Orthodox Spiritual Life (Part XII)

Martyr Agrippina of Rome

Martyr Agrippina of Rome

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):

Holy Martyr Agrippina of Rome; Holy Hieromartyrs Aristocles the Presbyter, Demetrios the Deacon, and Athanasius the Reader, of Cyprus; Holy Martyrs Efstochius the Presbyter of Pisidia, Gaius his nephew, and his children, Lollia, Proba, and Urban, who were beheaded in Ancyra; our Righteous Mother Etheldreda (Audrey), Egoumenissa (Abbess) of Ely; the righteous youth Artemius of Verkola; holy relics of Saint Germanus, Archbishop of Kazan; our righteous Fathers Joseph, Anthony, and Joannicius of Volgda; holy relics of Saint Michael of Klops, the Fool-for-Christ's sake; holy New Hieromartyrs Metrophanes, Archbishop ofAstrakhan, and Leontius, Bishop of Yenotaevsk, who were slain by the communists atheists in the year 1919; holy New Hieromartyr Maximus, Bishop of Serpukhov, First Bishop of the Catacomb Church in Russia, who was slain by the atheists in the year 1931; Synaxis of the Vladimir holy Icon of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

+ By the intercessions of Thy Saint, O Christ God, have mercy on us. Amen.

"True faith in Christ is humble, patient, merciful, full of loving-kindness." (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk)

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ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL LIFE: SUFFERING
By Saint Silouan the Athonite

"We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God."-Acts of the Apostles

"The greater the love, the greater the suffering." -Saint Silouan the Athonite

The Cause of Suffering

The lack of humility can be the source of much spiritual suffering. Saint Silouan states specifically: "We suffer because we lack humility." Many times suffering in the spiritual life is self-inflicted, and most often it is brought on by pride. Pride in oneself or in one's achievements sets one man against another. ["This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" St. John 15:12.] This makes it impossible to follow the Great Commandment of Christ to "love one another." Pride therefore separates man not only from one another, but also from God. Pride drives away the grace of the Holy Spirit. By separating himself from God and his neighbor, the proud man brings untold suffering and spiritual affliction upon himself.

Separation from God not only leads to suffering, but it is seen as sin itself. Sin is not simply a legal or juridical transgression of Divine ordinances set forth by a vengeful Judge; rather, sin is that which separates man from God, his Maker and Lord. In this light, sin is seen as a sickness that requires healing, rather than as an offense or transgression of law that demands retribution. Anything that leads to man's separation from God is sin. Pride is the primary cause of this separation, i.e., the primary source of sin.

[When referring to pride as the source of sin, Elder Sophrony lists various evil aspects of pride which afflict man and end in sin and suffering: "Pride is the source of sin, comprising of every aspect that evil can assume--conceit, ambition, indifference, cruelty, disregard of the suffering of others, day-dreaming, over fantasizing, a demented expression in the eye, gloom, melancholy, despair, animosity, envy, an inferiority complex, carnal desires, wearisome psychological disturbance, rebellious feelings, fear of death or on the contrary, wanting to put an end to life, and lastly and not seldom, utter madness. These are indications of demonic spirituality. But until they show up clearly, they pass unnoticed for many." Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 203-204. Compare his reference to "a demented expression in the eye" with the words of Saint Gregory Palamas: "Our eyes must acquire a gentle glance, attractive to others, and conveying the mercy from on high (for it is written, 'He who has a gentle look will receive grace.') See Proverbs 12:13]

The Apostle Paul provides a classic example of how pride, in this instance in one's own spiritual progress, can be the cause of suffering. Such suffering is allowed by God in order to humble those who are advancing in the spiritual life. Referring to certain "visions and revelations from the Lord" which were granted to him, and describing how he was "caught up into Paradise and heard words too sacred to tell," Saint Paul explains how on account of pride he was allowed to suffer a particular affliction (See 2 Cor. 12:7). From the way he describes it we see that such afflictions are given for the spiritual benefit of the believer (St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues 1.).

Saint Maximos the Confessor also refers to such cases of the spiritually advanced who, on becoming puffed-up with pride in their progress, are then "rightly handed over" to hardship and suffering for the express purpose of humility. Such suffering is providential and ultimately intended for the spiritual healing and discipline of those who truly love the Lord. These sufferings, hardships and afflictions encountered in the spiritual life take on a variety of forms. There are both bodily illnesses as well as those afflictions affecting the soul. [For example Saint Diodochos of Photiki writes: "...the bodies of those contending for holiness have to be tested by frequent illnesses, and their souls tried by evil thoughts." On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination 94, The Philokalia, vol. 1.] It is interesting to note that suffering--whether of the soul or of the body--may be considered as a way in which one gains the 'crown of martyrdom.' [Saint Macarius 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" (The Freedom of the intellect 131, The Philokalia, vol 3, p. 343). In any case, according to Orthodox anthropology, man is considered a psychosomatic unity (soul and body) and not a simple composite of two disparate elements. The condition of the body affects the soul, and vice versa. For example, the afflictions of the flesh provide the opportunity for the purification of the soul, as well as the acquisition of spiritual virtues.

Various forms of suffering may also be distinguished. This is based on the different reasons or causes for suffering. As was already mentioned, there is suffering that results directly from the passion of pride, that the believer may be humbled, while there is another that is allowed so that the believer may advance toward the heights of spiritual perfection. Examples of those who have endured this second and higher type of suffering, known as the 'suffering-righteous' are found throughout Holy Scripture. The Church holds up the figure of Job the 'Long-suffering'. Believers are called to look toward and emulate his 'God-pleasing' perseverance and steadfast faith, especially during the most severe sufferings and trials. Job thus serves as a model or prototype for those who are called to suffer for the sake of Christ. [See Phil. 1:29. Cf. Archim. Sophrony: "Those who in a transport of faith take up the cross to follow after Him suffer pain their whole life through." On Prayer, Essex, England, 1996, p. 20.

(Next: Suffering as an unavoidable aspect of the life in Christ)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,

The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George