April 2020 Bulletins • St. Silouan Chapel at St. John the Compassionate Mission
Sunday of St Thomas — 26 April 2020
It happens at the mission, even though not often, that a certain theme dominates a given day. This past Wednesday was about broken families and loss. Several people I talked to just referred to something that had happened or was still happening with their families. Nothing happy about the subject, only sorrow all over the place. Complex relationships, divorces or the loss of a spouse. These were not scheduled discussions, they just happened over having a cup of coffee together or, accidentally, as we were trying to keep with the pace of the day. With tears in peopleís eyes too. We know that many important things in our lives are shaped by the years we spent with our families. Nothing is perfect, always with forgiveness and chipped love. I think this is an old tomb waiting for new light. It started shortly after the beginning of creation, if you think that Cain and Abel had their own issues because their parents blamed each other for missing the mark; for leaving the good path, as it often happens.
However, the parents are in the icon of the resurrection today. When they blame each other, God forgives them both so their children can live and choose life instead of death.
Thatís what I thought on Wednesday too at the end of the day. A deep wound within the Body of Christ showed itself on Wednesday, within the light of the resurrection, because this is what the light renews today. According to my sorrow You added joy to my heart.
Often we donít know where to start our new life in Christ after the resurrection. God knows it and He shows it to us as well. We must begin from the point where things started to go wrong. We see in the icon of the resurrection Christ taking both Adam and Eve from death to life. By holding their hands at the same time, He also reconciles them with each other. So they would not continue blaming each other: it was your fault we got here, but it was me who received the hand first.
As we look around us today, we see a profound need for witnesses where a life is given to God, lived for Him and unto Him, like brothers and sisters in Christ. And when that happens, you see the fruits within the life of the church. We also notice and are very aware of how often marriages fall apart these days and are in a profound need for healing. Where are the people who see each other with mercy and love because they were seen and loved by God first? Those who witness that for the sake of all. This healed wound brings life to the community as well.
However, no matter how big the loss was in our life, Christ renews us into life unprecedentedly. As never before. But with an abundance of love and the newest of life. This was also revealed to me on Wednesday by one of the people I talked to. How the meaning of life came to him after he experienced a profound loss. And what is new does not resemble old, not even on the outside. Christ was not recognized by the disciples in several instances after the resurrection. But He carried in his body the healed wounds, a sign that the past is not erased but healed.
Mark 16:7 “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “Go, tell my disciples to go to Galilee. There they will see Me.”
The community needs both marriages lived for the sake of Christ love and lives offered to God and to the poor without blemish, in order for the community to meet Christ after the resurrection.
Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that He will meet His disciples in Galilee. That is the place where the community is fully alive having Christ in their midst. The place where you work, you celebrate, you heal the sick and feed the hungry with the Lord. The place where you break bread and drink good wine with the Lord and go fishing with no worry that youíll toil all night without catching anything. The place where you take care of the sick and cure the demoniacs; where you celebrate the feast of marriage, plant, prune and harvest. The place where you learned what it means to be thankful for being alive because you tasted from life in abundance. “How do you know what day it is when you wake up in the morning?”, a homeless man asked me. “I donít know.” “When you wake up and see your feet you know it is a good day, because you are alive”.
It is the place where you learn how good it is to be alive because the Lord teaches you how to live and how to pray. To live among those who are on the margins of any social-economic mainstream system that dictates the news of the day, and to pray early in the morning and late at night for the wellbeing of all. To clean all your senses because youíll need to use them fully.
Most of the time, life at the mission outside of lent and holy week is called to find and to become a Galilee of the gentiles where the Lord can feel at home.
This is the identity of any simple and small community when searching for the presence of Christ within their midst. Going big and global, the world is leaving behind the Galilee of the gentiles. It is for us to pray and receive guidance on how to live with the Lord, on Galilean soil, in order for the world to have a place to come back to. Today, we try to rejoice, but the world cannot find a place where to meet the Lord together, because our Galilee is not to be found. It is for us to look for it and to find it.
How is our Galilee today?
It is like a homeless person who is waiting with hope to get their first room tonight, after many years of wandering the streets. He lost his place many years before. After walking on the streets all night, on Sunday morning, when the church is closed, he comes to rest his frozen body on the stairs going to the basement. He tries so hard not to lose his mind completely. And when he has a bad day, he has no place to find shelter or solitude to pray.
It is also like a faraway place, a home up north in Yukon, where you donít want to return while still alive, because of the wounds of the past. But you dream about being buried there when you die.
Our Galilee today is more like a nostalgia of a suffering patient who has no home. Galilee is real and it means to receive life and distribute it. There is much hope for our community to become incarnate into that. It is a hope that comes from the good news but also from the people who are walking with patience with Him.
Obedient to the hand that takes you out of fear
Often we speak about obedience as something that is written in a book and does not concern our lives. At least not in the personal and practical things, we think. Obedience means to walk where the Lord gives you to walk. Not to wander wherever you wish, asking the Lord to accompany you. He never abandons you but He takes you to His kingdom and He does not let you stay in the pit. Of course, it is a matter of discernment, and God knows how to help you with that. But this does not change the fact that we need to walk on the path of life, where God takes us, and not on the parallel path marching in the opposite direction.
This was revealed to me even more this week, when talking to somebody who was experiencing a crisis of clinical anxiety and was terrified he would end up in the hospital again. Nobody wants to go to the hospital these days... He told me how all his life he did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it: ate when he wanted, slept when he liked, watched TV and skipped work when he felt like it. This autonomy made him captive in his own fear and it was now asking him to pay the bill. Even in this state of deep anxiety, he told me crying what was the way out of it. Practically. Even in the deepest moments of fear God is in our midst and He visits us with His goodness. He was not alone with his fear and he knew it. Before he left I wanted to repeat what he said about this goodness so he does not forget it and knows it is real. He found a better way to put it at the end. “So the only way out is to be obedient to God now”. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Including myself.
More news needed?
Not much news about the virus these days. It looks like people are getting bored and realise too much energy is sucked from their being when watching numbers without meaning. It was the same before, we just did not realise it, when we were watching news with no meaning. In Canada though, there is a tendency to hide reality even when it is obvious, in order to avoid alarming people. Somebody who watches how the crisis unfolds all over the world was telling me that. One thing that caught my attention was how, in Quebec, they were looking at the idea of developing herd immunity in children, as if the thought of building herd immunity at the expense of the elderly was not outrageous enough. The main argument was that children will not get sick, according to their studies. But common sense tells you that, in order to build immunity, they will have to get sick first. Everything starts to look more like a “children crusade: They will save us. Let's put them and the elders in the front line to fight with the virus and get immune, while we self-isolate safely at home. Of course, Quebec rejected the idea, but this did not come out of nowhere.
Beds for sale
On Friday morning we listened to the Gospel of Jesus going into the temple and taking out from the temple those who made His house a den of thieves. How deep is today this den of thieves in our world and in our life? On a personal note, coming to Canada from a country with a communist past, when I started working here I never understood why in this culture people keep such a big secrecy about how much money they make. It is as if God would not know.
The gospel made me remember some numbers that I saw in Le Monde Diplomatique. About how the rich countries reduced the number of hospital beds in time, in order to reduce the costs. So, while making more money, they would reduce the costs at the same time. For instance, in 1980 in France they had 11 hospital beds for every 1000 people. Today they have six. In the States there were 7.9 beds, and by 1970 they reduced to only 2.8 beds per 1000 people. In Italy they had 9.2 beds and decreased to 2.7 during the same period, and so on.
This is scary for me. As people become comfortable with their lives they care less about those who suffer. Where did we hear this before? And we think the gospel is not alive today. What the article did not mention is that the costs of the healthcare system skyrocketed. Everything becomes more sophisticated but when it comes to essential things and real mercy and personal interaction we are in a big debt. This adds to the problem. The problem with cutting the costs and being obsessed about money did not start in the 80ís. It started when the church, which was supposed to be a hospital for the people, as we like to say, stopped being one. There was a time when the church knew that you donít cut down on mercy when you take care of people because this is what you really have from God. There is no price for it, only the body and blood of Christ. So the problem in reducing the beds based on cost really started when the church stopped being a hospital for humanking (ad litteram, with buildings and beds and care). If you donít believe it, look at the present situation we are in. We have no beds left in church today. I am wondering if this did not start also because of money. They cut down the cost not because they were poor, but because they wanted to save more.
So We Not Forget
Every year Good Friday is different. The crucifixion is the same. But we experience it differently every time, depending on where we are at the time in our life. I remembered from some years ago that if you really want to behold the love of God crucified for you, keep in your heart, at that very moment, the innocent persons in your life that you affect the most with your weaknesses and sins. And God will show you His mercy. For real. Last year, we were more on the side of the persecution. Right there, close to the cross. Enjoying a peaceful time from those who practice authority. This year, after listening to the gospel on Holy Thursday, when Jesus speaks to His disciples as to His friends, I remembered His words when He was on the cross. Like a friend I behold the cross. A dear friend. Since this holy Friday we made a new friend: the cross.
On Holy Wednesday, it was like an ocean of mercy was poured on all our wounds, on all the bloody and sinful scars on the body of humanity. Like all the heaviness was washed away. At times you want to forget everything you see. To pretend you didn't see it. Within yourself and around you. On Wednesday you wanted to remember all the sins you see and can remember in order for God to heal and wash your soul and to give hope to a dying humanity.
Many times we wonder if we are not too cruel in seeing the world. We get stuck, some would say, in the misery of the world, being tempted by our own. Maybe we donít see the good and we are obsessed with the evil. Maybe because we see so much at the mission on a daily basis and that becomes for us the main narrative, making us overlook the good that happens. Sometimes we hear voices :) telling us that maybe the devil is not so black, but it is us who give it too much attention.
Not so on Holy Wednesday. We felt that more honesty and remembrance of what is broken in us and within the world would open our heart towards healing and forgiveness. There is no way around this. Jeremiah 4:23-27: “I looked upon the earth, and behold, it was nothing, and into the sky, and there were no stars in it. I saw the mountains, and they were trembling; and I saw all the hills, and they were shaking. I looked and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of heaven were alarmed. I saw and behold, Carmel was deserted, and all the cities were burned with fire at the presence of the LordÖThat says the Lord: The whole land shall be desolate, yet I shall not destroy itÖ”
A Riddle at the Beginning of Holy Week
What am I?
I am full and lack nothing that I donít desire.
You are hungry and from my fruits you would never touch,
Because I have no fruit,
And So am I
Highly esteemed due to my sweetness, only the memory of it makes people search
unceasingly for a taste that they donít remember,
Whereas your table is forgotten because the menu is mine and your food is no need
for people, whom we thought to consume with no respect for life.
So, in fear, we control them well,
Where you are wounded in their freedom, sorrows and bitter tears have been your bread
The more we grow the stronger we become,
While you are wandering alone having no place to lay your head.
Our roots spread unnaturally through the whole world
It is only necessary for them to desire my food, in order for the colour of our garment,
fleshy and luxurious, to take away the light of their eyes and corrupt the mind.
What I have in abundance I share with them,
To cover their shame so they can hide and not see their nakedness.
Flashy leaves at the expense of fruits
Instead, you are stripped down from clothes upon which your people cast lots
If they meet you, the shame would hurt their consciousness.
We are careful with that, we treat them with gloves and protective vestments
So we leave no trace behind their neck from the heavy yoke.
Whereas you are without mercy, looking to embrace them with your bare hands.
We do not need fruits to grow because we do not grow out of seeds,
We just extend and expand.
We grow because we are searched by new and old together.
We suck the sap of life for us and we think about taking over the desert too.
Think twice before you dry us.
What else can you find better on earth?
In selling at a good price illusions for people.
A substitute for love.
What am I?
A short hint:
Jesus is going to Jerusalem to confront, in love, the source of a sinful spring. Every step He takes is one of pain and rejection and abandonment. God is abandoned, He makes up for it by embracing us. He goes to Jerusalem to be crucified in the center of a religious carcass. That is the source, the beginning of the ungodly. It is not the political or social system of any time, geography and space that generates the appetite for sin. But an empty religious system that lacks the blessing of God. Because it rejected Him. The church is not born within the empty carcass. Still, thatís where Christ is crucified so that his love on the cross to be beheld first by them. And so that forgiveness may fall from the cross on their heads, as they have no place to hide.
Holy Saturday - vigil by the tomb
There is no silence like the silence of the tomb of Christ. As we helped with his burial we shared it with the angels and among ourselves. The silence just comforts you entirely. On earth, by the tomb, there is silence, whereas in hell, as father said one year, hell is the first to celebrate the resurrection. And, as usually, it cannot do anything in silence. If it does not suit it. Without making any sound in their throats, they cannot keep it silent.
The silence of the tomb is healing for us. You cannot even think that life is defeated now. Rather you are grateful that all the nonsense ceased. You could say now with certitude that it is over.
It is over with the mocking, it is over with the strapping down, it is over with the beatings, it is over with the lies, it is over with all the violence and falsity. It is hard to believe, but it is over with Christ being ridiculed and humiliated by those who should have been the first in embracing Him as father. It is over with all the venom and cheapness of the sin. We behold on the cross the glory of God. But you can now understand better why God told Moses that no man could see the face of God and live. You can behold that only for so long, without feeling your bones melting like wax, burning from within your heart. If we complained about a cold heart before, now we have to search for the breeze that cools away the bone burning lava that wants to take over.
There is so much healing in this silence, that prepares us for the empty tomb. There is so much healing in taking care of the body of Jesus. After so much physical pain inflicted on Him, to have human hands touching you with care and kindness. To take you down from the cross and anoint you with spices. To have a white linen cloth as your garment and human tears to wash and clean your body. A corpse would not see that, but then God sees and touches everything. And allows it to be touched. To have a new tomb just for yourself. Never used before. Any small act of kindness, from humankind, is magnified now, after being on the road of the passion.
There is so much healing and peace in the silence and in caring for the body of Jesus. A silence and peace mingled with sorrow and brokenness of heart. But you can take that together because the unleashing of hell is over now.
But is it indeed over? As you stepped outside, you cannot stop noticing the same pace of the world that takes us to death as before (even though the air has a different feeling on Saturday, where the light was warm, enlightening peopleís faces in a new way). The news is now full of human dead bodies coming through the back door of the hospitals. Some of them are buried in abandoned places or taken to be incinerated. Photos from all over the world. And you see and understand that the pain and loss that the Body of Christ suffers now is without consolation and healing. Because we donít take care of the body anymore. We forgot and we donít want to remember or learn.
And then you realise, when you stepped out of the silence, that the world is the same. You might have not changed too much either. And somehow, hopeless, you behold the cross of the day dreaming about a silence by a tomb that does not exist anymore.
And you search more and look around and see the same old. The beatings, the lies, the mocking, the humiliation, religious sons who sell cheap the love of the father, in order to create their own kingdom. You see deep wounds, caused by lack of repentance and you look around and ask yourself and God where is the hope giving silence?
Is it over indeed?
All the lamentations are sung by the tomb in between verses from psalm 118 - “Blessed are the blameless in the way who walk in the law of the Lord”. (118:1) The psalm reveals to us the path of life. God brings to a spacious place those who are walking on his path. The peace at the tomb comes from the victory of life. The path of humility takes you to a broad place. Every step taken on it is not in vain or lost because Christ walks on it with all those who learn to walk.
So it is over with the lie, because anytime the truth is twisted, God shares with you more the Truth of Resurrection, any beatings or violence taken in a human body are not without reward, but unto life giving. What the body suffers from the outside, Christ would strengthen and bring love in your heart from within. For those who die without a tomb made of human hands, God prepares for you his own throne, for God does not take care of a soul in a dead body, because He is the God of the living and not of the dead. If you are abandoned on the cross together with Him, you share paradise with Him today. Any violence, lie, death itself has no dominion because they are received in Christ. “As a lamb before its shearer is dumb so He opens not his mouth”. Hell unleashed everything on Christ so everything to be washed in the life everlasting. So any act of the ungodly done to the little ones is done unto Him. Those who walk within his commandments are walking on the same path of Christ.
It is for us, within the silence of the tomb, to become a witness and a presence to those who live and die in Truth in order for us to see the fruits of the resurrection with our own eyes.
So if we wander by the road, to help carry the burden of the cross as Simon of Cyrene, for a little moment, while the innocents are waiting to be crucified. To be present when the innocents are sentenced and let them know that we are there for them and we know their Truth. To witness as the centurion the godliness in them, when the shortage of terror is proved by the light of the dawn. To offer a word of kindness, even when we are melted within our own struggles and together, to remind ourselves about the eternity of hope. To remain and become a presence in the life of those for whom loss is at home. Not to strip down and mock the nakedness, but with kindness to clothe everything that is in need for protection. There is no shame in being poorly clothed, like in the beautiful garden again, because the shame of Christ on the cross becomes for those uncovered innocence pleasing to God. To abstain from quenching the thirst, but to find within us the flows of the living waters for those whose lips are dry from the heat of the sun or frozen by wind of the winter. To share at the same table, with limitless measure, in the hope of eternal salvation tomorrow as we all share in the silence in the tomb today.
Holy Saturday resembles so much our earthly life. With a false image of defeat, but with a deep sense of joy. You can see it is coming. The joy. This is the place where it starts. Within the silence of the tomb.
PASCHA - broken by light
Christ is Risen!
Like a woman in travail, who does not remember the pain of the labor after giving birth, so was our Pascha today. Eternal Pascha.
The light is breaking through any human heart. Wherever the heart might be. It finds any crack to break through. And where there is none, it creates new ones. It broke the gates of hell, and it opens the gates of paradise. Furthermore, it is kindled in people's hearts with no worry for time, only with care for the human life. So much does God care for our life that He makes sure we have freedom, beauty and love. So He can perfect everything by making them eternal. That's what a homeless man who visited the mission after 25 years, on Holy Tuesday, shared with me, while he was reflecting on his hell. How caring for others is about to save him from his own pain. A friend had just died of an overdose, another close friend had lost a leg. Within a few days many things had happened to him. He didnít know how he was going to keep it together, having himself a burden anointed with rubbing alcohol. He was reflecting about how to stop worrying about his life and other people he knew. And then he realised, as we were talking, that you need to change worrying for caring. There is no other way, he said.
There is so much light at the mission because the people who come here are so broken. So the light is visible in abundance. So is our dear community. Broken, so that the light of Pascha can be received through the cracks. Even if you want to hide it and contain it you cannot help but share it. So broken and imperfect we are?.
Not so are those with perfect big chambers and huge banquet halls. With small windows and heavy lockers. Who surrender themselves in bubble wrap to keep it together perfectly. So nothing cracks to chip the solemnity of imitation. Not so for us, not so. We rather keep it small and broken. Wandering through hedges and byways. Always on the way, always unprepared and surprised. Like a perfect victim who refuses to surrender to fear. Who looks to find its innocence and to keep it.
Or maybe, in time, it was the light of Pascha that broke through the heart of our community because from here the light was distributed to those who live within the darkness of our city. This makes more sense, when you see within the light today. It is the witness of the life of those who lived within the community from the very beginning. They did not confiscate the light of Christ for themselves, but shared it on the hedges as they shared coffee in the morning or a bowl of soup in the afternoon. And so we became broken by light.
Christ's Resurrection might not change our world today on the outside. We pray for change and repentance, but these might take time with people and with ourselves. After the resurrection, Christ met his apostles after He appeared to the myrrh-bearing women. It was a really small community at the time. They recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread, while the world continued on the same path. The Pharisees and the priests did not change or receive the good news. On the contrary they bribed the soldiers not to say anything. Jerusalem itself continued on the same path until it was entirely destroyed by the Romans, together with the temple, in 70AD.
Today, after everything that happened, there are voices who recognize the need for change within the social economic structure of the world. A new structure that would nurture life, propose more equity and protect the vulnerable. In order for the whole world to have a chance. However, the reflexes of the world seem not to change and the system wants to go back to what it knew.
For us, as a community, we are called to open ourselves to life and to become a witness of the hope in universal salvation. To proclaim even more the Truth of the gospel, in simplicity, rediscovering the joy of being a christian. The only wound in our heart to be one of love and not of sin. To support all those who give their life to the church and to the poor; those who are a brother and a sister to the poor. When the world will become more skeptical and more competitive, fighting to come up on top from the crisis, selling everything for the purpose of getting back their chariots, we'll work together longing for a simple life, becoming more honest within the encounter with the poor.
If the world does not change, I think that small communities and relationships for the sake of the gospel will be rare treats. But within them, life is rekindled and sanctified. The anxiety would grow, violence and suspiciousness would poison peopleís hearts. Worrying would be more present than caring. Thatís why communal prayer and work in simplicity among the poor, and a word from the gospel to strengthen each other, are the practical ways to find the meaning of life. To live and pray with meaning. This is what people are looking for without knowing. A reason not to linger in fear. Not to worry for the world but to be present and care for those whom the world wants to sacrifice. With a great hope, within the resurrection, praying for the salvation of all.
The joy and peace are coming from loving the Lord. When we realise that in our heart, He will stretch out His hand and, with creativity, will give us to walk without blemish on paths that are pleasing to him and sometimes untrodden to us. So we can be grateful for anything that we are going to receive.
Christ is Risen!
Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast – St. Mary of Egypt – April 5, 2020
On a pilgrimage through the desert, a priestmonk named Father Zozimos encountered a most fascinating and inspiring woman whom we know today as Saint Mary of Egypt. Saint Mary, Zozimos recalled, seemed to be ‘walking upon air.’ Upon approaching this woman, she asked for his blessing and told him of her life.
Saint Mary was born in Egypt in the sixth century and by the age of twelve had already dedicated her life to the pursuit of debauchery and excess. By her own admission, she spent the next seventeen years of her life attempting to satisfy every carnal appetite in any way possible. This intention led her to seek passage on a boat bound for Jerusalem where, out of curiosity, she followed the crowds to the threshold of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As she attempted to follow the crowd into the Church, she was stopped at the doorway by an invisible force. At this moment, her sinfulness was revealed to her and she made a promise to the Mother of God that if she was permitted to enter the Church she would dedicate the rest of her life to God.
After her dramatic conversion she withdrew to the desert where she spent the remaining years of her life in self-denial and repentance. Towards the end of her life she met the priest-monk Zozimos, whom she petitioned to visit her on regular occasions in order that she might be nourished with Holy Communion before she died.
May the example of Saint Mary draw attention to our own need for repentance so that we, too, nourished by Holy Communion, may rededicate our lives to the service of God.
This past Wednesday felt like a long and heavy day, in preparation for St. Andrew’s canon in the evening and for meeting St. Mary of Egypt in the desert. Cassandra shared with me during the day that her heart felt heavy without any particular reason. I suggested that she work more in the kitchen. I thought physical work would help; hanging around the room, serving people and talking to them does not. She replied she had been working all day in the kitchen and it did not help.
So now even the kitchen is not so safe. When this whole thing started a few weeks ago, I was joking with Lito (our guest from the North) that doing dishes was the safest thing to do while at the mission, because you keep your hands in the bleach all day. That should protect you for a while.
This heaviness feels stronger today. And as real as it may be, there is an even bigger temptation to let it cover everything in the room, including the hope of people. To become the main character of the story. To become the story in itself. So, in this context, to hear the Paschal canon accidentally played on our sound system was the good news we were all looking for.
In today’s gospel, Christ walks ahead of the disciples on the way to Jerusalem. They were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? To go freely into the pit. Following Christ, but still (as John would say), into the pit. Jesus takes them aside and tells them the Truth. The Truth is the only way to speak back to fear. The Truth, as we heard in Isaiah this week, is that God holds your hand. Nothing more and nothing less. As we heard in the presentation last Tuesday, there is no promise that everything is going to be fine. Or that any man will be glorified with God, as every man wishes. The only promise God makes, to those who do not dispute with the Truth is that He will hold our hand. “I will be with him in afflictions, I will rescue him and glorify him and I will show him my salvation.” This is the work of God. We hold his hand because this is the hand that takes us out into life. We know the hand and trust this hand because Jesus shares with us the good news even before entering Jerusalem. He knows where He is going and who He is going to meet and the reason for doing that. He knows about the Resurrection and He shares it with us. So we cannot abandon his hand when the fear becomes terror and when the terror becomes violence. Not even unto death or especially then, for those who glorify Him today. Because this is the hand that blesses us and shapes us unto life and takes us from the tomb of death. The hand that baptizes you and the hand that heals you and pours oil on your head. The hand that created man into his being, as for the other parts of creation He brings life through his very Word. The hand that touches the mountains that they can smoke, and yes, the eyes of the blind that they can see, the hand that feeds you with manna and sprinkles you with holy water. The hand that you kiss and hold tight because He girds you with power for the battle. The hand that keeps spirits away and destroys the demons made by man in the temple. The life giving hand in the hand of man begging for life. When destruction and desolation show themselves, when the curtain falls abruptly.
The hand that gives us peace and the hand that teaches you war (The Lord mighty in war, Ps. 24). The hand that is harmed on the wood and the hand that is touched by the unbelievers. To see the healing sign of a lack of faith. The hand that we can hold , in a time of restriction, even from 2 feet away, or 5ft or 10ft. Or from one hand of the universe to the other. God gives us His hand. Let us hold it tight with no fear, because there is no fear in humility. The real fear is coming from death. And the terror that it causes can last for a long time. So there is no fear because the Hand that proposed to us a new covenant, into life, the hand of the beloved who betroths us with Himself in a time of peace and in a time of tribulations, is the hand of an everlasting life.
The diary of a wimpy priest in times of affliction
These days many people look at St. Mary of Egypt as a way to cope with this induced desert time we all experience. And it is not bad, I think, to look and see that she lived without communion for a long time. Forty- seven years? And to tell ourselves not to panic and to self-isolate for a few more weeks for everything is going to be fine. We say this as if we were all born in the desert and this is a small thing to do. We say that more to ease the pain of our conscience.
We say that again, forgetting what she went through, while in the desert. Her struggles were hard to share with St. Zosimas, who begged her not to hide anything. To be away from Christ means to be away from life. But by being away, in distress, we must look for Him, remember Him and witness Him. He is the prize for any struggle we might undertake, while being in the desert.
We are not there yet. How bad the desert might look, from the account of those who really lived it. For the Jews, it was remembered as a time of honeymoon, in their relationship (covenant) with God. Again, the desert happens, because God wants us to leave something behind. In order to reconnect with life and his life giving commandments.
Is there anything sweeter than honey?
How sweet is the honey in a bitter mouth! It is like the mercy of the poor, of a weary soul that poured melted wax on his bones. It is like a wild donkey that finds his way to Jerusalem while carrying the light burden. Look at the bees, how much they toil to drop sweetness on your lips, how much more the Lord of hosts wars against your enemies to bring salvation within your house.
Do not self-isolate within your fearful cell, but make your house a church. So the bridegroom can pray with you in the middle of the night. Close your ears to the voices of vices who spread terror and deceit, for the presence of the Lord is not conditioned but by your remembrance, and this is never forgotten in the heart of your children. Behold the face of the Lord and watch over them, so that in a time of peace they don’t go astray. For in a time of affliction the Lord of hosts is your only protector. Trust in Him, and your house and your city will reveal in the streets the presence of life among those who are not indifferent to each other.
How sweet is the honey in a bitter mouth? It is like the wild donkey that forgot to wander on the mountains because in the city of Sion civilization is perishing with gratitude.
We are not there yet. Today we see an invitation. Which we rather reject politely. Trying to find local remedies to local problems (see Isaiah - reading on Tuesday).
Being still here, our best chance to meet St. Mary while being on this side of the Jordan, before she crosses over into the desert. So if we do meet her, how do we approach her and talk to her? Or do we just wait for her to repent and to come to us on the water? Hopefully thinking we can meet her in the middle, and go back, of course, after receiving some wisdom from her and spiritualizing our senses.
On Wednesday morning two very young street workers (the best way to cover what we don’t like to see, in Canada, is to give noble names - like pro-choice, dying with dignity, and so on - to harmful social realities) came into the room. A male and a female. Both of them were extremely skinny and high or intoxicated. A quiet, well behaved man followed them. The two workers had to wait at the entrance for some chairs to become available. They started to act out as they settled in. One was shoeless, holding a gigantic teddy bear in his arms, the other one a small stuffed sheep. At times, you could not differentiate the man from the woman. A part from an icon we venerate in church was somehow revealed in the room when the girl tried to change in a corner. They couldn’t stop acting out and they needed repetitive reminders like small children. The scene took on a new meaning somehow, when they were trying to help each other to keep it together so they don’t get kicked out. The girl told the boy to sit down because this was a church. And she showed him the chapel. It was then that I noticed the boy was wearing a wooden cross around his neck. The scene resembled more the icon, when they embraced each other crying, with the girl telling him he was her only friend. I was blessed to see her eyes for a moment. Children’s eyes full of suffering and despair, begging for life. Looking around with fear and mistrust. A life harmed by those who take advantage of the vulnerable. In that situation, the quiet guy seemed to be at fault. At least that morning. He was the “protector” on the outside, hiding the predator soul on the inside.
It was hard to see all this scene before praying to St. Mary of Egypt to find a way to bring their life into the desert. In the place where we don’t want to go. But if we don’t want to go, our children might end up being captive in a rich abusive world that treats the saints as goods for themselves. Whatever you can get from them, a prayer, holy oil or pleasures, if they don’t repent quickly. Just to let the economy prosper. A black or white market that functions according to the same crooked rules.
In the middle of this generalized confusion, with the economic panic and the sorrows of the elderly and the real threats, somehow the future of our children seemed more hopeful. The good news of this week. Because, if the desert makes saints out of vulnerable people addicted to the evil patterns of a world that keeps them captive, the world we want back devours the saints, leaving behind no memory of their life, replacing their names with numbers (see the record of homeless people who died without a name on the streets of Toronto).
The milk of a mother could not harm a child in the womb.
I could not find the exact verse in the bible. Our friend told me these words made her ponder for a long time. She said it was at the end of proverbs. There is something similar in Isaiah. What does it mean? She is a mother (who is now homeless). She ponders as a mother. “I don’t know. I’ll think about it,” I replied. She thinks it means a mother could not harm her child. She is a mother for life.
If mothers have a choice, the choice is to give life. Freedom is to choose life. There is no freedom for men in a different place. In death, we all become slaves. She pondered like that as a mother, because she had her own pain here in need of forgiveness. We both pondered as parents. I thought it also speaks about forgiveness. A mother will be receiving forgiveness and healing when she looks for it, after a while, when the child was adopted by God. In Whom we all become sons and daughters of light.
There is always the freedom to choose what is good and life-giving. Even on the cross, Christ sits next to you, ready to forgive.
From my deepest sins, protect God those who love the beauty of the law.
George told me he saw people coming to the doors blaming us for being open. With hate. People who used to come for food just a few weeks ago. Every day there are some who point fingers at us. Even people who used to work for us attack others now for working, sending vicious texts. If you go outside you see both extremes: on the one hand people being grateful that we are open, asking how they could help, and on the other hand others who swear at us in between their teeth, civilised, as they walk hand in hand on Broadview.
We were praised by the officials for being open. Front line workers for the sake of others. But not named. Being all in the frontline, some are in the back and not seen.
The mission is still seen by the city as an essential service for those in need and they are praising us through emails. In the real world, the voices of those accusing are multiplying as reality becomes more tragic. I think we have to put up with both, risking being here for those who are really vulnerable, and taking the hate of those who want us to close. Thank you very much.
People who were really marginalized before are still being pushed aside today. No new places for homeless people to isolate. They are on their own. Even though the police pick up homeless people and take them to shelters where there are still beds available. More for women and more in Scarborough as somebody told me.
But the majority are out there. Having no showers, no laundry, no toilets, no warm food and no coffee. David, a guy who sleeps during the day and stays awake at night, keeping vigil on the streets because he prefers solitude instead of the company of people, says that the only coffee and warm food he gets now is at St. John’s, on Wednesdays. Other places give out only sandwiches. As the situation worsens for the majority of people, it will become the worst for those most vulnerable. And for anybody else close enough to them. It will mean more social distancing from others while blaming us quietly with indignation that we dare to stay open, in the front line. Thank you very much indeed!
We experienced social distancing in the past. Especially last year. But the people we serve have been living this reality for many years. I know so many people from our community who have been living like that for a long time. This becomes a time when we get to experience what real life has been for others, due to our own lifestyle. Think not only about physical distancing, but also about keeping away from the real, spiritual food. The body and the blood of Christ. There are so many situations, from people who die without having communion to those who demand it as a birthright, because of being part of a privileged group, or having paid their fees.
It is ironic that only last year, influential voices were telling us not to stop any person from approaching communion, under no circumstances (except on grounds of adultery, which good Orthodox stay away from anyways). And today, we hear more authorities giving the example of St. Mary of Egypt, when they stop people around the world from receiving communion. I am not saying they should not do that, I am just observing the irony.
We also remember how last year we did not know if we were going to exist as a church. We have been living with this uncertainty for a while now. Today we are one of the few places open during the day because we are a Toronto drop in. The poor saved us again.
But this is not happening to prove us a point, but rather, I believe, to show us that the goodness we received was not equally spread. We are receiving the good news of the Resurrection so we can witness and testify for the sake of those who do not know when the darkness is going to end. To those who have not seen the dawn just yet.
No, God allows us to taste a little bit from this estrangement just to enlarge our heart. For it was not Him who abandons some and saves others, but us who exclude each other from the holy table. And this, I am afraid to say, cannot continue for much longer. Because if it does, it will harm our own salvation.
Luis suffered from social isolation for many years. Almost nobody would talk to him, even at the mission, because he would not answer back out of tiredness. So people were social distancing from him big time. I wonder where he might be. Maybe he was offered a nice room to isolate, not to spread the sickness. He looks sick all the time so he could easily meet the conditions to qualify as a social threat.
More good news this week: The cannabis stores will close this week. They were identified as not essential business in Toronto. Now we can speak. They are catching up with the churches in being relevant. However, they did not say, but I think the real reason is that people were not buying from the government anymore and they were losing more money just keeping them open. Because the sales are still high, but everything happens online now. Let’s wait a little bit more for that world to be shaken. Like smoke they should vanish.
Another good news: I was complaining about toilet paper disappearing from our sight. Surprise! On Wednesday, a neighbour left a roll of toilet paper on our little library box outside the mission. In regular times this would pass as an offence. Today, it is a beacon of hope. To share with the homeless the most precious and valuable thing today. Even though you wonder how they would use it, with no public washrooms open in the city. The roll stayed there from morning until evening, like the story with the grapes in the Egyptian desert, among the monks (they kept circulating until they came back to the one that gave them away).
David finally took the roll, with much gratitude. He is a poor person, with a great sense of humor. He comes only on Wednesdays, for dinner. He has a bachelor degree in Economics but he prefers to live like a hermit because people give him goosebumps. He says that with a smile. He means social anxiety.
Dostoievsky said that the level of civilization of a nation is shown by the way it treats people in prisons. G. was there and praised the system. He said the food was extremely good and people addressed him as “sir.” So, we are pretty civilized if we use Dostoievsky’s scale. The food, according to G., was so much better than in the shelter where he used to stay. And people called him “sir,” while in the shelter the workers called him “nazi” because he spoke German. G. is retired and speaks several languages, among them Latin and Hebrew. When he loses his temper, he can prove a point. I would add to his story that the shelter where he stayed was a Christian one, with a good reputation. If their standards were lower than a prison cell, and their language so humiliating, it sheds some light on the level of compassion in the social service system. Maybe it was a good thing that Dostoviesky didn’t live long enough to write about that. For civilized we are indeed, but what do we call the way the city of Toronto is treating its homeless neighbours?
Humiliation is the toolkit of the enemy (paraphrasing the psalms).
For all in great sorrow you are joy,
For all those oppressed a defender,
A guiding staff to the blind,
To the sick, a visitor,
To those who hunger, a meal,
To the strangers a kindly word,
Assistance to orphans,
Shelter and defending shield to the defeated and weak;
Mother of our God in the highest,
Hearken to our plea as we cry out,
Hasten to your servants and deliver us.
Friday was a good but heavy day. So much uncertainty and fear for people whose lives are already normally are on the edge any way makes into your bones.
I keep looking forward to the vigil at the feet of the Mother of God in the evening. She is the space where you can breathe freely; no masks no fear of others and most of all no fear in front of God her Son.
During the day the prevailing smell is of DETTOL.
Dettol is the preferred sanitizer in the third world and we found by providence a huge supply just next door to us at the start of the crises.
During the day I noticed around the chapel door of St. Zoticos and the rest of the building a different smell. Sweet and beautiful, I dismissed it as someone wearing perfume. We are not I am proud to say a perfume free area.
Next door to us in the Sri Lanka store Buddhist chants are being broadcasted through the radio and the store is full of incense smoke, sandalwood sticks. The owner wearing a big Cross on his sweatshirt! Br. Luke is keeping vigil alone in the chapel throughout day. The large icon of our Lady of Scarborough with the burning lamp keeps vigil over every one. Christian Hindu, Buddhist, Muslims and even the Canadian Atheists...but the sweet smell kept appearing out of nowhere. Later in the day i finally stopped and took notice. The smell I recognized it was pure Attar Rose! One of the most costly and precious smells too pure and costly to be used alone. It was the smell I recognized when the miraculous icon of the Mother of God came to the Mission. Attar Rosé: in the midst of a pandemic where everyone afraid of the other and one only hears about the stats of death.
It took me a whole day to get it, to pay attention to the smell of Roses, a word that says she is with us and cares. I did not check if any icon was dripping, that is the last thing we need right now, but her presence remains in me ... it’s like she said "Roberto go and tell them I am here and I love you." This is why i write now. Rejoice of Oh Source of all Joy!
Please sing along and do not stay outside the chapel — there is lots of room inside for you.
|Wednesday||11:30 am||Prayers||Friday||7:00 am||Othros/Divine Liturgy|
|4:00 pm||Vespers/Dinner||11:30 am||Prayers|
|6 pm||Bridges||3:00 pm||Jesus Prayer|
|Thursday||11:30 am||Prayers||Sunday||8:30 am||Othros|
|3:00 pm||Jesus Prayer||10:00 am||Divine Liturgy/Reader Service followed by Agape meal|