Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Orthodox thoughts on suffering and death

I just came across a recent letter written by Lynnette Hoppe regarding her thoughts as an Orthodox Christian dealing with cancer...really quite inspiring! The full letter can be found here

I have excerpted a few paragraphs...

"I have found that it is much more difficult to watch someone I love suffer than it is to suffer myself. Someone else's suffering brings home the hard truths of our mortality and the inevitability of death. It forces us to face the uncertainties and fears that hang like a black shadow over that dark and lonely valley through which we must all pass. When I think about my own suffering, I am consoled deeply by the thought that I will not really be alone on that final journey. My Lord will be with me, but that consolation doesn't turn the valley into a bright, happy meadow.

Someone asked me recently if I ever felt excited about the thought of going to heaven. I had to say, No. I have felt a tremendous sense of joy at the thought of being united with my Lord, who is the “true desire and the ineffable joy of those who love [Him]” in a place where “the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the gladness of those who behold the goodness of [His] countenance is unending” (from the Prayers After Communion). I have been greatly comforted by the fact that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for me so that where he is, there I can be also (John 14:6). I feel that Jesus awaits me with gladness, that my death will be “precious” to him. My thoughts about heaven linger on the joy of being with Jesus, not on what the place will be like. It is enough for me to know that He will be there. I also thrill to the idea of being present in the company of some amazing people who have gone before me—apostles, prophets, martyrs, saints, my grandfather and C.S. Lewis. I hope not to be ashamed to be in their glorious company because of my pitiful efforts here on earth, but I am consoled by the fact that heaven will be a place full of mercy and grace.

Excitement, it seems to me, is something one feels when one is looking forward to an event and sees an untroubled path in front of him. Joy, on the other hand, is something one can hold onto in the face of suffering, knowing that the suffering will pass in time, but that the joy will remain because it is rooted in something deeper, not in the circumstances that surround it.

Although I do have a great sense of joy, I also feel a deep sadness at the immense tragedy of the human condition--the terrible burden of our separation from God, the presence of evil in this world, poverty, illness, selfishness, greed, unending hostilities between nations and peoples, the inability of many families to get along, and so many other horrors. Jesus wept over these things, and expressed his desire to console “as a mother hen gathers her young under her wings,” but his people refused his offer. I never felt his grief until I began to experience suffering myself. Then I began to identify with his sorrow as well as with the misery of so many who had come to my door in Albania seeking relief from pain or illness or hunger or cold. Although I had tried to meet their physical needs, I don't think I commiserated with them very deeply. For this reason and for many other reasons, I am so grateful for my own pain. Now I can have a much deeper sense of compassion for the sufferings of others.

I understand so much better, too, how much our Lord identifies with the sick and the suffering, the poor and the imprisoned. He is close to those who are in misery and wants us to be his face, his hands, his eyes, his feet—giving, loving, visiting, praying—for those in need. I have been reading some of the writings of Mother Theresa, and she is a wonderful example of “being Jesus” to the suffering."


Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

'Apostles, martyrs, prophets, saints...and C.S. Lewis'? It would be nice, but it seems dangerous to assume, eh? As Tolkien observed in a letter to his son, responding to an article in the 'Daily Telegraph', '"Ascetic Mr Lewis---"!!! I ask you! He put away 3 pints in a very short session this morning, and said he was "going short for Lent".'

9:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Andrew Middleton said...

Not that I was trying to be provocative (by any stretch of the imagination!), but I did wonder if that would raise an eyebrow or two...I just didn't feel that it was my place to edit it...

8:25 PM EDT  

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