The Importance of Waiting


I took some time early this morning to look through a small devotional book on the Church year. It interested me that it looked at Christmas and Theophany, and then immediately went to Great Lent. It was as though these times of the year immediately abut one another. And of course they do, to a certain extent – but not without the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

It seemed again the commentator was in a hurry – first there’s Christmas – then’s there’s Lent. “Gentlemen! Start your engines!” But this is not the way the Church tells time. There is much hustle and bustle, and a child is born. I remember that our first born child came earlier than expected, so there was a great deal of rushing about the house. But a child is born, and suddenly things slow down; for a child, thank God, still lives at a human pace. They eat and sleep, etc., at a fully human pace, and it cannot be sped along. I smile sometimes (and maybe the adults are correct) when parents have their infant listening to Mozart – speeding their brains along – though I doubt it.

There is a time when the infant has come and things properly slow down. In the Church, things slow down and we wait (traditionally 40 days) for the Churching of the Mother and the Churching of the Child. These days, such things are often sped up (but should they be?).

In our Christian life, regardless of our age, we encounter Christ, and things slow down. Not because we lack intelligence, but because we possess too much speed. We slow down because human life was never meant to be lived at the pace we take it today. It is important that we are clear on the object of our waiting – and though He is everywhere present and filling all things – He still calls us to wait. Let patience have her perfect work.

Or, as the monks were told, “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

Virtues are acquired very slowly. In many cases they take years. We cannot hurry up and learn patience.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


24 responses to “The Importance of Waiting”

  1. ioannisfreeman Avatar

    The Gospel appointed for the Divine Liturgy today (03 Feb 08 — Matt. 25: 14-30) concerning the talents came to mind as I read Father Stephen’s reflection on the theme of slowing down.

    The parable presents a master rewarding “servants” who return something on the master’s investment, after the Master returns from a journey. In short, the servants, who multiply their talents, are rewarded with even greater responsibilities. Having been faithful in a little, the master rewards them with more talents for which they must become responsible stewards.

    Imagine that the talent of time must be multiplied, if one were to carry the analogy of the parable to a discussion of slowing down.

    Certainly time is one of the talents that God gives all of us. Parents teach their children not to waste this talent of time. “Killing time” becomes a phrase that captures aversion to slowing down, and even casts a dim light on “doing” nothing. I suppose that parents have in mind time as a talent wasted, if children watch TV and fail to finish homework “on time.” Drawing on the analogy of the talents in the parable, wasting the talent of time could land the poor chap doled one talent by the Master and nothing to show but the singular talent in return, the full wrath of the Master when he comes back to town.

    How we spend time, or invest in time, is congruent with the theme of slowing down. Eknath Easwaran, who is a meditation author once wrote, “…In spite of all our technological advances and material prosperity, we have no peace of mind and live in fear and anger in the midst of increasing violence. We are caught in the lurid dream that the pursuit of pleasure will lead us to joy, the pursuit of profit will lead us to security, and most of us have no other purpose in life than this driving urge to bring about our own private fulfillment even if it is at the expense of other persons, races, or countries.” In my view, the intent or goal of how to spend time is at issue in today’s Gospel.

    If the intent is to retreat into stillness where communion with God is wordless, then the retreat would not be considered as an example of what Easwaran calls “private fulfillment.” It would be a wise investment. However, if the intent is to multi-task for the sake of simply making greater profit, then multi-tasking is yet another example of killing time. All that I can see when I multi-task is that I end up killing time when I feel overloaded by tasks. In short, nothing gets done then.

    Doing one thing at a time is hard work for me; yes, the virtue of focused attention is earned slowly for me. So what does the Master from Matthew’s parable give me in return for my investment of time in doing one thing at a time? The Master gives me a slower pace of my heart beat, improved relationships with my brothers in Christ, and an inner sense of belonging right where I am planted. The cell of my mind can teach me what I need to learn if I do one thing at a time and do it with intent to “…count my days that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.”

  2. ioannisfreeman Avatar

    My child arrived just the other day
    He came to the world in the usual way
    But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
    He learned to walk while I was away
    And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
    He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
    You know I’m gonna be like you”
    –first verse of “Cat’s in the Cradle,” lyrics by Harry Chapin

    Missed opportunities to release desire for intimacy are stories of all of our lives. Regretting these opportunities, now missed, might be God’s voice urging us to slow down. If today we heed the voice to slow down, then the regret had a profound effect.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    I was forced to slow down today by an injury to a nerve in my shoulder. It is getting better, but I’ve spent the better part of the day in bed. Just slowing down, doing little, including the blog. Tomorrow may be slow as well.

  4. elizabeth Avatar

    Fr. bless!

    thank you for this important reminder – something i find that i as a convert often forget or do not understand in the first place is that spiritual growth in the church is real and takes time… a holy monk has told me to, as it were, to enjoy the journey and (i have been orthodox going on 4 years) that 4 years is not a long time… (he said 40 years maybe, but not 4). 🙂

    hope you feel better soon! i will pray for you this evening 🙂

  5. Deb Seeger Avatar

    Reading this I see how ridiculously childish I am… but I, like 99% of all Americans, are microwavable for action. This posting painfully hit the truth. I have been waiting for 6 years and it might has well have be 6 decades, which has been incredibly maddening. I am ready to have my ears tickled for abit or at least find an alcove of respite. UGH. though you meant this not to be a heavy load to carry, I find it so.

  6. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Staying in your cell is the hardest thing in the world. As one who is now leading a semi-monastic existence, I can attest to that. Tell me this, why do we celebrate the birth of Christ, then the baptism, and then the meeting? Traditionally the baptism takes place at 40 days. Why wasn’t Christ baptized as an infant? Is that because He was born into the world without sin and John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance? Have you read The Winter Pascha? What do you think of it?

  7. Joji Avatar

    The slowing down or waiting is to be understood in the context of God at work in our lives and in contrast with our mad rush to achieve greater heights. God would ask us to slow down when we are too eager to make things work our way. He may slow us down with sicknesses, obstacles, or problems and expect us to turn to Him and Him alone rather than depending on our intelligence, experience and skill. This in no way opposes the concept of redeeming the time. We are asked to do our best at all times and do it listening to God’s Holy Spirit.
    God Bless!

  8. jacob Avatar

    Why wasn’t Christ baptized as an infant?

    I suspect that infant baptism was not a Jewish custom/practice, whereas infant [male] circumcision was.

    I don’t know if the Essenes/Qumran sect practiced infant baptism, but since they were celibate, they probably didn’t have too many infants. 🙂

  9. Jeff Avatar

    I just sent this link to my wife, as we were fretting over the entrenched behaviors of one particular child. After reading this, I was thinking that all we can do is pray, teach, and hopefully role model the correct behavior. Instead we tend to yell and fret, and I wonder if the fretting is the worst part. We fret, because we do not have the patience to wait, nor the faith to actually live the life we want our children to.

  10. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Jacob, you are funny. So why are Christians encouraged to marry as opposed to be celibate? I thought that the Christian ideal was celibacy? Besides, we have enough people already. We don’t need anymore.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is not the case that we have enough people. St. John Chrysostom thought that in the 4th century and there was obviously room for more. There will be room for whom we make room.

  12. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Forgive me, I disagree, but that’s ok, my disagreement will do nothing. I know St. John thought that, that is why I said that. We may make room for people, meanwhile the creation suffers. I advocate birth control.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    So artisticmisfit, what is your modest proposal to reduce the excess population?

  14. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Voluntary Human Extinction. You can google it. There is a website. Its not my idea. But I support it. Also the Green party, of which I am a member. And Planned Parenthood, which my dad taught me to support, and which apparently I still do, morally. Those are my three suggestions for now. And yes, I am still an Orthodox Christian.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The next person born may be the catylst for your salvation simply because of a single smile that touches your heart or a single pain you choose to sooth. Thorton Wilder was right in his play “Our Town”. We go through life ignoring people for ourselves and for things. We miss the precious delight of sharing God’s life with one another. We struggle alone when we don’t have to and add to another’s struggles as we refuse to recognize the person right next to us. I did not mean to add to your struggle, forgive me.

    We are not separate from the rest of creation, in a sense, it was made for us and we for it. It is a demostration of God’s love that through us, He is able to penetrate His creation and know it in the most intimate fashion. When we love, really love, just one person, we begin to love all others because we are not isolated, alone and autonomous. All things we do are felt in each heart sooner or later. There is no human being who is not wanted, for we are wanted by God. Because of that, it is impossible for human beings to become extinct. Even if we die, yet we still live sustained by His grace, bathed in His mercy separated from Him only by the hardness of our own hearts.

    There are times when we, as mere human beings, show our love most clearly by leaving our beloved alone until she cries out for us. Even if she never does, not allowing ourselves to be embittered or disappointed rejoicing in her still. So Christ waits in infinite patience, His soft and gentle breath rustling past our ears if we were to allow our selves to know it, whispering His love for us until we close our ears to the din of the world and our own passions and turn into His embrace.

  16. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Michael, forgive me, but you are way off the mark. I don’t ignore anyone. No more people need to be born for the sake of my salvation. That’s nonsense. Maybe we are all wanted by God, but I don’t agree with the way human beings treat the animals and the plants, so I guess I disagree with God on this one, according to you. I am a woman, not a man, so my beloved would not be a woman. That’s a very endearing post, but it doesn’t move me, I apologize. I also don’t think its wise if we argue on Fr.’s blog. You are welcome to use mine and I can email you if you like. Ok? Thanks.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    You’re right, it’s not a discussion for this blog. I understand the positions you’ve stated, but they are seriously contrary to the teachings of the faith, however well-intentioned. But I know that you know that. God keep you.

  18. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I don’t know that they are contrary to the teachings of the faith, but I am not going to argue my case on your blog out of respect for you. As you know, I have already gotten in enough trouble, and I am not going to fight. Its wholly inappropriate in the eyes of the church. I don’t know that its inappropriate in the eyes of God, but I have no authority on which to speak about God, in the eyes of the church.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar


    God bless your humility. I am deeply moved by your respect – truly.

  20. Fr. Hermogen Avatar
    Fr. Hermogen

    Just a thought about the end of Theophany and the beginning of the Fast:

    For those of us who follow the old calendar, Theophany really does lead right into the Triodion. In 2010, for example, Zacchaeus Sunday will occur before Theophany, the Publican and the Pharisee will occur before the Leavetaking, and the feast of the Meeting will fall on Clean Monday, and will therefore be moved to Forgiveness Sunday so as not to disturb the first days of the Fast — the only time in the Typicon when a Great Feast is moved to another day.

    So for us, we really do move straight from Theophany into preparation for Lent. It would be the same on the new calendar if Pascha were to be calculated according to the new reckoning as well. The juxtaposition of “new” Theophany and “old” Pascha obscures the link somewhat.

    And this connection is both appropriate and intentional — after all, part of the reason we fast for forty days in Lent is to commemorate the Lord’s forty-day fast after His baptism.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    My beloved Fr. Hermogen,

    It is very much as you say. The “mixed calendar” that is used by those of us under the “New Calendar” creates many anomalies as compared to what the Typicon actually invisages. I feel most bereft that on the New Calendar we will never know what it is for the Annunciiation to coincide with Pascha itself. I am glad that you are able (even in the OCA) to preside according to the Old Calendar and see all of these mysteries work and display themselves as they were originally intended. I completely expect for you to share those with me in years to come! May God, in His own time and good pleasure, make it possible for all His Orthodox children to know a single calendar that will reveal the wonders of the Typicon for us. Christ is in our midst! my brother!

  22. […] FR. STEPHEN– What Are You Waiting For? The Importance of Waiting…. […]

  23. Steve Avatar

    May God, in His own time and good pleasure, make it possible for all His Orthodox children to know a single calendar that will reveal the wonders of the Typicon for us. Christ is in our midst! my brother!

    Aptly put, Fr. Stephen!

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