Living through illness

Elder Anthony of Optina

It is tough living with a chronic illness. Unfortunately,many of our children are being inflicted with diseases previously seen in older persons. How can we deal with chronically feeling tired, or being in pain, or not thinking clearly? How can we help our children live such lives? I can only answer such questions from my perspective as a Christian. I have lived with stomach and digestive issues my whole life. Some times, I falter. Sometimes, I am stronger. I am not 100% in either direction. It’s just that some days my health is better than other days and, I don’t always know why one day is better or worse than another.

I am an Orthodox Christian and in our parish, chairs are for the elderly and/or infirm. It is usually expected that people will stand for the entire service. Sometimes those services are an hour long, on Sundays they are 2-2.5 hours long. There is a young man in my church who has something wrong with his leg. He stands the whole service, and even knees and does prostrations. I do prostrations as well, but old lady prostrations where I remain kneeling throughout the movement and do not get up and down.

I know it is not good to compare ourselves to other people. He IS 30 years younger than I. While I do feel so much better now than when I first started at my temple, I do sometimes get a bit embarrassed at my own limitations. I enjoy reading about the trials of those saints who have lived before me and how they coped from day to day. One such saint is, Fr. Anthony of Optina. In ladies’ group, we are reading his biography. I went searching on the Internet for more of his writing son sickness and this is just one of the writings I was able to find.


When a man acquires a courageous spirit, then in times of all infirmities and physical ailments he can be peaceful and content with his situation.

What can you do? For the Lord has already established that our temporary life will not pass without sorrows, and it is said, “Always be mindful of your sickness and be sorrowful in your heart.” But what is more amazing is that not one holy man, no matter how holy and perfect he may have been, did not pass his life without having to endure something—and this so that man be not puffed up with pride. And if the saints endured, how much must we endure!

Bodily illness is sent to man from God not always as punishment for sin, but sometimes through His kindness for freeing or preserving us from spiritual sicknesses, which are incomparably more dangerous than physical ones.

Sometimes we need to eat for physical nourishment and healing. Other times, we need to feed our souls and our intellect, but we need to feed it different things that can heal and encourage us. My hope is that this little message was a bit of nourishment for you.

Lord have mercy.


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