When God reveals Himself to us and when we meet Him, we are very eager to share this discovery with our loved ones. Sometimes we are so excited about it that we want to shout about it or ask others in amazement, “Now, don’t you see, don’t you know, don’t you feel it?” We want to take matters into our own hands and save everyone around us by telling them the Truth.
There is a somewhat justified statement that when one person in a family turns to God, all the rest become martyrs. It can happen sometimes, and I myself have seen and known examples when one’s excessive zeal in making someone else to come to the Church eventually led that person away from the Church for a long time, if not forever.
In fact, I did not have a period of the so-called neophytosis, or the neophyte’s illness, in its most typical form, when one goes to extremes. God revealed Himself to me as Beauty and Love, and everything in the context of this encounter was marked by my inner contemplation and communication with Him. There would be different periods of our relationship with Him, but at that time, all my impulses and efforts were driven by love and joy. I was about to graduate from a university at that time and lived in a dorm for the last year. I recall that one evening I had an irresistible urge to pray. It’s like a fire inside, which is burning hot. I took the Psalter and read a few kathismas. I lived in the dorm together with my sister and a couple of other girls, but we hadn’t talked much about faith or Orthodox Christianity. After a while the girls asked me about it themselves; one evening they joined us for the Evening Prayer – it was entirely their own initiative. During those couple of months that we lived together, they went to church services with us and took part in the Sacraments. In addition, several other people who lived on our floor came and expressed their desire to go to confession and communion. It was then that I discovered that regardless of whether I was trying to persuade a person to come to God or, even worse, to coerce them to do so, it was He who revealed Himself to people at the most appropriate moment.
During one of his talks, Metropolitan Anthony said something that is very dear to me: he stressed that it was very important to give another person the right to be the way they are and they could be what they wanted to be. That other person exists on his own, and he would exist even if we were gone.
It is very difficult to acknowledge the otherness and the right of the other person to be themselves, and I often find, regrettably, even in the church community, that people lack understanding and sometimes resent the fact that the other person is different and thinks differently. At times people don’t even realize it, narrowing down the scope of their vision and perception. “Only my way of thinking is right; I will teach you what to think; everything else is totally unacceptable.”
I find it difficult sometimes not to think of a person as I used to, and to allow them freedom and space for possible changes at least in my perception of them. There has always been freedom of choice in our family, for which I am very grateful to my parents. We were allowed to make all kinds of choices, from length of hair to profession and faith. We are not all church members, and I have grown accustomed to thinking that my cousin and sister-in-law are absolutely far from the church. That was how we lived: each minding his or her own business. What a surprise it was to see my cousin at the Sunday service and to learn that she didn’t come for the communion of a child or just to light a candle, but rather to communicate with God personally, to participate in the sacraments. I was even more surprised when I found out that she had been listening to lectures about faith for a long time instead of music, and that she observed fasts. Last Christmas, my sister-in-law confessed and took communion.
Each time it brings a great joy to me when one of my relatives has an Encounter with the living God. When they come to the church to participate in the sacraments not because they have been compelled to do so, or because they do not want to lag behind others in the family (I’ll go wherever everyone else goes), or some other external reasons, but because they have this amazing desire to meet and communicate with Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And personally, I have nothing to do with it, which deprives me of the opportunity to even indirectly credit myself with the slightest participation in the salvation of my neighbors’ souls.
I wish them all the best with all my heart; I wish them to be filled with joy and fullness of life in Christ, but I cannot force anyone to do so. I am comforted by the thought of Archimandrite Andrew (Konanos) that if I truly desire something from the bottom of my heart and if I genuinely love and respect a person, it will reach his soul. Time will come and the person will change. It is a mystery why some people undergo this change earlier than others. We all have our own secret relationship with God.