“Give Me This Stranger” Dedicated to my brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, “to all mankind”. Especially dedicated to the suffering, persecuted Church and to my Orthodox ‘convert’ brothers and sisters in Christ. I was so deeply disturbed, hurt and offended last Sunday when I heard them being characterised as ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’ amidst ‘cradle’ Orthodox circles.
“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
“As the sun hid its very rays at the Savior’s death, and the curtain of the temple was rent in twain, Joseph of everlasting memory approached Pilate, beseeching him in this manner:”
Give me this stranger
“Give me this stranger, who from infancy has been as a stranger, a sojourner in the world.”
The Diaspora and Mission
I often hear the word “diaspora” “dispersed” to describe those Orthodox Christians worshipping outside their homelands or canonically defined jurisdictions. Originally used in connection with the Jewish people who were forced into exile outside Israel Deuteronomy 28:25, it has come to be used for those Orthodox Christians falling outside their traditional cultural nascent homelands and living in countries where multiple jurisdictions appertain as in the USA, Australia or Western Europe. Assignment of the “disapora” according to the interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council was granted to New Rome- Constantinople to take pastoral oversight over the “Barbarian” lands.
The reposed Metropolitan Philip of North America of thrice memory said: “I believe that Canon 28, historically, is a contextual canon and not a dogmatic one; it gave the city of Constantinople certain rights as the New Rome for secular, political reasons because it was the seat of the emperor.”
“Give me this stranger, whon His own race has hated and delivered unto death as a stranger.”
If we look to the Apostolic age we see in the Acts of the Apostles that it was the Patriarchate of Antioch that established mission to the “Gentiles” through St Paul the Apostle. All three of his missionary journeys were launched from Antioch. It was His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatios IVth who saw that the manner of living the catholicity of the Church is in full freedom in the Holy Spirit and not in blind adherence to the letter of the canons; because, “the canons were made for the Church and not the Church for the canons.” With spiritual courage, he maintained that “nothing prevents the modification of old and obsolete canons. We must search diligently for the realization of the Church in her present and given historical context, otherwise we die and we become nothing more than a museum filled with mummies.”
“Give me this stranger, who in a strange manner is a stranger to death.”
I am not part of any “diaspora,” I am an Orthodox Priest born in the United Kingdom and I am an adopted son of Antioch. There are many Orthodox Christians whose parents were from different jurisdictions who were born here and are baptised into the Orthodox Church which may or may not be part of their “national” jurisdiction. Practically all of our Parishes in Britain and Ireland are Pan-Orthodox in their demography. Glory to God!
The Church as we say in the Creed is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
“Give me this stranger, who has received the poor as guests.”
Those who do not see mission as important are not true Orthodox Christians. Complacency and self regard emanate from empty vessels, veiling themselves with the masks of actors and national flags. Whilst less common the “older brother” syndrome sadly still persists in some circles towards so called “converts.” The Parable of the Prodigal son ( who he was guilty of many sins-Luke 15:11-32) is also a Parable about the Older son whose character is painted as pompous, aloof, resentful, self righteous, grudging, sullen, angry, complaining and jealous. One can do all the right things but with the wrong spirit.
“Give me this stranger, whom the jews from envy estranged from the world.”
From the very beginning the Church was One– she expressed herself at a local level but the faith and doctrine she proclaimed as being held in unity. We hold the faith as Holy– as those called to imitate Christ and to separate ourselves from sin, not from one another on the basis of ethnic identity.
The Church is Catholic that is “universal”; a proclamation which we make on the Sunday of Orthodoxy:-
This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.
“Give me this stranger, that I may hide him in a tomb, for as a stranger He has no place to lay His head.”
And the Church is Apostolic based on the teaching, preaching and tradition of the Apostles and by nature “sent out” to preach the Saving Gospel to all nations. From the very beginning, the Church was apostolic and evangelistic in her calling and command. Ethnic pride is simply a form of pharisaism and the very anithesis of Our Lord’s last command:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.
Certainly there are those waiting to hear the word of salvation, but there is no such thing as “ the diaspora”- quite the opposite-only those called and gathered( the ekklesia– the total body of believers belonging to the Lord who are called out from the world) into the Kingdom of God.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
“Give me this stranger, whose Mother seeing His dead body cries out:
“O my Son and my God, I am sorely wounded within me and my heart is rent,
seeing Thee as one dead: but in Thy Resurrection
I take courage and magnify Thee”.
So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry world.
The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission.
The Diaspora and Mission by father Jonathan Hemmings
“Thus entreating Pilate with these words, noble Joseph receives the body of the Savior: and wrapping it with fear in a linen with myrrh, he places in a tomb Him Who bestows upon all eternal life and great mercy.”
* After the procession with the Epitaphion on Holy Friday night, the choir sings the “Give me this stranger” hymn.
*Unfortunately so much ‘wordplay’ in the original hymn with the key word/ root “ξένος” (ie. a stranger) is lost in the translation! In ancient Greek “ξένος” & “ξενίζω” ξενίζω and ξενίζομαι < αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ) < may alternatively mean “a stranger” as a noun: ξένος, or “surprise conventional people by doing something weird, paradoxical, unconventional” as a verb: παραξενεύω, εκπλήσσω, “behave like a stranger”: φαίνομαι ή φέρομαι σαν ξένος or “offer hospitality usually to a stranger”: αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ)