My brother is dieing. Not my biological brother but a man who has recently become my brother. He was known at our church in California as Homeless Mark. Each summer our church would have BBQ after vespers Saturday night. Sometime mid summer we'd start seeing these special homeless friends start showing up to "accept the hospitality of others":) They were always respectful and enjoyed the food. As the BBQs wound down their attendance dwindled to nothing fall, winter and spring. We'd almost forget about our visitors until summer came around again. Then one year summer came and went and Homeless Mark stayed.
Homeless Mark didn't smell very good. He had nights when he'd been so drunk he wasn't even aware that he'd urinated on himself...or worse, someone else had urinated on him. He walked with a limp because he was missing some toes and part of his foot. He had some of his fingers, but not all. That didn't stop him from playing piano or guitar though. He'd walk into church with a Snapple bottle full of alcohol and cheer for the choir as they sang sacred songs. When he talked he brought his toothless mouth so close to your face and spoke so loudly...I would turn my head take a deep breath and turn back to face him while holding my breath so as not to offend. He wouldn't call Fr. Andrew father and carried a big Bible and several study books with him. One year he made a home under the stairs to the choir loft. As the congregation came out to do an evening procession around the church near Pascha he popped out from under the stairs and clapped and cheered as if the procession was for his personal enjoyment. He'd asked once if he could start coming to catechumen classes (catechism) and Fr. Andrew told him he'd have to be sober for a few months first. That may seem a bit odd to deny a man entry to a class for seekers, but, contrary to popular belief, becoming a Christian should not be rushed into and is not to be taken lightly.
Homeless Mark was not always appropriate and would get easily offended. He shared offensive jokes and would sometimes become unruly in church if someone encouraged him to quiet down. He made comments to a couple of women, scared a few children and was even escorted off the property by a protective dad and told not to return. He had worn out his welcome at every other church in the valley as well as many organizations whose sole purpose was to help the poor. Homeless Mark did not return that summer. I was sort of surprised because he'd been around for so long, but he didn't come back.
We moved away and didn't hear anything about Homeless Mark until after Christmas 2008. Right after Christmas Homeless Mark was feeling quite hopeless and couldn't think of any other way to get the help he so desperately needed so he set himself on fire. That got him into the hospital and thus began his road to sobriety. Mark found himself drawn back to the Church. Though he'd worn out his welcome everywhere he still decided to come back. When he did return he was very different. He sat through church and listened. He didn't cheer. He was the first to the fellowship hall to help set up and the stayed to the last to help tear down. He came to many services and was faithful to remain in his SLE (sober living environment). He got teeth and wore them though they made him feel very uncomfortable. They were very distracting to him at first like a child who has just gotten braces and can't stop running his tongue over them. He got newer clothes and was able to bathe regularly. He started asking questions and listened to the answers. Although he still thought he could fly (he'd been perpetually intoxicated for many many years), he continued to seek the Christ who seemed to have alluded him for so long. He celebrated Pascha that year and stayed into the wee morning hours to help clean up. And with all the excitement and celebration no one realized he didn't have a way to get home. A man from the church returned early that morning to take care of some business and found him sleeping on the deck. When asked what he was doing there so early he simply stated that the buses stopped running at 11 and so he slept there. The man who'd personally escorted him off the property became his friend and welcomed him back.
Last Wednesday Mark was Chrismated! He became an Orthodox Christian. Father had to ask him if he'd been baptized and he stated he'd been baptized 5 times! On that day Mark became my brother. Mark is dieing of cancer. We don't know how much time he has left. No one was even sure he'd remember he'd been Chrismated because of all the medication he's on for pain. But he remembers! His Good Shepherd has been searching for this lost sheep for all of these years and though it is just before the end of this precious lambs life his Master has found him and is rejoicing over him (Matthew 18:10-140. He has been hired during these last hours by the Vineyard Owner and will be rewarded in the same way as those who sought employment at the beginning (Matthew 20:6-8). He has been redeemed. He is clean. He is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. God is merciful! This was a man who anyone would have looked at and seen little hope of him changing his ways, yet the Carpenter took the few scraps of wood that were left of his life and made him into a beautiful, perfectly crafted useful vessel. May I live as if I am homeless (this world is not my home Hebrews 11:13), and may I endeavor to humble myself the way my brother did.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy Upon Us. - Amen