How to seek truly new things. Commentary and suggestions regarding acts 17:21

Commentary on the verse: For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.

 How to seek truly new things.

For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21)


This is from the reading for the 6th Tuesday of Pascha, Acts 17:19-28. The Holy Apostle Paul, blessed by the wisdom of God to be able to "give an answer"[1], capitalized on this tendency of those in Athens to bring their attention to their "unknown God", and to enlighten them regarding the "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands".[2] There were many converts that day, including St Dionysius, the Aereopagite, who would become a great saint.


St Paul was successful because he was anointed, and persuaded men who were ready to hear the truth in a face to face encounter. I daresay he would be hard pressed to have such success with people in the modern age, who also strive to spend "their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing". We moderns who have modern technology and connectivity can hear some new thing every moment of the day, at opportune and inopportune times, and the vast majority of the new things we learn, via email, our smart phones, trashy magazines, talk radio and all of our social networking is actually not new at all. It is mostly a curious hodgepodge of time wasters, the odd, the interesting, the frivolous and depraved, and almost none of it is useful to our salvation in any way.


I have a smart phone now, after calling them stupid phones for a long time. They are useful devices, and especially the texting feature saves me time, gets me *important* news that directly applies to my family and pastoral work, and organizes my appointments. It may even get somebody to come to church, since I use it to announce services.


The problem is that this phone, and all the other devices we swim in daily, makes it very easy to veg out with useless (at its best) information, and to avoid prayer and sobriety. As with any tool, it can be used improperly.


As a pastor, I see that very few people have an attention span greater than that of a hummingbird. They flit around every day, and do not have the legs, attention or desire to stand in a beautiful, long service, or hear a theological sermon, or read even a line of Scripture in the day. I can see why the big box churches are growing. They feed the addiction of people for shallow information, entertainment and video closeups. They do not challenge because that kind of stuff takes too much time and effort! Let's not kid ourselves. Our Orthodox churches do not have two big TV screens above their altars, but our people have just as many big screen TVs in their houses as anybody else.

I think we must fight this tendency on our modern world to feed ourselves with the trivial. All the "new" things that we see in status updates, tweets, email messages, and all the rest are really old things. The old news is that it is difficult to pray and to be sober and to remain "in the spirit", with watchfulness and attention. Almost everything in the world takes us away from this condition, and we moderns are particularly at risk, because there are distractions that we carry in our pocket or that sit in our rooms or backpacks that are unique to our technological culture.


The preacher said that there is nothing new under the sun.. This is an apt saying worthy of all acceptation, when it refers that anything that takes us away from God. Of course, with God, all things are new, and if we learn of Him, then were are truly learning new things.


Let us focus on some old things before we seek new and useless things.


I have some ideas. Who will join me? If we can do 1 "new" thing from this list, we will be profited. Perhaps incorporating all of them is just too tough, after all, we are weak and easily distracted, addicted creatures. I would love to hear some ideas from you.


1. Pray in the morning before anything else. That includes checking our email, our Facebook page, our texts. At least do the "Four Bows"[3].


2. Pray for others before anything else. This is too easy to put off and forget. It is very hard, and there is nothing "new" about it at all. It is the most important, and the most difficult time of the day for me. I have written a lot about this because it is important. I wish I knew 20 years ago what I know now.


3. Read something holy before anything useless. I think the daily readings are a good place to start. The Psalter is also important. It will teach you how to pray. I read the 17th Kathisma every morning. I recommend you try it.


4. Limit the times you check your email, Facebook page, etc. This is a hard one. Perhaps we can modify this one a bit. Force yourself to pray before you check it. Maybe a psalm, or the Prayer of the Optina Elders, or a "rope" of the Jesus prayer. You would pray when you perceive danger, correct? There be dragons out there in cyber space, and they are trying to steal something precious from you – time, and with it, sobriety and watchfulness.


5. Go to church, already! You have no good, logical reason to not go, and no good logical reason to leave early. Admit it! The problem with this suggestion is that the vast majority of you who rarely or incompletely go to church do not have the patience to let this practice bring fruit in your lives. Going to 10 vigils in a row will not make you an appreciably better person, but after a hundred or two, you will feel the effects. Are you willing to make this commitment, and "endure to the end"? History says that few will, but you can determine YOUR future. You can choose to do a truly "new" thing, and become truly renewed.


6. Get RID of your TV service. Especially do this if you spend more on it than you give to the church! Who are you trying to kid? If you spend more on entertainment than on God, then you value entertainment more than God. In any case, you can get a lot of this junk for free online.  If people gave to the church what they spend on themselves to be able to watch American Idol (aptly named!), then we would not have such small, poorly attended churches, and poor, overworked priests. That is a new fact for you!


Okay, are you going to do anything new in your life after if you have read this far? May God help you!


Priest Seraphim Holland 2012     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Luke 12:11-12  And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say:  (12)  For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.

[2] Acts 17:24

[3] Here is a talk on the Four Bows – A short talk on the four bows

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