Home is Where the Church is

I’m an abnormally adaptable person. I move someplace and, next thing you know, I have a new accent and am calling this new place home.

You see, I’ve moved around a lot, so I’ve had to learn to adapt. Home for me is wherever I’m staying, today. This means that the more places I live, and the more people I connect to, the bigger home becomes. But as I move from city to city, my memories of each old home create a nostalgia for places that are no more. As everyone moves on, that old home isn’t quite the same.

And yet, home is still there.

The idea of home fascinates me. I’m a born and bred Virginian, but each place I’ve lived since High School has stolen a place in my heart. I’ve become a bit Egyptian and Argentine, a bit Philadelphian and Bostonian, a bit Greek and Palestinian. My heart swells just remembering my friends and chosen family from each of these places I once (even briefly) called home.

This past week, I had the joy to go back to one of these places. I returned to Hellenic College Holy Cross for a conference on “Speaking to Secular America” organized by the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity. (Click here to learn more about the Missions Institute and to hear the talks from the conference.) This meant that I got to reunite with professors and old friends, and I was also able to meet students who have come to the School since I graduated.

But the nostalgia!

While it was amazing to be reunited with my HCHC family, in other ways, it was bitter sweet. It’s like when I visited my friends in Cairo a year after I studied abroad, or when I went back to James Madison University a year after I graduated. The nostalgia, for me, is for not only the place, but for the specific time when I lived there. It’s easy for me to want to go back to those times: to relive the good times and to redo the times I wish I could change.

But then I went to church.

And I remembered that when I’m in the services, it’s not about yesterday or tomorrow, it’s just about right now. It’s not about reliving yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow. It’s just about living today.

In worship, I remember that I’m already home.

This reminds me of a story my friend once told me in college. One weekend, he visited a monastery. As he prepared to leave, he told a monk how sad he was, and how much he would miss everyone at the monastery. The monk told my friend, “Don’t worry, I’ll see you Sunday!” My friend was pretty confused, because there was no way they’d see each other any time soon. But the monk went on, “We’ll be together on Sunday, at the Liturgy. Regardless of where we are physically, we are always together in worship.”

Standing in the Holy Cross Chapel, singing hymns and worshiping with the community at HCHC, I was united with all of my School family, not just those physically in the Chapel with me. I was reminded that in the Church, we are never separated. Not truly.

We may be separated by miles, or even time zones, but in Christ there is no divide.

Not only am I united with those far away, but I’m united with all the people I don’t know standing beside me. That’s part of the beauty of being Orthodox. We are part of a family that stretches from our local community to the ends of the Earth, from yesterday to today, from this moment to the Kingdom of God made present.

So home isn’t just where the heart is. It’s where the Church is.

Home is where the Church is, because that’s where we take our first steps in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom is “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17), the Kingdom is “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). We’re reminded of this every time the priest says “Blessed is the Kingdom” at the start of each Divine Liturgy. If it seems hard to explain the Kingdom of God, it’s because it’s “not of this world” (John 18:36). We’re not supposed to grasp it just yet. We only get a taste of it.

Yet a taste is never enough.

Jesus was always talking about His Kingdom through metaphors, so it seems only natural that Fr Stephen Freeman (who, by the way, I had the amazing pleasure of meeting at the conference mentioned above!) would write that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like Middle Earth” and “the Kingdom of Heaven is like the Land of Narnia” in a beautiful blog post that you can read here.

The more I move from place to place, the more I realize that my true home is the Kingdom. It’s a home I can visit every Sunday, if not every day. This is the home that my heart yearns for. It’s the true home where my heart can find rest in the Lord, in the company of His saints, no matter where (or when) they may have lived.

In the Church, I’m finally home.

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo taken by Deacon Alex Radulescu