Being Well in the Ancient Faith

Being Well in the Ancient Faith

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“I come to You, O Christ, blind from birth in my spiritual eyes, and call to You in repentance: ‘You are the most radiant Light of those in darkness’.” (Kontakion of the blind man, 6th Sunday of Pascha, 146)

The body calls to the soul. When my period is late, and I may be pregnant, the feelings and thoughts that follow my body’s state alert me to what is in my soul. Emotions begin: fear, doubt—a touch of faith and hope; a rush of vanity, pride—and then a test. My body bleeds. Life is risked. All is on the line for an interim where I seem able to step nearly out of time. Eyes closed before a small “family protectors” icon in my kitchen as water boils. Tears loose against hot cheeks. The body is communicating to the soul, it is teaching humility, knocking against pride. My witness to others, visible from my actions, follows the deep and tender alone moments spent before my small icon in a space of time when it is clear to me that the Giver of Life is God alone. It seems that I only understand God as Lord when I let go of myself and trust in Him with my life. In my flesh and blood. In the deep recesses of my heart are those whom I love, and they are a part of my very being. I love God when my heart accepts His will be done: with me, with mine. In the moment of loving God, the past is absorbed and the future is, and goodness prevails without fear. I will for Life, for God Himself. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

Becoming whole is becoming more well in body and spirit. The Church is called a hospital. To me, when scripture says that Christians are to be in the world but not of the world, this is a call for Christ’s healing presence in one’s life to shine Light in the world. This light develops by one’s life becoming whole in the Lord, and at the heart of this process is a Christian’s approach to wellness as wholeness and holiness. The body and spirit are in constant relationship. Illness today is pervasive, and it is not merely a matter of physical ailments. Our souls need more attention through prayer in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When life is becoming prayer, everything done in the body should in some way complement life.

Prayer occurs on two levels: words that we learn to say and mean, and actions that follow from our hearts’ embrace of God. Lives of the Saints recognized in the Church illustrate the power and transformation of the world through hearts and minds opening to God. The Saints’ lives become prayers and continue to change this world for the better through our remembrances of them. Unlike the Saints, in an effort to reintegrate personhood, we often turn to secular things instead of prayer, which can fill us only so much. Without prayer and personal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we cannot be satisfied.

The Saints, such as Elder Paisios, embraced this truth. The elder was canonized a Saint in the Orthodox Church in 1994 by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on January 13, 2015. He was known for his gentle manner and acceptance of others. As a monk, he was conscientious to complete his obedience’s and work among others, as well as maintain silence, in order to “progress in the art of prayer.”148 He thought that his own spiritual failures and lack of love were the cause of others’ shortcomings. His sensitive nature pushed him to further his ascetic efforts of self-denial and pray for his soul and the world. He sought to understand peoples’ reasons for events, rather than judging others.

“The self-abandon with which he served God and his fellow man, his strictness with himself, the austerity of his regime, and his sensitive nature made him increasingly prone to sickness.” Elder Paisios suffered respiratory problems for which he had to have a portion of his lung removed and blood infused by nuns who donated their blood for him. Additionally, he had a large hernia that was very painful and taxing on his physical wellbeing. His response to such suffering is an encouragement to each of us who suffers as “he bore his suffering with much grace, confident that, as God knows what is best for us, it could not be otherwise. He would say that God is greatly touched when someone who is in great suffering does not complain, but rather uses his energy to pray for others.”

Eleutherios Tamiolakis tells how he stopped worrying about the future after a visit with the Elder Paisios on Mount Athos. When the pilgrim arrived, he was greeted with, “I have been waiting for you,” though the visit had not been announced. The Elder prepared tea and uttered “Glory to You, O God” as the impatient pilgrim grew more agitated by his patience and ease. Finally, the Elder asked why his visitor was so uneasy and nervous, “God will help you,” he said.

“Well, Elder, God helps us once or twice. Is He then obligated to help us continuously?”

“Yes, God is obligated to help you.” The pilgrim was struck with the Saint’s conviction, and the visitor’s nervousness left him. Calm and peace overcame him. He listened as the Elder said that just as the visitor cared and would continually help his own children, God loved each of His children and was obligated to help them—through all time. One has no need to worry about the future because whatever comes, God is present and will always help. It may not be as one expects, and illness may persist, troubles may continue, because struggles can awaken us to the goodness of the Lord, our Savior and God. Elder Paisios promised the pilgrim and each of us by this story that to trust and obey God brings us peace.

When I feel loved by God, I love others. I am on my knees, wrapped in incense, and the icons of Saints through the ages surround me. When I am near to God, I am open to this life. I listen to the hymns of the Church through others’ strong voices, and the presence of the Holy Spirit abides in me. When I am united to all others who love God invisibly and visibly present, I sense God’s personality. I bow down and worship Him, in silence. I have wept. He is loving and good, and His invitation to simply come is tender and sweet. As nothing but a shell of who I may become, weak against the distraction of my beautiful children, empty of compassion I wish I had, I come. As I am. Hardly able to realize the night falling outside against the fullness of life around me, I am absorbed and accept: I Am.

Christians are in Christ, and their lives are supposed to bring love to others in this world. This is so not because Christians are by nature more inclined to loving others. It is a struggle. One morning, the sky was cold and pink, and I sensed the mercy of God as I ran towards my street to enter into the morning craze of readying children for school and piecing back together an undone home. God loves each creation completely: each person is as important to Him as the next. This, indeed, is what God is: Love, full, unending, eternal, and all encompassing. I barely love myself, my babies, and those around me who are lovable, let alone others who upset me for one reason or another. God works in a heart open to Him, and such healing love can do many good things through a person’s honest efforts. Even when a person does not know God, acting in love enables good and comes from God. On the contrary, evil actions lead to death and darkness.

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About author
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Lea Povozhaev

Lea Povozhaev earned a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Kent State University in 2014 and an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Akron in 2007. She spent a semester abroad in Russia studying at Nizhni Novgorod State University in 1999, where she was first introduced to Orthodox Christianity. Lea teaches writing part-time as she focuses on writing and presenting her current research on wholeness of body and soul. Two of her recent works reflect the culmination of her writing pursuits as a creative non-fiction writer who believes in merging reflection on one's personal life with current social events. She recently (June 3, 2016) had an interview with Ancient Faith Radio on her memoir: check it out! Lea aims to continue writing, researching, and presenting and invites inquiries from the audience to share her work ranging from academic (Medical Rhetoric—arguments in current health care and their implications for those who value the sanctity of life), creative and personal (focusing on family life and Orthodoxy). She lives in Ohio with her husband and their five children. Read more about Lea and her work here.