the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul. St John Chrysostom, whom many in the Orthodox world think is the greatest Patristic interpreter of St. Paul, writes that though we honor the saints, we are also confronted by the fact that the saints did not escape trials and tribulations in their own life times. Rather, the saints learn in and from their tribulations about themselves, about the world and about God, and are thus able to find benefit even in events most of us want to avoid.
“That tribulation served the purpose of the Saints can be heard from David the Prophet, who said: ‘It is good for me Lord, that I have been in trouble, that I might learn thy statutes.‘
Paul said, ‘I was caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise. Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’
By “messenger of Satan” Paul does not refer to particular demons, but to men serving the devils: unbelievers, tyrants, heathens, all who constantly troubled him. ‘God,’ he said, ‘permitted these persecutions that I might not be too much exalted.’
Although Paul, Peter and others like them are holy and wonderful men, yet they are but men, and require much caution lest they should allow themselves to be too easily exalted. Nothing is as likely to cause one to presume a high state for himself than a conscience full of good works and a soul that lives in unquestioning confidence.” (Afflictions of Man, O LOGOS Publications, p. 4)
Chrysostom notes the holy people recognize that suffering and setbacks contribute to our own humility, and they recognize the need for this humility because they recognize themselves as being chosen and favored by God. Chrysostom’s warning is note-worthy – who suffers the most from sinful pride? Those whose conscience is full of good works and thus is full of confidence that God will reward them. St. Paul admits:
“More than that, 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 5:3-4)
Rather than focusing on all the good things we do – even when done for God – godly wisdom has us focus on God’s love for us. This reminds us of our need to love others as God loves us.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
The saints are not those whose consciences are made clean by all the good works they did, but rather are those who experienced the love of God and endeavored love God in their own lives.