by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Today is Pentecost. I am offering a prayer. At church, I am giving Katherine Krause’s prayer for those who suffer and in pain. She wrote a fine prayer.
I am intrigued by yet another Eastern Orthodox vantage point on life.
Here is an excerpt from Alexander Schmemann about suffering and dying:
Here is a man suffering on his bed of pain and the Church comes to him to perform the sacrament of healing [anointing with oil]. For this man, as for every man in the whole world, suffering can be defeat, the way of complete surrender to darkness, despair and solitude. It can be dying in the very real sense of Man and of Life in him. The Church does not come to restore health in this man, simply to replace medicine when medicine has exhausted its own possibilities. The Church comes to take this man into the Love, the Light and the Life of Christ. It comes not merely to “comfort” him in his sufferings, not to “help” him, but to make him a martyr, a witness to Christ in his very sufferings. A martyr is one who beholds “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). A martyr is one for whom God is not another – and the last – chance to stop the awful pain; God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God, and ascends to the fullness of Love. (For the Life of the World, p 103)
That’s the Eastern Orthodox view of “healing.” Death and dying are enemies of us, but they are within Life.
What do you think?
I like Schmemann’s position. He doesn’t cave into the two-storey universe where there are hospitals, doctors, and medicine down here, and then after we’ve done all that we can to save ourselves, as last resort we turn to the priest and his “god of the volcano” and make our desperate petitions for mercy – it’s just an add-on to an otherwise secular lifestyle. Schmemann has the biggest picture in mind: all of this is within G-d. All of this is ultimately within Life. He doesn’t cave into the moment, but leverages the moment for a witness about the Reality of the hope of Christ in our midst. (“Reality” is the same as Presence, Truth, Love)
Perhaps we should pray when we suffer, “Lord, help me to be a witness to Christ and his Life.” C.S. Lewis once said something like… g-d whispers to us, but shouts to us in our pain. Perhaps our pain shouts not to us, but to the world: “Christ has overcome pain, suffering, dying and death!”