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All Things are Possible Through Christ

Sixteen-year-old Gresham Olson was awarded the 2014 Judges Choice in the Antiochian Archdiocese Oratorical Festival, and his speech was published in the October 2014 edition of The Word. He is from St. Nicholas Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest. 

Your Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Your Graces, Reverend Clergy, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

I sat down one Saturday afternoon with the intention of writing this oration. I like to think of myself as a good writer. I write for the school paper and have covered sports for the last three years. But for some reason, I had a hard time preparing for this oration. Unlike a football story, where the game had already taken place, this oration does not write itself, it takes a lot of thought.

I sat at my computer for a good hour with nothing but the blank screen. The writer's block was beginning to eat me alive.

If it's this hard to write a speech about loving God with my whole being, it must be close to impossible to actually live it out. I was worried, because achieving this teaching from our Lord is a vital part of our path to salvation.

I needed a break and my grandpa had stopped by for a visit. Let me tell you a little about my grandpa. He and I have a great relationship and he is very special to me. About a month before I was trying to write this speech, I wanted to spend some quality time with him on a typical day.

I went over early that spring morning and wanted to see the world through his eyes. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be my grandpa.

Saint Luke wrote in Chapter 10; Verse 27, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Whenever I thought about that verse, however, I would always think to myself, "All of these together are impossible to do in the world today, but if I can do one or two, I should be fine." On that day, however, I watched my grandpa truly live out the whole teaching, and not just parts of it. I will never forget that.

For about five years now, my grandpa has been the treasurer of a small church downtown. This church serves many homeless and disabled people in our city. I looked through a picture album my grandma made of him and the church community. I saw him playing soccer with inner city kids, putting a smile on their faces. I saw him visiting people in jail that were once a part of the church, and he was reading them Scripture. I saw him laughing and enjoying the company of many homeless people that he invited into his home. I was watching my grandpa live out another teaching for salvation given to us by the Lord, in Matthew 25 (“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me”). After looking at the album, I knew that my grandpa cared about pepole with all his heart, soul, and strength, at his church. 

Then he threw a broom in the trunk and we took off and ran some errands. 

He said that we had to go to the library. I thought, “Okay. This is a normal task. Just go to the library, grab some books, and then head back home.” It turned out that he was there to meet a 17-year-old immigrant from Mexico. We found a study room and he sat there for an hour and a half, tutoring him in English and math. I was surprised that at the end of the lesson, the only payment was a “thank you” from the student, and my grandpa’s only response was a “same time next week?” Our errands continued. 

We left the library and stopped at a paved bike trail that ran by the river. He went to the trunk and got out that big broom. He said, “Let’s go for a walk.” 

We went walking down the trail and the entire time he was sweeping leaves, twigs, and other debris off the path. We walked for probably a good half mile before I asked him why he was doing this. He said because he wanted to make it safe for biking. The debris was not towering and I am sure that if you were biking that trail you wouldn’t have too much trouble with it. What surprised me, however, was that he wasn’t sweeping because he was going to bike there later on; he was sweeping for the safety of people he didn’t know and would probably never meet. 

We learn in the Gospel about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) that our neighbor is not just the man across the street, but everyone we meet or could meet. My grandpa loved his neighbor so much that he didn’t even have to know them to care for them. 

I was starting to see how this teaching of loving the Lord could be lived out. He loves his neighbor by working with those in need; He loves the Lord with all his strength by sweeping a path for his neighbor. He loves the Lord with all his soul by using his knowledge to teach his neighbor. He loves the Lord with all his heart by visiting his friends and former parishioners in jail. He was living this teaching, this teaching that I thought was impossible to do in this world today. He was living it out fully. 

Next we went to go and grab some lunch at a burger joint. I asked my grandpa about what he wanted his legacy to be. I asked, “In 100 years, when they hear your name, what do you want them to say?” 

He thought for a moment and took a sip of his coffee. He looked up at me teary-eyed and said, “That he cared about other people. I don’t like to look at myself and what I have done, but rather look at others and see what their needs are. We are only on this earth for a few years and if others need help, how can I help them? How can I make their life better? Because it’s not about me.” 

I sat in that worn-down booth, looking at my grandpa, full of so much love that I thought he could be a saint someday. 

I realized he loved the Lord his God with his whole being by loving his neighbor. He did so with every ounce of his heart, soul, and strength. St. Silouan of Athos said, “Do an experiment on yourself: one day ask God for love towards your brother, and another day – live without love. You will see the difference.” 

What I witnessed on that day, and will never forget, is that you need to love the Lord your God, by loving his image in our neighbor. 

What struck me the most, however, was that what I thought would take me a lifetime, and be nearly impossible, grandpa had done by three in the afternoon. 

It is hard to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, and strength. But I truly believe that my grandpa figured out the best way to do it. Getting to heaven was never his motivation. He simply lived his life and performed everyday tasks, but he saw his neighbors around him. He really saw them for who they are: children of God. He truly loves the Lord and that means he cares for everyone he runs into. 

St. John Chrysostom teaches: “The bee is more honored than other animals. Not just because she labors, but because she labors for others.” 

So as my grandpa left shortly after stopping in to check on me and my family the Saturday I was attempting to write this oration, I went back to my computer and wrote. I recalled that day I spent with him. 

I’m so grateful for my grandpa. I’m grateful for the example he has given me, because I am sure that this is not the only time in my life that I will struggle to love God with my whole being as he taught us to do. But it is OK to struggle. 

God places someone special in each of our lives. They may not be obvious to us right away, but we need them. They might be at our schools, or at church or Teen SOYO, or they might just walk into your room to check on you when you are trying to write a tough speech. Learn from the special people God places in your life, and with the wisdom you gain, Lord willing, pass it on to your grandchildren and godchildren who are a part of a younger generation of Christians. They will face the same struggles along their path to salvation. They will hear this verse and think that it’s impossible to do in the world today. Be the special person in their life and remind them of Philippians 4:13: “All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.”