We all understand God in different ways. When we say, “God,” it gives us a name for the creator and originator of all things. The life of Jesus, as depicted in the gospels, provides us with an example to imitate. And, the Holy Spirit animates and inspires us. On days like this, we put into words this ancient understanding Christ-followers have been using since the first century, like the Holy Trinity.
The question is: how do we live out our trinitarian beliefs? Once upon a time, two old men, Efim and Elisha, decided to go on a pilgrimage to worship God in Jerusalem. Efim was a well-to-do peasant. Elisha, not so much. Efim was serious and focused on what needed to be done. Elisha was more jovial and took life as it came. They had been planning to take this pilgrimage for a long time and decided to go before they were too old and their health was too poor. So they set off. They had been walking for five weeks and had worn out their shoes so they bought new ones.
From the time they left home, they had had to pay for their food and for their night’s lodging, but as they entered a new region in their land, people kept asking them into their huts. They took them in and fed them, and would accept no payment. They even put bread or cakes into their bags for them to eat on the road. It was such amazing, radical hospitality! They experienced a lived faith in those people.
One night they stopped in a small village, bought bread, slept, and started before sunrise the next morning to get well on their way before the heat of the day. After 8 miles, they came to a stream, sat down, ate some bread, and rested for a while. They went on. After walking another 8 miles, they came to a large village and passed right through it. Now it was hot. Elisha was tired out and wanted to rest and have a drink, but Efim didn’t stop. Efim was the better walker of the two, and Elisha found it hard to keep up with him. “If I could only have a drink,” Elisha said.
“Well, have a drink,” said Efim. “I don’t want any.”
Elisha stopped. “You go on,” he said, “I’ll just run in to the little hut there. I will catch up with you in a moment.”
“All right,” said Efim, and he went on.
It was a small hut plastered with clay, the bottom a dark color, the top whitewashed; but the clay had crumbled away. It had been a long time since anyone re-plastered, and the thatch was off the roof on one side. The entrance to the hut was through the yard. Elisha entered the yard, and saw, lying close to the bank of earth that ran round the hut, a gaunt, man who must have laid down in the shade. Now the sun had come round and beat down on him. The man’s eyes were half-closed and glazed over. Elisha called to him and asked for a drink, but the man gave no answer.
“He is either ill or unfriendly,” thought Elisha. Going to the door he heard a child crying in the hut. He took hold of the ring that served as the door handle, and knocked with it. “Hey masters!” he called. No answer. He knocked again with his staff.
“Hello, fellow Christians!” Nothing stirred. Elisha was about to turn away, when he thought he heard a groan the other side of the door. “Dear me, some misfortune must have happened to the people! I had better have a look.” He entered the hut”
Inside, Elisha found an old woman with her head resting on a table, an ill-looking boy, and a woman lying on the floor. The old woman raised her head and asked Elisha in a weak voice, “What do you want? We have nothing.”
“I came in for a drink of water, my friend,” he said.
“There’s none… Go away.”
Elisha asked, “Is there none among you, then, well enough to attend to that woman on the floor?”
“No, we have no one. My son is dying outside, and we are dying in here.”
The little boy had ceased crying when he saw Elisha, but when the old woman began to speak, he began again, and clutching hold of her sleeve, he cried, “Bread, Granny, bread.”
Elisha opened his sack and took out some bread and fed the boy. The old woman told Elisha that their throats were parched and she said they had not had water in some time. Elisha asked where there was a well, went and found a pail, drew some water, and brought it back to them. He went to the village shop and bought some millet, salt, flour and oil. He found an axe, chopped some wood, and made a fire. He boiled some soup and gave the starving family a meal.
By this point, Elisha gave up the idea of overtaking Efim and stayed the night with the family. They had sold everything necessary for daily living, so the next day, he began by doing chores, lighting a fire, kneading bread, and purchasing new utensils, like pots, a broom, etc. The old woman grew stronger, and managed to go out to see a neighbor. The man too improved, and was able to get about, holding on to the wall. Only the wife could not get up, but even she regained consciousness on the third day, and asked for food.
Elisha had not intended to stay so long or to spend so much of his pilgrimage savings. He kept saying, “I really need to get going,” but he kept finding one more reason to stay. Finally, with no money left, he gave up on his pilgrimage and went back home.
Meanwhile, Efim had only gone a short distance further on that first day. Then he decided to take a break and wait for Elisha to catch up. He sat down by the side of the road and waited and waited. Then he took a nap. When he woke up, he thought, “Perhaps he has passed me,” so he went on. He became convinced that Elisha had passed him so he tried to catch up with him. Efim continued on his journey, met other pilgrims along the way, and he finally reached Jerusalem. At each stop, he asked if anyone had seen Elisha. Of course, no one had because Elisha was back in the village helping the poor, starving family.
When Efim reached Jerusalem, as he visited the holy sites, a peculiar thing began to happen. Walking among a vast hoard of pilgrims, Efim crowded into the little chapel housing the Holy Sepulchre. At the front of the chapel, he saw a man who looked just like Elisha. Just then, the man started to pray, and when the man turned to the side, Efim realized it was Elisha! He watched him carefully so he wouldn’t lose sight of him. But, when the mass was over, everyone moved out and Efim lost him.
The next day, he saw him again, and tried hard not to lose him in the crowd. But, once again, he couldn’t catch him.
Efim stayed in Jerusalem six weeks. He had a wonderful and heart-changing pilgrimage, and then he returned home the same way he had come. When he was passing through the village where he had last been walking with Elisha, he passed a small hut where a little boy ran out to greet him and cried out, “Come in, grandfather!” Efim thought he might as well ask about Elisha because this was where he stopped to ask for water.
The little boy led him in and a woman helped him set down his bag, gave him water to wash his face, and made him sit down to a table. She set milk, curd cakes, and porridge before him. Efim thanked her, and praised her for her kindness to a pilgrim. The woman shook her head. “We have good reason to welcome pilgrims,” she said. “It was a pilgrim who showed us what life is.”
God chooses people to do different things. Efim and Elisha both felt called by God to go to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. For Efim, the pilgrimage was an incredible and edifying experience, but along the way, God chose Elisha to bring life—new life, resurrection—to a starving family in a village.
We are all chosen by God. We imitate Christ as we live each day. When we are open to the Holy Spirit, sometimes God chooses a different path for us than we anticipated. Each of us can have a different mission. One’s calling does not preclude God from choosing another person to fulfill another mission.
We don’t need to let ideas, like the Holy Trinity, distract us from the important work God calls us to do. The Spirit gives everyone gifts, and we are called to use those gifts to further God’s kingdom.
 Leo Tolstoy, Walk in the Light & Twenty-three Tales, trans. Aylmer Maude and Louise Maude (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928), 162-184.