People have a way of shaping and forming us. Some make us feel good, some make us feel awkward, whilst others leave us downright depressed.
Some inspire us to greater heights while others discourage us from ever trying again.
People ought not to hold such power over our lives, but when it comes to certain people, it is a good job that they do. For there are some people who, though they make us feel uncomfortable, clumsy and futile, nevertheless stretch and challenge us to be more than, better than we are.
Some people will make you think about what is truly important in life. Some people make you stop and reassess your devotions and what you’re giving your time, your energy and your passion to. It’s uncomfortable, it is difficult and awkward, but it is also the best thing that can happen to us.
Father John Sergieff
One such life, for me, is that of Father John Sergieff, a priest in Kronstadt, Russia in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century.
At that time imperial Russia was a decadent place; “rotting beneath its own weight”, as one writer described it. In reality it was a dangerous place to be. Crime was in abundance and poverty and depravity ran amok.
Street corners were over-populated with prostitutes and dealers, alleys full of thieves. There were precious few if any safe places.
The known clergy at the time knew better than to find themselves amongst such decadence. Being used to a life of privilege and status they left such places to those they deemed worthy of them. Not so Father Sergieff.
“His daily practice”, wrote one writer, “was to don his robe and descend into the meanest part of the city”. Father John habitually walked amongst the addicts and the predators, the prostitute and the thieves, as well as the numerous orphans and widows.
He would squat down with the desolate and embrace the broken, the filthy and the rejected. His message would be the same, looking into their lost eyes he would tell them that “this”, this way of life they were living, this means of survival, was in fact “beneath their dignity”. That they were created for better; “created to live to God’s glory”.
At his death Father John was considered the Pastor of all Russia. A humble, self-evasive man, who carried a personal revival wherever he went.
People like Father John disturb me. They have a knee-jerk way of causing me to re-assess everything I deem important. They redefine what it means to love another. They challenge me as to how far my love is willing to stretch, how inclusive my embrace. They cause me to ponder whether my inclusivity is shrinking as I get older, as opposed to ever enlarging and advancing.
It is the Father John’s of this world that remind me that I have no rite to withhold love from another. That there is no depth a man may fall to, no behaviour a woman may succumb to, that earns them the rite to be ignored, or shunned, or criticised, or rejected.
They speak to my own frailty and weakness. They remind me that but for the grace of God, there go I.
The value of a Father John…
We all need a Father John in our lives. For we are far too often given to trivial prejudices, playground unforgivenesses, schoolboy jealousies and petty squabbles. We allow trivial, unimportant flies to spoil the ointment of our humanity and maturity.
It is the Father John’s, that pull all such irrelevancies into clear perspective. They remind us that some things are bigger than the things we cannot forgive. Some things are more important than the misdemeanours we choke over. Some things are more deserving of our time and our energy than the countless annoyances and irritations we chalk up in our cluttered minds.
Life’s Father John’s breathe fresh air into our spirits. They bring a much needed clarity into our busy minds, a life saving grace into our ever darkening souls.
They take us out of our murky selves, beyond our infected thoughts and muddy perspectives. They re-establish the eternal and priceless value of a human life irrespective of where it has been, what it has done, and who it is.
We all need a Father John, a brighter life, a deeper reminder of a more meaningful existence.
May you find yours or better still, become one to another…