From the letters of St. Theophanus the Recluse
On sorrowful circumstances of life
…Everything that comes from God, aside from our own doings, is best for us. This is not only a matter of faith or theory, but no matter which circumstance in life you look at, you will surely see that it is so every single time. Even now all your afflictions - your own illness, your son’s illness, the difficult matters which you hint about - all of it is for the best, both for you and for your family members. It only remains to pray and, in praying, to thank God. And we must give even greater thanks for afflictions. Our spiritual blindness and egoism are the cause of our sorrows - the fact that we become too upset under unfavorable circumstances. You, of course, understand all this perfectly, and are able to contain your feelings within the framework of Divine Providence. I wish you inner tranquility. A heart faithful to God is always able to find peace! May the Mother of God warm you with motherly comfort in your soul!
…Everyone has to keep in mind the law in accordance with which the Lord measures our fate on earth. Everything here is from the Lord, from small things to large, and is the means of preparing us for future life. Such is the significance of illnesses and health; such is the significance of the illness of your N. On her way to a future life of bliss, she must, in accordance with God’s wise and merciful judgment, endure that which she is enduring. Come to this realization and inspire her with the same, and then all that is difficult in her illness will cease to burden her soul and will calm her. Faith is the healer of the soul, flying on the wings of hope and warmed by love.
Standing firm in this conviction, continue having your usual care for medical treatment, but with inner tranquility and giving yourself over entirely to the will of God. Let N. be of similar disposition. Earthly happiness is a good thing in its own right. But if the Lord finds that it is better for me not to have that part of such happiness which constitutes health - may the will of God be done! It suffices for me to have the love of a husband, mother, father, relatives. I offer thanks to the Lord for the former and for the latter, for what is given and for what is not given. May the Lord only grant me goodwill and patience, and such a state of mind, with which it would not be shameful to appear before the Lord.
…The Lord sent you an illness. Thank the Lord, because everything that comes from the Lord is for your good. If you see and feel that you are to blame, then begin with repentance before the Lord and regret for not having safeguarded the gift of health which He had given you. And afterwards return to the fact that the illness has come from the Lord, for all constraint of circumstances comes from the Lord and nothing happens by chance. And consequently give thanks to the Lord. Illness humbles and mollifies the soul, and eases its usual burden of many concerns.
…Everything is from God: both illness and health; and everything that comes from God is given to us for our salvation. Thus should you look upon your illness and thank God for being concerned about your salvation. In what manner that which God sends us works for our salvation - we do not know, and perhaps it is not for us to know. God sends us one thing for the sake of punishment, as a form of penance; another thing for instruction, so that a person may regain his right mind; another to deliver a person from misfortune, which would befall him were he in good health; another for a person to show his patience and thus earn a good reward; another to purify us from passions, and many other reasons… But you, as you think of your sins, should say: “Glory to Thee, o Lord, for having subjected me to penance in punishment!” When you remember that formerly you have not always thought of God, you should say: “Glory to Thee, o Lord, that Thou hast given me a reason to think of Thee more often!” When the thought comes into your mind that if you were healthy, you would do things that were not so good, then say: “Glory to Thee, o Lord, that Thou restrains me from sin,” and so on in everything… Thus be of good cheer!
…Through illness learn humility, patience, goodwill and gratitude to the Lord. That impatience overcomes you is very human. When it comes - you should chase it away. For this reason we feel the heaviness of our condition, so that there would be something to bear. If you do not feel any difficulty, then you do not need any patience. But when the feeling of oppression comes and is accompanied by a desire to be rid of it, there is nothing sinful in that. It is a natural feeling! Sin begins when, as a consequence of this feeling, the soul yields to intolerance and begins to grumble. When such a feeling comes, it must be repelled and thanks must be offered to God.
Consolation to family members on the illness of those close to their heart
In afflictions good is often concealed beneath the heart’s sorrow - for this reason it is not felt or seen, although it is truly there. It is now active in your case, too, both for N. and for yourself. What would you wish for N. - temporary well-being or eternal salvation? It is difficult for you to chose? The natural choice would be “both one and the other.” But if one cannot combine the former with the latter, then, without any hesitation, you will choose the latter, rejecting the former. Thus become convinced in your mind and in your heart that for N., due to the circumstances of her life and yours, which you do not see and do not know, it has been found necessary to cut off the enjoyment of earthly goods - either temporarily or forever. And the Lord has made it thus. Having allowed her to succumb to a difficult illness, He has thus shielded her from everything that could have had an ill effect on her condition. When the dangers pass - her health will return. If they do not pass - so will it remain. You have no reason to fear for her eternal salvation. Now she is in a sickly condition. Consequently, she will go to the Lord in that condition, in which the illness struck her. Such is her eternal fate. It can increase through your cheerful patience and faith, and placing her into God’s hands. I am, moreover, of the opinion that although the soul becomes disordered as a result of the disorder of the body, the spirit remains whole, and it increasingly matures in the depths of consciousness in the same direction, in which it was headed when the body became disordered. So summon within yourself good faith in God’s merciful providence - and use it to repel all attacks of sorrow that upset your mind and heart.
It is impossible not to sorrow; but what sense is there in killing oneself with grief? She will ail for a while and will then become well. Not all sick people die. Why should you send your daughter off to the other world when she has just become ill? The fact that she has worsened reflects the general course of illnesses. Of course, we are all in the hands of God, - and death can come to any of us at any moment. The sick person has the distinguishing characteristic that death, if it is fated to come, will not come unexpectedly. This is the advantage of your ill one. She can reflect upon herself and can prepare for her departure in a Christian manner.
It is about this that you should now be concerned much more that killing yourself with grief.
Let us assume that she dies. What’s wrong with that? All of us will die. She dies today, we will die tomorrow. What difference does it make? It is not she who dies… The body will die, while the soul will remain alive. And she will be much better off without her body than within her body.
Thus you see that not only because of illness, but also because of death, if it should come, we should not grieve. You should now get up immediately, take heart and be tranquil… and you will thus comfort all others. And your ill one should use this beneficial time to reflect upon the saving grace of death. A healthy person can seldom think of it… For this reason the Lord sends us illnesses, in order to remind us of death… and from this remembrance to lead the ailing person to concern himself, finally, with preparing oneself for death.
Consolation to the ailing
…Your thoughts about a supposedly desperate situation are not to be tolerated. They are the enemy’s work. Who can say what will happen? God alone. But the enemy, brashly declaring himself to be God, pops up everywhere with his malicious prophecies, and upsets our faith and takes tranquility away from our heart. Do not listen to him, but when he finishes his work and leaves, - you will become well again and will serve the Lord.
Whatever will be - is in God’s hands. Therefore, all our steps should be accompanied by the cry: may God’s will be done! Having given ourselves over to the will of God, we should no longer rush hither and thither, but should be in internal agreement with whatever the Lord gives us. This is the source of peace for all, but especially for the sick.
…Do not look upon ailments gloomily. They indicate God’s mercy and attention to you, rather than His inattention.
…God has entirely different thoughts about ill and healthy states than we do, and they are as far away from ours as heaven from earth. It happens that God uses illnesses to protect people from misfortunes that would have befallen them were they in good health.
…How can we say that your illness has not been sent by the Lord to prevent a misfortune occurring to you? The course of life is hidden from us, and its chance events are so incomprehensible that nothing else is left to us but to cry out: may Thy will be done, o Lord! For we know that only good comes from the Lord.
If everything comes from the Lord, the illness comes from Him also. If everything from the Lord is for our benefit, then so is your illness. Accept it all as a curative medication, though bitter, but beneficial.
…Endure your illness good-naturedly and thank God for it, because, were it not for the illness, perhaps you would have walked around topsy-turvy, while now you do everything as you should. Another advantage is that, if you were in good health and had wanted to actively work on your salvation, you would have had to keep strict fasts, say lengthy prayers, attend long church services and engage in other spiritual labors. Now all of this is replaced in you by the endurance of ailments. Bear them patiently and do not worry about anything else. Only keep your soul in good order. Your spiritual side is hale. Consequently, you should serve the Lord with it in full measure: be spiritually attentive and on guard, keep a penitent and humble spirit, remain in prayer, repel temptations, refrain from judgment, think of God and the hour of death, etc… Therein lies salvation!
…You are in failing health. Failing health can lead to failing salvation when grumbling words and cries of despair issue from the lips of the sick person. May the Lord deliver you from both misfortunes! On the basis of your thoughts and feelings you are uttering such words that the matter of your salvation is losing power. Make sure to rectify that. Good and ill health are in the hands of God’s providence for us and are the means of our salvation, whenever both the one and the other are used in a spirit of faith… But they can also lead to perdition when they are treated in a willful manner. You are in great need of patience, good-natured and submissive to God. As soon as such a disposition appears in your heart, you will immediately step on the path to salvation - into paradise. And then you will be able to take heart!
…You are in pain over your daughter’s illness. Here is what I wish to tell you: as you have already gone through all possible treatments, you are left with only one - to make peace with this grief and bear it in submission to God, having faith that this illness is necessary for the salvation of yourself and your daughter. Having thus come to peace with it, stay tranquil and pass on the same tranquility to your daughter. Remember the martyrs, who, having been tortured, were left in prison for several years, sometimes 5, 10 or 20. But they bore it all patiently and with good will, having paradise before their eyes… for their endurance.