âWe argueâ¦ most of the time we agree and disagree,â says Sandy Kouroupidis, a multi-faith resident of the Faith Communities Council of Victoria.
âIt gets vocalâ¦ but in the end we laughâ¦ and Father John, you like fighting.â
Father John, who is retired but still says mass in various parishes around Melbourne, pauses before conceding that his comrade might be right.
“Sometimes I would have a more definitive point of view than sometimes I feel [is] a little less flexible than Sandy’sâ¦ so I wish I got upset, âhe said.
“I think what we have achieved is only the tip of the icebergâ¦ but it requires extraordinary sensitivity.”
Curious grouping is the antithesis of much of what happens in the modern world, where everyone has an opinion but it seems that many have lost the ability to tolerate opposing opinions.
âIt’s a fellowship, a caring fellowship,â says Father John, who teaches spirituality, meditation, and interfaith relations at the Theological University.
âDiversity allows us to meet in depthâ¦ when both eyes look at a pot, they don’t see the same thing – only with both can you perceive depth. “
This hermitude and “brotherhood at the table” perhaps offers lessons for those who find themselves in social media echo chambers where everyone agrees with each other and asserts their belonging by condemning, or by canceling, anyone disagrees.
âWhen a person is sure of himself, he is not threatened by a different point of view,â says Father John.
“[But] not everyone can do this. It takes a special type.
There is a careful screening process for new members and Father John, who owns the property, notes that they must have already asked someone to leave.
âThis person was not cooperating. To isolate oneself, to establish a separate existence, âsays Father John.
Kouroupidis agrees that their monastic lifestyle suits few people and points out that all residents have studied more than one âreligious traditionâ.
âWe have to be very selective about who comes into the house,â he says.
âYou really have to learn the art of listening.
âThere is a difference between tolerating and accepting – [it requires] really trying to figure out the difference.
Although the ashram is closed to the public, Father John is open to the growth of his ranks.
“You could extend it to someone who is an atheistâ¦ but would he like it? ” he says.
The community has recently been put to the test by an issue that many families face this Christmas: they have an anti-vaccine in their ranks. The group decided that the person would be allowed to stay because expelling him for his different point of view was unethical in the community.
âWe have an anti-vaxxer in our community. We had to have a strong consensus.
So what exactly are they chewing on fat every night?
âWe are discussing China, Trump, whatever everybody is discussing,â Kouroupidis says.
But what about football and reality TV?
âI’m happy to discuss these things, but no one else wants to.
âThere is a lot of laughter. A community without laughing, there is something wrong.
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