[On Saturday, January 21, 2012, Metropolitan Alexios encouraged all Orthodox clergy in the Atlanta metropolitan area to invite and then join their parishioners with special needs to our Metropolis Cathedral of the Annunciation. His Eminence seeks to raise awareness of our faithful who suffer from physical and limiting disabilities, and to augment our local parish efforts to offer much-needed outreach for those among us that experience barriers and hardships as they attempt to live and worship on a regular basis. Fr. George Tsahakis offered the following homily which also was featured in the 2012 issue of Diakonia Magazine. Perhaps you can discuss it during your Sunday Lunch with the hope and prayer that it will encourage your family to support all who require special needs in their daily lives.]
I know many of you are gardeners. I enjoy working in my garden, and this morning, I come bringing you a good word about one of the flowers I like to grow . . . petunias. They are one of the most popular bedding flowers. They have wide trumpet-shaped flowers and branching foliage.
I have found that gardeners are eager to show azaleas, roses, and lilies, but I have never had anyone invite me to look at their petunias. Flower shows feature the earliest tulip to the last poinsettia, but I have never seen exhibits of the petunia. Brides carry flowers ranging from edelweiss to lilies of the valley, but no bride would consider carrying a petunia. Everyone ignores the petunia, but the bloomin’ thing goes right on blooming. The time has come to appreciate them.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, flowers remind me of people, and a group of people has about as many varieties of “plants” as does a garden.
Every group has “roses” which demand to be handled with care, to be caressed with kid gloves to avoid pain and hurt. And it is often a joy to see a few “roses” growing among the thorns.
Every group of people has a few “azaleas” that produce only if soil and sunshine are to their liking. They show spectacularly for a while, and then fade into the background.
Every group of people has its “iris” which will rot if not constantly in the sunshine.
The list is endless: from the “asters” that wilt to the “snapdragons” that rust, from the shrinking “violets” to the stubborn “gladioli.”
There is the regal “chrysanthemum” that stands out in a crowd and fits into a situation only if in command, and the tender “morning glory” which blooms at the beginning of a day but fades at noon.
Every variety of people needs some special attention to make it bloom – except the “petunia.” For petunias, just planting them is enough.
Perhaps you can begin to understand why “petunias” are so dear to my heart. To me, they represent those folks who go right on doing their part, no matter what difficulties they confront . . . without any special attention. Indeed, our busy society doesn’t fuss over them, pamper them, or cultivate them. No one praises them for their dependability or loyalty (although that would surely be deserved).
But, like the petunia in the garden, they do not seem to mind. They contribute their effort without expecting to win a blue ribbon. They give of their deep inner beauty without begrudging the demands of others. They cause no trouble, nor do they create any commotion. Like the petunias, they just keep blooming the best they can.
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Every Priest knows that some flower varieties will always need special attention to help them bloom. We expect that. There are always those who need extra encouragement and those who want to be recognized for every deed. There are always those who want to feel important. This is all in a day’s work. But when the day is finished and perhaps has been especially difficult and disappointing, there rises from the quiet of a Priest’s heart this simple prayer, “Dear Lord, thank you for the ‘petunias’ You have placed in our midst!”
Once, Jesus talked of the beauty of flowers. Do you remember? He told His followers: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29) If the occasion had arisen, I suspect Jesus might, on some other day have said, “Consider the petunias. They are special.”
Today, we have invited in our midst those, who, in living out their daily lives, find it more difficult to manage their activities and events that we often take for granted. In all candor, their physical, mental, and emotional desires and needs cannot always be met, yet nonetheless, they belong and should be considered the first among equals in terms of humanity. I liken them to the “petunias” in our garden.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ spoke of our exceptional brethren here today when He proclaimed:
- the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
- they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (5:4)
- the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)
- they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (5:6)
- the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (5:7)
- the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5:8)
- the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (5:9)
- they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
In just a moment, you will be invited to approach the Lord’s Table “with the fear of God, with faith, and with love” – and to receive His Precious Body and Blood – to taste and see that the Lord is good!
In partaking of Holy Communion with one another this morning, let us thank God for those “extra special persons” among us whom we often take for granted and perhaps do not notice. Let us thank God for their families and friends who would never think of giving up on them – who nurture and support their souls with bravery as they seek to confront and cope with their difficulties.
Let us give daily thanks to God for their incredible devotion, and let us learn from their amazing witness that enables them to persevere in spite of their extraordinary hardships. From their ongoing devotion and unending love, let us be inspired to pray to God to help each of us to overcome and conquer the limitations of our personal hardships, . . . and in so doing, provide all of humanity with an ongoing witness of God’s divine, encompassing, and merciful providence in our daily lives.
Indeed, as humble folks who labor without thought of recognition or reward, enduring pain and suffering beyond description, they remind me of the “petunias” in God’s beautiful spiritual garden on earth that we lovingly call the Body of Christ.
In today’s Epistle lesson (Phil. 1:12-20), St. Paul refers to his arrest and imprisonment. In like manner, some among us this morning are physically limited, and one could say “imprisoned” from the fullness of earthly life as they endure their physical and emotional suffering.
In spite of his being under arrest, St. Paul proclaims that his life is not his own, but belongs utterly to Christ, and he asserts that his imprisonment provides the means to preach the triumph of Jesus Christ over sickness, sin, and death. The message for us is simple and straightforward – it is in the brave and united witness of God’s faithful who are not stopped by the costs of struggle and suffering that we become united with our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Listen to St. Paul’s words: “Brethren, I want you to know that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, . . . my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear . . . that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope.” (Phil. 1:12-20)
In closing, I exclaim, “Come, one and all, and let us reach out and always support and encourage one another. Let us think kindly and seek more than ever to nurture and protect God’s petunias among us.” Amen!