The futile search for a “happiness” that is found only in the material world leads in the long run to unhappiness. Even at current the frenzied rush to purportedly “keep people safe and healthy” reveals the tragedy of fallen existence. All we have, all of humanity’s “well-being” and “happiness” is found in that which is inevitably passing away. Moreover, every person will most certainly die sooner or later. Please don’t take that as a flippant statement. The point is that humanity in its current state is mortal, that is our bodies, in their current state, will perish. Yet, if the soul, the spirit, is alive with divine energy from Christ the Lord, then such a one begins to live in eternal life. The body will be restored, resurrected, at the end of time, which has a set limit.
Below is a translation of an antidote related by St. Dimitry of Rostov. I very much appreciate its deep simplicity and warmth. In it you will meet an impoverished old man who tells us simply, “I am sorry for those who seek happiness in this world, for true happiness in life is to reckon everything according to God’s will.” May his simple words serve to challenge the labyrinth of fractured confusion which is tyrannizing our times. Let us remember that true happiness is found only in living for God.
“Once a famous teacher prayed long and zealously to God, asking that He would show him some person from whom he could learn the true path to the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus one day, in front of the church doors, he met a poor, elderly man all covered with scabs and pus oozing wounds. For clothing, he had nothing but rags. The teacher, passing by, greeted him accordingly and said, “Good day, elder!”
The elderly man replied, “I do not remember that any day has ever been bad for me.”
The teacher on hearing this answer stopped, and as if to recollect, said, “May the Lord give you happiness!”
The elder replied, “I’ve never been unhappy.”
The teacher was shocked and thought the elderly man did not hear him correctly, and so he rephrased his greeting and said, “What’s this you’re saying elder? I wish you to receive blessings.”
The elder said, “I’ve never received anything bad.”
The teacher said again, so as to test the elder, “May you receive whatever you desire.”
The elder replied, “I do not experience need in anything, because whatever happens to me I’m content with, and I do not seek passing fortunes.”
“May God save you for this! But tell me,” the teacher said, “surely you are not the only one among the poor not to undergo misfortune? I do not understand – how have you escaped evil circumstances?
“Kind sir, it is as I replied to your first greeting. I have never known any misfortune or evil circumstance. Whatever situation God has given to me, for it I give thanks; in this is my blessing. I pay no regard to happiness and never pray about it to our Heavenly Father. I do not experience misfortune because misfortune happens when a person seeks his own desires. Even if I waste away because of hunger, yet even for this, I bless God as my Father, for He knows what I really need. If I suffer from frost or am soaked to the bone from rain or any other such thing I may endure from the elements – for all this I also bless God. When people slander me, I praise God, knowing that He is working all this and it is impossible that He would work evil. And so, everything that comes from God – the pleasant or the unpleasant, the sweet or the bitter, I receive it all in the same manner, as from the hand of the Good Father. I desire but one thing, whatever God desires. In this way, everything that happens is according to my desire. I am sorry for those who seek happiness in this world, for true happiness in life is to reckon everything according to God’s will. The will of God is always perfect, good, and true. I always strive to conform my will to the will of God, and by doing so, I count myself always happy.”
The teacher responded, “Tell me, I ask you, what would you think if God somehow sent you to hell?”
“How is it possible that He would? He knows that I firmly hold to Him with profound faith, and I love Him without hypocrisy. With these two bonds, I am so tightly bound to the Lord that wherever He would send me, there I would bring Him with me; it is more desirable for me to be with God outside of heaven than to be in heaven without God.”
The teacher was amazed by the elder’s answer and thought, surely this is the straight way to God when people accord their will to His holy will. Wanting to test the wisdom of the poor elder one more time, he asked, “Where did you come from?”
“I came from God.”
“And where did you find God?”
“There, where I refused every material thing; in pure thoughts and a good conscience.”
“Who are you?”
“Who you see before you. I’m content with my situation and would not trade it for all the riches of earthly kingdoms. A true king is anyone who can rule himself and command his thoughts.”
“And where is your kingdom?”
The poor elder gestured with his hand to Heaven, “There is my kingdom.”
“Elder, who taught you all this, and who gave you this wisdom?”
“I will tell you, dear sir, I always abide in silence, whether praying or giving myself to devout thoughts; but more than anything I take care for this, that I would be in union and accord with God and His will.”
The teacher left the elder and went on his way, praising God, Who revealed the wisdom of the meek elder.
(Endnote: About four years ago I translated, with help from my wife, various selections of St. Dimitry of Rostov’s works from Russian into English. I mainly undertook it to “keep up” on my Russian. This work is just sitting on my computer at current but I hope to continue to share portions of it with my readers.)