‘The storm of misfortunes rages upon me, Lady…’8 August 2022
When Job the much-suffered was faced with all his unexpected trials and tribulations, he didn’t express any complaint or grievance, because he believed that, since God has complete dominion over the world, he has the right to give gifts and also to withdraw them: ‘The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away’ (Job 1, 21). But he went on to something more profound: he trusted the dominion of God; that is, beyond the trials he saw God’s providence, since everything that happens serves our spiritual interest. In the same way, the hymn-writer in the Supplicatory Canon doesn’t express any complaint over the sad events in his life, but, like a child, he runs to his mother to seek help. He deposits all the trials of his life into the compassionate embrace of our Lady and expresses the pain of his soul. He says: ‘The storm of misfortunes rages upon me, Lady, and the dangerous waves of sorrows drown me’ and looks for help from above.
Our life in this world is a constant trial. Misfortunes and sorrows, such as sickness, death, financial ruin, a broken household, a child with a drug dependency, professional misjudgments and setbacks all crush and demoralize us. So why do they happen? The Fathers teach that there are many reasons why God allows trials. Some are clearly permitted in order to edify us, to bring us to our senses and set us straight. Others are caused by our own lack of attention, by our spiritual laxity, so that we can make restitution for our sins, as Saint Païsios the Athonite tellingly informs us. Yet others occur so that the virtue of those who endure worthily- such as Job- can shine forth and become an example to all of us.
The sorrows of this present life are part of God’s providence and his plan for our salvation. Behind human pain and terrible sorrow there’s God’s loving attention. Saint Mark the Ascetic tells us that: ‘Hidden in sorrows there’s God’s mercy, which brings to repentance those who display patience and releases them from eternal punishment’. This is why the Fathers consider the existence of these trials necessary and essential for spiritual progress and perfection.
The use of human reason is inadequate if we wish to explain God’s intentions, especially when the faithful suffer without knowing why. In the end, the essence of the matter isn’t to explain why we’re subjected to a variety of difficulties, but to bear in a worthy manner the cross of afflictions: ‘By your endurance you will gain your souls’ (Luke 21, 19). Endurance in sorrows is a gift from God and is granted to those who strive to gain it. It’s God who allows afflictions, but it’s also he who comforts, comes quickly to our aid and gives us the strength to cope.
Our mother, our Lady, gives comfort (‘immeasurable compassion’, ‘immeasurable solace’), in abundance to the afflicted. Although we’re troubled by ‘innumerable necessities and afflictions’ at the same time we enjoy the ‘immeasurable goodness’ of our Lady, who intervenes to help us overcome the sorrows of life, as the hymnographer says in the canon. And it could hardly be otherwise when she herself underwent excruciating pain and felt the sword of sorrow pierce her heart as the venerable Symeon had predicted (Luke 2, 35). This occurred when she watched her Son and our God, Jesus Christ, suffer such an agonizing death on the cross. She feels for our condition, she sympathizes and rushes to our aid. This is why the heart of the hymn-writer is brimful of insuppressible gratitude, leaps in glorification and praises our Lady, saying: ‘I do not hide the depth of your mercy, nor the fount of unlimited wonders and your truly inexhaustible well of sympathy towards me, Lady, but rather I confess, proclaim and announce them to all and rejoice in them’.
Our most holy Lady, the Mother of God, has intervened on innumerable occasions to help people overcome tribulations. When Saint Athanasios the Athonite, who founded the monastery of the Lavra on the Holy Mountain, was at a loss because supplies for the survival of the monks had run out, the Mother of God appeared to him and said: ‘I’m the Mother of the Lord and your protectress’. She promised to arrange supplies for the monastery and they did, in fact arrive.
‘I’m the Mother of the Lord and your protectress’. May these words of our Lady, which were revealed to Saint Athanasios, be for us, too, a comfort and refuge when the temptations of afflictions strike the door of our life, and may we run with boldness to the Mother of God, entreating and imploring: ‘Give me a hand of help, for you are my fervent defence and protection’.