Great are a nation’s disasters when the Lord’s wrath falls upon it - times of famine, epidemics and wars. But all of them are sent by the Lord. One must remember that the Lord punishes those whom He loves. All disasters are sent by the Lord as the sole and effective means of salvation from a worse calamity - from a nation’s corruption, which causes the soul of a people to decay and die.
The Lord sees all universal disasters, sorrows and tears vastly better than we do, and yet He sends them to us - He Who is All-good and All-merciful. Priest Alexander Elchaninov writes: “The Lord has infinite pity for us, but sends us suffering; only when we are struck by misfortune and catastrophe can we produce some sparks of holy fire. In this lies the meaning of wars, revolutions, illnesses.”
Herein lies a law by which the lesser (physical) evil removes the greater (spiritual) evil. Archimandrite John writes: “For a man immersed in a life of depravity and self-interest, war can even be the sole means of sobering up. In this lies the meaning of war as a providential occurrence, the distraction of man from a trivial egoistic life to a life of self-sacrifice; from the hell of vice and passions to the edge of genuine existence. For a Christian war can signal a reversion to worldly life, but for an egoistic worldly person war can become a revival to a truly spiritual life.”
With what deep feeling of sorrow are filled the following words of the Lord, spoken through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, who had fallen into iniquity: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people does not consider. Alas, sinful nation, a seed of evildoers, children of corruption. They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are gone away backward. Where to strike ye the more, ye who continue your revolt?…. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, strangers devour your land in your presence, all is desolate” (Isaiah 1:2-7).
Great is the suffering of a people fallen into iniquity: not only total desolation and famine, wars and epidemics strike blow after blow upon the head of the people, but its spiritual leaders are taken away from it, and in its midst there reigns total spiritual chaos - a shifting of all the foundations upon which a healthy and normal life of society is based; divine services and preachment cease, faith becomes extinguished.
Here is how the prophet Isaiah depicts such punishment: “Behold, the Lord of hosts shall take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff… the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, and the seer, and the elder, the captain of fifty and the nobleman, and the eloquent orator, and shall give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor; the child shall insolently proclaim himself superior to the ancient, and the base speak against the noble” (Isaiah 3:1-5).
And when we see such spiritual desolation and shifting of social mores, when the storms of universal calamities rage around us, when there is famine and illness, moans, tears and death everywhere - let us not think that the Lord does not see it all. He does see, but He sends it for the salvation of the people’s soul.
We should, of course, pray to the Lord for the cessation of natural disasters, as many saints did. But together with our entreaty we must proffer our portion of repentance, in order that God’s wrath be averted from our people and our homeland. The Lord may spare cities and nations for the sake of even a small number of His faithful. Let us remember how the Lord promised Abraham to spare the iniquitous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if He found at least ten righteous ones in them.
We grieve when we witness the cessation of divine services and sermons, and the scarcity of faith, and we cannot understand why the Lord allows it. But sermons do not always have an effect, nor the proclamation of truth. When the mind and the heart of a people have been corrupted, preachment can give rise to mockery and blasphemy, which will lay upon the people’s soul as an even heavier sin. The people will also be judged for rejecting truth. For this reason the Gospel was not preached at all times and to all people, for this reason the Lord at times curtails spiritual preachment. For the seeds of truth to grow, the frozen ground must first be tilled, and this frozen ground in the people’s soul is tilled only by sorrows and tribulations.
But we should gaze not only upon the physical disasters of a nation, and our hearts must sorrow not only at the sight of visible misfortunes and tears. To a greater measure we must sorrow over the state of the people’s soul, over the abyss of iniquity, sin and pride into which it has become immersed.
We have seen the tears and the blood of our brothers on the field of battle. But shall we hear the cries of the crowd when it crucifies Christ anew in the person of His Church; shall we see the new tears of the sorrowing Mother of God? If we see it and hear it, we will then understand the fiery soul of one of the Lord’s greatest prophets - the prophet Elias, we will understand his seeming indifference to the suffering of the people of Israel from famine. The fate of the people was placed by the Lord into Elias’ hands. It was his will to grant the people either material well-being or the disaster of famine. The prophet condemned the Israelis to a disastrous lack of rain, as a result of which a great famine reigned in the Palestine.
Did not the prophet see the consequences of his decision, see the suffering and death from famine not only of adults, but of old people and innocent babes? Having the power to end the disaster at any moment, why did he not do so for three years?
The prophet, however, was not only filled with compassion towards the unfortunate. To a greater degree he was filled with holy ardor on behalf of God, Who, after showering Israel with the greatest blessings, was rejected by the people who turned back to pagan idols and became immersed in an abyss of sin and iniquity. It is for this that the prophet condemned the Israelis to physical suffering and ended it only when the people fell on their knees and said: “The Lord is God.”
Even more than for the cessation of disasters we must entreat the Lord for the cleansing of the people’s soul of iniquity, for the enlightenment of its mind, for sending prophets to it with fiery appeals for repentance. Seeing great disasters, we should bear in mind that deliverance from them depends solely on the Creator. Let us not with our feeble minds build various suppositions concerning favorable circumstances for the end to these disasters, or try to foresee indications of such an end. Such a task is not for the human mind. But disasters end suddenly and miraculously when the measure of punishment is fulfilled to the limit decreed by the Lord.
Let such thoughts feed our hope for deliverance during universal disasters, when the darkness of spiritual night reigns all around us.