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).
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.
We must say “yes” to every thing that befalls us, as we would say “yes” to a royal garment that God would have us adorned with to appear before the Heavens in wonderful dignity, whether it is poverty, sickness, loss, failure.
When we try to overcome all these: to change ourselves to be better in order to start a spiritual life, when we desire to change our environment, to change people around us in order to inaugurate a more spiritual life, when we want the evil ones to become good, the immoral persons to become moral, the unjust to be just, the liars to become truth-tellers, the carnal spiritual, then we fall into the greatest temptations and reach the end of our lives without having known the mysteries of the heavenly life, living not as servants of God but as servants of our selves deluded into thinking we are serving God.
So saying “yes” to illness, to difficulties, to stumbling blocks, …to God’s providence in whatever form it comes to us… is key.
+Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, from the personal notes of one of his spiritual children, copied during a lecture the Elder gave.
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.