Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we enter the new ecclesiastical (church) year, I would like to offer a theme for the year: Philoxenia (fee-lok-se-NEE-a): “Love for Strangers”.
On past Sundays I have spoken about this rich word and how it is central to our spiritual lives. Please allow me another moment to explain.
Philoxenia is the outpouring of God’s love, expressed by and through each of us. We can become fountains of God’s love, showering it upon those around us. In the world there is only philophilia – love of friends/family. As our Lord says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6:32-33)
Philoxenia is a love that reaches beyond the close ties of kinship and camaraderie. It reaches out to those whom we don’t know well, even to complete strangers. It is a love that recognizes the icon of Christ in everyone, that sees the immense value of every human, not just those with whom we are comfortable.
Philoxenia can be expressed in our parish in two concrete ways. First, we can seek fellowship with people whom we don’t know well. This means that we look at Sundays in a different way: Rather than viewing Sundays as a time to connect with our friends and koumbari (since we can do this on other days of the week), we turn our focus to those who are unfamiliar. We seek not only the brand-new faces, but also the faces of people whom we have seen week after week, yet have rarely ever conversed with. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who remain largely unknown to us – unless we seek them out. (And sometimes these people can be too shy to reach out to us!)
Philoxenia can also be expressed in our parish through the wonderful gift of food. When we prepare food for another person, we are saying, “I care about you. I spent time and effort to make this for you.” The Sunday fellowship can become just this kind of opportunity: An outpouring of love expressed through food. I encourage you to do this! Sign up for a Sunday or two, and share whatever foods are special to you. It can be simple or complex. As long as it is peanut and sesame free, it can include whatever ingredients you would like. (Our parish will continue to have an allergen-free table reserved only for those who are unable to eat the other prepared food.) When we put love into our meal preparations, that love is received by those who partake. It is a blessing to emulate Abraham and Sarah, serving their best food to the visiting angels. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Philoxenia ultimately is the love which Jesus has shown us, who were foreigners estranged from God through sin. “You, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless” (Colossians 1:21-22) “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Philoxenia is our path toward theosis, toward union with God, Whose love is ever-abundant, pouring forth upon all of creation and every human being made in His image and likeness. As our love expands beyond the small circle of family and friends, it becomes energized by God (a synergy!) and we enter into communion with Him.
May God grant us His love which encompasses everyone around us: true philoxenia!