“It’s an Obedience”

Father David Epps's picture

In my reading over the past several months, I have noticed an interesting use of a familiar word. Much of this reading has been historical. I have been especially interested in the lives of Christians of past ages, especially those known for holiness of life.

In learning more about the lives of those considered “saints,” especially in the Romanian, Russian, and Greek Orthodox traditions, I have seen the word “obedience” crop up time and time again.

I don’t mean “obedience” in the sense that we normally think about it; i.e., “God demands obedience,” or “You are expected to walk in obedience.” In the monasteries of these traditions, the monks saw any assignment given to them as “an obedience.” One monastic in recalling his youthful days as a monk, said, “I was given the obedience of herding the sheep.”

We might use the word “job,” or “assignment,” or “task.” We might see the assignment as a “duty,” or “an obligation,” but these words were very seldom used.

Some monks had the obedience of baking the bread used for Holy Communion or for distribution among the poor. Others might have the obedience of caring for the elderly or infirm monks; yet, one might be given the obedience of serving at the altar, or the obedience of hearing confessions, or the obedience of caring for the holy vessels or the relics of the Church. In this monastic world, there was no division between secular and secular.

If the abbot or bishop gave an assignment, it was “an obedience,” regardless of the worldliness or sacredness of the task. If the monk sensed that God was speaking to him to do something, that, too, was “an obedience.” All was an obedience.

That is quite a foreign concept to most in the modern culture. We envision obedience as something to which children or dogs are subject. We, in our independence and isolation, see obedience as oppressive, restrictive, and something vile to be shaken off and discarded. We are too strong, too proud, and too self-reliant to see tasks and assignments as “an obedience.”

A Catholic priest once invited a number of Protestant ministers to lunch. During the discussion, several of the men wanted to question him about the vow of celibacy. He said, “That’s not as difficult as you might think. That is something that had to be settled before I became a priest. However, there is a vow that I took that is much more difficult to fulfill than the vow of celibacy.”

“What could be more difficult?” one minister asked.

“The vow I took to be obedient to my bishop. It is much more difficult to be obedient than to be celibate.”

Yet, for a Christian, it is an essential key to life. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The Old Testament states that “obedience is better than sacrifice,” and St. Paul instructed people to obey the secular and the spiritual authorities.

I think the monks understood quite well this key. In truth, for the Christian, there is no secular — everything is sacred.

Perhaps it’s one’s “obedience” to be a waitress, an office worker, a sanitation worker, a police officer, a firefighter, an accountant, a nurse, a teacher, a gardener, a soldier, a businessman, a deacon, a priest, a pastor, or a bus driver. If so, the “obedience” must be performed as unto God, without wavering or complaining, and it must be fulfilled to the very best of one’s ability and strength.

It is, I think, part of our fallen nature to disobey, to break vows, to murmur and complain, to take up an offense, to be full of pride, and to harbor resentment.

The old church hymn says to “trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” Last week there was something I didn’t really want to do but it was my job. I had to remind myself of what I had learned from the monks. It’s not just a job — it’s an obedience. Oddly enough, once I had that settled, there was joy in the task.

Forgive someone who hurt me? It’s an obedience. Be kind, even when people are nasty? An obedience. Give someone a second chance? Care for the poor or be a friend to the friendless? An obedience.

If taken to heart, nothing become mundane or meaningless. All becomes “an obedience.”

 [David Epps serves as a bishop to the Diocese of the Mid-South, encompassing Georgia and Tennessee. He is also the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8 and 10 a.m. Bishop Epps is also the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 2:57pm.

To the Pope, to the Ayatollah, to Muhammad, to anyone human, can be a terrible mistake, or it can be an easy way to become "comfortable."

Obedience to "shoveling manure," sounds a little stretchy to me.
Many novices and others have been betrayed by "obedience" to a person in authority rather than to a law or rule.

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