I”m so afraid of suffering. I”m afraid even of the most insignificant pain. To me, being cold is the most terrifying physical pain, to others is the toothache. Loneliness itself can be often felt as a physical pain, but whatever suffering would be like, it does not comfort anyone.
We are aware of the fact that if we want the Resurrection, we have to pass over the burden of carrying the Cross as the Lord Christ Himself did. But is this indispensable for everyone? Is there a way to reach salvation without suffering?
Father Seraphim Rose said:
”We, those who call ourselves Christians, have to wait nothing but being crucified. Cause, being a Christian means being crucified now and anyother time since Christ has come for the first time. (…)And our crucifixion must be exposed, so that anyone could see it, cause the Kingdom of Christ is not from this world, and neither the world nor even only one exponent of it can receive it, not even for a moment.”
I wonder what is the meaning of this crucifixion, nowadays?
The Holy Fathers say that suffering comes from the lack of pleasure. We suffer due to our permanent need of feeling pleasure and when this phenomenon is interrupted, for different reasons, here come pain and sadness after the moments in which we were accustomed to tasting the pleasure.
Even though I am arrogant and selfish, sometimes I try, with God’s help, to give more attention to others rather than to myself. If I have something that I want to share, I offer the biggest part to others and keep the smallest to myself. If due to the circumstances some people which belong to a group have to endure inconveniences and others don’t, I place myself into the first one. If I am refused, offended or removed, I simply accept this with calm and I try to withdraw without having any reaction. If one of my superiors act unjustly with me, then I put my head down and walk away without making any scandal. I always try not to trouble with my desires neither to impose myself, even if my authority would allow this ( as a father, husband, client, beneficiary or citizen).
This attitude, which I’ve learned from the Gospel, helped me many times in getting rid of suffering, because from the ethic point of view, I placed myself into a position knowing that I am going to suffer and getting ready for it. I was in peace with it and seemed that every time it happened I was more and more brave in facing it, asking for God’s help. Placing myself into a position that did not disturb anyone, on the contrary, it favoured them, I didn’t have any competition, being not afraid of an ulterior suffering but accepting the maximum of it as a consequence of my position in that group. This was giving me the peace of getting rid of the fear of: ”what if it‘s me who….” I was getting rid of the threatening of being cut throat and this gave me so much peace.
Psychologically speaking, I could say that this kind of attitude helps you to place yourself into the position in which you will get minimum of pleasure with minimum of frustrations… consequently also a minimum of suffering, if we think that suffering is actually the pain which is derived from the unfulfilled desires (needs).
If you first propose yourself in order to get the biggest benefits within a group, then, you place yourself into the position in which you will get the maximum of pleasure but also the maximum of frustrations coming from the fear that others won’t confirm your position and eventually you will get to benefit less or not at all.
If we pay some attention to what is happening all around us, we will notice that where there is a bone, there are also the dogs. The competition is where you can get benefits from. Where money are easily made and benefits come on short term, there is where most of the people are interested in. There, where is pain, suffering, hardworking, stress, long term benefits, there are a few or none interested in. A father from Mount Athos, being asked if he has peace and if he can pray, answered that: ”When you find yourself in poverty, nobody disturbs you”. If you don’t have anything valuable that could attract others, then you won’t be disturbed.
If through the attitude you have, you want money, a superior position, political advantages, if you have persuasion over masses, or if you are able to bring benefits to others, then you will surely have competition and people will pine for a piece of your cake. Putting yourself into such a position, you can easily get suffering instead of what you first desired.
Generally speaking mankind looks for what is palpable, material and here is where the fight begins, and it is normal that after this ”fighting”, those who are involved in it, go out wounded and suffering.
The less importance you give to the material, and more to the spiritual, the least interested you’ll be for the world and you will get less wounded, out of this fight.
In conclusion, we could say that we suffer because we pine for what is material, in our efforts to obtain it.
So, the Cross that all of us have to carry in order to get to the Resurrection, is nothing but leaving everything that is material, or, the continuing attempt and effort to obtain spiritual joys, that come from your relationship with God and the others.
Supposing that there is a way to salvation with a minimum of suffering, that way is life itself, lived without cherishing the material and always relate to Christ’s commandments.
If we want to save ourselves with no suffering, we have to put us into the last position for the benefit of others.
That is why I said if we are afraid of carrying our cross, we have to crucify our selfishness!
We can run away from suffering, transforming the Christ’s Cross into renunciation of all that is material.
In the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, actually the Cross is asceticism, the lack of passion, the fight of getting rid of the sin – as the only one responsible for suffering. The sin makes us selfish and puts us into the psychological position in which we expect maximum of pleasure.
Humbleness instead, puts the man into the position in which he wants nothing, being always satisfied with everything, not wanting to disturb anyone and whose only problem is with himself and never with the others, willing at any time to endure more difficult situations or a lack of pleasure.
Translated by Lăcrămioara Ticu
Archim. Efrem: Orthodox spouses must be aware of the fact that both of them share with one another their sins and faults. Nevertheless, a family must be grounded on a Communion with Christ throughout the Sacred Mystery of Church- it’s very important! „What God united no man shall tear apart„. I don’t think any marriage can be created without God’s consent.
If God does not want the union of two young people, the marriage won’t take place: either one of fiancée dies, or they split, or remain unmarried and so they never get to the holy matrimony. However, if they get there, it means that God has accepted it- the union is either on God’s will, or simply accepted. This is the reason why, knowing this, the spouses must tolerate each other and care for one another. In the evening they must talk about what happened during the day, offering explanations to avoid misunderstandings.
The husband must, by all means, prove his love to his wife in any practical way. The woman’s nature is so weak, that when she sees her husband showing any kind of amiability to another woman, her workmate, her girlfriend, envy lights up her soul. The reason is not a lustful tendency, but the love the wife has for her husband and the desire she has to have him completely. Furthermore, the woman can be jealous even on the love the husband displays towards his mother.
If you tell her: „Well, she’ s his mother, she gave birth to him, she raised him, been there for him all these years! ” she’ll answer: „Yes, he loves her more than he loves me
! ” All women answer likewise. That’ s why the husband, using tenderness, must find the button to tame the wife. Due to our lifestyle, us, the monks, do not have experience with women. But our role given by the holy Confession revealed to us many mysteries of women’s soul. Another thing which appeals to us is that, after having the first child, women want more the tender and caring side of their spouse rather than the sex related one. That’ s why the husband must be aware of this and be gentle to his wife.
The husband must never scold his wife in front of other people, because, often, out of selfishness, husbands criticize their wives especially around relatives.
Or, when the wife calls her husband while at work, he must not blow up at her saying: ”Leave me alone, I don’t have time now”, talking to her roughly. He must answer: „Honey, I’m busy right now, but I’ll call you later”. The wife must always know her husband loves her and thinks about her every second, she must feel that in his heart she comes first. When she’ll understand and will be convinced that her husband loves her, she will willingly became the sweet ground of his feet, ready for any kind of sacrifice.
Seldom, a wife displays to her husband a childish behaviour. Many times she is capricious as a child. As her husband, you must „lower down to her level”, not despise her requests and try to satisfy them in order to keep the balance of the family. Within the family all the attention must go to the weakest limb, the woman.
If the woman does not feel her husband’s tenderness, the hole in her heart cannot be replaced neither by the love of her parents, nor of her own children. The Holy Matrimony is so important, that the lack of attention of the husband towards his wife cannot be filled not even by the love of her own children. You don’t have to keep anything apart from your wife, because it will come a time when she’ll find out about it. Tell and consult her in everything. It is not good to have your wife find out about your hidden business from relatives, co-workers or friends. Be aware that women’s nature is always suspicious, doubtful. She always doubts and asks herself: „Does my husband love me? ” and if she’ll find reasons to suspect, she’ll turn into a beast. That’s why you have to know that the only thing which can conquest her and unite the family is tenderness. The ideal husband never calls her wife by her name. After getting married, the real name of the wife has to be only „honey”. Only then the two will be really committed body and soul.
If your wife does something wrong to you, don’t reply her instantly, when you are dominated by rage, rather at night, in the bedroom, when you are alone, tell her gently: „You know, honey, today made me sad that thing you did”. And if you show her tenderness she’ll be sorry, cry and apologize.
If the husband goes somewhere and forgets to tell his wife, and she finds out from his co-workers, for instance, she will suffer such a spiritual wound that she will hardly recover from it. That’ s why, a great deal of attention is needed. If the wife feels her husband is by her side, she is capable of any kind of sacrifice. Women need a manly figure. You see, even in convents, nuns cannot better themselves without a good confessor. Women always need male support.
So, as much as you can, pray together at home. The prayer said together unites the family. If it’s possible, in the morning pray together and in the evening attend the Compline.
It is advised for spouses to confess to the same confessor and attend the Sacred Mystery of Eucharist during the same Holy Liturgy and go to the same Church. These elements bring the couple very close together.
Recently came to me, in Vatopedi, a young man who said to me: „I met a girl and soon we will get married. ” „Do you get along well? ” I asked him. „Gheronda, we get along perfectly”, he replied. „Is she religious, does she go to Church, is she orthodox? „ Gheronda, let me tell you that this is the only subject we didn’t talk about. ” „ Son”, I told him, „this is the first thing you have to clear out. If you don’t have the same spiritual ground, the same faith, then your marriage is already bound not to last!” There can be no other way. The foundation of a marriage is the road towards faith. Otherwise, everything is in vain. At Vatopedi, there’s a monk who has been married, but wasn’t going to church neither him, nor his wife. However, he once visited us and, the Holy Spirit paid him a visit, which changed him and started confessing and going to church. His wife was against it. One day she told him: „I don’t want you to go to church! Stay away from me! ” They have been married for three years. Fortunately they didn’t have children, so he packed his bags and came to the monastery. So, I want to tell you that to have a good marriage, an united family, the preliminary condition is the spiritual life.
Question: During the conference you said the monks have a different level of submission compared to laymen; so how are we to discover the right path if we don’t listen to our confessor?
Archim. Efrem: Certainly, a layman won’t have the same level of obedience as a monk must have towards his abbot, but listen to your confessor as much as you can. It’s essential the following: if a layman wants to listen to his confessor as if it were an abbot, he can do it, especially if he wishes to. The confessor, on the other hand, mustn’t claim such submission from those who confess to him. So, if anyone asks us for advice, us, the confessors, give it joyfully, but is not correct for a confessor to consider a layman to sin if not asking for his advice. Only the monk sins if he doesn’t ask for his abbot advice.
Question: I want to ask you if a layman who gets troubled at work can participate to the Holy Eucharist during Feasts.
Archim. Efrem: You have to ask your confessor for advice. It depends on whether he absolves you, on your internal state of mind, your sins. All these must be taken into consideration by your confessor and he will give you the answer.
Translated by Ursu Oana