September-October 2022

Much as 2020 and 2021 before it, 2022 has been an interesting year. War, inflation, continued supply chain problems, weather extremes, increased talk of an economic recession – all these can lead to worry and anxiety. But just as courage is not the absence of fear, nor is faith the absence of worry. St. John Chrysostom says about St. Paul: “Was Paul really afraid of danger? Yes, he was, for even though he was Paul, he was still a man. This is not to say anything against him but rather about the infirmity of human nature. Indeed it is to the credit of his sense of determination that even when he was afraid of death and beatings, he did nothing wrong because of this fear. (Homilies on Corinthians). The services of the Church also bear witness to this reality. The canon for Great Paraklesis begins: “Relentless onslaughts of distressing troubles now disquiet my humble soul. * And the gloomy clouds of tribulation shroud my heart. * But since you are, O Bride of God, * Theotokos and Mother * of the divine pre-eternal Light, * shine on me the light that is full of joy.”

To have faith, or even to be a saint, does not mean that we are entirely unaffected by the trials and difficulties we encounter. What it means is that in the midst of trials and difficulties, we draw nearer to Christ and the saints. St. Paul tells us that because Jesus Himself “has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” Let us explore some of the ways in which He does so.

We sometimes hear that “if you have your health, you have everything.” And, indeed, health is often an important part of life. However, we also have examples of saints whose health was far from perfect. St. Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh that he asked God to take away only to receive the response that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. The same St. Paul advises St. Timothy to drink a little wine to help with his stomach and “frequent infirmities.” In our own time, St. Paisios of Mt. Athos struggled with illnesses for many years before his repose in the Lord. Ultimately, more important than health is that in times of physical distress, Christ can draw near to us as the one who was hung upon the Cross and pierced by nails. At those times, He can bring us peace, humility, and patience, and guide us to focus on those things which lead to eternal life.

Advertising for financial advisors asks us over and over again if we have saved enough for retirement. In times of economic uncertainty, financial worries can become one of the main things about which we are “anxious and troubled.” Here, too, we have saints who can help us. St. Alexios the man of God walked away from a rich life and lived in a small hut. St. Augustine gave away all his possessions except for his home, which he turned into a monastic community. Closer to our time, St. Juliana of Lazarevo, after her children were grown and she had become a widow, gave away all her possessions and lost none of her joy. These saints point us to something that we can rest on: in all difficulties, Christ is the one thing needful.

Cedar Rapids has had to handle two major weather events in the last fifteen years. While the city has taken steps to handle flooding, storms remain unpredictable and I am sure for many of us there is a sense of unease when we hear about strong storms and “derecho potential” in the forecast. But even in storms and bad weather, and any other unpredictable event, Christ draws near to us as the one who calmed the storm and kept Peter from drowning when he took his eyes off Him and became scared of the storm.

I hope and pray that the state of the country and the world improve. Howeer, whether they do or not, God is with us. As St. Paul reminds us: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

For Your sake we are killed all day long;

We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-40)”