God’s Mercy In our Life

To a certain respected bishop there once came a man who was in great despondency, as if weighed down by something, and he asked the bishop what he should do: his life had turned out not at all as he had wished and supposed, and in place of happiness he had total dissatisfaction and an oppressed state of soul.

The bishop listened to his complaint and, taking a sheet of paper, said: “You know, let us compile a small list of your misfortunes. Perhaps your wife has left you?”

“No, Vladika,” the man replied despondently.
“Perhaps your disobedient children have run away from home and have become drug-addicts or drunkards?”
“No, Vladika, this misfortune has not occurred to me.”
“Has your house burned down?” the bishop continued to ask, writing down the answers.

Again the man replied in the negative.
“Have you lost your job?” was the bishop’s next question; and again the man replied that he had not.

“Perhaps you have an incurable disease?” the bishop finished his questions, and on receiving a negative reply and seeing that he had exhausted the list of his possible misfortunes and catastrophes, the bishop said to him:

“Well, I advise you to return home, make your own list of the mercies God has shown you, and then return to me and we will talk.”


Indeed, in every human society and in every individual who belongs to it there can be observed a dissatisfaction and oppressed spirit similar to this man’s, occurring as the result of a seeming disorder and failure in life.

This unhappy man came to a bishop with his complaints about life; but bishops also, it would seem, have grounds to be dissatisfied with their fate–they are swallowed up by purely administrative work in their dioceses, they have to examine unpleasant cases and quarrels, they are constantly in public, being deprived of prayerful concentration, and in worldly gossip they are subjected to judgment and often slander.

familyIf we look deeply into the life’s path of a priest, perhaps we will see there also reasons for dissatisfaction in his personal life–the frequent impossibility of being “all things to all men,” which evokes judgment on the part of his flock, while every relaxation he makes in anything immediately evokes reproaches for his lack of firmness; while his lawful strictness can push people away. ‘

And if we turn to monastics, here we too can see great difficulties. Monasticism is true loneliness, as the Greek root of this word indicates (monos, “alone”). The monk in his loneliness conducts an unceasing battle, as if with himself. His battle against human passions is greater than that waged in human society. Spiritual discipline and the strictness of obedience, even against his own will, constant labor, vigils and fasts, a constant restraining of his own will–always and in everything he is alone.

And what of laymen? Each of them is dissatisfied with something. Let us take, for example, motherhood. To be a mother is a joy, but at the same time how many cares there are, often there is no time to pray in peace or to read or to rest from daily labors; and how often a mother’s heart is grieved by family quarrels and outbursts of dissatisfaction; and how much do disobedient, careless children weigh upon a mother! And what fear she has for their lives, how upset she can be over their fate, and how many difficulties there are in their moral upbringing and their contacts with others. And to all this is added great material difficulties and the grief of illness,

So it is that a mother, or a father, or a single person could well compose a list of complaints, griefs and sorrows such as the bishop asked of the despondent man: and there is no end to this list.

But look about you, O man, and learn to value what you have been granted to have in God’s unceasing mercy towards you.

Should a bishop not rejoice? Is he not a successor of the Holy Apostles? Is he not a preserver of the Divine Truth, a proclaimer of the good tidings of Christ? And a priest, although it is true he has no life of his own, but by God’s mercy he has the whole fullness of spiritual life. He is the performer of Christ’s Mysteries; by his prayers the “mercy of peace” descends to earth, and in his heartfelt cries at the altar is invoked and made real the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Holy Gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ. Monasticism is a sacrifice and a voluntary martyrdom. But this kind, according to the testament of the Apostle Paul, more than anyone else is capable with mind and heart to enter “within the veil” (Heb. 6:19) that separates earth from heaven, Is not this the highest mercy of God?

And you who live in the world: think on what I have said. Even if there have occurred to you all those misfortunes about which the bishop asked the despondent man, by this the abyss of God’s mercy to you has not even been touched. Have you ever stopped to value the freedom which you possess? Have you rejoiced at the wondrous beauties of nature set by the Lord before you at every step?. Have you valued as you should the joy of knowing the wisdom of the sciences? Have you looked with love into the eyes of your wife or children, and have you thanked the Lord that you are one family with them, and they with you? Do you realize and understand the joy of having your own church, sanctified by prayer, and of being in the bosom of the true Church, of approaching with trembling the Mysteries of the Church, being united in them with Christ? Has the Lord not placed in your soul the grace of sincere prayer; has He not directed to you on your life’s path the deprived and offended, so that you might know the joy of heartfelt kindness in the happiness of giving alms?

There is no end to this inspiring list. But do you occupy yourself with the contemplation of God’s mercy towards you; humble-yourself more frequently, pray more from the heart, labor spiritually, and then you will ignite in your heart the true joy of Pascha, of the Resurrection of Christ.

St. Alexander Nevsky Church, Lakewood, New Jersey

published in Orthodox America, Issue 3, Vol. 1, No. 3
September, 1980