Spiritual nectar: reflections on specific patristic sayings
Posted 25 November 2012 - 07:02 PM
We have had some mention of miracles of healing here and there in the forum, and I would like to say a little about this. We should be sober and sensitive about miracles of healing. We know such miracles occur and thank God for them. But we must be sensitive by having regard to those who pray just as fervently for a miracle of healing and yet such healing does not come. What ought to be our approach to sickness and bodily suffering?
Archimandrite Zacharias has said that suffering cleanses us from our sins. Of many scriptural references to the way God can use suffering, the following come to mind: "despise not the chastening of the Almighty"; "despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction"; "we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world"; "as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." We may pray for a miracle of healing, but must remember that the greatest miracle is our salvation in Christ, and so we should try to see suffering as an opportunity for salvation. Describing how, by patient acceptance, to transfigure suffering, Father Zacharias said, “in our suffering we must be sinless, like Job." That is to say, we must not blame God: "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."
Why, if suffering can be beneficial, do we pray to be free of it? Why are some people miraculously healed and others not? To find meaning in suffering and transfigure it into wisdom, communion and love is a challenge. A theological vision is needed to help us to see the redemptive purpose and possibility latent in all suffering. Father Zacharias has said he personally would pray “not for a miracle of healing but rather for the Lord to comfort and give grace to the one who suffers: we do not know God's will and providence. Suffering is beneficial if we keep faith. Through suffering a person becomes like Our Lord, and so is then in communion with Him. When the body suffers like the head, they become one." Hieromonk Philotheos Grigoriatis has said, “the healing of the body is not so important as the healing of the soul. The body will be raised whether it was diseased or not but the soul will only be raised to eternal life if it is healthy.”
Father Zacharias has explained how acceptance by us of involuntary suffering transfigures it into voluntary suffering, and since voluntary suffering identifies us with Christ, we thereby become Christ-like. It is thus the giving over to God of our will, of our very self, which attracts divine grace. Elder Sophrony says, “no one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are upset by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God. But the Lord Himself guides with His grace them that are given over to God's will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Who they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified for ever." Thus surrender to the Divine will attracts grace, and surrender to God is victory over our enemies.
In one of his talks, Father Zacharias mentioned that Archimandrite Sophrony said that suffering is a sign of election, not a misery of this world. In the words of Saint Ignatii Brianchaninov, "those troubles and trials which come to us involuntarily, and consequently are permitted and ordered by God's providence, should be accepted with the greatest reverence, as gifts of God, as cures for the infirmities of our souls, as pledges of our election and eternal salvation . . . Sufferings in Christ are Christ's greatest gift, given to those who have wholeheartedly surrendered themselves to Christ's service."
Saint Maximos the Confessor (who knew suffering very well) says, "should we not rejoice when we suffer, for we have God to share our suffering? This shared suffering confers the kingdom upon us . . . in short, the outcome of all sufferings for the sake of virtue is to be with God, to remain with Him for ever and to enjoy eternal rest."
As Saint Makarios of Egypt writes, "when our souls are undergoing afflictions - whether they come in a visible form from men, or in an intellectual form by means of evil thoughts, or derive from bodily illnesses - if we endure them to the end, we will gain the same crowns as the martyrs and will enjoy the same intimacy with God." Saint Diadochos of Photiki writes that when martyrdom through persecution is not an option, illnesses "will be counted a second martyrdom." As Bishop Irenaeos once said, “just as in ancient times the wild beasts devoured the flesh of the martyrs in the arenas, so today cancer and other diseases devour the flesh of those whose martyrdom is similar and so leads to like crowns.”
In God's order, sickness, injury and death have no place; these exist in the world because it is fallen. So maybe it can be said that that it would be wrong for a person who did not experience a miracle to ask, 'why that person and not me?', but rather should think, 'God's glory has been manifested; He has shown that He does not wish sickness and death for anyone; He has shown what our true condition is meant to be and what it will be in His kingdom.' Then it is possible to give thanks to God.
Father Zacharias had also said, "we need to convince the enemy that we are godly. Having, through extreme suffering, fulfilled every righteousness of God's instruction, and completely and freely placed himself on the level of eternity, the Heavenly Father receives him and honours him with all that He has for our eternal use. Our faith and love make us unafraid of death."
Father Zacharias says that grace will only come after giving thanks to God for what befalls us - consoling grace endows the sick person with strength, and also with joy at the sure expectation of future blessings. All those who willingly carry their cross like Christ are with Him "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God". Bishop Irenaeos once said that for a person who is close to God, there may be only one way of going closer to Him, and that is to leave this life and so be with Him.
Posted 25 November 2012 - 08:52 PM
We have had some mention of miracles of healing here and there in the forum, and I would like to say a little about this. We should be sober and sensitive about miracles of healing. We know such miracles occur and thank God for them. But we must be sensitive by having regard to those who pray just as fervently for a miracle of healing and yet such healing does not come.
I think that any miracle, big, small, insignificant or significant (since miracles come in all forms: healing, consolation; economic; employment; guidance; enlightenment; a pending need of some sort, etc.) is a testament to the goodness and mercy of God.
Some miracles are huge and complete healings, others are not, but the point in testifying to these miracles is to give others hope, and in their hope and prayer, that perhaps some enlightenment will come to them for their therapy, condition, medication, approach, doctor or illness or other suffering (economic, family, relationship, work place, etc.) which will help in some way..
For illness, sometimes the enlightenment of God is a miracle in that it can alleviate suffering through a new therapy or medication, or can make one's symptoms better or more manageable. Sometimes a miracle can come through a person we meet that may say something which helps us in some way, or even through some helpful information from the internet! Sometimes it simply helps the spiritual illness of a person...
In the cases of certain saints, the testament of miracles shows us that we are not alone, and that the saint will help us in some way if we pray to him or her. For instance, my grandfather was not cured of his cancer before a large surgery he was to have for colorectal cancer, but St. Nektarios came to his hospital room and told him 'not to worry and that he would be alright'...In this case, the saint's miracle was giving him courage and consolation. He did live a few years after that! Was he cured in that the terrible operation was stopped. NO. However, he lived another few years without any further therapy and died at the age of 81. Also, he became a believer after a life of not being a believer. That was the larger miracle.
That having been said, I do appreciate the beautiful spiritual nectar of Father Archimandrite Zacharias which you shared. It was very helpful in reminding the reader that whatever our suffering (not all suffering is physical), we need to remember St. Job and not get angry at God for not answering our prayers. Prayers are answered in many different ways --often through the loving acts and words of a friend or even of a stranger, or the prayers of others which help us get through our periods of trial and suffering. Each act of kindness which we are shown or show to others can be considered a miracle. :-)
May God bless you, dear Andreas. :-)
Edited by Alice, 25 November 2012 - 09:11 PM.
Posted 12 December 2014 - 03:13 PM
This thread hasn't had any posts for a while, but I ran across this today from St. John Chrysostom on visiting monasteries from Homily 72 on Matt 23
And where shall we find this humility? Will ye that we go again to the city of virtue, the tents of the holy men, the mountains, I mean, and the groves? For there too shall we see this height of humility.
For men, some illustrious from their rank in the world, some from their wealth, in every way put themselves down, by their vesture, by their dwelling, by those to whom they minister; and, as in written characters, they throughout all things inscribe humility.
And the things that are incentives of arrogance, as to dress well, and to build houses splendidly, and to have many servants, things which often drive men even against their will to arrogance; these are all taken away. For they themselves light their fire, they themselves cleave the logs, themselves cook, themselves minister to those that come there.
No one can be heard insulting there, nor seen insulted, nor commanded, nor giving commands; but all are devoted to those that are waited on, and every one washes the strangers' feet, and there is much contention about this. And he does it, not inquiring who it is, neither if he be a slave, nor if he be free; but in the case of every one fulfills this service. No man there is great nor mean. What then? Is there confusion? Far from it, but the highest order. For if any one be mean, he that is great sees not this, but has accounted himself again to be inferior even to him, and so becomes great.
There is one table for all, both for them that are served, and for them that serve; the same food, the same clothes, the same dwellings, the same manner of life. He is great there, who eagerly seizes the mean task. There is not mine and yours, but this expression is exterminated, that is a cause of countless wars.
4. And why do you marvel, if there be one manner of life and table and dress for all, since indeed there is even one soul to all, not in substance only (for this is with all men also), but in love? How then should it ever be lifted up itself against itself? There is no wealth and poverty there, honor and dishonor; how then should haughtiness and arrogance find an entrance? For they are indeed little and great in respect of their virtue; but, as I have said, no one sees this. He that is little, feels not pain, as despised; for neither is there any one to despise him; and should any one spurn him, this above all are they taught, to be despised, to be spurned, to be set at nought, in word and in deed. And with the poor and maimed do they associate, and their tables are full of these guests; so that for this are they worthy of the heavens. And one tends the wounds of the mutilated, another leads the blind by the hand, a third bears him that is lamed of his leg.
There is no multitude of flatterers or parasites there; or rather they know not even what flattery is; whence then could they be lifted up at any time? For there is great equality among them, wherefore also there is much facility for virtue.
For by these are they of an inferior sort better instructed, than if they were compelled to give up the first place to them.
For like as the impetuous man derives instruction from him that is smitten, and submits to it; so the ambitious from him that claims not glory, but despises it. This they do there abundantly, and as the strife is great with us to obtain the first place, so great is it with them not to obtain it, but utterly to refuse it; and great is their earnest desire who shall have the advantage in honoring, not in being honored.
And besides, even their very employments persuade them to practise moderation, and not to be high-swollen. For who, I pray you, digging in the earth, and watering, and planting, or making baskets, or weaving sackcloth, or practising any other handy works, will ever be proud? Who dwelling in poverty and wrestling with hunger, will ever be sick of this disease? There is not one. Therefore humility is easy to them. And like as here, it is a hard thing to be lowly minded, for the multitude of them who applaud and admire us, so there it is exceedingly easy.
And that man gives heed only to the wilderness, and sees birds flying, and trees waving, and a breeze blowing, and streams rushing through glens. Whence then should he be lifted up who dwells in solitude so great?
Not however that therefore we have from this an excuse, in that we are proud when living in the midst of men. For surely Abraham, when amidst Canaanites, said, “I am but dust and ashes;” Genesis 18:27 and David, when in the midst of camps, “I am a worm, and no man;” and the apostle, in the midst of the world, “I am not meet to be called an apostle.” 1 Corinthians 15:9 What comfort shall we have then; what plea, when even, having such great examples, we do not practise moderation? For even as they are worthy of countless crowns, having been the first that went the way of virtue, even so are we deserving of countless punishments, who not even after those that are departed, and are set before us in books, no nor even after these that are living, and held in admiration through their deeds, are drawn on to the like emulation.
For what couldest thou say, for not being amended? Are you ignorant of letters, and hast not looked into the Scriptures that you might learn the virtues of them of old? To say the truth, this is itself blameworthy, when the church is constantly standing open, not to enter in, and partake of those sacred streams.
However, although thou know not the departed by the Scriptures, these living men you ought to see. But is there no one to lead you? Come to me, and I will show you the places of refuge of these holy men; come and learn thou of them something useful. Shining lamps are these in every part of the earth; as walls are they set about the cities. For this cause have they occupied the deserts, that they may instruct you to despise the tumults in the midst of the world.
For they, as being strong, are able even in the midst of the raging of the waters to enjoy a calm; but thou, who art leaky on every side, hast need of tranquility, and to take breath a little, after the successive waves. Go then there continually, that, having purged away the abiding stain by their prayers and admonitions, you may both pass in the best manner the present life, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
Posted 04 July 2016 - 04:08 PM
In light of the recent discussion I thought I would post a link to one of the wisest things I have seen on the whole struggle for truth within the Church by St Paisios of Athos
A brief quote from the end of it reflecting the need to recognize God's providence and presence in the whole.
some from among us make senseless claims against the others. We want them to conform
to our own spiritual character. In other words, when someone else doesn’t harmonize
with our own character, or is only mildly tolerant—or even a little sharp—with us,
immediately we jump to the conclusion that he is not a spiritual person.
We’re all needed within the Church. All the Fathers, both the mild and the austere,
offered their services to Her. Just as the sweet, sour, bitter and even pungent
herbs are necessary for a man’s body (each has its own flavor and vitamins), the
same is true of the Body of the Church. All are necessary. The one fills up the
spiritual character of the other, and all of us are duty bound to endure not only
the particular spiritual character, but even the human weaknesses we each have.
Again, I come sincerely asking pardon from all for being so bold to write. I am
only a simple monk, and my work is to strive, as much as I am able, to divest myself
of the old man, and to help others and the Church, through God, by prayer. But because
heart-breaking news regarding our Holy Orthodoxy has reached even my hermitage,
I was greatly pained, and thus considered it good to write that which I felt. Let’s
all pray that God grants His Grace, and may each of us help in his own way for the
glory of our Church.
With much respect to all,
Edited by Anna Stickles, 04 July 2016 - 04:12 PM.
Posted 28 June 2017 - 02:26 AM
St Hilary, (On the Trinity)
And you, whose warmth of faith and passion for a truth unknown to the world and its philosophers shall prompt to read me, must remember to eschew the feeble and baseless conjectures of earthly minds, and in devout willingness to learn must break down the barriers of prejudice and half-knowledge. The new faculties of the regenerate intellect are needed; each must have his understanding enlightened by the heavenly gift imparted to the soul. First he must take his stand upon the sure ground [substantia = ὑποστάσει] of God, as holy Jeremiah says, that since he is to hear about that nature [substantia] he may expand his thoughts till they are worthy of the theme, not fixing some arbitrary standard for himself, but judging as of infinity.
And again, though he be aware that he is partaker of the Divine nature, as the holy apostle Peter says in his second Epistle, yet he must not measure the Divine nature by the limitations of his own, but gauge God’s assertions concerning Himself by the scale of His own glorious self-revelation. For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.
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