My father came to Australia after World War II as a Displaced Person; in fact his original Australian Passport had been stamped that he was now banned from entering any nation that had a Communist Government.
On arriving in Australia, the Immigration Department asked him where was the last place in Europe he had resided – his answer was Roma, Italy, to which he was then transported to Roma, Queensland, at the edge of the Birdsville Track. After some time in Roma – he transferred to the sugar cane fields, and began a two year placement, cutting cane. During this time he had to seek medical help because of a calloused back and scars across his shoulders. The upside to cutting cane was that when he returned to his family in Western Australia after two years, he had in his pocket enough cash to buy a block of land in a suburb of Perth, Attadale. But not having enough money to build a house on the land that he had bought – he got the idea to go to Fremantle Port, and purchased two wooden motor vehicle crates that cars then used to be transported in. In part payment for purchasing these crates – the crates were delivered from the wharf to his quarter acre block in Attadale. My father and members of his family lived in the crates until he began building the home he was to live in for nearly fifty years. My father married, had four children – and on a single income sent all his children to Catholic Schools. Funds were tight. Entertainment and luxuries were few. But he and my mother gave their children a secure and comfortable upbringing. My mother sewed our private school uniforms – blazers and all, to offset the cost of our education. People at the Ukrainian Church were very kind. With regularity they would supply second hand clothing for my sisters. The clothing was good and clean – it was gratefully passed down from sister to sister, and then given to other families. To this day my younger sister passes her daughter’s clothes down to my daughter who is several years her cousin’s junior.
- Dr. Kania: A Question of Character – Part IV Forbidden Fruit (cf. Genesis 3: 12, RSV)
- Dr. Kania: A Question of Character – Part III Foreseeing the Undoing
- A Question of Character – Part II
My father became a nursing Sister, then a Welfare Officer and finally, a Social Worker. He spent a great deal of his life in the Church, serving God as a Cantor, as well as being a Choreographer, and Youth leader, and working in the Health and Welfare fields, serving God through his neighbour. He rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty. His service to others was inexhaustible. I recall vividly the occasion when he had been offered by a friend a large amount of food, including fresh meat – and how on Boxing Day he drove to one of the poorest and most violent areas of Perth, where large communities of Indigenous people slept, near a shelter – by a creek, under a bridge, and how he distributed the food to these people. No one dared go down there. He never threw good clothing away – but gave it to those in need. My father never wasted food, he could not tolerate this. He was a tough man – but under this thick exterior – he cared very deeply about others – especially the unfortunate and down-trodden. Ukrainians here in Perth old enough would remember how he taught language classes to children who are now grandparents – and how he would be in country Northam leading singing – and in Leederville, Perth, teaching Ukrainian dancing – on the same day.
My father always acknowledged to me that Australia had been very good to him. The Australians had welcomed him – given him employment, safety and security. He said it had been a tough beginning – but at least no one was shooting at him. At the centre of my father’s religious upbringing were the teachings on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. From being a Red Cross worker at the end of World War II – to his welfare work in Australia he had given so much of his time to help others. For my father, it was an intrinsic part of being a Christian. ATK
The Holy Gospel According to Mark has a scene where the Scribes are debating as to what are the most important commandments by which to live a holy life. Christ is then questioned and He replies: “‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.’” (Matthew 12: 28 – 34, RSV)
We ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven by climbing a ladder in which each rung is an increasing life-long ability to love God and neighbour – or in the words of the great Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, to be able to show at our death how we have grown in our capacity to love, throughout the course of our lives.
It is clear that in order for us to live the Christian Way (the term ‘Way’ was the first term to describe those who followed Christ – as a ‘Way’ of Life) – we have a primary duty to the service and honour of God – but then an important social duty to our neighbour. It is not a matter of one or the other – but both. For as St. John teaches us in his First Epistle: “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 John 4: 20 – 21, RSV)
Sometimes, our Church service to God can see us become scrupulous, or proud – and we believe that all that is demanded of us is Sunday attendance – without showing love for our neighbour. Our Father Among the Saints, the same author of our Divine Liturgy, John Chrysostom, issued a warning about this: “Do you want to honor the body of Christ? Then do not despise his nakedness. You come to attend church services dressed in the finest silks which your wardrobe contains; and it is right that you should honor Christ in this way. But on your way, do you passed naked beggars in the streets? It is no good coming to the Lord’s table in fine silks, unless you also give clothes to the naked beggar—because the body of that beggar is also the body of Christ. Do you want to honor the blood of Christ? Then do not ignore his thirst. You have donated beautiful gold chalices for the wine, which becomes a symbol of Christ’s blood; and it is right that you should honor Christ in this way. But on your way to services, you passed by beggars who pleaded for food and drink. It is no good putting gold chalices on the Lord’s table unless you give food and drink to the poor from your own tables. The service which we celebrate in church is a sham unless we put its symbolic meaning into practice outside its walls. Better that we do not come at all than we become hypocrites—whose selfishness can only besmirch the Gospel in the eyes of others.” (St. John Chrysostom, 1996, On Living Simply, Sermon 55). St. Paul many centuries prior to Chrysostom would write of Christians who praise God with little or no love for their neighbour in the following manner: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 1 – 3, RSV)
The Gospel, the Good News of Life, should increase our capacity to love – by loving the One True God – and the neighbour we live beside each day. As we revere the Icons in our Churches – so we need also to learn to revere the living and breathing icons in our: homes, workplaces and streets – for the Greek word ‘icon’ means image – and we are all made in the Image and Likeness of God. (cf. Genesis 1: 26, RSV)
Moreover without a concern for neighbour – we run the risk of being puffed up with spiritual pride. St. James writes this in his famous Epistle: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James, 1: 22 – 27, RSV)
We have to be therefore careful that we do not lose the twin meaning of the word ‘Church’. In Greek, from which our Eastern Tradition derives – the word ‘Ekklesia’ is defined as the ‘place of the called out ones’ – it is in essence, a place comprised of the ‘community of faithful’. In addition the English word ‘Church’ derives from the Old English – meaning the ‘House of the Lord’. So our Church must be perceived on two levels – the first – a physical place in which we show love and honour to God; and the second the living and breathing Gospel in the heart of the Faithful – both laity and clergy.
Chrysostom powerfully speaks of the role of the clergy in its purpose to inspire and empower the community of Faithful in both their love of God – and their love of neighbour. But in being shepherds of the flock – Chrysostom warns: “How should the Church be governed? Should the patriarchs act like emperors, issuing decrees which all believers must obey? Should bishops see themselves as local governors, demanding unquestioning submission of the people? Should the clergy be a kind of spiritual army, enforcing the will of the patriarchs and bishops, and meting out punishment on sinners? The first consideration for the Church is not how to punish sins, but how to prevent sins from being committed. And when a sin has been committed, the task of the Church is to encourage the sinner to confess the sin and make amends—so that no punishment is required. This is a quite different attitude to wrongdoing from that which the state adopts, and so requires a quite different style of government. Moreover, each individual is answerable not to be a priest, bishop, or patriarch, but to God. So the primary authority of those within the Church is not to issue decrees, but to stir the souls and enliven the consciences of believers, so that by their own volition they will obey the laws of God. In short those in authority within the Church should see themselves not as rulers, but as preachers and pastors.” (St. John Chrysostom, 1996, On Living Simply, Sermon 44). Chrysostom’s emphasis is that pastors follow Christ: “When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[c] is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13: 12 – 17) For this reason perhaps St. John Chrysostom was condemned by many of his peers, as he emptied out the Patriarchal treasury in order to give money to the poor of Constantinople. How in good conscience, according to Chrysostom, could he be a Patriarch of the starving, homeless and naked – when he had the funds to succour their needs?
The War in Ukraine has given us in the diaspora an unexpected gift. It has gifted us a chance to respond with love to our brothers and sisters. We in the diaspora who came out decades, or a half century or a century ago, can now put into action, the talents, opportunities and experiences we have gained from the freedoms we have enjoyed, as part of the democratic lifestyle – the same democratic lifestyle that our fellow kin are now prepared to die for. We cannot turn our eyes away – or pretend at this moment that their pain is not our pain. We need to show that we are a ‘community of Faithful’, and that we live as we pray – and pray as we live – in Truth. Every one of us from the elderly to the child, can give something. The infirmed can pray fervently in their beds; the grandparent can treat a refugee child as a part of their family, the adult worker can sacrifice with their time, their coin – and what other skill, or connection they have; the business owner can see one or two refugees added to their list, the sport’s coach can invite someone into their team, the child can show love by being friendly and welcoming to other children. This is what God asks: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a] and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6: 8, RSV) For as St. Paul also reminds – and we should never be forgetful of: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13: 2, RSV)
Our Catholic Church offers us a powerful guide in its teaching of the Corporal Works of Mercy as to where our social responsibilities lie in service of God, through our neighbour, tending to their physical needs. These are, that wherever we see the need – and have the capacity to help, we should: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive and bury the dead. We are not expected by God to work miracles – we are only asked to sincerely attempt to do what we can. St. Teresa of Avila tells us that a Saint is a person who does the little responsibilities of their life well – to the best of their ability. Let us not be jealous of the good works performed by others as they seek in sincerity to help – for as Christ explained to his Disciples when others were doing good in his name: “But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9: 50, RSV) Try and encourage your brother and sister in doing Corporal Works of Mercy – as they should assist you, in your endeavours to do good: “Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14: 13, RSV)
Recall also Christ’s teaching to do your good works for their own reward and not for the reward of the observance of others: “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6: 2 – 4, RSV)
As I complete writing this piece, I need to mention that last Friday afternoon after I taught my final lesson for the day, a twelve-year old student of mine, waited until all the students had left the class. He then said to me: “Doc, I need to tell you this – my mother and father donated two hundred dollars to the Humanitarian Appeal in Ukraine yesterday evening.” The parents are of an Irish background – they don’t know any Ukrainian people – but as the Good Samaritan so well understood – the world, and its people are our neighbour. This family without reading our Catechism – Christ Our Pascha knows the intrinsic value of the words: “Christian love is the foundation of all interpersonal relations and all social life. It is precisely love that discloses the dignity of the human person and teaches us how to love him or her. Acts of mercy are the social manifestations of Christian love. The religious character of acts of mercy stems from the fact that Jesus identified himself with every destitute person: “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” (Mt. 25: 40) Love for the sake of Christ is the primary motivation for acts of mercy.” (Par. 936, Christ Our Pascha)
The Letter of St. James has a redounding preaching contained – “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2: 14 – 26, RSV)
How many of us – the ‘righteous’ will want to be told at life’s end – that our charity was in fact less than those we often derided as being unworthy of God?
Now we turn to the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania