From The Blog

Mission Monthly – August-September 2007

“We should live through difficulties and tragedies and see them all as opportunities for prayer, for approaching God. That's the secret: how the man of God will transform everything into prayer. St. Paul means this when he says, 'I rejoice in my sufferings,' in all the tribulations he encountered. This is how sanctification takes place. May God grant this to us. I ask for this fervently in my prayer.”

Elder Porphyrios

Recent events of tragedy and suffering in the lives of those close to my heart have affected me deeply. These words are not specifically intended for them, but they are felt as a general and loving response to the inevitable question, "Why?" I believe it takes a certain understanding of the development of our contemporary social climate in order to answer this question.

I do not believe my generation is interested much in suffering. The generations that have given rise to modern and post-modern societies have had a different aim in mind: material security and ease of life. And thus one of the greatest tragedies of the individual experience of tragedy in the post-modern society is that many of us today are completely unprepared to suffer even to the smallest degree.

It has been twenty years since my last living grandparent passed away. I believe they lived in a time prior to the combustible engine, electrical power grids, penicillin and indoor plumbing. My father’s parents were children whose older relatives fought in the American Civil War and my mother’s parents lived under the Turkish occupation of the Balkan states. They all lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. These and other experiences of my grandparent’s lives lead me to believe that they probably were not na•ve about life’s difficulties and would rarely if ever ask the question "Why?" regarding the suffering of their lives.

I do not claim that my grandparents and their generation possessed a great piety or faith. In fact, to some degree, I would lay the blame for some of the ills of post-modern society at the feet of the generation from which modern society emerged. I wonder sometimes if the generation that somewhat innocently sought "a better life" for themselves and their children would do things differently if they knew that the ease and comfort which they sought would eventually spoil their children and rob them of their ability to appreciate the freedom and convenience to which they’ve been born? I wonder sometimes if from their graves the knowing and unknowing architects of pre-modern and modern societies at all regret opening the door to unprecedented social self-indulgence and a soul-corrupting inability to suffer?

It would be wrong for me to place a value on suffering for the sake of suffering. Perverted, self-inflicted suffering is not of God in any way. The value of suffering can only be found in how a man responds when suffering’s inevitable nature reveals itself in his life. The question I would raise here is, "Am I prepared?" And for all of us, "Are we prepared?" As Christians we have a hierarchy of three points of history which carry great meaning. Preeminent 20th century Orthodox theologian, Fr. George Florovsky, focused on these three points in his famous book, "Creation, Fall, Redemption." The fall of Adam introduced into the world the inevitability of suffering. As Christians we must understand and accept this, and as Christians we must know and engage in the life of Christ which prepares us for it. How wonderful it is when a Christian seeks answers to his most intimate questions from the only Source where answers find their true meaning: in Christ. And why in Christ? Because it is only in the Cross-bearing redemption of Christ that life as we know it can be understood. When we form our lives in this way, with prayer and cross-bearing courage, our approach to God will be the cause of our sanctification and the transformation of our suffering into comfort, our sorrow into joy, our death into life!

I offer this brief reflection as an encouragement to our growing ability to respond to suffering with faithfulness. Being prepared is our greatest challenge because it requires us to choose—right now– to reject the soul-corrupting ease and self-indulgence presented to us as normal in our sensual and materialistic post-modern society. Ease and self-indulgence are the devil’s "cement overshoes" which keep us affixed to this earth and unable (or unwilling) to accept our heavenly calling as cross-bearers for the Kingdom of God. May God grant us the ability to "rejoice in our sufferings" that indeed our sanctification may be complete!