With God’s Help

421acbf151ab8-76-1A brother became tired of his community and the behavior of others often annoyed him. He decided, “I will go off somewhere by myself. Then I will neither talk nor listen and shall be at peace. This anger I feel will depart.” He went out into the desert and made his home in a cave.

One day he placed a water jug he had filled on the ground. It rolled over, spilling its content. He filled it again and it fell over again. When this happened the third time, he became enraged, took hold of the jug and smashed it against the rocks.

Calming down, he realized that anger had mocked him. “Here I am by myself and anger has beaten me. I will return to the community. Wherever we live, we need to work at being patient with God’s help.

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This story is not unlike the desert saying: “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

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Our faith is meant to be lived out in community. The calling to be a hermit is extremely rare, and only for those who so carry the life of the community within themselves that their absence only allows them greater time to pray for the community.

The community is also the most common object of our sin and the most common excuse or occasion for our sin. Love, forgiveness, kindness, sincerity – all of the virtues of community are easily the most difficult. It is common to refer to the parish Church as a “hospital.” It is, of course. This common saying can also lead to the mistaken notion that the priest is therefore the doctor and that he has some responsibility to heal us. This is a prescription for a dysfunctional parish.

The priest is a patient as much as any other parishioner. As a patient he has certain responsibilities. He extends medicine and bears witness to our confessions. He prays for our healing and counsels us as best he can. But Christ is the Great Physician. He alone heals. The cause of our disease is the broken state of our communion with Christ. In such a broken state our communion with those around us carries multiple symptoms of our illness.

Thus, we are constantly cautioned in Scripture to be patient with one another; to forgive one another; to bear one another’s burdens; to recognize the true nature of our communion with the body of Christ.

But it is the only hospital God has given us and our healing is there to be found.

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16 Responses to “With God’s Help”

  1. Mary Says:

    A nice photo of Fr. Justin and St. Maximos parish. 🙂

    I used to want to live in the mountains, or somewhere without neighbors too close by. Now my priority is to be within the community of my parish. Is it wrong for an Orthodox Christian to separate himself from the world, for those of us in the world? By that I mean, is it wrong to desire to live off by oneself, for “peace and quiet”, instead of in (or at least close to) a neighborhood?

  2. Mary Says:

    Also, thank you for the comment about our priests. I love my priest very much, and I think that I often think of him in a way that is putting too much of a burden on him. Thank you for the reminder that only Christ is the Great Physician. I do pray for my priest every day, for what little that is worth.

  3. Twitter Trackbacks for With God’s Help « Glory to God for All Things [fatherstephen.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] With God’s Help « Glory to God for All Things fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/with-gods-help – view page – cached A brother became tired of his community and the behavior of others often annoyed him. He decided, “I will go off somewhere by myself. Then I will neither talk nor listen and shall be at peace…. (Read more)A brother became tired of his community and the behavior of others often annoyed him. He decided, “I will go off somewhere by myself. Then I will neither talk nor listen and shall be at peace. This anger I feel will depart.” He went out into the desert and made his home in a cave. (Read less) — From the page […]

  4. A sinner Says:

    Father, I know that every word you say is true. I also know from experience the reality that for some categories of people, like older, single, disabled and/or childless people, the biggest burden to bear can be the burden of having no one, absolutely no one, even at church, who has the time and inclination to talk to you beyond pleasantries, let alone bear your burdens or to allow you to bear theirs. Despite a good parish, despite efforts at building relationships on the individual’s and parish’s part, it can seem like true community is an elusive ideal only available for and among couples, families, the able, and the young. For the sincere Orthodox Christian whose Faith rightly emphasizes the necessity of community, this can be torturous and bewildering. It has made me understand the Orthodox emphasis on marriage or monasticism because the alternatives can become a desolate no man’s land of involuntary hermits.

    I make this point not just to be bleak. It is a call to reach beyond our comfort zones, our demographic categories and our cliques to include all in true community, a call to rid ourselves of the thinking that only those who are similar to us in their life circumstances belong at our little gatherings. It is a call to see our efforts at community as not just providing occasions for idle talk and socializing, but to facilitate real and godly connections between people of all circumstances.

    And for some like me, I know the loneliness I experience is a call for my true repentance for sinful choices I made along the way that left me in my circumstances. It is a call to repent for focusing too much on my own problems, and to instead see others’ distress. It is a call to repent for often seeing the Church more as a place to assuage my loneliness and meet my needs than a place to focus on communion with Christ and the needs of others. Without the loneliness, I may never hear these calls to repent. This is how I can begin to say with you, glory to God for all things.

  5. A sinner Says:

    Father, I know that every word you say is true. I also know from experience the reality that for some categories of people, like older, single, disabled and/or childless people, the biggest burden to bear can be the burden of having no one, absolutely no one, even at church, who has the time and inclination to talk to you beyond pleasantries, let alone bear your burdens or to allow you to bear theirs. Despite a good parish, despite efforts at building relationships on the individual’s and parish’s part, it can seem like true community is an elusive ideal only available for and among couples, families, the able, and the young. For the sincere Orthodox Christian whose Faith rightly emphasizes the necessity of community, this can be torturous and bewildering. It has made me understand the Orthodox emphasis on marriage or monasticism because the alternatives can become a desolate no man’s land of involuntary hermits.

    I make this point not just to be bleak. It is a call to reach beyond our comfort zones, our demographic categories and our cliques to include all in true community, a call to rid ourselves of the thinking that only those who are similar to us in their life circumstances belong at our little gatherings. It is a call to see our efforts at community as not just providing occasions for idle talk and socializing, but to facilitate real and godly connections between people of all circumstances.

    And for me, I know the loneliness I experience is a call for my true repentance for sinful choices I made along the way that left me where I’m at. It is a call to repent for focusing too much on my own problems, and to instead see others’ distress. It is a call to repent for often seeing the Church more as a place to try to assuage my loneliness and meet my needs than a place to focus on communion with Christ and the needs of others. Without the loneliness, I may never hear these calls to repent. This is how I can begin to say with you, glory to God for all things.

  6. Academic Says:

    I’m curious how community works in an age where people often find themselves far from home and blood relatives. I’m a single graduate student who is blessed to have a parish in my university town. Yet, I was in the parish for a month before people other than the priest even said hi to me. I’ve been around long enough where I have a couple of friends now, but I’m already starting to ask questions about what will happen when it’s time for me to move after I graduate because I’ll be back to square one.

    I also think it would be wrong to assume that people are single because of sin in their life. Not all are called to the marital vocation.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Parish communities in the American scene – are not always obvious or easy to come by. We do the best that we can.

  8. A sinner Says:

    I’m sorry for any misunderstanding. I definitely wasn’t saying that for everyone who is single, it is because of sin in their life.

  9. Sarah Elliott Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    this is an excellent and necessary post and highlights the situation as it is that is almost a universal thread running through the Church )no matter what denomination). To risk falling back on a clichet, we’re all in this together. For all the problems found in parishes where we and our pastors alike are at once struggling along the path, as it were, your words are a timely reminder and calling. To ‘Academic’, I’ve experienced transient times in my life where I’ve moved from place to place for work and know all about ‘breaking into'[ new parishes; often it is difficult and I laernt early on to focus upon Christ and His worship. As someone with a vision impairment of the guide dog using, variety who was also single till my mid 30’s, I also know the way these factors swayed others in their interaction (or lackthereof). loneliness was a frequent companion. People, if there is someone single, someone with a disability, etc in your midst, honestly, its not hard, folks, just be yourself. Don’t fear blundering into some unwritten taboo territory, don’t walk on eggshells, and DON’T focus upon the obvious, be it singleness, the person’s disability etc!!! Just be you, and approach the person as you would any other. I remember losing it at church one morning when the nth person came up and introduced themself ‘Hi, I’m so and so, how long have you been blind’?? NOT A GOOD LOOK!!!!! and this was after attending for several months! To this day, I am in awe of the pastor of that church (I moved on when my address changed) who was able to, with great care and empathy, help me get it back together; I was ready to go home and never come back there and then. And yes, it hurts, because, if you take the time tog get to know us, we’re just like you, with dreams, hopes, fears, senses of humour, a craving to serve and be a part of the Body of Christ, and we’re prone to every imperfection and shortcoming (as my losing it aptly and to my embarrassment) demonstrated.

    On saying this, I’ve also (and am in one now) been in parishes where there is genuine community, where members of the church realy reach out to and care for one another, not just when at church or private Bible study in someone’s home, but in general without needing any prompting; and though there are several services a day for the different ages etc, our service has a good cross section of folk from the old to the young, the single and married, the quiet and extraverted, the professional and the laborer, the eccentric and the more ‘mainstream’, and by God’s grace it works. One of the more unpleasant things about the Australian personality is our collective propensity to be ‘knockers’ be it of governement (no matter what stripe), authority, and yep, the poor feller out front at church every Sunday doesn’t escape either; though this too is dying down, thanks to God’s grace, as some of the more strident elements realize that none of us are perfect, we’ve all got struggles, faults and troubles, and, we need to be there, and pray for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, as paul constantly reminded the various congregations who he wrote to.

    Sorry for rambling…

    If you’re in a congregation of ‘ghosts’, who are frightfully disconnected from one another, take that first step, gently and prayerfully reach out to the other.

    Blessings,

    Sarah,
    Sydney,
    Australia. .

  10. mike Says:

    …bombardment..over-saturation..sensory over-load..over-whelmed..over-come..and fried…these are the words often used to describe the reality many of us experience in our day to day existence….it is not suprising therefore that we might find ourselves longing for solitude..peace and quiet..and perhaps a little quality time for ourselves alone to think..and “be”..and to dis-engage from the “community” of those like us caught in the “rat race” of life…no..we’re not all called to be hermits,monks or preists….but we as Gods chosen deserve some “face time” too ………..

  11. Theodora Elizabeth Says:

    I’m still single – not by choice – at 40 (Orthodox for almost six years). A contributing factor, although not the main reason, that I transferred out of my first (and only other) parish was an absolutely overwhelming focus on families, especially those with young children. I was very active, with lots of friends, but I still felt isolated. Current (and second) parish has a wide age range with everyone from active parishioners in their early 80s to wee babies, My singleness is no longer a cause for the “When are you going to get married?” question, as there are other single folks, of all ages. I had no trouble jumping in at the current parish since I already knew some folks and the priest from attending Lenten weekday services (close to the office). But I’m also an extrovert. I have no trouble talking to strangers. I was asked to join the choir. I’m at all services, since I have no excuse to miss with being single. I have friends of all ages, which makes for a richer community experience. Who said your friends always had to be your own age?

  12. bethanytwins Says:

    Fr. Stephen, that is a wonderful story, and for me comes just at the right time (as these parables so often do…).
    With your permission, I would like to use it in something I am writing for my Parish. Could you tell me what the source is, please?

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    Bethanytwins,
    By way of the desert by Bernard Bangley, p. 110

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Gosh, Mike. Get some rest!

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    Confidential to Scared,
    These are very difficult things. Sometimes you can ask for someone to mediate (a Dean would do this in my jurisdiction). Prayer is key. This can indeed be a very painful situation for all involved. May God help you save you and keep you by His grace.

  16. Academic Says:

    I really appreciate everyone’s comments. It’s very easy to assume that everyone approaching the cup experiences a sense of being “in” but in reality, the cup reminds all of us of our woefully inadequate self before the holy God. I know that people say that if you feel worthy to approach the cup, then you have a bigger problem. I have been in a situation where I had a very significant conflict with a priest that warranted leaving, but I called and asked another senior priest who knew me to gain his insights. I have been in many more situations where I wanted to leave to find somewhere else, but I struggle to learn that by extending my priest grace and attempting to work through what bothers me sooner than later, we often can work together to achieve mutual understanding.

    As we make our petition in the liturgy, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God +

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