The Unmeasurable, Unending: the Mercy of God

I am often touched by the stories of Elder Paisios and his interesting life – an Orthodox monk, blessed with grace and wisdom. Some consider him to be a saint, and is canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. My favourite tale is regarding an alcoholic monk, upon whose death a battalion of angels came to collect his soul.

“Once on Mount Athos in Greece there was a monk who drank and got drunk every day and was the case of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually, he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Father Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved. Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.

Elder Paisios explained to them that this particular monk was born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) shortly before the expulsion of the majority of Christians there by the Muslim Turks when they were taking Christian boys and forcing their conversion to Islam. So as not to take him from his parents, they would take him with them to reaping in the fields and so he wouldn’t cry and alert the Turks to his presence, they put raki (an unsweeted anise-flavored Turkish alcoholic beverage popular in the Near East) into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic.

Having grown up in such a way, the elder told him to pray that God would help him reduce by one glass the glasses he drank a day. After a year, he managed with struggle and repentance to make the twenty glasses he drank into nineteen glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached two to three glasses a day with which he would still get drunk.

The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion. The moral of the story is this: without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his efforts?

This particular version is extracted from “The Meaning of Grace for the Christian”, an article published here by John G. Panagiotou.

We are charged with the practise of virtue – humility is one of these. We have to know our place as children of God, and recall the inability we have with experiencing the ‘other’ limited by the confines of flesh and bone. We cannot judge someone, we cannot judge them for we don’t truly know them as God does.


A Woman’s Right to Choose

One particular person I admire, who is dear to my heart, and remains on my mind every time I pray, is my great grandmother. Nan Uí Bhriain – everyone called her Nan O’Brien – yet she faithfully wrote the full form of her name.

She gave birth to six children, my grandmother was the second; she struggled to carry many children to full term, and so many passed on within the womb. She was a remarkable woman so I’m told. I never did meet her, yet her legacy lives on like a river that never dries up. She died when my own ‘Nan’ was 15. My great-grandfather was stricken with grief from that day on, unable to cope with her loss. He turned to alcohol often, but more often relied on my grandmother – now the oldest; my uncle (the firstborn) had drowned in a boating accident, which added to their collective grief.

But ‘Nan O’Brien’ was a force from God. While her husband worked, she also worked – along with raising a family, she was the housekeeper for the rectory and its four priests. She met many throughout her life, one whose cause for canonisation is at the diocesan level and remains an unofficial patron of the town she loved and lived in. She taught her children that love was an unconditional thing, and that anyone you met was subject to it. I know this is true because of how my own dear nan responds to the people around her: she brings food to her sick friends, and she admonishes those she knows who have gone wrong or members of our family who have made great mistakes, yet she always tells them she loves them. I think whoever meets her confrontation knows her forgiveness is at the end of the tunnel, because she forgives all of her friends, all of our family.

Is that a perfect family? Of course not! Besides the Holy Family, no family is perfect. My grandmother has told me of many lessons she learned in her life, and one of those was about life and forgiveness. Broad topics, eh?

One night as my grandmother lay in bed, her mother came trotting home from her friend’s house. She burst through the bottom door crying, weeping, screeching for her husband. About ten minutes later, after he asked her what’s wrong, he apparently ran outside and cried on the bank behind the house. Half an hour later, everyone was asleep.

Nine months later, my grandmother had a new younger sister.

My dear readers, I confide in you: the dear public, a lesson. That night when love wept, a woman was taken by another’s husband. By force, not by choice. My great-grandmother was raped, and she conceived of a child.

The night of tears wasn’t an ordeal. It was a moment: reality came to light, human vengeance perished, and love overcame all.

My grandmother told me about this after we watched a programme about abortion. Nan always wore her faith on her sleeve. Someone in my family was conceived in an unorthodox way, yet lives today as a mother and wife, an aunt and friend herself.

Abortion is murder.