How should we approach sicknesses that we and our loved ones have to endure? How can we not grumble about what’s happening but rather see God’s will in it? How can we learn to be grateful for trials and understand that all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom. 8:28)? I decided to pose these questions to a Russian priest in America, Archpriest George Larin—a man who, glory to God, has experienced and seen a lot in his lifetime. Batiushka shared his own experience with me, and stories from the life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whom he knew in his childhood.
—Fr. George, you told me that you’ve been in the hospital several times in recent years. What has this taught you? After all, we usually tend to grumble when we have health problems. How should we handle the fact that the Lord sends us sicknesses?
—It helps a lot. You know, I’ve been sick a lot in the past few years. I’ve had to undergo several operations in the hospital. But things were always good because I felt that it’s the will of God and that it was good for me. I never felt down, I was never bored. I never felt any pain. There were times when I was in the hospital for up to three months. I had some major surgeries, including open-heart surgery. The surgeons had to take out my heart and work on it for eight hours to fix some valves.
But I didn’t feel any pain. And that’s thanks to the prayers of Vladyka John of Shanghai. I’ve always felt his presence. I always thought about how he voluntarily deprived himself of even the smallest of pleasures—even in terms of food. He ate very little overall, and only fasting food. They’d make him some kind of broth, something sweet, and he’d mix it all together.
Many people wanted to invite him over and treat him with something, but he never stuck around for such events—such things were alien to him. But if someone got sick, he would certainly visit them and confess and commune them. That’s how he lived. He didn’t even think about himself—always about others.
How Vladyka could live like this, I don’t know. He was like an angel on Earth. He believed that as a bishop, he would answer before God for his flock. And his job was to look after those whom the Lord had given him on earth, to pray for them and visit them.
—I didn’t go with him because I was too young. Other people told me about it: how he visited them in the hospital in Shanghai, how he would show up unexpectedly. No one even told him this person was sick—he just suddenly appeared. They’d ask him, “Vladyka, how’d you know I was sick?” He wouldn’t answer, but just prayed with them, communed them, and left. Things like that happened all the time, and everyone wondered how he knew people were sick.
—Once, Vladyka John was in the hospital himself, but he escaped, causing a big commotion. Do you remember that story?
—Oh, yes! My parents told me about it. My father said that Vladyka had to go to the hospital, but he didn’t want to. Basically, they made him, but when no one was around, he got dressed and left [laughs]. They looked for him for a long time, then they found him.
—But for him to run away from the hospital—wasn’t this disobedience?
—No one told him to stay, so he decided, “They put me here, but I don’t want to be here.” So he left. They didn’t keep anyone against their will.
Another time, the metropolitan forbade Vladyka to go around barefoot. He told him he had to wear shoes. Vladyka obeyed him and came with shoes on his hands [laughs]. That’s how he “wore” shoes.
—I’ve heard from many people that Vladyka John appeared to them in the hospital even after his repose. Has this happened to you?
—No, he hasn’t come to me. But I’ve felt his presence. I pray to him every day and I feel that he’s close. But to actually appear—no, that hasn’t happened.
—And how did Vladyka teach people to relate to their own illnesses—how to endure them?
—He would say that the Lord sends all of this for our benefit. It’s for our good, and we have to endure it. Patience and hard work will overcome everything. It’s important to never complain about our so-called fate.
Vladyka didn’t believe in fate. He didn’t believe there was such a thing. God gave us complete freedom; every man chooses his path, and the Lord doesn’t interfere in it. If you want to live a certain way—live that way.
—You were in the hospital for quite a while a few years ago. It was quite a serious situation. They were probably praying for you in every parish of the Russian Church Abroad. What did you feel then?
—I felt these prayers. I felt that it was the will of God. And if it’s God’s will, then it’s for my good. Okay, I’m not feeling well now, but it’ll get better then. I always looked at things this way, and I didn’t demand any answers: Why is this happening? Why is that happening? It didn’t even cross my mind. If I’m sick, it means it’s the will of God, and I have to obey. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”—a simple prayer, and that’s all. We don’t have to worry about anything—the Lord will arrange everything.
Christ told people: “Don’t worry that you won’t have anything to eat or drink. Look at the birds of Heaven: They don’t worry about it, and My Father feeds them all.”
And I thought: Indeed, there are billions of animals, and none of them die of hunger, but people die.
—And what should we ordinary people think about our health problems? What should we ask of God; what should we expect from doctors?
—Just say this prayer that the Lord gave us: “Thy will be done.” Don’t ask Him to give you health. What for? “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” And that’s how it’ll be—don’t worry. Everything will happen according to His will and it’ll be fine.
If He wants us to die, then we’ll die—what can we do about it? We’re all going to die at some point. The Lord is watching over us, caring for us, and everything will be fine.