The more the soul of man is deprived of material goods, the more God strengthens her and prepares her for a spiritual exaltation and a life of bliss, peace and innocence. One can see that the struggle of this soul is a spiritual exercise, despite its looking tired, weary and miserable. In the end, she enters into that euphoria of exuberant humility and unspeakable joy. It is worth stressing that excess food intake usually makes us slaves of our bodies -because we believe that the more weight we gain, the safer and healthier we will be. But alas! In fact, the opposite happens. We will suffer from obesity, which ultimately makes us feel sluggish, sick and unhappy. But unfortunately we are slaves to our passions out of conviction and stubbornness, believing that everything related to the physical part of our existence is the most important of all things. However, this is not what actually happens. We are deprived of the unique and irreplaceable spiritual nourishment that is provided to us through our participation in the Sacraments of the Church, by means of which we are sanctified and born again. Only at this moment are we made worthy of receiving illumination and seeing the light that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Daily in our Mission area we live real, authentic moments from the early Christian days. We preach the Gospel of our Christ, especially to the humble and innocent souls of young children. Here the Orthodox faith is taught through education, cultivation, which brings together academic knowledge and religion.
It is at the school that is housed in the courtyard of the Metropolis that 450 children from poor families gather daily. Probably most of them have no parents, or live with only one parent, usually the mother. Poor little creatures! One might think and say without a second thought: miserable. But there is something valuable in this misery: a hidden treasure. Daily we experience their pain and try to help them as much as we can in order to soothe it and alleviate their suffering. Among them there are plenty of children who stand out for their seriousness, diligence and devotion to Christ and Orthodoxy. This age is the best and most reliable point of reference.
One of these children is Paul. He is a charismatic boy. If you see him, you may think that he is a fool for Christ’s sake, as he is dressed in rags and is untidy in his appearance due to the extreme poverty that plagues his country. He lives with his mother, who, in order to raise him, has set up a small vegetable stall off the road, right at the entrance of our Patriarchal School. Of course, the little money she earns is barely enough to make ends meet. We, on our part, help by providing free of charge schooling and two meals, breakfast and lunch. This little boy, among other qualifications, has an incredible aptitude for learning and is a top student at school. He is never absent from the daily liturgical celebrations, conducted day and evening at the church of Hagia Sophia. He also has a wonderfully delicate voice, and he is only eleven years old. He usually chants in the choir of seminarians and everyone marvels at his excellent knowledge of musical sounds. He is delighted because he seems to know better than us the secret of true happiness.
One day, after the Vespers service, he followed me to my office and started bombarding me with questions about Christ and Orthodox Christianity in general. As we were talking, I noticed that he was pondering over my answers. Very seriously he told me about his plans in life and his intention of becoming a priest and a great theologian, which is why he wanted to be properly prepared. Our conversation was continued and the young boy seemed satisfied. I invited him to the kitchen to offer him something to eat, because I realized that he was hungry. There were two bottles on the table, one of which was containing oil and the other vinegar. Then he asked:
—What is there in that bottle?
—It’s vinegar, which is used to make foods tastier.
—I have never seen it in my life.
—We use it quite often for therapeutic purposes as well, and in such cases we mix it with soil.
Looking puzzled, he said:
—So if I understood correctly, this is the vinegar that was given to Christ when he was on the Cross, isn’t it?
—Yes, exactly that.
—Can I try it?
Then I filled a teaspoon with vinegar and he tasted it. From his reaction it was obvious that he did not like the taste. At that point he made the following comment:
“I thought it would be good to know how Jesus felt when He was given it. I wanted to see myself what a hard time the Lord went through that terrible moment, when He was on the Cross. Now I understand how much pain He must have felt and how much He must have suffered”.
Bishop Makarios of Kenya