Sunday, April 12, 2009

How My Friend Began Holy Week...

A friend of mine, fellow student in Thessaloniki, shared the following experience with me. It struck me and I thought I would share it with you all:

“Holy Week had begun. Earlier today (Sunday) I had gone to the Palm Sunday Liturgy and later at night I attended the Bridegroom Matins at St. Haralambos. The chanting was exquisite. The chanters sang as if calling out to God in continual exhortation. The church was filled with people and the air was thick with the heaviness and gravity of the coming week--Christ’s trial, crucifixion, passion, but the hope of his Resurrection. I actually felt as though something was going to happen--some serious event.”

“After the service and a quick trip to St. Demetrios to venerate the relics and drop my friend off nearby, I went to a dear friend’s house to have a small supper with him before I left the following day for Agion Oros. We are close friends and it was a sweet time of conversation and reflections, because we would not be with one another for Holy Week and Pascha. At the end we exchanged greetings for Pascha. All of a sudden an urge of over-flowing affection came over me and I just wanted to say ‘I love you’ to my friend. I said it, and he said it back...and it was a beautiful moment. Glory to God!”

“After I left his apartment it was about 11pm. In my head I was battling some thoughts of pride...oooh, I said ‘I love you’ to him...he probably thinks I’m pious or something...even though the reality of the situation was that it was an urge, presumably from Above. I was having these thoughts, when I saw a single figure walking towards me. There wasn’t anyone else around, and the man who was approaching was obviously pretty drunk. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to talk to me, and I was alone and didn’t know if he wanted trouble. I was also carrying some bread and lenten cheese with me that I took from my friend’s house to feed my friend who would be traveling to Mt. Athos with me the next morning. I was afraid. I thought about my wallet. I looked for an escape. Should I cross the street? I thought about it, but knew how drunk peoples’ minds work. They are drunk, but there is some sense about them that can smell fear, that can sense subtle aspects about your behavior that provoke them to more disturbing behavior. So, Glory to God, I had the thought to say a quick Jesus prayer and continue walking. As soon as I said the prayer, though it all happened fairly quickly, I’m pretty certain everything was clear--I was empowered with Wisdom and Courage. He came up to me and I could tell he wanted to ask me something. A thought CLEARLY occurred to me to give him the bread and cheese. I gave it to him. I said ”για σένα (for you).“ He looked at it and asked ”τι είναι αυτό;“ I said ”λίγο ψωμί, ένα δώρο για σένα.“ Maybe I said this to butter him up a bit so he would be flattered and not saying anything else, but it was what HE did that astonished me. As soon as I said this, and gave him the bread, he grabbed my hand and kissed it, I felt compelled to do the same and kissed his hand. Afterwards, our eyes met, and his disposition had changed. He was happy, his eyes were glittering. I looked at him more closely and noticed he was wearing a cross. I greeted him with the seasonal ”Καλό Πάσχα“ but added ”Καλή Ανάσταση.“ He thanked me I think, I can’t remember exactly, and turned to go. But as he was walking away, I could hear him repeating the word ”Ανάσταση.“

”The Jesus Prayer is real. I kissed the hand of Christ and saw His face in that of a drunk man’s through GOD’S GRACE. My fear, though real and fallen, was transformed into God’s love through a simple exhortation of His mercy and by calling upon His name. Say the Jesus Prayer as a REAL exhortation, because it is REAL. Glory to God in His Saints and through His mysterious and wonderful works for us, unworthy and sinful though we be!”

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