One of the many endearing stories of St. Seraphim of Sarov was a small act of devotion he engaged in during his years as a hermit. The area around his hermitage was designated by him with Biblical place-names. Thus one place was Jerusalem, another Bethlehem, etc. Thus did the great saint transform the trees and rocks and every path by taking it up into the Biblical story. His every action outside his hut was thus also an act of pilgrimage, a reminder of the mighty acts of God for our salvation.
He is not the only saint to have engaged in such naming, though I’ll not go into others here. Rather I want to draw my readers’ attention to this holy practice. In my previous post a comment was made asking how we might more fully encounter God in the creation about us, since the notion of a “secular” world is but a modern fiction and a contradiction of the Word of God and the Orthodox faith.
St. Paul gives this instruction:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Filling our heart with the knowledge of Scripture we bring out of the treasure of our heart the remembrance of God and of His blessing of creation. For everything we see we may know a Scripture or a phrase from the liturgy that fittingly describes its place in the kingdom of God. I could make a considerable study and begin to suggest possibilities – though the possibilities are endless.
St. Antony the Great (I believe it was), was once asked by a philosopher why he had no books. The great ascetic replied, “My book, O Philosopher, is the world.” If you knew the Psalter by heart (as St. Antony most certainly would have), you would never be at a loss for words of praise to the Good God for the creation in which you live.
This very practice runs throughout the liturgy of the Church itself. A priest vesting himself, recites passages of Psalms that relate in a meaningful way to each garment he puts on. His every step is surrounded by Scripture. No moment in the liturgy is bereft of the Word of God. Thus in the liturgy the Word of God inhabits the Church and the Church inhabits the Word of God. With our hearts properly trained we will see that the world around us is equally inhabited and that we may, as St. Paul says, “Always and for everything give thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”
It is a practice that is not accomplished all at once – but I commend it to you. Memorize verses of Scripture (especially the Psalms) and note their fitness for the world in which you live. The rocks, the trees, the streams, the sky, the clouds, all that we see has its place within those holy hymns. Drawing on the treasure of the heart, we can encounter God at all times, giving thanks for all things.