“How would we know ourselves if no one caused us sorrow, and how would we aquire patience, and how would we be humbled? All of this does not happen without Divine Providence, but by His most wise supervision, each person is presented situations which can disturb and shake him, for testing his will and patience, so that he can see his infirmity and be humbled, or so he can acquire the virtues of patience and love.” – St. Macarius of Optina
“If we partake of the Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ with faith and not condemnation, then all of the snares of our spiritual enemies who harass us will become ineffectual and useless. We partake without condemnation, firstly, when we approach the Mysteries with sincere and humble repentance and confession of our sins, with firm resolve not to return to them, and secondly, when we approach without remembrance of wrongs, having become reconciled in our heart with all those who have grieved us.” -St. Ambrose of Optina
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
An Elder said: “If we are children of the Holy Apostles -as the Apostle Paul proclaims and tells us: ‘For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel'(1Cor. 4:15) – then we are obligated, as children, to imitate our parents. And just as the Apostles experienced joy when they were beaten and remained unperturbed when they were slandered (since it was said by Gentile and Jew, alike, that they were turning the world upside down with their magic and potions), so should we also feel in similar circumstances. The APostles, in all of these and like things, not only were not grieved but, on the contrary, we taken away with joy. So it is that they said with satisfaction: ‘Being reviled, we bless…being defamed, we entreat’ (1Cor. 4:12-13), and other things. And this was all written that we might also imitate them. Therefore, when we suffer such things and hear bitter words, we should be joyful, as though we have gained a treasure, and share in the trials and tribulations of the Holy Apostles and Matryrs; and we should await yet greater things, showing that we are their true kinsman and gaining even more notably by becoming partakers of the unending glory of the heavens.” ~The Evergetinos, Book two
I simply cannot add to that.
Evagrios also said: “I do not condemn those who speak ill of me. Instead, I call them my benefactors, and I do not turn away the Physician of souls when He offers degradation as a medicine to the conceited soul. I fear lest it might be said of my own soul by the Spirit of God: ‘We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed'(Jer. 51:9). Since, then, our Lord is good, he has given us holy commandments, analogous with our evils, which expunge our evils by cauterization and purgatives. It is, Indeed, impossible for us to be delivered from our sickness in any other way, save by proper and appropriate therapies.”
When did we begin to believe the demonic lie that somehow we were perfect? We certainly do not like to say it out loud, but our actions say otherwise. When we are criticized, we take such great offense, and often we begin to harbor ill will towards our detractors.
If, say, we were criticized by a Farrier for being absolutely horrible at performing the trade, yet we had never even once approached a horse in our whole life, would we be hurt or offended? Of course not! Why would on earth would we? The reaction would likely be: “Yes, that is indeed a fact.”
Yet: when we are criticized for not being perfect at life (even if it is according to someone’s warped opinion on how to be perfect) we feel entitled to be offended and resentful, when in fact we should say “Thank you. Yes, I am not perfect, for I see and know He Who Is.”
In this way we acknowledge our shortcomings, enlighten our brother by our God-given humility and earn our treasures that moth nor worm can destroy.
Let us hold the words of St. Feofil the fool-for-Christ close to our hearts and remember to do them: “We must pray for our enemies…Indeed, they are our benefactors.”
“Blessed Synkletiki would say to those who visited her that, just as wax melts before fire, so the soul is crippled by praise and loses its power. On the contrary, just as cooling will harden a candle that is melting from the heat, making it rigid, so insults and scorn strengthen the soul and stabilize it. For indeed, as Holy Scripture says, “Rejoice and bel thankful when men shall revile and persecute you” (See Mt. 5:11) and so on. And in another place: “In mine affliction Thou didst set me at large” (Psalm 4:1).
Not only this, but abasement is that which naturally instills in the soul the most important of the virtues, that is, humility. For in reality, humility takes its energy from ridicule, insults, blows and mockery visited on us: for one to hear it said of himself that he is brainless, poor, of low birth, sickly and slothful in his work, or for one to be called stupid or be accused of looking pitiable.
Things of this sort strengthen humility; such things our Lord heard and endured. He was called, for example, a Samaritan who had a devil (John 8:48). He was struck, wounded, and called a deceiver and thief. Now, we must imitate the true humility of the Lord. Because there are many who pretend to be humble in exterior form, and thus gain in this way, glory among men; however by their fruits, it is made known that they are not humble, since when they are in the slightest bit insulted, they cannot bear this, but immediately, like vipers, pour out their poison.” ~Evergetinos Book 2
We are strengthened by adversity. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” we often heard as kids. Correct. And both will make make you stronger. We live in a society that has become soft and doesn’t want to hurt or offend anyone ever. While that can be an understandable sentiment, it only weakens people and societies. Life is hard. Christ nowhere, in any way or any word said that we would have it cushy being Christians. No, the opposite was true, for over and over in the Gospels we are warned that following Him will not be easy at all.
And so, when life throws its lemons at us, we need to make spiritual lemonade. Becoming stronger in any way requires te laborious task of enduring difficulties. if we are to become strong in the Lord, we too must take up our crosses, suffer through our Way of Sorrows to Golgotha and be cricified with Him.
Our comfort and reward is the Resurrection!
This is an exerpt of a homily I gave last summer. It’s a bit long for a blog post, but I hope you will forgive me.
From the life of St. Zosima Verkhovsky.
“Zosima’s parents had many children. Of three sons, Zosima was the youngest, and in baptism he was named Zachary. The sons were officers in the elite guard in St. Petersburg. Their father was the governor of the Smolensk region. The brothers were living in the capital when they received news of their father’s death. Their loving hearts were anxious to get to their father’ funeral as soon as possible and to see their mother, who was stricken with grief, but they did not dare to go home before receiving a letter from their mother, in which she called them to come home and to secure a prolonged leave of absence in order to settle the estate. When the three brothers arrived at their parents’ home, the father had already been buried.
After the first days of grieving and tears, the mother called her sons and said to them, “You see, my children, I am now old and weak, and I may not live much longer. While I am still alive, I want you to divide the estate in my presence. Then I will die peacefully, knowing that all of you will live in harmony and love when I’m gone. You know that family conflicts occur mostly because of property.”
The good children, who had been brought up in the fear of God, desired to fulfill their mother’s will as if it were the will of God. They wanted to start right away, but the mother proposed that they invite their uncle, her brother, as a mediator. “No, dear mother,” responded the sons, “let us have only your blessing and our brotherly love as mediator. There is no need for others. Be assured, we won’t hurt each other.”
The mother said a prayer, blessed them, and they began. The mother took nothing. The three married sisters had already received their share from the father. The three sisters who were not married had also already received what was theirs. Therefore, the remaining estate was to be divided only among the three brothers. The brothers were working on the division of their property in a big room, separated only by a partition from the room where the mother was, so she could hear everything that the brothers were saying. As she listened to how the brothers were dividing the estate, she crossed herself, and with tears thanked God that her sons were handling this so peacefully and with brotherly love. The arrangements were all but completed, when suddenly the mother heard a loud quarrel among her sons. Philip, raising his voice, spoke firmly:
“I am the oldest. I want to take it alone.”
“I’m not going to let you have it,” interrupted Ilya with fervor, “Half belongs to me, and we won’t give anything to the youngest.”
“But, really, am I not his son, not his heir?” objected Zachary sadly.
The mother became frightened and hastened to enter the room. With tears in her eyes she said to them, “Well, children, didn’t I advise you to invite your uncle as a mediator?”
The boys rose with respect before her and said, “No, dear mother, you yourself be our mediator and solve our dispute.”
“I am the eldest,” said Philip. “I wish to take care of father’s debt by myself. It is not large, and for me this sacred burden will not be too heavy.”
“It will be even easier and more pleasant if we divide it in half,” interrupted Ilya.
“But why do you want to deprive me of participating in this sacred burden, as you call it,” said Zachary, “Am I really an unworthy son of my most worthy parent?”
The happy mother was touched by the love her children showed for the memory of their late father. She fell down with tears before the icon of the Mother of God. Then she began embracing and blessing her kind sons, and solved their dispute so that all three would have an equal share in their father’s debt. That was how these exceptional brothers divided the estate in an exemplary and amiable manner. While they had been dividing the estate, they had been doing it in a peaceful, agreeable and loving way. Each tried to let the other brother have the better part. But when it came to the father’s debt, a truly surprising dispute erupted!
Those are happy parents to whom God gave such kind children. Are not such children a reward to parents from the Lord? Yet if they had not educated their children in the fear of the Lord, the parents would not have seen such love from them…”
While we can have kind, loving families outside the faith, humility and love for God like we just heard in St. Zosima’s life are rare, and -dare I say it- only come from life in the Church.
When a life of piety is fostered, and the will of God sought at all times, then family harmony are the end result. Difficulties and sorrow will come, but true family cohesion will result from making Christ first in all things.