Below is a translation from Russian of portions of a sermon given by the New Hieromartyr Peter (Zverev) during the time of a severe cholera epidemic in Russia during the year of 1910. It is extremely relevant to our times and circumstances.
Such examples are of the utmost value for us at current for they reflect the response of the saints to crisis in general and specifically illnesses. The reader will notice that the saint calls us to first and foremost a true spiritual response. He reminds us that sickness comes because of sin. If we desire to remove sickness we must first address the root cause – sin – only then may we hope for success.
Even in his time people were turning first to “serums and vaccines” as saviors; for this he soundly rebukes them. True medicine does not operate outside of God, let us seek what is ethical medicine but always knowing that out hope is ultimately in God, the Master of all things. This is an important point because I have encountered even from Orthodox sources the idea that we are “hoping” in a “vaccine.” From some sectors it has been a long time since a word of hope was offered, and now the impression is given that hope has come, one may wonder if we have faith or not.
I hope that you, the reader, will find spiritual profit and guidance in these words of the Martyr Peter.
“There are still reports being received from various places that infectious disease is spreading across our country, and that it is carrying away to the grave many thousands of people. It is not surprising that in the face of this frightful phenomenon people are brought to anxiety and are striving to think of any means whereby they may avoid the impending thunderstorm.
But this is our grief – we have invented all the wrong means by which we think to be saved from this terrible sickness that has mercy on no one.
We try to utilize various serums and vaccines … Every commission (agency) and the vast majority of people almost completely leave out the spiritual starting point in a person – his soul; of this only they desire not to think!
The first and only evil behind sickness, misfortune, and suffering on this earth is sin. It is sin that we must eradicate and fight by every means, with all our strength, however difficult it may be. All these viruses, microbes, and bacteria are only but weapons and means in the hands of the Providence of God, Who seeks the salvation of mankind.
By sending pestilence upon people, the Lord is reminding us to always hold our death before our eyes; after which will be the Dread Judgment, and the eternal punishment of unrepentant sinners which follows.
It is to Him first and foremost that we should turn with prayers and supplications.
And as we offer prayers we must also be striving to be found worthy of the mercy of God.
It is imperative to confess your sins, repent of them, and make a firm resolution to carry out your life in harmony with the Gospel commandments.
Yet, it is somehow frightful to see what takes place around us, on one side people are struck with the fear of contagious, deadly diseases, and they are terrified of death; yet at the same time they indulge in unbridled pleasures, amusements, and spectacles. All the while they completely forget about their holy responsibilities according to their calling as Orthodox Christians.
How could there not be death bearing illness in our country when we have stepped away from God and brought upon ourselves His righteous wrath?
We should also stand in awe of God’s immeasurable long-patience and that He mercifully chastises us; we must give heartfelt thanks to Him that we have not been completely destroyed.
Let us all repent and amend our lives and turn to God, for it is we who have left Him.