St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / 02-12-07: Pain and Its Lessons

Weekly Message For 02-12-07: Pain and Its Lessons

St. Paul teaches us and insists, "We glory in tribulations" Romans 5: 3. He continues by saying that whatever afflicts the faithful believer, teaches us, enhances our faith commitment. "We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" Romans 5: 3 - 6.

So, in life we quickly learn that pain has its lessons, valuable lessons to impart each participant in its expensive tutoring process. Thus like the youths in the Old Testament furnace, to be able to say "Thank You dear Lord," in the midst of flaming pains, to fill our minds with the thoughts of mountains and streams, winter and summer, birds of the air and great sporting whales and to be able to visualize them praising God with joy, while all the time the pains of hell are gnawing at our vitals, this indeed is the true test of our religious profession of faith and worth many, many countless and profound sermons.

As we slowly progress towards eternity, it is inevitable that we learn all who journey, sooner or later, must pass within the gates of Gethsemane, must kneel there alone in darkness and battle with much fierce despair. We must ourselves here and now pray that God pity those who cannot say "Not my will but yours be done," who have only learned to repeat, "Let this cup pass because they fail to grasp the meaning of Gethsemane in their life.

Just as it focused and made plain the purpose of his vocation among us for Christ, Gethsemane can also show us how much more we can contribute not only to our own salvation, but to that of other souls as well. We can positively approach the suffering in our lives, be it physical, psychological, of the soul or of the body, in expiation of our own sins and for those around us. We can ask that what we endure is utilized to perfect us and transform us so that in union with the Lord, we may be acceptable in the sight of our heavenly Father.

It is entirely true, we can ask as did the crippled and maimed in salvation history of our God, to remove our pain, our suffering if it is his will for our soul. Perhaps in the providence of God it is necessary because of our neglect, that nature take its course. If we do not respect ourselves, we can be certain natural law will catch up with us. Certainly our God is eager to spiritually forgive us our trespasses if we repent, in regard to health responsibility, but many times, it is necessary that natural developments unfold so that our soul, our mind, our heart and our entire being slowly conform themselves to God's will being done in our lives. Perhaps it is, as Scripture suggests, the place of and timing of all in our lives and all the circumstances attached to it are particularly so arranged by a loving and merciful God that we achieve the salvation of our soul. Perhaps illness afflicting us today is given us so that greater opportunities in the future can be better utilized for attaining the perfection we so desperately need here on earth. If we are called to give up our lives early it may be because living longer would have endangered us, weakened us and so we might succumb to temptation and lose our souls. If we die later, perhaps it is because we need the additional time to repent, to arouse within us sorrow for our life's sinfulness and so we finally, in the end of a longer life, achieve the salvation of our souls, the very purpose of our life is reached. In eternity, it is safe to say, we will be astounded how lovingly and painstakingly our God works with us and so orchestrates, encourages and inspires us so that we might save our souls.

The Shepherd's Psalm teaches about green pastures, but many times it is not so. He who knows best in kindness also leads us through weary ways, dried out fields where heavy shadows can be found, where the working is not easy, but most difficult. Certainly there are still waters in our lives, but just as frequently, heavy tempests blow around us and waves and billows can overtake the soul. But then, when the storm beats loudest, we can cry out, aloud for help because we see the Master standing by as He quietly whispers, "Look, it is I"

Thus we come to understand rather perfectly what St. Paul is speaking of when he repeats for our instruction that afflictions perfect us and assist us in becoming what we ought to be: faithful devout disciples of the Lord. We learn in our lives that we can follow him and where He leads, we can safely go. But of course, it is not here, but in the hereafter that we shall come to know and perfectly understand why in his wisdom, He led us so.

We can look happily and with encouragement at the earthly life of our Saviour. Because Christianity's best argument is Life. We know our Saviour suffered more than any other because his spirit was purer and his love far vaster than ours. He ventured and his days on our heavenly Father and trusted implicitly in his will. Of course, that meant He lived dangerously because He set himself up against the ancient drift of selfishness, against greed around him, so the drift of the world overpowered him momentarily. He died young, death was sure for one resolved to live a life of purity and devotion. If we have values, eternal values, we are going to experience the pain of the world more vitally and frequently than others. It is going to hurt us to the core. Christ deserved no cruelty. But such inveterate hatred from his enemies, even his friends was visited upon him as no one else has ever known. We nailed him to the cross while it was laid on the ground. Then we lifted up that wood with a dull heavy wrack and visited additional torture of his physical body and by our invective hate, added desolation of soul as many times we can never imagine. He could have said with better right, than any other person in the world, "Why has this happened to me?"

So from our pain, from our afflictions, from our own major illnesses and shortcomings, combined and mixed together with relevant faith response, we look differently than non-believers on all that afflicts and confronts us in life. We are reminded of our noble vocation. Why were the saints saints? Only because they are cheerful when it is difficult to be cheerful and patient when it is difficult to be patient and because they pushed on and on when they wanted to stand still and kept silent when they wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. All for the glory of our God and the salvation of their souls. To him be all glory, honor and worship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


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