St. John the Compassionate Mission
155 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episode Give Me This Stranger (and more to come) for explanations of some of these photos.
St. Silouan the Athonite Orthodox Church
155 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episode Holiness in Unconventional Ways for explanations of most of these photos.
St. John's Bakery
153 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
St. John's Thrift Store
2155 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
St. Zoticos Orthodox Church and Good Neighbours Drop-in
193 Markham Road, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episodes (coming soon) with Fr. Roberto and the Brothers of Mercy.
We were blessed to be able to take a pilgrimage to St. John the Compassionate Mission and related ministries in Toronto this past week.
Toronto is about an 8-hour drive from where we live, and because of work schedules, we were only there about 24 hours, but that time was packed and we got to experience more than we thought we would.
While we were there, we stayed in the hospitality house (which is called the Lourmel House, after the location where Mother Maria of Paris lived in France). We were welcomed by the three Brothers of Mercy and a family from Iraq who live there. We also participated in meals and prayer services at the Mission and the Drop-in Center, and we visited the social enterprise bakery and the thrift store.
The one phrase that I heard from several people that we talked with was how Fr. Roberto and other leaders saw value in them even when they maybe couldn’t see their own worth, and they found ways for them to get involved. There is an intentionality about making sure that everyone finds their place in the community and in the Kingdom of God. Like Joanna who is on staff now, greeting everyone and coordinating activities (I’m not sure of her actual title or specific responsibilities). Or Daniel, who at one time experienced homelessness and is now on the board of directors. Or Sean who has Down Syndrome who was tasked with befriending a member of the community who everyone thought was mute, and gave him his voice back. While there is a place for outside professionals and outside volunteers to join in, the place really belongs to the community with everyone doing their part.
While we were there, we interviewed a bunch of people and hope to share some of those interactions with you in upcoming episodes. There's Joanna and David, mentioned earlier. There’s also Deacon Paul, Father Nicolaie and Father Roberto. We’ll also be hearing from two of the Brothers of Mercy who are participating in the Lived Theology School and living in the hospitality house.
Admittedly, ours is a very incomplete view of life there. We make no claims to have even scratched the surface of what happens there. One of the things that Fr. Roberto reminded us is that in our short visit, we were not able to experience the mundaneness of interacting with those who are disenfranchised. It’s not glamorous work, but can look like it for those of us who pop in for a short visit. I think daily corporate prayer as a community is what gives them the strength and endurance for the challenges they experience.
If you notice, there wasn't a blog post last week.
Some days, you look at the screen, and you have nothing to say. You may want to create and express your feelings on the topic, and feel like you can't.
I did the wrong thing.
If we wait for motivation to strike, would we ever get anything done?
If I say to myself, "The next time someone asks me for money, then I'll help them," how productive is that?
We make excuses, putting off helping our brothers and sisters.
We hear in the gospel of Luke the Parable of the Great Supper:
"Then He said to him, 'A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master.'"
The man of the house, here representing Christ, offers to the invited guest a seat at his table. These people may have had other needs to attend to, but they neglected their greater calling.
How often do we, out of laziness or "lack of motivation", back away from a challenge that is presented to us?
That's not to say that helping our brothers and sisters in Christ is always a challenge, but it can often be interpreted that way.
The rest of the parable packs in a motivating punch:
"Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ”
I know I'm guilty of forgetting that and what Christ says in John 13:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If we truly love those around us (even those in need), we don't have to wait to feel motivated to take action in meeting the needs we see.
On New Year's Day, I finally sat down to watch The Push, a Netflix original that I first learned about by listening to the Pop Culture Coffee Hour podcast (click to hear their review). The basic premise of the film is "four people are [unknowingly] being put through a huge choreographed scenario created to persuade them to do things they normally would not do. The final minutes reveal who would be willing to push a human being over the edge of a building due to social pressure" (IMDB).
It's intense. Although no one actually dies, it's quite unsettling. Particularly as I think about my own life. How much of my life do I conform without even realizing it?
On New Year's morning, I had attended Divine Liturgy for St. Basil. A few days earlier, while previewing our upcoming podcast (an interview with Fr. Barnabas Powell that you won't want to miss), Fr. Barnabas mentioned one of St. Basil's quotes that has been bouncing around in my head. "When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief. Shouldn’t we give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?"
What he's saying is that stealing isn't just taking something that belongs to someone else, but it's also not giving to someone in need when we have the ability. In the same way, I say I wouldn't kill another human being, but do I have enough food in my house (and money in my account) to keep someone else from starving to death? St. Basil is saying that I am a thief and murderer.
How did I become conditioned to ignore poverty and refuse to help others? Who taught me to think of my belongings as mine? How did I accumulate so much unnecessary stuff? Why do I imitate the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan and look and walk away from those who are suffering? Can we acknowledge the overwhelming social pressure that exists to not get involved with those who have material needs? We know there is homelessness in our own neighborhood. We have heard the statistics about the starvation in countries not so far away. We know that sick people cannot afford medical treatment.
While I hope that I would never push someone off a building, I do have the ability to prevent others from dying.
As the Pop Culture Coffee Hour guys said in their review of The Push, social pressure and conformity can go both ways. There doesn't just have to be negative peer influence. The purpose of our podcast, blog, and social media posts is to do our small part to help apply some positive social pressure. Please help us by influencing us to do the right thing. We're all in this together!
It’s the most wonderful time of year. (Thank you Andy Williams)
And it’s true.
For most, this is a time of joy. The birth of Christ is one of the biggest and joyous celebrations that our church has.
But with great power, comes great responsibility.
This time of happiness can often lead to more in sadness and depression.
For those experiencing that pang of loneliness, it tears into the heart. No matter how hard you try, you aren’t good enough for the life you’re living.
Last year I worked for FOCUS Pittsburgh, an Orthodox non-profit helping those in need attain and maintain a better life. During this holiday season, the clients (as well as our staff) felt the strain of the holiday season.
Money was always short. Crime went up. The homicide and suicide rates even went up.
There was a certain tense air surrounding us during this time.
As someone who gets the annual strain of holiday depression, I related with the people next to me more than usual.
There was one solution to the loneliness and emptiness: community.
For that reason, parishes in the area came through to be with those in need. A Roman Catholic parish came in for their annual coat drive, bringing dozens of families. Every Wednesday, a different local Orthodox parish would come and serve a meal.
A plate of food carried a conversation about past Christmases. A walk up the stairs was a chance to encourage each other to get through the holiday season.
Community is a physical representation of the love of Christ. It’s a real tangible thing, being around people who care, love and find happiness in this unity.
Being with those you love (and you know love you back) is what most of us tend to do each holiday season.
But there is nothing more powerful and strengthening than sitting next to a total stranger and breaking bread together. Nothing.
It just serves as a reminder that Christ loves us. He always has, and he always will. If we genuinely believe that he does, why do we close our doors to our brother who knocks?