Priceless Friendships in our Journey of Life and Faith

Source: Anchor
Priest Luke A. Veronis | 22 March 2022

How many of us have friends? Obviously we all have friends but what type of friends do we have and what do we value most in our cherished friendships? Most likely our closest friends are people we can trust and know that they’ll be with us whenever we need them? Are they good listeners? Do they encourage us and bring out the best in us? Do we feel valued and loved from them? What makes up a good friend?

Of course, when we reflect on the value of friendship, we also have to ask ourselves what type of friend we are to others? In our closest relationships, what do we try to offer in our friendship? Do we love our friends unconditionally? Will we be a good sounding board who can give our friends a safe space to be vulnerable and to share whatever they want without judgement? Will we go out of our way to help our friends and support them with whatever they need? How about whether we love them so deeply that we try to help them stay accountable to what is best for them?

We may only have a few true friends in life yet if we are blessed with a few, they can be a priceless treasure throughout this mystery of life. Actually, it’s hard to experience the richness and true blessings of life without such relationships. We were not created to be alone, to be an island separate from others.

Today on this Second Sunday of our Great Lenten journey toward Pascha, I want to draw our attention to this particular aspect of the Gospel story we heard and highlight the role of friendships in our spiritual journey. Remember, our Orthodox Christian faith centers on relationships – our relationship with God Almighty and our relationship with one another, with all of God’s creation, especially with the people we encounter every day.

In the Gospel story, we hear about a paralyzed man who had four special friends. The desperate paralytic must have heard about the miracle-worker Jesus who gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, cast our demons, and even raised the dead. Filled with hope, this paralyzed man asked his four friends to carry him to the house where Jesus was. Yet, when they arrive, they face an obstacle. Such a large crowd filled the house and overflowed from the doorway that no one made room for them to enter.

Christ seemed unavailable to them, yet the friends don’t allow the paralytic to become discouraged. They think creatively and figure out a way for their friend to meet Jesus. They pull the paralyzed man on top of the house, as difficult as that must have been, then uncover the roof, and lower their paralyzed friend at the feet of Jesus.  What desire and faith not only the paralyzed man has, but the friends as well! What friendship not to give up!

Of course, I could focus on what happens next with Jesus lauding the faith of the paralyzed man and saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven!” Much could be said about why Jesus chooses to forgive the man’s sins before he physically heals him. I’ve preached about this in past sermons.

I want to focus today, though, on the paralyzed man’s friends and the role they played in his healing. The paralyzed man couldn’t walk. He couldn’t go on his own to meet Christ. He needed help to come to our Lord, and when he faced obstacles that blocked his way, he needed his friends assist him and help him not despair. He humbly relied on his friends lift him up onto the house and break through the roof while laying him at the feet of Jesus.

What a beautiful image of friendship and what an essential lesson about the spiritual life. We cannot journey toward Christ alone. We cannot overcome the obstacles we face without the help of others. We need one another. We need faithful friends. We need the support and encouragement, the strength and the wisdom, the love and the grace of friends to help us in our journey through life and in our journey of faith.

One Christian is no Christian” the early church would say. We cannot follow Jesus Christ and live out as a faithful Christian by ourselves. We need one another. We need a community of support. We need a family of faith. This is one of the reasons why the Church is essential – we are a family of God that offers to help each member on their journey toward God, in their union with the Almighty.

Think of your closest friend and reflect for a moment on what that friendship offers you. Think of what you offer to your friend. True friendship is life-giving because we realize that as we walk through this mystery of life – a mystery that can sometimes be quite dark and scary and difficult and confusing – we realize we are not alone. We have someone to journey with us! This life-giving friendship is what we need in our spiritual journey as well.

Our Lenten journey offers a glimpse of what our long journey through the mystery of life is all about. During Lent we need one another – we need our chanters and choir to make our worship beautiful and inspiring, we need the wisdom and guidance of our spiritual fathers and mothers who offer us words to direct and motivate us, we need each other to encourage us as well as to hold us accountable in our faith journey. We need the fellowship of love that offers us a taste of what divine and heavenly fellowship is all about.

We can’t walk this journey of faith alone. We too easily will get deceived by the seductive voices of society. We too easily will get distracted by the care and anxieties of the world. We too easily will get lost by our own selfish desires and egocentric passions. No one, not one of us, is able to walk with Christ alone. “One Christian is no Christian.”

So today, I want each one of us to sincerely reflect on the importance of friendship. What friends do we have to journey with us and to help us? Express your deepest gratitude to them. Think also carefully about what type of friend you are to others. Are you the type of friend who truly helps others through the mystery of life, in their journey of faith?

May we all act as the four friends of the paralytic, helping our friends overcome any and all the obstacles that may stand in the way to our friends, and ourselves cultivating an intimate and deep relationship with our Lord.

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