My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
SUFFERING IN FAMILY LIFE
By Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, priest at the "Joy of All Who Sorrow"
Cathedral in San Francisco, CA.)
"…The word "difficulty" is closely associated with another word "suffering," is closely associated with another word: "suffering," and this is what I will address here: Suffering and its role in Orthodox family life.
Suffering is an integral element of our existence here on earth. It is woven through every aspect of our life. One should speak about it, one should anticipate it, one should be prepared for it as much as possible, and one must not run away from it. Nowadays, sufferings, sorrows, and misfortunes are regarded as some kind of evil to be resisted and avoided at all costs. People fear suffering, and such fear at times exceeds suffering itself!
Life, we are told, should proceed smoothly, unhindered. Suffering and sorrows interfere with a life of well-being; they bother us. They are considered to be anomalies, and injustices, not the result but the cause of man’s wrongs. How could a good God allow it? This way of thinking is instilled in our minds and hearts through schools and mass media, especially here in the affluent west.
As Orthodox Christians, our best defense against unconsciously assimilating this attitude is to understand the true meaning of suffering, as it is presented in the Orthodox Church and Her teachings.
In the Fourth Article of our Symbol of Faith (Creed), we read that our Lord Jesus Christ "SUFFERED, AND WAS BURIED. AND AROSE ON THE THIRD DAY ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES." As Christians we are called to follow Christ, to take up our cross–sufferings and sorrows. Saint Paul writes that "IF WE SUFFER WITH CHRIST WE SHALL ALSO REIGN WITH HIM" (2 Timothy 2:12), and "whosoever dies with Christ will rise with Him" (2 Timothy 2:11). Without suffering, without dying to this world, there is no resurrection. In taking the path of suffering, the Orthodox Christian comes into contact with Christ; he participates in Christ’s suffering and answers his call as a Christian. There is no Saint who did not endure some form of suffering. Indeed, the most widespread form of sanctity is martyrdom–witnessing to Christ with one’s life, even unto death.
While not all Christians are called to martyrdom in this literal sense of physical death, by taking up our cross and following the path of suffering, we, too, experience a form of martyrdom. Monasticism–a voluntary, conscious and deliberate embrace of deprivation and self-denial–is a supreme example of spiritual martyrdom. Living in the world also presents many opportunities for this kind of martyrdom, inasmuch as suffering–whether physical, spiritual or psychological–is unavoidable in this sin-infested world. Of course, if someone being led to martyrdom suddenly denies his faith and is killed, his martyrdom will not bring him salvation. Likewise, if we want our sufferings to bear a redemptive character, we must accept them willingly and try to make sense of them, as far as this is possible to the human mind and heart.
From the history of the Church, we see that it was precisely during periods of persecution that the Faith spread most readily. "The blood of Martyrs is the seed of the Church", according to Tertullian Suffering can also bring forth much fruit in our personal lives. It is part of God’s plan, a test for us, to be utilized for the salvation of our souls. In the words of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, "WHERE THERE ARE NO SORROWS, THERE IS NO SALVATION."
Sufferings cleanse a person; they help to uproot sin. In our sufferings we turn to God, asking not only to be delivered from suffering but to be given strength to bear them, to benefit from them. According to Saint Seraphim, "ALL OUR SUFFERINGS–THESE ARE VALUABLE MERCHANDISE WHCIH WE MUST MAKE HASTE TO TRADE FOR ETERNAL RICHES." Similarly, Father Alexander Elchaninov writes in his diary: "All spiritual effort, all voluntary (and even involuntary) deprivation, denial, sacrifice, suffering–ARE SOON TRADED FOR SPIRITUAL RICHES WITHIN US. THE MORE YOU LOSE, THE MORE YOU GAIN. THE COURAGEOUS SOUL INSTINCTIVELY SEEKS SACRIFICE, OCCASIONS TO SUFFER, AND SPIRITUALLY STRENGTHENS ITSELF THROUGH TRIALS."
It is good for us to bring to mind the innocent sufferings of the righteous. We have the example of Saint John Kronstadt who endured a grievous and prolonged illness before he died, and Saint Ambrose of Optina, who was unable to serve Divine Liturgy because he was so weakened by his physical infirmity; he used to receive people lying in bed. At the same time, how strong they were in spirit!
Suffering takes various forms. "The most evident is suffering from sickness or physical infirmity. (In meeting someone, usually the first thing we do is to ask about their health.) This kind of suffering can sometimes be relieved by medicines and external means. It manifests itself in physical pains, in discomfort, and limitation of movement; associating with others is difficult, and consequently, it is often accompanied by loneliness, sometimes illness causes physical disfigurement which can also result in suffering. This form of suffering is probably the most obvious.
The second type of suffering relates to the realm of man’s spirit and soul. It is not caused by direct physical pain, but usually by some external affairs: unhappy family life; difficulties at work and in society; and attachment to alcohol or drugs, to money, material goods; poverty, slander, offenses, failure in love, difficulties in school and among friends, a seemingly hopeless situation or dead end, fruitlessness, disappointment i someone, a transition in life, or, what happens frequently, the illness or death of a member of the family or someone close to us.
A third form of suffering relates to the purely spiritual realm and is unique to Orthodox Christians. Let us call it "SUFFERING OF THE HEART." This is that feeling that we experience when we are unable to lift ourselves to a desired spiritual level; when we are aware of our sinfulness and remoteness from the Creator; when people close to us are perishing spiritually; when we experience a crisis of faith when we are spiritually sensitive to what is going on around us. All of this, regardless of how good and favorable the external circumstances of our life, causes us spiritual pain, and suffering. This can also be the result of the incompatibility of the Orthodox way of life with the surrounding world. Fo two thousand years Christians have had difficulty living in this world, but in our time of turning away from God, a time of grave and refined deceptions, immorality, and frightful diseases, it is all the more difficult. We try to adapt to our surroundings, we seek tranquility, our "niche," but we cannot find it, and this causes us pain of heart.
When sufferings are absent, then, according to spiritual law, the soul grows weak and starts going downhill; it loses its armor and becomes vulnerable. This does not mean that sufferings are good in and of itself, or that it is necessary to suffer all the time. There are times of joy, peace, and times when we sense the strength of God’s grace. Ironically perhaps, these times are precisely the result of the acceptance of suffering. Pascha, for example, is preceded by Passion Week. One is reminded here of the Gospel passage: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21).
"SUFFERING SHOULD BE REGARDED NOT AS GOD’S PUNISHMENT BUT AS A MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US."
(Source: Orthodox Heritage)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George