Illness and the Work of Perfection.



Even if we are bedridden, we are to continue the struggle against the passions, producing fruits worthy of repentance. This work of perfection demands that we acquire patience and longsuffering.


Father Alexey Young

What better way to do this than when we lie on a bed of infirmity? St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says that in suffering we can find out whether our faith is living or just "theoretical." The test of true faith is patience in the midst of sufferings, for "patience is the Christian's coat of arms." "What is it to follow Christ?" he asks. It is "to endure all things, looking upon Christ Who suffered. Many wish to be glorified with Christ, but few seek to remain with the suffering Christ. Yet not merely by tribulation, but even in much tribulation does one enter the Kingdom of God."

The test of true faith is patience.

To those who suppose that they can only progress in the spiritual life when all else is "well," St. John Cassian replies, "You should not think that you can find virtue when you are not irritated—for it is not in your power to prevent troubles from happening. Rather, you should look for patience as the result of your own humility and longsuffering, for patience does depend upon your own will" (Institutes). Towards the end of his life, St. Seraphim of Sarov suffered from open ulcers on his legs. "Yet," as his Life tells us, "in appearance he was always bright and cheerful, for in spirit he felt that heavenly peace and joy which are the riches of the glorious inheritance of the saints."


"You are stricken by this sickness," the Holy Fathers say, "so that you will not depart barren to God. If you can endure, and give thanks to God, this sickness will be accounted to you as a spiritual work" (Sts. Barsanouphius and John, Philokalia). Bishop Theophan the Recluse explains: "Enduring unpleasant things cheerfully, you approach a little to the martyrs. But if you complain, you will not only lose your share with the martyrs, but will be responsible for complaining besides. Therefore, be cheerful!"

Many wish to be glorified with Christ, but few seek to remain with the suffering Christ.

In order not to lose heart when we fall sick we are to think about and mentally "kiss the sufferings of our Savior just as though we were with Him while He suffers abuses, wounds, humiliations... shame, the pain of the nails, the piercing with the lance, the flow of water and blood. From this we will receive consolation in our sickness. Our Lord will not let these efforts go unrewarded " (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk). The patience we can learn on a sickbed cannot be overemphasized. Elder Macarius of Optina wrote about this to one who was ill: "I was much pleased to hear from your relation how bravely you are bearing the cruel scourge of your heavy sickness. Verily, as the man of the flesh perishes, so is the spiritual man renewed."


And to another he wrote: "Praised be the Lord that you accept your illness so meekly! The bearing of sickness with patience and gratitude is reckoned highly by Him Who often rewards sufferers with His imperishable gifts.

Kiss the sufferings of our Savior just as though we were with Him while He suffers abuses, wounds, humiliations.

"Ponder these words: Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed." St. Ambrose of Milan compared an infirm body to a broken musical instrument. He explained how the "musician" can still produce God-pleasing "music" without his instrument: "If a man used to singing to the accompaniment of a harp finds the harp broken, and its strings undone... he puts it aside and instead of calling for its notes he delights himself with his own voice. In the same way, a sick man allows the harp of his body to lie unused.

You are stricken in this illness so that you will not depart barren to God. If you can endure, and give thanks to God, this sickness will be accounted to you as a spiritual work"

A sick man finds delight within his heart and comfort in the knowledge that his conscience is clear. He sustains himself with God's words and the prophetic writings and, holding these sweet and pleasant in his soul, he embraces them with his mind. Nothing can happen to him because God's graceful presence breathes favor upon him. He is filled with spiritual tranquility" (Jacob and the Happy Life).


Quite often the most God-pleasing spiritual "music" of all is produced in anonymity, by unknown or nearly-unknown saints. But such holy "melodies" are all the more sweet because they are heard by God alone.


+ Glory to God for All Things +


Father Alexey Young - biography and writings.


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