were you able to finish the work you had in the garden?”
“Di’evhon… [Through the prayers…]” she answered.
I was perplexed by her response. A “Glory to God,” I could understand. A “With God’s help,” I could understand. But “Through the prayers,” I couldn’t quite understand.
She dried her hands and went off to help with something the sisters were doing.
I continued drying the utensils and tried to figure out why she would have said, “Through the prayers.”
I knew the prayer: “Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us,” which is said at the end of every Orthodox service. But I didn’t understand it in this context. Just as I was about to turn and ask another sister what “Di’evhon” conveyed in that circumstance, I thought: Of course, not merely ‘Through the prayers,’ but ‘Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers‘!
She was attributing the work she was able to accomplish not to her own strength, but to the strength that was given to her through the prayers of the Holy Fathers.
After this I started viewing my own successes in this light – accomplishing some task not merely through God’s help, but through the help of another’s prayer. This phrase became more frequently used in my speech and, even more importantly, in my thoughts. Not only is it a beneficial tactic for demonstrating that we are reliant on another’s prayer, it assists us in uprooting proud thoughts: Alone I can do nothing, but through my neighbour’s prayer, God grants me the strength and wisdom to succeed.
Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, may we be transformed by such simple but profound practices!
If you enjoyed this small lesson, then you will most likely enjoy my upcoming book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery which features both lighthearted stories and more spiritually-weighty lessons I learned from working and praying alongside Orthodox nuns in a handful of monasteries in Greece.