As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country.
What gifts are for, if not to comfort and beautify us? Our friends are such gifts.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Comforter.
Friends are talents, gifts that we have received: one received five talents, another two, and another one; to every man according to his heart. Yet, we sometimes get afraid, and go and hid the talent in the earth, so that, at the Last Reckoning, we could safely say “lo, there Thou hast that is Thine” ignoring the truth that we bury ourselves with each buried talent, with each silenced friend.
As talents, our friends are also serving a certain purpose: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
A tree is a gift, to shelter you with its shade; so there are friends like trees: The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.
Now, when the heat passes away and the invigorated traveller leaves once again for his journey, he may not need the shadow, yet he will sometimes need water along the way: Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well.[…] If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.[…] But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
Thus, a friend is also a well and a spring, quenching for a while our terrible, indeed deadly, thirst.
Various gifts, because various needs and various calls. All we have to learn is to become all things to all. People get tired being just them because they have never given themselves the chance of being just a tree, or a well, nor could they ever afford the time to see the wells they were running by. So they wither, and die.
Way ahead, God has already prepared for you everything that you might need through your journey across the desert: cool shades, fresh springs, and loaves of bread – our friends: Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
“Occasional friends,” they say, and rightly so; for it is not wrong to say that friends are occasional, provided that we immediately add: as a trustworthy watcher at the crossroads of your life, your friend is meant for those occasions which are matters of life and death. Thus, since he shapes your destiny, you belong to him to the same extent he belongs to you: “take my friends away, pour my friends out of me, empty me of them and you’ll find that nothing would remain of me,” says Fr. Teofil Părăianu, a contemporary orthodox Romanian monk. A true friend is the Providence’ solution to a providential occasion. Quite often, he may carry you on his shoulders; some other times, he may give you a beneficial push into what usually appears to you as a terrifying pit.
A friend is not simply given to you as an object of trade or as a gift to keep it for yourself; he is entrusted to you, for a talent is not to be exchanged with another (though friends can be sold, as it happens, for thirty shekels or so), but to work as a magnet for the next one. The Truster entrusts a person (the entrusted) to a trustee; in this way, all three of them, having been thus bonded by trust, become friends. Still, why is trust needed for? Is trust reduced to the prerequisite of a state of war, when we have to be certain about who is covering our back? How can we distinguish the genuine trust from the fear which governs the relationships among the members of the secret organizations, be they criminal, as the Mafia, or not (yet)?
Returned from his journey, the lord calls his servants in order to settle the accounts with them. As we know, he praises the first two, telling each of them: Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been trustworthy over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Trust grows itself together with us; it cannot arrive at the crucial things unless it starts with the simple ones. How could you pretend to partake in the great things, if you did not keep the lesser ones: He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then ye have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
As long as betrayal is possible, trust is required. That which is betrayed is always a secret. If the entire society comes to share the secret which was initially known only to a hand of people, the trust which defended so far the secret would no longer be needed, since there is not any secret left at all. So, in order to reach the nature of trust, we have to get closer to the secret it protects.
No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you.
It is precisely this “all things” that which qualifies the disciples to be called “friends”. However, they are not offered some abstruse philosophy or a series of complicated gestures to perform; they become intimate of a knowledge which was previously shared only by the Father and the Son. Thus, the disciples are invited to partake in the circle of the divine friendship of the Holy Trinity by knowing and meeting the Three Persons.
Yet, unless we are sons, we cannot meet the Father. This is in fact the precious knowledge that has been revealed to us, and this is the gift we are offered: in the Spirit, the Son introduces us to the Father as sons. It is our identity that which is revealed and restored. Eventually, these “all things” prove to be the supreme things, because they unveil the fundamental question of our identity, of the meaning of our lives. In order to distinguish them from the more common “secrets,” we call these matters of utmost concern “mysteries”. The mystery of your true identity has been revealed to you. Why a mystery? It had been a mystery until it was revealed to you, because you were a stranger to yourself, not knowing who you really are and why do you exist for.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
I know who my neighbour is: it is he who needs me. But who is my friend? It is not only someone whose various calls I must speedily heed to, but also a person with whom I share the same mystery of who he is and who am I. And I know it, because I know who our Father is.
When are usually secrets and especially this mystery entrusted to you? When you are found worthy of it. But when are you worthy of it? When you are ready to keep it. We obey the commands not in fear of a severe ruler, neither because we might “understand” that “this is how it should be,” but because we trust Him. We trust Him because we trust His love, which He proved it by first doing Himself all that He is now asking from us.
What is this mystery that you are asked to die for it? It is yourself. To die for it is to save yourself, or better said, to allow the mystery to save you. Yet, this mystery is not reduced to you, but it comprises the Truster and the entrusted one as well.
In what way can we betray this mystery of who we are? Not by disclosing it, since who we are is always there, in the open. We break the bond of trust whenever we behave like somebody else, like a stranger to ourselves and consequently, to those who innocently have put their trust in us. In a sense, our betrayal does not bring us back to the stranger we used to be, but it turns us in an even worse situation, that of trespassers of the Word: “You betrayed me. You broke your word.” This natural example of a dictionary entry preserves the remote reminiscence of the intimate link between trust and the words entrusted. To become such trespassers, we first have to forget the mystery of who we really are. Forgetting is the name of such a betrayal. In this way, sin, as the proper act of betrayal, replaces the real identity of us becoming our new identifying mark, our new terrible secret. This is why, in order to recover our true identity, we have to reveal our secret sins to the Keeper and Restorer of our true self (through a confessor, who is the exclusive assurance that we were actually heard and forgiven).
Along with the nature of trust involved by friendship, we have also discovered a criterion of friendship: it is a friend of yours he who keeps your secrets. The deeper the secret, the greater the friendship. In order to distinguish from common secrets, I called the ultimate secrets mysteries. So, although true friendship does not exclude petty, domestic secrets, nevertheless it does not revolve around them, nor can it exist within the deadly circles of blackmailing and struggle for power. It can only appear and it is nourished by the vital mystery of the circle within which we receive our true face and our true name.
The mystery of your existence, of who you are and why do you exist, completely unknown by you, as it is naturally hidden from the mortals, cannot be revealed to you by any other than the greatest, the supreme friend: the Life Himself. Shield this mystery at all costs, even with the price of your life, and you shall live. True friendship is this bond of brothers, of those committed to guarding God’s mystery because it is their mystery also.