Kindness as a Reflection of God's Love
By Fr. Hector Firoglanis
This past week while reading an excellent book called “Inner River” by Kyriakos Markides, I learned a new Greek word used in the Holy Scriptures, called χρηστότης. It is one of the virtues St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians when he speaks of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Χρηστότης is translated as “kindness” in most English translations of the Bible, which is not a wrong translation, but a more precise translation for χρηστότης is a person who is useful or helpful.
Because God is kind, useful and helpful by nature, we also, created in His image, are called to live with a kind, helpful, and useful disposition towards others.
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In a world that shows apathy and even contempt towards the suffering, the sinners, and to strangers, our Lord Jesus Christ shows only concern and kindness. In today’s Gospel passage we again read about our Lord’s kindness and willingness to help when he notices the cries of two blind men, and heals them.
Listen to what St. Isaac the Syrian has to say about the all-embracing love and kindness of God: "The 'merciful heart' in a human person is therefore the image and likeness of God's mercy, which embraces the whole of creation – people, animals, reptiles, and demons. In God, there is no hatred towards anyone, but all-embracing love which does not distinguish between righteous and sinner, between a friend of truth and an enemy of truth, between angel and demon. Every created being is precious in God's eyes."
This non-discriminating and all-encompassing love and kindness of God is what we Christians strive to emulate in our own lives.
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Of course, there are countless numbers of people in the world today who continue to suffer with disabilities, loneliness, hunger, and a host of other problems.
Ironically, there are non-believers today who use the suffering of the world as an opportunity to deride Christians and mockingly ask where their God of love is in the midst of the world’s epidemic of suffering.
What feeds this cynical view is not, of course, that God is not kind, but that fewer and fewer Christians display the χρηστότης of God – the visible expression of God’s kindness in the world.
Few things in life will change us, as well as the world around us, as a spirit of kindness – as we witness in the lives of the saints.
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St. Agathon lived in the fourth century and was a person who displayed the kindness and helpful nature of God. One day, he had to walk from the desert to the flour mill to grind his wheat, which was a very hard and labor intensive job in those days. He loaded his sack of wheat on his shoulders and went to the mill.
The moment Father Agathon was ready to spread his wheat, another traveler arrived and pleaded with him to let him go first because he was in a hurry. Fr. Agathon replied, “gladly,” and he offered to help the man to mill his wheat.
They finished the grinding and the other person got his flour and left. Then as St. Agathon was about to unload his wheat, another person came, and it happened all over again. Then two more came along asking him for the same thing.
Night came, and St. Agathon was still unable to grind his wheat. He put it on his back and returned to his hermitage.
By today’s standards it was not a very productive day for St. Agathon; but by God’s standard it was a perfectly fruitful and productive day for St. Agathon.
The saint’s display of χρηστότης, God-like kindness and helpfulness, would do infinitely more good for the world today than our current understanding of “being productive.”
In the Orthodox Spiritual Life we emphasize systematic prayer and fasting. These are important, because left to our own volition we would rarely pray or fast without the structure of prayer and fasting afforded to us by the Church.
The same can be said for almsgiving, or kindness. Like prayer and fasting, kindness can no longer be based on our feelings (doing something kind for another person only when we feel like it), but must be a systematic part of our lives – a spiritual discipline.
When an elderly person asks for a ride to a doctor’s appointment; when a single mother struggles to raise her child; when we’re asked to help with the church bazaar; we must not look upon these requests as burdens, but as opportunities sent from God to develop a Christ-like spirit of χρηστότης – a disposition of kindness and helpfulness.
Last week while visiting with a homebound elderly parishioner, she kept saying, “Why is God keeping me here? I can’t take care of myself any longer; I’m a burden to my nephew who has to take care of me now.”
Looking at the situation from the nephew’s perspective, I said to her, “You are not a burden but blessing for your nephew. You are providing him with a valuable opportunity to practice kindness, which God will turn into a blessing for him in this life and the next.”
To further emphasize this point on the importance of kindness, there are many scientifically researched books which describe near-death experiences, such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s, “On Life after Death.” A recurring theme in the personal testimonies of these books is that during the life review phase of the near death experience, most people comment how the little (seemingly) unimportant acts of kindness are regarded as very important in the next life.
In his August monthly bulletin, Fr. Luke Veronis posted an article “28 Random Acts of Kindness” as a challenge to fulfill one act of kindness each day of the month. Here are a few that each of us might consider carrying out this week as a way to living a life with greater kindness:
- When you meet a complete stranger today, offer a compliment and say something kind to him or her.
- Invite someone who is alone over for dinner.
- Curb road rage: Let other cars merge onto the highway.
- Visit a nursing home; spend time visiting with someone who doesn’t get visitors.
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Today’s Gospel reading offers one of countless examples of the kindness of Christ displayed to those in need. Every saint from the Panaghia to all the holy people living in the world today possess the same spirit of χρηστότης – a spirit of kindness and helpfulness.
Each day of our lives God provides opportunities for us also to carry out acts of kindness and to be helpful to others. Let us not allow these divine opportunities to go unnoticed in our everyday lives.
Such acts of kindness are necessary not only for our own salvation, but they are also the most tangible and visible expressions of God’s kindness and love for most people in the world today. Amen.
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