Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
This beautiful world is filled with people who have not experienced it as beautiful. Whether it is from childhood trauma, or war, or disease the result is the same: people who are in distress often for reasons they do not understand.
I remember one woman who came to see me, brought by a friend. She was young and attractive, just on the cusp of adulthood, but she was tied in knots. Her body language was tense. She suffered from numerous facial tics. This was a scene I recognized. I had seen this before. As she spoke my suspicions were confirmed: severe childhood abuse.
I never saw her again.
Many suffering people come to the Church for healing. Some stay and some move on, but to each one it is our duty to reach out with compassion. Compassion takes courage; the courage to be able to be open to the world as it is not as we believe it should be. The Lord said that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Repentance, in Orthodox theology, is a healing process that slowly, but surely opens us up to the grace of God who "is everywhere present and filling all things." As Bishop KALLISTOS Ware said, it is rather "like the opening of a flower." It is not a descent into self-condemnation and the rehearsal of guilt. Repentance is a recovery of sanity, a return to the pristine goodness at the heart of us all, a reawakening to the image of God in which we have all been made.
One of the greatest joys of my ministry in Cambridge is the knowledge that the door of our parish is open. No one is turned away; no one is despised or rejected. We have come to understand that the Church is a hospital and a refuge. Our job is to nourish this spirit and to become ever more open to the suffering of others. Where we meet in ourselves resistance to compassion our path becomes clear. At that place of resistance is the confirmation that repentance is not yet passé. Our obstacle is our path.
We have been set free by Christ, now we must enter into and practice that freedom by nurturing in ourselves the image and likeness of God through meditation, prayer and conscious acts of compassion. Through faith we can rid ourselves of the fear, doubt and cynicism that make holiness impossible. The more we do, the more the traumatized and suffering will make their way to find us.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Antony Hughes