Many years ago, I read about a Russian Priest, Father John Sergiev (1829-1908). His story greatly impacted me at the time, it still does.
Father John first thought he wanted to be a monk in the remote areas of Siberia, but after a vision, he realised God wanted him to be a missionary right where he was – in the hustle and bustle of the big urban city of St. Petersburg. While most priests remained in the safe confines of their cathedrals, Father John would go out into the noisy, dirty, crime-ridden slums and back alleys of the city. He would find someone down and out in the gutter, sleeping off the effects of the previous night’s drink and activities. Father John would cup his chin, look him in the eyes and say “This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God.”
“This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God.”
The part of Father John’s story which impacts me the most is “Father John would cup their chin, look into their eyes and say “This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God”. The first time I ever read this, I was brought to tears.
Father John’s words are amazing, absolutely amazing.
They remind us of God’s original intentions for the divine beings He created, every person on the planet. We were designed to “house the fullness of God”. Father John knew this, and he wanted those who slept on the streets to know it too. As he cupped the chin of the homeless one and stared deeply into their eyes, he was showing them “You are deeply and desperately loved by God. You have intrinsic and priceless worth. That’s why sleeping in the gutter is beneath your dignity.”
“To love another person, is to see the face of God”
– Jean Valjean
I don’t know if it’s the result of COVID but I see many more people on the street these days, at least in our area. On the main strip of shops near us, three have come in the last month. They each share a section of the footpath and sleep on a piece of cardboard at night. During the day, they place a bucket in front of them and hope for a few coins. I stop and chat to them all the time, offer to pray for them (something they’ve all been so grateful for) and I usually put some money in their bucket. I know their names and they know mine. Each has shared some of their story with me. They are beautiful human beings.
The other day I saw Chris still sleeping on his mat at 10:30am. (Chris has never wanted any money, he doesn’t even have a bucket. The first time I met him I wanted to give him some money and he said “don’t worry about it, I don’t want any money, I don’t want anything.” He was so broken in spirit, and had such sadness in his eyes). That morning, I felt prompted to pick him up some food at the supermarket a few doors up. I bought a big bag of groceries, with some items I thought he’d like, some bananas, apples, snakes, M&M’s, fruit juice, chocolate biscuits, a block of chocolate, CC’s and more (I know, I know … it’s not very healthy but I felt like I wanted to give him a treat). I walked down the footpath and stopped next to him. “Hi Chris!” He sat up slowly, glanced up and saw it was me. “Did you sleep here all night??” He said quietly “Yeah, I did”. I said “But Chris, it poured rain last night and it was freezing! He nodded. “Yeah, it was pretty cold”. I said “well … this doesn’t look to be a good plan, does it? Winter is coming, and it’s coming fast and it’s going to get colder. I’m wondering Chris, why don’t we think of some better options.” It took a while to come up with some, but eventually we did.
I also talked to him for quite a while about God. I told him God loved him and that He was with him every second of the day and that He wasn’t mad with him at all, not at all, in fact the very opposite. And I shared what I sensed God was saying about his future – that he was a man with a very kind heart who was going to help others in the future, and he had creative gifts he would use again. Tears rolled down his cheeks. I said “Chris, when I leave here, why don’t you talk to God some more?” I grinned at him, and he smiled back. “I will” he said.
The next day, Chris wasn’t there.
I’m hoping he decided to follow through with his plan to sleep somewhere better that night. And I’m also hoping that a flicker of hope has been lit within him to believe for a better tomorrow. And then after that, an even better one.
After all, sleeping on the street is “beneath his dignity”. Chris was “created to house the fullness of God”. (Fr. John Sergiev)