BROTHERS and SISTERS, whatever anyone dares to boast of - and I am speaking foolishly - I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? - I am talking like a madman - I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked, for a night and a day I was adrift at sea, on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters. In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is blessed forever, knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.
It is not profitable for me to boast, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that such a person - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible, that no man may repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me.
And in case I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
The other day I had an online meeting with a clergy peer group that I am a part of. We discussed things like staying in the present and dealing with our hardships and struggles. The need to stay in the present is a big one because that's the only time we can have a relationship with God. God is not in the past, nor is He in the future. He is right here and right now. After all, He did say that His name is I AM (Exodus 3:14). He did not say "I WAS" or "I WILL BE." I AM. God is. And God is right now.
Priest's hardships and struggles are not any more or less than those of laypeople. We may be going through somewhat different things than, say, electricians, lawyers, or doctors, but all of us are going through something. Especially today, during this pandemic.
Saint Paul, as he says in the above Epistle reading, was constantly going through something. In fact, he had a thorn in his flesh, "a messenger of Satan, to torment" him. Paul never specifies what that thorn was, but he does not have to. I think all of us have this thorn and we can relate to Saint Paul in his struggle.
And Paul says that he prayed to the Lord three times to be relieved of this struggle, but the Lord would not budge because God's grace is sufficient for us, since His power is made perfect in weakness.
From this we can make a few conclusions. A thorn is something that reminds us of our dependency on God. It's not like if we had no thorns or struggles, then we would have no need of God. We are dependent on Him for our life. Hardships and struggles, especially a small invisible virus, are proofs that we don't have control over much.
The thorn in the flesh is also a gift. Yes, a gift from God. It keeps us grounded in the present, where God is. The facilitator of our clergy peer group said something that I found to be profound - the hardships and struggles that we inevitably go through in our lives are gifts from God because they keep us in the present. We can't suffer in the past or in the future, even if we have had some trauma or expect a tragedy. We suffer and feel pain and struggle today, in the present, exactly where God is.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest