Editor’s Note: This article was originally written as an entry for the 2014 St. Nikolaj Velimirovich Oratorical Festival.
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I stand here before you to share my understanding of struggle as an Orthodox Christian. So what does struggle mean in the phrase “The Greater the Struggle, the More Glorious the Triumph!”? Struggle can be defined as contending resolutely with a task or a problem. Therefore, this phrase means the harder it is for a person in life, the more glorious their triumph could be. Everyone has struggled in life – from where it started with Adam and Eve to saints we glorify today. Struggling is part of the path we are on towards salvation. According to St. Theophan, “All the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work… lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig, is in prelest” (spiritual delusion) (The Path to Salvation, pg. 209).
First and foremost, our Lord Jesus Christ struggled. He had to go through the pain of being tortured by the people He loved and having to watch His Most Holy Mother along with the people who loved Him crying as He was on the Cross. Yet, through all this struggle that He had to endure, His triumph was glorious – in His Holy Resurrection, the overcoming of death, breaking the doors of hell and entering into Heaven, giving us everlasting life. For all of this we need to be thankful: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Gojko Stojčević, born September 11, 1914, faced multiple struggles throughout his life. He lost both of his parents in his early childhood, and he was raised by his aunt. Growing up, he was very weak and he couldn’t do much, so his aunt, with the money she had, decided to enroll him into school. Once he grew up and finished high school, he studied at a seminary in Sarajevo. When World War II took place, Stojčević suffered from tuberculosis. Later, he was told he would only live for three more months, but miraculously he recovered. After this, he decided to become a monk. He deeply understood the words of the Lord: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Years later, in 1990, he became the patriarch who we now know as a great example of what it means to be a true, good, and holy man and spiritual leader, His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory. He has done so much for our people and our faith. His struggle was great, but he also achieved great triumph and glory for his work.
In addition, we see struggling around us all the time. Priests that put all their time into their parish to help people and make them feel welcomed and loved. Monks and nuns that try to live a monastic life in this crazy world. We see our parents struggling to provide for us and raise us to become good and educated people. Our youth, who might be the ones who struggle the most, trying to live an Orthodox life while being constantly surrounded by unorthodox people. Friends and family back home in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia are struggling to stay alive after the flooding. The outcome we get from all this struggling is people turning to the Church and coming together to help one another. Through all these struggles, we find the triumph in God. As St. Mark the Ascetic said: “Suffering reminds the wise man of God, but crushes those who forget Him.”
Finally, there is a young lady I know who has everything she needs – a home, family that loves her, friends who care about her, the opportunity to get a good education, and a church she can attend every Sunday and the chance to be a part of the Divine Liturgy. Sadly, this isn’t how her life used to be. She struggled greatly before she achieved this kind of blessing and victory. This girl is me, and this is my story of how I struggled and later received a glorious triumph.
It all started in Belgrade, Serbia, on December 23, 1996 when I was born. Of course, I don’t remember much, but from hearing stories from my parents, I’ve learned that they struggled to provide a good life for me. Two years after I was born, on May 5, 1999, my little sister was born. At this time, Serbia was being bombed, and my parents struggled even more to keep us safe. Thanks to God, we had great landlords, who were more like family that helped us whenever we were in need of help.
My family and I lived in a small three-room house, and we were thankful for what we had. The funny part about this was that right next to us in our own yard was a mansion. We took care of this house while our landlords were away in Austria. I always thought the house was beautiful, but I never really cared much for it – I was happy with what I had. Growing up in Serbia was hard; my mom was sick, and my dad was always working. One day though, my life changed, and I knew it would never be the same.
When I was six years old, we came to America. I started first grade, learned English, and learned about this new country I was in. Soon after, I was able to speak English well enough that I started translating for my parents everywhere we went. People always gave me puzzled looks when I would come up to the counter at the pharmacy and I would ask them for a prescription refill. I always found it kind of funny. Sadly, this wasn’t as challenging as what was about to hit me next. When I was nine years old, I found out my dad had cancer. I remember my mom telling me to take my sister to our room and to stay there. Of course, the little stubborn child I was, I snuck out and listened to their conversation. My mom was crying, and all I heard was my dad saying, “It’s ok; there is nothing we can do.”
At that moment, I was confused; I did not know what cancer was, but soon enough, I learned. For months and months, my dad would go from hospital to hospital, and then later from nursing home to nursing home. It was hard watching him suffer and not being able to do anything. Of course, there was one thing we could do and that was pray for him, and that is exactly what we did. Every day, my mom would have my dad drink holy water, and she would take oil that she got from the monastery and make a cross on his face, hands, and feet. When it was getting towards the end, my dad would get visions that evil creatures were attacking him, so my mom’s friends would come and read prayers all night while he slept in peace.
A few weeks after this, my father passed away on July 16, 2008. It was hard for my family to go through this, but also we were glad that he didn’t have to suffer any more. At that time, it was easier to let go since I knew what he went through, but now that I’m getting older, I miss him more and more every day. It’s hard to live without a father, but I’m just glad he does not have to suffer any more, and thanks to our wonderful faith in the Suffering Lord who defeated death, I pray and hope we will see each other again, in the Kingdom of God.
A few weeks before my father passed away, my mom went to a monastery. There she went to confession with a hieromonk. He gave her three years to fast for all her sins, he taught her how to do morning prayers and night prayers. When my sister and I saw my mom praying, we both automatically jumped in and started praying with her.
My family and I always believed in God, we went to church a few times a year, and my mom fasted every fast, but now it was different. We started going to church regularly, fasting regularly, praying every night and morning, and getting communion whenever we could. Life was finally starting to come together.
And this is our and my victory. After everything I struggled through, my glorious triumph was in God – participating and rejoicing in His triumph and getting to know Him and His divine, unconditional love and care for me and us. Glory to our God for both our struggles and triumphs – glory to Him forever!
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