Friday, July 18, 2008
What then comes of this seed? Three parts perish, and one is saved.
"And when He sowed, some seeds fell," He saith, "by the way side; and the fowls came and devoured them up." He said not, that He cast them, but that "they fell."
"And some upon the rock, where they had not much earth; and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth; and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up, and choked them. But others fell on the good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear let him hear."
A fourth part is saved; and not this all alike, but even here great is the difference.
Now these things He said, manifesting that He discoursed to all without grudging. For as the sower makes no distinction in the land submitted to him, but simply and indifferently casts his seed; so He Himself too makes no distinction of rich and poor, of wise and unwise, of slothful or diligent, of brave or cowardly; but He discourses unto all, fulfilling His part, although foreknowing the results; that it may be in His power to say, "What ought I to have done, that I have not done?" And the prophets speak of the people as of a vine; "For my beloved," it is said, "had a vineyard;" and, "He brought a vine out of Egypt;" but He, as of seed. What could this be to show? That obedience now will be quick and easier, and will presently yield its fruit.
But when thou hearest, "The sower went forth to sow," think it not a needless repetition. For the sower frequently goes forth for some other act also, either to plough, or to cut out the evil herbs, or to pluck up thorns, or to attend to some such matter; but He went forth to sow.
Whence then, tell me, was the greater part of the seed lost? Not through the sower, but through the ground that received it; that is, the soul that did not hearken.
And wherefore doth He not say, Some the careless received, and lost it; some the rich, and choked it, and some the superficial, and betrayed it? It is not His will to rebuke them severely, lest He should cast them into despair, but He leaves the reproof to the conscience of His hearers.
And this was not the case with the seed only, but also with the net; for that too produced many that were unprofitable.
But this parable He speaks, as anointing His disciples, and to teach them, that even though the lost be more than such as receive the word yet they are not to despond. For this was the ease even with their Lord, and He who fully foreknew that these things should be, did not desist from sowing.
And how can it be reasonable, saith one, to sow among the thorns, on the rock, on the wayside? With regard to the seeds and the earth it cannot be reasonable; but in the case of men's souls and their instructions, it hath its praise, and that abundantly. For the husbandman indeed would reasonably be blamed for doing this; it being impossible for the rock to become earth, or the wayside not to be a wayside, or the thorns, thorns; but in the things that have reason it is not so. There is such a thing as the rock changing, and becoming rich land; and the wayside being no longer trampled on, nor lying open to all that pass by, but that it may be a fertile field; and the thorns may be destroyed, and the seed enjoy full security. For had it been impossible, this Sower would not have sown. And if the change did not take place in all, this is no fault of the Sower, but of them who are unwilling to be changed: He having done His part: and if they betrayed what they received of Him, He is blameless, the exhibitor of such love to man.
But do thou mark this, I pray thee; that the way of destruction is not one only, but there are differing ones, and wide apart from one another. For they that are like the wayside are the coarse-minded, and indifferent, and careless; but those on the rock such as fail from weakness only.
For "that which is sown upon the stony places," saith He, "the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it. Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; but when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended! When any one," so He saith, "heareth the word of truth and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth that which was sown out of his heart. This is he that is sown by the wayside."
Now it is not the same thing for the doctrine to wither away, when no man is evil entreating, or disturbing its foundations, as when temptations press upon one. But they that are likened to the thorns, are much more inexcusable than these.
In order then that none of these things may befall us, let us by zeal and continual remembrance cover up the things that are told us. For though the devil do catch them away, yet it rests with us, whether they be caught away; though the plants wither, yet it is not from the heat this takes place (for He did not say, because of the heat it withered, but, "because it had no root"); although His sayings are choked, it is not because of the thorns, but of them who suffer them to spring up. For there is a way, if thou wilt, to check this evil growth, and to make the right use of our wealth. Therefore He said not, "the world," but "the care of the world;" nor "riches," but "the deceitfulness of riches."
Let us not then blame the things, but the corrupt mind. For it is possible to be rich and not to be deceived; and to be in this world, and not to be choked with its cares. For indeed riches have two contrary disadvantages; one, care, wearing us out, and bringing a darkness over us; the other, luxury, making us effeminate.
And well hath He said, "The deceitfulness of riches." For all that pertains to riches is deceit; they are names only, not attached to things. For so pleasure and glory, and splendid array, and all these things, are a sort of vain show, not a reality.
Having therefore spoken of the ways of destruction, afterwards He mentions the good ground, not suffering them to despair, but giving a hope of repentance, and indicating that it is possible to change from the things before mentioned into this.
And yet if both the land be good, and the Sower one, and the seed the same, wherefore did one bear a hundred, one sixty, one thirty? Here again the difference is from the nature of the ground, for even where the ground is good, great even therein is the difference. Seest thou, that not the husbandman is to be blamed, nor the seed, but the land that receives it? not for its nature, but for its disposition. And herein too, great is His mercy to man, that He doth not require one measure of virtue, but while He receives the first, and casts not out the second, He gives also a place to the third.
And these things He saith, least they that followed Him should suppose that hearing is sufficient for salvation. And wherefore, one may say, did He not put the other vices also, such as lust, vainglory? In speaking of "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," He set down all. Yea, both vainglory and all the rest belong to this world, and to the deceitfulness of riches; such as pleasure, and gluttony, and envy, and vainglory, and all the like.
But He added also the "way" and the "rock," signifying that it is not enough to be freed from riches only, but we must cultivate also the other parts of virtue. For what if thou art free indeed from riches, yet are soft and unmanly? and what if thou art not indeed unmanly, but art remiss and careless about the hearing of the word? Nay, no one part is sufficient for our salvation, but there is required first a careful hearing, and a continual recollection; then fortitude, then contempt of riches, and deliverance from all worldly things.
In fact, His reason for putting this before the other, is because the one is first required (for "How shall they believe except they hear?" just as we too, except we mind what is said, shall not be able so much as to learn what we ought to do): after that, fortitude, and the contempt of things present.
Hearing therefore these things, let us fortify ourselves on all sides, regarding His instructions, and striking our roots deep, and cleansing ourselves from all worldly things. But if we do the one, neglecting the other, we shall be nothing bettered; for though we perish not in one way, yet shall we in some other. For what signifies our not being ruined by riches, if we are by indolence: or not by indolence, if we are by softness. For so the husbandman, whether this way or that way he lose his crop, equally bewails himself. Let us not then soothe ourselves upon our not perishing in all these ways, but let it be our grief, in whichever way we are perishing.
And let us burn up the thorns, for they choke the word. And this is known to those rich men, who not for these matters alone, but for others also prove unprofitable. For having become slaves and captives of their pleasures, they are useless even for civil affairs, and if for them, much more for those of Heaven. Yea, and in two ways hereby our thoughts are corrupted; both by the luxury, and by the anxiety too. For either of these by itself were enough to overwhelm the bark; but when even both concur, imagine how high the billow swells.
And marvel not at His calling our luxury, "thorns." For thou indeed art not aware of it, being intoxicated with thy passion, but they that are in sound health know that it pricks sharper than any thorn, and that luxury wastes the soul worse than care, and causes more grievous pains both to body and soul. For one is not so sorely smitten by anxiety, as by surfeiting. Since when watchings, and throbbings of the temples, and heaviness in the head, and pangs of the bowels, lay hold of such a man, you may imagine how many thorns these surpass in grievousness. And as the thorns, on whichever side they are laid hold of, draw blood from the hands that seize them, just so doth luxury plague both feet, and hands, and head, and eyes, and in general all our members; and it is withered also, and unfruitful, like the thorn, and hurts much more than it, and in our vital parts. Yea, it brings on premature old age, and dulls the senses, and darkens our reasoning, and blinds the keen-sighted mind, and makes the body tumid, rendering excessive the deposition of that which is cast away, and gathering together a great accumulation of evils; and it makes the burden too great, and the load overwhelming; whence our falls are many and continual, and our shipwrecks frequent.
For tell me, why pamper thy body? What? are we to slay thee in sacrifice, to set thee on the table? The birds it is well for thee to pamper: or rather, not so well even for them; for when they are fattened, they are unprofitable for wholesome food. So great an evil is luxury, that its mischief is shown even in irrational beings. For even them by luxury we make unprofitable, both to themselves and to us. For their superfluous flesh is indigestible, and the moister kind of corruption is engendered by that kind of fatness. Whereas the creatures that are not so fed, but live, as one may say, in abstinence, and moderate diet, and in labor and hardship, these are most serviceable both to themselves and to others, as well for food, as for everything else. Those, at any rate, who live on them, are in better health; but such as are fed on the others are like them, growing dull and sickly, and rendering their chain more grievous. For nothing is so hostile and hurtful to the body, as luxury; nothing so tears it in pieces, and overloads and corrupts it, as intemperance.
Wherefore above all may this circumstance make one amazed at them for their folly, that not even so much care as others show towards their wine skins, are these willing to evince towards themselves. For those the wine merchants do not allow to receive more than is fit, lest they should burst; but to their own wretched belly these men do not vouchsafe even so much forethought, but when they have stuffed it and distended it, they fill all, up to the ears, up to the nostrils, to the very throat itself, thereby pressing into half its room the spirit, and the power that directs the living being. What? was thy throat given thee for this end, that thou shouldest fill it up to the very mouth, with wine turned sour, and all other corruption? Not for this, O man, but that thou shouldest above all things sing to God, and offer up the holy prayers, and read out the divine laws, and give to thy neighbors profitable counsel. But thou, as if thou hadst received it for this end, dost not suffer it to have leisure for that ministry, so much as for a short season, but for all thy life subjectest it to this evil slavery. And as if any man having had a lyre given him with golden strings, and beautifully constructed, instead of awakening with it the most harmonious music, were to cover it over with much dung and clay; even so do these men. Now the word, dung, I use not of living, but of luxurious living, and of that great wantonness. Because what is more than necessary is not nourishment, but merely injurious. For in truth the belly alone was made merely for the reception of food; but the month, and the throat, and tongue, for other things also, far more necessary than these: or rather, not even the belly for the reception of food simply, but for the reception of moderate food. And this it makes manifest by crying out loudly against us, when we tease it by this greediness; nor doth it clamor against us only, but also avenging that wrong exacts of us the severest penalty. And first it punishes the feet, that bear and conduct us to those wicked revels, then the hands that minister to it, binding them together for having brought unto it such quantities and kinds of provisions; and many have distorted even their very mouth, and eyes, and head. And as a servant receiving an order beyond his power, not seldom out of desperation becomes insolent to the giver of the order: so the belly too, together with these members, often ruins and destroys, from being over-strained, the very brain itself. And this God hath well ordered, that from excess so much mischief should arise; that when of thine own will thou dost not practice self-restraint, at least against thy will, for fear of so great ruin, thou mayest learn to be moderate.
Knowing then these things, let us flee luxury, let us study moderation, that we may both enjoy health of body, and having delivered our soul from all infirmity, may attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.
HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, EXCERPT FROM HOMILY XLIV.
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I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
"The cause and origin of the passions is the misuse of things. Such misuse results from perversion of our character. Perversion expresses the bias of the will, and the state of the will is tested by demonic provocation. The demons thus are permitted by divine providence to demonstrate to us the specific state of our will."
"Lakes of fire (cf. Rev. 19:20) signify self-indulgent souls. In these lakes the stench of passions, like fetid bogs, nourishes the sleepless worm of dissipation - the unbridled lusts of the flesh - as it also nourishes the snakes, frogs and leeches of evil desire, the loathsome and poisonous thoughts and demons. A soul in such a state already in this life receives a foretaste of the chastisement to come."
"The source and ground of our distractive thoughts is the fragmented state of our memory. The memory was originally simple and one-pointed, but as a result of the fall its natural powers have been perverted: it has lost its recollectedness in God and has become compound instead of simple, diversified instead of one-pointed."
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Saint Elizabeth was born of the Royal House of Hesse in Germany. A convert to the Orthodox Faith, she became Grand Duchess of Russia when she married the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. After the latter’s death she dedicated her life to God and established the Sts. Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow, of which she was Abbess.
On the third day of Holy Pascha in the year of our Lord, 1918, Saint Elizabeth was arrested by the Bolsheviks with two of her nuns. After they had been captive for some time the guards informed her two nuns that they could return to their Convent. Both of the nuns pleaded with the guards to let them stay with their Abbess but they insisted that they return to their Convent and tried to scare them by portraying in words what atrocities they would have to suffer. One complied but Saint Barbara, out of complete loyalty and devotion refused to leave her Eldress and remained by her side.
On the night of the fifth of July, 1918, Saint Elizabeth, together with her ever-faithful companion, Barbara, and the other royal martyrs, Grand Duke Sergei Michailovich, Princes John, Igor, Constantine, and Vladimir, and Theodore Remez, was taken from the prison in Alapaevsk. All, except for the Grand Duke who was first shot in the head, were thrown alive into a nearby mine-shaft of whom Saint Elizabeth was the first. As she was falling a peasant who witnessed the scene heard her utter the words, "Forgive them, they know not what they do!" She and Saint John landed on a ledge halfway down the shaft. Grenades were thrown after them but only succeeded in killing Saint Theodore. For several days Saint Elizabeth, ignoring her own wounds, bound the wounds of the passion-bearer John and sang funeral hymns until she also passed from this corrupt life into the incorrupt and heavenly life of Christ’s Kingdom.
Troparion (Tone 4)
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Emulating the Lord's self-abasement on earth,
overflowing with compassion for the suffering,
you gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained.
In meekness, you took up a martyr's cross,
perfecting the Savior’s image within you.
O wise Elizabeth,
together with your brave companion, Barbara,
entreat Christ our God to save us!
Sts Elizabeth the abbess, Barbara the nun and five other members of the Russian imperial family along with a secretary were taken to a mine in Alapayevsk and were martyred by the Bolsheviks on July 5/18, 1918. Their bodies, with only the body of St Elizabeth remaining incorrupt, were later found by the Russian White Army. Their coffins were taken through Siberia, and then through Hailar at end of February, 1920, into Harbin at beginning of March, and finally into Beijing, China. They were laid to rest in the crypt of the St Seraphim Cemetery Church outside the northeastern city wall of Beijing on April 3/16, 1920. The coffins with the holy relics of Sts Elizabeth and Barbara were later exhumed and sent from Beijing to Tianjin on November 17/30, 1920, departed on November 18 by steamship and arrived in Shanghai on November 21. The coffins departed Shanghai on December 2/15 by sea and arrived in Jerusalem on January 15/28, 1921, and found their final resting place in the crypt at the Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives on Sunday January 17/30.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
"Someone asked this question of a discerning man: 'Why is it that God confers gifts and wonder-working powers on some, even though He knows in advance that they will lapse?' His answer was that God does this so that other spiritual men may grow cautious, and to show that the human will is free, and to demonstrate that on the day of judgment there will be no excuse for these who lapsed."
"Our own determination and intention together with the help of God come into play in every spiritual act of ours, visible or not,and the latter is unlikely to operate without the former."
"It is truly astounding how the incorporeal mind can be defiled and darkened by the body. Equally astonishing is the fact that the immaterial spirit can be purified and refined by clay."
"Repentance lifts a man up. Mourning knocks at heaven's gate. Holy humility opens it. This I say, and I worship a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity."
"Let everyone find out then where he is: how many milestones he has passed on the road. We ought not only to examine ourselves every day but also over a period of time, every month, and every week. `The first week I was a prey to such and such a fault - how do I stand now?' Similarly over a period of time: `Last year I was overcome so many times by such and such a fault, how about now?' And likewise we ought to examine for ourselves each of our faults - whether we have made a little progress or are in the same condition, or have become worse. For so long as we have not uprooted our evil tendencies, may God give us the strength not to give them free reign but to hold them in check. For it is a very grave thing to let loose our passions and not to check them."
"Before a man gives way to his passions, even if his thoughts mount an assault against him, he is always a free man in his own city and he has God as an ally. If, therefore, he humbles himself before God and bears the yoke of his trial and affliction with thanksgiving, and puts up a little fight, the help of God will deliver him. But if he flees labor and goes after bodily pleasures, then he is necessarily led into the land of the Egyptians and without wishing it becomes their slave."
Monday, July 14, 2008
by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Tranlsated by I. Zerebko/ V.Yakovlev-Olson
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.
by St. John Climacus
Mourning according to God is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting. Or thus: mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed by holy sorrow to watch over the heart.
A characteristic of those who are still progressing in blessed mourning is temperance and silence of the lips; and of those who have made progress – freedom from anger and patient endurance of injuries; and of the perfect – humility, thirst for dishonors, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions, non-condemnation of sinners,compassion even beyond one’s strength. The first are acceptable, the second laudable; but blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonor, for they shall be filled with the food whereof there can be no satiety.
If you possess the gift of mourning, hold on to it with all your might. For it is easily lost when it is not firmly established. And just as wax melts in the presence of fire, so it is easily dissolved by noise and bodily cares, and by luxury, and especially by talkativeness and levity.
Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so. For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears. And if God in His love for mankind had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.
During prayer and supplication, stand with trembling like a convict standing before a judge, so that, both by your outward appearance as well as by your inner disposition, you may extinguish the wrath of the just Judge; for He will not despise a widow soul standing before Him burdened with sorrow and wearying the Unwearying One.
Let your very dress urge you to the work of mourning, because all who lament the dead are dressed in black. If you do not mourn, mourn for this cause. And if you mourn, lament still more that, by your sins, you have brought yourself down from a state free of labors to one of labor.