HOW TO SUFFER TRIBULATION
Father Teofil’s speech / France, 20th June, 1999. Source : Feuille Saint Jean Cassien, No. 68 / June 2000 – « Faire de la souffrance la croix de notre salut »
Translated from Romanian by Marian Sorin Rădulescu (http://pseudokinematikos2.blogspot.ro)
Suffering – a reality, a problem, and a mystery
Every since my youth I have wondered what the purpose of suffering is and I have hardly found the right answer. I have noticed that for everyone, whether they are in pain or not, suffering is a reality, a problem and a mystery. As a reality that nobody can help facing, a problem that nobody has ever solved, suffering remains a mystery. But then, it is of little importance what we may think of suffering; what really matters is how we relate to our own suffering. What can we do to avoid pain?
The Church does not want Her people to suffer. During our services we pray for a Christian ending to our life, painless and peaceful, for a good answer to Christ’s frightening judgment. The Church wishes that Her believers live peacefully and, painlessly. In the Divine Liturgy we also pray for Church leaders, for our bishop, so that the Lord will keep him sound, in peace, honest, healthy, long living. When we make this litany for the Church leaders, we add that our prayer is directed to everyone and to “all His people”.
The Church wishes that everybody should live in peace, be healthy and long living. She does not encourage suffering, but rather teaches us how to bear it when we come to experience it. She teaches us to accept our own lot of suffering, to receive it for our own good. We are not to wish for suffering, but we should accept it if it comes. It is not necessary that people should have their own lot of pain. Some are spared, others can bear it easily, and others can hardly bear it. I mean physical pain. I know people who can bear severe pain, who are stuck to their beds and are still ecstatic with a kind of joy that remains unknown to healthy people. Some rebel against suffering, others simply ignore it. We should mind the intensity of each and every particular suffering, as there are forms of suffering that could destroy a human being.
«If we are to suffer, let it not be in vain»
I know people who can face pain. A Romanian physician who believes in God once said there are two things people cannot do unless they believe in God: to raise good children and to endure severe suffering. I trust that whoever has a heavy cross to bear, has to power to bear it with God’s help, too. They only receive their lot of pain from God Himself, knowing that whatever God has suffered is not in vain. Saint Mark the Ascetic said that knowing the source of suffering is of a lesser importance. What really matters, he added, is how we manage to accommodate with it without revolting. Father Arsenie Boca used to say: “If we are to suffer, at least let us not suffer in vain”. In order to make use of pain for one’s own good, one must believe that suffering does have a point, however hard to be figured out its purpose may be. In fact, whoever understands the nature of pain ceases to be in pain.
I would say that suffering is a reality we can try to avoid, and a problem we can try to solve. Yet, we ought to bow in front of such a mystery and use the suffering we are to bear for our own spiritual growth.
We are commanded to do our best to help our neighbour
If we fail to understand our own pain, we will not be able to understand somebody else’s pain. We can, though, try to help them bear their own lot of pain. It is a duty, as the Lord called us to be co-workers and help our neighbour. Even if we have no power to heal, we have the duty to do our best to help our neighbour. Let us consider the four people who brought the paralytic from Capernaum in front of the Lord. They could have waited to meet the Lord, but they didn’t. They just wanted to bring their friend in front of the Lord as quickly as they could, to have him cured. They realized they could not heal him, but they knew the Lord could.
Still, the Lord does not always heal. He lets some suffer for their own good and for the good of everybody else. I have often noticed that people who suffer pain or who have experienced great pain in their lives are strong. With a totally different perspective on life, they have also acquired certain qualities unknown to people who have been spared from suffering. Suffering can be taken as a gift, a form of enrichment. Some think that suffering is not fair and wish it had not happened to them. But this only occurs when we compare to others, which is pointless anyway, since every human being has to live the life he has received. Each one of us relates in a personal way to suffering and can gain something from suffering. I think we ought to develop the understanding of the fact that God has approved of our suffering; therefore suffering has a reason, however obscure it may seem to us. Such a confidence helps us to bear our cross with dignity.
There is no salvation without a cross
I can assure you that faith in God helps us bear a great suffering. Let us not forget that if we suffered, we do not want to suffer, as neither the Church, nor the people wish to experience it. Should we avoid it if we can? Definitely! But let us not escape from the saving cross. The Lord does not bless such an attitude. He asks that each of us should bear one’s own cross, the cross of dispassion. There is no salvation without a cross; saving does not come by the Lord’s Cross alone, it may well come by bearing one’s cross. Whenever we face temptation, experience pain or fall ill, we also encounter the cross we are to bear. That cross truly becomes the cross of our salvation.
Let us ask the Lord the power to accept suffering whenever it is sent to us
Let us be assured that the cross is necessary to our salvation. We pray to God for sound health, but let us not forget to ask Him the power to accept suffering when it is sent to us. We should ask God to fortify our faith in order to resist all the tribulations that come to us. We should ask God to help us bear our suffering with joy. Saint Isaac the Syrian used to say: “Look for a physicist before you get sick and pray before temptation arrives”.
Let us prepare for suffering – physical or moral. Yet, we must humble ourselves in order to endure moral suffering and make good use of it. Let us not get disturbed when we see that suffering is a reality we can not avoid, a problem we can not solve, a mystery that unites us with the Lord’s Cross for our own good and spiritual growth. Suffering is a mystery that unites us with our Lord’s pain, Who was merciful and has saved us because He loves us. It is a mystery that unites us with the Lord, Who still loves us when He lets us suffer, and wipes out our tears when He knows we suffer for our own good.
We are not alone. God is with us. Let us believe that our guarding angel is always with us, that our Lady always protects us, for better and for worse. Let us believe that God’s mercy is always with us.