The Gift of Hospitality


This delightful gem from the Desert Fathers comes from Benedicta Ward’s The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (157)

There was a saint in Egypt who dwelt in a desert place. Far away from him there was a Manichean who was a priest (at least what they call a priest). Once, when this man was going to visit one of his confederates, night overtook him in the place where the orthodox saint was living. He was in great distress, fearing to go to him to sleep there, for he knew that he was known as a Manichean, and he was afraid he would not be received. However, finding himself compelled to do so, he knocked; and the old man opened the door to him, recognized him, received him joyfully, constrained him to pray, and after having given him refreshment, he made him sleep. Thinking this over during the night, the Manichean said, “How is it that he is without any suspicions about me? Truly, this man is of God.” And he threw himself at his feet, saying, “Henceforth, I am orthodox,” and he stayed with him.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.






9 responses to “The Gift of Hospitality”

  1. Joan Moulton Avatar
    Joan Moulton

    Yes! Father Andrew and I are probably Orthodox because of the kindness of an Orthodox priest. Fr. Photius Donahue gave me a ride from the Lansing airport to Detroit when Lansing was snowed in. I was a college student, and Fr. Photius introduced himself as Frances Donahue, a professor of religion at Michigan State. I assumed he was Roman Catholic. We later took classes from him and got his religion sorted out. My husband was then years later his assistant priest and at Fr. Photius’s deathbed and helped prepare his body for burial. We never know what our actions, good, evil or indifferent, will lead to. In this case a ride to the Detroit airport changed our lives.

  2. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father.
    Your story and the story of Joan remind us that our actions (and even words we spoke) can have such long lasting impressions (my sharing is not exactly about hospitality, but somewhat related).

    My oldest son was visiting from college this Christmas and we drove by a company called N—-ni Fire Equipment here in our town. I told Luke that I still remember how Mr. N—ni stiffed him when he caddied for him at fancy gold club. (It must have been in middle school or high school, we had to get up super early to get to the golf club, and I drove him there, and back).

    It was a funny story to share with my son, 15 some years later….

    But Luke surprised me with this remark: “Mom, I don’t remember it at all. But isn’t it interesting that such an insignificant thing formed for you such a negative opinion and memory about a person you never even met. He may not even be alive any more. We cannot know how our actions affect what people think and remember about us. It’s almost scary…”

  3. Diana Christina Avatar
    Diana Christina

    Your story Father, and Joan’s and Agata’s, remind me of my favorite quote, “God acts in mysterious ways”.

  4. Cindy Avatar

    Love this. One of the many reasons I am Orthodox today is because of the kindness and hospitality demonstrated by the people at the 1st Orthodox Parish I visited; the one that is currently my home Parish

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll let your comment stand – in that I know how deeply it represents your heart. I do not mean to sound indifferent to the Church in my reply to Kent, only to say that one must properly pay attention to their heart. To find Orthodoxy with the heart is the greatest treasure of all. I occasionally encounter those who have only found it with their head, or as a result of argumentation, and the treasure remains locked away from them. It’s a large and profound question – may God give grace to all who seek it.

  6. Agata Avatar


    Your continued attempt to expand on the metaphors to explain to Kent “diversity becoming uniformity” reminds me about another thing that often surprises me (in those who approach the Faith from argumentation, reasoning, as Father Stephen said above);

    They must go to such enormous mental effort (and often even convoluted gymnastics, as in case of theological innovations in other denominations) !! It would exhaust me completely if I worried about understanding and knowing everything (that ties a bit into the other conversation on what and how to read). Surrendering into the assurance the Church offers is so liberating from this stress!

    Only the Saints (like St. Sophrnony in recent times) can do it (explanations and putting the theology puzzle together) successfully and not get lost on the way (and then their individual and yet uniform success helps us to discover, understand and fall in love with God).

    The way I think about it (and only Orthodoxy gifts us this approach) is that we have to get out of our head and get into our heart. Our 3-D brain is so limited, capable of so little (mine is probably closer to 2-D anyways :-)). But when the mind (which is the activity of the brain) descends into the hearts….

    Well, the Saints tell us we enter limitless, dimensionless, eternal space (there are wonderful quotes about how Kingdoms, and dragons live there – I cannot remember now). This is what our existence will be like after death. If we have never been there during this life, we will be in for a surprise…

    Sorry that I come back to death so much in my comments, I guess it’s something that is really on my mind these days. Along with the thought that there is no salvation outside of the Church. I guess I grieve and worry about others who are struggling, not just Kent and inquirers like him, I have such struggling souls right in my own Orthodox household. So I keep looking for words to communicate. But words fail me all the time. I just hope in God’s promise that my prayers to Him may change everything for their salvation.

  7. Byron Avatar


    Please forgive me for stepping into the conversation. To rephrase Dino’s (rather wonderful) example in a more colloquial manner, as we grow up we rarely notice that we are, in fact, physically growing. It is far more likely that we will, at some point, simply realize that we are wearing new clothes because the old ones no longer fit.

    Orthodoxy is lived in the heart. Learn to live it there and God will provide the increase.

  8. Anthony Avatar

    Wonderful story!!! Why is it though, that even though I have studied and practiced as best I can for the past several years, the Orthodox faith, I’m not orthodox because there is no church near me? Just a question

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I hope I’m not overstepping if I might respond as an Orthodox Christian received into the Church. The Orthodox Church parish I’m a member of is approximately an hour’s drive away. And yet, within that range are a few more Orthodox Church parishes, some closer than my “home parish.” Yet I travel as long as I do for communion with and in Christ and in His Church and my home parish. If I had to travel further, I would have done so, albeit less frequently. There is a very real physicality to the Orthodox faith, as I suspect you already know. However, not as just a formality, the Orthodox Church brings catechumens to the living fullness of the faith through Baptism and Chrismation. This is how it has been from its very beginning.

    Nevertheless, be assured that the Lord hears your prayers and abides with you. If great distance inhibits your entrance into the Church, Christ knows this, and He hears you and loves you! And our prayers and hymns spoken and sung in the Divine Liturgy are said and sung for you.

    Blessings to you, and the peace of Christ be with you! I ask our new St Olga of Alaska to intercede for you in her prayers, too!

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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