By Christopher Flesoras
+ In the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.
years ago there was a monastery of rabbis that had fallen on hard
times. Once a great order, the monastery had dwindled in numbers to
only five monks: the abbot and four others, all over seventy years of
age. As the abbot of the monastery agonized over the imminent death of
his order, it occurred to him that he ought to pay a visit to the old
rabbi who often retreated to a little hut in the woods and ask him if
by chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
day he ventured to the hut and explained the purpose of his visit to
the rabbi. The rabbi agonized with him as he had witnessed a similar
occurance in his town. The abbot, frustrated that he had not succeeded
in his purpose, pleaded with the rabbi to give him some bit of advice
that might save his dying order. "I am sorry," exclaimed the rabbi, "I
have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the
Messiah is one of you."
Upon returning to the monastery his
fellow monks asked if the rabbi had given him any advice that could
save the dying order. "Unfortunately," the abbot informed them, "he
couldn't help. The only thing he did say was that the Messiah is one of
us. I don't know what he meant."
In the days, weeks, and months
to follow the old monks pondered and wondered what was the
significance, if any, of the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us?
Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If
that's the case, which one of us? As they contemplated in this manner,
the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on
the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. Additionally,
each monk treated himself with extraordinary respect on the off chance
that in fact he was the Messiah. Little by little this extraordinary
respect grew and radiated far beyond the walls of their monastery. More
frequently people began to visit the monastery. Then it happened. Some
of the younger men who visited the monastery started to talk more and
more with the old monks. After some time one man asked if he could join
their order. Then another. And then another. So, within a few years the
monastery again became a thriving order of spirituality, thanks to the
The rabbi's gift, a profound gift that afforded
this group of monks the opportunity to live in a setting characterized
by the virtue that is so frequently overlooked . The rabbi's gift, a
gift that instilled respect, understanding, a conscience, commitment,
inclusively, realism, contemplation, safety, wisdom, and love. The
rabbi's gift, a gift that established a community.
hard to define as a term and even more difficult to maintain as an
ideal, yet we apply it to nearly every collection of individuals- a
town like Brookline, an academic institution like Hellenic College and
Holy Cross, a residence hall like Polemanakos, an apartment complex
like Halki or Dendrinos, and/or a church like our Holy Cross Chapel.
Scott Peck in his book "the Different Drum: Community Making and Peace"
suggests that "if we are going to use the word meaningfully we must
restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to
communicate honestly and openly with each other, whose relationships go
deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some
significant commitment to 'rejoice together, mourn together,' and to
'delight in each other...'" (p.59). If we truly reflect on the products
of Brookline, Hellenic College and Holy Cross, Polemanakos Hall, Halki
and Dendrinos villages, and/or the Holy Cross Chapel, can we say that
any of these congregations of individuals have truly materialized a
This being the case, that is, that individuals often
experience great difficulty materializing the ideals of community, I
present the question that has received a great deal of my attention
while studying at our school: "In a Christian institution such as ours,
that has included as part of its mission the bold statement that
Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology is a
unique community of faith and learning, characterized by an integration
of the wealth of human knowledge and civilizations with the religious
and Hellenic cultural traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, why is it so
difficult to materialize a real community?" Granted, one could say that
we are a diverse group of individuals being that: we have students and
faculty members of vastly different ages from two different schools, we
have members of the clergy and of the laity, we have both men and
women, and we have students and family members of different races from
all over the world who also speak many different languages. Yet,
Metropolitan John Zizioulas explains when speaking of the Eucharistic
community of which we are all members, that there exists no distinction
whatsoever with regard to ages, professions, sexes, races, and
languages when we gather together (p.247). For the one common
denominator that we have that allows us to transcend all of these
differences is the common Orthodox faith that we proclaim.
the Gospel reading today we heard the parable of the Publican and the
Pharisee which sheds some light onto one of the greatest problems that
we have had and continue to have in materializing community. In this
parable of Christ we were told of the Pharisee who believed that he
himself was a member of an exclusive community; a community that some
individuals were not truly worthy of membership, for example the
tax-collector. Dorotheos of Gaza emphasized this point when he
explained that the Pharisee was condemned not because he was giving
thanks to God for his own good works or because he said, "I am not like
other men" but because he said, "I am not like this tax-collector.' For
it was at that point, concluded Dorotheos, that the Pharisee made a
Judgment, the act of pronouncing a decision.
Judgment, the justification by which we either include or exclude
someone. Judgment, the greatest enemy of and threat to community.
Throughout the New Testament we are clearly instructed not to judge
others being that as St. John writes "all judgment has been left to the
Son" (5:22). We have been advised in this fashion being that as St.
Maximos the Confessor explains "He who busies himself with the sins of
others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to
repent or to examine himself as to discover his own sins, which are
truly heavier than a great lump of lead..." (Philokalia Vol.2, p.92.).
Passing judgment was unfortunately the vice of the Pharisee. You see,
by passing judgment upon the tax-collector and the publican's
worthiness before God, he not only condemned himself, but made himself
an enemy to the worshipping community. Similarly, anytime an individual
or group excludes others because they are poor or doubters or younger
or uneducated or sinners or of some different race or nationality they
too, with the Pharisee, deny community.
If this in fact the
case, that is, that individuals who are exclusive are not allies but
enemies of a community, then it is logical to conclude that the true
meaning of community is inclusiveness. Whether in the story of the
monastery and its monks, the sociological theory of Scott Peck, the
mission statement of the Hellenic College and Holy Cross, the
ecclesiology of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, or the temple setting of
the Publican and the Pharisee, inclusiveness is a fundamental principle
that sustains community.
As Orthodox Christians we are called to
imitate Christ throughout our lives. As Orthodox Christians we are
called to go forth and "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit." As
Orthodox Christians we are called to be good stewards of God's all
inclusive community, His Creation.
Our efforts of sustaining
these communities can only be achieved synergisticly, that is,
committing ourselves to putting on Christ. For when we wrap ourselves
in the bright robes of our Savior we radiate with love. And through
love, we remain committed to inclusivity. We love our neighbor and hate
the sin. We do not judge the "publicans" of our communities but pray
with them, for them, and attempt to pastorally care for them.
is the means by which the monks in the monastery were able to transcend
their divisions and establish a community. They, in a sense, as
Dorotheos of Gaza proposed; were the straight lines drawn from the
circumference of a circle that was centered in God. As these men grew
in desire to draw nearer to God they slowly moved closer towards each
other. And likewise, with every step they took towards each other, they
became closer to God. "Now" as Dorotheus explains, "consider in the
same context the question of separation [in our terms a lack of
community]; for when they stand away from God and turn to external
things, it is clear that the more they recede and become distant from
God the more they become distant from one another."
similar fashion, the more we separate ourselves from our fellow
citizens in Gods Creation, the more we have removed ourselves from
communion with God as attested in the parable of the Publican and
Pharisee. If, on the other hand, we sustain an extraordinary respect
for our brethren, whether in Brookline, Hellenic College and Holy
Cross, Polemanakos Hall, Halki and Dendrinos villages or our Holy Cross
Chapel, not only will we draw closer to them by transcending our
divisions, draw nearer to God. And, when we have advanced towards God
to the point that we have centered our lives in His virtue, we have
truly established community.
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