On Sufferings

“Sufferings for God and for His sake are more precious to God than any prayer or offering; and the smell of their sweat is better than any incense”

—St. Isaac of Syria

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” — Psalm 125:5

“And the Word was made flesh and He pitched up His tent and dwelt among us.” God the uncontainable condescended and became a man like unto us, with small hands and feet and in every manner like us except in sin. He Who created the whole universe and adorned the firmament and the earth. He Who created the great mountains and valleys, the second person of the All-Holy Trinity, the Son of God, became man and was dwarfed in the flesh by His creation.
For thirty-three years He lived among us and honored and sanctified our habitation. He loved us an blessed us and taught us with holy example of His life. He rejoiced in our joys, as at the Wedding of Cana, and wept in our sorrows, as at the death of Lazarus. He came to a sin-drunken world to awake us with His sweet voice from the sleep of the passions; to free us form the power of the devil and to lay the foundation of “another life, an everlasting one” — one which begins here and continues beyond the grave to eternity. In short, He lived the life of man that we might live the life of God — that we might truly be in His image and likeness.
And in studying the blueprint of Our Savior’s life, one thing becomes very evident, that He did not live in ease and comfort, with wealth and spaciousness. On the contrary, one sees Him going throughout life with much privation — barefooted and thirsty and hungry — a tired and weary Man, who slept many times in the mountains and deserts, beneath trees and in fishing boats using His arm as a headrest, trying to give a little rest to His weary body. All of creation was at home, the Creator only was a stranger. Once He even mentioned this fact as a complaint in His humble manner that makes one weep. He said, ‘The foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Such was our Savior. He surpassed all men in their sufferings and sorrows. From the poorest of births in a cave used as a stable, to the most dishonorable of deaths upon a Cross, He was the first in all suffering. To the poor, He was the poor one, and to the exiles, the exile; to the wronged, the wronged, and to the abused. the abused; to the slandered, He was slandered, and to the dejected and forgotten, the dejected and forgotten one. From the time that He was born to the end He was a persecuted and hated Man. He had not even opened His eyes as a babe when he was forced to flee into Egypt in order to escape the malice of Herod who sought to destroy Him. His whole life was one of fleeing, until one day He stood and was delivered willingly unto the mob. And then the King of Glory, the Light of our souls, was spat upon and slapped and scourged and crowned with thorns by man whom He had created with such love and affection. And in the end, He was nailed upon a tree as a criminal.

He came to be known as the “Man of Sorrows” and in the iconography of our Church He is depicted many times scourged and wounded, with the inscription”
—— He Who is full of sorrows.
If then our very Creator and the founder of our religion suffered thus, who can be exempt from suffering that wishes to follow Him? Who can rightly be called His without tasting to some degree His sufferings? If He Who is first among innocent sufferers and all the Saints after him suffered, what are we to say who are in sin and consequently worthy of all suffering?
Many see suffering as a punishment by God and in their affliction complain or even blaspheme against Him. But to Christians, all suffering is a gift of God given to those whom he loves in order that they may come to know Him and be saved. Sufferings according to the New Testament and our Fathers are a true sign that we are not “of the world” but rather that we belong to Christ.
Before the fall of man, death and sufferings were foreign to our nature. But with sin, both afflictions and death cam into existence, and of these two things no one is exempt, neither poor nor rich, neither small nor great — but all alike come to taste sufferings in their lives and in the end, death. There is, though. one great difference. Whereas before Christ the greatest fear of the ancients was death, and this phenomenon tormented them greatly, after the coming of Christ it became a blessing — transition unto life — the beginning of eternity. And whereas before, death was greatest weapon which the devil had over man, after the glorious Resurrection of our Savior this very death became the greatest weapon of man against the devil. Wherefore, we joyously chant, “ Christ is risen form the dead, trampling upon Death by death…” and the Apostle cries, “O death, where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting? and elsewhere. For me to die is gain.”

On Illness

Most suffering and trials are of a certain duration and, in time, are usually entertained by man. But in the case of illness, be it of the body or the soul one has a constant companion twenty-four hours a day. Thus, outside of suffering in the hearts of the Saints because man has wounded the love of God, there is no greater suffering than illness, And as human beings, many time we weary. Even Saint Paul, the chosen vessel and Apostle of the Gentiles, speaks of a chronic illness which been given to him by God “a thorn in the flesh,” as he calls it, and how he wearied and in his own words, “thrice I besought the Lord that it might leave me.” Three times he complained about it and petitioned God that he might be freed from the ailment that he might be able to work more freely — unhindered in the work of the Gospel. And the third time the answer came, My Grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Thus Paul was taught humility.
For it happens many times that when man is always robust and healthy he forgets God and thinks that he stands of his own strength. And when man begins to trust in himself , he is no different than the idolaters. But if illness should shake the earth beneath his feet and strike him down, then he begins to lookup to heaven and to ponder the words of the Psalms, “As for man his days are of the grass; s a flower of the earth

he shall blossom forth. For the wind passes over it. and is shall not be; and it shall know its place nor more.” Earthquakes have humbles great mountains and have reduced them to gravel. And illnesses and trials have humbled the proudest of men and make them meek as a sheep. A holy elder was once asked how he came to be so kind and soft and he answered. “I’ve been through the mill, child, I’ve been through the mill of sufferings and trails and was ground fine.”
Seeing , therefore, our infirmities as a teacher of humility which brings us closer to God, Saint Paul cries out, “Gladly, therefore, I will glory in my infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in me.” And just a little further he shouts, “When I am weak. then I am strong.” Thus, through sufferings we come to know from experience the frailty of our nature.
Saint Maximos the Confessor teaches us that sufferings are like a consuming fire of a furnace which burns the passions and frees man of sin. If we are of iron, it burns the rust; if we are of gold, it brightens even more.  A holy elder on the Holy Mountain used to say of his illness to his spiritual son, “God is filing, child, God is filing away the rust that I may shine.”
Saint Paul writes, “But though our outer man is corrupted, yet the inner man is renewed day by day. For our present light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all measure.” And present afflictions are “light and “momentary” by reason that compared to eternity “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed to us.”
Again Saint Paul teaches us that although the body is worn down by illness and trials, the soul, the “inner man,”nevertheless, is renewed. “ For we know that if our earthly house in which we dwell be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by human hands, eternal in heaven.” As Fallen beings, “in this present state we groan” and “we who are in this tent {body} sigh under our our burden” but “knowing while we are in the body we are not exiles from the Lord—for we walk by faith and not by sight — we even have the courage to prefer to be exiled from the body {i.e., to die} and to be at home with the Lord.”
The Old Testament speaks of the sufferings of the just in these words, “Afflicted in a few things, they shall be greatly rewarded in many: for God proves them and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace hath He tried them, and as a burnt offering hath He received them. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge the nations and hack dominion over the people and their Lord shall reign forever. They that put their trust in Him shall understand the truth and such as be faithful in the love shall abide with Him for grace and mercy is to His Saints, and He hath care for His elect.”
Suffering again teaches patience according to the words of Saint Paul who writes, “We glory and exult in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience trial, and trial hope.” And through patience we acquire one of the titles of God, for He is a “God of patience and of comfort.”
Saint James the Apostle writes, “of the patience of Job you have heard and the purpose of the Lord you have seen, how the Lord is merciful and compassionate.” Now we are called to imitate this patience in act not only in theory during our afflictions and infirmities.

Our holy Father Saint Anthony, the teacher of the desert and pillar of patience, tells us how illness and suffering are used by God as a spiritual medicine, at times bitter and unpleasant, but to our profit. We should therefore be grateful to God for all misfortunes. In his teachings recorded by his spiritual children there is this interesting passage, “it is absurd to thank physicians for giving us medicines which are bitter and unpleasant, for the sake of the health of out bodies, but to be ungrateful to God for things that appear harsh, and not to perceive that everything happens as it ought, for our interest, and according to HIs providence.”
Human ailments and illnesses prepare man for the life to come. They are letters from Heavens; telegrams from God to remind us that our days are numbered and our life here on earth has an end. Blessed are they that are visited with an illness before they die, for they are at least given a chance to prepare with repentance and confession and above all, prayer and Holy Communion. A sudden death comes like a thunderbolt — like a thrift in the night. It plucks man out of this life as he is without warning.
Saint Peter the Apostle tells us to conduct ourselves as “strangers” and pilgrims during the time of our “sojourn” here on earth. Time and time again, Scripture reminds us that we are presently living in a “valley of tears” in a “place of exile,” “redeeming the time” until we should enter our real “fatherland”, ” the “New Jerusalem.” When man is in exile there is tribulation and suffering. Thus, as Christians it is only natural that we suffer in the present life and weep and mourn for we have “no abiding city, but rather look forward to the city to come” — to the “new heaven and earth” of Revelation — to that city of which the voice from the throne said, “Behold the dwelling of God with men, and He will dwell with them. And they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor weeping, nor pain any more for the former things have passed away.” As for now, as long as sin exists, suffering shall exist also.
“The path the leadeth to Heaven is narrow and full of sorrows and tribulations.” It is a path which our Lord first tread Himself and after Him all that loved Him. He chose it Himself, telling us that we can not be his disciples if we do not carry the Cross and follow Him. Let no one hope, therefore, to abide with the Lord and become “co- inheritor” with Him and with the Saints in Heaven if he does not first sail upon the sea of suffering even as our Savior and all the Saints were glorified by the Cross.
A holy ascetic on the Holy Mountain used to say during a severe illness before he reposed in the Lord, “I have come to know You, my Savior, at the time of prayer and at the time of my joy. Now I come to know You even more so upon the cross.”
Saint Isaac of Syria writes, “ If the soul does not taste of the sufferings of Christ with understanding, it can not have communion with Christ.”
Suffering then is a whole school which teaches humility and patience — a divine medicine from God for the health of the soul. Suffering sobers man up from the glory of this earth {passions and sins}, and awakens him to another world —the world of the spirit. Suffering is a visitation from God — a token of His love — a celestial letter and earmark of Christians, a fire which cleanses. Sufferings is a ladder to Heaven.

Blessed are they who stretch out their hands to be crucified willingly, bearing in mind at all times their crucified Savior and crying out in all things with Job, “As it has pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Panteleimon Archimindrite


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