The links of my days are a chain of greater or lesser suffering; every new day of my life is a step that draws me closer to decay.
Sicknesses come, and my trembling heart asks them: “Are you just the forerunner of my death, or have you already been given the authority to separate my soul from my body with a dread and terrible parting?”
Sometimes my spiritual eye, distracted by the cares of life, abandons the contemplation of my sad destiny.
Yet, as soon as an unexpected sorrowful event strikes me, I quickly come back to my favorite teaching, like a baby to its mother’s breast, i.e., to a discourse on death, for in sincere grief is hidden true consolation, and the wise remembrance of death breaks the bonds of death.
Thou, Who by Thy unspeakable goodness hast created us, tell us, why didst Thou fill our lives with grief? Dost not Thy mercy make Thee pity our sufferings? Why dost Thou grant me being and later take it away through a painful death?
I do not enjoy, says God, your illnesses, O man. But, out of the seeds of your grief and sorrow, I want to bring forth for you fruits of eternal and majestic joy.
I imprinted the law of death and destruction not only in your body, but also in every object of this visible world.
I commanded the whole world, together with your body, to cry out to you that this life is not the true and real life, and there is nothing permanent here to which your heart should become attached through justifiable love.
When you do not hearken unto the threatening voice of the entire universe, then My paternal mercy, which always wishes you unlimited good, compels Me to lift the scepter of chastisement.
When I torment you with temptations, wear you out with illness, with pangs of remorse, it is that you might abandon your folly, become wise, cease seeking after shadows and return to the path of truth, and at the same time to the path of salvation.
My unutterable mercy and unlimited love for human beings compelled Me to take your flesh upon Myself; through My abasement I have revealed the greatness of God to the human race (cf. John 14:9).
By suffering on the Cross for the salvation of men, whom I desire to draw to Myself, I first afflict them with grief, and with these arrows of affliction I deaden their hearts to temporary pleasures.
The scepter of punishment is an emblem of My love for men.
Macarius of Optina (Orthodox Church; 1788-1860): extract from a letter of St Macarius here; the complete text of the letter is contained in Elder Macarius of Optina by Fr. Leonid Kavelin, published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.