Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Humility of the Everyday

This morning I served Orthros & Liturgy at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, PA. I have a rather soft spot in my heart for the Cathedral community--I was ordained to the holy priesthood there on their feast day (St Nicholas, 6 December) in, well, let's just say awhile ago and the dean (Fr Sarantos Serviou) community has always been very welcoming to both my wife Mary and I. In addition for the 18 months before we left Pittsburgh, St Nicholas was also the home of the OCF group I served as chaplain. The students and I would meet on Wednesday morning at 7am for Divine Liturgy and Thursday evenings at 7.30pm for Vespers and Bible study. During Great Lent, since we don't celebrate the Divine Liturgy on weekdays, the students would come on Friday mornings (again at 7.00am!!) for Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts (Vesper and Holy Communion).

So all in all, St Nicholas Cathedral has played a significant role in my ministry as an Orthodox priest and i am looking forward to spending the next few weeks with them while Fr Serviou is on vacation in Greece.

As I was driving in to Pittsburgh this morning from Youngstown, I was listening America Public Media's radio program Speaking of Faith. The guest on this mornings program was Conservative rabbi Sharon Brous, who spoke about (according to the program's web site) "the world and meaning of the approaching Jewish High Holy Days — from the new year of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur's rituals of atonement — a span of ten days known as the Days of Awe."

My guess is that Rabbi Brous and I would disagree on, oh any number of things. But what we would agree on was her profound insight that--amidst the "big story" of salvation history--we ought not lose sight of the many "little stories" that come in between the big, life changing events that we tend to remember.

So while it is import for Christian, in my own case, to remain always faithful to Christ, the quality of my fidelity is questionable if, for example, I can't treat the people I meet on a daily basis with respect and courtesy. This is precisely the point that the Apostle John makes in his epistle (1 Jn 4):

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (7-11).
To love as the Apostle suggests requires from us repentance. While there are many different forms that repentance can take, I suggest in the sermon a way to foster repentance in our hearts.

Earlier this week I was reading the letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast (Monastic Wisdom). In one of his letters he writes about the importance of self-knowledge in the spiritual life. But in the process, he says something that I found not only profound, but beautiful. He asks rhetorically:
Who has conquered the devil? He who knows his own weaknesses, passions, and shortcomings. Whoever is afraid of knowing himself remains far from knowledge, and he doesn't love anything except seeing faults in others and judging them. He doesn't see gifts in other people, but only shortcomings. And he doesn't see his own shortcomings, but only his gifts. This is truly the sickness that plagues us . . . : we fail to recognize one another's gifts. One person may lack many things, but many people together have everything. What one person lacks, another person has. If we acknowledge this, we would have a great deal of humility, because God, Who adorned men in many ways (p. 50).
With the Elder's words in mind, I suggested to people that, if they wished to be transformed by Christ, if they wished to be freed from the jealousy, anxiety and petty angers that often consume us, then the place to start is thanking God for the good things they see in the lives of others. This, I think, leads us naturally to loving other people as God loves them, and eventually wears down the hard outer shell that sin places around our hearts.

To return to the rabbi's observation: This thankfulness of what God has given my neighbor, my friend, my co-worker, my spouse or family member, is best done by paying attention to the "little stories" that make up our lives.

Will this be sufficient to transform the human heart? I don't know, but it is a good start, after all, how many marriage really break up over big things? It seems to me that, the big things that undermine a marriage are really just the aggregate of little things over time.

And it this is what I think I appreciate most about St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, they are most people who attend to the "little things" in human life. It is there, in the rather ordinary bits and pieces that make up everyday life that they demonstrate their faith in Jesus Christ.

It is this, the humility of the everyday, that I think most pleases Christ.

Well, speaking of humility of the everyday, it is my turn to cook dinner.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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