By Jackie Morfesis

How many times have we heard the word phronema in the context of the Orthodox Christian faith walk? It is a beautiful word with beautiful meaning, wisdom, dignity, and peace. Yet, it is a word that without the correct action is not fulfilled.

Orthodoxia is practicing the correct faith, orthopraxis is practicing the faith in the correct manner. To do both brings our faith walk along the path of theosis, union with the divine. As Orthodox Christians, we commend ourselves on having the correct faith, the right path, the right way. Yet, practicing this faith is where the roads diverge. “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

Many years ago, as a teenager, I read the pivotal book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck, M.D. I also read People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, and The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. Each book fed me in ways that reverberate in my life till this day. His work as a psychiatrist, writer, religious and spiritual worker is renowned both within and outside traditional faith communities. A man of both faith and practice.

In thinking of faith and practice, I recently had two experiences when juxtaposed next to each other were a wake-up call. As if I need one more wake-up call on my faith walk, but obviously I do. I attended a lovely author lecture and lunch sponsored by a church in my area. This was a non-Orthodox Church, and the topic of the book intrigued me, so I went.

I cannot describe the love, warmth, and hospitality that was shown to me as soon as I walked into the door. They exemplified both Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, the saints who welcomed our Lord as their friend into their home. In fact, there was a parish member standing by the door, and opening the door to greet us as we entered the community center. Every single person that I met from this church, approached me, introduced themselves, and gave me a hug. They were genuinely interested in meeting me, knowing me, and to be known by me.

The catered lunch was delicious but the fellowship we shared was what was memorable. We started with an activity so we could each share something about our lives with the group. We prayed. We listened to the author, who happened to be the pastor’s wife. She was filled with the holy spirit and shared her faith walk and the fruits of her journey with us. We ended the event once again in communal prayer. When it ended, I introduced myself to the pastor and he even said a special prayer for me. All I felt was love, love, and more love. Christian brotherly and sisterly love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Fast forward to an Orthodox Church. Upon entering the community center, filled with tables, I put down my coat on a chair at an empty table except for one shawl or pocketbook. With eight or ten chairs to a table I thought there is plenty of room. Evidently not. Within seconds, a woman comes charging over to me saying: “You can’t sit here, I am reserving this for my family.” She did not realize that as a Christian community, we are all “family.” This was not a ticketed event.

I completely understand that she wanted to have her large family sit together. What was disheartening was that she did not even take a breath to say hello. The first thing she said was basically “Go away.” Appearances are deceiving. She was a pretty blonde, smiling from ear to ear, flitting and fluttering about like a butterfly – but inside her heart she was devoid of philotimo. Without phronema, there is no philotimo. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9).

The contrast with being so welcomed, so loved, so wanted, so indeed seen and heard, in a church that did not even know my name and then going to our own parishes where time and time again we are told “There is no room at the Inn” is what is driving Orthodox Christians to seek support in their faith walks elsewhere. I am not being overly critical. This is sadly commonplace. And this has happened to me and countless others in more than one Orthodox church in more than one state in our country. We should be lifting each other up. Fortifying each other in our faith walks. Edifying each other. Instead, we are more concerned with who is sitting at our tables. God help us.

When I was a child, my mother would say: “Ugly is as ugly does.” I do not care how physically beautiful someone is, nor how many hours they take to put on a perfect face. Or how wealthy or important we consider ourselves. Just as this seemingly angelic woman with a pretty smile but not with kindness told me to leave. What matters is the interior life. If we do not clean house on our interior life, then everything else is just fool’s gold.  “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30).

As I often hear: “We are in a spiritual famine.” A famine. A famine on God’s Word. A famine on Orthodoxia, a famine on Orthopraxis. A famine. A famine on hungering and hoping against hope that today will be the day that as Orthodox Christians we start to live our faith, not only in the grand and beautiful gestures, when everyone is looking, but in the small ways that we treat each other. This too, is a habit that needs to be cultivated. This too, matters. This too, is seen by God. And this too, impacts our souls. In fact, it impacts everyone’s souls. It impacts our faith life, our churches, and the very future of Orthodoxy.

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. I hear what you’re saying Jackie;
    similar incident happened to me at my Greek Church too – what’s worse is,
    the “inhospitable one” was,
    member of Philoptikos group – coldly
    ordering my friend and I, already sitting at table, to go sit elsewhere…
    thankfully another member of Philoptikos said it’s ok and left to find another table.

    What was off putting in original dismissive exchange was a lack of Phronema —
    especially since we were not strangers to the church…
    “strangers”?

    Holy Bible says:
    “Do not forget to entertain strangers,
    for by so doing, some have unwittingly
    entertained angels!”

    • Zoey, thank you for sharing. Yes – “Philoptikos” needs to practice “philotimo.” Fairly certain the woman who told me to leave the table was a member of Philoptikos. Thank you for sharing that pertinent scripture. I was walking late at night in Newark, NJ, in my 20s, I don’t even remember the circumstances. It was a desolate and abandoned area. I could not find a cab, I was lost, and I do not think I even had cab fare on me. Out of nowhere a cab pulls up and woman yells out the window: “Get in.” She was a “stranger.” She took me to a safe place and paid my fare. To this day, I believe she was an angel sent by God.

      • Oh wow that cab ride was definitely sent by angels!
        I’m convinced if we look back, especially in our youth, when we’re not street wise yet,
        how many times we got rescued or protected by our guardian Angel?
        They really DO watch us up there!

  2. Take heart, these are God’s concerns. Pray for those who reject for they unwittingly reject Christ. It can be disheartening, however. I’ve found that small, simple parishes are the most welcoming. Especially those with newcomers and converts among the laity. God bless.

    • With all due respect, “JM”, this is exactly why we find ourselves in this harrowing situation. “God’s concerns” are Our concerns. We are His disciples and ambassadors in the kingdom. “Not only for every idle word must man give account, but for every idle silence.” St. Ambrose. “Jude with righteous judgment” John 7:24. Jesus said: If you do not testify for me before man then I will not testify for you before the Father. We have a culture of silence and complicity. Of apathy. We can still pray, forgive, and bless those who persecute and who are cruel to us – Luke 6:28, Mathew 5:44, however, it is still our duty to speak up, stand up, and have bold faith, so that we do not become lukewarm churches with lukewarm hearts. Every church, large or small, with cradle-Orthodox or converts, wealthy or challenged, must stand for God, for His children, and be the Light of Christ. Otherwise, we are nothing more than kabuki theater.

      • Hi again, I don’t disagree with you, though I am not sure I’d call it apathy to leave it to God. I cannot hope to change others, but I can work on myself and perhaps what good comes of it can help in some way to open the heart of another. I believe our own acts have ripple effects. It is those that I leave to God. No parish in no church on earth is perfect. With respect, I have sought and found (after many decades) a small Greek Orthodox parish that has welcomed me, and for that I am grateful. Thank you, I always (but silently) enjoy your writings.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I hear and see a peacefulness in your words. I was not arguing against trusting God nor giving our burdens to the Lord. Every day – is “leaving it to God.” But I also experience my/the faith walk as a relationship, where I/we are placed in situations “anointed for the appointment” to shed light on systemic wounds, attitudes, and “business as usual” that is crying for healing. Not only for myself but for others.

  4. Jackie I’ve read many NDEs aka
    Near Death Experiences & it’s living proof all our actions are played back to us on the other side so we best be mindful bc each of us is a motion picture show & it’s all played back to us.
    Very intense phenomena

    • Thank you for sharing. I have also heard of this playback in Near Death Experiences. However, many times these stories are told not from a Christian perspective/context – or God centered – but more from a New Age perspective with the mindset that everything is acceptable – as a learning experience, even karmic in nature. I support everyone’s right to tell their story and share their experience – I also think we need to be mindful that not all stories and experiences that claim to be spiritual are truly in the “Light.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

  5. Perfect comment, Sir G.. all IS being taped. But thank God, He is mercy, only wanting as the Holy Forerunner said, our “turning/ repentance”, proven by “karPous/fruits” thereof (Mt 3:8). Further.., as the Savior said, “the axe is laid at all our Trees” (meaning lives, Mt 3:10). And the sobering reality is..we are each able to be cut down at any moment (ie, go into eternity). Thank You God for coming to raise us, “ton peSonda/ fallen ADam.” Our God is With us, Emmanouil

  6. I live now in Bulgaria and was visiting UK in November and was in London for a week amongst other places and on the last Sunday in November attended a Greek church that seemed fairly newly opened in a still very obvious Anglican church . An afluent area in North London.whefe I used to live.
    I actually introduced myself at the candle desk but was politely met with a sort of ,’ Yes why are you talking to me about anything except candles ‘?
    Yes no body was rude and the church was well attended , but at same time I felt a coldness and indifference to the individual and their even social needs. And there was no apparent social interaction .
    The church was St Katherine’s in Friery lane ,Barnet , north London.
    I am Greek ( Greece) and fully Greek speaking.

    • Nikos, thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear of your lukewarm reception at St. Katherine’s Church. I believe that we have adopted a culture of indifference on many levels – and it is up to each parishioner and visitor to voice their concerns and suggestions so that we can all move towards a more loving, welcoming atmosphere in all our churches. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to contact St. Katherine’s Church and share your experience with the Parish Council not only for yourself but in support of other visitors in the future.

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