"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5: 3-5).
There is a theme, echoed in the epistle of the 3rd Sunday of Pentecost of the Eastern Church that is found throughout scripture and the church fathers: patient endurance. In the time of the Old or First Covenant, the book of Job relates that after a series of calamities, including the violent death of his children Job (1: 21-22) says: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
Tribulation is in the world
St. Luke (21:9-19) records Jesus words: “And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. ”
Jesus’ message: he who endures will be saved.
The words of Jesus, recorded by St. Matthew (10: 22-25) reflects St. Luke words of Jesus but extends it to all of us who claim we are imitators of Christ; those who proclaim Christ enlivens their lives: “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” Clearly Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is clearly stating we (if we be His committed followers) can expect no less that the way He, True God and True Man was treated: bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, brutally scourged, and crucified; a true tribulation.
The apostles continue the message
But these words of Jesus are further transmitted in the letters of St. Paul. As in the opening quote from the great missionary apostle to the Gentiles’ letter to the Romans: “ ...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Rm 5: 3-5).
To the Thessalonians St. Paul reminds them endurance takes work and effort, mission and devotion to duty. “ Before our God and Father, we remember the effort that from your faith, the hard work that from your love, and your endurance which from the hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Brothers , God loves you. You know He has chosen you.” (1 Thes 1: 3-4)
Tribulation is a necessity
This will is not easy. St. Paul emphasizes the fact that tribulation is necessary to lead a Godly life. St. Paul is telling us that the tribulations of life are essential in teaching us endurance. To St. Timothy St Paul writes: “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3: 12-16). Now righteousness could be considered as moral, proper, ethical, principled and right-minded thought word and deeds. This is summarized quite succinctly by our holy spiritual father Nikitas Stithatos who tells us the law of righteousness “..consists in merciful compassion for our fellow beings.” (Philokalia IV p. 82)
Spiritual warfare weapons to ward off tribulation
St. Paul tells us in his first letter to St. Timothy that we should avoid: conceit, envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, wrangling, being among those depraved in mind and truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain can greed saying: “love of money is the root of all evils ....” Then using the metaphor of battle and fighting, implying spiritual endurance the Saint tell us: “But you, O man of God, run away from these things. Follow after faith, love, endurance, what is good, godly, and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith. Hold onto eternal life.” (1 Tim 6: 10-13)
In his letter to the Hebrews St. Paul places emphasis on the reward of endurance. As is said in the daily prayer of the Hours of Prayer of the Eastern Church: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” (Heb 10: 35-36).
Tribulation in the Apocalypse
The Book of Revelation is a controversial book in the Eastern Church. For example it is the only book in Sacred Scripture that does not contain readings incorporated into the Divine Liturgy. My approach to quoting this book is to similar to the approach of Flegg (1999), who states the goal of his book An Introduction to Reading the Apocalypse: “Hopefully, we shall be able to read the Apocalypse in a way which will provide us with spiritual sustenance ....get behind the imagery to the spiritual meaning which underlies it.” The most concise description of the Orthodox use of the Book Of Revelation (The Apocalypse), and which is the spirit of my quotes in this article is the pinpoint concise statement of the Orthodox approach to this book by Fr. Frank Marangos (http://www.goarch.org/print/en/ourfaith/article9597.asp) who tells us: “Orthodoxy treats the text of Revelation as simultaneously describing contemporaneous and future events. Since Orthodox interpreters of the Apocalypse view contemporaneous events as foreshadowing future occurrences, they reject attempts to predetermine present-day events. Orthodox scholars understand the Book of Revelation as a warning for spiritual and moral preparedness.” Spiritual preparedness would accurately describe my reason to reflect on St. John’s spiritual vision of tribulation, patient endurance and the reward to follow.
Tests over time
As St. John tells us he was undergoing an ordeal himself, that he had to endure patiently. Our Lord spoke to him in a spiritual vision: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev 1: 8-9)
It would appear St. John is telling us evil itself, the evil people do and those who do them have to be tested with patient endurance. This implies that a test is not a one time occurrence. It is an evaluation over time. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Rev 2: 2-3) Bearing tribulation over a time period is an important defining characteristic of what the spiritual fathers will call "patient endurance."
The rewards of patient endurance:
- Wrongs will be righted: The reward of patient endurance is wrongs will be righted. Lies will be uncovered and truth restored. Jesus Himself will protect those who “hold fast” during through turmoil’s greater than those already encountered. “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. (Rev 3: 9-12) The imagery of a crown after enduring and winning a fight was not lost on St. Paul, who told St. Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4: 7-8)
- We will be numbered among the saints: In St. John’s apocalyptic spiritual vision, endurance in commitment to Christ and His commandments, will lead us to be numbered among the saints: “If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev 13: 1). St. John re-echoes this message again later in the Book of the Apocalypse: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" (Rev 14: 12-13)
The Church Fathers on tribulation and patience
St. John Chrysostom commenting on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us: “Tribulations, that is, are so far from confuting (that is disproving) these hopes, that they even prove them. For before the things to come are realized, there is a very great fruit which tribulation hath—patience; We do not see what use patience will be of in a future state, and the making of the man that is tried, experienced. And it contributes in some degree too to the things to come.”
The paradox of a good God permitting evil
It is just such tribulations however which confound both Christians and non Christians alike. The age old question: How can a good God permit such tribulations and travails? Such calamities are perceived as evils by those who ask. This question did not escape, was not even missed by one of our holy spiritual fathers St. Peter of Damaskos, who wrote: “I was also astonished how God, who is good beyond all goodness and full of compassion permits all the many and various trials and afflictions of the world. Some He allows as sufferings conducive to repentance. These include hunger, thirst, grief, privation of life’s needs, abstinence from pleasure, the wasting of the body through asceticism...anguish, fear of death...the dismay, the oppression, the throttling of the soul in this world and in the next. And they there are all the dangers facing one in this world: shipwrecks, illnesses of every kind, lightening, thunder, hail, earthquake, famine, tidal waves untimely deaths-all the painful things that God allow to happen to us against our will.” The saint lists also the sins of mankind among calamities: “wars, the tyranny of the passions; the derelictions, dislocations and vicissitudes of life; the anger, slander and all the affliction that we of our own will bring upon ourselves and one another against God’s will.” (Philokalia III p. 75-76)
Our free will response unites us to the Holy Trinity
The answer St. Peter comes up with is that we have been given free will by God and "the beginning of our salvation; by our free choice we abandon our own wishes and thoughts and do what God wishes and thinks.” It is in this context we should view all of the tribulations we encounter. “If we succeed in doing this, there is no object, no activity or place in the whole of creation that can prevent us from becoming what God from the beginning has wished us to be: that is to say, according to His image and likeness, god by adoption through grace, dispassionate, just good and wise, whether we are rich or poor, married or unmarried, in authority and free or under obedience and in bondage—in short, whatever our time, place or activity. (p 76)
St. Peter of Damaskos is taking the questions asked the Romans (8: 35) by St. Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” But telling us it is of our free choice itself if such a separation takes place. Love of God despite all real or perceived evil around us is our responsibility. Separation from God’s love in the midst of tribulation is our choice.
Are there spiritual aids to respond to God’s grace and in the face of tribulation acquire patient endurance? Once again St. Peter of Damaskos tells us: “From knowledge, or understanding, is born self control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain; and, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come. ... He looks on himself as in God’s debt for everything.” (Philokalia III p 85) Both knowledge and understanding which would include human knowledge and spiritual vision and thanksgiving to God for all things is in part what the saint means here.
The purpose of all tribulation is healing-union with God
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His passion, crucifixion and death on the cross as St. Matthews account renders: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Mat 26: 39). Christ made the choice He requires of us if we are to be his follower. When we follow God’s will, amidst all tribulation, and, Christ indwells in our hearts, we become a ‘living icon’ of that same life-giving Christ. Through us, all around us, can see Christ. St. Gregory of Sinai indicates “The principle and source of the virtues is a good disposition of the will, that is to say, an aspiration for goodness and beauty. God is the source and ground of all supernal goodness.” Our grace enabled vivifying emulation of truth, beauty and love (because ‘God is love,” 1 Jn 4:7-8), is the bridge to our union with God.
Grace builds on nature
St. Peter of Damaskos pointed out that patient endurance can be aided by human understanding, that is “natural knowledge given to us by God.” As pointed out in a previous paper. (Morelli, 2006) St. Maximus the Confessor taught: "the grace of the most Holy Spirit does not confer wisdom on the Saints without their natural intellect as capacity to receive it." Goodness and wisdom is granted to man by his "volitive faculty, so that what He (Christ) is in His essence the creature may become by participation." (Philokalia II) It not only behooves man therefore to prepare himself for the grace of goodness and wisdom by all means possible but in this case it can be used to use it the natural psychological process given to us my God synergy with cooperating with His grace to build patient endurance.
Synergia with grace: building a healthy personality
It is a commitment to the Kingdom of God we make now in the midst of tribulation, as proof of our love and key into gates of paradise. Interestingly it is these same characteristics that according to some psychologists (Maslow, 1968, Shostrum, 1993) that characterize persons with “healthy” personalities. These personalities are described as having: a mission in life which is their reason for existence. Such personalities are described as placid, lacking worry, and being devoted to duty. Such personalities rely on inner vision: are stable in the face of tribulation, they are independent from demanding or expecting respect from others. They have an inner moral standard. Means and ends are not confused. Goals have to be gained by correct means. They also transcend the demands of any particular culture or tradition which is in conflict with their values.
For a Christian the healthy personality has to be built on Christ
For Christians the values must be Christ and His teachings. St. Paul reminds Timothy: “You have followed my teaching, my life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. You know my persecutions, the kinds of things I suffered ... I put up with all kinds of persecutions, but the Lord rescued me from all of them. Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil men and cheaters will become worse and worse. (2 Tim 3: 10-13) Now a reference to the words of Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24)
Application of Maslow’s Model
One way of applying Maslow’s model to humanly aid the spiritual practice of patient endurance is to effectuate some daily goals based on these characteristics. I have chosen items from a test of Maslow’s healthy personally: the Personal Orientation Inventory developed by Shostrom (1993) as objectives. Although designed as a test of a healthy personality based on Maslow’s characteristics, the “question” items can easily be goals to be applied in everyday life:
- Make it important as to how you are living here and now
- Know and operate by your inner moral values (for Christians, Christ’s teachings)
- Make decisions based on your inner moral values, not the values of others.
- Make sure to always abide by the truth.
- Be aware of your feelings in the decisions you make and actions you do.
- Be spontaneous, but always in line with Christ’s norms.
- Hold on to your viewpoint if based on the principles above, even in not popular.
- Be sincere, and use failings a growth experience.
- Accept differences between people
- Do not fear to be compassionate, kind and tender.
Based on the guiding principles listed above, here are some practice exercises:
- Choose a worthwhile goal. See how the goal is related to one or more of Christ’s teaching. Put yourself into the goal fully, selflessly and vividly and let the work absorb you. For example if you were planting a garden. Reflect on God, who created the plants or vegetables and give Him thanks and relate the beauty to His Glory.
- Find a decision you can make or a action you could do that would lead to growth in the life of Christ. It may be as simple as saying: “God I accept your will in this. Permit me a personal example. I have a hard time dealing with traffic (as may others do). As a country boy growing up I would frequently see no other vehicles for miles. Now when in traffic I pray the Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: “O Lord, teach me to treat all that comes to me today with peace of soul and with firm conviction your will governs all.”
- Think of an example of something someone wanted you to do or say that was un-Godly. Practice a ‘script’ you can employ to respond to them, that is charitable but also is assertive: an honest and true communication of your Christ-centered values. (cf. Morelli, 2006a) An example from a clinical case I had several years ago: A young newly married man was invited by his male co-workers to visit a topless bar after work for a drink. We rehearsed his assertive response which went something like this: “You know I am really not into that kind of thing, I really think it takes away my feelings for my wife. Thanks for the invite but I do not really want to go.”
- Make sure what you are doing is done well. It is easy to slide, especially when confronted with calamity and you feel under stress. Look over the activities of the day and examine if they were done the best you could do them.
Many previous articles have discussed the role of irrational thinking, also known as cognitive distortions in producing dyfucntional emotions and the cognitive-behavioral intervention in treating such cognitive errors. (cf. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/Indexes/Morellix.php). The main cognitive distortion related to sabotaging patient endurance is over-evaluation or catastrophizing.
Healing: Linking body, mind, spirit
Identifying and disputing these cognitive distortions, identified by the clinical research studies of behavioral science is not dissimilar to the Spiritual Fathers who said evil thoughts have to be acted on to “rebuff them.” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, Philokalia IV p. 74) Modern psychology gives us more tools to do this. (Morelli, 2006c)
The Church Fathers, especially those involved in spiritual direction (Hausherr, 1990) would surely have welcomed such procedures. These fathers often employed the disputation process in spiritual guidance. The disputational or challenging questions are:
- Where is the evidence (the evidence for the evaluation)?
- Is there any other way of looking at it (e.g. re-rating the calamity)?
- Is it as bad as it seems (how does the previous evaluation compare to the re-evaluation)?
- What is the effect of holding onto my distorted thoughts (what would happen if I changed my thinking)?
A technique effective with over-evaluation or catastrophizing is the "Mental Ruler Technique". Please note this ‘ruler is ‘Ruler on a Human Scale’. The ruler ‘tool’ involves evaluating the calamity situation on a zero to 100 scale. The zero end of the ruler is made using the most pleasant thing one could picture happening to you (Burns 1980, Morelli, 1987) “in the entire universe”. Parishioners or patients infrequently have trouble imaging a very pleasant event (zero). Sitting on a sun drenched tropical beach is a typical image. Those seeking counsel often n need great help however, imaging a worst event (the 100 end of the ruler). Patients or parishioners I counsel frequently characterize ‘the death of loved one’, especially a child, as the "most awful thing on earth" — often such responses are couched in sanitized and/or abstract terms.
Caveat: validate grief but do not endorse catastrophe
While a counselor certainly must help a person with the grieving process allowing in particular, the expression of feelings, he must take care not to endorse a catastrophic mental ruler appraisal by saying “Oh! Indeed how awful how terrible.” For example, while the loss of a child is tragic and the cause of great sorrow and grief, unless it reaches the scale of "100" it is not the "most awful thing one can suffer."
A vivid concrete catastrophe (100 on the mental ruler)
On a human level in helping the committed Christian or patient to counter this I offer the example the unsanitized, quite concrete example of a true event: a medical missionary in South East Asia several years back who suffered a horrifying death. His captors placed chopsticks in his ears and hammered them in a little each day until they penetrated his brain and killed him.
The spiritual or eschatological ruler
In the case of the spiritual virtue of patient endurance however we have a different situation. That which is to be evaluated, the calamities, sufferings and tribulations which we encounter must be evaluated in the eschatological scale of the Kingdom of God. This is can be easily seen in a very simple comment of death made by a very holy elder of the Church recently deceased. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Ageloglou, 1998) remarked: “When I see Christians cry because their fathers passed away, I am upset, for they neither believe, or understand that death is simply a journey to a life of another kind.” This almost shrouded comment actually contains the brilliant pearl of the center of spiritual wisdom: All is God, all else is meaningless. Did not St. John (17: 24-26) tell us: “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."
The challenge of the Christian: lack of human understanding but complete trust in Christ
Surely catastrophic evaluations on a human level frequently broadcast a lack of commitment to Christ and His teachings on a divine level. Surely the commitment of the Christian is in a God Who freely gives life and calls us back to Him. God does all for love and even though some events are beyond our understanding, we can nevertheless know that some events have a greater, higher, and divine purpose even when we don't see what they might be. This gives an entire different meaning to the quote of St. John in the Book of Revelation (1:8): "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Thus in closing we contemplate the words of St. Isaac the Syrian: “A time of trial is beneficial to everyone: the diligent are tried so that their wealth may increase; the lax, so that they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness; those whose who are far from God, so that they approach Him; those who are God’s close associates, so that they may come closer to Him in freedom of speech. (Brock, 1997).
Thus to patiently endure:
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5: 16-18)
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