There are many rich stories in the Gospels about our call to attend to the poor. Those of us who were raised in Christian homes have grown up with an image of Lazarus at the gate of the rich man. (Luke 16:19-31) We know of Christ’s imperative to care for those in need and oftentimes this inspires us to give our money to charitable organizations, to the homeless, or to ministries in the Church.
Today I would like to repaint the “poor man” at our gate. Instead of one who is lacking food and shelter, in tattered rags, I’d like to draw a picture of someone who is well-dressed. Maybe they drive the same car as you and have a stable job. Perhaps they stand near you regularly at the Divine Liturgy. But they are still famished and in need.
The need that I am speaking of is a need for communion with others. This poverty of communion reaches across all economic classes and social strata. It is rampant today in the world around us and right here in our parish. Many of us are suffering from it and sometimes we might not even realize it!
Communion with our fellow Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters is life-giving because it is our encounter with Christ as our neighbor. It might seem trivial or unnecessary to have time together outside of our liturgical life, but this is an oversight. None of us is an island: We are all knitted together through the Eucharist as One Body of Christ. And when we are not truly connected through the sharing of our lives—which can only occur when we set aside TIME to do so—then we suffer.
There are many resources that God has given us to use in our lives: We must discern how to spend our money wisely, how to eat and live in a way that responsibly cares for our bodies, and how to use the time we have been given. This last resource—TIME—is the one that is often most precious to us, because we seem to have so little of it in our modern day.
Our community here at St. John was built on a strong foundation of community and hospitality. The founding families and clergy of this parish gave generously of their time to nurture each other in fellowship and to build a vibrant, interconnected community. This was brought to light recently in the falling asleep in the Lord of John Poulos, a founder of this parish. In one of the eulogies given at John’s funeral services, it was highlighted how virtuous he was in hospitality. He truly gave abundantly of his joyful presence in the service of Christ. He listened to the lives of others and, along with his wife, he invited many hungry and seeking souls into his home. My family was privileged to experience this in the Poulos home, even from my first visit to Oregon!
It has been 24 years since our parish was founded. In that time, much has changed. We find ourselves now with an abundance of new faces and newly baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians in our midst, as well as numerous catechumens. Others have moved here from different places because of economic changes and COVID. And now we have just gone through the harrowing ordeal of a pandemic—with its loss of lives, stability, connections to our brothers and sisters, and an overall loss of community.
In this time and place, it is critical that we continue to open our hearts and our TIME to the needs of those around us, specifically to the poor man at our gate who is starving for connection with another human soul, for someone to listen to his story and share in the joys and sorrows of his life. We must be proactive in sharing our precious resource of time with those in our community.
Each person has a different gift and ability in nurturing communion. Some are gracious hosts and are gifted with the fortitude to invite others in their homes for a meal, lovingly made and served. Others are knowledgeable about the best places in town to grab a work-day lunch and might have the ability to treat a friend to lunch as an offering of love and communion. And of course, a walk in the park with coffee or tea is always available, too! For some of us, our circumstances are limited by COVID and the necessity of using caution in interacting face-to-face with others. Maybe we can’t invite someone into our home for a meal, but we can still block out 20 or 30 minutes to pick up the phone and call someone! Or if we don’t know anyone in this parish to call, maybe we can extend this hospitality beyond our parish community and think of those in our lives who might be alone; an elderly friend or relative, a mom who has just had a baby, someone who has been sick or in the hospital or maybe someone who ministered to us in our younger years who we might thank for their role in our lives. Each offering is a gift of love.
Our poverty of communion is an extremely painful experience of this modern era. We might be clothed, fed and relatively comfortable in other ways; but when we are alone and cut off from communion with others, we are dying.
We must challenge ourselves to think of how to feed the hungry people of this isolated and difficult time through our gift of time and love. Furthermore, as we set aside time in our lives to give another person honor by listening and sharing in his or her life, we emulate Christ and grow closer to Him. And when we practice this in our parish, we make the strands of our community web stronger, creating more unity and stability, to the glory of God.