''Make Room in Your Hearts for Us''''Make Room in Your Hearts for Us''

Synchoresis – Source of Hope

Synchoresis (συγχώρησις) is the Greek word for forgiveness. Originally it meant "to go (χωρῶ, choro) together (σύν, syn)"; later it also acquired the meanings "being together in a certain space", "living together" (σύν-χῶρος, syn-choros). In ecclesiastical language and, as a consequence, increasingly in everyday use, the latter meanings have become more important: "being together in a certain space", "living together". In a more active sense there is also the idea of "giving another person 'space'". In our everyday language today, synchoresis also means "forgive me" or "forgiveness".

Both meanings, that of accepting another person within a shared space and that of giving the other person space in which to live, have a particular ecclesiological and socio-ethical weight in the theological thought of the Greek church fathers, as coming from the centre of New Testament faith, the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This short article is intended only to indicate a few aspects of that thinking for today.

Globalization has brought about a new sense of the living space we share and consequently given a new reality to coexistence. Every day a world-wide horizon opens out before us. Instant communications and information systems are bringing what used to be far away near to us, letting us participate – whether we are happy about it or not! – in events at both the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels.

However, the feeling of delight and enjoyment of vast spaces can quickly turn into feelings of being restricted, that threaten and frighten us. What many people are increasingly experiencing is the narrowing of their personal living space and of their national and cultural space. Unceasing changes in the coordinates of our lives, along with the ever-accelerating mobility that brings peoples, religions and cultures closer together, cause us to feel that what we are accustomed to, what we trust and take for granted, is becoming questionable. The abundance of differences that many people are encountering makes them feel hemmed in, oppressed. This is the cause of all sorts of worries and fears.

Can this feeling of confinement be transformed into a wide expanse, a freedom that enriches us? Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot on the Holy Mt. Athos, seems to have had the secret revealed to him:

"All of creation, space and time, are valuable because they are the revelation of Christ's love. Love turns space into a paradise… Your heart rejoices when it is near those who are humble, those who are full of love. You find space [near them]… [but] you find no space…near the selfish. If you do not love, your space becomes narrower and your time becomes shorter… If you give space to others in your actions, you give space to yourself. [But] if you frighten others away, reject them or hate them, basically you are hating yourself."

"Love is patient; love is kind . . . it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:4,7). Like a key that opens a room, love opens up another way of seeing, for synchoresis without any sort of discrimination. There is a reason why Noah’s ark is one of the oldest types or symbols of the church. As the instrument of God’s love, of rescue from the flood, the ark offered space as a refuge for humankind and for the entire animal world, "two of every kind . . . male and female . . . of clean animals and of animals that are not clean" (Genesis 6).

The flood that threatens us today is the realisation that, in so many ways, Plautus was right: "lupus est homo homini" (human beings are like wolves toward one another). Jean-Paul Sartre's way of expressing it was even more tragic: “L’enfer, c’est l’autre” (hell is the other person).

Our Lord Jesus Christ identified with other persons, even "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40), and lifted them up as an eschatological criterium for judgment or for eternal life in God. As the ark of God’s grace, the church is called to transmit a gleam of hope to them, those who have nowhere to lay their heads (cf. Matthew 8:20).

The CEC member churches, during dark times, set up signs of hope of many kinds throughout Europe. Today they are called first of all to be in solidarity with one another, to give one another more space, and thus to bear witness to the paradigm which is so badly needed, which will strengthen the hopes of the peoples of Europe and the world and show them the right way to behave towards living space. "Make room in your hearts for us!" (2 Cor. 7:2-3). Here St. Paul speaks on behalf of many, in the knowledge that synchoresis has its real beginning in the human heart. 

 

Dr. Alexandros K. Papaderos
Orthodox Academy of Crete