Blessed Are You When Men Shall Revile You and Persecute You and Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, For My Sake. Rejoice and Be Exceeding Glad, For Great is Your Reward in Heaven

Our Lord’s words are “powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,” for the Word and Son of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). He knows that listeners to His voice desire more than to marvel at the blessed poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and peacemakers. They want to become what they admire and the Lord already begins to accomplish that transformation by shifting from speaking about them in the third person to speaking to you in the second and to the blessedness … [Read more...]

Christ’s Ascension and a New Vision of our Life

The period between Ascension and Pentecost provides us with a glimpse of how we are to deal with the transitory nature of this life with its daily pressures, unavoidable disappointments, and prolonged suffering. The Feast of the Ascension is one of the twelve great feasts of the year in the Orthodox Church.  It is an important feast not so much in the commemoration of the Lord’s bodily departure from this earth, for He Himself promised us that He would not leave us orphaned and that He would send us His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth Who is everywhere present and fills all … [Read more...]

The Problem with Problems and the Goal of Movement “from Glory to Glory”

The Christian life is about movement, “from death to life and from earth to heaven.” But when real, constructive movement is blocked, we wander in our stymied state in the trackless desert of our own imaginings. It’s not enough just to stare at our problems; we need to look for solutions that can be found only by looking elsewhere. We have to see beyond the problem or through the problem, and for that, we need to move. And if our movement is to be purposeful and meaningful, we must also have a goal. For this reason, the ancient fathers and cognitive therapists both consider the aim of their … [Read more...]

Grateful Humility in the Presence of Suffering

Humility is a great virtue among the many virtues that should adorn the Christian life. And just as certain situations can trigger passionate responses such as greed and lust, so there are situations that are favorable for virtue to manifest itself and even grow. In the past few posts, we have explored some practical steps for the acquisition of humility.  In this post, I would like to speak about responding to a uniquely human experience, suffering, in a way that can make us a bit more humble. Suffering is, of course, a universal human experience.  Just take a look at any human life, and … [Read more...]

The Sacredness of Childhood, the Weeping of Rachel, and the Tragedy in Connecticut

Of all the suffering around us in this world of ours, the suffering and death of innocent children especially make us shudder with horror, because there is something so sacred and pure about childhood. And what is sacred and pure must never be trampled upon or defiled. Our compassionate Savior said to his disciples, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” What makes children especially worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven? Saint John Chrysostom teaches that children have an angelic simplicity about them. They cry one moment and laugh cheerfully the next. … [Read more...]

Spiritual Growth and Accepting the Slings and Arrows from Others

Shakespeare’s Hamlet once asked, “whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.”  And the young tragic hero wavered between the pagan ethic of vengeful retaliation and the cowardly acquiescence to the status quo, without considering a third possibility: the Christian example of humility, forgiveness, and love. When we are assailed by the slings and arrows of others, even in the form of insulting words, we also vacillate between a false dialectic of answering back with vengeful … [Read more...]

Peace, Be Still

And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.  And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.  And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?  And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great … [Read more...]

More on Suffering

In reflecting further upon the nature of alcoholism and recovery, there are certain parallels one may make between those conditions and the plight of the sinner turning towards repentance.  In both instances, the alcoholic and the sinner are encouraged to make self-referential statements that, on the surface, appear to be negative.  In AA, once one acknowledges one’s alcoholism, that person always introduces himself to the group by stating his name and his alcoholism: “I’m Bob and I’m an alcoholic”.  The sinner, in turn, is encouraged to pray the Jesus Prayer in which he introduces himself to … [Read more...]

Suffering and Human Relations

My last post on suffering drew a great deal of attention which leads me to believe it might be beneficial to spend some more time on the subject. While part of man’s uniqueness is his ability to make intelligent inquiries about suffering, this knowledge does not provide him any relief.  In fact, a great deal of human history has been engrossed with the avoidance of human suffering.  All too often this quest to avoid the unavoidable only leads to further suffering. According to a Christian understanding of suffering, this state of being is intimately related to our alienation from God.  As … [Read more...]

Suffering and Thoughts-Counsel from the Ancient Fathers

Suffering is such a major component of human history that many philosophies, religions, and social theories have been absorbed with the construction of theodicies that attempt to respond to this phenomenon as if it were a problem to be solved or a defect to be eradicated.  Some have gone so far as to claim that life is absurd and devoid of meaning because of such suffering.  These proponents would claim that a world afflicted with human suffering negates belief in the existence of a good and loving God.  Some Christians, especially in the West, have developed theories of suffering founded upon … [Read more...]