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Saint Job the Much-Suffering

On May 19th (the 6th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates Saint Job the Much-suffering. The life of the righteous Job is not only edifying in the sense that his name has entered the language as a universal symbol of patience, but it is also deeply moving for the directness of communion between this wondrous saint and the Lord God Himself.

St. Job the Much-suffering
St. Job the Much-suffering

St. Job was a descendant of Abraham and lived in Arabia, in the land of Hus, which was situated to the southeast of Palestine, past the Dead Sea. St. Job was a God-fearing man, renowned for his charity, justice, truthfulness, and most of all for keeping his heart blameless and free of evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy and had great influence on social life in his country, because he was greatly honored throughout the entire land for his nobility and honesty.

Once, when the Lords angels gathered in heaven before the throne of God, in order to present to Him various human appeals concerning the earthly needs of men, God also suffered Satan to come among them. The Lord said to Satan: From whence have you come? Satan replied: I have been on earth and have traveled all over it. The Lord then said to him: Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no other man on earth like him, so just, God-fearing, and eschewing all evil!

To this Satan replied to the Lord: Is it for nought that Job is so God-fearing? Do You not keep him safe? You have blessed the work of his hands and have increased his herds all over the land. But put forth Your hand and touch all that he has, take everything away from him, and then You shall see whether he will bless You.

Then the Lord said to Satan: I give all that he has into your hands, do whatever you wish, only do not touch himself. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

After that there was a day when the sons and daughters of Job feasted in the house of their eldest brother. And there came a messenger to Job and said: The Sabeans fell upon your oxen and took them away, and killed all your servants; I alone escaped and came to report to you. As he was speaking, another messenger came to Job and reported: Fire has fallen from heaven and has burned all the sheep and the shepherds; I alone escaped and came to tell you. While he was yet speaking, a new messenger arrived and reported: The Chaldeans came and, dividing into three bands, surrounded the camels and took them away, and killed all your servants; I alone escaped and came to report to you. While he was yet speaking, another messenger came to Job and said: Your sons and your daughters feasted in the house of their eldest brother; suddenly a whirlwind came out of the desert, surrounded the house on all four corners and crashed it down upon your children; all perished; I alone escaped and came to report to you.

After listening to these horrible messages one after another, Job stood up, tore his robe as a sign of terrible grief, shaved his head, fell upon the ground and, bowing down before the Lord, said: Naked came I out of my mothers womb, naked shall I return to the womb of mother earth. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away! He has done as He wished; blessed is the name of the Lord!

Thus, in all these most grievous and incredible circumstances Job did not sin before the Lord with a single foolish word.

On the following occasion when the angels presented themselves before the Lord, Satan again came among them. And the Lord said: From whence have you come? Satan replied: I have been on earth and have traveled all over it. The Lord said to him: Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no other man on earth like him: so kind, righteous, and pious, so far away is he from all evil! Even in all the disasters which befell him he remains steadfast in his integrity, while you moved Me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan replied to the Lord: Skin for skin, but for his life a man will give all that he has (i.e. it is easy for a man to suffer in someone elses skin, because blows are not felt as deeply in anothers skin); but put forth Your hand and touch his own body, and then You will see whether he will bless you.

Then the Lord said to Satan: Behold, he is in your hand. I suffer you to do what you wish with him, only save his life.

So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Jobs entire body with terrible leprosy, from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. The sufferer was forced to depart from living among people, because they were unable to tolerate him. His entire body became covered with repulsive and foul-smelling sores, while a burning fire raged throughout his bones. Sitting on a heap of ashes outside the city, Job scraped his purulent wounds with a pottery shard. All his friends and neighbors rejected and abandoned him. Even his wife lost all pity for him.

After a long while she once said to him in a state of utter despair: How long yet will you suffer? Look at how your memory has been erased from this earth our sons and daughters, the pains of my womb and the labors with which I labored in vain. You yourself sit amid the stench of worms, spending the night without any shelter, while I wander around in search of work, waiting for the sun to set, in order that I may find some rest from my weariness and my pain. Do not be obstinate, do not persist in your integrity; but say a certain word to God, blaspheme Him, and die, in death you will find deliverance from your suffering, and you will deliver me from torment.

Thus did the wife of Job decide for him and for herself the question of life: skin for skin, as Satan urged her. Exhausted both physically and morally, she was ready to extinguish the last ray of true life: blaspheme God and die.

However, not so did the sufferer himself regard his condition. Looking upon his wife with pity, Job said to her: Why do you speak as a foolish woman? If we have received good from the Lord, shall we not also bear the bad, shall we not accept it? And even this time Job did not sin against God, did not utter a single blasphemous word against God.

News of the affliction which had befallen Job spread all over the neighboring countries. And thus three of his faraway friends gathered together, in order to come and comfort him, and share his tribulation with him. But as they came near him, they did not recognize him at first, because his face was a mass of purulent sores, and they cried out in fear; afterwards for seven days and seven nights they sat opposite their friend without saying a single word, because they saw how great was his suffering, and they had no means of comforting him in such a state. Later they spoke with him, but their words brought even greater pain to Job, because, in accordance with the then prevalent belief that the Just God rewards the good and punishes the evil, they thought that whoever is afflicted by tribulation is a sinner, and the greater the tribulation the more sinful the persons state. They thought the same about Job, that he apparently had some terrible secret sins, which up to now he had artfully concealed from people, but for which the omniscient God was now openly punishing him, and they a made a great effort to convince him to confess and repent his terrible sins.

The blameless Job shuddered at such talk and attempted to defend his good name, explaining to his friends that his suffering was not caused by sin, but that God, in accordance with His unfathomable will, sent some people a difficult life and others a happy life. However, his friends remained unconvinced and blamed him even further for the fact that by declaring himself blameless, Job looked upon Gods punishment of him as being unmerited. Then Job appealed to God in prayer, asking Him to personally bear witness to his integrity.

The Lord then appeared to Job in a whirlwind and reproached him for demanding an account from God on how He ruled the world. The Lord pointed out to Job that many things are incomprehensible to man even in the manifestations of the physical world, while the desire to penetrate the mystery of Gods providence and to know why He does with people thus and not otherwise, is audacious and arrogant. This conversation between the Lord and Job, (which is read in abbreviated form during the liturgy of Great Thursday), described in the Book of Job (chapters 38-41), presents to us a highly poetic spiritual image of creation:

The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: who is this, who darkens providence by words without reason? Gird up now your loins like a man; I will ask you and you answer Me: where were you, when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell Me, if you know. Who laid its measurement or who stretched a line upon it? On what are its foundations fastened, or who laid its cornerstone, when all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as though issuing from a womb, when I made the clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling clothes, and I gave it My decree, and set up bars and doors, and said: up to here you shall come and not any further, and here shall be the boundary of your proud waves? Have you ever in your life given a command to morning and let the dawn know its place, so that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, so that the earth might change as clay under a seal and become as a many-colored raiment? Have you descended into the depth of the sea, and have you walked in search of the abyss? Have you perceived the breadth of the earth? Declare if you know it all. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness? Have you entered into the preserve of snow, and have seen the treasures of hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war? By which path is light dispersed and the east wind scattered upon the earth? Who sets out the channels for the overflow of water and the path for thunderous lightning, so that rain would fall on unpopulated land, on the desert where there is no man, to nourish the desolate and barren ground and cause the grass to spring forth? Do you know the ordinances of heaven and can you establish its dominion on earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water would cover you? Can you send lightnings, and will they come and say unto you: here we are?...

And Job answered the Lord and said: I know that You can do everything, and that Your intention is immutable. Thus I have spoken of that which I did not understand, of things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Up to now I have heard of You only by ear, but now my eyes see You.

After that the Lord returned to Job his health and gave him twice as much wealth as he had before. The Lord also blessed Job with seven sons and three daughters in place of the ones who had died. After all the trials which he had born so patiently, Job lived another 140 years (altogether he lived on earth for 248 years), and saw his descendants unto the fourth generation. The righteous Job constantly advised his friends not to fear physical suffering, nor the loss of worldly goods, but to fear only the sword of the Lord, i.e. the wrath of the Almighty God.

Know ye that there is a day of judgment, he said in his exhortation, a judgment where only those will be justified who possess true wisdom the fear of God, and true reason the eschewal of all evil.

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