I feel illness as the love of Christ. I often say to Him: ‘My Christ, Your love knows no limits!’ How I am alive is a miracle.
(Offered below is a challenging exposition from a sainted Orthodox monastic. To our modern 'western' minds - his thinking seems unhinged and negative. Don't give up. Read and pray to understand with the ears and the eyes of your heart. Read with an eternal mind - not an earthly one.)
Among all my other illnesses I also have cancer of the pituitary gland. A tumour appeared there which has grown and presses against the optic nerve. That’s why I don’t see any more. I am in dreadful pain. But I pray, taking up the Cross of Christ with patience. Have you seen what my tongue is like? It has grown; it’s not as it used to be. That’s also a result of the cancer I’ve got in my head. And as time goes on, things will get worse. It will grow even more and I’ll have difficulty in speaking. I’m in great pain, but my illness is something very beautiful. I feel it as the love of Christ. I am given compunction and I give thanks to God. It is on account of my sins. I am sinful and God is trying to purify me.
When I was sixteen years old I asked God to give me a serious illness, a cancer, so that I would suffer for His love and glorify Him through my pain. I made this prayer for a long time. But my elder told me that this was egotism and that I was coercing God. God knows what He is doing. So I didn’t continue with this prayer. But, you see, God did not forget my request and He gave me this benefaction after so many years!
Now I do not pray for God to take away from me the thing I asked Him for. I am glad that I have it so that I can participate in His sufferings through my great love.
I have the chastisement of God: For the Lord chastises the one he loves. My illness is a special favor from God, who is inviting me to enter into the mystery of His love and to try to respond with His own grace. But I am not worthy. You’ll say to me, ‘Don’t all these things that God reveals to you make you worthy?’ These rather condemn me. Because these are things that belong to the grace of God. There is nothing of my own. God gave me many gifts, but I did not respond; I proved myself unworthy. But I have not abandoned my efforts, not even for a moment. Perhaps God will give me His help so that I can give myself to His love.
That’s why I do not pray for God to make me well. I pray for Him to make me good (holy).
I’m certain that God knows that I am in pain. But I pray for my soul, for God to forgive my transgressions. I am not taking medicines, nor did I go for surgery, not even for tests, and nor will I accept surgery. I will leave God to sort things out. The only thing I do is to try to become holy sanctified unto God. This is what I ask you to pray for me. The grace of God sustains me. I try to give myself to Christ, to approach Christ and to be one with Christ. This is what I desire, but I haven’t succeeded ? And I don’t say this out of humility. But I don’t lose my courage. I persevere. I pray for God to forgive my sins. I’ve heard many people saying, ‘I’m unable to pray.’ I haven’t suffered this. Only on the day that I was disobedient on the Holy Mountain did I suffer that.
It doesn’t concern me how long I will live or whether I will live. That is something I have left to God’s love.
It often happens that you don’t want to remember death. It’s because you desire life. That, from one point of view, is a proof of the immortality of the soul. But whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Death is a bridge which will lead us to Christ. As soon as we close our eyes, we will open them on eternity. We will appear before Christ. In the next life we will experience the grace of God more intensely. I felt great joy at the thought that I would meet the Lord. Once I came to the point of death. I had suffered severe perforation of the stomach as a result of the steroids I was given in hospital when I went for an operation on my eye, which I lost in the end. At that time I was living in a little hut; the monastery had not yet been built. I was so exhausted that I didn’t know whether it was day or night. I came to the point of death and yet I survived. I lost a lot of weight and had no appetite. For three months I survived with three spoons of milk a day. I was saved by a goat!
I lived with the thought of leaving this world. I felt great joy at the thought that I would meet the Lord. I had a very deep sense of the presence of God. And God desired at that time to strengthen and comfort me with something very blessed. Every so often I would feel that my soul was about to depart. I saw in the sky a star which twinkled and emitted sweet rays of light. It was bright and very sweet. It was so beautiful! Its light possessed a great sweetness. Its color was a light sky blue, like a diamond, like a precious stone. Whenever I saw it I was filled with comfort and joy because I felt that the whole Church, the Triune Godhead, our Lady, the angels and the saints, was contained in that star. I had the sense that in it were contained all the souls of all my loved ones, of my elders. I believed that when I would leave this life I, too, would go to that star through the love of God, not through my virtues. I wanted to believe that God, who loves me, revealed it to me in order to tell me, ‘I’m waiting for you!’
I didn’t want to think about hell and about aerial toll houses. I didn’t remember my sins, although I had many. I set them aside. I remembered only the love of God and was glad. And I made entreaty, ‘O my God, for the sake of your love, may I also be there. But if on account of my sins I must go to hell, may your love place me wherever it wishes. It is sufficient for me to be with You.’ For so many years I lived in the desert with love for Christ. I said to myself: ‘If you go to heaven and God says to you, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? What do you want here?” I’ll reply, “Whatever You want, my Lord, whatever Your love desires; place me wherever Your love wishes. I abandon myself to Your love. If You want to place me in hell, then do so, only don’t let me lose Your love.”
I had an acute sense of my sinfulness, and that’s why I constantly repeated to myself the prayer of Saint Symeon the New Theologian:
I know, Savior, that none other has, as I have, sinned against You, nor done the deeds that I have done. But this again I surely know: neither magnitude of errors, nor multitude of transgressions, can surpass my God’s great patience and His love for man unbounded.
What the prayer says are not our own words. We are unable to conceive and express such words. They were written by saints. But our soul needs to embrace these words written by the saints and to sense and experience them. I also like the other words of the prayer:
Neither tears shed in my weeping nor the slightest falling tearlet, O my God, escapes Your notice, O my Maker, my Redeemer.
And my work yet unaccomplished is to Your eyes already known and all the things I’ve not yet done are for You already written, in Your book already entered.
Look down on my humbled being look on my so great contrition and forgive me my transgressions, all my sins, O God of all things...
I repeated this prayer continually and intensely to escape from these thoughts. The more I repeated it, the more, up in the infinity of space, appeared the star, my comfort. It came all these days that I was suffering. And when it appeared, my soul took wings and I said to myself: ‘My star has come!’ It felt as if it were drawing me up from the earth towards it. I felt great joy when I saw it. I didn’t want to think of my sins, as I’ve said, because these would exclude me from this mystery. Only once, once only, did I sense that the star was empty, it wasn’t twinkling, it wasn’t full. I realized what it was. It was from the ‘contrary one’. I ignored him, and turned my mind elsewhere. I spoke to my sister about some jobs that were to be done. After a while I saw it shining brightly again. Joy came again even more intensely within me.
I had given myself over to the love of God. I did not pray to be released from the pains. My desire was for God to have mercy on me. I had leaned on Him, and I waited for His grace to work.
I was not afraid of death.