You’ve invited all of your relatives to join you for Easter dinner. Perhaps a few friends. But have you ever invited complete strangers?
According to the ancient Greek rule of hospitality, the host is responsible for the guests under her roof. If the guests are strangers, she must accept them unconditionally, no questions asked. She must feed and house them and set them safely on their journeys, making sure they reach their destination safely. Why? Because the guests may be sacred beings in disguise, and the host may be entertaining “angels unaware.” The guest who receives is not inferior to the host who offers.
Practicing Philoxenia. Philoxenia is “the love of strangers” from the Greek philotis (love and friendship) and xenos (the stranger) and xenia (hospitality). The god Zeus is the protector of strangers, and an appeal to xenios zeus entitled the stranger to the rites of hospitality. When Odysseus and his comrades are trapped in the Cyclops’ cave, Odysseus begs the monster to abide by the rules of xenios zeus and offer them hospitality.
A Token of Hospitality. In ancient times, often when a guest left, a ring was broken. The host and guest each took a half, establishing an invisible connection. The ring served as a symbol of becoming whole again at some future reunion when the separated friends met again. The host and guest, giver and receiver, were united in sacramental form through the symbolism of the ring.
Practicing Hospitality — on Easter and Every Day. According to sacred literature we have an obligation to show hospitality to all creation — human and nonhuman — and to see ourselves as both strangers and guests on Earth with humility and respect for nature. To live as both a stranger and guest means to be dependent on the world, yet have a reverent attitude toward it. Respectful guests don’t violate the earth or destroy their home by killing, polluting, or poisoning.
A fictional treatment of the sacred practice of philoxenia can be found in the novel For the Love of Strangers by Jacqueline Horsfall.