Sunday, May 22, 2011
Today is the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, second to last Lord’s Day of the season of Pascha, Christ’s resurrection. Fr Dimosthenis was alone in the altar, no deacon, no proistámenos, and only one cantor. The choir was pretty full, though, and they sang splendidly, not for show, but ‘in spirit and truth’… you could just feel it. I don’t know where the other two members of our clergy triad were, but young Fr Dimos was able to handle everything, so smoothly, so naturally, so invisibly, that one can only thank the Lord for sending us such a priest.
He would not want me to praise him, only to praise Him, but I must say that his homily was as usual, not too long, not learned yet bursting with scripture, not pedantic, but gentle and heart-warmingly persuasive. What better subject than the story of the woman at the well, of Photiní? The Greeks have given her a personal name and know her history, but the name must be something she acquired after her meeting with the Lord, as it means ‘the enlightened’, and that is what happened to her when she met the One who revealed Himself to her, ‘I am He.’
What Fr Dimos preached was nothing but the gospel, nothing added, nothing taken away, not an interpretation, not a bible study, but simply what was passed to him from the Lord through this story, the same he passed on to us. The message? Change. What happens to us when God meets us, comes down to our level to meet us, and to ask us for a drink. Change. There is nothing else that we can do, unless it is nothing. Not moralistic—for what can be said when the Sinless One encounters human sin?—Fr Dimos spoke the word of Jesus to us, as He spoke it to Photiní.
Everything I experienced in the divine liturgy this morning revealed to me how easy it is to just do what is right, and how that is what is going on, for the most part, in this community of Christian believers. The presbyter just does what he knows a priest is supposed to do. He does it not as a job, not self-consciously, but he just does what a priest is supposed to do without drawing any attention to himself. By acting this way, Jesus is visible in his every move. You never know what it’s going to look like when Christ comes into your midst until He does. This morning was one of those times.
I looked around me. The families, the seniors, the single men and women, the children that filled the temple, how wonderful it was to see them there, doing what they are supposed to do, knowing what is the right thing to do and doing it. The mothers and fathers and the children, being Christian families in the temple worship with such patience and attention. How easy it is to just do what is right! To show up, to stand reverently and quietly, and pray. Then, to go home and continue living the simple life that Christ has laid out for us in His holy scripture, saying, ‘Choose this, and live.’
Unradical, as unradical as is the saying of the servants in the gospels, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:10). Not drawing attention to themselves as ‘model families,’ nor individuals raising themselves onto pedestals as ‘overcomers,’ nor preachers tantalizing us with their Sunday ‘message’ on church marquees or last week’s bulletins. The Christian life is easy when we just do what is expected, what we know is right. By our doing what is unexceptional, but what the gospels call ‘our duty,’ the exceptional happens, in fact, always happens, and reliably.
Yet we do not notice, nor are we supposed to. This is where the apparent conflict between grace and works dissolves into the nothing that it is. We do what we have been given to do, where we are, to the best of our ability, and without ‘watching the pot boil,’ and then what only God can accomplish in us comes to pass. This is what I saw everywhere I looked today at church on a Sunday morning. And I didn’t stop seeing this when the service ended and I walked over to the fellowship hall, or when I went into the book store to buy a few gifts. People simply doing what they should, and God blessing it.
Radically changed lives? Yes, well, that is something to think about, but we find that when we do think about it is when we are least capable of it. Seeking to be radically changed, we rarely do change what needs to be. Why is this? It seems so ironic, so unfair. This is all born of a mental outlook formed by the world with its expectations, goal setting, measuring and weighing, in short, its regimen of judgment. This is not how reality works, this is not how God is, nor what the gospels teach if they teach anything. The prophets sing it between their weeping, ‘What is good has been explained to you, man…’ (Micah 6:8).
So, the woman at the well is asked for a drink by a Stranger who turns out to be the Savior of the world. He asks, He reveals, but He does not judge. Did she ever actually give Him the drink He asked for? We see her, eyes widening, a look of astonishment mingled with joy and fear, as she runs off to tell her kinsmen in the village about the Man at the well, ‘You just have to see this!’ And Fr Dimosthenis is right, change happens when God comes down to our level and asks us for a drink, but we barely notice, as we just go and do what we are told, ‘Go, and call your husband.’
at 2:17 PM