A few years ago, I found myself in Victoria, British Columbia, with my dear friend, Archpriest Basil Rhodes, of Saratoga, California. We were there on a short two-day trip, and the last morning that we were going to be there, we went to a place called Murchie’s, which is this very famous coffee house and tea shop. We went inside, we got cappuccinos and scones, and we went and sat out on the outside cafe. Just before we were to indulge in the scones, out of the corner of my eye, I observed a man stop and look at us. Fr. Basil, who had a clear view of the man, looked up at him and said, “Are you hungry?” and the young man said, “Yes.” And Fr. Basil said, “Well, what would you like to eat?” And the young man said, “Sausages and eggs,” to which Fr. Basil said, “Well, Murchie’s doesn’t serve them here, but let me give you some money and you can go find it.” So Fr. Basil handed me this five-dollar bill, and I in turn handed it to the young man.
Not a moment passed when another young man showed up, about 28, and, with his finger pointing at me—he saw me give him the money—he said, “How can you give a junkie money? Don’t you know that he’s just going to buy drugs with it?” And I said, “It’s not my place to judge.” And then he looked at Fr. Basil, and he said, “Well, you are both men of God. Don’t you have any intuitive abilities whatsoever?” To which Fr. Basil said, “The young man said he was hungry. That was enough for us.” So this man kind of went like this [dismissive gesture], and he said, “Well, cheers,” and he walked off.
A moment later, a woman of about 35, sitting at another table, who had overheard all of this, called out, and she said, “I needed to hear this. I’m a social worker, and I have been thinking about quitting my job. I’ve been going through a very difficult time.” And I said, “Well, let me tell you a true story.” And she came over and knelt down next to me, and I told her that when I was a young monk, about 30-some years ago—I was actually old then… She knelt down and I said:
I was walking in San Francisco with an elderly Russian bishop, and as we were walking along, I noticed about a block away, coming in our direction, was a disheveled, filthy street person. His hair was in all directions, his beard was matted with dirt, his face was covered with dirt, his hands were filthy, his clothes were torn. With each step, as this man approached us, walking slowly, looking down at the sidewalk, we could see that, although he was wearing shoes, he had no soles on the bottom of his feet, and you could see his bare feet which were blackened with dirt.
Instinctively wanting to protect the bishop, I took him by the elbow, and I said, “Vladyka, let’s cross here.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Look what’s coming our way.” And he said, “No. We will continue the course.” A few moments later, the young man was right there in front of us, and the bishop stepped in front of me, took this man’s hand, put a $20 bill in it, took his other hand, cupped his two hands over this man’s hands, and he looked at him and he said, “I want you to take this money and buy yourself something good to eat.
At that moment, for the first time, this man looked up at us, and what I saw startled me. As we continued to walk, I said, “Vladyka, did you see those man’s eyes? Those were the whitest whites I have ever seen, and the bluest blue eyes I have ever seen.” The bishop said, “That is because we were being tested. That was an angel unaware” (Hebrews 13:2).
So as I’m telling that social worker this story, she started to cry, and she said, “I’m going to be late for work,” and she walked off. A moment later, sitting at yet another table, a middle-aged couple—a man called out and he said, “That is the most incredible story I have ever heard. You made my wife cry.”
At that moment, Fr. Basil, under his breath, said, “He’s back.” And I looked up, and the young man who had judged us harshly had returned, and just as I was bracing myself for another tirade and another lecture, the young man said, “I came back to apologize. I followed the homeless person, and I saw him spend the money on yogurt and fruit.” And then he said, “Would you please forgive me?”
So I stood up, and I said, “Well, of course we forgive you,” and I gave him a big hug. Then we finally were able to eat our scones and drink our cappuccinos. And as Fr. Basil and I were walking back to the hotel, I said, “I’ve got to write about this.” I said to him, “It’s so appropriate that we were here together for this event, because if I had just written this account and it had happened only to me, people would’ve said, ‘Oh, well, he made that nice story up.’ ” To which Fr. Basil said, “It had all of the elements of a great morality story.”
So we got back to the hotel, I got my laptop, we sat down together in the coffee shop of the hotel, and we recounted all the details of this story. I will never forget it. I really believe that every one of us has experiences like this that are just waiting for us to pay attention to. These are opportunities that God gives to us to demonstrate the mercy of our all-merciful Savior, Jesus Christ. When we respond in mercy, Christ’s love increases in our hearts, and the result is joy—pure, pure joy. God bless you.