St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Power of Compassion

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (1:35-51)

Let me begin with a quote from the great Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk:  “The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion.”

One of the most important things I have discovered this year, is that the last part of the Great Commandment, especially the “as yourself” part is as important as the first two, to love God and neighbor.  I had never realized this. Perhaps Jesus who said, “The first shall be last,” put it at the end deliberately because of its importance.  Without proper self-love we cannot love our neighbors and if we do not love our neighbor, then we cannot love God..

I do know that the main problem many people have in life, particularly in our culture, is that they believe they are not worthy of love. Bad theology and bad psychology often supports this false idea. If we believe that, then we cannot accept love when it is given by God or neighbor or self. 

Precisely because of Orthodox theology and what I have learned from the study of the world’s wisdom traditions and mindfulness-based therapies and science, I am drawn to the opposite idea. That is that we are inherently good and deserving of love, not only from God who always gives it, but from ourselves who rarely do. 

You have heard me speak about the “least of the brethren” we find within drawing from the insight of Carl Jung. They are those hungry, lonely, imprisoned parts of ourselves we usually treat with disdain.  What would happen if we instead met these unlovely parts of ourselves with compassion as Jesus did the sinners he met? 

We don’t have to wonder. Read the Gospels. See what happens when Jesus shows compassion to outcasts.  They respond. Changes happen. Healings and miracles of all sorts occur. Might this not also happen to us if we approached our most needy parts with love? 

I promise you that it does. I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of others, in the prison in Concord, in confession, in counseling. I have witnessed the great power of compassion to transform.  Compassion changes everything. 

This week I learned that some of the very troubled clients at the Partial Hospital in Boston danced and sang in the hallways of the hospital when they were introduced to practice of self-compassion. Where there is compassion there is hope.

In todays’ Gospel we see what happens when Christ recognizes and praises Nathaniel because he saw no guile in him.  To be guileless means to be without hidden agendas, open, and transparent.  We might call Nathaniel enlightened. Jesus recognizes his goodness and, inspired by the Lord’s compassion, Nathaniel recognizes him!  “You are the Son of God!”  This recognition, this awakening, is an example of what conversion really means and that is, to be awestruck by God so much that life is altered.  Conversion comes from within not from without; not from preachers on street corners, but from the soul waking up.

One thing we must remember is that the “least of the brethren” within do not define us, they are simply parts of us. For example, we are not angry people by nature even though we may be prone to being angry.  The image of God in us is not angry. It is disturbed by nothing. Because the passions are not us, they can change.  If we resist or deny them, they become stronger.  If we meet them with compassion, we can befriend them and transformation occurs.  The kingdom of heaven really is within ready to break through at any time.

In Internal Family Systems training we learn that all the parts of us, even the most difficult, have good intentions. They desire to protect, defend and care for us and often have been formed due to trauma in early or even late life. They do what they do because they don’t know any better. They are doing a job they think they have to do and feel they must do and yet they are often unhappy about it and want to change their rolls.  If only someone or something else would show up to take the lead and take their burdens away and allow change to happen!

The Christian answer to this is that the Son of God showed up and invite our souls to show up as well.  When the soul awakens change is possible as the blocked-up energy of the image of God within begins to flow.  What the IFS therapist looks for is evidence of this energy that often shows up in the client’s use of words like curious, confidence, courage and compassion.  Often this means self-energy is flowing and the eye of the soul (in our language) is opening. THE

“Our of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water.”

When thinking like this I am reminded of St. Paul’s words about the whole creation longing for “the revealing of the sons of God.”  I have come to believe that this is speaking of the world within as much as the world without, which is, as a matter of fact, the “whole creation.”  The least of the brethren within are looking for a savior to relieve them and heal them just as the outside world longs for the same.   The savior the internal world longs for is the awakened soul, vivified and reenergized by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The coming of Christ into this world in the flesh accomplished the healing of both. What is left is for us to cooperate and compassion is our contribution.

Jesus awakened the souls of those he met. They either responded with joy like Nathaniel or with resistance like the Pharisees. Everyone responded in some way to him.  The poor and oppressed followed him because he “spoke with authority”, the authority of compassion and love, unlike their religious leader who knew only the language of legalism and fear. At the same time he awakened the hopes of the oppressed by meeting their needs for internal transformation. Who can deny the transformation of Nathaniel, Zaccheus, or the Samaritan Woman?

The Narrow Path is the way of Compassion, Self-Compassion that blossoms into compassion for all.