Nowadays so many people, so many friends and acquaintances of mine, especially middle-aged, are disappointed, drained, left alone with children, empty and lonely (both in and out of relationships), feeling robbed. What are we to do with our lives in order to avoid self-centered ends and the spiritual abyss? Marriage and monasticism most certainly lead to the most intimate communion with the Creator and fellow creature and fulfill their promises: the soul can still be purified through either of them. They restore the soul’s appetitive drive to its divine orientation. The roads are narrow, their gates straight, but they lead to the deification of the soul. But maybe this path is not open to us — yet? — for a variety of reasons and circumstances. So WHAT is to be done?
Apparently, there is also a third way. Jesus Christ teaches that certain people are called by God to the single life.
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. The disciples said to Him: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is expedient not to marry.” But He said to them: “Not all people can receive this saying, but only to those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made so by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Mt 19:9-12)
The apostle Paul elaborates on Jesus’ teaching.
It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion… And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. … Only let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. (See 1 Cor. 7)
The single calling
The single life is a calling. It is a way of life which is given by God. A person, certainly a Christian person, does not choose to be single or to be married. He or she rather discovers the way of life which the Lord provides within the conditions of his or her existence. People really only chose to receive, or to reject, what has been given them. They do not determine it.
There are any number of reasons why a person may be single. They range from the sense of having a positive calling to the celibate life for religious purposes, to the plain fact of being unmarried without one’s own conscious choice, and perhaps even against it, just because this is the way that things have happened to work out. Whatever the reason for one’s being single and however mysterious or ambiguous, willed or unwilled the causes for one’s being in this state, at some point in our adult life each of us must accept the form of life which is ours and consciously offer it to the Lord, freely and voluntarily, for the sake of the love of God and neighbor.
Sanctifying the single life
The single life is sanctified the way every life is sanctified: by perfecting it according to God’s will. The first task of the single person according to God’s teaching as revealed by Jesus Christ and the apostles, martyrs and saints of the Christian Church, is that of maintaining and developing one’s sexual chastity.
The single person who says “yes” to God and to his or her calling to the single life automatically says “no” to all forms of physical, sexual activity with the opposite sex, with one’s own sex and with oneself. This is so because sexual actions other than the conjugal act of married love destroy the wholeness and integrity of one’s being through the dissipation of one’s spiritual and physical energies. No matter how loving, fulfilling and pleasurable they may at first appear to be, sexual commitments without the totally faithful commitment of unending love in marriage – with all of the responsibilities and obligations for inter-personal communion and the pro-creation and protection of human life which this involves – cannot but result in dissatisfaction, disappointment, despondency and despair. this is so because human persons are made in the image and likeness of God who is Love, and as such can find fulfillment and happiness only in ways of living and acting which express and image His own.
A hard saying
The teaching about sexual purity in the single life is a difficult one. When many people hear it they are moved to say what Christ’s disciples said when they heard other of His teachings: Lord, this is a hard word. Who can hear it? Who then can be saved? And the Lord’s answer is always the same. He said that His teaching has to be hard because “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”, adding as well the fundamental point that as far as His teaching is concerned, “with human being it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”, particularly to those who believe. (See Jn 6:60; Mt 7:13-14; 17-21; Lk 18:27; 35)
Like all forms of Godly life and behavior, the single life of celibate chastity is a way of the Cross. It is a way of sacrifice and suffering which alone brings joy and happiness to a human being.
Conditions for perfection
For the single life to be perfected according to God’s will, with the preservation of sexual purity as its heart and foundation certain conditions must be fulfilled. First of all there must be firm spiritual discipline for the sake of a lively interior life. The single person must have a rule of prayer which is diligently kept, with the reading and pondering of wholesome and edifying words and images. Great attention must be given to keep oneself free of all thoughts and images which lead to spiritual and physical defilement and disintegration. The “spouse” and “life partner” for the single person in the most direct and specific way must be the Lord himself.
The single person must also have a firm rule of external life and behavior. Capricious and willful actions, things done without order or form, but just as they happen to come up, must be avoided at all costs. Forms of responsibility and accountability to others must be found and fulfilled with conscious obedience. This is especially true for those who do not have such natural obligations as, or example, the care of elderly or infirm parents or relatives, or duties within a religious community.
The single person must also be committed in a formal way to a spiritual father or mother, which can be a member of the clergy, a monastic, or even a lay person mature in the faith. If, due to specific circumstances this should prove impossible, then the single person must, as everyone else, draw his strength and knowledge from the Holy fathers, the lives of the Saints and, of course, the Scriptures.
Some might say that such conditions are necessary for all who are living a human life according to God’s will, whether or not they happen to be single. This is true. But these conditions are particularly necessary for the single person precisely because of their single state in a world which renders them particularly vulnerable to self –centeredness and loneliness on the one hand, and lack of commitment and accountability on the other, with the additional cross of often being misunderstood and taken advantage of by those around them because of their single status.
Christ and the Saints
It is common in the modern world to think that one cannot be fulfilled as a human being in the single state, especially if living a sexually continent and chaste life. The claim is that without sexual activity and intimacy, a human person is diminished and even distorted in his basic humanity. If this is true, then the Christian faith as understood and practiced by the Orthodox, and by millions of other Christians, is wholly false.
The Lord Jesus Christ was single and celibate, yet He was the most perfect human being who ever lived, the Son of God and God Himself in human form. Jesus’ mother Mary, though legally married, remained a virgin her entire life. John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest man ever born of woman, was clearly a chaste celibate according to the Gospels. So was the apostle and evangelist John. So was the apostle Paul who, as we have seen by his own report was single at the time of his conversion and ministry. Indeed, the calendar of Orthodox Church saints is filled with single people who are praised and honored for their chastity and devotion to God and their neighbors. In this perspective it is clearly the Christian conviction that being single is conducive to the highest and most perfect for of fulfillment possible to human beings: the life of sanctity . (Source: St. Luke’s Orthodox Mission)
An Elder’s Correspondence to his Spiritual Daughter Caught Between the World and the Monastery (*)
In our last letter of December 14, you wrote that you cannot find any books applicable to your situation. You say that all books discuss monasticism, and that you are not a nun but are simply living near a monastery. In response I would say this to you: the Gospel teaching is given to everyone in common, and everyone is obliged to fulfill it. Monasticism stemmed from the desire to live exactly according to the Gospel teaching. This is terribly difficult amidst the noise of the city and the cares of life in the world, which hinder such a precise fulfillment of the Gospel teaching, even though everyone is called to this. Monastics are distinguished from laymen in that the latter are permitted to live in a state of matrimony, while the former choose to remain unmarried. Read more often the Gospel of Matthew, from the beginning of the fifth chapter to the end of the tenth, and try to live according to what is written there. Then your life will be marked by harmony, and you will find peace of soul.
January 11, 1879
Peace to you and God’s blessing, and a strengthening towards good. On January 3 I briefly wrote to you that monastic life by no means differs from the Gospel teaching, and that those living in the world differ from monastics only as concerns their married state. About married people, however, St. John of the Ladder writes that they are like those whose hands and feet are bound with fetters. Although even these can walk the path of righteousness, it is only with difficulty; they often stumble and fall and become sorely wounded as a result. The unmarried–and particularly monastic–state offers greater facility in the fulfillment of the Gospel teaching. It is for this reason that monasticism was established by the Holy Fathers.
You are now in the middle, between the world and monasticism (*). The middle path is everywhere approved, and for you–both on account of your upbringing and your weak constitution–it is in many ways appropriate. Only try to live according to the Gospel commandments. Above all, judge no one about anything, so that you yourself will not be judged …..
In my letters I’ve always had one aim –to dispel your misconceptions about monasticism and spiritual life in general, which you formed while still living in the world. You have perhaps heard it said that even apparently correct theory does not always coincide with practice. One’s own experience, when it follows the experience of spiritual people in the past, is a good instructor, provided we check our life against the Biblical and patristic teaching.
You laid for yourself and your life a rather strange foundation: I wanted so, I thought so, I intended so… You are not the only one; many desire a good spiritual life in the simplest form. Few, however, (they are rare, in fact) fulfill their good desires in actuality; they are those who hold tightly the words of Holy Scripture: “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and who, entreating the help of God, try to bear the griefs and illnesses and various discomforts visited upon them without murmuring, always keeping in remembrance the words of the Lord Himself: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matt. 19:17)
And the most important of these commandments are: “Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:17). Besides this, those who want to be saved must bear in mind the words of St. Peter Damascene, that salvation is accomplished between fear and hope…
To live in a simple hut without humbling oneself will not lead to any good. It is better for someone who is weak in soul and body to live in a comfortable cell and to humble himself, blaming and reproaching himself for such comfortable and spacious quarters. Only few, and those possessing a strong constitution, can without harm lead an austere life, and endure cold and hunger and dampness and sleeping on the ground. According to the words of St. John Damascene, those who are weak in body derive more profit from humility and thanksgiving than from physical labors and podvigs to which they are unequal.
You are adversely affected by the harsh words of such people who, in your opinion, should speak differently. St. John Climacus writes that God providentially leaves some flaws even in spiritual people so as to bring them to humility.
If you wish to set yourself on a firm path toward salvation, try above all to pay heed to yourself alone, and leave everyone else to God’s Providence and their own will, and don’t concern yourself with instructing anyone. Not in vain is it said: Each man begetteth himself shame or glory according to his deeds. This will be most beneficial, meat conducive to salvation, and, what’s more, more peaceful.
From the Letters of St. Ambrose of Optina
(*) *Sigh* It is so me …
Back in the UK, amidst Autumn Busy-ness, in search of Quiet
“Swim, O my nous, in the sweetest tranquility!” (Blessed) Elder Joseph the Hesychast
When the heart is hard and parched up,
Come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life,
Come with a burst of song.
When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides,
Shutting me out from beyond,
Come to me, my lord of silence,
With thy peace and rest.
When my beggarly heart sits crouched,
Shut up in a corner,
Break open the door, my king,
And come with the ceremony of a king.
When desire blinds the mind
With delusion and dust, O thou holy one,
Thou wakeful one, come
With thy light and thy thunder.
(Gitanjali-Song Offerings, 39, by Rabindranath Tagore)
Dryovouno Monastery, Near-Death and Afterlife Stories
Father Stephanos of the Monastery of Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno speaks very little, mainly with his eyes.
Mother Theologia: “How little do we think of death, although he is so near to us!” commenting on a yet another sudden, unexpected death.
Laokratia told us about a dream: “My friend’s late young son, who had suffered a sudden and violent death through a road crush, appeared in his father’s dream in tears, standing before a closed gate, telling him that ‘they’ do not allow him in. His father, a very faithful man, promptly met Elder Iakovos Tsalikis and told him his dream. By the grace of God, the elder, having a pure nous, was deemed worthy to see the souls of people at the time they were leaving the earth and ascending towards heaven. Elder Iakovos asked him if his son was blaspheming God, and the father sadly admitted so. Then, Elder Iakovos promised to pray for his son, and he also advised him to do alms in his son’s name, fast and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”. The poor father made a prostration and obeyed the elder, and after 40 days, he saw again his son in his dream, this time radiant with joy, in front of an open gate, thanking him and telling him that ‘they’ had allowed him in!”
Sister Gregoria: “I just received a message from a friend who had to undergo a difficult operation and she told me that it all went well but that it was St. Luke Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon who operated her! In the operating room she felt that she was dying. She started ascending and watched the surgeon and the nurses trying to revive her unconscious body. Then she met ‘somewhere in the air’ St Luke. To be sure she could not really interpret what was happening to her as it was taking place. Still she understood that he reassured her that he would take over as the surgeon was clearly in an impasse. Then she started moving in the reverse direction, got into her body again and found herself in the hospital, having had the surgery performed, with doctors standing around her, looking at her puzzled. But who was this St Luke she had met? It took her a few hours to find out that her mother, a very devout woman, had placed a little icon of his underneath her pillow, just before the operation started!”
Sister Ioanna:”Yesterday at midnight, while I can finishing the writing of an icon and adding the dedication, I realised that although I could write the mother’s name easily, there was no way I could add her late son’s name. I started praying and in the Spirit I ‘saw’ that the mother was in a very good spiritual state, but her son was not at all well and needed our prayers. She felt that God had granted rest to the mother’s soul, but they should do alms in the son’s name and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”.
We arrived at the Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno on its Feast day. We were a group of faithful, Mother Theologia and some nuns from the nearby Monastery of the Assumption, Dormition (Koimiseos tis Theotokou) of Mikrokastro. What stunning Beauty confronted us!
This male monastery is located a few kilometers above Dryovouno, at a secluded area. Its foundation goes back to 1592, while the murals were completed in 1652, by painter Nikolaos from Linotopi while the narthex in particular is the work of Argyris Kriminiotis.
Kosmas Aitolos arrived here and, after preaching, treated the monks who had been taken ill due to an epidemic. He fetched water from a nearby spring, blessed it, and gave it to the monks to drink, who were then cured. This water has been considered holy ever since and a chapel devoted to saint Kosmas has been constructed at the spring. St. Kosmas received from God the gift of prophecy.
At wartime, the monastery offered valuable services to the local population. It served as storage for ammunition and as base for various chieftains. This is where Dimitrios Feraios, Kapetan Vardas and Pavlos Melas resorted to.
In 1943 it was set on fire by Italians along with its historic records. Its renovation began in 1996, the prime mover being Archbishop Stefanos Rinos with the personal efforts of monks and believers. The parvis offers a sense of tranquility and a spectacular view to Voio and Kastoria.
Happy New Church Year! New Beginning Wishes from Cephallonia, a Story of Repentance, a Rumi Sufi poem, a robin singing and the little city hermit’s name day ☺️
Monastery of Agios Gerassimos
It Is Your Turn Now!
Transform your inner pearl.
It is your turn now,
You waited, you were patient.
The time has come,
For us to polish you.
We will transform your inner pearl
Into a house of fire.
You’re a gold mine.
Did you know that,
Hidden in the dirt of the earth?
It is your turn now,
To be placed in fire.
Let us cremate your impurities.
A Story of Repentance
We knew virtually nothing…I had come to make my confession for the first time in my life. Shortly beforehand I had become a Christian by the grace of God. I had no deeper knowledge either of Christianity or of the church – who could have taught me? I and my newly-converted girl friend, both in the same position, learned what to do by imitating our old women, who zealously preserved the Orthodox faith and practices. We didn’t know anything. But we had something which in our day should perhaps be treasured more than knowledge: a boundless trust in the church, belief in all its words, in every movement and demand. Only yesterday we had rejected all authority and all norms. Today we understood the deliverance that we had experienced as a miracle. We regarded our church as the indubitable, absolute truth, in minor matters just as much as in its main concern. God has changed us and given us childhood: ‘Unless you become as children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’
I only knew that it was necessary to go to confession and to communion. I knew that both confession and communion were high sacraments which reconcile us with God and even unite us with him, really unite us with him in all fullness, both physical and spiritual. I was formally baptized by my unbelieving parents as a child. Whether they did that out of tradition or whether someone had persuaded them to do it, I never discovered from their explanations. Now at the age of twenty-six I had decided to renew the grace of baptism.
Like a hardened crust
I knew that the priest himself – the well-known confessor Father Hermogen – would ask me questions and guide my confession. Then the day before I read a little booklet in order to prepare myself for confession, I discovered that I had transgressed all the commandments of the Old and New Testaments. But quite independently of that it was clear to me that the while of my life was full of sins of the most varied kind, of transgressions and unnatural forms of behavior. They now pursued me and tormented me after my conversion, and lay like a heavy burden on my soul. How could I have not seen earlier how abhorrent and stupid, how boring and sterile sin is? From my childhood my eyes had been blindfolded in some way. I longed to make my confession because I already felt with my innermost being that I would receive liberation, that the new person which I had recently discovered within myself would be completely victorious and drive out the old person. For every moment after my conversion I felt inwardly healed and renewed, but at the same time it was as though I was somehow covered with a crust of sin which had grown around me and had become hard. So I to longed for penance, as if for a wash. And I recalled the marvellous words of the Psalm which I had recently learned by heart: ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.’
The experience of a miracle
And so my turn came. I went up, and kissed the gospel and the cross. Of course because I felt dismay and apprehension, I was afraid to say that I was confessing for the first time. Father Hermogen began by asking,
‘When did you last fail to go to church? What festivals have you deliberately neglected?’
‘All of them,’ I replied.
Then Father Hermogen knew that he was dealing with a new convert. In recent times new converts have come into the Russian church in large numbers, and they have to be treated in a different way.
He began by asking about the most terrible, the ‘greatest’ sins in my life, and I had to tell him my whole biography: a life based on pride and a quest for praise, on arrogant contempt for other people. I told him about my drunkenness and my sexual excesses, my unhappy marriages, the abortions and my inability to love anyone. I also told him about the next period of my life, my preoccupation with yoga and my desire for ‘self-fulfillment’, for becoming God, without love and without penitence. I spoke for a long time, though I also found it difficult. My shame got in the way and tears took away my breath. At the end I said almost automatically: ‘I want to suffer for all my sins, and be purged at least a little from them. Please give me absolution.’
Father Hermogen listened to me attentively, and hardly interrupted. Then he sighed deeply and said, ‘Yes, they are grave sins.’
I was given absolution by the grace of God: very easily, it seemed to me: for the space of several years I was to say five times a day the prayer ‘Virgin and Mother of God, rejoice’, each time with a deep prostration to the ground.
This absolution was a great support to me through all the following years. Our sins (the life of my newly-converted friend was hardly different from my own) somehow seemed to us to be so enormous that we found it hard to believe that they could disappear so simply, with the wave of a priest’s hand. But we had already had a miraculous experience: from the nothingness of a meaningless existence bordering on desperation we had come into the Father’s house, into the church, which for us was paradise. We knew that with God anything is possible. That helped us to believe that confession did away with sin. And the starets also said, ‘Don’t think about it again. You have confessed and that is enough. If you keep thinking about it you are only sinning all over again.’ (Tatiana Goricheva, a member of the “intelligentsia” and a Soviet-era dissident, Talking About God Is Dangerous)
It Is Your Turn Now!
“It is later than you think! Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God.”
+ Fr. Seraphim Rose, Fr. Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works
“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” (The Alchemist)
Happy New Year!
* September 1st is the start of a new liturgical in the Orthodox Church
the little city hermit‘s name day 😊
On my way to this summer’s last pilgrimage: Cephalonia-Ithaca for the Dormition Feast
Apologies for being offline through August 31st.
May our Lady bless us and may the Lord keep us in the palm of His Hand until we meet again!
“Sister Begona Miguel of the Huelgas Monastery says:
“San Juan de La Cruz teaches us that silence has its own music; it is silence that enables us to see ourselves and the things around us.
‘I would like to add that there are words that can only be said in silence, odd as that may seem. To compose their symphonies, the great geniuses needed silence – and they managed to transform this silence into divine sounds. Philosophers and scientists need silence.
‘In the monastery, at night, we practice what we call The Great Silence.
‘In the absence of speech we can understand what lies beyond.” (Paulo Coehlo blog, In the Huelgas Monastery)
Therefore, it is time for the little city hermit to embark on yet another quest for stillness and silence. This blog takes a vacation, returning by the end of August, where I will start making preparations for my return trip to the UK.
You are always welcome to browse the ARCHIVES on the right.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.
With lots of love and poor prayers
The little city hermit
Father’s Love Letter
You may not know me,
but I know everything about you.
I know when you sit down and when you rise up.
I am familiar with all your ways.
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
For you were made in my image.
In me you live and move and have your being.
For you are my offspring.
I knew you even before you were conceived.
I chose you when I planned creation.
You were not a mistake,
for all your days are written in my book.
I determined the exact time of your birth
and where you would live.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
I knit you together in your mother’s womb.
And brought you forth on the day you were born.
I have been misrepresented
by those who don’t know me.
I am not distant and angry,
but am the complete expression of love.
1 John 4:16
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you.
1 John 3:1
Simply because you are my child
and I am your Father.
1 John 3:1
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.
For I am the perfect father.
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs.
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.
Because I love you with an everlasting love.
My thoughts toward you are countless
as the sand on the seashore.
And I rejoice over you with singing.
I will never stop doing good to you.
For you are my treasured possession.
I desire to establish you
with all my heart and all my soul.
And I want to show you great and marvelous things.
If you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me.
Delight in me and I will give you
the desires of your heart.
For it is I who gave you those desires.
I am able to do more for you
than you could possibly imagine.
For I am your greatest encourager.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
I am also the Father who comforts you
in all your troubles.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
When you are brokenhearted,
I am close to you.
As a shepherd carries a lamb,
I have carried you close to my heart.
One day I will wipe away
every tear from your eyes.
And I’ll take away all the pain
you have suffered on this earth.
I am your Father, and I love you
even as I love my son, Jesus.
For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.
He is the exact representation of my being.
He came to demonstrate that I am for you,
not against you.
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
His death was the ultimate expression
of my love for you.
1 John 4:10
I gave up everything I loved
that I might gain your love.
If you receive the gift of my son Jesus,
you receive me.
1 John 2:23
And nothing will ever separate you
from my love again.
Come home and I’ll throw the biggest Feast
Heaven has ever seen.
I have always been Father,
and will always be Father.
My question is…
Will you be my child?
I am waiting for you.
Love, Your Father
Father’s Love Letter
Are you Afraid? Yesterday I took a long walk by the promenade. It was dusk, and the tired sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea. The sea was basking in an orange sunset. Watching the seagulls’ gliding and soaring was mesmerising. I just stopped and let it sink deep into my heart . It brought such peace, freedom and joy to me! No video can do justice to the Beauty of their flight!
I was reminded of Jonathan Livingston Seagull‘s daring before challenges. His Yes to Life:
“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way”.”
Are You Afraid?
How diametrically different to J. Alfred Prufrock‘s neurotic cowardice, futile death-in-life and paralysing procrastination:
Are You Afraid?
Three things we need in life: first, Faith; second, Faith; third, Faith.
“I say yes because I believe that if it is not for my good God will make it so that the No will come from the very one who invited me. …
Today I am ninety years old–may you live so long! I read again and again and again in the Gospels, and I see something strange. Jesus Christ comes and says to the Apostles, “Leave now what you have and follow Me.”
Now, if they said, “And who are you? Why should we lose what we have? Why should we lose our profit? Where will you take us? What will you do with us?”—if they had said that, what would have happened? They would have remained in darkness.
They said Yes to the Unknown who came and said, “Throw all that away!” Why? Because they believed in God, and they waited for the One who would say to them, “Come!” And that was the beginning.
Because if we say No, what will happen? . . . One or the other: If you believe, you will walk on the water like St. Peter. If you are scared–Bloop! Nothing else.
… He said to us, “Why do you worry? … Even the hairs of your head are numbered!” Why worry? Faith is lacking. May we have faith.
Are You Afraid?
Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries
RTE: How has it been having your family in the mission field?
FR. LUKE: When my wife and I first went to Albania, many people thought that it was going to be very dangerous and that our children would suffer: “You are going to deprive your children of all the benefits of life in America.” Contrary to that expectation, we feel that our three children who were raised in the mission field were immensely blessed by the experience of learning another culture and language. They always appreciated what they had in America when they went back, but they also appreciated their mission home in Albania, which they thought of as their “real” home.
They’ve grown up with a very different world-view. They appreciate things that they would never think twice about if they had grown up in America. During our first years in Albania, we didn’t have running water every day. So, the kids learned to appreciate it. When we had water, we’d say, “Thank God for water. It’s great to have it.” During different periods, for months at a time, the electricity is off about five hours a day; in winter, maybe seven or eight hours. So they got excited when the electricity came on. Or, if we did have electricity, the tension was often so low that we couldn’t do something as simple as watch a video. I remember on one of our visits to the U.S., they wanted to watch a video, and came to my wife saying, “Mommy, if there’s enough tension can we watch television?” They still flip the switch to see if the electricity is working.
Next to our house in Albania we had a very tiny shop, nine by fifteen feet, with all different types of food – this was where we did most of our shopping. Once, when we were about to go back to America, my son Paul asked his mother, “In America, will they have shops as big as Uncle Soorie’s?” We laughed. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to a different way of life. We lived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and we were constantly exposed to beggars, poor people who came to our house every day asking for help. It was wonderful for our children to see this, day in and day out. They got used to getting things for the beggars, answering the door and coming and saying, “Oh, so-and-so is here.” We got to know these people by name, we visited their homes. When you live in suburban America you aren’t even exposed to them unless you go downtown. Many of these beggars truly became friends, and our kids loved them. They loved playing with them and saw them as human beings, not as beggars.
Another blessing of raising children in the mission field is community, both the indigenous Albanian community, the wonderful local people that were part of our life, and our co-missionaries who themselves had numerous children. At one time we had fifteen missionary children in the field, and they created such bonds of love and friendship. They weren’t exposed to the busyness, to the constant activities that American children are involved in. Their lives were very simple, and very fulfilled.
Neither my wife nor I have any sense of their being deprived, and one of our greatest regrets in leaving Albania after ten and a half years is that we have left at a time when our children are still young, and we are not sure how much they will remember. We often talk about going back into missions when they are a little older so that they not only remember, but can participate more fully. Even though they were young, we tried to get the idea across that they themselves were missionaries, that they needed to be witnesses. To whatever degree they could participate in our different activities, they did.
RTE: Growing up with cultural diversity must not only teach what is universal in human nature, but how to deal with differences early on.
FR. LUKE: Right. We Americans, unfortunately, are quite isolated from the rest of the world. The universal business language is English, so we think we can get anywhere speaking English. Having only Canada to the north and Mexico in the south, we aren’t exposed to many different cultures and languages and this is a great loss for us. It’s so enriching to be around the diversity found in a mission field, and to learn to see beauty in such diversity. One thing I tried to get across to the Kenyans, and later to the Albanians, was, “Sure, in America we have things that are nicer than in Kenya or Albania, but you have many aspects of your culture and life that we Americans can envy. Family connectedness, the support you have for one another, hospitality – how beautiful these things are! Don’t ever lose these aspects of your culture and think, ‘We want to become western, or American, because America is better in everything.’ There are certain things you can adopt from America that are beautiful, but don’t lose the beauty and richness that you have in your own tradition.”
Hospitality was something that always left the greatest imprint on me. I could travel to the poorest village in Africa and they would put on a feast. It was their responsibility to show love and hospitality to guests. It is the same in Albania. I don’t know who is more hospitable, the Albanians or the Kenyans, but they would put anyone in the West to total shame. Having almost nothing, they share whatever they have with whoever comes.
RTE: An American seminarian at Holy Cross Seminary told me about a depressed acquaintance who called one night, feeling suicidal. The seminarian invited him to come to the seminary for a few days for a change of scene and to be in a calm atmosphere. He agreed and the seminarian made the arrangements and cleaned an empty dorm room so that he could have his own space. The day his friend moved in, one of the Greek-born seminarians found out what was happening and insisted that the man take his own room, which contained his books and belongings, icons that were prayed in front of, and was a real home. The Greek seminarian slept in the hall on a couch outside the door so he could check on him through the night. The American seminarian said, “You know, I was so pleased that I’d found him his own space where he could have some privacy, where he could put his own things up – but actually what he needed was to be taken into someone else’s home and taken care of. I didn’t get it until I saw it.”
FR. LUKE: Yes, this virtue of hospitality is something missing in our American way of life. As missionaries, my wife and I saw hospitality as one of the greatest ways to express God’s love to the people. We wanted our home to always be open to people. We married right at the beginning of our time in Albania and it is interesting to think that my wife and I slept in our house alone perhaps three months out of the first five years of our marriage. We always had people coming, numerous people staying for months at a time. Our open home was a hallmark of our ministry. Even after the children started coming and we didn’t have as many overnight guests, we always had an open-door policy. There were people at our house every day. One of the difficult counter-cultural adjustments in coming back to America on sabbatical was that although we lived on campus at a seminary, no one came to visit. We lived there for four months and maybe a handful of people came to our house. And even when people came, they’d say, “I’m just here for a minute, I’ve got to run…” They’d stay briefly and then go on with their day.
RTE: We’ve been speaking here of missionary families. What opportunities are there for unmarried men and women? And in view of cultural differences, are single women limited as missionaries? What part do they play on a mission team?
FR. LUKE: The mission in Albania offers a good response to this question.
During the years I served there, of the 20-25 missionaries we had at any one time, we had a nice mix – usually about eight monastics, eight married missionaries, and six or seven single missionaries. Of the two dozen missionaries, about half were men and half were women. Also, about eight were clergy, and the rest laity. The unmarried missionaries played an important role in the overall outreach of the Church. In Albania, we had single missionaries who headed up our medical clinic, our elementary school, our post-secondary professional institute, as well as our development and emergency relief office. We also had single missionaries who taught at our seminary, who taught English in a variety of contexts, taught catechism, worked in administration, and who participated in our university ministry, among other things.
The Body of Christ has a need for everyone – men or women, married or unmarried. It is the same for the mission field. In fact, when a missionary team has a variety of members, it makes the overall witness that much more effective. Some people will relate well to a monastic. Others feel more comfortable with a married priest. Some prefer to approach a mother, or a married woman. Still others will listen to a single man or woman. All are part of one body, offering a unified witness. So there are surely opportunities for the monastics, the married, and the unmarried! In some countries, it isn’t appropriate for men to approach women and talk with them in public. Such societies need women missionaries, and this means both married and single women.
In the Protestant world of missions, single women really weren’t encouraged, or even allowed, in the mission field until the 1800’s. By the 1900’s, women outnumbered men as missionaries. Today, women far outnumber men, and this includes many single women. Women had to overcome many obstacles and prejudices before being allowed to serve in a variety of capacities, and this may be the same for the modern Orthodox missionary movement.
RTE: Do you have any specific counsel for unmarried missionaries?
FR. LUKE: My advice for single men or women is that they must be ready for some additional challenges. The loneliness of a new culture, the challenges of entering a new country, the frustrations of learning a language, and the normal difficulties and disappointments of the mission field can be overwhelming. As a married missionary, you have your spouse to support and comfort you; the monastics may be living in community and have another type of support; but the single missionary can feel the loneliness and frustration in a magnified manner. A single person has to be ready for these added challenges. He or she needs to be a strong person, and also be able to find support in time of need. Their co-missionaries need to be sensitive to this extra burden, and try to reach out to them.
One way to help overcome these additional struggles would be for single missionaries to live in community, either with other missionaries of the same sex, one of the missionary families, or even with an indigenous family. Living with a family of the country can be one of the fastest ways to learn the language, culture, and ways of the host country. Of course, other challenges may arise as cultures clash and one’s privacy may be lost.