Hardships or any form of suffering can be difficult to deal with. St Porphyrios advises us we are called to look on all things as opportunities to improve our lives; to be sanctified. Life can throw testing periods at us. ‘All the unpleasant things which are within your soul and cause you anxiety can become occasions for the glorification of God and cease to torment you. Have trust in God…Be rocks. Let all the waves break over you and turn back leaving you untroubled…’ always with ‘ kindness, meekness, patience and humility’ he adds. St Maximus the Confessor uses the example of Jonah ( in the Old Testament ) to signify human nature’s descent into the ‘sea’ of misery, our attachment to material objects, our susceptibility to temptations, and the darkness of ignorance caused by sin.
Jonah being swallowed by the fish ( Jonah 1:17) and his submission for three days, indicates, for Maximus, the mystery of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. Christ dispels the darkness of ignorance, cures us from the destruction of death and corruption, frees us from our carnal bondage, and offers us the grace of deification through His Resurrection. This grace can turn our guilty and fallen nature towards the living God, even through tempting doubts and struggles. Grace, through multiple tests, communicates with our nature, with our endurance and voluntary sufferings or persecutions on behalf of Christ, bringing about transformation of our lives ‘in the Spirit’ (2 Cor 3:6) according to St Maximus.
This Wednesday evening we traditionally read (on the 5th week of Lent) what is known as the ‘Great Canon.’ St Andrew of Crete wrote this service as a personal reflection, as a meditation, as a dialogue between himself and his soul. The ongoing theme throughout this special service is his own sinfulness in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, using continuous references from the Old and New Testaments in his struggle, and calling to repentance.
The Canon begins with ‘Have mercy on me O God … He became for me a helper and a shelterer for salvation. He is my God, and I will glorify Him, the God of my father, and Him will I exalt, for He is greatly glorified…’ This service is easily accessible online and, though we are still unable to attend church, let us try reading at least parts of it in our homes, alone, with our family, or perhaps with a friend, in our recognition of our own faults, in our acceptance of all struggles and hardships as an opportunity for prayer and sanctification, and fundamentally in our faith and trust in the Crucified and Risen Lord.