The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such as These

It is often, typically the case that human nature sees suffering and adversity from a narrow, self-oriented point of view, as something abhorrent and devoid of meaning or purpose. Our epistemological perspective on suffering and adversity is often viewed through a hedonistic lens as something which gets in the way of our pleasure, our goals, and our very life. However, if we can learn to see suffering/adversity from a wider perspective, from a Christological point of view, following in the footsteps of the incarnate Christ, as spiritual children trusting, humble and obedient to our loving God and father, then we can begin to frame the idea of suffering or adversity in a more true and meaningful way—a way that can lead us into a deeper relationship with God and open to us the very doors of heaven.

By growing in these virtues (i.e. trust, humility and obedience) we can grow “in godliness and in conformity to the imago Dei (Guroian 146), because it is sin that diminishes the image of God within us, but it is virtue that enhances the image and allows us to know God and His Kingdom (Guroian 147). As St Silouan says, “to be with the Lord, we must be like Him, or like little children, lowly and meek (Archim. Sophrony 24).” As a living example of childlike simplicity in the face of suffering, St Silouan shows us how to accept the outcome of our prayers to God in the midst of suffering when he asks God for healing (i.e. fishbone and headaches) and then discerns the meaning of his suffering from the facts of whether or not God heals him in response to his prayers. As St Silouan says: “my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me (Archim. Sophrony 68).”

It is our sinful or passion-filled state which makes it impossible for us to understand, or to trust in God’s will and timing. “Because of sin and a corrupted will…human ‘maturation’ into spiritual life also requires penance and conversion, enabled by God’s freely offered grace through the power of the Holy Spirit (Guroian 172).” However, “were we like children, the Lord would show us His paradise (Archim. Sophrony 43).” We need grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit to help us turn from our passions and seek the virtues of the child so that we can gain a wider, more godlike perspective on everything in our lives, especially suffering and adversity. St Silouan says something very important to this point: “let us humble ourselves brethren and the Lord will show us all things, as a loving father shows all things to his children (Archim. Sophrony 43).” Humility is one of the keys allowing us to see suffering from God’s perspective.

Children show us what kind of person we need to be in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Guroian 161). Cultivating the virtues of the child points us in the direction of the Holy Spirit, and can lead us ultimately to experience the fruits of the Spirit. Patience, as one of these fruit, is a condition which will allow us to accept adversity and suffering in our life, and to view suffering not as man typically sees it, but more as God sees it. Christ’s filial relationship to God the father is predicated upon trust, humility and obedience (Guroian 177). It is His example, that of the incarnate Christ, who came to earth, humbled Himself as a man, lived among us, died a humiliating death on the cross through obedience to God the father, spent three days in the horrors of hell, and then gained victory over death—it is His example which can teach and inspire us to live similarly, in relation to our own crosses, and sufferings, which God intends for each of us.

We can expand our epistemological framework with respect to human suffering, and bear it patiently if, “as spiritual children, we lovingly and trustingly give ourselves over completely to God’s parental care (Guroian 177).” And then, accepting the office of child (i.e. making ourselves as little children with respect to these virtues) we make our way to eternal life, fulfilling our role in relation to God, our father, and receiving His eternal blessing (Guroian 177).

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Archimandrite Sophrony, Wisdom from Mt Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan, 1866-1938. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 1974.

Guroian, Vigen, The Orthodox Reality. Baker Publishing Group. 2018.

Keith (A Man of Silent Sacrifice)

At just nineteen he took possession of a mighty B-17,

The Army Air Corp’s durable workhorse

Continental Europe’s liberating air force

The bomber known as The Flying Fortress,

He signed his name on the dotted line, to pilot this war-machine.

 

No longer a boy in forty-three, he took to the skies in battle,

On December 5 to Paris and back

Then Kiel, Ludwigshafen and Osnabruck

Ringing in the New Year over Cognac,

Five missions into a long campaign, he’s a man not easily rattled.

 

A man of silent sacrifice

Of the special ones who fly

Young men who defend us

War eagles of the sky.

 

A modest spiral notebook logs the record of his tour,

In columns, names and dates and years

No embellishments or fanfare

Thirty missions in European air,

A marathon of horror that most men could not endure.

 

The logbook doesn’t tell the tale of the courage, fear and loss,

Friends like brothers gone too soon

Flak and Messerschmitts at noon

In dense fog the barrage balloons,

Nor does it mention his receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

A man of silent sacrifice

Of the special ones who fly

Humble warriors who protect us

Liberators of the skies.

 

His was the lead position, throughout life as in the war,

Husband, father, grandpapa

Honor, duty, fidelity

Service was his earthly call,

Giving all on every mission, and leaving nothing more.

 

Upon his final flight from earth, the stars bright in the sky,

The moon casting the fields aglow

Cultivated row upon row

Stars above and stripes below,

Our nation’s banner, as God’s creation, enfolds him in its glory.

 

A man of silent sacrifice

Of the special ones who die

Our fathers who watch over us

The sentinels of the sky.

 

~FS

Love is the Price of Admission

God invited me to His Grand Symphony…

 

Who is God, you say?

I’ll try to tell you;

I hope you’ll believe me.

 

God invites us into total immersion,

within His creation.

He is setting the stage;

and requesting our participation.

 

How do we know it is God?

How do we know…

What is the price of admission,

to experience His show?

 

God Himself says He is love,

but how do we know?

 

To know, we must love.

To know God, we must love God.

 

How do I love what I do not know?

If we refuse to love Him, we’ll never know.

 

I heard once the opening notes,

of a Beautiful Song,

and they moved me.

 

I glimpsed then,

beneath my ordinary vision,

that I had lived wrong.

 

This is the opening,

and I’m sorry to say,

(but I know it is true)

this is the attitude,

that carries us through,

and brings us along.

 

With hat in hand, then,

I went off in search of,

the rest of The Song.

 

How astounding!

He showed me—

I can look, but not see,

I can listen, but not hear—

though His Music is abounding,

if I won’t turn, and perceive.

 

Turn and perceive.

 

Turn from deception and anger,

from pointing the finger,

turn from impatience and slander,

from merciless banter.

 

Turn to goodness and mercy,

to forgiving our enemy,

turn to living for each other,

to becoming a peacemaker.

 

If we will live no longer to deceive,

we will begin to live to perceive.

 

What’s more!

By stilling the turmoil of our emotions,

our enflamed desires and distractions,

peace descends upon our heart and mind,

enabling us,

finally,

to realize the Holy and Divine.

 

~FS

May 24

Furthermore, the Fathers highlight that the less man has submitted himself to the pains of asceticism, the more he must undergo involuntary suffering; this is not some kind of chastisement for his negligence, but rather a providential gift from God in order to permit man to receive the spiritual good things that would otherwise remain inaccessible to him. They insist on the fact that without effort and even without suffering, it is impossible for man not only to be purified from the least passion, but even to acquire the least virtue, to pass from the state of a fallen creature to that of the “new creation”.

St John Damascene notes: “Conversion, the passion from what is contrary to nature to what is according to nature, is accomplished by asceticism and sufferings.” St Isaac the Syrian repeats this many times: “The commandments of God are fulfilled in afflictions and torments”; “the cause of virtue is the narrow path of affliction”; “the virtues are linked to afflictions. Whoever withdraws from afflictions inevitably withdraws from virtue. If you desire virtue, accept to be bruised.”

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.2 p.263)

May 23

The image of this perfect mind is very beautifully designated by the centurion in the Gospel. His virtue and steadfastness did not let him be led astray by the thoughts that assailed him but, in accordance with his judgment, he admitted the good ones and drove away the opposing ones without any difficulty…”I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to one: Go, and he goes; and to another: Come, and he comes; and to my slave: Do this, and he does it.” If we also, struggling manfully against disturbances and vices, are able to subject them to our authority and discretion and, warring in our flesh, can extinguish our passions, subjugate the unstable cohort of our thoughts to the rule of reason…as a reward for such triumphs we shall be promoted to the rank of this spiritual centurion…Thus, raised to the height of this dignity, we also shall have this power and strength of command, so that we may not be led astray by thoughts that we do not want but may be able to remain in and cling to those by which we are spiritually delighted, commanding evil suggestions to go, and they will go, but telling the good to come, and they will come.

~St John Cassian (Conferences 7.5 p.251)

May 22

To be attentive and watch over oneself, according to the frequent recommendation of the Fathers, means generally to be concerned with oneself–that is, with one’s spiritual being and destiny–rather than with external things. This means especially to endeavor to know and recognize one’s spiritual illnesses, which knowledge is the condition for healing. St Basil says:

“In all things you must strive to know the status and illnesses of your soul. For many have dangerous infirmities, of which they are not aware…”

More generally, this means being attentive to one’s whole being, keeping watch at once over one’s body and soul, monitoring one’s external behavior in order to avoid evil acts, and guarding one’s inner life in order to avoid wicked thoughts.

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.2 p.239)

May 21

No barbarian people wages so relentless a war as do the wicked thoughts that lodge within the soul and the disordered passions…This is easily understood, since the first wave of enemies attacks us from without, and the second wave makes war against us from within. Without fail, one can observe that internal evils are more disastrous and pernicious than external ones…Nothing is more deadly to bodily health and strength than the infirmities that develop within it–cities suffer less from foreign wars than from internal dissent. Likewise, the soul has less to fear from the snares laid for it in the world than from the illnesses whose seed the soul itself has sown.

~St John Chrysostom