Thoughts for the Week
Bishop John A. Elya
My Place in the Body of Christ – shared with our Cleveland Parish
In the Middle Ages, a pilgrim took off on a long journey in quest of knowledge and wisdom. He passed one day near a big building project. It was a huge space with hundreds of workers, some digging ditches, some mixing cement, some carrying stones, some laying bricks, one chiseling a piece of marble into a statue, and many other people busy doing each one one’s own thing. He was curious and wanted to know what was being built. He asked one worker:
“What are you doing here?, my friend”
The worker answered: “I am mixing cement. Can’t you see?”
He asked another: “What are you doing here?”
This one answered, without taking his eyes off the statue he was carving: “I am carving a statue of St. Joseph.”
A third one answered: “I am laying bricks, can’t you see? It is a boring job; but I need the money.
Finally, he asked the water boy, a youngster who was carrying a jog and pouring water to thirsty workers:
“What are you doing here, my friend?”
The little boy lifted up his head and proudly answered:
“We are building a cathedral.”
That little, intelligent boy made history. He had a vision, he had a comprehensive idea of what was going on. As the saying goes, he looked at the forest instead of the tree. He admired and was proud of the beautiful forest, instead of focussing on the tree of his own, as all the others were doing. Very often, we get lost in our small corner, doing our own thing, and we lose track of the wider reality all around us.
My friends, with God, all makes sense; and we are brought to a higher level of awareness. If we are not aware, life passes us by. We get down the hill before we reach the top. Reality takes shape for us in the measure of our awareness. Through our awareness, we are higher than the animals as the animals awareness puts them higher than the vegetable kingdom. Moreover, through our spiritual awareness, we live in the spirit and we maximize our dignity as children of God.
I hope that this Parish Retreat will help us to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives and of our dignity as children of God, created in His image and likeness, endowed with feelings, with intelligence and with will power. We have been “made a little less than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. We have been given rule over the works of God’s hands, putting all things under our feet.” (Psalm 8:6-7) I hope this open conversation will make us more aware of our special place in the church which is the mystical body of Christ. Whatever you do for the church, be it important or menial, you are not doing only that – singing, cooking, preparing the coffee and donuts, managing the hall, teaching Sunday School, participating in Bible study, organizing a hafly, selling tickets, preparing posters, printing bulletins, etc., etc., you are not only mixing cement or laying bricks, you are building God’s cathedral.
St Paul writes to the first Christians:
“To each one of us, grace was given according to Christ’s imparting.” (Ephesians 4:7) “We have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. As just each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ, individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
We have different gifts; but these gifts are given for the whole body and not for the benefit of the individual members. Our individual gifts are given to unite us and not to set us apart. In a balanced personality, no member does things to hurt other members. If the mouth overeats, it hurts the stomach. If we oversmoke, we hurt our throat and our heart. If the feet run too fast, the heart beats faster and the blood pressure rises high. All the members form one single body and are affected by each other.
St. Paul goes on to mention some of the various gifts in the same body:
“It is He (God) who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-13).
Each one should know his or her gifts and share them faithfully with the community.
- The one who has a nice voice should sing.
- The one who has teaching talents should teach.
- One would serve and one would administer, according to the special talents given him or her.
We should always keep in mind that the eyes are for seeing (not hearing), the ears for hearing (not smelling), the nose for smelling and the feet for walking or running. Did you ever think that “If your nose runs and your feet smell, you are built up-side-down?” God forbid that we should insist on those who are spiritually minded, who never miss a spiritual activity, to help necessarily in our social programs; or to insist on those who are financially gifted to dictate our religious programs or our spiritual activities. God forbid that you should leave it to the clergy to run the social, the financial, the legal and the spiritual affairs of the parish all by themselves. The church needs the different talents of each one of the parishioners. Did you ever see a big head rolling along in the street with no legs, no hands, no belly? What a monster! Usually the more material things are left to the priest to do and the less spiritual things go on in the parish. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the Twelve Apostles were spreading themselves too thin. They were forced sometimes to neglect the word of God to take care of material concerns and to act as referees in quarrels among old ladies, those of Judea against those of the Diaspora – somehow like American born against new immigrants. So, the Christian Community chose seven deacons to take care of the material administration, so that the Apostles can dedicate all their time to prayer and preaching.
Do you know what happens often when we are torn between material and spiritual concerns? The same thing which happened, in the old story which you have heard before, between the pot of steel and the pot of porcelain. One day, a pot of steel and a pot of fine China struck a friendship – in the language of the day, we say, they entered into a relationship. One sunny afternoon, they took a leisurely walk together. The pot of China leaned lovingly on the pot of steel. Then the pot of steel leaned a little too heavily on the pot of China and it broke it. St. Paul reminds us: “We carry our treasure in earthly vessels, so that the credit of strength goes to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Here are some important questions that we should ask ourselves honestly as active members of a living parish community such as St. Elias Church.
- What is or what are my gifts of service to my parish Community? Choir, altar service, Parish Council, societies, Youth Activities, Religious Education programs, works of mercy, fund raising activities, … etc.
- How much of an active, participating member am I in the body of Christ? In the railroad of God, am I a locomotive or a caboose. On the stage of life, am I an actor or a spectator? In the market of life, am I a giver or a taker, an active participant or a free loader? I heard a complaint in the Parish Advisory Council meeting of a parish I visited sometime ago. “Why do 10 per cent of the parishioners do always the 90 per cent of the church work?” – I replied: “For the same reason why 10 per cent of the guests eat 90 per cent of the hors-d’oeuvres. Are you one of the 10% givers, or one of the 90% takers?
- Am I helping the church financially, socially and spiritually in proportion to what God has given to me? If not, why not? If everyone is a taker, where the giving will come from?
- How much and how often I use my gifts for my own advantage, to serve my personal needs more than the needs of the community? As living, productive members, we offer our service to the whole community and not to our own advantage.
My Brothers and Sisters,
The thirst for power is the worst plague in some religious communities as well as in some households. Our Lord Jesus taught us:- “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
How much my gifts are used for unity? St. Paul tells the first Christians: “Emulate each other in showing love. Outdo each other in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) Anytime we get out of our own shell and serve others, we get closer to God. Anytime we ascend, we converge, and anytime we converge we ascend. When we serve others in love, when we feel like one in Christ, then we have reached the highest point of our destiny, being one with God, with Jesus our head and brother, with all our brothers and sisters in religion and in humanity, and with all creation.
This “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph.:4:3) recommended by St. Paul does not happen overnight. We work at it bit by bit. Let us try today
- to help those in need,
- to make a telephone call to a bed-ridden person or to an elderly person whom very few visit,
- to be kind to everyone around us,
- to share good news and to keep the bad news for ourselves. “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing”. By the way, you know the difference between gossip and Gospel. The latter is good news, the first is empty news, good, bad or indifferent. Our Lord warns us: On the day of judgment, people (you and I) are going to render account for every useless word we have uttered.
- to enroll in the choir, in the adult education programs, in the various activities, each one according to one’s own talents.
Before we conclude this short retreat, I would like to explain to you very briefly my understanding of what a parish is, so that we may appreciate our respective place within it. Please allow me for a moment to depart from the conventional definitions which are in the dictionary or even in the Code of Canon Law. Please bear with me in this new vision and then you could see how beautiful it looks and how dynamic would be the role that we chose in it for ourselves.
What is a parish?
According to my new vision, acquired in a “Project to reform the Local Church” developed in the early 1970’s:
- A parish is a layout of love over a piece of geography. God loved Cleveland and its suburbs and Brooklyn, OH in particular. This is why he created the parish of St. Elias first in Downtown Cleveland on Webster Avenue, then on Scranton Rd. and now in Brooklyn on Memphis Avenue, with its devoted and resourceful Pastor, Archimandrite Ibrahim Ibrahim and its Subdeacon Khalil Abdalla and the church workers, as an marvelous sign of His love. This choice puts on you, clergy and parishioners of St. Elias Church a great responsibility to be “a layout of love” over this piece of geography called the Greater Cleveland.
- The congregation is the group of people who identify with the church, who support the parish financially, who attend the prayers and the social functions and who, in one way or another associate themselves with the church community called the St. Elias Parish. We call it “the enabling Congregation,” because it enables the “Cadre,” the mind and soul of the Parish to bring about its outreach of love.
- At the center of the parish community, as the beating heart and the thinking brain of what the church is, stands The cadre, the real core of the community of the people of God. They are the ones who help the Pastor in fulfilling the mission of the parish.
In this frame of reference, as you see, the parish is the recipient of the love given by God through the Congregation. As mentioned above, and it bears repetition, the congregation is called “the enabling congregation,” because it enables, i.e. it makes it possible to the cadre to reach the parish at large.
Now, it is up to each one of you to decide your place and your gifts in the Body of Christ which is the Parish at large, the enabling Congregation or, preferably the dynamic Cadre. The fact that you are here indicates that you are not simply a member of the parish at large, taking advantage of the Church without contributing back to it a sharing of your gifts. You certainly are members of the congregation; but you are also to a great extent a part of the cadre which radiates the love of God, through the congregation, to the whole parish. May this awareness of your dignity as helper of God in His Church give you joy and happiness. And may your joy overflow all around you. And may your Parish of St. Elias be an exemplar of God’s love to the Greater Cleveland and to all the Diocese of Newton. Amen.
PASCHA RETREAT for our Cleveland Parish – Given Saturday. May 3, 2003
Pascha, the Season of Seasons – This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad therein.”
Christ is risen! Al Masiix qaam! Christos Anesti!
For 40 days, and then every Sunday, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Preaching the Risen Christ and the Empty Tomb was the reason of the expansion of Christianity in the first century. Of course the great conviction of the Apostles and of the early Christians as empowered by the Holy Spirit, together with the love which the first Christians carried for one another caused the pagans to believe in the truth of Christ Resurrection.
Story of the homebound lady in Lawrence: I greeted her: “Christ is risen!” Instead of the conventional answer, she asked: “What?” I repeated with a louder voice: “Christ is risen!” She asked again: “What?” I repeated more clearly: “Christ is risen! Al Masiix qaam!” She answered: “Min zamaan! A long time ago!” Until now, I am not sure if she meant that the feast is two weed past, or that the event is two thousand year old. Christ Resurrection, my friends, is not history told, but mystery lived! We are the people of the Resurrection! Bear a Resurrection smile! Remember the smart remark of Nietzsche: “If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, why don’t you look more redeemed.
And, by the way, I am so very happy to be with you, dear people of St. Elias. I always enjoyed your Pastor’s hospitality and wisdom and enthusiasm. 3ala qadril 3azmi ta’til 3azaa’imu … “You know a tree by its fruits,” says our Lord. And the famous Arabic verses of Al Mutanabbi: “Great deeds are measured by great people… To small people, small things look great. To great people, great things look small.” So, the more you expect of life, the more life will give you.
“I bargained with life for a penny/ Until I found, dismayed, / That any wage I would have asked of life / Life would have paid.”
I remember from seminary life the sad story of a poor soul who was born poor spiritually, who lived in mediocrity and who died poor as she had lived. She was described by two lines in French:
“Elle est morte et n’a point vecu. Elle faisait semblant de vivre,/ De sa main est tombe le livre Dans lequel elle n’a rien lu.”
She died, but she never lived; She only appeared living. / From her hands has fallen the book In which she read nothing.”
So, let us use this day to the best! Let us wake up and live; or let us intensify our living. What we do without enthusiasm, we quit without regret. As the Arabic saying: “Maa lam tat3ab 3alayhil aydi laa taxzan 3alayhil quluub!” If your hands do not toil your heart does not ache. And, in the words of our Lord: “Where is your treasure, there your heart will be also.”
I could not imagine a better time for this parish retreat than the season of the glorious Pascha, Easter and the middle of the spring season. The time of spring is a time of revival. Nature wakes up from its winter sleep. We call this hibernation. Many animals hibernate, that is sleep during winter. Blood circulation slows down almost to a halt. Most vegetation lose their leafs during fall and winter. In the spring, nature wakes up. Life returns to the fields, to the plants and to the trees. We would like to think that with Christ risen from the dead life comes back everywhere. We are invited with nature to wake up, to open our eyes and to see the beauty all around us. Remember that with the Birth of Christ, Christmas, the daylight becomes longer and longer every day. Christ is the light of the world. Now, with Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, nature wakes up and life returns in the splendor of spring. Our Lord said: “If the grain of wheat does not die it stays alone, but if it dies it brings much fruit. The Lebanese popular song:
“May the grain of wheat planted in out hearts/ Die and grow and flourish with love.
May the people whom we see on our roads/ Meet your face in us, O my Lord.”
Pascha, Pecked, Al Fisx, Passover, all have the same Semitic root as the Arabic word “Fashkhah” a step, a jump over, a passage from slavery to freedom, from death to life. I hope and pray that the time of Easter, Pascha, has marked for us a step in the right direction to God, a vice corrected, a hatred turned into forgiveness, a resentment healed, a conflict resolved. If not yet, today is the day to open our eyes, to wake up and live.
“Today is the day of the Resurrection Let us rejoice and glory in the Feast.” Let us embrace one another and let us say: We forgive to our friends and enemies alike everything through the Resurrection. And let us sing together: “Christ is risen from the dead, and by his death He has trampled upon death; and has given life to those who were in the tombs.”
At the “Blessing of the Light” on the Holy and Great Saturday, called in Arabic “Sabt An Nour,” the Saturday of Light, the priest proclaims, when lifting the lighted candle: “The light of Christ enlightens all men.” Then, “Blessed be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies our souls and bodies at all times, now and always and forever and ever.”
With Easter, Pascha, we start a new liturgical cycle.
What do we mean by that, a new liturgical cycle? Don’t tell me: We run around in circles! but we stay on the same level. I hope not! However, let us face it: If we consider our spiritual life, our moral life, our conduct with people, our good and bad habits, how better are we today than last year around this time? Are we not running in circles and staying at the same place? I do believe in the “More so” principle, namely: what you do today, you will do it more so in the future. We are invited, in our life in Christ, not to run in circles, but to mount in a spiral, to rise up all the time; so every cycle leaves us one level higher. This is described in the Psalm :
” … They shall go from strength to strength until the God of Gods shall be seen in Sion.” (Psalms 83/84:8)
When we come to church, we usually expect something consistent. An Arabic proverb says: “Qil ci 3aadi xattal 3ibaadi” Everything is habit, even God’s worship.” In our worship, something is always the same, yet something is also different all the time. Life consists in movement, in change, in contrast. A plant which does not change and grow is petrified, that is as good as a dead stone; water which does not move stinks; no two leaves are exactly the same on a tree; no two trees are exactly the same in a forest. The weather, even in sunny California is different every day. Thousands of weathermen make a living, just predicting the weather. Mother nature provides the four seasons following each other without fail. What we call a warm wave during winter may be considered as freezing cold during the summer. Our body tends to adjust to seasonable temperatures regardless of our preferences. Knowing the season, we know the reason for a given temperature, so we enjoy it better or we learn to cope with it. We may safely say that “seasonable is reasonable.” So everything is different all the time; but there are predictable patterns which make us understand, if not accept the variety.
About thirty years ago, a book was on the best sellers list for quite a few months. It became a classic since. The title: PASSAGES. Passages described the different stages in people’s lives and how we could predict different behaviors for different stages. A child acts differently from an adolescent and a teenager’s behavior is different from an adult. A behavior normal in one stage may be considered abnormal in another.
As we have different seasons during the year, we also have different seasons in our church calendar. As you can imagine, each season has its own flavor.
New Year: hope & expectation
Epiphany, as well as transfiguration: splendor and glory
Encounter, yearning for a Messianic era of peace and prosperity
The Triodi, a season of reflection, of humility, of repentance and of self discipline.
As a triple decker, the Triodi Season consists of three weeks of preparation to Lent, then six weeks of Lent which we, call the Great and Holy Fast, and finally the Great and Holy Week leading to the Great Feast of Easter or Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, “the feast of feasts, the season of seasons.”
The greatest season of all is Pascha. The feast of feasts, the best of seasons.
Life will be dull if all seasons were treated equally. So let us take all the benefit of our present season – until we pass to the season of Pentecost, the season of the Holy Spirit.
“God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.” (I Corinthians 4:9)
I vividly remember from the movie “Dead Man Walking” the scene in which the man condemned to death took his last walk between his cell and the electric chair, slowly, sadly, in a breath taking rhythm, step after step, preparing to the final jump from time to eternity. And the guard shouted solemnly: “Dead man walking! Dead man walking!” Paul compares the apostles to that man condemned to death, “God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.” St. Paul likened himself and the apostles to that man condemned to death, heavily burdened by the load of responsibility, yet not appreciated by the world around him. This brings to mind a poster I saw thirty years ago, but still lingering in my mind: “When I do right nobody remembers. When I do wrong no one forgets.”
St. Paul contrasts between the challenge of the Apostles, be they clergy or devoted laity like many of our readers, and the self satisfied Christians of his time. The Christians at Corinth complacently felt that they had reached what God intended for them. So, Paul addressed them ironically, but in a challenging manner to wake them up from their complacency or to temper their criticism: “We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated; we wander around homeless and we toil working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.” (I Cor. 4:10-13)
As in the time of St. Paul, so it is today: Most of the Christians are self-content of their own conduct. Many of them won’t pass by any occasion to criticize or find faults in their spiritual servants. Is not this a good illustration of what is going on in America at this time? Too many people go fishing with critical eyes and tongues and pens for scandals and abuses committed by a tiny minority of Catholic clergy. Some of the alleged crimes took place ten, twenty or thirty years ago. In some instances, the accused have already died. With no intention to minimize the hideous crimes of the few or the great sufferings of the many, it is not fare to throw a blanket damnation over the thousands of dedicated priests who have been serving the people of God with full devotion and irreproachable dedication.
Why are people so critical of the Church and of its servants? Because people in high places are more accountable and they must give a good example of integrity. The closer you come to the light, the more your defects become noticeable. You do not see the dirt in dark corners; but you see it blatantly near a bright-lighted bulb. The Italians have a good proverb: “Gli onori sono oneri; honors are onerous.” The French say: “Nobless oblige,” – Nobility has obligations; you must live up to your high status. Ordinary people may commit atrocious misdeeds and do not attract attention; but less offensive deeds are unacceptable in people engaged in God’s service.
On the other hand, there is no way to avoid scandal, or to avoid people’s criticism, even if you think you are innocent. “Woe to the world because of (the scandals,) things that cause sin!” said our Lord, “Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7-8) There is no excuse for breaking God’s laws and for hurting people, especially the children and the helpless. Reparations and amends must be made, and all possible means must be used not to allow the same crimes again..
People love sensational news. If a dog bites a man, this is no news; but if a man bites a dog, all the town shouts it from the rooftops. Besides, scandals make newspaper sell. We are human and we are fragile. St. Paul reminds us: “We hold (our) treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) Great people are like the décor of a theater. They have to be seen from a certain distance, so their small defects will not be detected. So, this is the chance we take when we decide to serve the public, especially if we want to serve the way our Lord served. He reproached the Pharisees and the Scribes: “John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said; ‘He is possessed by a demon. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you said: ‘Look, He is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35).
Let me read to you, if you haven’t heard it before, the contradictions a priest faces. The title is: “The Priest IS Never Right!”
If he is happy………he is a nuisance. If he is austere……… he is bad tempered. If he is handsome……… why didn’t he marry. If he is ugly ……… nobody loved him. If he is fat ……… he eats too much. If he is thin……… he is stingy. If he is tall……… he looks down on people. If he is short……… he looks like an altar boy. If he owns a car……… he likes material things. If he walks……… he is old-fashioned. If he visits the faithful……… he meddles in other people’s business. If he stays in the rectory……… he is an introvert. If he talks about Heaven……… he is a modernist. If he talks about Hell……… he is a Jansenist. If he preaches long sermons……… he is boring. If he preaches short sermons……… he doesn’t want to get tired. If he speaks normally……… you cant understand what he says. If he raises his voice……… he screams. If he asks for donations……… he is greedy. If he doesn’t ask for donations……… his bank account should be checked. If he fixes up the chapel……… he doesn’t care about people’s money. If he doesn’t fix up the chapel……… he doesn’t care about the chapel. If he is young……… he lacks experience. If he is old……… he should retire. If he is in between……… he is in a critical age. Do as he may……… or even if he does nothing, *he will never be right* ! But if he leaves……… who will take his place ? Pray for him and help him. (Author unknown)
In conclusion, lets us pray for vocations …
Let us pray for good priests … I hereby extend a public invitation to all our young people and all those young at heart to consider serving the Lord in priesthood, diaconate or religious life. We read in the Psalms: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts.’ ” (Psalm 95:7-8, quoted by Hebrews 4:7) If YOU do not do it, it will remain undone …
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
FORCED VACATION – BENEFICIAL RETREAT (From late in 2001, but shared in 2002)
Can God write straight with crooked lines? He does it all the time. There is no situation so desperate as to defy God and prevent Him from using it for the good. St. Paul assures us: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28)
After a productive and successful Annual Synod of the Melkite Hierarchy (June 18-23) and after the death and funeral services of our Emeritus Melkite Patriarch Maximos V of blessed memory (+ June 29), and after enjoying a two week vacation with family and friends in my hometown Maghdoucheh, South Lebanon, I found myself spending a forced “vacation” after a freak accident. It happened on July 12, the last day before my scheduled return to the USA.
Early in the morning, during my daily hiking on the rocky hills of Maghdoucheh, I took a wrong step, which left me flat on my face with a fractured right shoulder. The result: Five fragments fracture, a major surgical operation, a full anesthesia for the first time in my life, eleven stitches, a two day hospitalization, a cobra plate with eight screws, a long recovery period, an intensive physiotherapy started in Lebanon and continuing in the USA. To complete my recovery, I was forced into several week “vacation” in my hometown at my brother’s house. My return to America was postponed to September 11. As a bitter conclusion to my three month absence from my office, I was stranded in London four days from September 11 to September 15. My several weeks of recovery served as a “forced vacation,” but also as a beneficial spiritual retreat.
To paraphrase St. Paul: Blessed is God who judged me worthy of sharing in the suffering of His Beloved Son and in filling up in my body what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. (Colossians 1:24)
Two things people do not appreciate enough until they lose them: health and wealth. How true is the Arabic proverb: “Health is a crown over the head of healthy people seen only by people who are ailing.”
My sickness, thought as a bad accident, has been for me a blessing and a spiritual experience of a lifetime. “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) During the past two months, I gained insight into the weakness and vulnerability of a human being unable to move one’s hand and shoulder. I gained understanding and compassion toward handicapped people, those in a much worse situation. I realized the saying of St. Paul about Christ: “For that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) Now that it is almost over, I cannot thank God enough for my slow but sure recovery. I thank Him constantly for stating all along able to use my fingers to type on my computer. I am grateful for being able to move my hand to my face, to make the sign of the cross with my right hand (the one affected), to tie my shoes or to button my shirt. When the Doctor who performed the operation asked me a week later: Try to raise your hand to your mouth, I said smiling: I can raise my hand to my face. Reaching up to your front to make the sign of the Cross is as important as bringing food to your mouth. Priorities! Praying is more important than eating! What a pleasure to be able to clap my hands. After giving the blessing in church with the left hand for few days, I was able to do it with the right hand sustained and directed nevertheless by the left one. Now I thank God every time I give a blessing naturally with the right hand without the support of the left. Oh! What a pleasure to be able to scratch one’s head (and beard), to shake hands with people – Beware, however, of “friendly” people who shake your hand or twist it forcefully, or who draw your hand up to the level of their mouth to kiss it reverently! I learned to keep the supporting sling on, even after it was not needed, as a warning sign. What a pleasure to be able to wave friendlily to people on the other side of the street or to riders in passing cars. In my hometown, everybody, I mean almost everybody, greets everybody, even strangers. The Bishop in particular is supposed to be friendly to everybody. The mouth should never be tired of smiling!
My days of recovery, imposed and joyfully accepted as a “forced vacation,” served me also pragmatically as a spiritual retreat. I was faithful to the daily Liturgy at the village church in the morning or at the miraculous shrine of Our Lady of Mantara (the “Waiting Mother”) in the evening. Unable to put on my full vestments, I would stand near the altar with my priestly Epitrakhilion (stole) and my Episcopal Omophorion. It took me a week or so to be able to give the blessing with the right hand assisted by the left. For a period, I tried to recite the “hours” of the daily Office in their proper time. I must confess that I recited the “Midnight” Office only twice early before dawn, when I could not go to sleep. It is a joyful, peaceful experience to live in God’s company even when in physical pain, be it for few hours or for few days.
“By your patience, possess your souls,” says Jesus. (Luke 21:19)
The past two months have convinced me of Kahlil Gebran’s saying: “Of one thing I am certain, that God’s mercy will precede the dawn.” And again: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)
+ John A. Elya
September 20, 2001