My beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!
THE PURPOSE OF ILLNESS AND
ITS POTENTIAL TO PERFECT US.
The Heavenly Physician of our souls and bodies "made the body of man subject to much suffering and disease, so that man might learn from his very nature that he must never again entertain the thought" and he could be like unto God. "If we come to understand the nature of fallen man, we shall be able to learn about ourselves and we shall be able to know God and worship Him as Creator." [Saint Basil the Great] Our faithlessness to God has ushered in harm to our souls and body. Therefore, according to Saint John Chrysostom, "WE SHOULD NOT DREAD ANY HUMAN ILL–NEITHER POVERTY, NOR DISEASE, NOR INSULT, NOR MALICIOUS TREATMENT, NOR HUMILIATION, NOR DEATH–SAVE SIN ALONE." For these ills are only words; they have no reality for those who are living for the Kingdom of the Heavens. The only real calamity in this life IS OFFENDING GOD. If we have this basic understanding of the purpose of life, then the spiritual meaning of bodily infirmity can be opened for us. ["The Teachings of the Holy Fathers on Illness"]
Saints Varsanouphios and John note the "RENEWAL OF THE SIN OF THE FIRST-CREATED ONES IS WILLFUL TURNING AWAY FROM GOD TOWARD ONESELF. In this way we set ourselves in the place of God, actually WORSHIPPING SELF INSTEAD OF THE CREATOR. In this way the suffering of illness serves the same purpose today as it did in the beginning: FOR THIS REASON, IT IS A SIGN OF GOD’S MERCY AND LOVE. As the Holy Fathers say to those who are ailing, ‘GOD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN YOU, HE CARES FOR YOU.’
There is a connection between body and soul, sin and sickness. This is clear: PAIN TELLS US THAT SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG. Saint John Chrysostom says that the Saints serve God NOT because they expect any kind of reward, either spiritual or material, but simply BECAUSE THEY LOVE HIM: "FOR THE SAINTS KNOW THAT THE GREATEST REWARD OF ALL IS TO BE ABLE TO LOVE AND SERVE GOD." Thus, "God, wishing to show that it was not for a reward that His Saints serve Him, stripped Job of all his wealth, gave him over to poverty, and permitted him to fall into terrible diseases." And Job, who was not living for any reward in this life, STILL REMAINED FAITHFUL TO GOD. We see that GOD PERMITS SINFUL PEOPLE TO REMAIN HEALTHY. WE ALSO SEE THAT HE SOMETIMES ALLOWS HIS RIGHTEOUS ONES TO SUFFER "AS A MODEL FOR THE WEAK." Saint John Cassian concurs, observing that "A MAN IS MORE THOROUGHLY INSTRUCTED AND FORMED BY THE EXAMPLE OF ANOTHER."
Saint Maximos states: "He who aspires to Divine realities willingly allows Providence to lead him by principles of wisdom toward the grace of divinization. He who does NOT aspire is drawn, by the just judgment of God and against his will, away from evil by various forms of discipline. The first, as A LOVER OF GOD, IS DIVNIZED BY PROVIDENCE; THE SECOND, ALTHOUGH A LOVE OF MATTER, IS STILL HELD BACK FORM PERDITION BY GOD’S JUDGMENT. For since God is GOODNESS ITSELF, He heals those who desire it through the principles of wisdom, and through various forms of discipline cures those who are sluggish in virtue.
The Holy Fathers of the Church also instruct us that ILLNESS IS A WAY BY WHICH CHRISTIANS MAY IMITATE THE SUFFERING OF THE MARTYRS. In reading The Great Synaxaristes, we have learned how many Saints underwent bodily pangs at the end of their life. Why? This has been PERMITTED SO THAT BY MEANS OF THEIR RIGHTEOUS SUFFERING THEY MIGHT ATTAIN TO PHYSICAL MARTYRDOM. One such example is that of Saint Mark of Ephesus: He was ailing for fourteen days, and cancer itself, as he himself said, had upon him the same effect as those iron instruments of torture by executioners applied to the Holy Martyrs. His disease had girdled his ribs and internal organs. It pressed upon his entrails rendering unbearable pain. This was permitted by God so that what men could not do with his sacred martyr’s body WAS FULFILLED BY DISEASE. This came to pass by the unutterable judgment of Providence, in order that this victorious Confessor of Truth and martyr and conqueror of all possible sufferings should appear before God after going through every misery. This took place even to his last breath. He was as gold tried in the furnace, in order that, thanks to this, he might receive yet greater honor and rewards eternally from the Just Judge" (Saint Mark Evegnikos of Ephesus].
When we are sick, we are expected to ask for the prayers of others, and especially of the Church. "The entreaty of a righteous man hath much strength when it is energized" [Saint James 5:16]. Saint Gregory Palamas says that "ONLY HE WHO LEARNS FROM EXPERIENCE KNOWS THE ENERGIES OF THE SPIRIT." RESTORED BY THE REGENERATIVE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE, MAN IS NOT ONLY A PRODUCT OF GOD’S CREATIVE ENERGY BUT SHARES IN HIS UNCREATED LIFE. God and man then POSSESS IN COMMON UNCREATED ENERGY AND LIFE, the One being the Source, and the other THE VESSEL OF GRACE. Saint Maximos the Confessor says: The Divine energy dwells WITHIN MAN and God ENERGIZES THROUGH HIM." Therefore, Saint Ambrose urges that "anyone who is sick should seek the prayer of others, that they may be restored to health; and through the intercession of other the enfeebled form of the body and the wavering footsteps of our deeds may be restored to health… Learn, you who are sick, TO GAIN HEALTH THROUGH PRAYER. SEEK THE PRAYER OF OTHERS, CALL UPON THE CHURCH TO PRAY FOR YOU, AND GOD, IN HIS REGARD FOR THE CHURCH, WILL GIVE WHAT HE MIGHT REFUSE TO YOU."
The Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Oil (Holy Unction) contains Scriptural readings, alluding to the Biblical figures who were healed by Christ "AS THE PHYSICIAN AND HELPER OF THE SUFFERING." During the Divine Office, through the anointing, the grace of the Holy Spirit is invoked to heal both soul and body. We hear from the brother of the Lord, Iakovos (James), in his Epistle: "IS ANYONE AMONG YOU SUFFERING ILL? LET HIM KEEP ON PRAYING… IS ANYONE AMONG YOU INFIRM? LET HIM CALL FOR THE PRESBYTERS OF THE CHURCH, AND LET THEM PRAY OVER HIM, HAVING ANOINTED HIM WITH OIL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. AND THE PRAYER OF FAITH SHALL SAVE THE ONE WHO IS SICK, AND THE LORD SHALL RAISE HIM UP; AND IF HE BE ONE WHO HATH COMMITTED SINS, IT SHALL BE FORGIVEN HIM. Keep on CONFESSING YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS TO ONE ANOTHER AND PRAYING FOR ONE ANOTHER, THAT YE MIGHT BE HEALED. The entreaty of a righteous man hath much strength when it is energized" [James 5:13-16]. In the divine service Christ is spoken of as the ‘INCORRUPTIBLE CHRISM’ Who is old times had chosen the olive-branch to show Noah that the Flood had abated. (From ancient times olive oil was used in the making of Holy Oil.) [Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)