Imagine a fierce tribal culture where bloodthirsty pagan gods are worshiped, and ritual human sacrifice is a frequent practice. Some of these violent tribesmen attack your town, break into your home, and kidnap you. At the age of 15, you are torn away from your family, your home, your friends, your church, and everything that you know. Now a slave, you are subjected to forced labor, in service to this pagan tribe. After 6 years, you finally escape, and you find your way back home.
If this happened to you, what would your response be? What sort of a grudge would you hold toward these bloody pagan kidnappers? What if this happened to one of your children? What sort of retribution would you want this tribe to receive? As you dreamt of revenge, how knotted up would your emotions be?
In your own life, what memories still take a toll on your emotions? Have you ever suffered from physical or emotional abuse? Are there years from your past which you generally try not to think about? Just for a moment, I want you to go there. In your memories, go back to that horrible place. Remember that person, remember those people, and remember what they did to you. It is still difficult to think about, isn’t it? Now ask yourself a couple of honest questions: “What pain do I still feel over what they did to me?” “What would I like to see done to them in return?”
The 15-year-old kidnapped boy was named “Patrick”. His grandfather was a priest in the Orthodox Church, and his father was a deacon. Patrick had been raised in the Church all his life, but he never really felt like he knew Jesus, personally. After the crisis of his kidnapping and enslavement, he sought a deep relationship with Christ. He began praying many times a day, and he said that the Spirit of God began burning within him. After returning home to England, he did not harbor hatred toward the Irish. He did not carry a grudge.
Instead, he loved them. He had a dream in which he saw the Irish people begging him to return. He believed God was calling him to return. He spent the next 20 years of his life in preparation. He prayed, he worked, and he served. He was ordained as a deacon, as a priest, and finally as a bishop in the Orthodox Church. Then, in his 40s, he returned to Ireland, so he could share the love of Christ with his former captors.
For the next 30 years, he dedicated himself to loving, serving, and evangelizing the Irish. He did not see their paganism, human sacrifice, and slavery as a reason to hate them. Instead, he saw those things as evidence of their spiritual poverty. He knew Christ, and they did not. So in mercy, he spent his life trying to give them what he already had: a loving relationship with Christ.
What if God called you to reconcile with those people who have hurt you the most? What if God asked you to return to those who have abused you, so that you could touch their lives with the love of Christ? What if God asked you not only to forgive them, but also to love them? Is this a call you are willing to obey? Are you willing to love these people, for Christ’s sake?
Our culture has tried to corrupt every major feast of the Church. They have replaced the resurrection of Christ with “Easter bunnies”. They have replaced the birth of Christ with snowmen and flying reindeer. And they have replaced the memory of St. Patrick with a trivial focus on leprechauns, green clothes, folk music, and Irish pride.
This St. Patrick’s Day, let us pay greater respect to the memory of St. Patrick. He was not preoccupied with green beer and self-indulgence. Instead, he was dedicated to living a life of Christian love . . . even loving his enemies.
May we do likewise.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 17, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.