Medicine for Grief
Medicine for Grief = Prayer & Thanksgiving
Universities, hospitals and research institutions are constantly searching for new medicines to treat and cure the illnesses and diseases of our time. Cancer drugs, heart medicines, vaccines are all things we’ve come to depend on and look towards for health. Anti-depressants and psychotropic drugs help to cure or control the illnesses of the mind and emotions. Many of these are truly a gift from God to relieve pain and suffering in our lives.
St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies on today’s Epistle reading for Palm Sunday (Philippians 4:4-7), speaks of another medicine. A medicine that he says can relieve grief and pain in every bad circumstance. What is this miraculous drug? Prayer and Thanksgiving!
First, let’s listen again to the Apostle Paul writing to the Christians in Philippi, that town just north of Thessaloniki in Greece.
4Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Now, let’s listen to St. John Chrysostom speak about this passage:
“It is comforting to know that the Lord is at hand…Here is a medicine to relieve grief and every bad circumstance and every pain. What is it? To pray and to give thanks in everything. He does not wish that a prayer be merely a petition but a thanksgiving for what we have received…How can one make petitions for the future without a thankful acknowledgment of past things?...So one ought to give thanks for everything, even what seems grievous. That is the mark of one who is truly thankful. Grief comes out of the circumstances with their demands. Thanksgiving comes from a soul that has true insight and a strong affection for God.”
Our grief can range from petty annoyances when things don’t go our way, when other people’s habits bother us, to being anxious about comfort and security having to do with our job and finances, our home and even our relationships with friends and family, to the great sorrow of losing a loved one to illness and death.
What’s the answer? For some it’s popping a pill, having a strong drink, diving deeper into work, straying into an inappropriate relationship. There are many “medicines” that we take in this life to relieve our pain. However, most of these are magic potions and charms that bring only temporary relief and after they wear off leave us in a deeper state of pain, emptiness and despair. With no true relief, it’s no wonder the cycle can easily repeat itself.
The medicine that Chrysostom mentions is full of promise. In fact, it’s already been proven to work over and over again. Prayer and thanksgiving are the antidote to grief, pain, sorrow and suffering. However, prayer is ultimately not about informing God what we want and when we want it. Rather, prayer is about bringing ourselves into the presence of the living God, to seek His will, in order to do it. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He said pray like this, “Our Father, who are in heaven, holy is Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” Your will, not my will be done. We pray that God’s will, not our will be accomplished.
What else can we learn about praying in an Orthodox Christian manner. Almost forty years ago, Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, did a lecture series on Prayer. Spanning over twenty hours, he shared lessons from the Scriptures, the Church Fathers and Saints. Here are some highlights for us to learn better how to pray.
Everyone must have a Rule of Prayer (ROP), which implies a daily habit that is shaped by the liturgical services of the Church, spiritual reading and psalmody.
This ROP should be established under guidance from our spiritual father or mother, someone who is a practitioner of prayer, steeped in the Orthodox Faith and Tradition, likely a priest, monk or nun.
Because everyone is unique, each ROP will be unique, there is no universally applicable ROP.
We must pray as we are able, not as we want, because God provides and the Holy Spirit leads or prays in us.
- ROP should be a very specific activity (in our room with door closed); IOW, the ROP should not be done while doing something else. Although, certainly we can pray while doing other activities.
- ROP should be regular: Done at same place, same time, in the same way, etc.
- ROP should be short, not long. Praying one minute a day is better than praying 30 minutes once per month.
- ROP should be simple, not complicated. Keeping it simple will make it easier to pray.
- ROP is not begun with one’s own words. Use the words that are given in the liturgical texts.
- ROP should make use of an Orthodox prayerbook for help but there is no monolithic prayer book.
- ROP is the way to begin prayer, it’s not the totality of our prayer.
- ROP brings us into the presence of God and opens us to the action of God in us.
- ROP will lead to other things, and other types of prayer including intercession.
In conclusion, as we celebrate the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, let us remember that Jesus Himself, although being the Son of God and God Himself, was a practitioner of prayer to His Father. In this coming Holy Week, we will recount His priestly high prayer from the Gospel of John, chapter 17 and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and His final prayer from the Cross. The strength, fortitude, courage and peace Jesus demonstrated were, no doubt, a result of His rule of prayer (ROP).
Let us remember that prayer is not pill that we take. It’s not a magic potion that makes all our cares vanish away. Prayer is a way of life that can change our life permanently and positively. What else is the result of praying? You will have the peace of God. You may not understand it, or a lot of other things but you will have it. The peace of God will guard your heart from further grief, pain and sorrow. The peace of God will lead you to do things so that His will may be done. Blessed Holy Week and Pascha!