After the Fall, disease and death haunt mankind. The world has known many epidemics that have claimed the lives of many people. Some of those people were later glorified as saints, not because of the way they died but because of the way they lived.
It is not only during pandemics that people fall ill and die every day. We petition God for a painless death but one way or another a disease can be a gift for us. Holy Fathers used to say that a disease can not only make a person suffer, but also teach him/her virtues and help him/her to become closer to God. It is a kind of endowment, and depending on how one takes advantage of it, it can bear good fruit.
In this period of anxiety and uncertainty, we have collected a few sayings of the saints about illness and the attitude towards it.
Let us extirpate the root of evil, love of money, out of our hearts. Let us cultivate charity, truth, love of humanity. Let us stop indulging ourselves in luxury. Let us deny sensual desires that require something superfluous. Let us choose abstinence and fasting. Let us put on simplicity, if not sackcloth… Let us despise the vain amusements that waste the time we have been given to do good. Let us multiply our prayers, both the secret ones that we utter at any place and at any time, and public as directed by the Holy Church. Let us use the bloodless sacrifice, the sacrament of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, this invariably beneficial and all-healing medicine carefully, prudently, and decently.
Saint Philaret of Moscow
He who endures illness with patience and thanksgiving shall have it counted as a substitute for an ascetic feat, or even more. An elder who suffered from dropsy told the brethren who came to him wishing to cure him, “Fathers, pray that my inner man may not be exposed to such a sickness; but as far as my current sickness is concerned, I ask God that He should not deliver me from it all at once; for though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).
From the writings of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
As the cure benefits the body, so does the disease benefit the soul. It is not a misfortune when you are sick: it is purification for sinful people. Like fire purifies iron from rust, so the disease heals the soul.
Saint Anatoly of Optina
He who created the soul, He also created the body, and He who heals the immortal soul, He can also heal the body from temporary afflictions and diseases.
Saint Macarius of Egypt
The flesh is smitten for the soul to be healed; the sin is killed for the truth to live.
When I cannot do anything so as not to suffer, I acquire by suffering the ability to endure it and remain thankful both in joy and in sorrow, being convinced that whatever has happened to us is not without a valid reason, although it seems to us that it has no reason. The sicknesses also serve to purify my spiritual part, and everyone needs purification, no matter how strong he may be.
St. Gregory the Theologian
Diseases also happen to test how good we are.
God often allows you to fall into sickness, not because He left you, but in order to glorify you more. Therefore be patient.
St. John Chrysostom
If the disease takes hold of you, do not be discouraged or lose heart, but give thanks to God that He is willing to give you a blessing. When a man is sick, then his soul begins to seek the Lord. Therefore, admonition is good if only the one who receives it is grateful.
Saint Ephraim the Syrian
…Thy body, exhausted by disease, can be a salvific remedy for thy soul. If you are like iron, the fire of suffering will cleanse you from the rust; but if you are gold, this fire will give more brilliance to your virtue.
You write that you are affected by sickness and grief. This is a sign of God’s mercy to you: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). Therefore, we should thank the Lord for his fatherly thoughts concerning us. Sorrows, as well as illnesses, make us wise and skillful in our works, and purify us from sins.
Saint Macarius of Optina.
If you were always healthy, happy and calm and cheerful, then, who knows, maybe you, like other people, would slip into the distracted life and live the same way as this age does. But God, who foresees everything, protects us as the Merciful Father from all that is useless and unwanted. It is our duty to accept everything from our Heavenly Father with childlike submission, even if it is bitter… and say, “Our Father, Thy will be done…”.
[P]hysical illnesses are sent to man from God, not always as a punishment for sin, but sometimes as a relief or a way to protect us from spiritual illnesses that are far more dangerous than physical illnesses.
Saint Anthony of Optina