In the Orthodox Church, pain and all kinds of suffering are not abolished for the faithful, but rather they acquire a completely new merit, they are transformed. Through our courage, patience, our prayers, and the constant memory of God, this bitter chalice gradually transforms into the sweet chalice of immortality. For this reason, pain no longer becomes a source of fear and horror for the Christian, but a broad field of labor and battle. Let’s take, for example, an athlete that has run in competitions and has won contests: when he receives his reward for the victory, out of joy he forgets all of the hard work put into preparing for the competitions. In the same way an athlete of Christ, foreseeing the glory that shall be revealed (1 Pet. 5:1) and the future reward in the Kingdom of Heaven, forgets the bitterness of suffering and of death itself.
Therefore, we must valiantly bear our run through the course set before us, throughout which we must patiently endure temptations, sorrows and trials, asking for strength and consolation from our Savior, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
And if we receive that great gift of God to people—suffering—in the correct way, it will become for us the source of blessings. Whatever we may endure in this current age, none of it can compare with the future reward in the Heavenly Kingdom, as was said by the apostle Paul: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). If someone wants to find an answer in this life to the question of why God allowed a certain circumstance to happen, then his mind will undoubtedly be filled with thousands of “whys?” But if he were to view his ailments as a necessary trial sent to him by God either in order to be cleansed, or to be perfected, or in order to be crowned in the future life, then he would accept the chalice of suffering from the Lord’s hand as a blessing.
This is God’s answer to man. The Lord does not give man the false promise that He will abolish suffering, but promises to transform his pain, and out of a curse create blessing and consolation.
Let no one assume that the saints did not suffer and were not subjected to bodily diseases. The words of St. Isaac the Syrian are proof of the contrary—in one of his homilies he says the following: “Do you see the countless multitudes of the Church’s saints? None of them have ascended up to Heaven living in pleasure, but all of them have ascended up to there by many sorrows,” patiently carrying the cross that God had given them.
Each one of us carries his own cross—all of us, absolutely all of us without exception, no matter who we are, whatever status in society we may have, or in whatever part of the world we may be located. But even if the Lord does not send the cross of patiently enduring sicknesses to some, they are still subject to various sorrows, and upheavals; to carrying the cross of their sins, to fighting with their own inner enemy—the “old self” (Eph. 4:22) that is torturing them.
On this dark, boundless way, only One can light our path—and that One is, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the Cross for the sake of each person; the Light and consolation of people carrying their crosses along after Him. He is the One who in the Holy Gospel addresses all those who are grieving, sick, or suffering: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28).