“The inhabitants of this world, the children of this age, are like wheat in a sieve. They are being sifted by restless thoughts of this world. They are constantly tossed to and fro by earthly care, desire and absorption in a variety of material concerns. Satan tosses such souls as a sifter sifts wheat…. By these concerns he disturbs men, keeps them anxious and in a state of nervous motion.”
These are the words of Saint Macarius of Egypt from the 4th century. His assessment of the condition of those in the world is as accurate in our days as it was for his own time. According to the Saint, Satan is able to keep us earth-bound and enslaved to the material cares of this world by fostering a state of nervous motion and anxiety that is diametrically opposed to a state of calm stillness and trust. Left on our own, it is easy to become preoccupied with the concerns of this world and lose the ability to calmly and peacefully discern what matters most in life, namely our relationship with God. Thus in addition to habitual sin, Satan also uses the nagging cares of this world to distract us from our true purpose and end. If you don’t agree, think for a moment-why did you not attend Vespers last evening or keep a prayer rule? You may offer the excuse you had work to finish or a child’s activity to attend. Yet, one hundred years from now what will be important?
The Church is not a courtroom where your vices and virtues are scrutinized before a judge who decides your fate. The Church, established by Christ Himself, is a spiritual hospital where the sick come to get well. If we have a physical illness that requires hospitalization or medical care, we don’t question the doctor of fail to take the prescribed medications or treatments designed to heal us. The Church as a spiritual hospital offers us the same remedies for our spiritual sickness. In the last blog post, I wrote about habitual sin. We may ask ourselves why are we not able to overcome such habitual sin and grow in virtue and love of God. If we are honest, we will find that we are not following our spiritual doctor’s orders. We come to the Divine Liturgy but our heart remains restless and focused on our material concerns. We don’t commune because we fail to confess. This is analogous to going to the doctor’s office and remaining in the lobby without taking to heart the doctor’s advice. Our thoughts are scattered and earthbound precisely because we don’t make the effort to make the remembrance of God a daily part of our lives. If we want our thought patterns to change, we need to fill our prescription and punctuate each and every day with heartfelt prayer to God. This may be accomplished through the prayer of the Hours or the simple and constant recitation of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”
For those who are sick and desire healing, the spiritual hospital is there for us and has been there since Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. The hospital is waiting for us, beckoning us to come forward and declare that we are sick and in need of the Divine Physician. That Physician is the only One Who can take away the deep roots of our anxiety and nervous motion and assure us that we have nothing to fear, not even death, as long as He is by our side. The Hospital is there and its doors are open. We need only to enter and be receptive to His healing balm.
—Hieromonk Alexios (Trader) Karakallinos