30. Death to the world and fortifying our faith

There was a monk, Fr Alexander (later Fr Roman), who was walking with a very straight staff. When Fr Tikhon took a closer look at Fr Alexander’s staff, he realized that it was made of solid steel, and extremely heavy. Fr Alexander, trained in Karate, was exceptionally strong and took to using the heavy staff to strengthen his body for the life at the monastery.

Fr Alexander was not just all brawn. He was deeply religious and read the writings of the ancient Church fathers whenever he could. He would lock himself in his cell with a key, an uncommon practice.

One day, Fr Tikhon happened to chance upon Fr Alexander’s cell when it was unlocked. He succumbed to his curiosity and peeped inside. In there was a simple wood coffin and nothing much else. He ran out with shock.

Fr Tikhon later learned that many holy elders slept in coffins instead of beds, to remind themselves of death and what their pilgrimage towards God meant. It was, as Orthodoxy says, “death to the world” (St Mark 8:34-25).

As a sufferer of scoliosis, I have been combating many physical limitations and challenges for a lifetime. When an orthopedic surgeon saw my X-rays, he exclaimed that I should be in a wheelchair rather than walking. I call it the Mercy of God at work, His Mystery and Gift. God gifted me with the tenacity to exercise with weights to keep my spine just delicately held together by the muscles, and despite beating down pain daily, I walk, and function, through nothing but His Gift.

We are to keep our bodies as healthy as we can, for our bodies are gifts from God. We take care of them as much as we can, so that we can continue to be of service to Him and His creation. In any shape and condition, we are His treasured children. We will abide by His Will and continue our journeys as long as He intends. And like Fr Alexander and many other holy elders, let us always remind ourselves of the frailty of life and the unpredictable death that awaits everyone (Colossians 2:20, Galatians 5:24). Therefore, let us always keep repenting and praying, calling on His Holy Name:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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