This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. . . . we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:1, 13)
The current kerfuffle about refugees being a threat to America exploded when President Trump carried out a campaign promise to close our borders to terrorists by forbidding people from certain Islamic countries to enter into the United States.
And while many are in agreement with what the President endeavors to do to protect the country from terrorists, there are many who are troubled by the way in which it is being carried out. It judges broad swaths of people guilty even if they have done nothing and are themselves trying to escape the very Islamic extremists our country has proclaimed as its enemies. It consigns the innocent and some victims to further suffering, even though they did nothing wrong, and may have in fact followed all the rules and jumped through all of the hoops that were placed before them on their road to freedom in the United States.
In the refugees we begin to understand how St. Paul felt when he wrote the words above to the Christians at Corinth. He knew what it was to be treated as refuse, garbage. Most likely when he made his escape from Damascus, he was lowered in a basket used to dump garbage over the city wall. He was speaking literally when he said he was refuse!
For many immigrants now living in America and for the descendants of immigrants, the whole current American effort is very troubling because many know there are people in the world who desperately need our help and need to get out of war torn areas of the world for the sake of their children. Some Americans have taken to the streets to protest President Trump’s mandates – the protesters may not all have the same motives for coming out, but at least some immigrants and children of immigrants know what it is like to be unwanted in the world.
Certainly, as Christians, we should never cease praying for these refugees, even if our country won’t let them in. Praying for the suffering of the world is our task – it doesn’t matter whether or not we agree with what the President is trying to do.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:2-3)
We do need to remember that our fellow Christian people from the time of the apostles were often rejected by society and made to suffer with little hope of rescue, as St. Paul himself notes. Our prayers and sympathies should be with the current refugees of the world. We may feel uncertain about what our role as Christians should be – on the one hand we sympathize with the refugees, on the other hand we want to stop terrorists from coming into the country, I am reminded of a story from the desert fathers:
Certain brethren came to Abba Anthony, and said unto him, “Speak to us a word whereby we may live.” The old man said to them, “Behold, you have heard the Scriptures, and they are sufficient for you.” The brethren said, “We wish to hear a word from you also, O father.” Abba Anthony said to them, “It is said in the Gospel, ‘If a man smites you on one cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Luke 6: 29). They said to him, “We cannot do this.” Abba Anthony said unto them, “If you cannot turn the other cheek, at least allow yourself to be smitten on the one cheek.” They said to him, “And this we cannot do.” The old man then said to them, “If you cannot do even this, do not pay back blows in return for the smiting which you have received.” They said, “We cannot even do this.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Make then for the brethren a little boiled food, for they are ill,” and he added, “If you cannot do even this, and you are unable to do the other things, prayers are necessary immediately.” (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 770-77)
We Christians may be far from behaving perfectly toward the refugees, but we still can do something for them – prayer at the very minimum. [Though I am not down playing the importance of prayer.] Even if we can’t give them maximal love through our charity, we can offer to these refugees some love, as noted in the story from the desert fathers above. It is not an all or nothing situation for us. We aren’t to say since we can’t help them, forget about them. NO! Perhaps if we prayed for these suffering people at every Liturgical service, our hearts as the Orthodox living in America would be open to what God would have us do.
Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, and visitation for the servants of God the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of their teeming shore, the homeless and for the pardon and remission of their sins.
We might also think of some words that St. John Chrysostom said while he was sent into exile. As he was on the forced march, he commented that if Christ says in Matthew 25 that those who did not give nourishment to Christ when he was hungry are condemned to the fires of hell, what will happen to
“those who have not only not welcomed strangers but have chased them away; and those who have not only not cared for the sick but have afflicted them yet more; and those who have not only not visited the captives but have cast into prison those who had been free of chains? Imagine what torments they will suffer!” (LETTERS TO ST OLYMPIA, p 77)
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
It is not just the State Department than needs ambassadors. St. Paul says we are the ambassadors for Christ to the world. We bring Christ to everyone, and our mission is the same as that of Christ’s – to reconcile the entire world to Him.