The Hardships of Faith
We, who rightly and firmly believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity and our Lord and Savior, should firmly expect hardships because of the faith we carry. While it would be comforting, and far more popular, to think that we could live our lives unencumbered by sin (our own and others’) and unhindered by the world (including government interdiction and the actions of unbelievers), the fact remains that today, as in the times of Christ and the early Church, we face the task of living out our faith in truth and in deed in a world that rejects the salvation of Christ and the transfiguration of the Most Holy Spirit.
St. Paul, who writes of such realities in his own life, recounts the specific suffering he encountered on his missionary journeys.
"Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor 11:23-28).
Now, it certainly would be easy to dismiss these horrible crimes against St. Paul as punishments inflicted specifically against him and not at all what each of us must face (after all, even among the saints, St. Paul is considered great). But that is a gross misunderstanding and, dare I say, not nearly worthy of the faith that we have been given. Instead, what we ought to do is learn even more from the host of other saints who saw great hardships in their lives too.
St. Athanasius, for example, was exiled five times (for a total of 17 years and two months) during his 45-year reign as bishop of Alexandria (328 to 373). Another supremely important example – partly because of his earlier involvement as one of only three witnesses to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-2) – comes to us from among the original 12. St. James the Greater (son of Zebedee) is believed to be the first of the apostles martyred for his faith (we believe this partly because it is the only apostolic martyrdom recorded in the New Testament). “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1-3).
Now that I have recounted for you these three examples of the glories of severe hardship and martyrdom encountered because of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I implore all of you to truly know your faith so that you may truly live your faith, and truly live your faith so that you may truly know your faith. As you intimately reacquaint yourself with Jesus and His Most Holy Spirit, you will begin to find a renewed strength and the ability to handle the trials that will necessarily befall you as one of His truly faithful here on earth.
Let us pray for one another so that we may live our lives in this way.