Community Built on Compassion
“Kindness is one of God’s many qualities; therefore, it always spreads joy, drives away the clouds, and opens up hearts like the spring sunshine which makes the earth blossom” (St. Paisius of Mount Athos).
Compassion is the sign that God is in your heart. We come together as a parish not only to worship God. We are here to learn compassion. How are we loving one another?
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7).
Heaven rejoices over one repentant sinner.
Heaven is bigger than anything we know. Imagine how tiny the earth is in relation to the galaxies in the universe. How do our accomplishments measure up? They feel pretty small. Now imagine how much more magnificent heaven is. God reigns in all his glory. His angelic choir surrounds him. Think about everything heaven could be rejoicing over. Why should anything we do matter? Yet, Christ assures us, heaven rejoices over our accomplishments. Even more astounding, heaven rejoices when one unpleasant sinner repents.
This begs a question: do we rejoice when a sinner repents? Is it our joy to play a role in helping a person draw close to God?
I am not talking about your child or your relative. Everyone rejoices when a friend or family member gets his life together. I am talking about the person who stands next to you week after week in the sanctuary, the person who sings out of tune, the person who just rubs you the wrong way. How aware are we of the struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ? How committed are we in our prayers for the people in our community? Do we wake up Sunday morning excited, because we know we have an opportunity to love someone who is hard to love, to comfort someone who is hurting, to practice a little compassion?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
There was once a man who loved mankind but could not stand people. He dreamt through the nights about helping the needy, but as soon as someone spent time with him, he became irritable. “In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men,” he confessed. “One because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me” (Dostoyevsky).
God does not ask us to love mankind. God asks us to love the person in front of you. More specifically, he asks us to love our Christian brethren the way Christ loves the Church. This is precisely why our involvement in parish life is so important. It is in community that we learn to love.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Quite frankly, I do not always feel like being kind or compassionate. We are tired. The week beats us up. We show up to Mass on Sunday with a life hangover, and we just want a little solace. But this is where we Christians so often go wrong. Many Orthodox theologians have noticed a shift that happened in Western Christianity. Religion became more self-focused and less us-focused.
Christos Yannaras suggests, “The sense of the Church primarily as a body in which we share in life and existence was lost…Christianity became an individualistic ‘religion’ dominated by private convictions [and] the acquisition of individual merit…”
Fr. George Florovsky expounds: “Christianity from the very beginning existed as a corporate reality, as a community. To be Christian meant just to belong to the community. Nobody could be Christian by himself, as an isolated individual, but only together with 'the brethren,' in a 'togetherness' with them ... Christianity means a 'common life,' a life in common.”
So what does this imply? What does it look like in 2022 to be authentic Christian community? This is the question with which we must all wrestle.
American culture is increasingly disintegrating. People are falling into greater and greater social isolation and moral confusion. Anger, violence, and hopelessness are on the rise. Add to that, the rising gas prices and food shortages today are the tip of the iceberg of a projected economic collapse. Where can we turn in so much struggle? There has only ever been one answer: Jesus Christ in His Church. We must learn to be Christianity community.
It all starts with a little compassion.
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it…Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7).
Heaven rejoices over one repentant sinner. How much should we rejoice to help a brother or sister grow closer to God? Can our joy mirror the joy of heaven. God gives us, in community life, this wonderful opportunity. We are here to learn compassion.