By St. Dimitry of Rostov
"Observe a physician of the body, what does he do with the sick? Sometimes he prescribes bitter medicine; sometimes he must burn and cut malady away, he uses therapy to reveal the root cause of the pain. All this is done, of course, for healing and not for sickness, for life and not for death. The sick person may complain and groan, not wanting to receive bitter medicine, but when he becomes healthy he is very thankful to the physician. And so, the Lord, the Physician of our souls, seeing our putrid sinful wounds offers the needed method of healing. He burns away through misfortunes, He cuts away with unexpected grief, He gives us to drink tears of affliction; all this is done only for our healing, so as to bring us to life and restoration, as David said, “The Lord chastened me strictly, but He has not given me over to death” (Ps. 117:18).1 In the time of chastisement He is more good, rather than fierce, more compassionate, rather than angry; even though He pours wine on our wounds and cruel sorrows, it is never without oil;2 we are struck, but not without compassion, we pass through embitterment, but not without mercy and comfort.3
It is very necessary for us to be chastened, without which it is impossible to be healed of our spiritual festers. We must receive chastisement not with sorrow or grumbling but with thankfulness, with patience, and great courage of soul.4 Truly, in the midst of sorrows our human nature is inclined to grumble, complain, and break down in exhaustion; but, O lover Christ, do not break down, do not become faint of soul, take courage and your heart will be strengthened. Pray this prayer of St. John Chrysostom, “Lord, give unto me courage of soul!” O Christian with thankfulness speak in this way, “Blessed is God, for I know that I endure less than I deserve.” Remember your many shortcomings; do not refuse to endure the treatment, because after enduring you will bless God Who has healed you. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12), says the apostle. Do not be like an impatient person when some unpleasant thing happens, not in line with the wishes of his heart, he jumps on everyone with grumbling; such a one thinks everyone is guilty but him. You must never weaken; nail yourself to the cross of patience and courage.
Speak in this manner, “I'm ready to bear trials, only give me the strength.” Listen to what the apostle says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man, but God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). God allows sorrows for those He loves, according to what they can bear; He gives patience in the midst of sorrows to those who hope on Him. And so, cast your sadness upon the Lord, trust in Him, and He will protect your soul. Every persecution, embitterment, offense, abasement – all these are normal and bring salvation for the one who loves God. Our Mighty God soon turns weeping and crying into comfort and rejoicing. When a child is in the midst of learning he may be sorrowful and perplexed, but when he has completed it he is very joyful. Patiently endure and be expecting God's mercy early, later and at every hour. Listen to the words of the apostle, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations” (James 1:2).
So, in what should you rejoice? Rejoice in the fact that these things are bringing you benefit. Take for instance flax, until it undergoes the threshing process, until it is beaten and broken down with the scutching blade, it remains unfit for making rope or fabric; so it is with a soul that has not been ground, if it has not been softened by tribulations it cannot come to a knowledge of its own unworthiness. Gold and silver must be refined so as to be purged of impurities, likewise the soul is refined by everything that God allows; it comes to a knowledge of itself and its weakness, it learns humility and in this way is brought into the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is only “through much tribulation that we enter into the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22); heavenly crowns are given to those who endure evil in temptations. Who is the one worthy of eternal glory? Is it not the one who suffers though affliction, according to the apostle's words, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Endure then, O lover of God, that you may be called a beloved son of God. And when sadness and sorrow visit you, never doubt that you are one of God's beloved children.
Also, keep in mind that it is not always because of sin that evil circumstances befall us. Many righteous ones, for the benefit of their souls and for the testing of their faith and righteousness patiently endured much evil. Call to mind Job and Tobit the righteous God-pleasers. Who among the saints lived their life without sorrows, grief and sufferings? They sinned very little, but endured much. They were persecuted, treated with dishonor, and tortured, and still they rejoiced in the Lord; but you, O Christian, faint of soul, when you encounter a little misfortune become perplexed and sorrowful beyond reason. Truly, you do not desire to be turned away alone from the host of God's chosen ones, because you refused to endure those things that came upon you? Remember there is no unending pain, no sorrow that does not pass, therefore, have undoubting hope that in the end the strong Lord will turn your passing sadness into eternal joy."
Translated from Russian by Fr. Zechariah Lynch
1My own direct translation of the text, so as to stay more consistent with St. Dimitry's words. Ps. 118:24, MT
2Cf. Lk. 10:25ff. In ancient times wine was used as a disinfectant for wounds, the alcohol would cause a burning sensation. Oil was applied to sooth and coat the wound and help enhance natural healing properties.
“Heal, O Savior, the corruption of my debased soul, O only Physician. Apply the compress to me, and the oil and wine – works of repentance, compunction and tears.” Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, First Wednesday of Great Lent, Song 8.
3“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:5-6, Prov. 3:11-12)
4 Великодушие literally “greatness of soul”