Sunday, July 15, 2007

Friendship - A Few Thoughts

Today I was visited by Markos, the brother of my soul, with whom I haven't spent quality time since about 1999. I feel refreshed and renewed - I feel like he brings something of Christ with him whenever I see him, and that is always welcome.

His visit, and my joy in his presence, has given me pause to think on the nature of friendship. Friendship is a mysterious thing. There is something mystical, divine, about the bonds that unite friends. For me, the only true test of friendship is if after a long hiatus it is resumable in a heartbeat. That no time passes for true friends, and yet, at the same time, this is a counter-intuitive phenomenon, as it resists the tidal pull of entropy. There is something sacramental in the friendship that exists outside of time.

I don't have many such friends (although infinitely more than I deserve), but I value each and every one of them.

Christian Friendship

But such friendships are heightened, I find, by common interests, common worldviews, common hopes and dreams, by a common faith and a common brotherhood in Christ. That these friendships are made sweeter to the taste when their heart centres around Christ and His riches: His truth, beauty, love. When they do not tear down but build up ... when they are iron sharpening iron.

I know that in my own marriage, a marriage that was founded in friendship, I feel like we are most One when we are building one another up and nurturing each other and encouraging one another in our Christian walk... when we push each other deeper into Orthodoxy and surround each other with love, light, peace, and beauty. But when I get self-involved or distracted, or - heaven help me - if I tear down my wife, voluntarily or involuntarily, the union is lost and the friendship is hollowed and shallowed.

Chrysostomite Friendship

One story that moved me the first time I read it concerned St. John Chrysostom and his friends. Not being allowed to become monks, they lived together in their city and encouraged each other and motivated one another to greater zeal, greater devotion. A classic case of iron sharpening iron.

I believe the Orthodox Church needs more Chrysostomite fellowships and friendships, the more so that we live in a godless, postChristian society. We fight a constant rearguard action against an insidious, overwhelming enemy; it is as if we were to struggle against the very air we breathe. The task seems nigh impossible. Here is where friends can make all the difference. By dictating the subjects we discuss, by creating an atmosphere that can be counter-culturally absorbed in Christ, friendships create bubbles of pure oxygen that resist the body-polluting and soul-staining taint of the world about us.

This is, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts of Protestantism to the world - the concept of the "small group", or soma, where small bodies of the faithful gather to talk, study ... to hone one another, to build one another in Christ, and not to destroy. The soma has been popularized by Protestants, but I want to reemphasize that it has a rich foundation in Orthodoxy. This is something we can do without becoming any less Orthodox.

- V.

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