Good and Faithful Servant
by Fr. Stephen Siniari
Servanthood is a difficult concept in America today. Molly came to the shelter looking for work. After a tour, it was obvious that her undergraduate work hadn’t prepared her for the sights, and sound… the smell of social service in the trenches.
Retreating into the relative sanctuary of a sparse office with her guides, she seemed relieved with the relentless commotion on the other side of the door. She smoothed her suit and adjusted her hair, and politely declined when offered a chair.
"We’re basically servants here." One veteran commented. "Think you could do that, be a servant to the kids, and to fellow staff?"
The young woman hesitated.
The second worker, an older woman, sensed the Molly’s uneasiness. "It’s okay." She assured the younger woman. "It’s hard to think of yourself as a servant. It took me years, but it’s the only way."
"I’ll never be anyone’s servant." The young woman bristled. "I didn’t spend all that time struggling to get my degree to be anyone’s servant." She looked toward the door.
Realizing she didn’t want to touch the knob, the other woman stood saying,
"Please, let me get that for you." They sat for a moment after she left, then returned quietly to the work.
In our Orthodox Church, if we were to search for servants, what would we find? In our monasteries? In our administrative offices? How many, do you think; parish-council members, singers, catechumens, Deacons, Priests; how many would recognize the Voice calling, "good and faithful servant?"
All Orthodox Theology begins and ends with Jesus Christ. So says Father Thomas Hopko, and so it’s been in the Church from the beginning. A discernible pattern, not a system, but a living way of servanthood, that may differ according to varying external circumstances, but a way of living, informed by the one Spirit, essentially the same, because it is informed by the love of the Incarnation. And there is a way to know the essential life of service, to be steeped in it, to transfigure, and be transfigured by it, and the epiphany of that way, and the Way itself, is Jesus Christ.
To serve, we must come into communion, and pattern our lives with Jesus, the living Icon of God’s love, who said, "I have not come to be served, but to serve..."
Who are called to be a fellow-servants with Jesus? All Christians.
What is their service-calling? To do the will of the Father.
What is the will of the Father? To love, God and neighbor.
Where is this service of love to take place? Along our common pilgrimage.
When is our service of love to take place? At all times.
How do we begin this struggle to love? In the words of Christos Yannaras, by "…the dynamic transcendence of egocentric individuality."
Molly eventually returned to serve at the shelter. She was the daughter of a rich house, but her insides had not yet atrophied to the point where she was totally insensitive to her very real potential for relationship with God and others. She knew her education and possessions were not meant to be barriers, or sedatives to her calling, but means of building relationship, with God, and with people. She had chosen to study service, but it’s a fearful thing to put love into action, to risk loving. But is love love, if it remains only a theory?
In the person of Jesus Christ, God loves us.
Love comes and "dwells among us."
Love "learns" our needs, seeks to "understand," so to speak, though as the Fathers say, "There is only One Master who did not have to learn what He taught."
Love listens… Love prays for… Love spends time with…
Love builds a relationship. Love cultivates, Sacrifices… Love Loves…
One of our Bishop’s recently commented that we Orthodox are in love with the way we love… People of faith still "strain for gnats," and end up "swallowing camels."
So, in our next installment we will examine the criteria, the Church’s guideline, for seeking, in varying situations, and according to our particular gifts, "What is the loving thing to do?"
Molly left to be married after five years in the trenches. "I was poor when I came, closets full of everything. Now I own only one of each thing I need. I thought I would bless others, but in helping others to find their true identity in Christ, He has shown me my own identity. I was poor when I came. Only able to serve myself, and never satisfied, really. I’m still learning to love. I’m the one who’s being blessed."
[Editor’s Note: Fr. Stephen is the pastor of SS Peter and Paul Albanian Orthodox Church, Philadelphia, PA, while continuing his ministry of service to the poor and to troubled teenagers at Covenant House. We are honored to feature, with the blessing of Archbishop Peter, his new column which will examine the dynamics of Christian servanthood.]