Illnesses and Prayer

 Note: When Elder Porphyrios refers to illnesses, consider things beyond cancer and other obviously serious, painful things. Consider also more “invisible” illnesses. I had previously read this (multiple times) and felt like it didn’t really apply to me because I wasn’t suffering from an acute, serious illness. This morning I realized my error, and also realized he nailed me. (:

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We benefit greatly from our illnesses, as long as we endure them without complaint
and glorify God, asking for His mercy.
When we become ill, the important thing
is not that we don’t take medicines or that we go and pray to Saint Nektarios.
We need also to know the other secret, namely, to struggle to acquire the grace
of God. This is the secret. Grace will teach us all the other things, namely,
how to abandon ourselves to Christ. That is, we ignore the illness, we do not
think about it, we think about Christ, simply, imperceptibly and selflessly
and God works His miracle for the good of our soul.
Just as we say in the Divine
Liturgy, ‘we commend all our life to Christ our God.’

But we need to wish to ignore the illness. If we don’t wish to, it’s
difficult. We can’t simply say, ‘I ignore it’. And so although
we think that we are ignoring it and giving no thought to it, in point of fact
we have it in our mind continually and we cannot find peace within ourselves.

Let me prove this to you. We say: ‘I believe that God will cure me. I won’t
take any medicine. I’ll stay awake all night and I’ll pray to God
about it and He will hear me.’ We pray all night long, we make entreaty,
we call on and coerce God and all the saints to make us well. We go to one place
and another. With all these things don’t we show that we are far from ignoring
the illness? The more we insist and blackmail the saints and God to make us
well, the more acutely we feel our illness. The more we strive to get rid of
it, the more we feel it. And so we achieve nothing. And we have the impression
that a miracle will happen, and yet, in reality, we don’t believe it, and
so we do not become better. 

We pray and we don’t take medicine, but we don’t find any peace
and no miracle happens. But you will say: ‘What do you mean that I don’t
believe? Don’t you see I haven’t taken any medicine?’ And yet,
at bottom, we have doubt and fear within us and we think to ourselves, ‘Will
it really happen?’ Here the words of Scripture hold good: If you have
faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree,
but even if you say to this mountain, ‘be lifted up and thrown into the
sea’, it will be done.
[Matt. 21:21] When faith is real, whether you take medicine
or not, the grace of God will act. And God acts through doctors and medicines.
The Wisdom of Sirach says: Honour the physician with the honours due to him,
according to your need of him, for the Lord created him. The Lord created medicines
from the earth, and a man of sense will not despise them. And give the physician
his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need
of him.
[Sir. 38:1,4,12]

The whole secret is faith – without doubts, gentle, simple and artless: in
simplicity and artlessness of heart.
[Wisd. 1:1] It is not a question of ‘will
power’ or ‘mind over matter’. A fakir can display this kind of
‘will power’. It is a question of having faith that God loves us with
infinite love and wants us to become His own. That is why He allows illnesses,
until we surrender ourselves in trust to Him.

If we love Christ, all things will change in our lives. We do not love Him
in order to receive some reward such as health. Rather we love Him out of gratitude,
without thinking of anything, only of the love of God. Nor should we pray with
any ulterior motive and say to God: ‘Make such-and-such a person well,
so that he may come close to You.’ It is not right to point out ways and
means to God. How can we presume to say to God, ‘make me well’? What
can we tell to Him who knows everything? We will pray, but God may not wish
to listen to us.

A person asked me a little while ago, ‘When will I get well?’

‘Ah,’ I told him, ‘if you say, “When will I get well?”
then you never will get well. It’s not right to entreat God about such
things. You entreat anxiously for God to take the illness from you, but then
the illness lays even tighter hold on you. We mustn’t ask for this. Nor
should you pray about this.’

He was taken aback and said, ‘Do you mean I shouldn’t pray?’

‘Not at all,’ I answered. ‘On the contrary, pray a great deal,
but for God to forgive your sins and to give you strength to love Him and to
give yourself to Him. Because the more you pray for the illness to leave you,
the more it adheres to you, winds its tentacles around you and squeezes you,
and becomes inseparable from you.
If, of course, you feel an inner human weakness,
then you may humbly entreat the Lord to take the illness from you.’

–Wounded by Love, Elder Porphyrios, pp. 227-229

(Thanks to Orthodox Info for doing the typing for me so I didn’t have to lose the use of my arms this morning.)

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