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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
You Were Sent to Me by Christ!
From “Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver,” translated by Constantine Zalalas
One morning, I received a call by the taxi call center directing me to a nearby shore. When I arrived at the address, I saw a very elderly man slowly coming towards the taxi, accompanied up to the door by his daughter. When this elderly man entered inside and sat in front, he made a very good impression on me. His smile, his courteousness, his entire demeanor drew my attention. He also had an appetite for discussion during our trip since the route was quite long. We were heading to some village where his summer house was. Thus, with the appetite to talk and much time at our disposal, we discussed various social matters. In the beginning, I politely asked him about his field of work. From what this man was saying, I realized that he must have been very educated.
“I am a doctor Mr. Thanasi, but I have been retired for many years. I spent most of my life in an operating room. I also had my own clinic on such and such street; do you remember it?”
“Although I was born in 1961, I remember something about it.”
“So, as a scholar, I loved medicine very much, and I loved mankind. In my zeal and thirst for knowledge, God granted me on top of material wealth, an invention in the surgical field which made my name very well known. Patients would visit me not only from all over Greece, but also from abroad. I worked many hours and on quite a few nights, one would find me with the lancet in my hand. Sometimes, I would even sleep in the clinic because I would be too tired to return to my home. I considered it my duty to help my fellow man over and above everything else.”
“Doctor, please allow me to tell you that I am so pleased that we have met.”
“The feeling is mutual Thanasi, and I am sincere in saying this; by the way, I am also interested to find out your educational level because I have the feeling that you are not just a taxi driver.”
“I am an elementary school graduate, I replied.”
“Thanasi, I understand that you
are trying to be humble, but please, tell me the truth, what did you major in?”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“Well, I am sorry, but I don’t believe you.”
“Then, you will allow me to tell you a very true story from my childhood which is a little comical, and then I am certain that you will believe me. When I was little, the greatest nightmare for me was school and education. Just imagine, it took me eight years to finish that wretched elementary school. During the last grade, I was already shaving. I was a foot taller than the other children. So in all these eight years, I don’t remember, even once, answering my teacher correctly on the verbal quiz on the daily lesson. Every day in class, I would try to hide behind my fellow students. I didn’t want my teacher to see me, so she wouldn’t call me up to the blackboard for the daily lesson drill. Every time I was called up to the blackboard, I was not only clueless of the daily lesson, but I didn’t even know what subject we were on, whether it was geography, history or religion.
“In order to hide very well behind the back of the student who was in front of me, who was also hiding behind the one in front of him, I would whisper to him, ‘Hey, don’t move and don’t bend down.’ He, would then turn and tell me, ‘What are you saying you dunce? You want me to be get in trouble instead?’ And despite my hiding attempts, my name would be called out loud and clear to walk towards the board and to demonstrate my knowledge of the daily lesson in that class. The mere announcement of my name was enough to make my legs tremble.
“I will never forget during one of these times, when I was standing for quite a while at the board and I would say, ‘Today we will learn about our fatherland.’ I stopped for about five minutes, and then again, ‘Today we talk about our fatherland,’ since I didn’t know what else to say. So I turned and saw the teacher’s gaze. She was looking at me from above her glasses and gritting her teeth. In that nasty voice of hers she said, ‘You deafened us.’ I barely kept from soiling myself. The children were bursting with laughter, and the whip would fall like a storm. As you can understand, doctor, from the frequency of the daily beatings, when I heard my name, I would no longer go to the board. Instead, I would make the trip shorter by going straight to the desk to reap what was due. So what do you say, now, do you believe me?” [Note: Corporal punishment was the rule in those decades.]
The doctor broke out in laughter and said, “Thanasi, you are a riot, truly awesome,” and he continued to laugh. We both laughed very much, and while we spent some time discussing much about the fruitless public educational systems, I wanted to shift the conversation a bit towards spiritual matters, before our arrival.
I had this good persisting thought working inside of me: I wonder, if this good doctor, and very dear elderly man, who must be nearing his nineties, is ready for heaven? Thus, after a brief prayer, and the use of much discretion, I shifted the conversation towards this area. By the grace of God, the doctor was very open for spiritual conversation. Furthermore, he told me, “Thanasi, I see that you are very religious.”
“The Scribes and the Pharisees were religious as well, but they remained outside the kingdom. You, doctor, are you are you in good standing with the church?” I asked.
“Yes, I don’t have a problem, although I didn’t have much time over the years for church attendance. I had, however, my own way all these years, to approach and to believe in Christ.”
“Would you mind sharing your way with me, doctor, so I can understand?”
“Let me tell you; every time I was faced with a difficult operation, I would spend some time in the room adjacent to the operating room, which I had transformed as my own personal chapel. I would kneel, pray extensively and lift my hands, to ask Christ to help me and my patient.”
Oh, my friends, when I heard the doctor speaking like this, I was overflowing with joy, especially since it is not very common to hear such words from the mouths of today’s doctors. Unfortunately this joy did not last very long because when we focused the conversation more directly to the area of repentance, confession, Holy Communion, the doctor was not on board. He became increasingly defensive and justifying himself and said, “What area of my life do I need to repent for, and why do I need to go to confession? I don’t remember having done anything evil. Thanasi, please listen so you can see where I am coming from. I have my own philosophy in matters of faith, and I have held on to it throughout my life.”
I replied, “Doctor, it is not a matter of philosophy. Here we are dealing with matters of faith. There are many philosophers, but there is only one Savior.”
He came back with, “Please consider that being older than you, I may know something more.”
I added: “It is not a matter of age, either. It is about the teachings of the Gospel which calls one to sincere repentance and confession so he or she may properly prepare to often partake with reverence of the Body and the Blood of our Christ,” I replied.
“No, Thanasi, I don’t agree with repentance and confession. Furthermore, I don’t feel the need to repent for anything nor to go to confession.”
“Very well, since you don’t
agree with repentance, and since you happen to be wiser than me, tonight when I
go home, I will open the New Testament, and wherever I encounter the word
repentance, I will draw a smudge or better yet, rip the page out, which means
that I will remove over 100 pages from the New Testament. What do you say?”
“Well, now, I didn’t mean it like that!”
“Doctor, since you don’t agree with it, and I don’t agree with it, we can wipe it out with one stroke of the pen so it’s no longer there to reprove us.”
“Now just a minute Thanasi, so I can get things straight. To begin with, why must I go to a physical church? Isn’t the Church of God everywhere? Furthermore, why must I have any dealings with a priest? That’s what I could not understand all these years. Why should I go to the priest?”
“Doctor, please allow me to ask you, are you married?”
“Why, what are you saying now? I have grandchildren.”
“Great! Where did your marriage ceremony take place?”
“What, do you mean where did it take place? We went to church, where else?”
“Ohhh! So, you went to church, in front of a priest. Doctor, why the church and not the patio on the flat roof of your house? What would the church possibly have more so than your roof top patio? You could call fifty, one hundred friends, open a few bottles of wine, play some music, and have someone from your group bless the crowns. What more could the priest offer you? Everything would be just fine. So, why did you go to a church, and why did you go to a priest? I would like you to answer me. Moreover, when you baptized your children, and your grandchildren, where did you go? I will tell you, my doctor. You went to the church. But why the church? Why didn’t you stay at your home, fill your bathtub with water, and have someone dip the children three times and why not thirteen times since these things don’t have much significance? Someone could slap a little oil on them, and everything would be just fine. So, what more could the priest do for you that you couldn’t take care of yourself. Furthermore, for you to understand it better, the next time my stomach hurts, and I choose to go to a plumber, what would you think? Oh, my dear doctor, for all sacraments, we go to a priest, but when it is time for repentance and confession, we are so quick to say ‘Why should I go to a priest?’
“I am very much afraid, that many of us, due to the great egotism and pride we have, will not only be separated with houses, land, money, stocks and bonds, taxis, and clinics, but worst of all, we are in danger of being separated with Christ eternally. My dear doctor, as a man of high education, I would like you to consider eternity without Christ! The loss of Christ! God forbid!
My friend, in a few minutes as you enter your home, stand before your iconostasis, and ask the saints there, ‘My saints, did any of you reach sainthood without holy confession and shedding tears of repentance?’And I’m certain the answer will come to you soon enough.”
At that point, the doctor refrained from asking me any other questions. Seemingly perplexed, he lowered his head, and remained silent.
And my last words were, “My doctor, forgive me, but you forgot one thing in your life. You have been holding the surgical scalpel in your hand for so many years, and it has healed thousands of people, it has performed some miraculous healings, but it never occurred to you to turn it inside of you to make your own incision, your own personal surgery in order to excise your spiritual maladies. As you understand, I’m referring to the spiritual lancet, which hurts even more.”
Here, my friends, these words finally touched a sensitive chord in the doctor. As his tears began to flow, he tried to apologize and I said, “No, my doctor, don’t apologize because these tears are the most beautiful tears Christ has been waiting from you for ninety years now.” My dear Lord, how could I possibly describe the indescribable? He cried and sobbed like a child and in this spiritual wailing, he turned and said to me, “My dear Thanasi, Christ sent you my way today!”
My God! My God! What beautiful
words! What a beautiful outcome! What beautiful moments. These special blessings
will stay with me for the rest of my life! In the last couple of miles our
relationship became completely different. He asked me to come by two days later
to take him to a good spiritual father if I happen to know of one.
I said, “My doctor, I have a wonderful spiritual father for you, full of meekness and love. By the way, have you ever been to confession?”
“I have never confessed, my dear Thanasi, ever.”
“Nor have you communed?”
“Not even once.”
Oh, my dear Lord, a ninety year old man who never communed even once after his infant baptism.
When I left, I immediately called Father Thomas, because Father Triantafyllos was not available. I gave him a brief account of the events, and precisely what transpired with our dear doctor, and Father Thomas asked me, “Are you speaking about the world-renown doctor who had the clinic on such and such street?”
“Yes, father, do you know him?”
“What are you saying, Thanasi? All of Greece and Europe knows him. Please bring him; just call me a few minutes before you come.”
“It will be my pleasure,” I said and I was flying with untold joy. Sure enough, I drove with my private car to the doctor’s house to pick him up, and we had a soul-benefitting conversation on the way concerning confession. I wanted to prepare him so that he understood that repentance needs to precede confession. Among other things, I said, “Confession, my doctor is not merely a pronouncement of a list of sins; it must be accompanied with pain of soul, and compunction, it is an acknowledgment of our sinfulness, just like the prodigal son’s.”
The doctor was accepting and understanding everything I was telling him, without any objection. Thus we finally ascended the stairs of the church, and we arrived at the confessional to find many people waiting and most of them young students. Of course, they immediately requested that we go ahead of them, understanding that an elderly man could not remain standing for a long time. Father received the doctor with much joy and love. While my elderly friend was in the confessional, I was praying through the inner depths of my soul. I was asking our sweetest Jesus to enlighten and soften this heart, regardless of my sinfulness. The devil had trapped his heart in the passion of self justification for 90 years, and I prayed and wished for both of us to be together again, not just here on earth, but in heaven for all eternity.
In a few minutes, the door opened and I apprehensively went to receive our elderly doctor. Father Thomas smiled and told me, “Everything is fine, Thanasi. Everything is fine. He may commune whenever he wants.” “Glory to Thee our Lord, glory to Thee.” My joy was complete. I thanked the student who had given us his turn telling him, “May the Panaghia reward you for your kindness!” His eyes glowed with emotion. As we were exiting the church, the doctor was very happy and told me, “My dear Thanasi, you don’t know what the father told me.”
“What did he tell you?”
“To begin with, when I entered, he immediately recognized me. He knew me from the days I ran the clinic. As soon as I entered, he told me, ‘Come, my doctor, come, because we are colleagues.’
‘Really, my father, are you a doctor as well, I asked?’
‘Yes, I am a doctor of the soul, as a priest of the Most High, and you are a doctor of the body.’ This helped us to connect, and from there we progressed into confession and the prayer of absolution.”
“Didn’t I tell you that father is wonderful? He is full of meekness and love.”
We continued our joyous discussion in the car, and in a few minutes we arrived outside his home. I offered to give him a ride to Church so we could take Holy Communion together next Sunday morning, but out of courteousness and humility, he didn’taccept my offer. As we bade each other farewell with much joy, the elderly gentleman, deeply touched by the day’s events, reiterated, “My dear Thanasi, I know and fully understand that Christ sent you on my path. From here on, I know the way.”
I escorted him to the door of his house, and after we exchanged a warm handshake, I wished him “the joy and eternity of paradise.” Even though I knew where his house was, I never saw the doctor again. I had the sense that my mission had come to an end. Now that I’m sitting and narrating this event, years later, I would like to say to him the same thing over again, “Doctor, may you abide in the joy and blessings of paradise, and please remember us in your prayers.”