Φιλάνθρωπος – that is one of the words that we use to refer to Jesus in our hymnography and prayers. As a matter of fact, our terminology goes even further and we call him μόνος φιλάνθρωπος! He is the ONLY lover of humankind!
So today we sang, in Tone 1: Glory to your resurrection, O Christ; glory to your kingdom; glory to your plan of redemption, O only lover of humankind.
Δόξα τῇ Ἀναστάσει σου Χριστέ, δόξα τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου, δόξα τῇ οἰκονομίᾳ σου, μόνε φιλάνθρωπε.
Indeed, today’s Gospel reading (Luke 8:26-39) is a perfect illustration: For many of us, Christ is the only lover of humankind. When a person experiences rejection and no love from other human beings, it is comforting to turn to the “only lover of humankind”!
The Ormylia Foundation, To Ίδρυμα Ορμύλια, is associated with the Orthodox Convent of the Annunciation in Ormylia, Chalkidike, northern Greece, which in turn belongs to the Monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos. Its mission is to comfort and alleviate the suffering of human beings without preference to race, religion, gender, or creed. Serving others through the use of medical science has been a special mission of the Orthodox faith since early Christian times, and there are many Orthodox saints who were doctors! The Ormylia Foundation supports those in need through practical works of love.
The heart of the foundation is the Center for Social Advancement, Disease Prevention and Medical Research, “Panagia Philanthropini” Το Kέντρο κοινωνικής συμπαραστάσεως, ιατρικής προλήψεως και ερεύνης «Παναγία η Φιλανθρωπινή». The Center provides high quality standardized tests for early detection of breast cancer and other forms of cancer. Together with AIDS prevention and other medical services, the center provides spiritual and social support, humanitarian aid, public health education and other works of love for the people of northern Greece and many other countries in Eastern Europe.
That is an interesting name, Φιλανθρωπινή – a rather unusual form for this adjective, at least by my knowledge of Greek. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that it goes beyond the more usual φιλάνθρωπος. I’m guessing that this adjective denotes a very active form of philanthropy, akin to the life-changing decision of Mary to accept her role in the incarnation of Christ. This is the heart of the Christian faith: Philanthropy – the love of humankind. Philanthropy is not an emotion; it’s not even about giving money to a charity – although that can help. Philanthropy is first and foremost LOVE – an act of love, the love of humankind. One can be a philanthropist and still hate human beings! Φιλανθρωπινή: She who loves humankind.
The holistic vision of physical and spiritual healing, together with social support, is what Christianity should be about. Healing cannot be separated from social support and spiritual restoration. All three dimensions of healing are there in today’s miracle story. And like so many of Christ’s miracle stories, it is a parable in action.
There is a fascinating bit of teaching that Jesus gave in Matthew 12:43-45. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and returns with seven other even more evil spirits, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
You see, healing has to be holistic. Emotional or spiritual healing can leave behind a vacuum, just as in the teaching of Jesus. If the vacuum is not filled with love and social interaction, the result can be even greater emotional and spiritual turmoil. Human beings are not meant to live isolated lives; and we are not healed in isolation. That’s why Christ left a church behind – not as an institution. We have turned the church into an institution! The church is meant to be a place for healing – first and foremost! And perhaps that is why our churches are emptying – including our own church here in Portland. And the ones that are thriving are probably thriving for the wrong reasons. Why do people stay away from church and the Liturgy? Because they think they’re okay and they don’t need any healing? Because the church has forgotten its primary mission to be a place of healing? You probably never thought of this, but that’s not your fault: Throughout the Orthodox Church we have collectively forgotten why we are a church!
We look for explanations elsewhere for our emptying churches: children’s sports on Sundays, language and other ethnic factors, the sameness of our Liturgy, boredom and apathy, etc. Sure, all these are factors; but I think the reason might be more basic than any of those explanations. We live in a society where people think they’re perfectly fine and they don’t need any help, thank you. And if they need help with something, there’s a pill for that. People are self-sufficient; they don’t need Jesus. They may believe in Jesus, they may glorify Jesus on a few special days in the year – but they don’t NEED Jesus!
But here in the Liturgy our chaotic lives meet the presence of God. The kingdom of God is among us, and it’s both messy and beautiful. The Liturgy helps make sense of our lives, and we receive momentary glimpses of eternity through the icons and the prayers and the communion, just as light shines through our stained glass windows. The Word is made flesh right here and we see our lives transfigured. We are given strength and meaning to face the rest of the week – just as the apostles on the mountain of transfiguration received a vision that helped them return to the messiness back down from the mountain.
Παναγία η Φιλανθρωπινή, I like that name in Ormylia Greece. Every church should be Φιλανθρωπινή! And every one of us should be philanthropos, reflecting the love with which we were first loved by Christ, the μόνος φιλάνθρωπος – the only lover of humankind.
(I removed the audio file because of tapping sound throughout. The text version here is quite complete and in places superior to the spoken version.)