Though very late this year, summer with its warm, sunny days... It is just the right time to have a rest. But do many people enjoy their vacations without any harm for their bodies and souls? How can we “combine the pleasant and the useful” (as the Russian expression goes) during our summer vacation?
Priest Valery Dukhanin: “You should forget about your work on vacation, but not about the spiritual life”
As in other aspects of our lives, we Christians must maintain sobriety while on vacation. Rest is necessary for us. It helps us recover after intensive labors, gain strength and be able to start our work afresh.
Let us recall the words of St. Anthony the Great that he once said to a hunter: “If you stretch your bow beyond measure, it will break.” And we can add from ourselves that if you loosen your bow, it won’t function either. In fact, rest is fraught with the danger of excessive relaxation. This is why we should forget about work on vacation, but not the spiritual life. So, before opting for one or another form of entertainment, we should thoroughly think about any negative effects on our spiritual life it may entail.
In reality, the purpose of rest is to get rid of concerns and worries, and to restore inner strength and peace. If you have devoted all your resting days to drinking alcohol, you will inevitably return to work with a pounding headache. It is not a respite at all! If you have spent your vacation watching a drama series or action movies till late at night every day, you will not feel better at all. Sin always leads to over-fatigue. This is why we must never devote our weekends or vacations to sin.
The Church Fathers regarded rest as a remedy for regaining our physical and spiritual vitality and strength. And, as we know, one should take any medicine properly. For idleness teacheth much evil (Sir. 33:27). Changing your activity is at times the best way of resting. For example, working in the garden of your country-house, going on a pilgrimage trip, working at a monastery or a convent as a volunteer.
I know by my own experience that long trips to some health resorts are often accompanied by a sense of inner void. Although they enjoy themselves, these people nevertheless feel a lack of something inside them. If your doctor has prescribed you to lie on the beach and bathe in the sea because of your condition, then you surely should do it. But it is advisable not to devote all your time to these activities. It will be good if your plans involve visiting holy places so that your soul could be saturated, enrich itself and find peace. If you pay attention to this, you will find out that wherever you go you will have some holy places around you—it is something that will strengthen you spiritually. You are supposed to return home from your vacation in good spirits, with the restored health and inner peace; not with nervous exhaustion or, God forbid, the grave sin of adultery and its aftermath.
There are simple truths that we tend to forget. Periods of rest are given to us so that we could remember our nearest and dearest, spend more time with our families, take care of the people we hold closest, go to the country or to nature together, enjoy peace and quiet—far away from the problems that tormented us at work.
As far as I am concerned, I will be very frank and say that the best vacation for me and my family is going to my parents who live in the faraway village of Mayorskoye near the city of Orenburg [in the south central Russia on the Ural River]. There is a Church dedicated to Blessed Matrona of Moscow there nearby, and it houses a particle of the saint’s holy relics and a copy of her icon from the Convent of the Protection in Moscow—many people have received miraculous help from these shrines. I also travel to the village of Gorodishche, where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. There used to be a neglected church there; now this temple is resplendent in beauty and it has a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God “Quick to Hear”. In addition, we visit the holy caves there, which contain the St. Nicholas Monastery with an underground church, complete with long corridors and cells of the first monks. The monastery’s second abbot was Fr. Gerontius—our distant relative on my mother’s side—who was executed by a firing squad in the Soviet era. When I visit all these sites, my soul is filled with grace.
My soul truly blooms there! I don’t need any beaches or any trips to God knows where, since I have such bliss right here! I would personally prefer a spiritual bath in the flow of the grace of God to bathing in any basin of any luxury resort.
Priest Dimitry Shishkin: “The main rule is: prayer, prudence, and temperance.”
When it comes to long vacations, in my opinion, the main rule is the following: prayer, prudence, temperance. Prayer is essential under any conditions and circumstances. It helps us bear all these things in our minds: the Truth of God, our calling and mission and our dignity as Christians. It helps us guard our chastity, too. And this is precisely what prudence is about—when we choose appropriate kinds of recreation. True, there are lots of opportunities, but we can choose the most useful of them. For example, visiting holy places of the region, reading a good book, the lives of saints and so on… Maybe you are laughing? But try it! In the atmosphere of tranquility, without rush, slowly and thoughtfully, trying to comprehend what you are reading… And you will see the transformation of your vacation for the benefit of your soul.
And, finally, temperance is the ABC of spiritual life irrespective of our circumstances. I am not sure if I should explain to adults the risks and aftereffects of getting drunk, overeating and swearing. I think it is clear to everybody that alcoholism and debauchery are bad; one only has to observe these rules.
And there is one more thing I would like to say now. Being in nature (no matter in which region you are) brings you a lot of joy. I can never understand why people travel to the other end of the world only in order to lie on white sand and bathe in the azure blue sea. Isn’t it absurd and ridiculous? Isn’t it boring? It is understandable that you may do it for a couple of days… But then you must be bored to death with this! The natural beauty and diversity of our country is not inferior to any foreign health resort. True, this summer’s extremely cold weather has prompted many people to travel to the far south. But this year is an exception. Thus, a walk to a forest, fishing on a bank of a river or a lake, camp fire, a few days of country life far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, visiting holy places and sites associated with culture and history of our motherland—these are some excellent options for an Orthodox Christian’s recreational activities. May God bless you!
Priest Svyatoslav Shevchenko: “The best vacations are family vacations”
How to rest the right way? This question deals with the issue of general trends. For example, “they say the Jones have had a great time eating shish kebabs in their country-house.” Some “have fun” to such an extent that they are unable to lift their heads the following morning! So you need to make your rest a time of real rest. For this purpose you should choose an appropriate company for rest—people with whom you share common interests, have common subjects of conversation. The company should be rather small. Orthodox Christians should prefer the company of their co-religionists, whereas they may “slide downhill” under the influence of their very secular colleagues. To be brief, according to the Holy and Righteous King and Psalmist David: With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward (Ps. 18:26).
But the best vacations are family vacations. Only you and your nearest and dearest. Both children and adults will feel welcome and involved in the intimacy of their own family circle. Nothing brings the family members closer together more effectively than an active family pastime. Basketball, volleyball, tag game and many other kinds of pastimes. A change of environment, or the circle of contacts, or reading; having guided tours; going to cinemas; and attending high-quality theater productions are also good leisure activities. But the worst kind of rest is just plunking yourself on the sofa in front of the TV! In this case you will never feel rested and relaxed.