What did the Lord come into the world for? He came to liberate man from the bonds of slavery. Apostle Paul explains what kind of slavery it was: For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7: 19). It turns out that human will became shackled. It became dependent and enslaved by passions. What is passion? It is a sin at its chronic stage, a disease of the soul.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7: 24). The Man fell so deep that his soul has become callous and insensitive to God’s love. It has turned away from God and became self-loving. Many holy fathers write that selfishness is the root of all passions.
It might seem that an individual starts to believe in God willing to get rid of certain difficulties in life, some sorrows and misfortunes, and he or she perceives God as an omnipotent Being that can lead him or her out of the place of sorrow, the abode of evil. It turns out that it isn’t the case because when one begins to get more involved in the life of the Church, then he or she figures out that those things that had apparently been the reason for his or her affliction were in fact mere consequences of his or her sins. They weren’t caused by ‘ill-fate’. You did something wrong, and you have to suffer for it. All those consequences are allowed by God in order to spur our salvation. How come? Don’t we always do whatever it takes to push all misfortunes away? “Lord delivers me from this and that…” There are quite a few people who interpret the words ‘lead us not into temptation’ from the Lord’s Prayer as ‘Lord don’t let me face temptations’. Apostle James beseeches us in his epistle, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (James 1: 2). How can we be happy in such cases? We can count it all joy only if we realise that it is a bitter remedy. The Lord is going to help us to win in this confrontation and to be liberated.
God allows certain things to happen in our lives. We may consider them as ill-luck but in fact, they are remedies tailored specially for us. When a mother gives her little son an injection, he thinks that his mum is bad because she makes him feel pain. The little boy pushes his mother’s hand away but in fact, he won’t get well without that injection. Likewise, the Lord is a loving Father who sees that we’re slaves. He sets out to liberate us but He doesn’t use magic tricks; instead, He uses his love. He is crucified for us and tries to pierce the shell of our heart so that we would accept him who sacrificed his own life for us – and accept him with gratitude. Having pierced this shell, He gradually gives us power of his grace to wage the spiritual war without which our healing is impossible. Instead of complaining of the many sorrows that we face in our lives, we should take the seemingly illogical step of accepting them as a remedy. Our patience shall bring forth the faith, which will give us hope and love.
We know that people who pleased God would often thank him for sorrows and even for terminal diseases. It contradicts the perception of life that this world has.
I gave communion to a dying man a couple of days ago. It was an emergency call in the middle of the day. I asked his relatives whether he was a believer. “He didn’t believe in God in the past but then he was unable to move.” “Has he taken communion before?” “We don’t know. He lived on his own. We moved into his place only recently.” I approached the man and asked, “What do you feel?” He replied, “I must be dying now: my feet have started to get cold and the chill is going up.” “Are you scared?” He said no. “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I believe in God and eternal life. I thank God. I’ve had a good life…”
They had told me that he was an unbeliever… The man had accepted God into his heart over a short period of time. His confession on that day was so profoundly heartfelt that I wish I could confess as he did! I don’t know how long God will let him stay alive but I can attest that his soul is ready for the eternity…
Who is going to set us free from the bonds of slavery? Of course, it is God who can set us free by his love. We have to accept him with faith, that is, trust, and stop pampering ourselves. We have to start to love God with all our heart – and that’s what eternal life is. That’s when a person starts living for God’s sake, rather than his own sake. [N]ot I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal. 2:20). That’s how we get saved. If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8: 36).
That’s what faith is about. It doesn’t mean that you are immediately extricated from hardships. It means that you have to cleanse your heart and learn to love, and thus to prepare for eternal life. Unfortunately, we attempt to sit on two chairs at the same time. We want to believe in God and to enjoy this world as if we wanted to get everything we can because we doubt that there is something worth aiming for in the afterlife. However, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4).
Especially during the Great Lent, we must be more vigilant and spend more time thinking about God, purifying our hearts, and learning to take the ‘bitter remedy’. Who is without sin among you? (See John 8:7). Hence, we all need that remedy. May God help us to have enough faith to be able to take this remedy with a humble attitude so that it has a rapid effect on us and makes us love God as much as we can.
Archpriest Eugene Pavelchuk
The reality is often different from our wishes. It is cruel to say to someone who is terminally ill, "You are going to get well." Instead, to talk to the person about their eternal destination is to express deep and genuine love.