by Our Holy Father Tikhon of Zadonsk
This sermon not only dispels grief and suffering in the face of misfortune or troubles, but teaches the way such trials are for the good of the vigilant soul. St. Tikhon is an author of renowned spiritual wisdom, and he is especially known for his instruction on the basics of Christian spiritual warfare, which this sermon characterizes quite brilliantly.
Man is both soul and body. If the body has misfortune or trouble, so does the soul. The body is visible and its trouble is visible; the soul is invisible and its affliction is invisible. The body is perishable and its trouble will come to an end; the soul is imperishable and immortal and its affliction has no end and remains with it throughout the ages if it is not freed from it. The soul, as it is perceiving, immortal and created in the image of God, is far superior to the body. Therefore, its troubles are far greater, more dangerous and more cruel than troubles of the body. Bodily troubles never die and always remain with the immortal soul, unless it be delivered from those troubles. For this sake, O Christian! Pay attention to the following:
1. It is difficult for a person to live in physical poverty; but much more difficult to be in spiritual poverty. It is difficult for a person to have a body which is sick and feeble. It is difficult for a person to do physical work for the benefit of an evil tormentor; but it is more difficult for the soul to work for sin and through sin for the devil. Whosoever committeth sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). It is difficult for a person to be bound with chains of iron: but it is far more difficult to be bound with chains of sin. Iron chains torment only the body; but chains of sin torment the soul. It is difficult to face the wrath of a king; but far more difficult to face the wrath of God. It is difficult for a person to be physically held prisoner by an enemy; but far more difficult to have one’s soul a prisoner of the devil. It is difficult for a person to be far from one’s home, homeland, friends and relatives; but far more difficult for the soul to be far from its heavenly homeland, the house of God, God, and the chosen saints. It is difficult for a person to sit in dungeon, not see the light of day, endure captivity, sorrow and bitterness; but it is far more difficult for the soul to sit in the dungeon of hades, and to endure its calamity throughout the ages. It is difficult for a person to die physically, but it is far more difficult to die spiritually. The body dies and its difficulties end, the soul is immortal and its difficulties never end. Inasmuch as the soul is more precious than the body, in the same measure is its peril greater and more cruel than that of the body. For this sake we must seek first deliverance from spiritual troubles rather than from physical ones. Physical troubles, as great as they may be and as long lasting as they may be, will all end; but spiritual troubles will never end.
2. Misfortune itself leads one to recognize misfortune and recognition of misfortunes persuades a person to seek deliverance. People see physical troubles and feel their bitterness: for this sake they flee from them and seek every possible means to be freed from them. They don’t see spiritual troubles, which are far greater than physical ones, don’t feel their bitterness, and therefore few truly desire and seek to be freed from them. If one does recognize them, then the more they are recognized the more one stribes to be freed with them. The Word of God presents our spiritual eyes with our spiritual calamity, leads us to understand it and presents us with the image of salvation – Christ. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:36). Glory to God the lover of men for this! Many idol worshippers recognize their self deception, delusion and ruin from the word of God and from His wondrous miracles. When they turned to Christ, He freed them from their ruin, and they received eternal blessedness for their souls. Many recognized this in days of old and made caves, dens, deserts and precipices their earthly abodes. It was recognized by martyrs, who preferred to die and to suffer most grievous torments, rather than renounce Christ; for to renounce Christ is to renounce all spiritual blessedness and eternal life and to fall victim to spiritual destruction and eternal death. Spiritual calamities were recognized by many thieves, murderers, fornicators and others who sinned most heavily and who truly sought deliverance and found it. Even now it is recognized by many, who become terrified by the recognition and seek deliverance so earnestly that they worry not about any physical troubles, but only to be delivered from their spiritual affliction. Fear of any physical troubles far transcends and reduces to insignificance any physical troubles, just as a great roar completely masks a small and quiet voice. In such a way does recognition of troubles move a person to seek deliverance. Recognize O Christian! Your spiritual troubles and misfortunes and you will undoubtedly strive for nothing but deliverance from your troubles. Fear and horror will encompass you, when you recognize the perilous state of your soul, and you will want to shed tears and cry rather than make merry. Blessed is the person – truly blessed – who early recognizes the peril of his soul. Recognition of troubles is the beginning of blessedness, just as recognition of an illness is the beginning of recovering health. Therefore know yourself O Christian! And you will be blessed.
3. Physical and temporal troubles such as diseases, infirmities, poverty, persecution, ridicule, humiliation, insults, lies, exile, imprisonment, bondage, loss of wealth and honor, beatings, wounds and even death itself cause no harm to our souls: for we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). And blessed are they, as the word of God teaches us, who suffer all this for the sake of Christ (cf. Mt. 5:11, 10:22). Physical and temporal troubles not only do not take away from a soul’s blessedness, but multiply its blessings: “but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not: for things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Cor. 4:16-18). Likewise it is written: But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world (I Cor. 11:32) And again: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, and so on (Heb. 12:6). That many were moved by physical and temporal troubles to true repentance is witnessed by Church history and writings of the Old Testament. We see this even today. It is to this end that God who loves man sends us troubles; that we may be moved to true repentance and live in the fear of God. For our troubles and misfortune we must always remember to thank our ever-loving God, for He cares for us, and everything that He sends us leads us to a righteous end. The prodigal son, when he had wasted away his father’s inheritance and fell upon such poverty that he was starting to perish from hunger (!) only then came to himself and said “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee!” (Luke 15:17-18). In the same way, a sinner is moved to return to his Heavenly Father and true repentance. Having troubles and misfortunes and being in difficult circumstance a sinner begins to think to himself:
“Having no physical or temporal good fortune, let me seek eternal and heavenly blessings. My poverty and wretchedness inspire me to seek spiritual wealth: I will seek it from Christ, Who is richer than all, but Who for our sake became poor. My physical infirmity teaches me to seek spiritual health from Christ: He is the Physician of our souls and bodies. I endure dishonor and ridicule by people, let me seek glory and praise from God. The Lord says: who glorifies Me, I will glorify (I Kings 2:30). I suffer the wrath of my king or my master, let me seek mercy from God He that trusted in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about (Psalm 31:10). I labor physically for some man, and have no freedom and bodily uprightness, let me seek spiritual freedom and uprightness. Everyone despises me and abandons me, let me run to God and cling to Him. He will not abandon His creation, neither will He despise it: for He abandons and despises no one. Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation, Who art the confidence of all the earth, and of them that be far off at sea (Psalms 37:22-23, 44:6). I am far from my house and homeland and separated from my kin and my friends; let me try all the harder to seek out my heavenly homeland and an eternal kinship with the angels and saints of God. The dungeon in which I sit, and the chains with which I am bound encourage me to repent and escape the dungeon of hades and the chains of sin. Glory to God Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). He sends me grief to guide me and to turn me away from the path to destruction and to return to Him. Arise! I go to my Father.”
Physical and temporal troubles not only do not harm a soul but are indeed beneficial. These troubles lead us to repentance, to God Himself and encourage us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Glory to the man-loving God for this! Glory to His wondrous wisdom! Through all our troubles and afflictions He leads us to true blessedness; He turns all our misfortunes into blessings! Physical and temporal well-being often, in fact most often, corrupts and destroys a person. We see this in the example of the rich man in the Bible who perished because he knew not how to deal with wealth and temporal well-being (cf. Luke 16:23). Likewise even now there are many who do not know how to deal with their wealth, but contrary to the will of God, waste it on their whims and corrupt themselves. Many do not know how to deal with their gift of physical health, become corrupt and pursue all manner of iniquity. Physical and temporal well-being, while good, are to a corrupt heart like a sword to a madman who uses it to kill himself. The prodigal son, as long as he still had his father’s inheritance, did not think to return to his father; but when he had lost it, fell into neediness and hunger, then he began to think more deeply as described above. This is why it is written if wealth should flow in, set not your hearts upon it (Psalm 51:11). And so, just as physical and temporal troubles lead to repentance and spiritual correction, physical and temporal well-being often leads to corruption and spiritual trouble and death – and this is especially so for young people. For a young person it is especially difficult not to be corrupted by misfortune, in order that the person not be tempted from the true path and not lose eternal blessedness. In well-being, a person with weaknesses is easily lead astray and corrupted. Physical and temporal grief is bitter medicine, but beneficial to the soul.
4. Spiritual troubles are always harmful, always leads to death and are a great and vicious evil; for they are always contrary to the Holy Will of God. Spiritual troubles include self love, pride, faith in one’s intellect, love of praise, love of power, vanity, pluming oneself, despising and raising oneself above one’s neighbor, unenlightenment and delusion, ignorance of God and truth, unbelief and superstitiousness, envy, anger, spite and remembrance of wrongs, love of money and desire for wealth, desires for sins of the flesh, hypocrisy, slyness, cleverness, and other evils. These spiritual troubles are great sources of harm to our souls; their death-dealing poison lies hidden in our hearts, and modifies and consumes our souls, leading us to none other than eternal death. Recognize O Christian! The peril of your soul and you will truly seek deliverance from it. Recognizing one’s troubles leads one to seek means of escaping it, and to desire and seek blessedness instead. O mankind-loving Jesus! Thou art my refuge from the affliction that encompasses me; my joy, to deliver me from them that have compassed me (Psalm 31:7). My poor and sinful soul, created in the image of God, groans and cries out to Thee, O my Savior!
5. Troubles are best recognized when they fall upon us and test us; and they are best recognized by those who are vigilant and look for them. However, just how cruelly one suffers, only the sufferer knows – just as only he who has a toothache knows the degree of his suffering. The same applies for spiritual troubles which lie hidden in the heart and are best recognized when one is faced with temptation: the greater the temptation the more readily one can recognize one’s spiritual weaknesses and afflictions. Temptations uncover all that lies hidden in the heart, just as medicines called emetics reveal what is in one’s stomach. The more one recognizes one’s spiritual trouble and peril, the more one gains humility. The more one gains humility, the more he receives grace from God. God giveth grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5). Many delude themselves that they have no high mindedness, pride, envy, anger, spite, and so on: but when they are confronted with temptations they learn that these evils were hidden in their hearts and that they were deceived. Sinful physical passion can remain hidden and unrecognized for some time, but on some occasion it can raise its head like a poisonous snake and try to inflict a venomous bite to one’s soul. Envy stays hidden in our hearts until we see the success, well-being and joy of our neighbor; then it rises up and shows itself. Anger and spite surface when we are insulted or hurt by our neighbor. Hard-heartedness and unmercifulness show themselves when we see our neighbor who despises our suffering. Love of money surfaces when we lose our wealth or inheritance; love of praise when we are in dishonor; love of power when we lose our position or rank or glory of this world. There are many who are unable to overcome the spiritual sicknesses and troubles hidden in their hearts and thus destroy themselves. O blindness! O hidden insensibility! O spiritual poverty! – to destroy oneself because one is filled with just about nothing but darkness! Whatever one loses, he grieves about when he loses it; and the stronger the love the greater the grief. Spiritual sicknesses are opened to us when we are faced with temptation. Temptation serves to open our hearts and make visible and sees everything that is hidden there and thus allows us to be tempted – to show us what we have hidden in our hearts. Let us recognize O Christian! Our spiritual troubles and afflictions; only then can we truly seek deliverance.
6. No one can save us from spiritual peril except Jesus Christ. He is our Savior. He knows our poverty better than we know it ourselves. It is for us that He came into the world, suffered and dies; so that we may be saved from our troubles and evil, and be returned to a state of blessedness, righteousness and freedom, to a wonderful goodness which is the image of God – in which all our blessedness and glory is found. Let us recognize our poverty and humbling ourselves, seek salvation from Him. Remember the poor woman with the issue of blood who was unable to find any cure for her illness, came to Jesus with faith and received healing by just touching His holy robe (cf. Mark 5:25-29). This woman teaches us to come to Christ and ask for His help and salvation for our souls. He is able to help us because He is all-powerful and He wants to because He loves mankind and desires our salvation. He acts with us invisibly. O let us approach with faith and spiritually touch His holy robe; and day by day we will feel our troubles diminishing in magnitude and freedom returning to our souls. It is always true that recognition of troubles leads one to seek deliverance from them. Recognize, therefore, your troubles and you will begin to seek salvation. Everyone who desires it, is given the strength to know himself and to see his spiritual poverty and afflictions.
Translated by Anthony Busigin, from Spiritual Treasure (Sokroviche Dukhovnoye) by our holy Father St. Tikhon Zadonsk, 1901 edition, published by the Kievo-Pecherskaya Uspenskaya Lavra.