God is love; and the Holy Cross is nothing other than God’s love. Love has the character of the cross. The power, fire, and nature of love consist in the fact that love has the character of the cross; and there is no love that does not have the character of the cross. The cross is the sacrificial character ter of love, for love is sacrifice, self-surrender, self-renunciation, voluntary self-depletion for the sake of the loved one. Without sacrifice there is no reception, no meeting, no life in another and for another. There is no bliss of love except in sacrificial self-depletion, which is rewarded by an answering ing fulfillment. The cross is the reciprocity of love, but it is also reciprocity itself. There is no path of love, of its knowledge of wisdom, except that which has the character of the cross. The Most Holy Trinity is the eternal cross as the sacrificial reciprocity of the Three; It is one life produced by voluntary self-surrender, by trinitarian self-renunciation, by fusion in the divine ocean of sacrificial love.
from Sergius Bulgakov. Churchly Joy: Orthodox Devotions for the Church Year (p. 3).
Picture: James Tissot: What the Savior Saw
Blessed Feast. Twenty years ago today I was celebrating this Feast at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. I was there on pilgrimage on September 11, 2001, which was an amazing gift from God to be in such a peaceful place during such a traumatic event. On September 14, the day of the Feast. I was allowed to ring the monastery bell with Bishop Nathaniel and nuns and parishioners, to signal God’s victory over death and to proclaim JOY to the world.
A Blessed Feast of the Cross to you, Father!
I have a question that surrounds the mystery of the Cross. I read in “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemman that Christ reveals sacraments as they are through His own participation. In this sense, it seems to me that Christ reveals what the Cross is, namely love and the path of salvation, as you have mentioned above. Through the Eucharist we participate in the life of God and His sacrifice; my question is, do we also participate in the Cross of Christ when we bear our own cross in love? This question has been on my mind for the past week and I would love some enlightenment, I would hate to fall into error if this observation is incorrect!
Thank you, Father, and have a blessed day!
Prof. David Ford shared this on Facebook the other day and it echos your posts here…
“Love is obedience. You want to love, and you can’t; and you hate yourself because you can’t. Yet… love is not some marvelous thing that you feel, but some hard thing that you do. And in a way, this is easier, because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings. With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t seem to agree with us.”
Source: The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge, Hendrickson Publishers (1963), p. 140.
Excellent quote Esmée, thank you for sharing!
I believe that all suffering (whether voluntary or involuntary, where consciously or not) participates in the suffering of Christ on the Cross. Our participation is made effective in certain ways when we become conscious of it and will our participation. Christ is crucified in His creation. The hungry man whom we feed is Christ (Matt. 25), whether or not the hungry man knows it or wills it. The willing is of Christ.
I’m not sure that all suffering participates in Christ’s suffering. St. Paul says that even if we give our bodies over to be burnt; without love it has no benefit.
Note: I did not say that all suffering is beneficial. Rather, I said that Christ is present in all suffering, that He has united Himself to creation in its suffering. If it is not “of benefit” (as in St. Paul’s example), it is not because Christ is not there, but because we are not uniting to ourselves in Him (we “have not love”).
That Christ is in all suffering is a teaching found in St. Maximus the Confessor. I’d have to do a deep dive to retreive the quote.
Thank you Fr. Stephen,
I think I understand what you are saying? Christ suffered and died for all, but not everyone has faith in Christ. The two thieves for example: one accepts Christ and the other rejects Christ.
If suffering doesn’t lead to metanoia, then it is of no benefit?
Why does suffering exist in the first place? Is suffering a pre-condition for love? Indeed, I find that right after many of my moments of deep despair, I readly feel a renewed love for others, if only to wish that I could do something so that they may not know this kind of suffering. Are we away from God solely so that we can move closer to Him? I know this seem too “unknowable”, but does the Church have an answer for this, or must we take suffering as a given, because we can never ultimately know such things, at least in this life?
I’m not Orthodox nor have any religion, by the way, but very interested in knowing God and knowing how to live. I’ve been watching your lectures and reading every single one of your new blog posts for some time, and the things you say rings the most true to me and moved me to know more about Orthodoxy. If I’m ever converted, it’ll be thanks to you, or rather, through you, thanks to God. My deepest gratitude for everything you do, and sorry for the long post!
Andrew, I am certainly looking at suffering and Christ through a dark glass but I think you are assuming too much cause and effect. That Jesus Christ assumed all human suffering on the Cross is the truth. That alone goes a long way toward the salvation of each of us. It is part of His trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestowing life. We can participate in all of that without metanoia.
Metanoia is a deep and long lasting repentance. Certainly my participation in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice will lead me in the direction of metanoia but it is not identical nor necessarily a linear progression.
In the mystery of God’s good will, I’m not willing to suggest that anything is of “no benefit” (despite St. Paul’s statement in that verse). He was making a point – but in a conversation that, I think, is different than this one.
For example, what brings about metanoia? and When? I leave such final questions with God, but confess that “all things work together for good.”
The origin of suffering is, to a great extent, not known. We speak about it in the Christian tradition as originating with the rebellion of Lucifer (the devil), but, in many ways that’s an unsatisfactory answer. What is more helpful, I think, is to recognize that, whatever its origins, evil (which causes suffering), is a “parasite,” that it always lives off the essential goodness of things and is never a thing in itself.
What you acknowledge in your experience of suffering – takes account of the fact that God uses our suffering for our good (many times), despite the fact that it may have been intended for something bad. That, I think, is a great mercy.
Keep reading! God give you grace.
I often think that suffering can be defined at its most laconic as the experience of not being able to experience God’s loving presence. It might take a myriad forms but this element – reductionist though it is-seems key.
thank you for your reply. Much to try and think about. One thing I don’t understand is, how participation in Christ’s suffering can occur without repentance and willingly accepting God’s mercy. I may have misunderstood what you have said?
thank you for your reply. I am finding suffering difficult to understand. It is after all a mystery. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree. Of course it is not for us to know how and when repentance comes about for the individual.
Perhaps I am looking at this too narrowly and separating and making distinctions about suffering; suffering because of faithfulness to Christ; suffering from oppression; common human suffering, illness, etc and suffering because of personal sin and wrong doing. As St. Peter says, it is better to suffer for doing good, than to suffer for having done evil.
It’s possible to overthink suffering, and it’s possible to underthink it. First, suffering is terrible, whether self-inflicted or what. It’s key to remember that God takes no delight in our suffering, and that He has compassion on us always. All suffering, of any sort whatsoever, exists in the Cross. When Christ takes up His Cross and “empties Himself” allowing Himself to be crucified, He shows forth that He has united Himself with all suffering. Nothing is beyond the reach of the Cross.
It is also key to remember that our salvation is initiated by God. He first loved us. He came to our rescue…while we were yet sinners. Our repentance is always only a response, never the initiator.
Does God love us? Then He never abandons us, never leaves us alone in our suffering. “Lo if I descend into hell, Thou art there.” (Ps 139) We’re not always aware of this (indeed, mostly we’re not aware of this), but that is only the fault of our awareness.
In some manner, it seems to me that the distinctions you mention are “legal” distinctions. Who deserves what. The universe is not structured that way. We do not get what we deserve. Suffering is tragic. One of the problems of evil is that it is “a-logos” it is irrational. As such, it cannot be explained. It is a contradiction. We try to make sense of it, and often, in so doing, we wind up saying horrible things.
Christ did not come to explain suffering and death. He came to destroy death, to trample down death by death, to fill suffering with His own life-giving self and so heal and complete that which is lacking.
Thank you Fr. Stephen,
I’m trying to make sense of something which I can’t make sense of. I am just a little confused. I don’t think that it’s about what people deserve or don’t deserve, but the Gospel does call us to repent and believe the Good News. What I am struggling with is whether that is necessary or not?
Yes. I don’t mean to exclude that. The mystery of repentance is important – and there are many levels and stages. At its deepest, it is the complete opening of ourselves to God – turning away from everything and towards Him. Over many years pastoring, I’ve come to see repentance as a very subtle thing sometimes. For example, watching someone “come to their right mind” over a ten-year period. The slightest turn towards God is a response to the grace that is always showered on us, and it’s important to remember that it can be so minute that it can pass, at first, without notice. The patience of God has no limit –
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
But, I think you may hear in me a reluctance to characterize repentance in a manner that is too “flat-footed” and obvious. It can, of course, be quite clear. But, if you will, as a “fisherman”, I also think it’s important to notice the first slightest nibbles on the bait that are far shy of swallowing the hook.
But suffering – the consequence of a fallen creation – still happens despite repentance and such (just as we all die). God does not and will not force us. But “that all should come to repentance” marks His patience and willingness. How that takes place, and when, I am willing to leave wrapped in its mystery.
thank you for your clarification and patience. I understand from my own experience that repentance deepens and is a gradual process. I don’t think I have been very clear. I’m not expecting some once for all instant change from one minute living a sinful life, to becoming holy with no struggles or falls along the way, the next.
Andrew, echoing Father, I would say that while repentance leads to metanoia i.e. a full and complete transformation, it is not the fullness. Actually I do not think there is a word in English that expresses the rebirth of repentance quite as well as metanoia.
I began to repent in 1968 when in deep emotional pain and confusion I cried out: “Jesus, if you are real, I need to know it.” He responded in an utterly convincing way.
It changed the whole course of my life. He has led me more deeply into repentance ever since despite my resistance in many ways and forms. He is still doing that. There us much more to come but after 53 years, I do not resist as much. But there is yet more. Joy leading to joy unimaginable That is metanoia, I think. I ain’t there yet.
His incredible condescension to The Cross, entering into our suffering even though our suffering exists because we turned away from Him, allows that joy of salvation to be entered by anyone.
May He continue to bless you with His mercy and grace in all things.
Thank you Father Stephen.
thank you for replying and your clarification. I have not been clear and have given the impression that I think there should be a once for all dramatic change of life, regarding matanoia. What I wanted to express was the importance of the initial response to the Gospel call and the turning from whatever our life was, to turning to Christ and thus the ongoing process of metanoia.
Andrew Roberts – I have experienced a lot of suffering in my life. I know that for me personally, I would never have been open to Christ without it. The recently reposed Elder Aimilianos has offered some of the most profound insights on suffering in the Christian life that I have read anywhere…
The soul has to make a choice, and the outcome will either break it into pieces or enable it to sail to its destination in God. And the choice comes down to this: Will the soul accept or reject suffering? Will it make this suffering its own, or struggle against it, seeing it as something alien to itself?
…If he chooses to accept his suffering, he must embrace it with the wholeness of his life; he must discover and accept the proper relation to his suffering. If he can do this, he will have transformed his suffering so that in the end his only reality will be God. But if he continues to resist his suffering, refusing to find his salvation in it, his anguish will continue unabated.
The question is ultimately this: Will he offer himself as a voluntary sacrifice to the will of God? …He must accept as his own will, as his own desire, the will of God for his life. If this happens, he will cease being anxious about his sufferings, for he will see that they too are the signs and tokens of God’s presence.
It follows from this that the [soul’s] salvation hinges on a single decision, namely, the acceptance or rejection of his suffering. To the extent that he struggles against his suffering, seeking to disown and reject it, his agony will only intensify. The avoidance of suffering serves only to increase suffering in a vicious cycle that never ends.
If, on the other hand, he chooses to entrust himself to God, and so recognize in his suffering God’s mercy and love; if he is able to see his suffering as proof of God’s love for him, then he will undergo another, greater experience that will shake him to the core of his being.
Just when he thinks his life is about to end, that he is about to breathe his last, he will feel, not simply an upward surge into new life, but deep within himself the presence of the “long-lived seed” mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah:
“It was the will of the Lord to bruise him; He has put him to grief; yet when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of his suffering of his soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10).
Spiritual health is not found in the avoidance of suffering, but in its joyful acceptance. The [soul’s] dilemma lies precisely in whether or not he will accept his sufferings or reject them, which is another way of saying that the choice he needs to make is whether to accept or deny God.
~Archimandrite Aimilianos, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 100-102.
Is God absent or present? Is He near at hand, or remote and withdrawn? It’s a matter of how you look at it. When the soul looks at reality solely through its pain and suffering, it does not see things clearly, and thus it thinks that Christ and His voluntary sufferings are something abstract, distant, and without real meaning. But when the soul alters its perspective, its inner sense and experience of things will begin to change, and so too the way it confronts and responds to its own sufferings, and then it will see that Christ is very close indeed. When we enter into the place of hope and trust, we see that God is near, and acknowledge Him as our Lord…
Will [the soul] accept growth, change, and consequently redemption? Redemption follows upon the experience and acceptance of death. The moment we accept death, true life can begin. Only by means of death can one “trample down death,” and so attain to resurrection. Thus, depending on how the [soul] confronts the problem of suffering, God will either be his savior or his executioner. Again, the secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his sufferings, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free from his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God.
When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light… By struggling to find the right relation to suffering, to our own death, we shall simultaneously find God… [The soul] must make the difficult decision to sacrifice himself voluntarily to God. If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail. His suffering is beyond his control, it is not something he willed for himself, but all things begin and end with God, and nothing takes place apart from the divine will, and so he must see himself as an instrument wielded by God.
As we’ve said, in accepting or rejecting my suffering, I am accepting or rejecting God Himself… In the beginning, God and I are separate, in such a way that my self, my narrow self-concern, leaves no room for God. If “I” exist, God cannot exist, for there cannot be two Gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of myself, so that God can come into my life…
I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27); a “pelican in the wilderness” (Psalm 101:7 LXX), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize that I am “like a sparrow alone on a housetop” (Psalm 101:8 LXX), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. I need to experience both my exile and my union with God. I need to experience my inner darkness in order to know that God is my life and my light, that He is my salvation. I need to realize that I am in hell, in prison, in solitary confinement, alone on an island dying of leprosy, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven… both in this life and in the one to come.
My soul must cry out, just as the souls of all the saints have cried out, and then my soul will be saved, suffering together with Christ… If I exert myself, and commit myself to the struggles of the spiritual life, then I shall have the right to ask for the understanding of the Spirit. Either way, I’m going to suffer. But it’s up to me to decide whether I’m going to be a wounded deer panting for water and never finding any (Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 7:22), or a lamb sacrificed together with Christ, and calling out to Him. In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and that these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation. But even before I cry out, God will answer me and say, “I am here” (Isaiah 58:9).
~Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 103-106, 108-109.
All that I have is… my “affliction,” and my “calling out” in that affliction. My affliction is my asceticism, it is my practice, my way of life, something that I offer to God. This is my sense of purpose, my will – or at least my wish – to struggle and endure affliction, for this is the cry of my heart. All the rest belongs to God; I can do no more. But because I have given myself to Him, because I have surrendered myself to Him, I have no fear. I’m on my way to heaven.
~Archimandrite Aimilianos, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 320.
In this life, there is no hope. Does this mean, then, that we are condemned to a life of hopelessness? No. The experience of hopelessness is but the first step that one reaches on the ladder of spiritual life: a sense of hopelessness in oneself and in all things of the world. I arrive at a state in which I am a stranger to all hope. I am alone without moorings, without a ray of hope, with no light to lead me to any kind of safe harbor. The only thing that exists for me is God… This kind of hopelessness is not the expression of a psychological problem or even a sign of human weakness. It is something positive and beneficial, since this kind of hopelessness is, in fact, hope in God, just as dispassion is an intense passion for God.
And so, hopelessness is the complete surrender of myself to God… hopelessness pushes me in the direction of God, leading me to union with Him… This is not hopelessness in the ordinary sense of the word, which is really despair, and that is the greatest sin. Despair leads to nothing, creates nothing, sustains nothing. It’s like being locked in a vicious cycle of sin, habituated into some pattern of behavior that you can’t seem to shake despite all your efforts, and so you stop struggling because you say it’s hopeless. That is not the kind of hopelessness we’re talking about here. That’s the devil talking, and the confused thoughts of a soul disfigured by the passions.
True hopelessness is a continual emptying of the self so that it might be filled by God. True hopelessness is something dynamic, something which advances and progresses, just like faith. It is not something static. True hopelessness is continual knowledge of the self that produces continual knowledge of God. Hopelessness is the feeling that everything around you is false, unreal, illusory, and so it makes you want to clutch onto something for support. Some people will grasp onto their ego, their sense of self, or their reputation, or their wealth, or their education. Others will grasp onto God. And this grasping begins from the moment you yourself are grasped by God and find hope in Him. Then it will become evident to you that the loss of hope, the experience of hopelessness, is in fact a gift from God.
~Archimandrite Aimilianos, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 320-321.
We get sick and we suffer for different reasons, but often it’s because we have sinned, voluntary or involuntary, or because we have wandered away from God. But, if you are sick, don’t be afraid and don’t worry because sickness is a great gift from God. The sick are God’s special children. The sick are under God’s special protection. They have God’s special blessing. They have God’s love. They are in His embrace, whereas someone who has health might not be. The sick person, the suffering person, the person with illness is in a privileged place, or a potentially privileged place, with respect to God. Those who have never known sickness, and those who have never known suffering, often have a lack of empathy; and often their heart is narrow and small and restricted, and not able to open up and embrace the suffering of others because they just don’t know it. The sick, on the other hand, are often the most loving and understanding and compassionate people that you will ever meet, and they are the ones who will have boldness before God in their prayers for others.
So don’t be afraid of your illness. Leave it to God. Do what the doctors tell you. When you take your medication, you receive Christ. It’s not bad, or a sign of a lack of faith, to take your medication. When you take your medication, you are receiving a blessing, you are receiving Christ Himself. Do what the doctors say, take your medications, go for your tests, but have no anxiety. Sometimes what’s worse than being sick is being afraid of getting sick. Leave it to God. Whatever God gives you is best for you. God never gives you a Cross without first weighing and measuring it very carefully to make sure that the Cross will result in your spiritual growth. So don’t think it’s random, don’t think it’s chance, don’t think it’s too much. It’s been very carefully weighed and very carefully measured, so that it will result in spiritual growth and spiritual benefit.
As much as the body wastes away, that much is our life in God renewed. God cannot be born within us without birth pangs. And the suffering that we experience, whether it’s emotional suffering or physical suffering, these are the birth pangs, the travail, the suffering in our life that will enable God to be born and to grow within us. So we should feel pity for the person who has not tasted involuntary pain because that person is not likely to impose upon himself a sufficient amount of voluntary pain. So feel pity for the person who does not know involuntary pain because they’re not going to inflict it on themselves. They’re going to want to stay in their comfortable place, their comfort-zone, and they’re going to resist all kinds of change. Sickness is a visitation from God, a divine visitation. Sickness humbles us, it teaches us, it reshapes us, it awakens us to reality, it enables us to see what is truly important and of value. It is not a punishment, but a divine visitation for our correction and education.
—Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery
From: A lecture entitled, “Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Reflections on the Spiritual Nature of Suffering,” by Father Maximos Constas, Patristic Nectar Publications (2017).
An old monk from our monastery, Elder Arsenios, went to see an ophthalmologist, and the doctor told him, “You have a cataract, but, when you are about to go blind, we will operate on you and you will be well.” The monk answered, “Doctor, let’s do it as fast as possible to get rid of it.” “No,” the doctor said, “because you could lose your sight. Go, only when you can no longer see!”
When Father Arsenios could no longer see, he went to the doctor—another doctor—to have his surgery. That one told him: “I am very sorry, but you should have come six months ago. There is nothing to be done now. You will be blind, because you don’t have a cataract, as your doctor said, but another illness.” And he, instead of being angry, instead of arguing with the doctor at fault, said, “Blessed be! God knows. God knows that this is useful to me and He ‘blinded’ the doctor and he made that diagnosis.” To his death, Father Arsenios neither said one word against the first doctor, nor had one thought against him.
However, someone else has an accident, becomes paralyzed, and says, “Listen to this, to be paralyzed…! Where is God? Where is His love? I will do a Liturgy to become well, and, if He does not hear me, I will say that there is no God.” This is the man who decides to get well. His way of fighting his illness is very human, and, at the same time, is a complete denial of the will of God. This man does not accept the God of fore-care, the God of love who builds his life, the God who took over the salvation of his soul and the resurrection of his body “unto the renewal of eternal life” (Rom 6:4), but he pays attention only to his healing…
This man loses his holiness, the martyric thought, the rank and position of the martyrs, the crown of the martyrs and of all the saints of our Church, and ends up being a creature which complains constantly, screams, cries, gets angry, resists, does not love, hates… But his life could have a different character. He could see his life as the life of Christ, the world as the Church of the Lord… could see all as “very good” (Genesis 1), but instead his life is colored differently. This is an imbalance of the soul. Instead of choosing God, it chooses destruction.
+Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
His Life and Teachings:
It is a process but it is also a real state im itself I think. But I may be wrong. You raise really good questions Andrew. I have learned a lot in contemplating them, reading Father’s responses and looking to formulate my own answers.
Andrew Roberts – The recently reposed Blessed Elder Aimilianos has offered some of the most profound words on suffering in the Christian life that I have read anywhere. I have extracted and compiled them into a Google document to make them easier to share. Perhaps they will help you too. Hopefully you will be able to open this link.
Thank you Michael,
the question of suffering is indeed a thorny one. It’s like trying to grab hold of water. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out, there is the danger of trying to fit it into our own narrow understanding. I’ve gotten into a bit of a muddle today thinking about this.
Thank you Esmee,
that’s very kind of you. Do I need a google account to be able to access the document?
I just changed the share settings, so now anyone should be able to view the document just by clicking the link. Please let me know if you have any problems.
No, Andrew, you shouldn’t need a Google doc account to open the link. Please try it again, now that I have changed the settings to make it accessible to anyone with the link. I want to make sure it actually works.
It works Esmee! thank you for this.
Esmee – Thank you for sharing those quotes – how helpful they are! It is physical pain that seems so difficult to me, very hard to accept when it happens.
On the subject of the cross, self-emptying, suffering and God’s love, I wonder what or how we might interpret Christs word’s, that His yoke is light?
Is this “lightness” an experience that we might look for or have while suffering? Should we expect and embrace suffering under Christ’s yoke? If we are suffering, how do we discern a ‘wrong’ turn from a ‘right’ turn in the life of Christ? Is this only discernable with a confessor?
My apologizes if I’m only reiterating previous questions. But I, too, have uncertainties about how to approach these questions I pose to myself.
Thank you Esmee,
got access to the document now.
I can think of nothing as difficult to contemplate as suffering – and nothing more confounding than the suffering of a child. That we might discern that Christ has entered into the suffering and united Himself with the suffering is not at all the same thing as saying that suffering is necessary. Nonetheless, we do not know anything of a world in which there is no suffering. As I’ve noted, suffering is absurd – in the sense that it cannot be rationalized, much less justified. I also think that it nags at us, mocks us, and tempts us to make sense of it.
In that suffering is universal (some more, some less) we cannot begin to speak about our lives in a manner that suggests that we know how we would be or live or think without suffering. Suffering is not “necessary” and yet it is always present. That God comes to us and saves us in our suffering is also to acknowledge that the absurdity of suffering cannot shut Him out. Christ enters hell in order to save us. That’s not the same thing as saying that I could not have been saved unless I went to hell. We can talk about what we experience – but should not press things so far as cause and effect. Often, we simply don’t know such things – they are beyond us.
My experience in life, however, says that resenting suffering, hating it, can magnify it in a manner that it becomes a distraction from everything else. That I find Christ in my suffering is not because of my suffering, but in spite of my suffering. It is that He is sweeter than my suffering, mightier, of more worth, of such worth that the suffering often pales. Suffering is not the point – because it is pointless. Christ is the point because He is the Point.
If you have been in hell (in the many ways that is possible within this life) and found in the midst of hell that Christ has come to you as friend, then you know learn something important about Him – that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Simply, that He loves you.
thank you for those quotes. So much to ponder. How blind I am spiritually at times and self willed. I really need to get out of the way,
Andrew – yes, they are rich and deep!
Everyone – you are most welcome. It’s my joy to be able to share them with you. Please feel free to pass the link along to anyone you think might benefit.
Thank you Father. Your words @ September 15, 2021 at 2:03 pm is helpful, especially for me are these:
Indeed Christ did come to me long ago, in a very terrible situation that can easily be described as hell. I just didn’t know it was Him! But it was Him expressed in the love and care of a complete stranger–the image and likeness of Christ within him–a Good Samaritan.
Of course Christ comes to us in hell, where else are we going to meet Him? Even if we have been shown the way to heaven. We have all sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom. Some people persist in digging themselves a cave outside the Kingdom often furnishing it with the fruits of their sin against others from their own will but even then Christ is in them.
Most folks will cannot stand up to the Love of Jesus forever.
Sometimes their will to self-destruction requires the witness of a martyr to be broken.
Others can be turned toward God by a soft breeze on a summer’s day in a beautiful meadow.
Modernity is all about worshipping and gratifying self-will to the point where humanity is no longer.
I have read often that the Orthodox Church is likened to a hospital, where Christ the Good and True Doctor Himself heals and forgives through the Divine Mysteries. The Cross is a great mystery, a stumbling block and total folly, to some people; a suffering God, a humble God; a living, loving God, crucified and broken. This is a mystery to be entered into and not something set before us to solve. Too much thinking can make the already dark glass even darker and confusing, as I have experienced today. My mind is calmer this evening and I have realised that I need to let what I read to sink in, instead of trying too eagerly to rationalise it fit my very limited understanding. Thank you Fr. Stephen and all who have commented; you have all been a great help.
You can take comfort in St. Maximos’ saying, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands all things.” That being the case, it’s hard to enter into it in a single day. 🙂
Thank you Fr. Stephen 👍.
God bless you father & all for the edifying & uplifting comments you share. I read the blog but I rarely comment. Today I was stricken by the « rich & deep » comments shared by Esmee.
Esmee, you are à generous soul. Thank you.
All good & beneficial things come from our father above.
A prayer to The Holy Cross. It expresses the militant aspect of The Cross a bit.
Elder Amilianos’ writings revealed to me how tiny my spiritual growth is. It brought me back to my senses. 🌱
‘The journey, then does not consist in recreations, experiences and spiritual feelings, but in the living, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior death of the cross.’
-St. John of the Cross (A Roman Catholic saint).
The cross is the sacrificial character of love, for love is sacrifice, self-surrender, self-renunciation, voluntary self-depletion for the sake of the loved one.
Some might add “self-emptying” to that list. We empty ourselves, sacrifice ourselves, in order to be filled with Christ. Paradoxically, His filling us reveals us as ourselves, as we were created to be. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice to which He calls us, is not nihilistic. It is revelatory. As the Cross became Life, so we die to live in the fullness of the life He brings us.