Sin, Sickness, Suffering

“… and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”  (James 5:15-16)

“It is a fundamental Christian belief that suffering and sickness are the consequence of sin.  The creation narrative in Genesis makes it clear that humanity was created to dwell in paradise, in the company of God, where, in the words of the funeral kontakion, there is no ‘sickness and sorrow.’ …. Sickness, suffering, and death, therefore, are not normal.  Humanity was created not for suffering and death, but for eternal life in communion with God.

As a result of human sin, however, this communion has been broken; and the physical consequences of this break are sickness and death, because apart from God there can be no life, but only death.  …  The inescapable conclusion is that we all sin, we all suffer, and we all die. … Epidemics, disease, strife, suffering – all remain despite the remarkable progress in technology, science, and medicine.” (Paul Meyendorff, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK, pp 64-65)


Salvation: Being Made Whole and Human

Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.   (Luke 18:35-43)

Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian comments:

Soteria is the Greek New Testament word often translated as “save.” It is a derivative of the verb sozo, which means “to heal:” The Latin equivalents are salvare (to heal) and salvus (made whole or restored to integrity). Thus, the words for salvation in New Testament Greek and in Latin denote therapy and healing. The Gospel writers take advantage of this denotative meaning when they record Jesus’ healing miracles.   An example is St. Mark’s story of Bartimaeus the blind beggar (Mark 10:46-52), who enthusiastically chases after Jesus on the road from Jericho, boldly addresses Jesus by the Messianic title “Son of David” and earnestly beseeches Jesus to restore his sight.

The New Jerusalem Bible renders Jesus’ answer to Bartimaeus as “Go; your faith has saved you:” The Revised English Bible translates this as “Go; your faith has healed you:‘ while the Revised Standard Version reads, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”    All three of these modern translations are “accurate:”  But not one alone captures the complete meaning of the passage. The healing miracles certainly concern physical cure; but they are not limited to physical cure. All four of the Gospels emphasize that Jesus’ acts of physical healing are charged with spiritual and eschatological significance as well.

(The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key, Kindle Loc. 544-51)

A Divine Reward Before Doing the Labor

By the inexpressible providence of God some people have obtained divine rewards for their labors before doing them; others during their toil; others after; and some only at the time of their departure.   (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2394-2395)

The above quote from St. John Climacus reminded me of an event that happened almost 50 years ago.  A friend of our family had an aging mother who was about 85.  She was having serious trouble walking, suffering a lot of pain in her legs.  Perhaps it was a circulatory problem, but I don’t remember that detail.   She kept telling her son, our family friend, that if she couldn’t walk anymore, she hoped God would take her.  She didn’t want to keep living if she couldn’t go to church and she was afraid that since she couldn’t walk they would put her in a nursing home and that would be the end of her church attendance. She had been several times doctors but they hadn’t so far found a solution to the problem.  Then, one day, the doctor called the man and told him they had a new medication for his mother which the doctor felt would help her be able to walk.  Our friend went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription and drove it to his mother’s house.  To his surprise, she was not home.   She didn’t drive, so he couldn’t imagine where she went.  He searched the house and began looking around the neighborhood.  A neighbor told him that he had seen his mom walking away from the home earlier in the day.  He became very alarmed knowing she wasn’t able to walk very well.  He drove around the neighborhood but didn’t see her.  He felt somewhat panicked about what might have happened to her.  He called the doctor and the hospital, but could not locate her.  After a considerable time, he drove to the church because it was the one place he knew she liked to be.  And sure enough there was his mom sitting on the front steps of the church.   She had walked nearly 2 miles to get there.  When he got out of the car, he felt a bit angry and said to his mother, “What are you doing here?”   She calmly replied that she had come to church to pray to God to ask him to help her so she could walk and come to church, but if that God wasn’t going to help her, then she hoped He would allow her to die in peace.

The son told her that the doctor had called that very morning with a new prescription for her and he had gotten the medication for her.  She replied, “See, God answered my prayer.”    He said later he felt a little amused by her simple faith, imagining as she did that God had answered her prayer, when he knew that in fact that medication was in production for years before she ever made that prayer.   His problem of course was his good Western mind with its linear view of history – as if God needed to wait for a prayer to be offered before God could  begin to act upon the petition.  Or as St. John Climacus noted in the quote above, some obtain their divine rewards before doing the labor.

Holy Unction (2017)

“…there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”  (Psalm 38:3)

On Holy Wednesday evening in some Orthodox traditions, the service of holy unction is offered. Throughout Lent we were called to repent of our sins, to receive the healing forgiveness of Christ. On Holy Wednesday we experience that forgiveness and healing through the sacramental oil of unction.  Confession, Holy Communion and Unction are all Mysteries in which we received healing from Christ.  They are all means for us to experience the salvation which Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, made possible for all humanity.   All three Mysteries become available to us during Holy Week.

Here is one of the prayers the priests say at the service:

“For you are great and wonderful God: you keep your covenant and your mercy toward those who love you, granting forgiveness of sins through your holy Child, Jesus Christ, who grants us a new birth from sin, who gives light to the blind, who raises up those who are cast down, who loves the righteous and shows mercy to sinners, who leads us out of darkness and the shadow of death, saying to those in chains, ‘Go forth,’ and to those who sit in darkness, ‘Open your eyes.’

You made the light of the knowledge of his countenance to shine in our hearts when for our sake he revealed himself upon earth and dwelt among us. To those who accepted him, he gave the power to become children of God, granting us adoption through the washing of regeneration and removing us from the tyranny of the devil. For it did not please you that we should be cleansed by blood, but by holy oil, so you gave us the image of his cross, that we might become the flock of Christ, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and you purified us with water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit…

Let this oil, O Lord, become the oil of gladness, the oil of sanctification, a royal robe, an armor of might, the averting of every work of the devil, an unassailable seal, the joy of the heart, and eternal rejoicing. Grant that those who are anointed with this oil of regeneration may be fearsome to their adversaries, and that they may shine with the radiance of your saints, having neither stain nor defect, and that they may attain your everlasting rest and receive the prize of their high calling.” (Paul Meyendorf, The Anointing of the Sick, p. 82)

Throughout Holy Week we encounter our Lord, God and Savior Jesus, the Messiah, who comes seeking us, who heals us, who gives us His Body and Blood for our salvation.  Sin is another illness which affects our souls and bodies.  In unction we come like so many did in Christ’s own lifetime to be healed by Him of our physical and spiritual infirmities.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”    (1 Peter 2:24)



When God Becomes Visible

 The Gospel lesson of Luke 18:35-43 –
Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
We can contemplate with St. Gregory of Nyssa what sight is, how can we see God who is invisible?
“From what has been said then, it is clear that the Lord does not deceive us when He promises that the pure of heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8); nor does Paul deceive us when he teaches us in his epistles that no one has seen God nor can see Him (1 Tim. 6:16). For being by nature invisible, He becomes visible only in His operations, and only when He is contemplated in the things that are external to Him.”

The Evil of Despair

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Christ's temptation in the wilderness
Christ’s temptation in the wilderness

“In the growth of despair the devil plays a particularly important role and by means of this condition can provoke in the soul catastrophic consequences. ‘The devil’, St John Chrysostom tells us, ‘has no greater weapon in his hands than despair; we also give him less pleasure in sinning than in despairing.’ In this condition the individual basically despairs of God and cuts himself off from Him. As a result he leaves the field free for the devil’s action, and, bound hand and foot, yields to his power and is given up to spiritual death. As St Paul teaches ‘the sadness of the world worketh death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). Under the effect of despair (and sometimes even simply from sadness), man often comes to embrace corrupt passions, thinking that they might bring him a remedy for his condition. Thus the Apostle states, ‘having lost all hope they are free to embrace licentiousness, unto the working of all uncleanness; plunged in impurity’ (Eph. 4:19). Following him St. Gregory the Great tells us that the end result of sadness is ‘the straying of the spirit towards forbidden things.’ (Jean Claude Larchet, Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, pp 98-99)

While despair can be a temptation of the devil, it is possible to bring ourselves to despair – to bring our selves into the wilderness where Satan will meet and tempt us.  Some despair we experience is situational, we react to events going on over which we have no control.  Time and patience can at times bring us out of this funk.  Some despair is the result of body chemistry, which can be treated by psychiatry and/or psychological counseling.  Some despair is demonic and torments us, needing spiritual, physical and mental healing.   Some despair is chosen – the sadness of self-pity, which Chrysostom thought worse than sin.  We choose not to get out of it.

We often need help when in despair, whether from a supporting community of family, friends, parishioners, or from the mental health and medical community, or from our Lord Himself.

“… tribulation produces perseverance;and perseverance, character; and character, hope.Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Healing: Look for the Kingdom of God

The Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –     

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Roman Catholic biblical educator Marielle Frigge comments:

“Healing and exorcism stories in the gospels function as signs pointing to the truth of Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is beginning now, in Jesus’ person and work. Because first century Jews believed that any kind of illness was caused by evil powers, every healing performed by Jesus indicated that God was indeed at work in him, overcoming the rule of evil and establishing the rule of power of God (kingdom of God ) in this world. These accounts bear witness that the power of God has truly entered the world in Jesus, thus pointing to him as Yahweh’s chosen anointed agent.” (Beginning Biblical Studies, p 160)

The Sign of the Leaf

One week ago today, I underwent my 3rd spinal fusion surgery.   I posted a blog that day, Removing the Obstacles to Healing , in which I mentioned that most of my posts for the next several weeks were written and put in a queue weeks ago.  I did this, of course, because I didn’t know how surgery would turn out, so didn’t know when I might be able to write a new post.

This post is “live” if you will, I’m writing it on the day I post it.  Surgery went well and the doctors do seem to have corrected all the places in the spine where the nerves were being pinched.  The MRI showed my back was not a pretty picture.  Now with the fusion, it may not be pretty (certainly it’s not normal) but the pressure and pain have been relieved, thanks be to God who has given us such wonderful knowledge and technology and wisdom to be able to relieve this pain.  God has given to us the ability to remove the obstacles to His healing us.  True synergy between us and God.

Healing is also a very slow process for this surgery.  I have many activity limits and significant muscle pain and surgery discomfort.   My body is reminding me constantly that “over-doing” it is way below what used to be normal.   I recognize that my brain is very much in slow motion.  I like to do electronic Sudoku puzzles and I can see how slow I am in addition to how many mistakes I make.  It is taking me five times longer to write this post than it used to.

I did make it onto my driveway yesterday for a very short walk.  Something immediately caught my eye – it was the unusual colors.

A leaf is something I’ve ignored millions of times in my life. This one stood out as a very attractive sign of nature.  It tells me it is autumn, seasons change, nothing lasts forever, each season has its own glory.

Leaves in the spring mean new life, in the summer cooling shade, the brilliance of autumn, and all winter long leaves are helping keep life covered and becomes part of the cycle of new birth.  The one leaf also is a symbol of the small part I play in the world.  My reality has shrunk quite a bit.

In Scripture, I note two other signs which we can read from the leaf.

All the host of heaven shall be dissolved,
And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll;
All their host shall fall down
As the leaf falls from the vine,
And as fruit falling from a fig tree.   (Isaiah 34:4)

The leaf certainly speaks about impermanence and change.  Whatever its glories, a leaf lasts but a year.  It is only in the renewed creation of God’s final kingdom that the leaf takes on new meaning.  Finally in the heavenly realms the leaf gives up its short-lived trait and becomes healing for all.

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”  (Ezekiel 47:12)



Touching the Edge of Christ’s Garment

Glory to Jesus Christ!
Thanks to God and to your prayers, the surgery I had this week seems to have alleviated the critical back and leg pain which was beginning to cripple me.  The power of prayer at work!  Your prayers worked in and through the hands and minds of the surgeon and staff at the hospital – transforming the spiritual into the physical.
Your love has power to heal as did Christ’s love when He walked the earth.  I have been blessed as you the crowd around Christ enabled me to touch the hem of His garment.
I will now be spending several weeks in recovery with very limited activity.  For example I am to spend most of my day flat in bed, or laying on my side.  I am permitted to sit upright only 30 minutes, and that only 3 times daily.  Thank you all for sharing in my suffering.
May God bless each and everyone of you!
Fr. Ted

Removing the Obstacles to Healing


This morning, about the same time that this post appears on my blog, I will be undergoing spinal fusion surgery.  This is my 3rd spinal fusion in 4 years, and the 4th major surgery I will have had in that same time period.  I both need and appreciate your prayers.

St. Paul, suffering from some infirmity which remains unknown to us, mentions asking God three times to be relieved from the suffering caused by “the thorn in his flesh.”  Each time however God denied his request saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).   I find myself similarly petitioning God, and having to live the same response.  St. Paul continued: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). I am still trying, albeit reluctantly, to learn that godly response.

St. Paul says in another epistle: “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 5:3-5).   I still have a goal to be a Christian, but in all these teachings of St. Paul, I see myself no where near fulfilling the instruction given to me.   I’m still trying to learn how to rejoice in suffering, so that the other virtues may become present in my life.  At least I have direction in my life – I see where I am supposed to go, and that it still for me is a sojourn to get there.

My blog posts for the past several days were all prepared days ago and put in the queue to be posted as scheduled.  This will be true of all the posts appearing for the next several weeks.  When I am able, I will give an update on my condition which will be more of a “live” report.

My surgery is hardly the biggest news of the day.   Today is election day in the USA.  So as several wits have quipped to me, mine is elective surgery.  I’m about to find out what is more painful, spinal fusion surgery or the presidential election.

What I’m hoping for today?  That all will go well enough with surgery so that some time later today, the nurses and therapists will come to me and tell me to get up and walk.


Though some people seem to think “miracles” can only happen in some inexplicable and supernatural way, I for my part have found that much of what modern medical science is miraculous.  What we humans are capable of discovering, learning and inventing is phenomenal and astounding.  God has gifted us with so much.  It is astonishing what we are capable of learning, envisioning, and engineering.  Thanks be to God.  If only we were always willing to use all our wisdom and knowledge to help our fellow humans!