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How to stand firm during times of trials

The Lord concludes His Sermon on the Mount by likening life to the construction of a house; He demonstrates how a virtuous life makes a person stand firm against the inevitable trials of life and how a casual way of life, by contrast, weakens the spiritual strength of a person, making him an easy prey of temptations.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mat. 7:24-29).

In the given passage, the comparison of a personís life to a house was very understandable to those living in the Holy Land. This country is for the most part mountainous. Sudden torrential rains can fill the usually dry mountain streams and rivers with turbulent streams of water, which rush toward the valley, taking everything in its path with it. No building lying in the path of the flood can then withstand the pressure of the water, especially if the foundation under it is sandy. For this reason, prudent people always built their houses on rocky bases, which were also high enough to be above the level of the rainy floods.

In human life, different "storms" are completely inevitable. These are to be understood as: fires, earthquakes, oppression, incurable diseases, deaths of loved ones and similar ills, which always come without warning and rock human life to the core. In an instant, one can lose oneís health, family, happiness, riches, spiritual balance ó everything. During such a storm, the loss of faith, despair or grumbling against God is the fall of a person.

There are internal upheavals inevitable in human life which can be more dangerous than physical storms: the raging of passions, difficult temptations, torturous doubts in questions of faith, attacks of anger, jealousy, envy, fear and so on. In the given passage, for someone to fall would be to give in to temptation, to deny God, to deny his faith or to go against the voice of his conscience somehow. These inner shocks appear not only as the result of unfavorable living conditions, but partly as the result of the actions of malicious people, as well as the devil, who, in the words of the Apostle, "as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).

The last trial which a person must pass through lies ahead on the day of his death. As described in the lives of several saints, when the soul leaves the body the other world opens up before it, and it begins to see both kind Angels, as well as demons. Demons try to humiliate the soul of a person by showing it the sins which it performed while living in the flesh; they are trying to convince the soul that there is no salvation. In this way they try to lead it to despair and to drag it with them into the abyss. At this time the soulís guardian angel defends the soul from the demons and encourages it with hope in the mercy of God. If the person has lived sinfully and does not have faith, the demons can overcome the soul. This passage of the soul to God's throne, from the place of its separation from the body, is called "tribulations." It is possible that these are the trials that the Holy Apostle Paul describes when he encourages Christians to clothe themselves in the armor of God, in order to withstand the wiles of the devil in the evil day, "and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). "The armour of God," as explained by the holy fathers, is the combined virtues of a person; "the evil day" is the time of heavy temptation after the separation of the soul from the body. Being banished from Heaven, the evil spirits hover in the region between Heaven and earth, presenting obstacles to the souls of people on their way to Godís throne. Only after the Last Judgment will the demons be permanently confined to the abyss.

Who can be calm and happy with such inconstancy in earthly circumstances? He who is with Christ, and in Christ. Those living by the laws of Christ are founded upon a hard cliff and shielded from storms. Those who possess faith and love for God have no need to fear them, because the Lord will not permit a believing person to fall into temptation above his strength (1 Cor. 10:13). But those who do not fulfill the laws of Christ cannot stand when difficult trials arise. Most often they fall into despair, and their fall will be devastating for them and a warning to others. Observing this, an ancient sage wrote: "As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation" (Prov. 10:25).

The Holy Fathers compared grief to fire. The one and the same fire can change straw to ashes, but burn gold of any impurities. The Lord reassures those who live piously with the following words: "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet" (Ps. 91:10-13).

So, in His Sermon on the Mount, the Saviour gives us clear and all-encompassing directions on how to become virtuous, and how to build that harmonious and well-structured house of spiritual perfections where the Holy Spirit will reside.

With relation to God, the Saviour teaches us to put His will in the first place, always to direct our actions toward the glory of God, to try to resemble God in His perfections, and to believe firmly that He loves us and continually concerns Himself about us.

With relation to our neighbors, the Lord teaches us not to take revenge, to forgive offenders, to be merciful, compassionate and peace-loving, to judge no one, to do to other people what we would like other people to do to us, to love all, even our enemies, but, at the same time, to beware of "dogs" and, in particular, self-styled prophets and false teachers.

With relation to our internal aspirations, the Lord teaches us to be meek and humble, to avoid hypocrisy, to develop our positive attributes, to strive toward righteousness, to be consistent in our good deeds, hard-working, patient and courageous, to keep our hearts pure, and to endure suffering in the name of Christ and His Truth with gladness. No spiritual efforts that a person makes are in vain: they make him strong and steadfast during lifeís storms, and prepare an eternal reward for him in Heaven.

Missionary Leaflet #E29-30
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

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