in our lives
Bishop Alexander (Mileant).
Tranlsated by I. Zerebko/ V.Yakovlev-Olson
The inevitability of sorrows. Philosophy and religion regarding evil and suffering. Doctrines of the Holy Scripture regarding evil and suffering. The Holy Fathers' writings on how to deal with afflictions. Attainment of the supreme good. Conclusion. A prayer of a sorrower Psalm 142.
The inevitability of sorrows.
Daily, our life convinces us that sorrows are inevitable. Some suffer from need, some from the loss of loved ones, some from illness, some from slander and human malice, and some are tormented by their own passions, shortcomings or mistrust. Sometimes a person appears to be happy, but in reality, while experiencing torments of the soul, he is hiding his sorrows.
Is there any sense to our miseries, are there any unconscious aims in them, or is it all a result of the imperfection of the world and a chaotic collision of random factors? Or is it, perhaps, that torments are sent specially to mankind as punishment for sins as a form of "revenge" for disobedience? Is there a possibility to avoid sorrows or, at least, diminish their intensity — and if so, then how? Do the sorrows further a person’s spiritual growth, or do they simply cloud his existence and anger him? The answers to these questions are far from being evident, — and, as we shall see, various religions and schools of philosophy answer them in different ways.
In this brochure we want to take a look at the problems of evil and sorrows in the light of Christian understanding. Firstly, we shall examine how various religions and schools of philosophy explain evil and the measure of sorrows; then we shall exemplify teachings regarding this by the Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers; and, finally, we will show how a proper state of mind, warmed by faith in God, can fundamentally change our perspective of earthly sorrows and joys.
Philosophy and religion
regarding evil and suffering.
From time immemorial both religion and philosophy were occupied with the problem of evil. In the widest sense, the word "evil" denotes all that is contrary to good and is negatively received by mankind. From man’s point of view, evil should not exist: it brings discordance to the harmony of existence. However, there is no such area of life where the presence of evil is not felt in one form or another. Philosophy distinguishes three forms of evil: physical, moral, and metaphysical.
Physical evil — is everything that saddens man and violates his well-being, for instance: misfortunes, sufferings, illness, torments, fear of death, etc. Social disasters in human society should be included here, such as: poverty, uneven and unfair distribution of work and riches, as well as spiritual sufferings, anxieties, doubts, physical and mental disabilities that make a person feel inferior and cloud his existence.
Moral evil — is the apostasy of human will from the norms of moral law and actions, which are based on this apostasy. From a Christian point of view this is the only true evil. Finally, the metaphysical evil — is that imperfection which unavoidably emanates from the very nature of existence. Physical matters necessarily limit each other; blind forces of nature collide and combat each other, hence — storms, earthquakes, catastrophes, unpleasant climatic conditions and other disasters in nature from which mankind, animals and plants perish. Some see the imperfection of nature in the fact that some animals exist at the expense of destruction of others and that the strong overpower the weak.
By its nature, evil is always negative. It leads not toward growth, but to loss, deprivation and destruction of existing order. Some ancient thinkers searched for the source of evil within nature itself. However, contemporary scientists come to the conclusion that misfortunes and catastrophes in the physical world, in the final summation, lead to the perfection of nature. Thus, for instance: an explosion of a star, a catastrophe from the point of view of its existence, leads to the formation of heavy elements (iron, zinc, gold and others), which are necessary for the appearance of more complex and perfect forms of life — plants and animals. Similarly, sometimes after a catastrophic loss of a certain genus of plants and animals, in their stead there appear other more perfect and hardy forms. The fight for existence among animals is necessary for the preservation of a more healthy offspring. Thus, the metaphysical evil is not in itself evil when it is examined in context of those results to which it leads.
A more difficult issue is that of the inter-relationship between the moral and physical evil. Our inner sense tells us that physical evil (suffering, illness, death) probably emanates from a moral evil — from a cognizant violation of a higher moral order. All people are unanimous in that a virtuous person deserves some kind of a reward, whereas a depraved one — a corresponding punishment; such an opinion was already in existence long before the birth of Christ. A comparison between religious outlooks of ancient peoples shows that both the savage tribes, as well as the more civilized nations were usually the same in the evaluation of morally good and morally evil — at least in the most important and principal instances. All people, ancient, as well as contemporary, always differentiated a good person from the evil one, the virtue from the vice. All agreed among themselves that one must strive toward good and that evil must be suppressed, that virtue merits praise and that vice is reprehensible, that murder, adultery, theft, lies and etc. are bad; and that love, help given to others and a temperate life, are good. It is true, however, that in the past and now there are tribes which permit, and even sometimes encourage acts which are considered as sin from the Christian point of view. However, on closer scrutiny of the reasons, it becomes clear that such a justification of immoral acts emanates not from the difference of moral understanding of acts, but that they are dictated by external factors: living conditions, cultural level or political thinking. Innate law of morality is the same for all people.
Giving a moral evaluation of acts, all people agree that in principle every good act deserves a reward, whereas an evil one — a punishment. But here, specifically, arises the conflict between what all consider to be right and what is observed in life, namely: that virtuous people often suffer and receive neither help nor protection, while their offenders continue without censure to commit lawlessness and even prosper. During eons of time various religions and philosophical schools gave various explanations for the reasons for this contradiction.
Philosophic-religious pessimism teaches that the world is evil and that non-existence is preferable to existence. Following this teaching, evil is the pro-active principle of the Universe, whereas good is nothing more than an illusion and an ever fleeting goal. The foundation of Buddhism is based on this idea, which teaches that the cognizant life is evil, happiness is unattainable and there is no other possibility to avoid suffering, except through cessation of existence and dissolution into non-existence (nirvana). According to Buddhism, the source of man’s suffering is his thirst for existence. True happiness is achievable only in the state of sleep which is free of any images, wishes or any sort of activity.
The religious dualism of the ancient Persian religion ascribed evil to one of two opposites to which current mixture of good and evil now belong. Zoroaster taught of the existence of two eternally mutually warring origins, independent of each other: Ormazd (var.) — god of light and good, and Ahriman — god of evil. This mythological dualism transferred into the Manechaeanismic sect (founded by Mani 238 yr. AD). Mani, (Manes in Greek) taught that evil is in perpetuity with good, that it has a real essence and that it is a totally independent being. A precise representative of the world of good is the first man — the heavenly Adam; and world of evil — Satan. As a result of the battle between them there resulted a mixture of conflicting elements of good and evil. A visible world was created in order to liberate that which belonged to the realm of good from the developed chaos, into which the Divinity sends His messengers from time to time: Buddha, Zaroaster, Jesus and finally Mani. After the full apportionment of the light from the chaos, there will forever be a delineation of the boundaries of these two worlds.
Gnostic sects during the first centuries of Christianity held to the dualistic teachings and although they differed on some particular points, they all admitted that matter is evil. The world originated by way of emanation through the Demiurge — a certain type of go-between the unreachable God and the impure matter: all beings emanate from the essence of God which is determined by them as a completeness of existence (plethora); furthermore, each following gradation of efflux (emanation) is represented as less perfect than the previous one.
Religious-philosophical dualism also lies in the foundation of neoplatonism and theosophy. The founder of neoplatonism, Plotinus (205-270 AD), taught of the existence of gradations on the ladder of existence. God is superior to the world. He is without boundaries, is impersonal, incomprehensible and unattainable. Everything came from Him by means of emanation. The past is less perfect; it is a simple reflection of God and represents a series of diminishing steps ending in nonexistence, in darkness. The first result is reason, i.e. the highest being. The goal of a human’s life is to be free from corporal restraint and to return to the world of ideas; this requires a catharsis, a cleansing from the bondage of evil and a break-up of the union of the soul and the body. Sufferings do not enter into the plan of the highest being, they are merely the unintended results of the imperfection of nature. However, from an over-all point of view, sufferings may be of some benefit.
It is a feature of the studies mentioned above regarding the nature of evil and of the sense of human suffering, that they lack the understanding of God as a personal and kind being, Who through His own volition created the world and is constantly concerned about it.
We shall now briefly examine the thoughts of some philosophers on this subject. Socrates (469-399 BC) was interested in the problem of moral evil. He considered that moral evil came from ignorance. No one is willingly evil, only through ignorance. All may become good by refining the intellect. Virtue is one, and its essence is comprised of wisdom. Socrates taught that "Virtue is knowledge."
The school of Cyrenaics, a minor school of Greek philosophy (named after the town of Cyrenaica where it arose in 435 BC), identified evil with suffering and good with pleasure. According to this teaching, the only aim in life and the only value is pleasure (hedonism). Epicures (342-271 BC) taught that no pleasure should be rejected except that which induces suffering. No suffering should be accepted other than the one which leads to still greater pleasure. Later the hedonistic teaching arrived at pessimism, according to which human life is unnecessary and without purpose because pleasure — its only good — is often inaccessible. They considered it is better to die than to suffer.
Plato (428-347 BC) saw the reason for evil as disassociated from the perfection of matter and of all creation. The world apparent is imperfect, true existence belongs only to generalized conclusions (ideas). Ideas are not only subjective but also are of objective existence in a specific wonderful world of ideas. At the summit of all ideas, similar to the sun, is the idea of Good. Demiurge (Creator), gazing on the world of ideas, created an entire world of beings. The human soul is a bridging link between the two worlds. By its nature it is immortal. The goal of human life is to become Godlike, to become wise.
Plato saw the source of evil in the impossibility to totally embody an ideal beginning in inert matter.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) considered evil as a necessary aspect of the constantly changing matter, which does not possess in itself any real essence. The purpose of life is blissfulness, which is attained by means of useful activity. Every situation in life demands a corresponding reaction, which must naturally harmonize with the need. Too much or too little of something leads to a vice. For instance, use of money may go hand in hand with avarice or squandering. Both are bad.
Stoics taught that evil is necessary for the good of the whole: the imperfection of parts increases the perfection of the whole. In sojourn with the world, the Divine force harmonizes good and evil in this ever-changing world. Moral evil emanates from the evil will of mankind and not from Divine will. It is defeated by the Divine will and is directed toward a virtuous purpose. Stoics were ruled by an unshakable ideal of a sage, who was indifferent to the external, to the hardships of the world and proudly aware of his inner freedom.
Spinoza (1532-1677AD), identifying God with matter, stated that nature possesses neither good nor evil, and only the human thought contributes these definitions to this phenomenon. Because the world is God, therefore evil cannot exist, and because all phenomena are natural changes in the Divine essence.
Leibnitz (1644-1716) in the new philosophy, gave an even more detailed teaching regarding evil. To him is attributed the differentiation of the types of evil and the attempt to explain its essence. In a hymn by Cleanthes to Zeus, one can see a resemblance to the doctrine of Leibnitz regarding the natures of good and evil in the world. "Nothing on earth, nor in the sea, nor in the sky happens without You, except for evil, which mankind creates due to its stupidity. Thus, You combined all evil and good into one, so that there would exist one everlasting plan for all things."
Kant (1724-1804) pointed to the unequivocal character of moral law, and tried to establish ethics independent from the search for personal gain, feelings of pleasure and from religious motives. The morality of an act is totally dependent on the motive for the act. A feeling of duty is the only irreproachable and totally good motive. Ethics is a law of our own intellect, and must therefore be observed for its own sake. "Act in such a manner that the dictate of your will could become a principle of universal law." One can accept pleasure and happiness as a manner of reward for good, but in themselves they do not constitute good. No act committed through personal desire can be constituted as being moral. Duty expresses the rational of human nature, totally independent from wishes or tendencies. However, Kant was unable to explain how to evaluate human acts which are guided by entirely different feelings of duty. For instance, a patriot considers it his duty to go to war and defend his country, whereas a pacifist considers all war to be evil. How then can a universal, morally acceptable to all, law be introduced? To the followers of Kant’s philosophy, the highest asset became the protection of the existing social order; their ideal is a satisfied and serene life.
Hegel (1770-1831) developed the ethics of worshipping the conservative social order, i.e. the state. He considered it evil when man places his personal feeling of duty in opposition to the social order. The ideal morality is the merging of all separate consciousness into one objective law, into tradition.
Schopenhauer and Hartmann became representatives of the pessimistic teachings in the West, stating that due to the nature of its essence, the universe is evil and happiness is not possible within it. According to Schopenhauer (1788-1860 AD), the world is a product of heedless will. It is evil and should not exist. Non-existence is preferable to existence. Our world is the worst possible of all worlds. It cannot be worse, because if it were just a little worse, then it could not exist at all. Happiness is something negative; it consists of an absence of suffering, while unhappiness is something real. Suffering originated simultaneously with self-awareness, from which it is inseparable. Man’s activities emerge from unachieved aspirations. All of man’s life is comprised of either suffering or boredom. Salvation from such a predicament is reached through knowledge of the unity of all beings and through denial of one’s will.
Since the middle of the 19th century in England, as in Europe and the US, ethics was divided into many schools of most varied directions in which the highest absolute values were absent and which had no personal God as a source of all good. This is the source of the conditional character and shakiness of all of their ethical constructions. Thus the scientific non-religious ethics did not succeed. Morality without religion is a building without foundation.
For instance, Nietzsche (1844-1900) taught that evil is relative, moral evil is a temporary, transitory emanation, because man is "an animal which is not yet totally adapted to its environment." He attempted to create a basis for a new morality of super-man, flowing out from evolutionary development. Nietzsche openly praised crude power and cleverness for the sake of victory in the fight for survival. Christian virtues — humility, forgiveness of all and love — he called "servile virtues." A strong will and an aspiration toward mastery (and not intellect) are the keys to success in life. War has a cleansing and ennobling power. The future belongs to superman. Cruelty, courage and self-control will become new virtues for future mankind.
Spencer (1820-1903) held to the evolutionary theory of the origin and the development of moral feelings in the conditions in which the ancestors of contemporary people lived — from crude and cruel behavior to more refined and elegant.
The materialistic doctrine regarding evil and the meaning of suffering is poor of content and is unconvincing. Materialism teaches that nothing exists except matter. Therefore, all processes including psychological ones, can be brought down to the level of movement of atoms and to the chemical processes in man’s brain. >From here outflows the hypothesis of all man’s understanding regarding good and evil. In materialism, ethical understandings come down to the understanding of what is pleasant and useful at any given moment and under any given circumstance. Nature knows neither duty nor values. Morality is a product of social consciousness and each society develops its own morality. During one historical period there might emerge one type of morality, while in another — a different one. If everything is relative, then there is neither virtue nor vice; and there exists only gain or loss; suffering and death are senseless, fairness does not exist. Hence a conclusion: hurry to take everything from life that you can, because when you die, everything will end for you.
The common denominator for the majority of philosopher-moralists of 15th-20th centuries was the exclusion of God and religious concepts from ethics. Many of them were agnostics, pantheists, materialists and even sometimes were hostile toward religion.
To the afore said, one must add that it is difficult not only for the unbeliever to analyze the question of the inter-relationship between suffering and moral acts. Sometimes even the faithful burdened by sorrows cannot comprehend it: "Why does God allow wars, epidemics and all kinds of violence?…If He is infinitely good and infinitely merciful, then He could never dispassionately look at all the innumerable suffering of the innocent. If He is infinitely wise and omnipotent, then why does He not stop these sufferings? Why does He allow evil to triumph?" The Bible sheds light on these questions.
Doctrines of the Holy Scripture
regarding evil and suffering.
The Holy Scripture very clearly answers the series of principal questions relating to evil in the world and man’s suffering: evil and suffering are not from God. God, being infinitely good, created everything for the benefit and happiness of man. "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" we read at the end of the Biblical narrative regarding the creation of the world (Gen. 1:31). God created man, pure, good and provided him with high spiritual qualities, likening him with Himself. Man’s designation was to develop within himself good qualities, so that the more he attained closeness to God, the more he incorporated himself to the blissfulness of Divine life.
However, man did not stay at the height of his calling. As the book of Genesis narrates, the first man, through the suggestion of the serpent-tempter, tasted the forbidden fruit and thus broke the direct commandment of God. The sinfulness of this act consisted in the fact that man wanted to become like God, not through the development of good qualities within himself, which demands time and inner effort, but automatically, so to speak, through one bold leap. By this impudent act, Adam, through the instigation of the devil, resorted really to magic, the quintessence of which is to acquire supernatural capabilities, extraordinary knowledge or known services by various mechanical actions and incantations. It is characteristic that through magic one wishes to exploit mysterious forces of the nether world out of context of their moral confines and one’s own responsibility before God.
As can be seen from biblical narratives, the serpent was not a simple reptile but a being of intellect, crafty and cunning. He brazenly slandered the Creator and cleverly seduced the trusting man. Elsewhere, the Holy Scripture explains that this serpent (he is the "dragon") was the very Daystar — one of the angels close to God, at first being good and bright and then, through pride, rebelling against his Creator. Having fallen away from God, Daystar attracted to himself a part of the angels, forming with them a dark kingdom of evil, a place of torment and terror called hell. (The fallen Daystar is also known as Satan, which means slanderer, and his angel followers, the devils and the demons) The tragedy of the fall from God by the formerly good angels occurred before the appearance of the visible world. Thus, in accordance with the Bible, evil did not take root in inert matter but in the intellect and godlike spirit and from there it spread to the material world.
The fallaciousness of sin by the first man consisted not only in breaking of a specific commandment, but in the fact that man on principle turned away from the Heavenly Father, and went on the path which before was taken by his tempter. Man turned away from his Heavenly Father so as to serve himself personally, to do nothing that helps the good but what was pleasant to himself personally.
From here then, from the depraved direction of the will, begin all of man’s miseries and suffering. Diseases, sorrows and physical death — are results of moral evil. With a dimming of man’s soul, the balance between his spiritual and physical nature was disturbed: his moral instinct dulled, and his noble aspirations began to be stifled by capricious and disorderly carnal desires. Yet through man’s fall the infinite kindness of the Creator is discovered, Who took the consequences of sin, i.e. suffering, illnesses and death, and wisely offered them as a means for healing and salvation of man. The Holy Scripture devotes a great deal of attention to the revelation of this truth.
After the fall from God, there begins a long and thorny road for man to return to Him. Moral healing had to be accomplished actively with the participation of man's will and not passively. Sacred history shows us how God, by means of inner, as well as external means, leads man to Himself and helps him to take the path of goodness and mercifully forgives him his fall. Due to man’s spiritual callousness there arose a need to announce a moral law, which was etched in the depths of his spiritual nature, in the form of simple and understandable commandments, so that man would have not only the internal, but also the external guidance. Thus, during the long period of the Old Testament, God disclosed His will to the people through His chosen ones — the patriarchs and the prophets. Gradually a collection of spiritual books, known as the Holy Scripture, was formed. The time of the Old Testament was a period of man’s induction into the fundamentals of God’s Law, the inculcation of lost feelings of reverence before the Creator, and the realization of the need to obey Him. This was a period of preparation leading to the acceptance of Gospel teachings and toward the renewal of the hearts with the beneficence of the Holy Spirit.
People with sensitive souls through their own experience sooner or later become convinced in the fact that all happiness and solace comes from God and that all afflictions come from their own trespasses and from the depravity of others. The comprehension of this important truth was truly a great accomplishment of the Old Testament period. Thus, King David in his inspired psalms shares the experience which he acquired over many years: "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all……You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures for everyone…" (Psalms 33:18-19 and 15:11, LXX).
The Old Testament Scripture taught about God’s absolute justice, in accordance with which, a person doing good deserves rewards, while one who acts badly deserves punishment. Besides, the Scripture taught that the sinner himself, and not others, must bear the punishment. However, in practice, to the great consternation of those sincerely wanting to live justly, was the fact that far from always was the principle of fairness justified. At that time the terms and means of Divine justice were not as yet clearly defined, because man’s fate beyond the grave was made contingent on the coming of the promised Messiah. In reading religious history, we see that even the righteous people could not always reconcile themselves with the most atrocious injustices of life. They could not understand why God in all His perfection, sometimes does not intercede for the innocent and permits the lawlessness to triumph. For instance, the righteous Job, upon whom were sent all kinds of unexpected hardships, specifically that within a time of a few days he lost all of his possessions, his family and even health, he humbly submitted to the will of God, but could not understand why God allowed for such a misfortune to befall him.
The Prophet Jeremiah, often being subjected to the persecutions for preaching the word God, in perplexity questioned the Lord,
"Righteous are You O Lord, when I plead with You; yet, let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? You have planted them, yes they have taken root."
And later, as if complaining about his lot,
"Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent for interest nor have men lent to me for interest. Everyone of them curses me….I am in derision daily. Everyone mocks me. For when I spoke I cried out; I shouted violence and plunder! Because the word of the Lord was made to me a reproach and a derision daily. Then I said I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name. But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones... I was weary of holding it back, and I could not" (Jer. 12:1-4, 15:10-11 and 20:7-9).
In this way, the Old Testament scripture did not give a comprehensive answer to the incomprehension as to why justice is so often breached. Nevertheless, even then, some were able to enter somewhat deeper into the mystery of sorrow (affliction) and see that aside from merit or non-merit, the afflictions have their own bright, positive aspect. "Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better," noted the wise King Solomon at the sunset of his life (Ecc. 7:3).
The central theme of the New Testament is the teaching of the redemption of mankind by the voluntary sufferings of the incarnate Son of God. In the New Testament the sufferings are not simply a retaliation for a trespass, they have an active redemptive power. "Suffering is the fountain of renewal and salvation." God does not hide beyond the boundaries of vast space and He is not indifferent to mankind’s misfortunes, as once thought the pagan wise men. On the contrary, He "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Because of His great pity for mankind, the Son of God descends from His heavenly glory to our afflicted world, takes upon Himself the burden of mankind’s sins and washes them away with His most pure Blood on the cross. His wounds are a panacea for our diseases. His death is the beginning of a new blessed life. On the cross through the suffering of the God-man there occurred a great mystery of renewal of mankind’s nature which had been damaged by sin.
St. Gregory the Theologian contrasts the sacrifice of the Savior on the cross to the tasting of the forbidden fruit in Eden. "Herein is wood for wood, and hands — for a hand; hands valiantly extended (on the cross) for a hand that was intemperate, nailed hands — for a hand that was self-willed…herein is ascension onto the cross for the fall, gall for the tasting (of forbidden fruit), a crown of thorns for the unjust government, death for death."
By His redeeming death and victorious Resurrection the Lord cast down the ancient serpent-tempter and gave to the faithful "…authority to trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy…" (Luke 10:19). For a redeemed man there opens up a path to the Heavenly Kingdom and to eternal joy. To man, who is weak and used to sinning, the path to Heaven at times seems narrow and difficult; however, The Lord Jesus Christ inspirits all who wish to set on the redeeming path, saying: "Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Mat. 11:28-30).
The sufferings and hardships of mankind in this temporary life are not done away by the coming of Christ; however they have lost their acuteness and darkness. The heart of the matter is that evil has enmeshed itself so much with our nature, it has so ingrown into our hearts, that the process of liberation from it is always combined with pain. However, the heavenly ray of the Comforter Spirit dissipates the darkness in the soul of the sufferer and warms him with the feeling of God’s love. It is wonderful that during man’s way toward the Heavenly Kingdom, the Holy Spirit by His presence also gives an opportunity to the faithful to foretaste the joy prepared for him in everlasting life. The righteous, who are granted such joy, testify that in comparison with it, all earthly blessings and pleasures become insignificant. Therefore the Apostles taught that the faithful should not grieve, "…lest you sorrow as others who have no hope," but must rejoice and thank God (1Thes. 4:13).
"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind," — so writes Apostle Peter, — "for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin" (1 Peter 4:1-2). And a little later, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13). Just as the flame cleans precious metals from alloys, it is necessary that "…you have been grieved by various trials…the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold… though it is tested by fire… may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-8).
The Christian faith expands the believing man’s horizon and gives him an opportunity to see the temporary against the background of eternity. Sufferings of the innocent are not in vain: they are a means toward receiving great rewards in Heaven. Thus, according to a Gospel’s parable, it seemed to many that life had cruelly hurt the pauper Lazarus. At the time that he was starving and helplessly suffering from ulcers while lying by the gates of the rich man, the latter feasted and amused himself daily. Neither the rich man, nor his friends, had ever expressed the least compassion toward Lazarus. When Lazarus died no one attended his funeral. From a worldly point of view, his lot in life was totally unfair. However in lifting the curtain behind which begins the other world, the Gospel allows us to see that with the physical death, it was the suffering and not life that ended for Lazarus. Now, for his patience and benevolence he was worthy of a great reward. Thus, having crossed the threshold from the temporary life, a person enters into a world where absolute justice reigns. Therefore, during the difficult moments of life we must remind ourselves that, "...the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
The autobiographical notations of Apostle Paul in which he tells of the trials which befell him during his apostolic activity and his gradual comprehension of their advantage, are of great value for a more complete understanding of the subject presented here.
"I was in immeasurable difficulties, with sores, in jail and often close to death. >From the Jews, five times I received forty strikes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in peril of robbers, in perils from my own countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, often in sleeplessness, in hunger and thirst, often in fasting, in cold and nakedness…" (2 Cor. 11:23-29).
Through all this, one cannot see in Apostle Paul a shadow of anger or murmur, that he, who had dedicated his life to God, had been given, in a way, to the insults and derision of the enemies. On the contrary, this is how the Apostle of the tongues learned to receive all that happened to him:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ… as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 1:3-6, 6:9).
Besides external afflictions and obstacles which were connected to the sermons, Apostle Paul was oppressed by some other physical infirmity, some unexplainable internal complaint which at times drove him to total enfeeblement and to which he referred as "the thorn of the angel of Satan" in his flesh. Three times the Apostle pleaded with God to deliver him from this infirmity, which hindered him to perform his Apostle’s ministry. But the Lord instead of healing appeared to him Himself and said: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Having understood that the infirmity was sent to him for spiritual benefit, that is in order to teach him not to rely on his own strength but on God’s help, the Apostle Paul came to this decision, "I will rather boast in my infirmities , that the power of Christ may rest upon me …Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecution, in distresses, for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-11).
Here is the new and truly valuable revelation regarding the value of afflictions! If accepted with humility and hope in God, they attract to the sufferer God’s power, which exceeds his natural powers and makes the person an instrument of God’s Providence for the salvation a of multitude of people and even whole nations.
Thus, the New Testament opens before us the redeeming aspect of suffering. The voluntary sufferings of the Son of God brought salvation to the world. Sin, the prime reason of all evil, is abolished, whereas both small and temporary afflictions remain as medicine, as a means for spiritual perfection. As was disclosed to Apostle John the Theologian, writer of the Revelations, the Kingdom of Heaven is filled with people of all generations, tongues, nationalities and tribes, with people from different cultures, degrees of education and social standing. Their common trait is that they all came here from "a great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14), that is to say that all people saved had their own life's cross to bear. At the lead of this innumerable assembly the Apostle sees, in the middle of the heavenly altar, the Lamb of God — Jesus Christ.
Every person would have liked to enter into paradise, but not everyone comprehends, nor wants to reconcile himself to the fact that even he must, without murmur, carry his share of afflictions, in order not to find himself as a stranger among the others who arrived here namely through suffering. We know that "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), while the same time we must with all our strength, overcome in ourselves all gloomy frame of mind. A Christian must always be joyful and thank God, because afflictions are a temporary state. One should direct his spiritual sight towards the Lord, from Whom emanates all solace and happiness, as well as the next life which will bode no deceit, no lies, no illness, no death, nor any of that which darkens our earthly existence, but which will be eternal bliss. Reminding the Christians of this, the Apostles taught: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4). Christianity is, first of all, faith in the victory of good. It brought light to mankind, love and true joy in communion with the Heavenly Father.
The Holy Fathers' writings
on how to deal with afflictions.
The teaching herein about the afflictions would be incomplete without the Holy Fathers' directives on this subject. The experiences of the saints is a never-ending treasury of wisdom for everyone who tries to properly deal with the inevitable afflictions in order not to be crushed by them. Below we will cite selected thoughts of ancient, as well as comparatively contemporary Christian ascetics.
The Venerable Anthony the Great (4th cent. Egypt): The more moderately a man lives his life, the calmer he becomes, because he is not concerned about much, about servants and acquisition of goods. However, if we become attached to the present [earthly goods], then we subject ourselves to afflictions because of it and we arrive at grumbling against God. Thus, the desire for much fills us with perturbation and we wander about in the darkness of sinful life.
The Venerable Ephraem of Syria (Mesopotamia, 4th cent.): Can you not endure insults? Keep quiet and you will be calmed. Do not think that you are suffering more than others. Just as one living on earth cannot escape the air, so it is impossible for a person living in this world not to be tempted by afflictions and disease. Those occupied with the earthly from the earthly — experience afflictions, whereas those aspiring towards spirituality about the spiritual suffer with the soul. However, the latter will be blessed because their fruit has been plentiful concerning God.
If sadness has come, then we shall also await the approach of joy also. For example, take sailors at sea. When a storm comes along, they fight the waves waiting for calm weather; and when they are becalmed, they get ready for the storm. They are constantly vigilant so that an unexpectedly rising wind would not catch them unawares and overturn the vessel. We should act in the same way: when afflictions or difficult circumstances occur, we shall await relief and help from God, so that we would not be depressed with the thought that there is no hope of salvation for us.
Everything comes from God — both blessings and afflictions. However, one is through benevolence, the other — through good-husbandry and oversight. Through benevolence — when we live virtuously, because it is pleasing for God that those who are living virtuously should adorn themselves with wreaths of patience; through good-husbandry — while sinning we are taught; by oversight — even when taught, we do not change. God contemplatively punishes us, sinners, so that we would not be condemned with the world as the Apostle says, "…we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).
The Venerable Mark the Ascetic (5th cent. Egypt): Whoever ostensibly sins and does not repent, nor is subjected to any sorrows until his end, then know you, that his judgment shall be merciless…He, who wishes to be delivered from future sorrows must willingly bear the present ones. For in this way, mentally modifying one for the other, he, through the small afflictions will avoid great torments.
When, following insults your innards and heart are irritated, do not grieve that mentally the evil which was hiding within you has awakened. But gladly suppress these thoughts knowing that as they are destroyed upon their manifestations, so is the evil, which lays submerged beneath them and which brought them forth into action. Should the thoughts be allowed to harden and to come forth often, so the evil usually becomes stronger.
The Venerable Isaac of Syria (6th cent. Syria): Such is the will of the Spirit, that His beloved ones should sojourn in work. The Spirit of God does not dwell in those who live in tranquility. Thus the sons of God distinguish themselves from others in that they live with afflictions, while the world prides itself with luxuries and tranquility. God did not condescend that his beloved ones should live peacefully while in their flesh, but He wants that they should sojourn in sorrow, oppression, in labors, poverty, nakedness, need, abasement, insults in burdened body and sad thoughts. This fulfills what was said of them: "In the world you will have tribulations" (John 16:33). The Lord knows that those who live in peace are unable to love Him, and, therefore, denies the righteous ones the temporary tranquility and delights.
Every corporal comfort is followed by suffering and after all kinds of suffering for the sake of God there follows relief. A soul which loves God, gleans for itself solace in God and in Him Alone. Joy in God is stronger than life herein, and he who has found it will not only disregard suffering, but will not even bother to glance at his life, and will have no other feeling if truly there was this joy.
A small affliction for the sake of God is better than a great feat accomplished without afflictions. All that is done without labor is "righteous" for secular people. But you, apply yourself in secret and emulate Christ, so that you should be worthy to savor the glory of Christ. The mind will not be glorified with Christ if the flesh will not suffer with Him.
Afflictions borne for Him and for His sake are more precious to God than any sacrifice and prayers.
God is close to the crying heart of the one who calls out to Him in sorrow. Even if He sometimes lays before one corporal deprivations and other tribulations, in the soul of the sufferer, the Lord shows a great love of mankind in proportion to the severity of his suffering and sorrows.
Monk Barsonuphius (6th cent. Palestine) Do you wish to rid yourself of sorrows and not be burdened by them? Expect greater ones and you shall be pacified.
Abbot Dorotheo (7th cent. Palestine): The soul, to the degree of the committed sin, becomes enfeebled from it, because sin weakens and enfeebles the one who succumbs to it. That is why a person becomes burdened by all that is happening to him. If a person succeeds in goodness, then at the rate of his success, whatever before seemed difficult, now seems much lighter.
There are people who are so enfeebled by illness and adversities of this life, that they prefer to die, just to rid themselves of afflictions. This happens to them from faint-heartedness and great folly, for they do not think of that great need which befalls people when their soul leaves their body. Here is what is written in the book "Paterikon" (sayings of the Holy Fathers). One ardent novice asked his elder, "Why do I wish to die?" The monk replied, "Because you are avoiding afflictions and do not know that the forthcoming affliction is much worse than the one here." Another novice asked the elder, "Why is it that when I find myself in my cell I fall into carelessness and despondency?" The Monk answered him, "It is because you have not as yet learned neither the anticipated tranquility, nor future torments, for if you had truly understood this, then, even if your cell were to be full of worms so that you would be standing in them up to your neck, you would bear it, without becoming in the least enfeebled." But we, while living, wish to save ourselves and, therefore, become weak from afflictions at a time when we should have been thanking God and counting ourselves blest that we may sorrow a little here so that we can obtain peace there.
Believe that the dishonor and the reproaches from people are medicine which heals your pride and pray for those who reproach you as the true healers of your soul. Be assured that he who hates dishonor also hates humility, and he who avoids those who sadden him, turns away from meekness.
Abbot Zosima (4th cent. Egypt?): If one does away with temptations and struggles with thoughts, there would not even be one saint left. One who runs away from a saving temptation, runs away from eternal life. Who but their tormentors provided the Holy Martyrs with their crowns? Who bestowed on the first martyr Stephen such a great glory, if not they who stoned him?
The Venerable Seraphim of Sarov (18th cent. Russia): He who has conquered passion has conquered sorrow. But one who is conquered by passions will not escape the fetters of sorrow. Just as a sick person can be detected by the pallor of his face, so ones afflicted with passions are distinguished by their sorrow.
Flesh is a slave of the soul, and the soul is the queen. That is why it often happens that through God’s mercy our body is fatigued by illness. Because of these illnesses the passions weaken and the person recovers… He who bears an illness patiently and with gratitude, then to him it is considered as a feat, or even more than that.
One must not take on feats too high, but to try, so that our friend, our flesh, should be loyal and capable of doing good. One must walk the middle path, not deviating neither to the right, nor to the left: the spirit should be given the spiritual, and the flesh — the corporal as necessary for the maintenance of temporary life.
To the students eager to take upon themselves excessive feats, the Venerable Seraphim said that a humble and meek bearing of offenses are our fetters and hair-shirt.
One must be tolerant to one’s soul for its weakness and imperfections and bear one’s shortcomings just as we bear the shortcomings of those who are close to us.
Gaiety is not a sin. It drives away fatigue, and the fatigue, after all, creates depression, and there is nothing worse than that. Oh, if you could only knew, he once said to a monk, what happiness, what sweetness awaits the soul of the righteous one in Heaven, then you would decide in your temporary life to bear with gratitude all types of sorrows, persecutions and slander. If this cell of ours were full of worms and if these worms were to eat our flesh throughout all of our earthly life, then with all our will we should agree to it, just so we would not be deprived of that heavenly happiness prepared by God for those who love Him.
The Monk Nikon of Optina [Belyayev] (+1927, Russia) If you want to rid yourself of sorrow, then don’t let your heart become attached to anything or anyone.
God helps us in our sorrows and temptations. He does not deliver us from them, but gives strength to endure them easily and not even notice them.
The Monk Silouan (+1938, Mt. Athos) God loves everyone, but permits sorrows so that mankind would know its weakness and be resigned to it, and through their humility accept the Holy Spirit, because with the Holy Spirit, — all is good and all is joyful.
You say, "I have much grief." But I will tell you, "Resign yourself and you will see that your troubles will turn into peace, so that you yourself will be surprised and will say, 'Why was I so tormented and sorrowful before?' But now you rejoice because you resigned yourself and God’s grace came; now, even if you were alone in poverty, joy would not leave you because your soul is at peace, of which the Lord said, "My peace I give to you" (John 14:27). Thus, to every humble soul God gives peace.
The soul of a meek one is like the sea. Throw a rock into the sea and it will lightly stir the surface, and then sinks into its depths. In the same way the sorrows sink in the heart of the humble one, because the power of the Lord is with him.
The Abbot Nikon [Vorobyov] (+1963, Russia): The peace (sent by God) makes a person insensitive to earthly sorrows and sufferings; it suppresses all interest to this world; brings on grief, brings forth in the heart love towards all, which blankets all shortcomings of those close to us and does not notice them; and forces one to pity others more than oneself.
of the supreme good.
According to the Holy Scripture and the experiences of the Holy Fathers, the only true evil is the violation of moral norms. From this, other forms of evil take root. The moral evil originates inside a morally-lax being and if it is not voluntarily cut short by him, then it ripens more and becomes stronger in man, gradually merging with his will and manifesting itself to a greater degree in destructive and loathsome actions.
However, how is the moral evil engendered? What spiritual processes lead up to it? A quest for the answer to these questions necessitates a deeper analysis as to what is actually a virtue. There are many spiritual and physical values which are desirable and toward which one should aspire. The higher a person lifts up his gaze in order to examine which are the more valuable among them, the clearer it becomes to him that above all there shines the sun of one absolute unconditional and highest Good — the Lord God! And it is from Him that all other virtues originate.
This truth will become even more evident if we transport ourselves mentally to that remote past when as yet nothing existed: neither the spiritual (angelic), nor our visible world. There was a time, if one can express oneself in this manner, when there did not exist even the most fundamental forms of being, such as time and space without which it is impossible to even imagine the material world. Even emptiness (vacuum) did not exist, because it presumes space. (Vacuum, according to contemporary physics is a complicated, sponge like vibrating state of space in which virtual particles constantly appear and disappear). There existed only the one omnipotent, all good, perfect, personal and wise Being, Whom we call God.
One can, of course, abstractly imagine by inductive thinking an infinitely long time and an infinitely great space which is partially filled with worlds similar to ours. However, strictly speaking, infinite space and infinite time are nonexistent mental constructions necessary for the solving of some problems in mathematics and physics. In reality, however, both time and space are creations of God: commensurable, limited and in comparison to God insignificant units. He alone is infinite and eternal, being above the concepts of time and space.
Being the prime reason for everything, God, in His goodness first created the spiritual world, populating it with incorporeal rational beings whom we call angels. After that, He created our visible world, with its majesty, beauty and variety of living forms. Finally, as some crown of the visible world, He created man, endowing him with some of His own divine qualities: with a free will and an inclination toward moral perfection. Because everything received its existence from the good Creator, then all bears upon itself the seal of goodness to a greater or lesser degree. It is necessary to comprehend that the limitation and imperfection of all creation is not evil (as was thought by some philosophers), because through the wise organization by the Creator, in nature, everything, even the smallest particle, every microscopic being serves for the good of the whole and complements one another. Thus, everything spiritual in union with the physical forms one great and harmonious Kingdom of Goodness.
At a time when soulless nature is subordinate to the laws of need, and the animals to the instinct which was imbedded in them, the angels and people have the freedom of choice between actions, which have a moral nature, in other words, actions which can be right or wrong, good or evil. A feeling of morality through the voice of our conscience prompts us as to which is the better one of the actions, and which is the worse from the moral point of view; which good is higher and which one is lower. These two characteristics — free will and moral sense — elevate the angels and people above the soulless nature and above the animal world, opening a path to perfection and to the greater emulation of the Creator.
If each thing in nature, even the most inconsequential one, has its own purpose, then the designation of rational and moral beings, angels and people consists in the foundation and strengthening of the Kingdom of Goodness in this great work of God. Nature participates in the general good in a passive way, whereas the morally free beings do so in an active way. This is a great honor, but at the same time is a responsibility.
In the prayer "Our Father" The Lord Jesus Christ teaches all to aspire toward a greater good The words of the prayer: "Hallowed be Thy Name" express our wish that the Lord’s name be glorified in each and every place. This is achieved not so much through oral extolment of God, but by the strengthening and expanding of His Kingdom of Goodness to which He deigned us to belong. The next petition in the prayer specifically expresses this more clearly, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
Just as the planets and asteroids circling the sun add nothing to its brightness, so we can give nothing to God which He does not already possess. He just wants us to become more perfect and to promote the blessings to others. In doing good and spreading it around us, we become collaborators with God and active participants in the construction of Good. The glory of God should be that focal point to which our spiritual sight is to be directed, because in trying to direct everything toward God’s glory we shall never stumble. Just as the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming to earth was to glorify the name of God the Father (John 7:18, 17:1), so is the way His followers, the Christians, should learn to direct all their thoughts, wishes and actions toward the glory of God. As the Apostle Paul instructs, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the Glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
Having thus established that God is the highest and the most absolute Good, and that only from Him pour streams of light and life, we can now place into proper perspective various values of life. Each person strives toward and wishes for something. Some treasure above all family life, some — careers, some — riches, some — various pleasures. They give all their time and effort to these real or imaginary blessings, toiling, rushing, dashing somewhere as though stupefied. If they lose something or bear unfairness, then they become distressed and quarrel with others and sometimes even commit crimes. They do not understand that the prestigious objects and worldly advantages, which create so much anxiety for them and for which they expend so much energy, are in fact insignificant in comparison with spiritual blessings which they do not notice and needlessly lose. The realization that namely God, and He alone is the highest and absolute Goodness and the source of all blessings, helps man to rid himself from the haze of life and to see everything that is going on in the proper light. Health is good, and wealth is not forbidden. Success in business, a happy family, innocent delights and other blessings in life are sent to us so that we would thank God, learn to emulate God in His goodness, and learn to love those who are close to us. If God does not send us something, or even takes it away, then it is for the best: He can best see what we need. The most important thing for everyone, however, is to know God and to become closer to Him spiritually; secondly, to assist as much as possible in the strengthening and spreading of the Kingdom of Good. By taking away various temporary blessings, God teaches us to take them in stride as being small and insignificant. One must not forget to thank God when He sends us His mercies and not to grumble when He takes away something. For, if according to the word of the Savior, even the hairs on our heads are counted by God, then the more important events in our lives are directed by His merciful right hand. When we shall learn to see things in this way, then we shall rid ourselves from many unnecessary disappointments and every circumstance will contribute to our well-being and the well-being of the people with whom we come into contact.
On the opposite side of values the area of moral evil is found, which begins with man’s preference of smaller blessings to larger ones. When a person compares his own welfare to that of his neighbor's, or strives for fame at God’s expense, he then sets out on a dangerous path. Of course isolated mistakes are unavoidable, and we learn from them. However, when such activity becomes the norm in life, and when man pre-eminently places smaller blessings in comparison to larger ones, he then sets out on the path of evil. As there is no end to spiritual perfection, so there is no end to moral descent. The more a morally lax being distances himself from the greatest Blessing, the more impoverished he becomes, because he squanders the inner riches bestowed by the Creator. Evil begins from a cognizant choice, but the further man, or a spiritual being, goes in the direction of evil, the more fettered he becomes. Evil enslaves anyone who serves it — such is its nature.
Although the absolute evil, just as the absolute zero of temperature, is unattainable; however, if constantly repeated, the immoral acts abase man (just as the once fallen angels) to their own sort of "black hole," (an astronomical object so massive, that nothing, not even light can escape from its field of gravity). Here originates its own type of "materialization" of evil. This "mystery of lawlessness" consists of the fact that the demons and hardened sinners reach such a level of perversion that they begin to gain pleasure from doing evil or inflicting pain on others. Concurrently, the extensive alienation from God slowly turns into a burning hatred of Him and His Kingdom of Good.
Thus, what seemed to have started as an innocent wish for personal pleasure or the desire for fame, if not stopped in time, degenerates into a cognizant preference for evil and leads to the loss of all good traits ingrained by God. The more man (or a fallen angel) sins, the more he becomes dull-witted, impulsive, disorderly, unbridled and more indomitable in his hatred. Anger, like the flames of hell, engulfs him more and more. In the book Brothers Karamazov, the Monk Zosima says, "[The devils] are insatiable for ages unto ages; they reject forgiveness and they curse God Who calls them. They cannot contemplate the living God without hatred and demand that there be no God of life and that He should exterminate Himself and everything that He created. And they will burn in the fire of their wrath forever, thirsting for death and non-existence. But they will not receive death."
Therefore, sufferings are inevitable in this temporary life. On the one hand, they are the consequences of our personal sinfulness, the moral corruption of others and the general imperfection of this temporary world. On the other hand, in the hands of God’s most wise providence the afflictions become the tool for teaching and correction. The two robbers crucified with Christ personify two categories of people. All people are sinners and all suffer to a greater or lesser degree. But some people, similar to the grumbling robber who was crucified on the left side of Christ, become more wrathful the more they suffer, and the afflictions do not bring them benefit. Others, however, similar to the sensible robber, realize that they deserve punishment and they meekly ask God for forgiveness and help. With such an attitude their worldly afflictions are considered as suffering for the sake of the Lord and their personal cross is transformed into Christ’s Cross. This serves for their spiritual renewal and salvation.
Such is the spiritual law, that not only accepting suffering patiently, but also all spiritual effort in general, all voluntary deprivation, each refusal, sacrifice — are transformed into riches within us. Paradoxically, but truly so: the more we lose externally, the more we gain internally. That is why "it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" — because within them this substitution for heavenly, incorruptible blessings does not happen. Valorous souls instinctively seek feats and become strengthened in denials. Even the ancient philosophers noted this.
One must learn how to use joys. Just like riches and fame, they weaken, make a person self-reliant, frivolous and arrogant. Besides, sorrows and joys are purely subjective conditions. The righteous person suffers when he sees the perdition of sinners while the sinners themselves rejoice, having pleasure. An atheist sorrows seeing the success of faith and while righteous one rejoices in that. Blessed are we if we suffer for the same reasons that our Lord Jesus Christ, His Apostles and the saints suffered, because we shall also become participants in their joy.
There are sufferings which may be called empty and excessive, which arise from lack of faith and from a wrong mind set. Sometimes a person invents fears and emotional tumults for himself and walks around upset even during the most favorable of circumstances.
It is necessary to put everything in life in its proper place, to learn to discern with exactness the main from the minor, the main from the less valuable. For this it is necessary to understand and feel that God is the Supreme Good and the source of every blessing.
There also exists a great joy. That is the joy in the Lord, the Apostles and the saints. This is not a secular joy. Secular joy begins with pleasure and ends with affliction, whereas the joy of the saints began with sorrow and ended with pleasure. The Apostles and the martyrs were whipped and rejoiced in the Lord; were incarcerated and were thankful, were stoned and preached. He who rejoices about secular things, cannot rejoice in God.
Earthly happiness: love, family, youth, health, enjoyment of life and nature — also "is good," and one must not think that God condemns people for this. It is only bad to become enslaved by one’s pleasures, forgoing the highest spiritual blessings. Sufferings, from the point of view of inner development, are not valuable in themselves, but only by their results. In losing earthly happiness, a person comes face to face with higher values, and begins to look differently at himself and his temporary life and turns to God. It follows from this that the earthly happiness, always connected with a perpetual remembrance of God, which does not exclude an intense spiritual life, is the implicit good. Similarly, the sufferings, if they anger or abase a person, not transforming him and not providing a beneficial reaction, are pure evil.
It would be to our benefit if we were to rid ourselves internally in time from the wide ways of this world, before the joys of life, the riches, fame might fill our hearts and divert us from the main point. Otherwise, the Lord in His wrath will shatter our idols: the riches, the comforts, the careers, the health, the thirst for earthly happiness, so that we would finally understand that they are all nothing!
A prayer of a sorrower
Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications to Your truth! In Your faithfulness answer me, and in Your righteousness do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in darkness, like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land.
Answer me speedily, O Lord; my spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me; lest I be like those who go down into the pit… Show me Your mercy from morning, for I place my faith in You. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You. Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; in You I take shelter. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your spirit is good, lead me to the land of uprightness.
Revive me, O Lord, for Your name’s sake! For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. In Your mercy cut off my enemies, and destroy all those who afflict my soul; For I am Your servant!
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Missionary Leaflet # E51
Copyright © 2002 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Edited by Donald Shufran
Edited by V. Turton 4-12-0002