Living Saints: Leszek

Living Saints: Leszek February 3, 2020
A Russian icon of Simeon the Holy Fool and his friend Ioann (before the end of the 19th century). Public Domain.

This is the second post in a series I am writing called “Living Saints.” It explores the lives of currently living people whose examples inspire us, those who keep faith alive by demonstrating that the true Christian life can, in fact, be lived. You can find the first post here.

“But it is necessary to stress with sufficient insistence that faith is inseparably connected with conversion. It is a break with out life of sin, with the idols and all the ‘golden calves’ of our ow making so as to return to the live, true God through an encounter that throws us from our horse and turns us completely upside down. The encounter with God is terrifying and pacifying at the same time. To believe means to entrust oneself to God and to his merciful love, a love that always welcomes and forgives, sustains and orients life, and proves powerful in its ability to straighten out the distortions in our story. Faith consists of the willingness to let ourselves be transformed again and again by the call of this God.” – Robert Cardinal Sarah (The Day Is Now Far Spent, 27).

Faith both pacifies and terrifies; before the Lord we feel our inadequacy, yet we also discern the path forward, slipping into the hard-won peace of the lilies of the field. Sometimes those around us serve a similar purpose; God mediates His call to us through them, renewing our faith by an encounter with theirs. In many cases, their saintliness may be hard to locate; they don’t want to be noticed. No surprise there. The left hand isn’t supposed to know what the right one is up to. The Publican’s prayer is short and a sweet, not like that of the vociferous, self-congratulatory Pharisee.

And so, today I find myself writing about a man who barely knows my name. In fact, I barely know his! Still, his example has brought me to tears. Though I see him every week, we have hardly exchanged a word. I don’t need to hear him to be inspired by him; I need simply to observe him and listen to what it is that others have to say.

Leszek (I am not using his real name, since I don’t have his permission and I’m not sure he’d want a spotlight on him anyway!) is a man who goes to my church. That’s about the long and short of it. I noticed him when I first started attending this parish: he has a massive brown beard, flecked with gray, and hair that matches it both in quantity and unruliness. Picture, if you will, a holy fool, a monk long ago cut off from the world, a wild man alone in a cabin somewhere on the Siberian steppe. I also registered that he never wore shoes in church. At that time, he always stood in the back, remaining standing even during the parts of the liturgy when it’s become normal to sit. He kept up the old practice, praying with the taut muscles of his legs for an hour or two on end.

Over the weeks, then months, not much changed, except that one day he was up serving at the altar. He still had no shoes on; his beard was the same, but there he was vested with the priest and the deacons, alongside the few young boys and couple adult acolytes. Leszek—though I didn’t know that was his name yet—remained an enigma to me, an eccentric, another person at a suburban parish filled with mostly pleasant, blue-collar people. Such a place is earthy and intimate, warm and inviting, but no home for acts of Christ-loving insanity (or so I thought!).

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