Everyone Is Welcome
Christ is risen!
The New York Times recently had an article talking about the statement of the US Surgeon General concerning the very real societal epidemic of loneliness in our country (See “We Have Become a Lonely Nation” NYT 30 April 2023) In the article the Surgeon General rightly sees loneliness as a health problem leading to all kinds of difficulties. Loneliness is, indeed, both a spiritual and physical problem in our culture.
But why? Why does the human person need community and companionship?
Because that’s the way we were made. God made us in His image and He knows Himself as “Persons in Communion.” You’ve heard me say this over and over again. What is truly encouraging is seeing even our sadly secular society discover this wisdom because of the very negative effects of loneliness on the physical health of people! So, the remedy is to first identify what creates loneliness, and what are the traits that foster loneliness. There are many answers to these questions. But there is no doubt that the evil one wants to foster division among us perpetually until we reduce the “acceptable” people down to our lonely selves!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-10:
In those days, while Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” But Peter began and explained to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.”
St. Peter is explaining to the folks back in Jerusalem who are really upset with him about preaching to the first Gentile convert, the Roman centurion Cornelius. The Jewish leaders of the new Christian Church are upset that Peter, a Jew, has associated with Gentiles. Can it be that God intends to make Gentiles followers of Jesus? Could it really be true that Christ is meant for everyone, not just a “special” race of people? Can we really embrace folks so different than us and call them “brothers?”We’ll see.
Not 4 years before this event with Cornelius, in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter and the 120 disciples gathered there in obedience to the Lord’s command and received the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost! And when the Holy Spirit was given to them, the disciples of Jesus were filled with confidence, and even the ability to speak to all the people gathered there in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost in their native languages so everyone would understand the Good News of new life in Christ! Even this event of Pentecost (The Feast we are heading towards now) telegraphed God’s intentions to make the Christian Faith available to anybody and everybody. This has such present-day applications when some would restrict Orthodoxy to this or that particular cultural experience. The truth is Orthodoxy should belong to everybody, or eventually it won’t belong to anybody.
And now, that same Holy Spirit was doing the same thing with these Gentiles! What further proof did St. Peter need that God was no respecter of persons but accepts everyone and anyone who longs to know Him! God reveals what He never made a secret in the first place – He intends everyone, no matter their race or background – to be together in His Church! God, through His Living Word – Jesus, intends to make all of us one family, not destroying our distinctive personalities, but helping us integrate all these wonderful differences into a beautiful picture of our common human race!
St. Epiphanios was a bishop on the island of Cyprus who was born to poor Jewish parents in Palestine around 310 AD. He and his sister converted to Christianity and were baptized. Epiphanios was a very pious young man and eventually gave all his possessions away to become a monk in Egypt, learning all he could about the monastic life from the great fathers of the desert. Soon his pious life had many around him wanting to make him a bishop. When the holy man heard this, he fled back home to Palestine and when he got there, he learned that several bishops had decided to make him a bishop of that area. Epiphanios met St. Hilarion there in Palestine and this great saint advised Epiphanios to go to Constantia on Cyprus, but Epiphanios decided to sail rather for Gaza, ignoring the wisdom of Hilarion. However, a contrary wind arose and drove the ship Epiphanios onto the coastal city of Constantia in Cyprus! There, once again, the saint was discovered and the bishops finally prevailed on him to accept being the bishop of Constantia (also called Salamis). He serve the people with humble piety and spoke 5 languages fluently, often being referred to as the “5 Tongued” bishop. He worked to create harmony among the very different people of this busy coastal trading town and performed many miracles. He reposed in peace at the age of 93 around 407 AD.
Today, are you able to help all the folks around you who are spiritually hungry for the fullness of the faith ready to receive it and embrace it? What are the barriers in your heart, your head, and even your community to be the conduit of God’s Good News to “whosoever will” so that everyone has a chance to know a real Normal Orthodox Life?
P.S. Let us the faithful duly praise the most wondrous and sacred pair of hierarchs, even Germanos together with the godly Epiphanios; for these righteous Saints of God burned the tongues of the godless with the sacred teachings which they most wisely expounded to all those who in Orthodox belief do ever hymn the great mystery of piety.