2 . From the time our sweet Jesus lifted the life-giving wood of the precious Cross on His immaculate shoulders and was hanged upon it, from that time and throughout the ages, lifting the cross is continued by His followers in the form of various afflictions and trials, through which the Christian triumphs over the many forms of destructive self-love. Through Luke the Evangelist, the Savior stresses that “whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Lk. 14:27 ). And again: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Lk. 9:23 ). Abba Isaac, the hesychast philosopher, says, “Man changes at every moment.” Indeed, the dispositions of both the soul and body do not stop changing at any moment, sometimes bringing about distress, at other times pain, sometimes expectation of sad news, at other times an undefined disorder and distress of soul and body. All of these are due to either bodily or spiritual causes, which confirm God’s curse that burdened the race of man due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. But the good Jesus, the Tree of life, on the one hand by His holy example, and on the other by His divine teachings, pours out the balsam of consolation upon the cross of afflictions along with many life-giving assurances that it is through many tribulations that we shall be able to enter His kingdom(cf. Acts 14:22 ). In the Old Testament, in the Book of Numbers, among other things, the following distinctive event is narrated: “When the Israelites had disobeyed God in the wilderness, as a punishment for their disobedience He sent serpents to them which bit and killed them. But God heard the prayer of Moses, who was fervently praying for this wrath to abate, and ordered him to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on the pole. And all who were bitten by the serpents were immediately healed when they looked at the bronze serpent” (cf. Num. 21:6-9 ). And in the Holy Gospel, our Jesus likened the elevation of the bronze serpent to His own life-giving elevation on the Cross by saying: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (Jn.3:14 ). So sin—which is the meaning of the poisonous serpent—bites man, poisoning the entire being of his poor soul through culpable and passionate pleasure, which brings about the soul’s death and separation from God. But our Christ, the noetic bronze serpent, who was hanged on the life-giving wood of the precious Cross, through the lofty truths of the gospel, heals the souls that have been bitten by various sins, giving them a living hope of a life beyond comprehension. “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? (1 Cor. 15:55 ). The powers of your horrible tyranny were abolished, annihilated, enfeebled, and completely put to death by the death and resurrection of Jesus, our God, Who saves our souls. The heart is poisoned and darkened by pleasure and sensuality. Then, since it is darkened, it does the work of darkness, grieving the Holy Spirit Whom it had received through rebirth in the sacred baptismal font. Conversely, pain and affliction expel culpable sensuality from the heart. As it is cleansed by pain, it becomes capable of receiving the comforting Spirit. Once the good Comforter comes, He consoles, encourages, and enlightens the heart, and as a nurturer He gives it life with the divine teachings and the aids of joy and hope. So look upon the noetic bronze serpent, Jesus, Who heals through pain all souls that suffer from the bites of poisonous sin in its many forms. From the unshakeable truths derived from experience, it follows that pain and affliction are the most essential medicine for the soul which is ill with sin. At the same time, they are also excellent teachers for the spiritual uplifting of the soul which has sullied its beauty in sin and moral darkness and has thereby acquired morally evil habits. Pain, in the various meanings of the word, becomes the skillful cultivator that takes a sinful soul that is like a wild olive tree and grafts it onto o good olive tree. Sin hardens the heart of the sinner and renders him unfeeling; nothing moves him, because God, Who has feeling and sympathy for people, is missing. However, what does God do—He Who loves mankind, Who “came to seek and to save that which was lost”? (cf. Lk. 19:10 ). He draws up a plan of salvation through pain, and especially through illness, for the soul which has gone astray. You see, for example, a youth in his prime, puffed up because of his strength and behaving arrogantly, forgetting about God and his soul—then suddenly he lies prostrate on a bed of pain. Then, as a most experienced and skillful doctor, pain begins its surgery. First, it operates on the heart by removing its hardness little by little, and thus it softens the soul. He who was formerly hard of heart becomes soft and calm in his feelings. He commiserates with his fellow patients, and he who was formerly unsympathetic speaks with sympathy. And once his heart has been prepared through these and various other feelings brought about by the instructive rod of pain, then the ears of his previously deaf soul open, and he accepts, retains, and attentively listens to the word of truth, the gospel of salvation. Then he who was formerly indifferent to God and to his soul becomes zealous in reading various religious books and periodicals. He begins to recall his sinfulness with genuine contrition and feeling. Thus he learns to pray with compunction and soon becomes an eloquent preacher of the benefactions of the excellent doctor, pain, proclaiming that it alone cures the illness of being far from God. Pain cures not only the person who is far from God; it also heals souls that are healthy, but partially ill with a “sickness not unto death,” (Jn. 11:4 ), such as occasional indifference, criticism, self-love, cowardice, doubts, and so on. Pain exercises its activity even in the saints so that through their patience their glory may be increased. However, the saints often suffer also to give an example to others, as happened with long-suffering Job, St. Syncletiki, and so many other saints. When we have a beautiful piece of furniture and leave it unattended to for a period of time, we see that a layer of fine dust settles upon it. True—it is not ruined, but it has lost some of its shine and beauty. This also happens to a healthy soul when it does not have afflictions now and then. For example, indifference, if one does not attend to it in time, little by little without anyone realizing it, settles in the soul like dust on the furniture, and the soul loses its original zeal towards God. It does pray; it does fulfill its duties, but not as it should. But if pain comes, if affliction visits, then the wind blows and the flame—that is, the zeal to fulfill its duties to God—is kindled again. Just as it happens with indifference, so it happens also with every other illness of the soul. Pain is the divine medicine which the infinite wisdom of God devised for the ailing soul, and He uses it with absolute authority and no reserve so that through such an effective medicine, we may come to our senses and be watchful and vigilant in executing His holy will. Thus at the time of repayment we may receive, as a reward for vigilantly cleaving to His will, entrance into the eternal delight of the Lord, rejoicing and exulting in it together with those who have been called from all ages. There, together with the Lady Theotokos, the angels, and all the saints, we shall praise with endless, joyful hymns the blessed name of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to Whom belong all glory, honor, and dominion unto the endless ages of ages.