Born into everyone’s business.

Encounters with strangers often leave me feeling deeply connected at the fundamental level of our common humanity. People you don’t know, who may be needy themselves, or may help you in an emergency, or with whom you share a crisis, are often easier to feel close to than your dearest friend or your cousin you’ve loved since you were children. That is because you have nothing but your humanity to connect with. No offenses given or received have been stuffed into your baggage regarding that person.

Like the Indian woman I once sat next to, so very close to, on a plane from Mumbai to Frankfurt. She actually had been seated behind me when we first boarded, but before we were told to fasten our safety belts the man next to me, I guessed he was her son, traded places with her, perhaps so she could sit by a woman. I don’t know, but she and I liked each other, we could tell by our smiles, though we said not a word to each other during eight hours, not knowing the words.

Today in the Orthodox Church we enter Great Lent with the Vespers of Forgiveness, when we also connect with many people we hardly know, on the ground of our fallen humanity. We admit with a bow and a kiss that we have sinned against them, whether we’ve ever spoken to them or have even seen them before. We exchange the words, “Please forgive me!” with each person in the service in turn, and each of us responds, “God forgives!”

Why? Because, as Elder Sophrony said, “Every sin, manifest or secret, committed by each one of us, affects the rest of the universe.”

I’m sure many of us find it difficult to comprehend, but going through this exercise every year will help us learn the truth in our hearts. Father Stephen Freeman helps, too, in passages like this:

The universe as an event of communion, a reality in which we literally participate, is quite foreign to the modern mind. The fiction of our radical individualism is an invention designed to promote the most irresponsible account of human freedom possible. It tells us that our lives “are our own,” and that we can act without consequences for anyone other than ourselves. “It is none of your business!” is the heart-cry of modernity. But this is simply not true.

We are born into everyone’s business and everyone’s business sets the stage and the very parameters of our existence. The language we speak, the thoughts we think, everything in our lives comes to us already burdened with the history and experience of the world around us. The saints treat this reality in the strongest possible sense. “My brother is my life,” St. Silouan says. By this, he does not mean simply that he cares strongly about his brother. He means it in its most literal sense. Not only is my own life not my own, but the life of the other is, in fact, my true life, or my true life certainly has no existence or reality apart from the life of the other.

Read the rest of the article: Why We Forgive

And if you are keeping Lent, I pray that through your efforts and God’s grace you and we all will grow in understanding of this life that we share. God bless you!

Seoul, Korea

*pictures found online

8 thoughts on “Born into everyone’s business.

  1. People are social animals, whether we like it or not, and this ‘connectedness’ you allude to is a very important part of our well-being. I enjoy your description of feeling “connected at the fundamental level of our common humanity.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe we are here to help others when we can. Sometimes that is prying or sticking in where not wanted and then gracefully accepting but not resenting the rebuff. We may be a world of individuals but without each other what would there be in our world?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great title! Its tone helps make the practice of forgiving, as symbolized in that ritual, seem less artificial.

    I had avoided coming to our version, which is in the evening as part of vespers, because it sounded a bit awkward and maybe invasive. I know only a few persons there (besides our priests). Your explanation along with the quotations, and the photograph– your whole post is, well, disarming. It says to me, lighten up. Forgiveness is larger than guilt or hurt feelings.

    Also I remember reading Fr. Zosima’s words about universal responsibility, and what you present here complements that.

    But back to the title, its hint of humor gets at the truth of a big topic and brings it down to everyday life. I have seen that quality in other posts. It makes it almost fun to open one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The title was, as usual, an excerpt from someone else’s writing, in this case Fr. Stephen. He has a knack for disarming phrases 🙂
      At our Forgiveness Vespers I am always humbled by forgetting in the moment the names of people I’ve known for many years. Most people, I noticed yesterday, avoid that being a problem by saying merely, Forgive me, a sinner. That also removes the distinction between friends and strangers.
      May Lent be for you rich in grace, Albert. Please forgive me, a sinner.


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