A fictional account
It was a dark and rainy night. A priest was already preparing for bed before he heard someone knocking on the door. When he opened the door, he saw one of his parishioners standing there, sad and clearly in great distress. “What could it be that brings him to my door at this time of the night? Maybe someone is dying in the family? Maybe there is some pressing need?” The questions that arose in the priest’s head were suddenly interrupted by a loud exclamation said in tears, “Father, I do not feel Orthodoxy…I simply do not feel my faith. I feel dead on the inside!”
Upon inviting his parishioner in his home, and after preparing some tea for this bothered man, the priest asked him to tell him more about his problem. Upon taking a few sips of tea and taking a deep breath, the parishioner explained what he was feeling. He said to the priest: “Father, you know me as this cheerful and happy person from the Church. You know me as the guy who is nice to his wife and family and loved by everyone. You know me as someone who never misses Church but I know myself and perceive myself in a different way.” The priest’s heart pounded, anxious to understand so that he may, by the grace of God, help this poor man. The parishioner continued: “I’ve been coming to this Church for many years and the only thing I see now are the things that are peripheral. What time are the services? What will we eat and drink for our Church Slava? Who will cook, and who will clean? I’ve wasted time arguing on all these things. And somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten the true reason for being here. When I and my family came from our homeland, we found refuge and a new home in the Church here. But after many years, I can say that I do not feel that I have any home at all.” The parishioner paused here, chuckling awkwardly to hold back the tears. The priest, having heard what this parishioner said so far, put a hand on his shoulder and humbly asked his parishioner: “Did I play any role in you losing your faith? Is there something that I could have done?” The parishioner answered “Father, it’s been over two years since I last had confession with you. My conversations with you were intentionally cheery so that I may distract you and myself from my desperate need to go to confession and say to you what I said now. I was too proud! My ego was choking me…or rather God within me…”.
Having understood that his parishioner has touched the root of the problem, the priest asked him: “What can we both do to help you overcome this?” As though his parishioner read his mind, he continued his confession saying that the root of his problem was ego which subsequently destroyed his relationship with God and ultimately with his priest. “On the outside all was good”, the parishioner said, “but on the inside, father, I had no idea what your role in my life was…that is, until now. I am now understand your role is to unveil my true self because that is what God wants to see in me. You were waiting patiently for me and were probably wondering when I will ever talk to you about something serious…I perceived you as only working during that one hour a week you serve the liturgy. How many souls were coming to you and talking to you and were educated about their faith and being saved? Only me, your strict judge, was standing on the side and, while never showing my true face, was wondering why are we even paying you?” This priest was not offended by anything his parishioner said. As the matter of fact, he rejoiced knowing that the true personality of his parishioner was finally revealed and that he, as a spiritual father, can finally start doing his work which is to connect this honest and now humbled man with God. “What do we do next father?”, the parishioner asked, “Is there a way I can get back my faith and truly enjoy my relationship with God?
Now, the smile was visible on the priest’s face and he exclaimed “YES!!!” Almost with the same passion this parishioner had exclaimed “I LOST MY FAITH” when he came to knock on the door. After the parishioner heard his priest exclaim this encouraging YES, he was so relieved and he realized that the first step to solving his issue was to admit that he feels lost and to open up. It does not matter how tight the grip of our egos are, we have the power to resist and say no to it!
The priest admitted his mistake for not noticing some obvious signs of his spiritual decline which is firstly reflected in his parishioner’s lack of need for confession. The priest encouraged his parishioner to keep the prayer rule he assigned to him and to have his confession more regularly as well as communion. Indeed, how can one feel full of life and faith when he says no to Christ who as the pure life gives himself in the chalice every liturgy?” Although the words of the priest were painful for the parishioner to understand, because this parishioner already was set in his ways, This was, nonetheless, the beginning of the true transfiguration of the parishioner who came desperate and now, upon opening up, feels that the torrent of despair upon his soul was subsiding, in the same way the torrent of rain outside of the house subsided as they finished their conversation.
The priest understood that it takes time for his parishioner to change but he was now filled with hope that the change might happen. The parishioner was about to leave and he hugged his priest and said “Father, thank you for everything!” To that, the priest replied “It was all you my courageous brother in Christ and God within you!” The parishioner walked away from his priest into the night and to his home promising to himself that the relationship he started this cold and rainy night with his priest, and through his priest with God, will never suffer again.
Let us all connect and reconnect to our faith brothers and sisters! Now, I think we know how… Let us pray that God will enlighten us to see ourselves as clearly as this man, that we may find our true selves, God within us.
Good food for thought.
This was such a great story. Thank you Fr. Stefan