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The Purpose of Illness. But if we are sons, we are heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ, provided, however, we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him Rom. Our Saviour and the God-bearing Fathers teach that our only concern in this life should be the salvation of our souls. Bishop Ignatius says: "Earthly life—this brief period—is given to man by the mercy of the Creator in order that man may use it for his salvation, that is, for the restoration of himself from death to life" The Arena. Therefore, we must "look upon everything in this world as upon a fleeting shadow and cling with our heart to nothing of it John of Kronstadt St.

John of Kronstadt. How long we live, what disease or illness accompanies our death—such things are not the proper concern of Orthodox Christians. Although we sing "many years" for one another at Namesdays and other celebrations, this is only because the Church in her wisdom knows that we indeed need "many years" to repent of our sins and be converted, not because a long life has any value in itself. God is not interested in how old we are when we come before His Judgment, but whether we have repented; He is not concerned about whether we died of a heart attack or cancer, but whether our soul is in a state of health.

Therefore, "we should not dread any human ill, save sin alone; neither poverty, nor disease, nor insult, nor malicious treatment, nor humiliation, nor death" St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues , for these "ills" are only words; they have no reality for those who are living for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The only real "calamity" in this life is offending God. If we have this basic understanding of the purpose of life , then the spiritual meaning of bodily infirmity can be opened for us. In the preceding chapter we learned how the all-wise God allowed suffering to enter the world in order to show us that we are but creatures. It is a lesson still not learned by the race of Adam which, in its pride, ever seeks to be like "gods": for every sin is a renewal of the sin of the first-created ones, a willful turning away from God towards self.

In this way we set ourselves in the place of God, actually worshipping self instead of the Creator. In this way the suffering of illness serves the same purpose today as it did in the beginning: for this reason it is a sign of God's mercy and love. Yet, it is difficult to see how sickness can be a sign of God's care for us—unless, that is, we understand the relationship that exists between body and soul.

Elder Ambrose of Optina. As a result, purification is required, and this is only accomplished through bodily suffering You must understand that Paradisal bliss is granted to no one without suffering. Repose of the Venerable Nicodemus the Hagiorite According to the testimony of his contemporaries, St. Nicodemus was a simple man, without malice, unassuming, and distinguished by his profound concentration.


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He possessed remarkable mental abilities: he knew the Holy Scriptures by heart, remembering even the chapter, verse and page, and he could even recite long passages from the writings of the Holy Fathers from memory. On one occasion a woman was brought to St. Seraphim of Sarov. This connection between body and soul, sin and sickness, is clear: pain tells us that something has gone wrong with the soul, that not only is the body diseased, but the soul as well.

And this is precisely how the soul communicates its ills to the body, awakening a man to self-knowledge and a wish to turn to God. We see this over and over in the lives of the saints, for illness also teaches that our "true self, that which is principally man, is not the visible body but the invisible soul, the 'inner man'" St.


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Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, Christian Morality. But does this mean that the man who enjoys continual good health is in "good shape" spiritually? Not at all, for suffering takes many forms, whether in the body or in the mind and soul. How many in excellent health lament that life is not "worth living"? John Chrysostom describes this kind of suffering:. But it is not so. For many who have good health have a thousand times wished themselves dead, not being able to bear the insults inflicted upon them For although we were to become kings and live royally, we should find ourselves compassed about with many troubles and sadnesses By necessity kings have as many sadnesses as there are waves on the ocean.

So, if monarchy is unable to make a life free from grief, then what else could possibly achieve this? Nothing, indeed, in this life" Homily I8, On the Statues. Protestants often "claim" health in the "Name of Christ. From their point of view, illness betrays a lack of faith. Just as healthy people are not without sin, so too, God sometimes allows truly righteous ones to suffer, "as a model for the weak" St. Basil the Great, The Long Rules.

For, as St. John Cassian teaches, "a man is more thoroughly instructed and formed by the example of another" Institutes. The Church Fathers also teach that illness is a way by which Christians may imitate the suffering of the martyrs. Thus, in the lives of very many saints, intense bodily suffering was visited upon them at the end, so that by their righteous suffering they might attain to physical martyrdom.

A good example of this may be found in the life of that great champion of Orthodoxy, St. You who believe when you are well, see to it that you do not fall away from God in the time of misfortune. Our Saviour has taught us: Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth Matt. Therefore, when we are in pain we must pray for understanding of our malady, patience to bear it, and deliverance from it, if such be God's holy will. We are also expected to ask for the prayers of others and especially of the Church, for the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much James Learn, you who are sick, to gain health through prayer.

Seek the prayer of others, call upon the Church to pray for you, and God, in His regard for the Church, will give what He might refuse to you" St.

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Ambrose, On the Healing of the Paralytic. The great public prayer of the Church for those who are ill is the Service of Holy Unction. This Service, which is long and exceedingly rich in readings from Scripture, and contains numerous allusions to biblical figures who were healed by the power of God, gives, in concentrated form, the Church's teaching about healing. This Service identifies Christ as the "Physician and Helper of the suffering," and invokes upon the sick person, through anointing, the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who heals both souls and bodies.

Since God "mercifully gave us command to perform Holy Unction upon Thy sick servants," Christ Himself is spoken of as the "incorruptible chrism" Who in old times had chosen the olive-branch to show Noah that the Flood had abated. From ancient times olive oil was used in the making of Holy Oil. At the time of the Flood, the olive-branch symbolized tranquility and safety; so now the priest prays that the Saviour will, through the " tranquility of Thy mercy's seal [the anointing with oil]," heal the sufferer.

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Acknowledging that illness sometimes comes through the activity of demonic powers, the priest asks: "Let no interposition of malignant demons touch the senses of him who is marked with Thy divine anointing. This healing service explores many aspects of sin, suffering and healing; it is a profound and very exalted service of prayer and intercession. One very important point should be made here: During Anointing His Lambs with Oil and Wine The priests, one after the other read prayers that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, invisibly serving this Mystery by the hands of the clerics, according to our faith might touch His healing finger to the soul and body of those afflicted, deliver from all sorts of ailments spiritual and bodily, raise up in us a spirit of peace, vigor, joy, and strength, make our bodies into instruments of the creative will of God, sanctify our consciences and make peaceful our hearts.

Many do not discover prayer until they are on a sickbed. And those who have all of their lives piously participated in the public prayer of the Church, discover during illness that they have sadly neglected the treasures of private or interior prayer. Gregory Nazianzen, a great man of prayer even when his health was good, exclaimed during his last illness: "The time is swift, the struggle is great, and my sickness severe, reducing me nearly to immovability.

What then is left but to pray to God? During illness, prayer is capable of revealing true and lasting treasures, "for if you have bodily strength, the inroads of disease stop any joy you may have had from that source But piety and the virtues of the soul are just the opposite because their joy abides forever If you pour out continued and fervent prayers, no man can spoil you of their fruit, for this fruit is rooted in the heavens and protected from all destruction because it is beyond mortal reach" St.

John Chrysostom, On the Statues. Two incidents from the lives of the saints show how simple yet incorruptible this prayer can be.

In the life of Elder Hieroschemamonk Parthenius of the Kiev Caves Lavra we learn that in his final illness, even after he had been given Holy Unction, he continued to perform his daily prayer rule of reading the entire Psalter. The day before his repose he said to his spiritual children:. Yesterday I already could not complete my Psalter—only half of it. What is one of the most quoted books of basic wisdom on how to live in peace and harmony with our neighbor? Answer: the book of instructions on spiritual life by Abba Dorotheus of Gaza.

A marvelous fruit of these Instructions may be seen in the life of the disciple of Abba Dorotheos, St. The account that follows, included as a part of the Russian edition of the writings of Abba Dorotheos, is by an anonymous writer apparently contemporary with the two saints, and is an inseparable part of the life of the great Abba himself. When he had become still worse, St. Abba Dorotheus said to him:. Does it continue as before? He answered him: "Yes, Father, by your prayers. When, however, it became extremely difficult for him and the illness became so severe that he had to be carried on a stretcher, Abba Dorodieus asked him:.

He answered: "Forgive me, Father, I cannot keep it up any longer. Finally, we see a glorious and inspiring example of the place of prayer in times of illness in St. Gregory Nazianzen's account of his own father's illness:. The time of my father's sufferings was the season of the holy and illustrious Pascha, the Queen of Days, the brilliant night which dissipates the darkness of sin. Of what kind his sufferings were, I will briefly explain: his whole body was on fire with a great and burning fever; his strength failed him, he could take no food, his sleep had departed from him, and he was in the greatest distress.

His whole mouth was so ulcerated that it was difficult and even dangerous to swallow even water. The skill of physicians, the prayers of his friends, earnest though they were, and every possible attention, were alike of no avail. In this desperate state his breathing was short and fast and he had no perception of present things.

At this moment my father was raised up by Him Who quickens the dead. At first he moved slightly, and then more decidedly. Then, in a feeble and indistinct voice, he called a servant by name to bring his clothes and support him with his hand. The servant came in alarm and gladly waited upon him while he, leaning upon the servant as upon a staff, imitated Moses on the mountain and arranged his feeble hands in prayer His only relief was Divine Liturgy, to which his pain yielded, as if to an edict of banishment" On the Death of His Father.

The acknowledgment of oneself as deserving temporal and eternal punishment precedes the knowledge of the Saviour and leads to knowledge of the Saviour. The Christian view of medicine. When St. Basil the Great was asked if going to a doctor and taking medicine were in keeping with ways of piety, he replied:. Every art is God's gift to us, making up for what is lacking in nature After we were told to return to the earth from which we had come [at the time of the Fall], and were joined to a pain-ridden flesh that is destined to die, and made subject to disease because of sin, the science of medicine was given to us by God in order to relieve sickness, if only to a small degree The Long Rules.

Therefore we may have recourse to physicians and take medicine, for this science is a gift from God. When man fell from Paradise, he came immediately under the influence of disorders and maladies of the flesh God therefore gave medicine to the world for comfort, for healing and care of the body, and permitted them to be used by those who could not entrust themselves completely to God St. Macarius the Great, Homily When to go to the doctor, and how often, should be a matter of common sense. But when we go, we should "not forget that no one can be cured without God.

Ship This Item — This item is available online through Marketplace sellers. Temporarily Out of Stock Online Please check back later for updated availability. Overview With increasing evidence that there is a connection between illness, spirituality, and healing, this book, the first to consider suffering and spirituality jointly, provides a non-religious, practical guidebook for dealing with this phenomenon. Product Details Table of Contents. Table of Contents 1. Average Review. Write a Review. They are a wake-up call that tells us that we need to change old attitudes, perspectives, and lifestyle habits that may have contributed to our health problem.

Life-threatening diseases like cancer and AIDS can play a special role in the transformative process. Illness forces us to make choices. Choices based on fear and other limited perspectives often lead to more suffering, whereas those based on knowledge and hope have often been found to lead to healing.

Miller, M. Many are similar to those of long-term cancer survivors. The ones appearing here are applicable to individuals suffering from all serious illness, whether it is life-threatening or not. Ten points in particular stand out, summarized as follows:. An important component in the mind body healing process is creating an environment that will facilitate the healing power of the mind.

This is not unlike a farmer preparing the soil in expectation of an abundant crop. While the environment will differ according to our personal needs and life situation, it involves often-overlooked aspects of ourselves: our emotional being and our mental being. The following sections offer a few ideas that can enhance self-nurturing on emotional, mental, and even spiritual levels. Our emotions play an important role in health and disease. Positive feelings produce neurochemicals that strengthen the immune system; negative, repressed, or distorted emotions can decrease immune response and open the door to a variety of health problems.

This is why emotional well-being is an important aspect of healing your body with your mind. Rather than try to repress, deny, or control our emotions, we need to nourish and guide them so that they can help us become integrated and whole. Emotional nurturing can involve creating a support system. This may take the form of being with others who support our mind body healing process, such as relatives or friends. At times, we may need to distance ourselves from those who are not supportive or let them become more aware of our needs and how they might assist us in a positive way.

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Accepting all of our feelings including sexual feelings can be a powerful mind body healing technique. Expressing anger, grief, frustration, and sadness is not always as easy in our culture as the expression of joy, excitement, and affection. Like a river whose current is obstructed, emotions that are blocked tend to become polluted and harmful, as by their very nature emotions are to be experienced and expressed. Long-term repression of emotions has long been viewed as a factor in a number of common diseases, including cancer, stroke, and heart attack. It probably contributes to less dramatic diseases as well, such as depression and chronic fatigue.

This is why we need to reclaim our mind body connection through emotions and allow them to be expressed in non-destructive ways. Candace B. Anger, fear, and sadness, the so-called negative emotions, are as healthy as peace, courage and joy. The stress this creates, which takes the form of blockages and insufficient flow of peptide signals to maintain function at a cellular level, is what sets up the weakened conditions that can lead to disease.

All honest emotions are positive emotions. Through meditation, dynamic exercise, or different forms of body-oriented modalities such as bioenergetics, network chiropractic, Zero Balancing, and other mind body healing techniques, we can learn to accept our human emotions and channel them into more positive areas of expression. Another important component of emotional nurturing and healing your body with your mind is humor. In his book Anatomy of an Illness , Norman Cousins wrote about how ten minutes of belly laughter at frequent intervals he watched Marx Brothers movies and old Candid Camera television shows helped him overcome a life-threatening disease.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to heal old emotional wounds from the past. Making peace with others, which can include forgiving those who have hurt us, asking forgiveness from those we have hurt, letting go of resentment, and especially forgiving ourselves, is essential to this process.

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At this point in human history, we have access to more information than ever before. While access to information can be valuable, the unrelenting amount of gossip, sensationalism, superficial ideas, and negative, fear-producing concepts from advertising, news reports, and politics is a type of mental pollution that many of us can do without.