St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish


The Asceticism of the Open Door 2016
by Fr Roberto Ubertino 

Last week, Fr Deacon Pawel shared at our weekly clergy meeting the story of a church that celebrated its 105th anniversary. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the priest announced that this was the last liturgy in that church. The parish would be closed due to lack of membership. Over 100 years ago, the founders of the church walked through the doors of the church, he said, but later you closed those doors behind you and have kept other people locked out. Now they faced the reality that the church had just a few members left.

It’s part of “human nature” to simply take care of one’s own. To talk to our friends, to reach out to those whom we feel comfortable with, attracted to. But a church is a community and a specific type of community. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth and it welcomes all; it excludes none. In fact, if there is a preference, it is for those whom the world considers unattractive, uninteresting. Yet even in our own parish, I am reminded how we find people excluded, sitting by themselves, often Sunday after Sunday - ignored. Recent guests brought to my attention that this is what struck them about our parish: groups that are clearly comfortable with each other but also people who clearly do not belong anywhere.

If the Agape meal is the liturgy after the liturgy; if it is the experience among us that because we have “received the heavenly food” all is changed, then the Agape meal needs to reflect this change even in our social relationships.

We are very careful not to break the fast with food, but are we as careful to live these new relationships in Christ, where the least among us is loved, welcomed, or at least included in our conversations? I was just recently reminded how Baba would reach out to certain people and draw them in, literally call them to be part of our parish. Without her outreach some of these same people would have slipped away and been lost to themselves and the church.

Asceticism is a struggle to love, to live in a way that is reflective of what we have become, what we have received in Communion. It begins, right at the dismissal, when the priest says “Let us go forth in peace,” as we set the tables for the Agape meal – the meal of love. I remember being at an Agape meal in France. Everyone around us broke the fast in groups, wine, sausage, cheeses; only our group, made up of poor people, ate old stale bread and boiled potatoes and eggs. No one talked to us, no one offered us any food. The singing at the liturgy was amazing, the liturgical discussion out of this world, the service deeply theological, but I will never forget the coldness that followed.

It is natural for relationships to be “erotic”: I like you, you like me kind of thing … but the meal after the liturgy is intentionally called “the Agape” because that is where we are challenged to live what we have experienced in the liturgy.

The real test for any Orthodox parish, including our own, is how we embrace the least among us. This Lent, let us be as zealous in the asceticism of the open door as we are in keeping the fasting rules at each Agape.

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