The Meaning of Suffering

St. Autonomus


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


Lord, forgive those who hate us and are unjust to us; do good to those who are good to us. To our brothers and sisters and members of our family grant their petitions that are unto salvation and life-eternal; visit those who are sick and grant healing to them; accompany and protect those who travel by land, sea and air; stand by as an ally to our faithful rulers; to those who serve us and are merciful to us grant forgiveness of sins; to those who have asked us to pray for them, unworthy though we be, grant them forgiveness and mercy according to Your great mercy. Remember, Lord, all of our predeceased-Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters-and grant them a blessed repose where the Light of Your countenance shines. Remember, Lord, our brothers in captivity and deliver them from every difficult circumstance. Remember, Lord, those who labor and do good works in Your holy Churches; grant them their petitions which are unto salvation and eternal life. Remember, Lord, also us, Your humble, sinful and unworthy servants, enlighten our mind with the Light of Your Knowledge and guide us on the way of Your Commandments,

Through the intercessions of Your All-Pure Mother and of all Your Saints; for You are Blessed unto all the ages. Amen.


On September 12th 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: Apodosis of the Holy Nativity of the Theotokos; Aftonomos, Bishop in Italy; Saint Julian of Galatia and 40 martyrs; Saint Daniel of Thassos; Saint Coronatos, bishop of Iconium; holy Martyr Theodore, Bishop of Alexandria.

THE HIEROMARTYR AFTONOMOS. A Bishop, he left Italy for Bithynia in Asia during Diocletian's persecution, going to a place called Soreoi, where he brought many to the Christian faith and built them a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. He stayed in the house of a devout Christian, Cornelius, whom Aftonomos ordained priest and then consecrated bishop. Not far from the town of Soreoi was a place called Limnae, entirely inhabited by pagans. Saint Aftonomos went to this place and quickly brought many to the light by the Gospel of Christ. This roused the pagans, and they hurried one day to the church of the Archangel Michael in Soreoi and, during divine service, slew Saint Aftonomos in the altar, killing also many other Christians in the church. In the time of the Emperor Constantine, a noble courtier, Severian, built a church over Saint Aftonomos's grave. Two hundred years after his death, Saint Aftonomos appeared to a soldier called John. This soldier dug up the Saint's holy relics and found them to be completely uncorrupt, and many of the sick received healing from them. Thus God glorified him who glorified Him while in the body.

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: Galatians 3:15-22
Holy Gospel Lesson: Saint John 11:47-54


"The Cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind. Do not, then, be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; rather, glory in it...For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man." [Saint Cyril of Jerusalem]

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

"Jesus said, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.' Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me'" (Saint Luke 9:22).

The Passion of the Christ

The Orthodox Church's iconography, as well as its liturgical texts, do not dwell on the physical and psychological sufferings of the Christ. Jesus is always depicted dead on the Cross, at peace, in a gesture of complete acceptance of all that happened to Him, and embracing all in the cosmic pronouncement of forgiveness, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Neither does our theology focus on the physical suffering of Jesus as the ultimate "work of Christ." The Orthodox Tradition focuses on Who Jesus is, which is revealed by His work. While we in no way negate the sufferings of Jesus, we see them in the context of the whole economy of salvation, as one aspect of our redemption and salvation. It is the Son of God Incarnate Who suffered in the flesh, for us and for our salvation, at our hands. As Orthodox, we can say, as do all other Christians, He suffered and died for me, for my sins, because of my sins. But there is more to it. His suffering and death, and Resurrection from the dead, reveal Who He is; but, they also reveal to us who we are, and show us how to endure suffering and transform it.

The churches of the Roman Catholic tradition, Papal, Protestant, Evangelical and Charismatic, focus on the suffering of Jesus as the very act of redemption. This focus of the Western tradition comes from the theological development of their doctrine of the Atonement. This rests on profoundly different presuppositions of the Orthodox Tradition.

The Satisfaction Theory of Atonement

The Western tradition is predominantly based on the 11th century writings of Anselm of Canterbury, and his "satisfaction theory of the Atonement," then later, for many Protestants, on John Calvin's penal substitution theory from the 16th century. For Anselm, it takes an infinite sacrifice to propitiate the wrath of God, whose honor was infinitely offended by man's sin. Thus, it took the Son of God to become man, to provide that infinite satisfaction, since no other sacrifice could satisfy the wrath of the Father. Anselm, coming from the Orthodox Tradition of the West, was still primarily interested in Who Jesus is. However, the new presupposition introduced by Anselm is that God is infinitely offended, and it is God Whom must be reconciled to man and must be propitiated.

For the Orthodox, Christ's death expiates (does away with) the effects of sin that prevent man from knowing God and accepting His forgiveness. Man was alienated from God. For Anselm, it is God Who is alienated by man's sin, and who must propitiated in order to save man, where only the suffering and death of the Son of God can satisfy the debt. For the Orthodox, Christ's sufferings and death show that Christ truly accepted our nature and all its brokenness by His Incarnation in order to heal it by the Resurrection. We enter into that healing of our nature and relationship with the Father by our own acceptance of the Cross. We are purified and illumined through repentance, and made partakers of Christ's resurrected life through grace…

An Orthodox Approach to Christ's Suffering and Our Own

As Orthodox Christians, we have an entirely different set of presuppositions about God, about Christ and His suffering and Resurrection, and our relationship to them. Christ assumed our suffering, pain and death out of love for us and thus to abolish death and make all things new. By death He overcame the power of sin, and by obedience overcame sin itself. Punishment does not enter into the Orthodox understanding of redemption; this comes from Calvin. The idea of satisfaction is also alien, coming from Anselm's medieval paradigm of chivalry. In Orthodox thought, God's infinite mercy and compassion is the focus of our vision, not being "saved from the wrath of God" as some translations distort the Bible itself to justify the "wrath of God" as suppositions.

The Son of God assumed our humanity in order to bring it to its fulfillment and thus He has to assume our fallenness that He might heal our brokenness. The healing and fulfillment of our humanity is the Resurrection. He suffered and died to show us how to endure suffering, and to give meaning to our suffering and death. He accepted the Cross so that we might be able to bear our Cross. He fulfilled the law and was obedient to the Father to the point of death, showing what obedience is. Jesus revealed to us that God is our Loving Father who suffers all things for the sake of our salvation.

Jesus accepted to suffer and die and to be raised from the dead out of love for us and for our salvation. He came to earth to recapitulate humanity in Himself, to assume it and heal it. Human beings had fallen into sin and corruption. The Son of God came into the world and became man to raise humanity from corruption and death. He came to save man from the effects of sin and the tyranny of the devil. As God Incarnate He bore in His humanity, not the wrath of God, but the accumulated wrath of human anger and rejection of God by all humanity, all the effects of sin and rebellion, in order to overcome them.

"Let this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-11).

Jesus bore the Cross of obedience to the point of death. He bore the Cross of humility, of self-emptying, not holding on to His equality with God the Father. This self-emptying of all the prerogatives of His Divinity, all the qualities of His Divine Nature, was necessary because otherwise He could not be human in every way that we are. Jesus became everything that we are by nature, that He might make us everything that he is by the gift of grace. He reconciled man to God. Man had been alienated from God and persisted in the vanity of rebellion, and had to be reconciled to the unconditionally loving and forgiving God who patiently waited for man's repentance. Because of fear of death (Heb. 2:15), humanity was in bondage to sin--rebellion against God. By destroying death, He destroyed the power of sin (I Cor. 15:56). His obedience overcame that rebellion, and in His humanity He remained in unbroken communion with the Father despite the suffering and despite death. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19).

Jesus did not suffer in order to abolish suffering in this world. He accepted to suffer so that He might accompany us in our suffering, being like us in everything except for sin. He takes on suffering so that He might show us how to hope in the midst of suffering, that it need not lead to despair. Despair, the loss of hope, is in essence the fear of death, and thus the root of sin (Hebrews 2:15). He shows us how to accept suffering without despair, by revealing that though we feel abandoned by God in the midst of our suffering, that God has not abandoned us and will raise our life from corruption. God does not abandon us or reject us in our suffering; rather it is we who abandon Him in despair of death, hanging on the Cross, and cried out in the words of the Psalm, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" But the Psalm continues, a song of hope and praise:

"But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! ...I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will raise offspring of Israel! ...For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard him" (Psalm 22:19-25).

The temptation of suffering is despair, to lose hope and to abandon God. Christ remained faithful, freely giving Himself over to God at the culmination of His suffering: "Father, into You hands I commit My spirit" (St. Luke 23:46).

Hope and faith are the very means of our relationship with God, the means of our communion and synergy. Suffering endured for Christ, in faith and hope, makes us confront ourselves and cleanses us from all our selfish fears. Thus, suffering itself, endured for Christ's sake, becomes a means of communion with Him, purifying us of all that is in rebellion against God. This communion is itself the very essence of joy.

Life in this world inevitably includes suffering. The life of this world passes away, and its suffering has an end. Christ accompanies us in our suffering, giving us hope in the assurance that He has overcome the world by revealing to us the Resurrection. In this is the substance of our hope that enables us to bear all things by the grace of Christ.

The Paschal hymn is very essence of the Gospel:

"Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life!"

In His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George