Human Personhood and the Value of Suffering

St. Niketas of Chalcedon

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not sin, and in whose mouth there is no guile. Because I kept silence, my bones are waxed old through my crying all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me, I was reduced to misery whilst the thorn struck fast in me. Mine iniquity have I acknowledged, and my sin have I not hid, I said: I will confess mine iniquities before the Lord against myself. And Thou forgavest the ungodliness of my heart. For this shall every one that is holy pray unto Thee in a seasonable time; moreover, in a flood of many waters shall they not come nigh unto him. Thou art my refuge from the affliction which surrounded me; O my Rejoicing, deliver me from them which have encircled me. I will instruct thee and teach thee in this way which thou shalt go; I will fix Mine eyes upon thee. Be ye not as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding; whose jaws thou must hold with bit and bridle, lest they come nigh unto thee. Many are the scourges of the sinner, but mercy shall encircle him that hopeth in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous, and glory, all ye that are upright of heart.


On May 28th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Hieromarty Eftychius of Melitene; St. Nikitas, bishop of Chalcedon; Saints Crescens, Paul, and Dioscorus of Rome; Helladius, bishop of the East; St. Germanus, Bishop of Paris; St. Ignatius, bishop of Rostov; St. Helikonis of Thessaloniki; New holy Martyr Demetrios; New holy Martyr Zacharias of Prusa (+1802); St. Andrew, fool-for-Christ; Righteous Sophrony of Bulgaria.

RIGHTEOUS SOPHRONY OF BULGARIA. St. Sophrony was a village parish priest in the district of Sophia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He and his wife escaped the oppression and violence of the area and moved to an area called Wallachia. When St. Sophrony's presbytera died, he took monastic vows. Later, he moved back to Bulgaria to a monastery in the town of Rousse, where he led a life of charity, prayer, fasting, and labor. However, one day a monastery servant, out of malice, struck St. Sophrony on the head with an ax and he died. Three years later, St. Sophrony appeared to the brothers of the monastery and directed them to unearth his holy relics, which they found to be incorrupt and fragrant. They placed them in a coffin and left them to lie in state, and there many miracles occurred. St. Sophrony's holy relics are now in Siberia.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 21:8-14
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 14:27-15:7


"Let me recall a wise tradition of the early Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying, 'How is your prayer?' The activity of prayer was considered by them to be a sign of the spiritual life, and they call it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives, without prayer, there is no spiritual life" [Saint Theophan the Recluse].

by Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen
[source: Reflections on a Spiritual Journey]

"What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man, that You take care of him?... Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren... For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" [Hebrews 2:6, 17-18].

Man is a great mystery. Human beings are crowned with glory and honor--created to be the very image of God. Every human being is an icon of God, a revelation of God, and filled with an infinite potential for growth in communion, for love.

The Scriptures tell us that God made man as the pinnacle of creation and put all things in subjection to him. This action, however, is seen as a process, not a point in time. It began with Adam, who named all creatures. It is still underway and will not be fulfilled until the Second Coming, when all things will be summed up in Christ and Christ gives over all things to the Father.

The Scriptures also tell us that man was created good by God. We bear the image of God as the defining element of our humanity. Part of that image is the potential to grow in likeness to God by our will and actions. Even though sin disrupts the fulfillment of that potential, we affirm that the potential is always there, that God's image is indelible. For this reason, the doctrine of "total depravity" of man is foreign to the understanding of the Orthodox Church.

Yet there is more to this story. Man's own being as the created image of God is not fulfilled until it is brought into union with the Uncreated Image of God, the Son. This is the essential process of creation itself: to move from potential to fulfillment. In Jesus, the created image and uncreated image of God come together, and in the Incarnation, through the human being, Mary, God becomes man. But yet, the process is still incomplete: Not only must Christ die and be resurrected, but the whole creation must be fulfilled in Him at the Second Coming. Until this time, the entire creation 'groans and labor with birth pangs' (Romans 8:22).

For us, the process of union with Christ is the content of our salvation, which begins now and is only ultimately fulfilled when we are resurrected from the dead. But in this world, as we grown into the likeness of God by our cooperation with His will, by love, we actualize that potential here and now.

Made Perfect through Suffering

Jesus Christ is God become man. He is the revelation of the fulfillment of what it means to be a human being, both in His life by His works and deeds, and in His death by His Resurrection. He is the criterion of our knowledge of God, and of God's relationship to the world. Jesus did not simply come and teach about God. Rather, He revealed God by becoming a human being.

Jesus revealed God's love for us by His complete identification with us. He took on our full humanity, our complete nature. 'He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming to the likeness of men.' Then He 'humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross' (Philippians 2:7-8). By taking on not only our humanity, but our suffering and death, Jesus, Who is the Incarnate Son and Word of God, shows God's love for man. To paraphrase the ancient Fathers, He became what we are that He might make us what He is.

Saint Paul says, 'But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the Angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:9-10).

How can it be that Jesus needed to be made perfect through suffering? It is because Jesus could not completely identify with us simply by assuming our human nature but not living our human life in the same flesh. He was not some kind of avatar (a deity temporarily taking on a human body), nor did He merely bear the resemblance of a man. Rather, He had to become completely what we are and shared our life. He could not do that unless He shared also our suffering, and ultimately, our death.

What a marvel that God would humble Himself even to death, the most shameful death of the Cross! Jesus suffered and died as we suffer and die. But He overcame death and transformed it, so that we might no longer suffer from fear of death. He assumed our whole life and death, 'that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage' (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus not only revealed God's love for us by becoming man and teaching us about God. As the Incarnate Son, He has also become the human face of God Who identifies with us in our suffering and temptations, having become like us in every respect including our pain and death. He revealed that God is not an abstract Being concealed in apophatic unapproachability, but is in reality a personal God Who desires union with His creation which He loves.

Working Out Our Own Salvation

Christ has brought about salvation for us by identifying with us. We work out our salvation by identifying with Him. Our reception of His gift of Himself to us requires active participation on our part. Our salvation, our deification (theosis), is not something that happens passively in this world. There is no such thing as instant salvation, no 'eternal security' once we have made some kind of affirmation that we accept Christ's 'atonement' for our sins.

Salvation is a process of continually identifying with Christ, a dynamic process that is mutual and reciprocal, it is a 'relationship.' Jesus suffered that He might accompany us in our suffering. He was tempted that He might strengthen us when we are tempted. He overcame the fear of death that we might no longer be subject and in bondage to it. In this, Jesus shows God's love and respect for us, for our freedom, for the integrity of our lives. He does not live our life for us, but rather has enabled us to live our life in Him, insofar as we will it.

Jesus did not come to eliminate suffering, rather, He transformed it. Jesus was tempted, but He did not fall. He overcame the temptations that He might strengthen us to not succumb to temptation. He showed that suffering does not mean abandonment by God: Even on the Cross He remained faithful to God, and God remained faithful to Him, He was not left in the grave.

Jesus was faced with the temptation to reject His Cross. He chose rather to suffer, that His Own suffering might work salvation for the whole world. Jesus transformed suffering into communion and overcame the power of temptation, so that we might have the strength to accept our own suffering as our cross and to overcome temptation.

Jesus came and suffered out of His love and compassion for us, so that we might learn to bear suffering as He bore it-as an act of compassion. This is what gives suffering meaning and value--it breaks the bonds of our selfishness and isolation from one another, so that we may truly love one another in compassion. We co-suffer with those who are suffering, that their suffering might not them into despair and death.

Suffering is inescapable in this fallen world. We suffer of our own sins and those of orthers. We suffer because of death and grief, pain and separation, as victims and as perpetrators. We suffer as a result of our sinfulness, because of our selfishness and because we don't get our own way. This latter kind, suffering as a result of our own selfishness, is the first thing of which we need to be purified.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George