Jesus Drinks Decaf
I served Christ coffee 82 times in 30 minutes a year ago this month, the most transactions our store has ever had. In fact He proceeded to order 8 more drinks by the end of the hour and in the morning rush He ordered at least 260 different beverages in the span of 120 minutes. Each time He came to the register He had on a different outfit, a different hairstyle, and a different expression. It can be difficult to see Christ in everyone when the line builds up out the door and the pressure to be less kind and reactionary begins to grow. However, when we do see Christ in each and every person it becomes that much easier to not react, to love honestly, and to turn a deaf ear to the devil who strives to end Christ’s love from be shared so freely. One customer really stood out in this attempt when I first started working at Starbucks, in my first week I found him to be the classic “movie customer” the one we hear of but perhaps have never met, the one who would stare plainly as I asked how they were and hoped for a smile. With each passing day I tried to not show frustration and would attempt to not have any stirrings in the heart towards anger but rather express Christ’s love as best I knew. I had to try something different. I tried asking how he was which was met with, “I don’t like to talk in the morning.’ The next day I thought I would give “sir” a try, and this too was met with ,”Don’t call me sir unless the queen knights me.” To my amazement I was at a loss for options. Please and thank you’s were not working, smiles and questions too were of no use.
Knowing I had only a year at this store [awaiting the Diaconate and Priesthood] and trying to make it as enjoyable as I could, I could not give up on the purpose of living, the purpose Christ the Saviour Seminary tried to foster in my soul and heart. I could not give up on loving others and trying to see God in them and help them experience God in life, even if it was only through a smile. I started smiling more and when he came in one day I just pointed at him while saying loudly, “I’m makin’ this guy’s drink, right here!” Through this he too began to smile more, and then a week or so later we bumped into each other outside, shared hellos and another customer passed by saying, “Hey Father!” We both looked over and I’m thinking, “No, no I’m only a Subdeacon”, as she knew I went to Seminary. He proceeded to ask if I was Orthodox and we soon find out that we share the same Patriarch!
At first I felt worlds apart with George and it was at this moment I discovered the man I judged at first has been my brother in Christ, sharing a family bond closer than any ethnicity or last name, but now of real blood - Christ’s very own. Our friendship over the months only deepened as on Christmas Eve while making a hot chocolate I asked him if he was born in Greece. He shared with me he was and as the conversation progressed I discovered he too had shown an interest in monasticism. George had traveled to the very location of my Real Break OCF trip of 2008 and Mount Athos. Again I was amazed at this! From my first week thinking this man must be the most rude person in the world now is telling me he has met many of the famous holy fathers on the “Mountain” as well. As I finished making my drink, He began to share how he unintentionally met Elder Paisios. The following took place that evening;
Me: “So you met Elder Paisios?”
George: Yes, I had peaches with him. I met him three times...I didn’t even intend to meet him”
Me: “Woah, what do you mean?”
George: “Well I was walking down a path, and I saw a hut, I think that is what they are called, a hut, and there was a swarm of bees and I feared for my life! [hands in the air] I then heard a voice from behind me say, “Do not worry about the bees.” I turned around and it was Elder Paisios.”
Me: “What!? No way! Did you talk with him?”
George: “Yes, For an hour and a half.”
Me: “Was there a crowd of people around you? I only have seen photos of him conversing with a group”
George: “It was just us.”
Me: “What did he talk to you about?”
George: “Mostly spirituality and nationalism”
Me: “Wow, did he joke with you at all, I heard he has at times.”
George: “Yes, he was jovial.
It was at this point in my friendship with George that I began to see customers that walked in with a new lens, and understood that one ever knows where another has been in life, what they are going through, and perhaps walking away from. We are called to not only see God in others but to treat them with the very love God has richly bestowed on us sinners. We can impact peoples lives for better or for worse with even just a glance; of which St. Silouan the Athonite warns against when done with anger. I’ve learned when working in close quarters, we can impact each others’ days with our attitudes towards life from the big things to even the littlest things like the rain.
Some customers would come in and share how their days are crummy because of some rain. The rain is beautiful I would share! Having gone through three years of seminary and still thinking about a thesis all the time while on the job, I never agreed for a second about how the rain can some how equate to a day without joy, without a thought of God’s love for all of humanity, rain or no rain. I would smile and tell them the rain is great while questioning how the spring would be as lush if not for the rain. Other times I would point to my heart and explain that it is more important that the Sun is shining in here, than the rain out there.
We may never know how our attitude or the way we carry ourselves may impact another’s life and day. Even a small pebble dropped in a lake causes ripples in the water. The ramifications can be endless. Even if we only see someone for 30 seconds and never again, there is an opportunity for God’s truth to be shared and experienced with them in action borne by love.
The stresses of living today can be very overwhelming from all points of life. One of the strongest helps I have experienced in the work place with regaining a footing in my day is reading the prescribed daily Scripture accounts aside from regular daily prayers. The readings provide the strength I need to power through in this race towards salvation. Sacred scripture can help the day start off right and end well.
His Grace, Bishop Gregory, encouraged us at the Priests Convocation last year to read the Scriptures everyday. The late +Metropolitan Nicholas admonished me when I became Reader at Camp Nazareth saying, “You must now begin to read the Scripture everyday.” I have found in the workplace with 2 ten-minute breaks, that making it a habit to read the ‘good news’ it is such a strength. When I sit in the backroom and read I feel as if I leave work during this time. Where do I go? An island? No… Heaven! It’s amazing how the heart’s cares and worries subside and the Lord fills the soul with a fresh breath of air to go back into the arena ready to take on Satan, even from within.
I waited for about 6 months since that Christmas Eve to find out just what George learned from Elder Paisios years ago. On an outdoor patio, when our paths crossed at the right time he shared the following with me:
[Looking at my watch and then at my friend George.] “I have 8 minutes…Just what did you learn from your time with Elder Paisios...What did he have to say to you?”
George: “Elder Paisios… we talked”
Me: “What did you talk about?”
George: “Not of theology and all that but of the simple things in life. How to live.. He told me about honey bees and the honey making process. Which bees to keep around...the best kind. And of apricots and jam making. He deflected my theological questions with simple answers about life.”
Me: “He deflected your questions?”
George: “He did not deflect them, rather I think he perhaps was trying to answer them with other simple responses that had deeper meanings that I would understand later or perhaps not understand. How apricots that fall from the tree when they are ripe and rotten ones can still be used to make jam…they still have a purpose. You can make jam out of them.”
Me: “My gosh that could be a sermon!”, I exclaimed in amazement while laughing.
George: ”Exactly. So I came back 2 years later with a friend. My friend saw him while he was mending the door to his hut/cave. He got up and came over and my friend was fanatically asking him lots and lots of questions while I stood behind my him. He looked past my friend and saw me and said, ‘I’ve met you before, you’ve visited...Have you made any jam?’ I told him, “I try to make jam everyday,” and he said, ‘Good!’”
By this point my 10 minute break was up. Smiling, I shook my friend’s hand while taking my apron and going back in the store I said, “Hey! I gotta go make some jam!” Working at Starbucks (or any public service job) for the past 11 months has been a spiritual workout. Seeing Christ in all people can truly force one to flex their spiritual muscles. We do not need to be in a monastery to hear God’s voice in our hearts. In fact, you can be making 2-3 drinks at a time on the bar with a line out the door and 6 people waiting for their lattes, each made to order, each with a name, and still hear God in the soul. Only with God can you touch their hearts also. Having served a former NFL Bears 1963 World Champion to the lead actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to your average plumber, painter, teacher, moms, dads, grandpas, kids and priests - there is an opportunity to reach out. Perhaps with each profession we may be hired to, as a Christian we should hope to see a job description that indicates “You will share Christ will all people”, for truly this is a command from our Lord already. Amen.
By Fr. Jonathan Bannon.