Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver - Return from the Casino

On a personal note, I would like to share with you, how enthralled I have come to be with the power of the Word of God. I have witnessed it in my daily life softening even the hardest of hearts. If a person takes one step, Christ takes ninety nine. A person takes two steps, Christ takes a thousand. Every day, every hour, every minute, Christ comes and knocks on the door of our heart so discretely and so beautifully, without ever violating the human will. The door knob, however, opens from the inside. If you don’t open and let Him enter, you will not dine with Him.

He says, Behold I stand at the door and continue knocking, if one hears my voice and opens the door, I shall enter in to him and sup with him and he with Me (Revelation 3:20) and when this supper takes place, this meeting between God and man, a celebration begins in the heart, where you say “My God let it never end, let it never end!” What a shame, that there are still people who remain deaf to God’s calling! Hooked down here on earth like barnacles on the ship of life, they don’t want to get unstuck. They don’t want to hear Paul’s voice saying, be minding the things above, not the things on earth (Colossians. 3:2). For we do not have a permanent city here, but we seek the future one (Hebrews 13:14).

Anyway, one of these nights, around 1:30am I was in the suburb of Polichni. A lad beckoned me to stop. Upon entering the taxi he told me “Take me to the Casino." A little further down we passed by a church and I made the sign of the cross. He crossed himself also, and murmured for the patron saint of the church to protect us. I quickly responded, “Amen”. I then added “Believe me, there, where you are going, he will not follow you.

“Why?” He asked me.

I replied, “Because the saint responds to our petitions and prayers when they are for the advantage of our soul. Just imagine of the saint in the casino blessing all acts of gambling. How would it seem to you?”

He replied, “You might be right, but I have my own way of thinking.”

“And which is your own way?” I asked.

He said, “I may not go to church often, but whenever I pass one, I light my candle, do my cross and I try to do good deeds. What else can I do?”

I told him, “God doesn’t want your candle; he wants you, my friend. Once, someone had gone to Christ and he said to Him, “My Lord, do you want me to bring you a bees wax candle as tall as me?”

And Christ answered. “The honey combs where the wax is made belong to Me”.

“Well then I will bring you a prosforo for Sunday’s Liturgy."[1]

Christ responded, “And the wheat used to bake the prosforo is Mine also."

“Then I will give a 10,000 drachma bill for the filoptochos fund (friends of the poor).

Christ continued, “All these things which you have are Mine, the earth is the Lord’s and its fullness."

“Then, what do you want me to bring, my Christ?”

My son give me your heart (Proverbs 13:26). Give Me your sins; this is what I want, for this I thirst, for this I went on the cross.”

We take many things to Christ, but we don't take the very thing He wants most. In regards to good deeds, may you be healthy and may you always be doing them, but what saves us first and foremost is the sacrifice of Christ and not our works.

For by grace you are saved through faith and this is not from you, it is God’s gift, not from works, so that one may not boast (Ephesians 2:8). So, who can boast about his works?

“Salvation through works does not exist, in the absence of faith in Christ. Many people, unfortunately, fall into the very same trap by mistakenly basing their salvation upon their works. This is a big mistake, because if works alone could save us, then Christ’s sacrifice was in vain. He could have told us from there up high, “Do good works, good deeds and I will place you in my kingdom." However, He didn’t do that. He came and paid the price Himself, shedding His most precious and sinless blood upon the cross. Our salvation came with a very high price.

The lad now reverted to a new maneuver; “Yes, well said, but don’t forget what the priests[2] have done!”

I asked him, “Do you go to church for the priest or for Christ?”

“For Christ," he replied.

I commented, “Alright, the township of Toumba has five churches, let’s say that one priest creates a scandal; who is stopping me from going to any one of the other churches? So, it has nothing to do with the priest. These are convenient [conscience soothing] excuses. The truth is that we really don’t want to get off the couch and go to church. Now, of course, you will tell me that elsewhere there is but one church. Furthermore, let’s say that the priest sins openly in front of our very own eyes. Do you know what the true humble Christian does? That night when he prays the Compline service, he kneels in front of the icon of the Crucified One and tells Him, 'My very sweet Jesus, shield and uphold first the priest of our parish and then my own children.' This is true Christian love; this love is 24 carat gold, when we care to cover our brother. The more we cover our brother then all the more God covers us and our family.”

“I will tell you one of my true life experiences. When I was around 12 years old, my uncle would take me to help him watch the sheep overnight and to keep him company. I remember one time that wolves came to the flock and I got very scared. All the dogs rushed upon one wolf and began chasing him. Another wolf from the other side grabbed a sheep by the neck and began running. He could not run very quickly because of the weight of the animal. My uncle, who realized what happened, grabbed his staff and ran after the wolf. As soon as he arrived at the wolf he lifted the staff and began striking whom do you think?

“He struck the wolf, who else?”

“Correct. But this is not what we do. We raise our staff and instead of striking the wolf, we start hitting the sheep; instead of striking the devil who grabbed our weak brother and is leading him to perdition, is leading him to eternal hell, we strike our brother. Thus, most of us ignore the wolf and strike the priest thinking, ‘How can you possibly make a mistake and how did you manage such a thing and aren’t you ashamed,’ and a myriad other things. It is a shame that we still remain so clueless!”

By now we had already arrived at the front door of the casino. The truth is that he seemed somewhat perplexed. He got the money to pay me, he opened the car door, but he remained in the cabin. Before I gave him his change, I told him, “Do you know why I am still talking to you, my brother?”

“Why? He asked me.”

“I love you like a brother, regardless of the fact that we just met. You are about to enter that wide door to test lady luck. Yet, the law of love does not allow me to be indifferent to your action, because my indifference will do you great harm. Then, it would have been better if you would have taken another taxi, and not mine. To prove to you that I truly love you, I am willing to transport you back to your home free of charge. I won’t even charge a penny, so long as you don’t step a foot inside this place. I truly mean this.”

“I know. I fully understand what kind of a person you are, but I still want to go."

“Go where, my brother, where? Even if you win (and you do have a chance in a million), it will be the lost money of your brother, who will go home very upset, he will beat his wife and his children because of his loss. Do you want to place this sort of money in your pocket? Please, my brother, let's go back. Let us walk toward the way of Christ; let us turn our back to the devil and his dark hangouts. What business do we have inside here? Listen, the money you paid for this fare is here on the console, take it back.”

Oh my friends, the grace of God finally got to him! He had one foot on the asphalt and one in the taxi and suddenly he pulled himself inside the cab, he slammed the door, and with a trembling chin he said:

“Friend, step on it, let’s get out of here!

“I glorified God with the sign of the cross, thanked Him for His great mercy, and we took the road of return, a road completely different than the one we started on.

After formally introducing ourselves, he said to me, Mr. Thanasi, how can the priest be at fault if I don’t want to go to church? How can I possibly blame others for my troubles when I and my gambling addiction are the main culprits?

I was listening to him and thinking about the young man’s change of heart to and from the casino! He was now preaching to himself! For more than half of the journey he kept criticizing his actions and chastising himself. After much conversation, we had arrived near his home, and he said to me, “Mr. Thanasi, believe me, tomorrow morning I’m gathering my belongings and I am leaving for my parents’ village. I had enough! Gambling has cost me millions of drachmas, not to mention that I am 6-7 months behind on my rent. I need to pay my landlady so I can leave with my conscience clean. I have left my elderly parents in the village for years, all alone to fend for themselves. They have every right to expect me to care for them. Not to mention that I am their only son. Who knows, I might even find a nice girl and start a family, to finally bring some joy to my parents in their golden years.”

“Yes, my brother, all this sounds wonderful and may God bless you and strengthen you to follow through with your new plans. As promised, I also want you to keep the money of the fare to help you with your expenses.”

“Mr. Thanasi, did I not just say that I want to leave with my conscience clean?”

“Then, keep this cassette for you to remember me. It speaks about repentance, confession and Holy Communion.”

He stretched out his hand and with lips trembling from emotion he told me, “I don’t know if I will make it to confession tomorrow, but one thing I do know, that I will never forget you.”

“Neither will I forget you my good friend,” I replied.

After the amazing change of heart of this young man, it is impossible for one to not admire the power of the Word of God. I say the power of the Word of God because I am not a theologian and certainly not a knowledgeable preacher but almost uneducated. I barely made it through elementary school as I will explain in the chapter that follows.

Edited by CZ

[1] Bread prepared by the faithful and offered to the church to be consecrated in the Holy Eucharist and to become the Body of Christ.

[2] In the last several decades the secular liberal media has propagated a relentless war against the Church of Greece by exposing and augmenting every possible accusation against a priest whether real or imaginary.