by St. John of Kronstadt
Health and the belly, these are the two idols--especially with men of the present age, of whom I myself, a great sinner, am one--for which we live, and which we continually serve, even to the neglect of the duties of our Christian calling--for instance, to the neglect of the reading of the Word of God, which is sweeter than honey and honey-comb; to the neglect of prayer, that sweetest converse with God, and of the preaching of the Word of God. To walk a great deal for health, and to incite the appetite, to eat with appetite --such are the objects of the desires and aspirations of many of us. But through our frequent walks, through our fondness for food and drink, we shall find that one thing has been neglected, and another irrevocably missed, whilst others have not even entered into our minds; for can the time after a good dinner or supper be really a good time for any serious work! Even if we would like to occupy ourselves with work, the belly, full of food and drink, draws us away from it, and constrains us to rest, so that we begin to slumber over our work. What sort of work can it be? Indeed, there is nothing left, if it is after dinner, but to lie down and rest, and if it is after supper, after having prayed somehow or other (for a satiated man cannot even pray as he should), to go to bed and sleep--the miserable consequence of an overloaded stomach--until the next morning.
“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:106
We sing the verse above at the service of the Artoklasia – five loaves. It is a source of great comfort and strength. Then St. John of Damascus writes in the funeral service of the Holy Orthodox Church, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?” Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we can hardly taste the sweetness. Our life on earth can be a constant struggle between faith and fear: faith that God conquers all evil, and fear of buckling under the tyranny of illness, with all the misery it brings. From the depth of our hearts we cry to the Lord to help us through this dark valley, to bring us to a safe port.
Our Lord prayed to the Father on His way to crucifixion that the cup of death might pass from Him, but He added, “Let it be your will.” We find ourselves on the same path when it comes to facing the pain either of enduring cancer or of watching someone we love go through it. The results of the medical exam, the blood work, the CAT scan, the MRI and the biopsy all came back positive: “You have cancer,” the doctor said. After this heavy news comes the rocky road of chemo and radiation.
I don’t know much about chemo, but I know that it’s supposed to kill the cancer cells and some good ones. We could deal with the hair loss, but we pray that we never experience loss of faith, patience or hope, because that is much worse than having cancer. “Hear my cry, O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against my foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 61).
by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Click here to read Part 1
Now let me ask you, if our bodies are members of Christ, can it be right to abuse them by smoking and overeating? Think about it. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, can it be right to let our hearts, lungs, and muscles grow weak and sickly through lack of exercise and self-control? Think about it!
I believe that the proper care of our bodies is a divine responsibility given to us by God. This is one reason (apart from staying clean from sin), that Scripture tells us to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
But here is a curious fact. At the same time as we Americans foster an obsession with beautiful bodies on T.V., we are also notorious around the world for being out-of-shape and overweight. We had a visitor from Sweden staying with our family recently, and one of the first things she remarked about Americans was how heavy we appeared to her. And the reason for it, I believe, is that we lead an unnatural lifestyle. Her mother rode her bike to work every day, even in the Swedish winter! But what do we Americans do? If we have to go half a block down to the store, what do we do? You know as well as I — we get into the car and drive! Is it then surprising we’re in the kind of shape we’re in? This is why we had to invent artificial exercise — we don’t get the normal exercise that used to be just a part of living.
by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Obsession with the body and health are undoubtedly outstanding characteristics of modern American life. Commercials sing to us, “You work hard for your body, so you better treat it right.” Health spa chains tell us, “I want your body!” Body-oriented commercials try to sell us everything from milk to deodorant, usually accompanied by visual images of so-called perfect bodies in athletic gear. And this kind of imagery is all around us in a way that gets into our minds without our even being aware of it.
Let me give you an example. The other day my son Sean came to me in the kitchen and asked for a glass of milk. After he finished, he said, “Dad, does milk make your body good?” Where do you think he got that question?!! So you can see how much this body-awareness, this body-obsession, has become a part of American life. Even our kids are picking up on it without being aware of it.
Because of this influence, I want to give what I believe are some basic guidelines for a Christian view of the body and health.
The first point I want to make is this: