Everyone should have a monastery across the street.
This morning after bible study time, one of the monastery's neighbors drove up the driveway. The brothers went out to greet him. The neighbor had come by because he was looking for his dog who had just run off...and then he proceeded to talk to the brothers for forty minutes.
The neighbor struck me as a man who had no particular religious impulse or training--he dropped no religious slang nor asked for prayer or anything like that. There was no cross or prayer rope hanging from the rearview mirror in his huge pickup truck.
And yet he greeted the brothers with a hug--as the brothers greet everyone. He opened up immediately, sharing his life in simplicity, without pretension, with no statements intended to impress. At the same time you could see that he had deep respect for the brothers, even at the end apologizing for not visiting more often.
It seemed to me as though he knew the brothers to be men of God, and although he was not particularly religious, he respected that these men were, and in encountering them, he was touching God in as far as he was able. It reminds me of the verse that to receive a prophet in the name of a prophet is to receive a prophet's reward.
When we recognize and respect others for their gifts and strengths (rather than being envious at the one extreme or fearful/hateful at the other), then we actually share in the gifts and strengths of the other. This is how God intended human beings to function. This is how we understand the Kingdom of Heaven to function.
In this principle we also find a path in the growth of virtues. I may be an impatient man, but if I can respect a patient man, the very act of my respecting him will help me begin to share in his patience. A envious woman can begin to acquire contentment if she can come to respect another woman who is content in her lot in life. Just the mere fact that she as begun to respect and honor the other woman for her virtue causes the virtue to begin to grow in her own life.
Unfortunately, very few of us live just down the road from a monastery. Nevertheless, "God has not left Himself without a witness," as the scripture says. Even a secular person who is kind manifests a godly virtue, even if she is ignorant of the fact that it is indeed God-like. And certainly there are Christians--even monks--who have been so damaged by sin that very few, if any, virtues can be easily identified in them. Orthodox faith and even monastic tonsure is not a sign of spiritual maturity. One must not mistake the road for the destination.
And so the prayers of the brothers this morning are not only their prayers, but the prayers of a neighbor whose faith is weak, so weak that he has to use the excuse of a runaway dog to drop by. The joy of a joyful colleague is the joy of all the colleagues who respect that joy. Those who despise it, however, those who ridicule the joyful colleague as "out of touch," or "simple minded," these will struggle ever to know joy.
May God grant us to find the "witness" God has left in our life. May God grant that we honor and respect virtue wherever we see it, that we may share in that virtue.