Trials and Tribulations: The Tender Mercies of God

the Evangelist

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I was editor of our parish newsletter at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, for about 15 years. We didn’t have a website back then, so this little (very low-tech) newsletter—the Evangelist—was our way of getting out the monthly events, birthdays, anniversaries, and a few spiritual articles. I recently found a stack of these old newsletters and decided to share some articles from them here on my blog, beginning with this one which is especially helpful as we approach Great Lent next Monday. It was written by Father John Troy Mashburn, who was Pastor at the time and is now Pastor Emeritus. Of course there were no links to information on the internet in 1995, as this was a print-only newsletter, but I’ve added a few in case readers want to learn more.

Trials and Tribulations

“Trials and Tribulations: The Tender Mercies of God”

the Evangelist, March 1995

By Father John Troy Mashburn, Pastor

            Prior to the beginning of each Great Lent, St. Athanasius, serving as a bishop in Alexandria, wrote a pastoral letter of encouragement to his churches. Many times he wrote from exile since the Arian heresy raged for many years after the First Ecumenical Council. With the approach of this year’s Great Lent, it seemed appropriate to recall a portion of his letter for the year 341 A.D. The saint was writing from Rome, again in exile from his homeland, and his theme centered around the preparation we undergo through the trials we endure. The following excerpts were taken from The Resurrection Letters as edited by V. Rev. Fr. Jack Sparks.  

Troubles such as we are going through give opportunity to prove and to improve ourselves. Having through them proven ourselves to be choice and eager servants of Christ, we will be revealed as fellow heirs with the saints. As Job said, “The whole world is a trial to men on earth” (Job 7:1). Perhaps so, but we will each receive the proper reward from God. As He says through the prophet, “I am the Lord, who tries hearts and searches minds in order to give to everyone what his life shows he should have” (Jer. 17:10). Of course, He doesn’t first learn about a person when he is tested; He knows everything before it happens. But He is good and does good to mankind, so He rewards everyone according to his works.

   He also has other reasons for trying and testing us. For one thing, He sometimes tests us so our virtues will be revealed by our reaction—as in the case of Job: “Was I revealed to you for any other reason than that you should be seen righteous?” (Job 40:8,9). Or sometimes He puts people through a trial so that when they see what their own deeds are like, they will realize where they are heading and will either repent of their wickedness or remain steadfast in the faith, as the case requires.

For though enemies rain down wounds, insults, and accusations, they amount to nothing when compared to the tender mercies of God. We will quickly recover from such earthly injuries, for God is always gracious and always pours out His tender mercies on those who please Him. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we shouldn’t pay attention to things of time and earth. Rather we should fix our attention on those things that are eternal.

If trouble comes, there will be an end to it; if insults and persecutions fall upon us, they are nothing in comparison to the hope that is set before us. In fact, all present matters are trifling compared with future matters. The sufferings of these days ae not even worth comparing with the hope that is to come.

What can be compared with the kingdom of God? What is like eternal life? Or what is all that we could possibly give here compared with what we shall inherit there? For we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:17). Therefore, dear friends, we shouldn’t een thin about troubles and persecutions Our minds should dwell on the hopes that are laid up for us because of persecutions.

. . . when we are persecuted we should not be discouraged, but instead we ought to press even more earnestly after “the crown of the high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Phil. 3:14). When we are insulted, that should not disturb us. We should simply turn our cheek to the one who attacks us and even bow our shoulders for his blows.

The apostle James tells us that those who love pleasure and hostility are tested “when they are drawn away by their own lusts and enticed” (James 1:14). We however, are going to suffer for the truth. Well, then, when those who deny the Lord attack us and persecute us let us “count it all joy, my brethren, when we encounter various trials and temptations, because we know that the testing of our faith produces inner strength.” (James 1:2,3)

Let us rejoice as we keep the Feast, brothers and sisters, for we know that although troubles may come, our salvation is sure. Remember that our Savior did not redeem us by taking the easy way. He abolished death by suffering for us. And He warned us about what was in store by saying, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He didn’t tell this for the benefit of everyone—only for those who serve Him faithfully and diligently.

But let us keep the Feast now, dear friends—and not as a day of suffering but as one of joy in Christ, who feeds us every day. Let us be thinking of the One who was sacrificed at Passover time, for our whole celebration is because Christ our Passover was sacrificed (I Cor. 5:7)

Great Lent many times brings an increase of trials and stress. Do not be alarmed, but prepared. Let us be encouraged by the words of St. Athanasius and press even more diligently toward the prize of the high calling in Christ our Lord.

left: V. Rev. Father John Troy Mashburn