My good friend David just sent me the link to the following story via e-mail and I was much moved reading it and decided to post it here that others may benefit from it.
Here is the story:
Several years ago, after attending an evening church service, my wife
and I stopped by a local Blockbuster Video outlet to pick up a movie for that
evening. I was a Deacon at the time and was wearing my cassock (the long black
robe of Orthodox clergy). After making a choice of a movie my wife asked me to
pay for it while she looked around.
I waited in line, not so patiently, with several customers ahead of
me. Unexpectedly a young man, dressed all in black, approached me and looking me
up and down said, "Dude, where did you get that?!" I was taken aback and had
almost fallen asleep waiting my turn at the counter. It took a moment for me to
realize what he was asking. I was also wearing a long, black trench coat over my
cassock so I wasn't completely sure what he had referred to. I finally answered
him, "Uh...I got it at a monastery," smiling and not expecting him to
understand. "Where can I get one?", he asked, as if he didn't hear the part
about the monastery.
The next thing I remember we were having a discussion about spiritual
things. I had asked him why he was so interested in my black robe and he began
to share about his "spirituality." "I worship the devil," he said, almost
non-chalantly. He went on to explain a few more details about his spiritual
practices and the group he was affiliated with. His dark hair was greasy, his
face pale, his eyes tired and full of resignation. He was young...15, 14, maybe
13 years old!
I expressed both surprise and concern for him, but it was clear
that in his mind he was stuck where he was, there would be no change of
direction and no hopeful expectation of something better. He was not happy. It
was his feeling of emptiness that both led him to this "god" and kept him
worshipping at his altar. He understood that his "faith" was not one that led to
contentment. But it was something, something besides emptiness. The brotherhood,
the acceptance of the group, the common bond through the satanic rites made the
endless soulless, numbness worth it.
"You know, if you continue this you will be taken down. This is a path
to destruction...it will kill you!", I pleaded. "I know," he said stoicly and
calmly, "but...." If there was more said it became inaudible to me, and perhaps
to him as well.
I had tried not to show my horror, my shock, and my sadness. I
tried not to make a scene amongst a busy store. How could I do so when the
unspoken social expectation is not to bring "religion" into the public, secular
sphere. We are not to become passionate about these things. We are to buy our
videos, our gadgets, our toys, and go home quietly to numb ourselves with
sitcoms so that the nagging of our soul and our conscience's are drowned in the
sea of meaninglessness. It's not just the separation of church and state, it's
the separation of truth from life. It is our slow march to spiritual
I left Blockbuster with my wife stunned and contemplative, unable to
feel the full impact of what had just happened, and unable to come to terms with
the fact that I would never have another opportunity to influence this
teenager's life. That was my chance.
How easily I could have come to such a state of despair when I was
a teen. Without the beauty and truth of Orthodoxy from which Jesus Christ shines
forth in ineffable brightness and joy, I could have been that young man. I was
blessed. I grew up in it, even if I did not initially see it. Others, though,
have found it too. In each case it took a relentless willingness to search for
That teenager in the video store had never seen the glory of the
Orthodox Church, the majesty and grace of Her life. Perhaps he had seen the
shallow, ordinary "Christianity" which so permeates our culture, the one that
pretends "I'm okay, you're okay" with some religious stuff mixed in. But
Orthodoxy is a challenge. It calls me to repentance, a joyful but sometimes
painful re-orientation. It is not spiritual "water skiing" but deep sea diving.
It is the process whereby the butterfly emerges from the dark and secretive
cocoon of sin into sunlight and freedom.
My black robe is not a symbol of spiritual darkness and
hopelessness. It is my declaration that I am dead to this world, and alive to
Christ! And Christ is Life.
+Father Michael Shanbour