The time Fr. Paul spent with His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilochios left an huge impression on his life. During our annual Fall staff retreat, Fr. Paul shared lessons with us to help inspire and guide the work we do. Three pieces of advice, inspired by Geronta Amfilochios’ life, are important for all of us to consider as we work together to serve others.
1. Treat everyone who comes your way as if God Himself arranged the encounter. Everyone!
Geronta treated everyone, everyone, as if God had foreordained that their paths should meet. It didn’t matter their education, or status, or material wealth, or language or skin color, or religion. Everyone, in his simple but profound understanding, was sent from God and was potentially a part of his spiritual family.
This advice is central to the work of FOCUS communities across the country. Every encounter is an encounter with Christ. Working to embrace each other as family, no matter what, is a difficult but necessary habit to master. Young people who are involved in Youth Equipped to Serve (YES) learn this during trip orientation, and then are able to practice it when they engage their communities through service.
2. The walls that separate people are imaginary. We, too, can walk through walls.
Geronta encountered many people whom by rights (by social custom) should not speak to us or help us or we to speak with them. He never acknowledged those barriers. Everyone was equal, everyone was precious, everyone was and is made in the image of God, everyone was or is a potential saint. Geronta was equally at peace with Kings, and Princesses, and Royal families as he was with societally unaccepted mixed marriages and half cast children. He was equally at home in the company of Indians and Hindus and Muslims as he was with Fijian Christians. The only thing that I can say he did differently when with those unlike himself was to be extra cautious not to do anything that could be construed as an abandonment of Christ.
We all have walls that keep us from communion with each other if we allow them to. These walls can easily manifest in our lives when we uphold stereotypes, spread non-compassionate thoughts, and live in fear of the unknown or rejection. However if we trust in Christ – and the truth that through his humanity, his suffering, and ultimately his death and resurrection we are no longer separate from each other – we can walk through these walls and share a glimpse of a world transformed by love.
3. Meals are important times to connect with people.
No such thing as a casual meal. Even if the meal is offered in silence, eat the meal with others knowing that God is present with you. (Geronta did eat snacks occasionally, and we did not “bless” those as if they were meals but usually that was because we were in transit somewhere.)
Community meals are often one of the first ways FOCUS communities reach out to people in need. When we all sit together at a common table and break bread, it is often easier to relax and connect with each other. Prioritizing this connection can transform the transactional experience of “feeding the poor” to a communal experience of sharing a meal together in God’s presence.
The italicized words above are an excerpt from notes submitted by Father Paul A. Patitsas for FOCUS to use and share. Fr. Paul is priest at St. Nicholas Church in Troy, Michigan.
FOCUS North America is a national movement of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America.
Join our mission today!