Consolation in grief

Undoubtedly, everyone in his lifetime was visited by the Lord with grief.  Illness, loss, betrayal, slander, persecution, and other sorrows are familiar to many.  As a rule, rarely is anyone glad to be visited by sorrow.  Rarely does anyone ask God for sorrow.  In most cases people are afraid of sorrows and do not wish to experience them.  Hence, the question rises:  “How should one purport himself in sorrow?  How should one behave when sorrow, like an unexpected guest, pays a visit?”

Being a parish priest, I often see that people in sorrow come to church; occasionally, for the first time in a long while; occasionally, for the first time in their life.  Everyone goes through his grief in his own way:  someone comes to himself and is sobered from the intoxication of the daily worldly life; someone quietly slips down into the pit of faint-heartedness and murmuring against one’s fate (as it is ordered by God); someone is angered, hardens one’s heart and murmurs not only agaist his fate, but also against God.  Often, people in comparably similar circumstances behave themselves quite differently.  It is obvious:  the way in which everyone goes through his sorrow in many ways depends upon himself and upon his spiritual state.

In the book “The Spiritual Meadow”, Saint John Moschos offers the following, beautiful example of how what is sorrow for one person could be happiness for another.  Once, Saint John and his friend, Saint Sophronios, the future Patriarch of Jerusalem, came to a church somewhere in Palestine.  There they beheld a very strange sight:  a very beautiful, young woman with loud wailing and sighing was praying before the icons and asking something of God.  Surprised, they called her servant girl and asked her what the matter was.  The servant girl explained that her mistress recently became a widow.  Being left alone, she wanted to remain faithful to her departed husband until her death bed, but was sorely tempted because a certain young soldier began seeking her attention.  On account of all this, she came to the church and began asking God to send her a grave illness in order that, being sick in bed, she would not have an opportunity to fall into sin.  When Saints John and Sophronios returned to the same church in a week, they did not see the yong widow, but only her servant girl.  Having asked her about the state of her mistress, in wonder, they received the following reply:  “God heard her prayer.  She is in bed and with her whole heart is thankful to God for the illness that He sent her.”

Here is a wonderful example when a person askes God for sorrow for the humbling of one’s flesh and a victory in the struggle against a temptation.  However, we rarely have such courage and determination in the struggle with the passions and therefore, the Lord, as the loving Father and wise Physician, of His own accord sends us the necessary sorrows, without which we could have perished spiritually.  Alas, we have almost forgotten that punishment has as its purpose the correction unto good, and not a meaningless infliction of pain.

Does that mean that all of us should ask God for sorrows?  Not at all.  Hardly there are those among us, who have matured spiritually to such a  state.  The Holy Fathers teach us to walk the Royal Path and not to sway into extremes.  The safest way is the way of humility.  One should not ask the Lord for sorrows out of humility because no one knows whether he will be able to bear that which he asks.  At the same time, one should not be faint-hearted and should not murmur when sorrows visit us of their own accord.  One should ask God for help and patience, and if it is expedient for our soul, for the deliverance from besetting grief.  The best balm for the soul in time of sorrow are the words:  Glory be to God for all things!

It seems that my thought is coming to a close, but someone might say:  “And what about the consolation?  Where is the consolation in grief?”  As strange as it may seem, the sorrow itself often is the source of consolation.  As a bitter medicine, unpleasant and filled with pain in the beginning, it heals and purifies the soul of a believer.  Together with healing and cleansing a person is visited by a profound peace.  And where there is peace, as the Holy Fathers say, there is God.