Many years ago I attended a weekend men’s retreat back when I was a protestant. I was encouraged to attend by my pastor Don Skinner. He knew I was struggling and life had been beating up on me. I was reluctant but thirsty for our Lord because something in life needed to change, so I went. I was a very inward man, hiding behind my pain. I kept my guard up to protect my heart and had felt a huge distrust for folks. Everyone seemed to have a selfish agenda, is that love?
Father John Moses was serving as a Methodist pastor at a local church in Mt. Crawford and was the spiritual director for that weekend retreat. It was then that I met him. He was an open book and jokester and I soon lowered my guard just enough for him to give me glimpse of what I was thirsting for. Fr. John had a taste of Orthodoxy when he was studying Methodism in England and baptized into ROCOR soon after this weekend men’s retreat.
Many years later being dissatisfied with Protestantism I too became Orthodox and I traveled a good bit with him on mission trips and spiritual retreats. Fr. John would be napping, telling jokes or on the phone with someone seeking his help as I navigated him on his missions. As we traveled up and down the bland highways of asphalt, concrete and steel the roads were dull and dreary. Every now and then as we traveled under a bridge we would notice someone had tagged or spray painted something onto all that dullness. It may say “Class of 1980” or “Bigfoot Lives” or maybe even tagged by a gang member”PG-13” or whatever they identify as. Now rest assured I am not encouraging defacing public property in anyway but I am drawing attention to the bright colorful paint that pierced through all that blandness.
At that weekend retreat while binding my wounds and trying to blend into the wall, I met Fr. John. He joked with me and showed me warmth. And when I lowered my guard just a wee-little bit, he tagged me like bright spray paint on a dull concrete wall. And the words he wrote were: “I LOVE YOU”. He didn’t say it from his mouth; it came noetically from his soul, I sensed it, it seemed foreign. I immediately challenged it because what I had experienced of love thus far as a man caused concern for the safety of my heart and I also certainly didn’t deserve God’s love either. But you see the LOVE he was sharing with me was a perfect kind of LOVE that can come only from God. We humans are broken and wounded and struggle to love as our Creator Loves. God’s LOVE is perfect and Fr. John has some to share.
Archpriest John wasn’t a perfect man, he struggled just like you and I. And as a child he was severely abused, as a young parent he struggled with his children’s illnesses, as a shepherd he loved deeply and selfishly struggled and wept as folks moved or left the church, and in these later days he struggled with his own infirmities hiding most of his struggles from all of us. But every day he prayed. He prayed for all of us, day after day. And he worked on his salvation day after day, amidst the storms of life!
As I look around this room and across the world of social media I can clearly see many other folks with his brilliant spray paint on their hearts. And perhaps there are some folks still safely hiding behind darkness and afraid to trust. That darkness is a cancer that will rob you of your precious time here on this Earth. Fr. John didn’t know the exact time of his repose. He was walking into the kitchen with the TV remote in his hand and probably heading to the fridge to get a Diet Coke. But if you hear or read these words you still have time! Come to the Lord in repentance and allow the Great Physician to cut that deathly painful cancer away that is keeping you from LOVING others as a true servant and that darkness that is separating you from the warm chalice that contains the most precious healing body and blood of our Risen Lord, the Great Physician.
Our church is a hospital full of broken and wounded people including me; I am still working on my own healing. At Holy Myyrhbearers we lift each other up and practice serving one another. And here at our infirmary we have plenty of beds available. We have available beds in the emergency room, in the psych ward and plenty of vacancy in the maternity ward as well! I don’t know whatever it is that is keeping you away, I don’t know what ugly dreary roads you have been traveling down or whatever it is that you are ashamed of and hiding behind, or what raw cancer is eating away at your salvation. But I do know that if you hear or read these words, you still have some time. Don’t wait, come. Won’t you come! We will be praying and waiting! When you let go completely and surrender your life and all of your will to the one who formed you in His hands and breathed His breath of life into you, it is then that you too will experience true LOVE and be able to share it, just like Fr. John!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 7-28-2019