St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

Joy in Suffering

by Fr. Rodney Torbic
St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Carmichaels, Pa. St. Cyril.

Hebrews 12:2 - Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We need to think about the suffering for Jesus Christ that has taken place through the centuries. We cannot come to fully understand our identity as Orthodox Christians until we give serious attention to those who have suffered greatly as believers.
We are direct beneficiaries of the sufferers through the centuries.They have witnessed for Christ. They have confessed Christ. They have made a difference in the shape and direction of the world.
We have a responsibility in the present and in the future to honor those who have suffered in the past and who suffer even today, witnessing for Christ. We have a responsibility to be fervent in faith and not lukewarm.
The Orthodox Study Bible says: "Suffering is a gift from Christ, as is faith: it is a participation in His Grace."1 Christ suffered. He suffered more than we will ever realize.
Death on the Cross was a painful death. We can only speculate about the effect on Christ, knowing ahead of time that He faced death on the Cross.
As Christians, we can expect suffering if our Lord suffered. We can rejoice in this suffering if it comes from being faithful to Christ. We must be certain as to the cause. We can only be certain if our lives are lived for Christ, according to Christ.
St.Paul told the Philippians: "I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:8)
Do we consider sacrifice for Christ? Do we consider giving up anything for Christ? Are we grateful for the opportunity to worship and live for Christ in a relatively safe and free country?
On Holy Saturday morning as we spend considerable time with Old Testament readings as we prepare to celebrate Christ's Resurrection. The Tomb of Christ is in the Church. Great and Holy Friday is vivid in each person's mind.
On Holy Saturday a certain radiance begins to appear. A certain joy is in the air. We know that change is coming. We know the joy of the Resurrection is imminent.
On Holy Saturday morning we read of the three youths in the fiery furnace. The reading about Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah is the last Old Testament reading. The three youths were cast in the fiery furnace for remaining faithful to God. In the midst of great flames, they sang hymns and blessed God. Azariah prayed: "Thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world."2
When we think about suffering for Christ, we think about the loving care of parents who sacrifice for their children. We think about the sacrifices husbands and wives make for each other.
In the Orthodox marriage service, there is direct reference to martydom. The reference to joy comes as the bride and groom are being led in a circle by the priest. We hear the words: "Glory to Thee, O Christ God, the apostles' boast, the martyrs joy, whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity."3
Marriage entails sacrifice as a manifestation of love. As Christ voluntarily suffered for believers, husbands and wives faithful to Christ, demonstrate their Christian love in their relationships with each other.
Doctors and nurses working in intensive care units, burn units, emergency rooms, cancer units and children's hospitals are called to be Christ-like in performing their work.
Working with the seriously ill and injured requires special patience, special care, special love for the patient. Those medical personnel who take their Christianity seriously and put it into practice in their daily work are doing the work of Christ.
In our daily lives, we are called to be faithful to Christ in all that we think and do. Active believers lead active lives. Even in the stillness of prayer, activity is required. We must think, we must exert ourselves to pray.
Problems we encounter in daily life are of varying sizes. Some create substantial pain and stress. Others are of a minor nature and are more manageable.
When we follow Christ, we take our problems to Christ. We search the teachings and life of Christ for the solution to our problems. We appeal to Christ for help in solving problems.
God does not turn a deaf ear to the faithful. God knows when we suffer. God knows the degree of hardship we meet. We experience joy when God answers our prayers. We experience joy when we are reassured God has listened to our prayers.
The mercy of God is far-reaching. The mercy of God has extended through the centuries. We experience joy when God's mercy is felt in situations that seemed threatening to us.
When we draw near to God, God embraces the move toward Him. Each person is a prodigal son or daughter to a degree. Sincere efforts to approach God are well-received.
The joy of serving Christ is known to Orthodox clergy who make themselves accessible on the battlefields. They put their lives in great jeopardy to minister to the needs of the troops.4
The courage of the followers of Christ comes from the sincerity of their faith, the completeness of their faith.The Eleventh Chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews contains evidence of many through the centuries who were completely faithful to God.
Our faith is revealed when we are tested. In times of crisis and stress, we come to know the degree of faithfulness we have. It is comforting to know that Christians are never alone.
Monastics pray throughout the day and night. Believers are the beneficiaries of monastic prayers. God is always attentive to the prayers of believers.
When we experience the love of Christ, the very depths of our being is plumbed. The love of Christ can heal every broken heart. The love of Christ can restore every unsettled mind. The love of Christ can restore peace where there is disorder.
When we emerge from the baptismal fount, the joy of Christ is evident. At baptism, the joys of life are before us. We can only anticipate them. Christ is ever-present. Christ brings joy that is lasting.
We need not seek out hardship. We need not inflict pain upon ourselves.When we do experience hardship or pain, let us turn to Christ. Christ will guide us, Christ will steady us. Christ will direct us.
St. George the Great-Martyr was being stretched on a wheel and yet he was firm in faith, crying to God "Alleluia!"5 We can find many more examples if we look carefully to the lives of the saints.
Ample resourses exist for all who seek the truth. Growth in Christ exists for all faithful. The Holy Scriptures provide vivid examples of the faithfulness of believers.
Taking Christianity seriously does not impede joy. Taking Christianity seriously solidifies the position of believers.
Today is the best day to come to Christ. Today is the best day to begin anew. Today and everyday is time to repent and seek God.

1The Orthodox Study Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1993, p.456.
2Great and Holy Saturday-Vespers and Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Department of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America. New York. 1976, pp.49-55.
3Holy Matrimony. Department of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America, New York, 1992. PP.22-23.
4"+Proto-Stavrofor Slobodan Prodanovich" The Path of Orthodoxy. September-October 2000.p.3.
5Book of Akathists. Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York. 1994. p.219

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