Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplication! In Your faithfulness answer me, And in Your righteousness, Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in darkness, Like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hand to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land.
Answer me speedily, O Lord; My spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me; Lest I be like those who go down into the pit. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning. For in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; In You I take shelter. Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.
Revive me, O Lord, for Your name's sake! For Your righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble. In Your mercy cut off my enemies, And destroy all those who afflict my soul;
For I am Your servant.
On July 21st 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: Saint Symeon of Emesa, Fool-for-Christ's Sake, and his fellow ascetic John; Saint Parthenios, bishop of Radobysidios; St. Acacius of Constantinople; Saint Eleftherios of "Dry Hill"; Saints Justus, Matthew, and Eugene of the 13 who suffered with Trophimos and Theophilos; Saint Victor of Marseilles; Saint Bargabdesian at Arbela; Saint Paul and John, ascetics near Edessa; Saint Onuphrius the Silen of the Kiev Caves.
OUR HOLY FATHERS SIMEON AND JOHN. These two young men left their homes and kinsfolk: Saint Simeon his old mother and Saint John his wife, and were made monks in the community of Saint Gerasim, at the hands of Abbot Nikon. They went off into the desert, where they spent many years in the strictest asceticism. They mortified their bodies with this ascesis until they were like tow pieces of dry wood. One day, Saint Symeon said to Saint John that, at God's command, he must leave the desert and return to the company of men, there to serve God. Saint John gave him this advice: 'Keep your heart from all that you see in the world. Whatever there may be that touches your hand, let it not take hold of your heart. When food passes your lips, let not your heart be sweetened by it. If your feet have to move, let there be peace within you. Whatever you do outwardly, let your mind remain tranquil. Pray for me that God may not part us from each other in the world to come.' Holy Symeon accepted his friend's advice, embraced him and then left the desert and went among men, to teach them through folly and turn them to the Christian faith. He made himself appear mad to men, but his heart was a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of unceasing prayer. He had abundant gifts from God, having discernment into all men's secrets, both close at hand and afar off, and healed men of evil spirits and other infirmities. He appeared to sinners in dreams, reprimanding them for their sins and calling them also to repentance. Thus Saint Symeon appeared in a dream to a pagan actor, Bali, who publicly mocked the holy things of the Christians. He rebuked him and threatened him, and Bali repented and became a good Christian. A dissolute youth went out of his mind with lust. Seeing him, Saint Symeon, feigning madness, struck him a blow on the face, and said: 'Do not commit adultery?' At that moment, the unclean spirit left the young man and he was healed.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURES ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 12:1-6
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 10:37-42, 11:1
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"If we genuinely love God, we cast out the passions by this very love. This is charity towards Him-to prefer Him to the world, the soul to the flesh, while scorning worldly matters to devote oneself to Him continually by means of self-control, charity, prayer and so on." [St. Maximus the Confessor]
SUFFERING IN THE LIGHT OF DIVINE REVELATION
Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev [source: The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation]
"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." [Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:6]
The question of suffering is one of the most sensitive questions. Many ask themselves: why has God created us to suffer in this world from different diseases, sorrows, calamities, troubles, and misfortunes; from passions on the inside, from bad people on the outside, from the envy of neighbors, from the menace of enemies? For those who do not believe in God, this world is a hopeless valley of sorrows; life for them is a sad symphony of wailing and weeping. Some in their despair even say that there is no other hell beyond the grave, that hell is here, on earth. In this way earthly sorrows, not being lightened by the hopes of heavenly Revelation, lead to pessimism and despair. The worst thing in such cases is that suffering does not carry any meaning in itself that would soften it, making it doubly hard to bear.
Here we will endeavor to examine the question of suffering in the light of the Divine Revelation.
ARE WE CREATED FOR SORROW OR FOR JOY?
First of all, one thing must be clear to us: God has created us not for sorrow, but for joy. Where do we see man for the first time? In Paradise! According to the testimony of the Holy Bible, especially of the New Testament, man is intended for Paradise, not for hell. The fact that many are perishing does not yet mean that such were God's intentions for man. No! God is love (I John 4:8). He does not want the death of the sinner (Ezek. 33:11), but on the contrary, "will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth" (I Tim. 2:4). The following situation is very significant: on Judgment Day, the Savior will say to the righteous: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." And He will say to the sinners: Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, "prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matthew 25:34, 41). From this, it is clearly seen that, according to God's plan, Paradise was prepared for men, and hell--for the demons.
God placed Adam in Paradise. In that wonderful place of joy the first man was unspeakably happy because he was close to God. Happiness is being with God, and away from Him there is no true or lasting joy. In the Kingdom of God where God Himself will rule, there will be no sorrow. God will wipe away every tear from the eye (Rev. 7:17). Adam was happy in Paradise as long as he had an inner connection with God through grace. But where did sorrows come from?--from sin. As soon as Adam sinned he began to suffer, even though he was still in Paradise. Sin carries its own punishment in itself. The devil destroys his friends who obey his will. Conscience reproaches the one who goes against the divine principles and transgresses God's Commandments. Even before God drove Adam and Eve out Paradise, Adam had himself had already left it inwardly by violating God's law and by losing the grace. He began to suffer from the moment he fell. It is not God, then who is to blame for Adam's suffering, but it Adam himself. God had created him for joy, but he chose sorrow for himself.
Some will say: "If Adam has sinned, why do we have to suffer because of him today?" We are his children and as such we must share the fate of our ancestor, but this answer treats only the objective side of the question. There is another side as well, which is subjective and explains the strength and consolation contained in our faith. We do not suffer only because of some necessity to pay for our ancestor's sin. Everyone forgets his own fate, and under this circumstance we do not have to partake of all the disasters and sufferings of which Adam became a victim. If we want to, we can choose another way of life, not the way of disobedience and pride which ruined Adam, but the way of obedience and humility; and thus we can become happy even here on earth. This was somewhat possible even in the Old Testament times. There have been righteous people like King David, for example, who found the lost joy of human life in their longing for God. How much more possible this is in the New Testament times, after the coming of Jesus Christ Who came to earth to renew and regenerate fallen human nature, to restore us to grace and the lost paradisiacal bliss!
The Word [Logos] of God testifies of the Savior and His Wondrous gifts of grace: "But as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become sons of God, to them that believe on His name " (St. John 1:12). To become a child of God, is this not the same as returning to the lost Paradise? Is this not something even greater? This is how kind God is towards us, the children of Adam. He has given us the opportunity to avoid the disastrous fate of our ancestor if we want to. Adam was gifted by God with a free will, but he missed his freedom and transgressed God's Law. That is why he began to suffer. We, too, have this great gift--freedom. If we embrace God's law, if we subject our sinful will to the holy will of God, we will not suffer like Adam but will foretaste the paradisiacal joys even in this life, and in the age to come we will also live in bliss eternally with those who have pleased God.
The Saints are proof of this. They, while still on earth, were as if in Paradise, because they were always in a mystical communion with God. They never fell away from His Law and through their humility and obedience stayed firmly in the grace which made them infinitely happy. One of the most radiant Saints--Saint Seraphim of Sarov--who died only about a hundred and ten years ago, had achieved such a happiness on earth that it was simply overflowing the banks of his soul and attracted all who came to him in faith. For example, the Saint of Sarov greeted everyone he met with the words: "What brings you to poor Seraphim, my joy?" He was living in such a blissful and joyous state that he always felt as if it were Pascha. That is why, even during the winter, he often said to people: "Christ is risen, my joy!" Saint Seraphim of Sarov also lived in a marvelous peace with all animals. An enormous bear used to come to him from the woods to eat dried bread from his hands. Does not this remind us of Adam's condition in Paradise? How much more wondrous is this because it happens here, on earth! If things like this can happen even here, what would the condition of the righteous ones be in heaven?
Pride is a very loathsome sin before the Lord. The devil had not murdered or stolen, or committed adultery or some other sin of that kind. He had only become proud, and this single sin turned him from a bright Angel into a dark Satan. God sends us suffering to deliver us from the deadly pride. How much we should thank God for the sorrows which He sends to humble and save us. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (I Peter 5:6), says the holy Apostle Peter, and the Psalmist writes: "Blessed is the man whom Thou shalt chasten, O Lord; and out of Thy lawn shalt Thou instruct him" (Psalm 93:12).
Through sorrows God protects us from any great trouble. Those who do not know sickness, grief or failure become presumptuous and proud.
A story is told of a very pious Russian priest who once said to one of his parishioners who was living in luxury and did not know sorrow and suffering: "God has left you, wretched man of fortune; pray to him to send you some punishment, so that you will be delivered from your complacency and pride." Not long after that, the home of that rich man burned. He cried a lot and, pondering on the words of the good priest, accepted God's punishment with humility. That punishment was a true blessing for him, and from that day on he became a good Christian. In this way sorrow saved him. The words of Moses proved true for him: "When thou are in tribulation…if thou turn to the Lord Thy God and shalt be obedient unto His voice…He will not forsake thee" (Deut. 4:30, 31). How much wisdom do sufferings bring in life! It is only through them that a man becomes wiser, as the Psalmist writes: "Before I was humbled, I transgressed, therefore Thy saying have I kept" (Psalm 118:67).
In these God-inspired words we receive the answer to the difficult question: Why do the wicked prosper? The answer is: they prosper temporarily on this earth, since they are incorrigible sinners; and the Lord has left them, because even suffering cannot set them straight. God has placed them in slippery places and takes them down into the abyss.
From the previous parts of this book it is clearly seen that sufferings are a great blessing in life. Should we grumble when God sends us sorrows? We should not, rather, we should kiss the invisible Hand which punishes us. "For whom the Lord loveth, He chastenth, and schoureth every son whom He receiveth. If you endure chastening," says the Holy Paul,"God dealth with you as sons, for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if you be without chastisment, whereof all are partakers, then you are bastards and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).
There is not one Saint who has not walked the road of suffering until he was saved. Saint John Chrysostom says: Let us not consider this a sign that God has abandoned us and has despised us, when we are subjected to trials (sorrows), but let it be a sign to us that the Lord cares for us, because, by allowing the trials to come, he is cleansing our sins." The deeper the sorrow, the closer God is; the darker the night, the brighter the stars.
All sorrowful and humble people are God's beloved. Would God abandon them? NO, He will not abandon them either in this world or in the one to come. He tenderly calls all suffering people to Himself: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (St. Matthew 11:28).
With sincere agape In His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God