Providence, Coincidence or Meaningful Decisions


Providence is mostly connected to theological reflection and generally associated to divine purpose. Coincidence on the other hand is normally thought of in terms of luck, fate, or chance. In some other instances coincidence has been thought of in the context of meaningful decisions, perhaps it is here where it ‘coincides’ with providence.[1] Ultimately, whatever our definitions [throwing in the ‘problem of evil’ to boot], both can be understood as forces of influence which determine destiny. In the Homeric writings ‘destiny’ is more coincidence with providence connected to ‘divine intervention’. Destiny is fate [moira] for Homer, it cannot be escaped. Divine intervention, however, can manipulate destiny even with the direct involvement of human agency.[2] The stories of Achilles and Hector as described in the Iliad are good examples of destiny as a combination of divine intervention and human agency. And this complex interaction between divine action and free will is a fundamental principle in the New Testament, accordingly Saint Paul writes to the Christian community in Philippi that both human responsibility and sovereign control are at work in the Christian life (Phil 2:12-13). What is it that drives us to understand something of these impenetrable forces and to try to put a name to them? An illuminating response from a contemporary piece of literature can be found in Christos Tsiolkas Dead Europe. The protagonist and not irrelevantly a photographer, the young Greek-Australian Isaac, reflects in one place when asked to use his camera to document events of the past, “[t]his desperate need to confirm the relevance of history…”[3] I did have significant problems with some of the content in Tsiolkas’ book, but the masterly use of time and space in this admittedly disturbing novel leave their mark.

Flemington Markets

Katina had turned nineteen and was in the second year of her BIT at the University of Technology Sydney and I at thirty-three had started on the MA Honours at Macquarie University. I needed to find some payable work, we were managing with the help of our parents and our scholarships but our personal finances were starting to run low. My pride and self-belief suffered a severe blow when I joined the ranks of those on unemployment benefits. I was now no longer someone who was greeted with the respect accorded to a professional, let alone a clergyman. It did not matter too much during the time when I was alone. I had already lived in this ‘post’ existence of mine for a number of years, but now what affected me would also have an effect on my younger wife [who as events would prove was blessed with wisdom beyond her years]. From Reverend or Father I was now a “number” doing the rounds knocking on doors and looking for work. This could be anything from stacking sheets of tin in warehouses to selling encyclopaedias in shopping malls. It was humbling, I have to confess, to be asked if I understood or knew how to complete the paperwork relating to my new found unemployment. This process of ‘deconstruction’ had begun a number of years earlier upon my return from Europe where I had worn my favourite black cassock for the last time. Things were made all the more grim for my former “employer” the Archdiocese would not supply me with a reference. The exception was the heroic Father Themistocles Adamopoulo who by this time was himself persona non grata.[4] I asked some other good men from there as well, but their support was qualified. They wanted to know beforehand “where” their references would be going. Walking away from the priesthood is viewed very dimly. Even by formerly trusted friends. And I did understand. As I still do. I thanked them but declined.

It took some weeks getting used to, but I began to love going to my new job at Flemington Markets, more exactly at Paddy’s Markets.[5] It was a time of long stretches of peace and a new type of learning. I was hired as a cleaner: toilets, floors, potato conveyers, fruit crates, large vats, giant coleslaw mixers, windows, walls, and more. If it had to be cleaned, I was the man! But this had a potentially serious health implication for I had been using some very harsh chemicals without any appropriate protection. For afterwards during my service in the Cypriot National Guard the medical investigator was concerned with the state of my lungs, there were some “shadows”, he said. I was told it might be tuberculosis or lung cancer. On my return to Australia I was given the all clear and in another place I will say more on this experience both in terms of divine intervention and human agency. I was also proud of my new ‘vestments’: a pair of weatherproof boots, gloves, overalls, and a yellow raincoat with a hood. The hours as well, they suited an old night-owl like me. Work started eleven at night and I would clock off the following morning around seven, it was not full-time so I had rest days in between. There were many things I enjoyed during those few months that I was able to stay at Paddy’s before I left to entirely focus on the first dissertation, the one dealing with the infamous “666” and the antichrist conundrum. Each night I looked forward to greeting my new ‘con-celebrants’: the Asians who would cut and prepare the salads; the sunburnt farmers; the busy stall owners; the testy truck drivers; and every now and then the pest-control fellow who would also moonlight as a Reiki Master.

The coffee-breaks were history classes in themselves. I heard many stories in that small kitchenette by well-weathered men who had seen much and just about done it all. These were tough but honest folk, people you could trust and where you quickly learnt to "call a spade a spade.” They reminded me of the abattoir workers I used to help load meat trucks in the early hours of the morning to supplement my allowance when I was a student in Thessaloniki. They were also not lacking in the stories department. During this time at the markets I would read whenever I could steal a few minutes during the morning breaks or in between my scheduled jobs. The Philokalia[6] and the Art of Prayer[7] were invariably within reach, together with the lives of two saints whose personalities had especially attracted me, Saints Seraphim of Sarov and John of Kronstandt. Yet again I would be taught that wonderful and encouraging lesson often heard on Mount Athos: it is not the place, but the Way. Other times it might be as simple as the positive energy good spirits [people] release into the air. 

Given my earlier life at the café this was not unfamiliar territory. I was in my element in these environments. I look back over more than thirty years later when I first put on the cassock and I realize it is with these ‘straight-talking’ people at places like Paddy’s and King Street, Newtown and in the side streets of Egnatia Odos, where I am most happy and comfortable. And I would have stayed at the markets for much longer if not for my pride “this perpetual nagging temptation” as C.S. Lewis has so well put it and because I knew in the words of one Martin Heidegger that I had “unfinished business”.

Of course, much had happened even before this time. I had spent a lengthy period in the Palestinian desert with the monastic community at the Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified [also known as Mar Saba] and had privately tutored and taught a number of subjects at secondary school. Later I will speak at length on these wonderfully significant experiences which would afterwards greatly impact upon my life. Providence, coincidence or meaningful decisions? To be at least prepared to walk through those doors which we might reckon belong to the right provenance. 



[3] Christos Tsiolkas, Dead Europe, (Vintage Books: Australia), 2005, 151.