Saturday, August 19, 2017

On Suffering.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

"Suffering has burnt everything out of me.  

Love only has survived..."

 Priest Confessor.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom
Archbishop Anthony*: I think there are two tendencies in the modern world which are equally wrong. The one is to pretend that things do not exist which do exist because they are too painful to face; and the other one is when they come your way because you cannot avoid it, simply do away with them artificially: pain-killers, tranquillisers, anything, provided you do not face up to what is real.

    M.: In order to ease someone's agony you may administer a drug which may be ending the patient's life. How would you decide that dilemma?

    A.A.: I think you cannot impose on a man more than he can bear, and if you can, you must bring him to the most bearable limit. But, on the one hand, I think you must do all you can to avoid his losing consciousness unnecessarily, which I think is done very often because people think that if a patient is unconscious he suffers less and his death will come in an easier way which I think is wrong.
    And secondly, I think that when you are using a drug, you are always taking certain risks, and you have a moral conscience, and you have got a medical experience to lead you and to help you out. But there is another thing which strikes me, when in all these discussions, including the question you are asking, not only in your name but in the name of everyone, there is an assumption that the person will not face up to pain, there is an assumption that every person is a coward, every person is incapable of rising to the level of great human courage, and this I think is unjust.
    I have met more than once with people who seemed to be the most ordinary kind of men and women, and when confronted with tragedy were simply heroic.
The sufferers coming to Christ.
And in particular the case of a woman, whom I had known very young, who happened to have a cancer of the breast, which was an acute cancer and developed within a very short time. She was a very simple believer and she said: "If God has sent me the suffering, there must be meaning in it, and there must also be strength in store for me." and she refused to be helped by drugs, up to the point when her chest was completely destroyed, one could see her lung breathing through the wound. Until one day she awoke and said: "This night the Lord Christ has come so close to me, and now it does not matter whether I suffer or whether you help me out of it, because I have learned all I need to learn from it." And she accepted alleviation which is exactly the contrary of what people usually do or assume they should do.

    M.: Do you think there is any sense in opposition to the use of anesthetics?

    A.A.: No... I think that a man should be offered every possibility there is to suffer less but he should also be taught and given courage to face up to much more than we usually do.

    M.: Do you find that lots of people bitterly fear and dread death?

The Dormition of Righteous Anna,
the mother of the Most Holy Theotokos.
    A.A.: I think that Westerners seem to dread death much more than, say, the Russian have to do with. One of the things that impresses me in the Western attitude towards death is that it is almost indecent to die. One should do that on the quiet. And when someone has died, one stores him away, the children are not allowed to come and say a last good-bye to their parents or grand-parents, and I find it shocking. What I find so often is that people should have been taught about death when they were full of sap and life, and when they could still face death not as a terror but as a challenge.

    M.: Confronting the pain that goes with death, do you find human beings predominantly cowardly or predominantly courageous?

    A.A.: I think that they are predominantly courageous. They can be made cowardly by people around them repeatedly trying to convince them that they must be helped, that they will be confronted with unbearable pain, etc... and also by the fact that people don't know how to live in the present. I remember an admirable answer which was reported in the Life of the French Curé d'Ars concerning a sick child he was visiting and said: "Child, how can you bear your pain?". And the child smiled and said:"Father, I have been taught to bear only the pain of this moment. I don't feel any more yesterday's pain not yet tomorrow's." And I think what makes pain so frightening and so difficult for people is that they do not enjoy this particular moment's pain but the sort of cumulative effect of yesterday's pain and tomorrow's fear of pain... We miss everything in the moment,  we cannot live in the present moment where the thing is real.

    M.: People say: "How can there be a loving God allowing the human race to be subjected to such miseries and destruction in so short a space of time?"

    A.A.: There is a passage in the writing of the French theologian Jean Daniélou that has impressed me very greatly lately within the context of what I know of persecution, of suffering, of hospitals, of war, etc... he tries to make sense of something quite different, and almost by accident he drops a sentence which I find enlightening. He says, "Suffering is the only meeting point between good and evil, and the only chance for the evil one to be saved by the innocent." And if you give more thought to it, you come to the conclusion that if good and evil never met, that is, if there was never suffering inflicted on the innocent by evil in general, or by an evil person in particular, there would be two parallel lines, the one of utter damnation and the other one of salvation, if you want to use this terminology, which ultimately means evil becoming more and more compact, dense, solid, while the good goes away from it. But the law of life as we see it in nature, in human relationships etc... is whenever I am evil, someone who is innocent will suffer. I have drunk before I drove the car, and this child has been killed. I have been irresponsible before I performed an operation and I have missed something, the man is suffering, etc... This meeting point between the sufferer and the one who inflicts sufferings is a point of crucial importance. It is the cross-roads, it is also a cross, a real crucifixion at times. And the moment you suffer, either great suffering or trivial suffering,  at the hand of someone and can forgive, you acquire real divine power. It is something that impresses me immensely.

    M.: I think I understand that, but you could apply that to collective events: the NZ burnt up and killed 6 million Jews, the Soviet — (3?8?) million peasants, we in the war years killed 20 million people, while the fact of this our wickedness resulting in this suffering, you mean, can purge the wickedness?

    A.A.: Yes, I think I can give you some examples. I remember the case of the young priest who was arrested, tormented, came out a broken man and was asked by his relatives: “But what is left of you?" and he said "Suffering has burnt everything out of me. Love only has survived...". Another example, taken from a concentration camp — a prayer left on a sheet of wrapping paper which in substance says:"Lord, remember not only the men of goodwill but also the men of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we have brought thanks to this suffering — our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of
heart which has grown out of this, and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits which we have born be their forgiveness...".

    This man was great enough to see that because he had suffered and became a greater man, he could forgive in God's Name and in the name of others also. As one of our bishops said who died a martyr in his time:"It is the privilege of the Christians to die a martyr, because none but a martyr at the judgement seat of Christ will be able to stand in defense of his persecutors and say: 'I have forgiven according to Thy example, and to Thy word, I have no claim against him anymore'."  This is the victory of the weak, that in the moment, when we discover that the power of God is (wholly, fully) made manifest and is victorious in weakness.

    ( M.: What if suffering coming to me tomorrow?) ...Take this particular moment with its dimensions of immensity and eternity and settle in it now — the eternal divine 'Now'. And then from within the stillness and the steadiness you can achieve, look into what is coming as an event on which you have no power, which contains meaning, which is beyond your understanding, make an act of faith, rely on this unknown meaning and walk into it.

*This interview was taken in the early sixties when Metropolitan Anthony Bloom was still an Archbishop.