Monday, October 11, 2010

Suffering - Part Two - From the Very Start

Okay, I'm back.

We took a few days off, went out of town and now I feel completely refreshed.  It's really amazing how a simple change of scenery, even if for just a few days, can change your outlook on things.  Those last few posts were bringing me down.  They should though.  Suffering sucks and is zero fun to talk or reminisce about.  Trust me, I know.

Any we are and I'm attempting to procrastinate once again...okay...I'll stop. Could somebody please hold my cyber hand as I attempt this once again?  You will? Thanks, I always knew I could count on you.

Suffering is not new.  It is something that has been a part of the human condition since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.  Both begin their sufferings in this harsh world.  Adam is forced to work the ground, Eve bears the pain of childbirth and then watches one of her sons kill the other. I have heard that there is a terrific book called "The Lament of Eve" that can be found at SVS Press.  I have not read it, but it's on my list.  At any rate, suffering is there from the start. 

Now, if you subscribe to the Big Bully Deity, you would say, well God punished them for breaking his law in the Garden of Eden.  But, if you look a little deeper, this is really not the case.  God, in advance, told Adam and Eve that they could do whatever they wanted in the Garden.  They didn't have to work and could spend the day enjoying Paradise and the presence of God.  But God in his infinite Love did not create Adam and Eve to be robots and force them to love Him, he gave them a choice, he gave them free will.  There was a tree in the Garden that God specifically asked them not to eat from, for when they did, they would die.  That is how they could express their free will, by using it to either choosing to believe God or not.

I find this like parenting really.  I tell my eldest not to watch or read something because I love her and I know that at this moment of time she is not mature enough to handle the consequences associated with knowing this information.  For instance, the Harry Potter series.  As an 8 year old, she wanted to read and watch Harry Potter.  However, I know that this child, albeit quite intelligent, is really affected by images she sees or reads and that she would not be able to handle the scary stuff.  She was really mad, but now as a 12 year old who has now read the HP series, she tells her 6 year old sister that HP is too scary for the 6 year old and that she should wait until she's at least 10.  Gosh, Mom was right!  Somebody mark that down.

Okay, back to Adam and his wife.  Well, we know what happens because just look around you.  We ain't in Paradise are we?  Adam and Eve made the conscious decision not to choose to love God and found themselves outside the Garden for good.  I think I heard Fr. Tom suggest that the mistake wasn't even in the eating of the from the tree, the mistake was not taking accountability and asking God for forgiveness for disobeying  Him. Instead,  Eve blames the serpent and Adam blames God for giving him Eve in the first place.  Neither one asked for forgiveness and neither wanted to take accountability for their actions.  They forgot their place in the Garden, and thought they knew better than the One who had created them and the Garden to begin with.  So now, Adam and Eve had to reap the consequences of their actions.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are always consequences to actions, both bad and good. 

I'll stop here with the Adam and Eve story now and fast forward to modern times.  The following is a mediation on suffering by Fr. Seraphim Rose.  As I mentioned in an earlier post here, Fr. Seraphim is a controversial person, although he shouldn't be.  Some people have a problem with him because PRIOR to his conversion to Orthodox Christianity he had experimented in a certain lifestyle in his quest to find a higher revelation.  Big Bully Deity people don't like the fact that Fr. Seraphim lived an un-Christian life prior to becoming a conscious Christian.  I guess BBD people have never sinned or never known that deep drive to find the One True Love.  I feel bad for them.  Not that I'm suggesting that you need to go out and find sufferings, but to not have that hunger and thirst for Truth is a sad thing. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled!" says the Lord Jesus Christ and us in the Orthodox Church who sing these very words every Sunday in our worship service.

So here's a little bit from Fr. Seraphim on Suffering from his little book "God's Revelation to the Human Heart":

A year or so ago I had a long talk on a train ride with a young American.  He met me seemingly by chance (of course, there is no chance in life) and told me that he was learning Russian.  He was a religious seeker who had been to all kinds of so-called Christian groups, had found nothing but hypocrisy and fakery everywhere and had been ready to give up on religion altogether.  But then he heard that in Russia people were suffering for their faith.  Where there is suffering, he thought, there will probably be something real, and there will not be such fakery as we have in America.  And so he was studying Russian with the purpose of going to Russia and meeting people who were real Christians.  As a Russian Orthodox priest, I was astonished to hear this, for he had never before seen an Orthodox pastor nor attended any Orthodox service.  We had a long discussion about religion, and I saw that his idea was quite sound:  the idea that suffering might produce something genuine, while our indulgent life easily produces fakery.

In the 4th century, a great Orthodox [Christian] theologian, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (also called "the Theologian") described our religion as "suffering Orthodoxy" - and so it has been from the beginning, throughout the whole history of the Church.  The followers of the crucified God have suffered persecution and tortures.  Almost all the apostles died as martyrs, Peter being crucified upside-down, and Andrew being crucified on an x-shaped cross.  During the first three centuries of Christianity, believers fled to the catacombs and endured tremendous sufferings.  It was in the catacombs that the Church's Divine Services - which we celebrate today in a form little changed since that time- were worked out in a constant expectation of death.  After the age of the catacombs there was the struggle to retain the purity of the Faith, when many teachers tried to substitute personal opinions for the divinely revealed teachings given by our Lord Jesus Christ.  In later centuries, there were invasions of Orthodox countries by Arabs, Turks and other non-Christian peoples, and finally - in our own days-by Communists.  Communism, which has persecuted religion as it has never been persecuted before, has attacked first of all precisely the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe.  As can be seen, therefore, our Faith actually is a suffering Faith; and in this suffering, something goes on which helps the heart to receive God's revelation.
Here's one more thing that I have to say about Fr. Seraphim's writings. If you decide to read some of his other stuff, you must keep this in mind.  Fr. Seraphim was very strict with himself as an Orthodox Christian monk, and many people try to emulate this same strictness with themselves without the guidance of a spiritually mature pastor.  Fr. Seraphim was keenly aware of what separated him from God and it was his almost pathological strictness with himself that kept him in God's presence and kept him from falling away back into his old life that had left him empty and tormented.  Spiritual guidance by someone other than yourself is of the utmost importance!  Fr. Seraphim had many spiritual guides, one being St. John of San Francisco and Shanghai.  We can't be our own spiritual guides, it just doesn't work.  I have found this to be personally true and so did Adam and Eve.

I have to stop here for today.  I've got piles and piles of laundry that seem to be multiplying like bunnies and
I have to figure out where to go from here.  Maybe on how to handle suffering? And how not to perpetuate suffering in the world?  We'll see....


Anonymous said...

We handle suffering drinking vodka. This is the real orthodox Russian way. Do not forget to mention this on your next essay. :)

Desert Dweller said...

You must be a mind reader my dear Russian friend!

Vodka, our friend and our foe.

That will be the next post. :)