From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…
On the Christian Life
When we are young we do not give thought to what our lives will be when we grow old. We marry, we have children, we send them to school, and perhaps later to college. They move out of our house and we then have only our spouse. We work, we have our activities and hobbies. Time inexorably passes. We retire, we grow old, and we grow weak and sick. The things we used to do, we can no longer do, and we are dependent on others. It becomes quiet in our house, and perhaps our spouse dies, and we are alone. Our children and grandchildren are busy with their own lives and do not visit us often, and perhaps our children grow old and sick too. Our friends die, and nobody comes to see us.
We are alone in our house, where we have been for years, and everything that was once fresh and new becomes shabby and old. Perhaps we even have to go into a nursing home. We have nothing else to do but await death. And it is years and years in coming. Perhaps, for some reason, God has not blessed us with children, or perhaps our children are far, far away, and cannot come frequently.
This problem has become far more acute in our times than it ever has been in the past because our society has become atomized, that is to say, individualized. Personal interaction has become rare, and we must work harder and harder to maintain a high standard of living. In our electronic age, the face-to-face meeting has become rare. And the elderly do not always participate in the electronic age. People do not live with their families as they used to, and they do not care for their parents in their own homes as used to be the case. We might pay others to do this for us.
For many elderly and sick, the greatest source of suffering is loneliness and a feeling of abandonment. Part of the Priest’s pastoral responsibility is to visit the sick. But that can only be a drop in the ocean compared to the empty hours faced by many of the elderly. It is our Christian duty not to forget the aged and infirm. We are told this in the Gospel of St Luke, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which is read on Meat-Fare Sunday. It is also mentioned by St Paul when he gives Timothy charge to care for those that are "widows indeed," and have no living relatives. In the ancient times this was part of the ministry of the Diaconate, as mentioned in the Book of Acts, and it is part of the ministry of the Sisterhood. But it is also the duty of every Christian, not just the clergy or the Sisterhood to care for those less fortunate than us.
Won't you consider adopting a shut-in or two of our Parish, and making a point of visiting them? It would be a blessed thing, and you will gain great, great reward in heaven for doing this. It does not have to be burdensome. Any attention is better than no attention at all. All we ask is to visit them. After a few times we begin to know what they need, what they like. And we should pray for them, as they should pray for us. And after we draw our last breath we will hear from our Saviour Himself, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
We may say, "I am not used to doing this." That is all right – it is not that difficult. Perhaps, we say, "I do not like being confronted with sickness, suffering and depression." Pay it no attention. Bring cheer. Bring a present. Perhaps your first visit will be short. This is not about you, this is about the one you are visiting.
"I do not have the time," you say. Perhaps that is so, but perhaps some time opens up in your busy schedule. There is no commitment here. Bring a friend along. Some people have a knack for this sort of thing, and we will learn when we observe how they do it. Also, think about this: Someday that sick person could be you. Think about how you might someday appreciate receiving a visit from a friend when you are lonely and sick.
Not all shut-ins are elderly. Sometimes young people spend time in the hospital, and being young, they are not used to being alone with nothing to do.
A visit from a fellow parishioner is different from a visit by a Priest because a Priest brings the Sacrament; the Priest is there because of an emergency; the Priest is there to hear a Confession; or is there for any number of other reasons. But a visit from a friend, from a fellow parishioner – this is special, and cheers the heart. It does not take any special talent. You have given the greatest gift you can give: your time. And you do it out of love.
If you do not have time to visit in person, or can only visit rarely, a telephone call is the next-best thing. It is more personal than email, and can be done at any time. It is a good idea, however, to choose a regular time to call.
If you wish to visit a shut in, see Fr George. He has a list and can direct you. He would be glad of your help. Just try it once or twice. Who knows, perhaps you see how good it feels to help another, and make it a habit.∎
Fr George Lardas, Rector
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Stratford, CT