Today's guest post comes from Bradley - a graduate of George Mason University’s School of Conflict Analysis & Resolution, who currently works for the government and volunteers in his community. Bradley is also a proud member of St. Timothy & St. Athanasius church in Arlington, VA who has guest posted before. You can follow him on Facebook as well. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
“But first I want you to tell me this: do you know the power of love? Christ passed over all the marvelous works which were to be performed by the apostles and said, ‘By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’” --St John Chrysostom
The idea of hospitality has challenged me over the past few weeks and seems to have culminated in the latest Vesper and Liturgical Gospel readings both regarding how we treat one another, and how we rely on the Holy Spirit to work in us, God to provide for us, and Christ to show us the way to be holier hosts (Luke 14:7-15, Luke 9:10-17).
A word often used for hospitality in the New Testament, philoxenia, combines the idea of loving as if you would love someone bound to you by blood or faith (philo) and applies it to a stranger (xenos).
Though other cultures certainly valued hospitality, I often forget how truly revolutionary followers of Christ were in challenging themselves, daily, to love each other and show generosity and grace whether they were laughing over shared meals, imprisoned together, or in a heated disagreement about the Law. Further still, Christ mandated that we extend that love to strangers, to the disenfranchised, and to enemies who often had no practical value to us.
This is confusing. It puzzled some of the greatest Roman philosophers and politicians of the time. It turned a world that was still actively in the mindset of protecting one’s own tribe or indulging one’s own desires at any cost, on its head. I think it is meant to confuse, or at least distinguish God’s Rationale from the world’s.
The Emperor Julian, who considered the Christians to be “atheists” who were turning Romans away from their gods commented,
“[the Church] has been especially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers...It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
Many governors were then directed to implement charity which, while it may have met practical needs, failed to meet the spiritual needs that real, Christ-like, hospitality achieves.
Even when there is no “miracle” – no bread overflowing from baskets – we are reminded love is miraculous in and of itself, that it requires the work of God just as much. Christ often speaks in story and metaphor, but as Christians we are called to internalize the times when he says “truly I am with you” or “you have done this for Me.”
When we share bread, we are able to take a similar wonder to when we receive Communion. I often forget Christ’s presence when we are given opportunity to take the remainder of the overflowing Orban and are able to take it to our sick and infirm grandfathers, to the poor that we pass by, to our sisters who we are in a disagreement with within the church.
Few really lose sight of Christ while hearing the Gospel, which provides for us a map for us; fewer still lose sight of the sacred in Communion, which transforms us. But too often, as I said, I forget that the fruit of these two things should translate to tangible philoxenia when I leave and even--sometimes harder still--before I leave the doors of the church. If I am not taking the fruits of the Church, of the Spirit, into the world what becomes of them?
This is hard. It is easy for me to give Orban to someone in a wheel chair; it is hard for me to want to be nice to someone who chews with their mouth open. Easy for me to welcome a child into a space usually reserved for adults; hard for me to invite someone to dinner if I disagree with their politics.
I am humbled and inspired when I remembered my first Russian Liturgy eighty year old babushkas would fight over each other to bring me bread at the end of Liturgy, or see a lawyer working in the White House go to serve amidst the poverty of Appalachia, or when I hear stories of families in my Church opening up their homes to immigrants with little to call their own, recently arriving from Egypt.
How can we not rejoice to see Christ in these things?
Hospitality comes in large and small packages, loves strangers and family, and Christ works through them all.
How have you incorporated hospitality--sharing the fruits of the Church--with the world? How have you been challenged to love those closest to you and those you might call your enemies?