I have never felt this way in any church I attended before becoming Orthodox. The bond with my Orthodox brothers and sisters humbles me. Caring is so painful.
I live in a military city. We have four military bases around us and the Air Force Academy. People come and go. My own father is retired Navy. People say that our city is not very friendly. Perhaps it is an attempt at self-preservation? If you do not become attached to people you barely notice it when they, or you, leave.
When I started attending my parish church, I found out that monastics do not participate in community events. They do not join in on; weddings, funerals, the agape meal, etc. When the nuns of the monastery attached to our church visit and attend Liturgy, they go home right after. “How wonderful for some one like me who is introverted!’, I thought ‘ built in, acceptable isolation.” Even though I am not a monastic I adopted this point of view.
I would attend services and say, ‘hello’ to people, chat a bit, coo at the babies, smile, etc. but I did not engage too much with other people. I was still healing from the deep wounds inflicted by my previous church community. I felt that I could not, get attached again to people. But something odd was happening. I was becoming attached anyway despite my best efforts.
I went to church and would look for certain faces. There were those people who never missed a service. Sadly, I am not one of those people. Example; new Goal for 2020, attend church more. Reality; I missed the last two Liturgies and vespers.
However, these people, these rocks of the church who would never call themselves rocks of the church, they were a welcomed, and comforting, sight to me. No matter what, these faithful were always there with smiles, praying quietly. This man whom I called ‘brother’ in my heart but whom I had barely spoken to in the last several years is one of those people.
In regards to my parish, we have never had any lengthy conversations. No deep, theological discussions over coffee about what we read from our bibles. We do not attend bible studies together, we did not discuss our five-point ministries together… we just are. We all are on the same boat of Orthodoxy, facing east and praying together. We are a large, extended family. (I do attend the weekly ladies’ group (admittedly not every week) but not really connecting with the women beyond that class.) Connected in a distant kind of way.
I writing all of this because I read an email this morning sent by our parish priest that one of those rocks, our brother-in-Christ, a fellow traveler facing east, has moved. He, and a few other men of our church, had been living an ascetic life together here in town. They all rented a house together, were not married, did not date, etc. A monastic kind of life without being an, ‘official’ monastery.
Over the summer, he had visited a monastery for several weeks, helping the abbot. He came back with a big, fluffy beard and his hair grown out more. ‘Uh-oh,’ I thought.
This man was almost always at the church. When I say almost always I don’t just mean he was at every service although he was at every service. He made the prosphora, he mowed the grass, he cleaned up the kitchen after the agape meals, etc. He has a truck and it was a common sight to drive past the church and see his truck backed up to the mess hall, with its back end opened and him sitting in a canvas camping chair whittling walking/hiking staffs to sell in the bookstore.
I asked him once, ‘Why are you always here?’. His reply was priceless; “My father died while mowing his church’s lawn. I figure if you’re going to die, dying on church property is the best place to do it. Being here as much as possible increases my chances of dying here at church.” ???hello??!
Who thinks like that?! Saints… saints think like that. He was a fixture at the church and now he is gone.
My dear brothers-at-church, do you not know what your presence does for the community? Do you not know what it does in the hearts and minds of the young men who see you faithfully represent quiet, strong, prayerful manhood? Do you not know what comfort it brings to your sisters to see you praying? A warrior on the wall.
You are part of this big, extended family and now you’re gone.
Lord have mercy. You will be missed. My God bless you and keep, Brother. I know you are praying for all of us.