Join the OES



“Four men…lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.”   Mark 2

I had been a priest for only a few years, when I had the opportunity of performing a most unusual wedding. It was unusual because I performed it in a hospital room at the University of Virginia Hospital. The husband had terminal cancer in an advanced stage and was bedridden. It was a touching scene because the new husband and wife were surrounded by so many of their friends; all of them were EMTs, or emergency personnel. Paul and his wife had met when they worked together driving ambulances and rescuing people in distress. Many times they had carried the sick to hospital emergency rooms. Now, their EMT friends were there to carry them.

Several weeks later, the husband was well enough to come home, and their EMT friends held a wedding reception at their house. It was an incredible sight as ambulances and fire- trucks pulled up and EMT people poured out for the celebration. And what a celebration it was! Yet, even though they were there to celebrate, they had their radios on and were ready to go at the first hint of trouble. It is something that I will never forget. Sadly, almost two weeks later, the husband would be dead, but again he died surrounded by his wife and his friends.

In the Gospel story for the second week of Lent, we see an ambulance at work. Four friends carried a sick man on a stretcher to see Jesus. Even when faced with an obstacle, they found a way to get their friend to the One they knew could help him. I think that the Lord was moved when he saw their faith, love, and dedication of such friends.

Look,  there are times when things are so bad, we simply cannot make it on our own. I don’t mean just physically either. There are times when the pain, depression, guilt and feelings of unworthiness are more than we can bear. Though this is the very moment when we need the Great Physician, we just cannot pick ourselves up to get to Him. It is a truth that those who need to be in Church the most are usually absent. They are absent because they are too spiritually ill to get here. Well  then, where is the ambulance? Where are the EMTs? Who will carry them here to the hospital, the Church of Jesus Christ?

Ask youself the question: who will be with you in the hard times?  Who would carry you if you couldn’t carry yourself? Can you think of anyone?  Are you sure? If you aren’t sure, there may be a good reason for it. Suppose you get a knock at the door and it’s a governmental official who tells you that he has a paper for you to sign. If you sign it, you will not have to pay taxes ever again. Now that sounds really good. Yet, you also have to agree to never call the police, the fire department, or any emergency services. Would you sign?

There may not be anyone to carry you because you haven’t paid your taxes; that is,  You have never offered to be the one to stand for someone else or to carry someone else in their time of need. In fact, whenever we have seen others in pain, we simply stand by and watch and “pray” for them. But carry them – not likely, even though what the Apostle told us: “Carry each others burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

 I have had the experience where someone will come to church and say that they had been absent for a while and no one called them to find out if anything was wrong. I knew that this was not a good thing, but I wondered if this person had ever done the same. Had he/she ever bothered to call someone who had been absent? Had they ever carried anyone to the Lord? The answer was usually no. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear the Lord saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You shouldn’t think that I  am just talking about fellow church members. No, all around us are friends, neighbors, and co-workers, many of whom are sick unto death, and do not know that there is a hospital, the Orthodox Church, where they will find the One who can heal them. How will they get here? Who will carry them? You see, we are not called to heal them, but we are called to carry them. There’s something I want you to notice in this story in Mark. Please note, that it wasn’t four priests who carried the man to Jesus. It was four friends that carried him. Certainly, a priest is called to stand with people in their time of distress,  but we cannot expect the clergy to do it all. In fact, it is sometimes the priest who needs an ambulance!

I invite you to join the OES – the Orthodox Emergency Services.  It is a volunteer organization and has on the job training. There is a training manual (the Bible and Holy Tradition) and there always a trainer available (the Priest). There are no age or gender restrictions: young and old are all welcome. You need not be highly skilled, but you should be highly motivated. Members of the team are not called to save people, only to get them to the hospital.  The pay may not be great, but you will have the satisfaction of seeing those that you help regain their health. However,  the retirement benefits are “out of this world.” Literally!

Join the OES today. You never know when YOU might need an ambulance.

(My thanks to Father Bishoy Andrawes of the Coptic Church for  this idea of ambulance service as a model for all of us).

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