Today a close friend posted a heartfelt cry for God to heal her son from his recently diagnosed illness. As I read her post, my thoughts immediately connected to Christ's own words as he suffered in the flesh, "Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me."
The cup of suffering is one that none of us desires to bear. Not only do we want to avoid it ourselves, but we want to remove it from those that we love. What parent desires to see the suffering of their own child? None that deserves the title mother, or father. We pray for healing, because we want healing, and also know that God is the healer of both physical and spiritual ailments.
What if, though, our suffering in the flesh is exactly what is needed for our own salvation, or the salvation of another?
In the case of Christ Himself, it was necessary that God Incarnate suffer in the flesh, because God's own entrance into death was necessary to destroy its power over humanity.
As it is summarized so beautifully in the liturgy:
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad; For the Lord hath done a
mighty act with His own arm; He hath trampled down death by death, and
became the first-born from the dead; He hath delivered us from the
depths of Hades, granting the world the Great Mercy!
-Troparion of the Resurrection, Tone 3
Thinking about this suffering reminded me of an article I read today about the kidnapped Orthodox nuns from Ma'aloula, Syria. A new video recently surfaced, which shows that, Alhamdulillah, the nuns are alive. Raymond Ibrahim commented upon the fact that in the video they were no longer wearing their crosses that are part of the monastic habit. They were presimably forced to remove them by their captors, but if they hadn't they may have been martyred already.
Ibrahim comments, reflecting on the words of St. Paul about the cross:
"'But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of
our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I
unto the world' (Galatians 6:14). You removed the cross from the nuns'
breasts. Remove it! We do not rely on the visible. But know that the
cross is firmly planted in the hearts of each and every one of those
It is not that the image of the cross holds no value, Christ came to redeem both the physical and spiritual realities from corruption and death, and this is exactly the truth that we proclaim as Orthodox Christians through the use of icons.
The point of Ibrahim's comment is that the truth of the Incarnation and the reality of life in Christ will not be impeded by the lack of a physical cross on the nuns' clothing.
We pray for God to see fit to preserve the nuns lives and to see them released from captivity, but to return to the first point, if their suffering is effectual for salvation, either their own, or the souls of their captors, it becomes something completely glorious when removed from the context of our earthly temporal existence. Suffering, while completely devoid of pleasure, can be a means to enter into God's own business of uniting humanity to himself, one soul at a time.
"We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."