Being Present

Sometimes words just are insufficient for comfort, especially when tragic events occur. In those moments, it can be enough to just be present with those who are suffering. In those moments, God’s presence can be experienced through our willingness to keep our mouth shut and just pray with others. God’s grace is able to bring comfort where we fall short, no matter how many people gather. God is there whether we see him or not. Whether we recognize it or not, God is always standing, holding our hand. God knows our needs, and He always provides what we need, and sometimes just being present is what we need.

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Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Be Transfigured, where we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We pray that this episode is a blessing to you and will inspire you to rededicate your life to Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us for worship or study at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where visitors are always welcome. We'll be back in a few moments to share some more information about our ministry.

I remember about 13, 14 years ago, I was still in Boston, and I was a volunteer chaplain for a fairly large hospital. One night I received a call. The regular chaplain was out of town. He called me, he says, "There's been an accident and I need you to go to the hospital." Okay. It turns out that there was a motorcycle accident. I was a young priest, you could say wet behind the ears, and I didn't know what to expect. The family wasn't Orthodox, so they were total strangers to me, not just to me personally, but to the church. They were just a group of a family that was dealing with a tragedy. And so I said to the chaplain, I said, "Well, what am I supposed to do?" He says, "Just go and be with them." So I got to the hospital, I parked the car, go upstairs, they're there in the intensive care unit about, if my memory is correct, maybe eight or nine family members there in the in the waiting room. And everyone is crying and everyone is having a difficult time. And I still at this point had no idea what the condition of the person was.

I introduced myself, I said, "I'm Father Athanasios, the chaplain has asked me to come be with you. Is there anything that I can do?" "Well father, we don't know yet. Maybe can you go in and bless my brother." If I remember correctly, the sister came to me first. I said, "Sure, let's go inside." So we go inside to the ICU there and there he was with all the machines and the this and the that. If you've never seen a motorcycle accident victim, it's a pretty heavy thing to be face to face with. So I blessed him, I prayed with him, I went back outside to the waiting room to be with the family. I tend to carry a little miniature, you know, those little pocket Bibles in my hospital kit, so I just sat down in the corner, opened up my little pocket Bible, and I began praying the Book of Psalms. Not silently, but not out loud, so they could hear that I was praying and I just sat there. If my memory is correct, it was about two hours. In that two hour time the victim died and I was the only one there.

And of course, tragic as it was, we attempted to pray as a family. I gave them my number, because if you're familiar with the hospitals, very quickly things happen after that. This happens and this happens, and so people began to scatter. And I went back home. I've never heard from them again. But the week after I get a phone call from the chaplain, who was a Roman Catholic priest, a friend of mine. He said, "I don't know what you did, but they were incredibly grateful for everything you did for them." I said, "I didn't do anything." I said, "I sat there and I prayed the Book of Psalms." He says, "You were there for them. You sat with them and you prayed with them." He says, "It was what they needed."

I have had several of those experiences in my life, but that was the very, very first profound experience that I as a clergyman had, when I realized many times I will not have any words to say. The most I can offer some times is to sit and hold someone's hand to pray and sometimes even to cry. That is the imagery in this morning's gospel. Here's this woman, she was a widow. She had already lost her husband and now she was burying her son. And according to the gospel, her only son, and the entire crowd was surrounding her when our Lord and Savior came upon her with the disciples and the great crowd, and they're trying to comfort her. But as life has shown me, I'm sure none of them were able to give her any kind of words. And so Christ says to her, "Do not weep." And he simply reaches over to the son and says, "Young man, arise."

Now, why is that so profound, my brothers and sisters? Because those of us who have dealt with death, we rarely if ever, get to experience someone being brought back to life at the hospital. 9.9 times out of 10 we are faced with the reality of death right in front of us. And in those tragic moments, there is nothing to say, but there is a presence. God was there for her at that moment. Now, as I've said before, we kind of get skewed when we hear about the miracles in the scriptures, because we see so many miracles in the scriptures, but we don't realize that many other people didn't get those miracles. Christ was performing this particular miracle to show his power over death. And the people who witnessed it, they were amazed and they called out, "God has visited his people."

My brothers and sisters, if we question God's power over death, if we question his ability to comfort us in those most tragic moments in our life, pick up this story and read it. Because he gave to the woman exactly what she needed at that time. What she needed was her son back. What the family in the hospital that I had to go to needed that many years ago needed was just me to sit there and pray. It was sufficient. God is there whether we see him or not. Whether we recognize it or not, God is always standing, holding our hand. And he's telling us whispering sometimes in our ears, "Don't weep. I have got everything under control.", God says.

I'm sure that this woman was thankful, she received her son back. And there's no accident, there's no coincidence in the longer story of Jesus Christ that this son was the only son of this woman. It even uses the word "ομονογενής" in the scripture here about this son. And so there's definitely a parallel here between our Lord and Savior and his mother, and this son and his mother. So it's not a coincidence that this particular story was brought to us to show God's love.

We are not without help. We are not without comfort. Did I say that right? We are not without comfort. In those moments in life, whether it is in the hospital, whether it's at home, whether it's in traffic, whether it's at work, whether it's at school, studying for an exam, at every moment God is there, able to bring us the comfort that we need in that moment. We just need to close our eyes and allow God to be there with us. And that's why I am blessed. I carry my prayer rope with me, my komboskini, wherever I go. And if I'm having a difficult moment, I'll just take it out of my pocket to remind me of God's presence. How easy is it to forget that God's not there... We forget that God is there. We think we're all alone. This woman thought she was all alone, but the key is God has visited his people.

You see, my brothers and sisters, prior to Jesus Christ and in all of the world religions that we know of, God was always a very distant being, even in the Ancient Greek times, right? The gods looked down from the mountain. But our God, the God of the universe, visited his people, came and lived with us, became one of us, so that he could defeat death.

This woman eventually had to bury her son or maybe he buried her, we don't know the story afterwards, but we do know that we all eventually end up at the cemetery. But that's temporary, because God visited his people, he has destroyed death. And we can take that, and as Saint John Chrysostom say, "Even if we break the law, we do not fear, because we have faith." Because Christ has come and he has united us to himself, and he is the source of life, and when dealing with Jesus Christ, there can be nothing to fear because he's got us, he's holding our hand. He's going to lift us up at the end and he's going to bring us with him into his kingdom.

Glory to God for all things.

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