Saint Macarius of Optina: on Sorrows

We don’t know why the Lord sends us sorrows, but of course there are three main goals. One of these reasons —and perhaps very often—is that He is beating us with His Fatherly scepter. I suppose that either it is to punish us for our former sins, for in the words of the Holy Apostle, But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32); or to test our faith and hope in the Lord; or, finally, because without sorrows we might fall into some other sins. Furthermore, the way of sorrows is the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.


Man’s life is filled with sorrows, and we must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven through many sorrows. Read the histories of ancient times and you will find that great men and heroes, rulers of kingdoms and commanders of nations were not strangers to sorrows that were sent to each of them by the all-wise Providence of God, either by His good will or by His allowance, to test their faith, or to punish them for sins. Even the first-created man witnessed in his children the fratricide of Cain and the death of his firstborn Abel, which added another inexpressible sorrow to his first sorrow. I will pass over the others in silence, recalling only the pious and holy King and Prophet David, what sorrows he bore through his children. Read his story and imagine that you also are no better than them, and by God’s judgments, which are unknown to us, such a temptation has befallen you. If you endure it in submission, remembering your sins, then God will send you consolation…


It is not possible to live our whole lives without temptations and sorrows, and live instead only joyfully and carefree. Know that God is taking care of you when He sends sorrows and grief, and wants through them to teach you and make you wise in spiritual reason. Without sorrows we can’t be humbled nor come to spiritual wisdom. And be completely sure that other than by God’s allowance no sorrow befall us, even though it would seem that people are the cause—in fact they are only the instruments that God uses in the work of our salvation.


Holy Scripture strengthens spiritual warriors with these words: Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure (Sir. 2:1–2). And we should have this as our first article, keep it in remembrance and follow it. Further: Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience (Sir. 2:4). With this we must have steadfast faith in God, that “a hair of your head shall not perish, and no bird shall fall on the ground without your Father” (cf. Lk 21:18; Mt 10:29), and even less so can something sorrowful happen to us without God’s will.


When we look at our Lord Jesus Christ innocently suffering, enduring taunts, attacks, spitting, beatings, dishonor, mockery, crucifixion, the crown of thorns, the piercing of His side, the nailing of His most pure hands and feet, we will see what our own sorrows, caused by insults and disdain, really are. After all, For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21), and albeit not fully but in small measure we find ourselves partakers of His Passion when we bravely and unmurmuringly endure the sorrows He sends us. You are in a divine university—He is teaching you, He wants to make something good out of you. Don’t fight against Him!

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