I was sitting in the hallway waiting for my wife to get off from work. I heard someone coming down the hall, but then I had an unusual experience. Before this person turned the corner, I could smell her. When she turned the corner, it was a supervisor who smiled and said hello. I responded nicely but wondered at how such a nice woman could smell so bad. Later, my wife told me that the supervisor loved ramps, and ate them almost every day. (a ramp is a wild strong garlic). Now the fragrance was seeping through her skin and preceded her by a few feet! I thought that she must never get sick. No virus could stand to come near. I know that you’ve had the experience of sitting next to someone who hasn’t had a bath in a long time. You don’t want to be judgmental, but you wonder if the problem is financial, social, or mental.
When I watch movies about past times –long before soap, shampoo, or toothpaste-I wonder how people kissed or were intimate or social. My mom said that in West Virginia, miners would wash regularly, but it wasn’t until they started using deodorant, that the smell worsened. You may know about the pilgrimage to the church of Santiago de Compostela. On the great feast day, hundreds of pilgrims would fill the church. A huge censer was swing through the Church and it was said that this was done to cover the smell of the unwashed pilgrims.
Despite personal rituals of cleanliness, in the past people had their own peculiar smell and they could be known by it. With modern chemistry, all of our natural smells have been eliminated. We now add perfumes and colognes to make an impact. I’ve had some people walk by whose use of perfume or cologne hit me like the woman eating ramps. You wonder if they had bathed in it.
Here is what I want you to remember: Orthodox Christians are supposed to stink.
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” 2Corinthians 2.
Though us, God diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge. Talk about aroma-therapy! We are to stink with the smell of truth! What do people smell when we walk around the corner? Certainly, if they smell our human nature, it can turn them off, but it’s more than that. St. Paul says that when the fragrance of the Gospel is present to people, some smell life and some smell death. The Gospel is life to those who are being saved and it is death to those who are perishing. So, it shouldn’t surprise us when we diffuse the fragrance of God’s truth, some people rejoice while others hold their noses in disgust.
Sometimes, in Orthodox literature, you read about the “fragrance of holiness.” So now you know that it has nothing to do with our personal hygiene, but with the spiritual smell of the knowledge of God. The saints reeked of it. During the services, when the censer comes around and you smell the fragrance, remember the “fragrance of His knowledge” that is to be “in every place.”