And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
The Apocalypse of St. John 6: 16-17
I remember when 9-11 happened, where I was, what I was doing. It was said at the time by popular American protestant pastors that this tragedy was the wrath of God to account for various moral perversions widely in practice in the once-great nation — a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah firestorm relived.
Given traditional morality, that claim prima facie strikes one as rather insightful, except that something elemental is wholly passed over in such a claim. Upon further consideration its juridical haste betrays a lack of knowledge of the traditional reception of Holy Scriptures by the one, true, Apostolic Church given to us by God at the first Pentecost: the Orthodox Church.
From His severity in the Old Testament to His terrible mercy in the New Testament and Revelation, God is love.
God is love through and through. He loves each and every one equally. His light shines on both sinner and saint. His love is so unfathomably great and boundless, it constitutes an abyss beyond all comprehension and measure, and it provides for each of us in what aspect we may endure, and whether we know it or not.
When we strive to know God’s love for us, we seek to live according to his likeness, in a way which would correspond with His image, after which we are each made. We strive to overcome our fallen nature and reclaim our original or ancestral nature, whence we lived in immediacy with God, and whence we may again inherit the Kingdom.
But no matter how depraved we are in sin — and by the interrogative “Who shall stand?” is indicated that, as St. Augustine points out in a commentary on the related Psalm (130/1), “a clean heart trusting in its own righteousness can not be found” — He fully intends on saving us. If we will just listen for His call, and abide in Him, even as He abides in us.
If we will listen with open hearts and like the apostles burning with His superabundant love after the Resurrection immerse our lives in His work available in and through the mystical Gifts in His Holy Church, we can not only “see” God, but in all our senses and beyond we will abide in Him in uprightness. “We all stand in need of mercy, as none can stand before the rigours of divine justice” (Haydock, 1849).
That is, if we strive after a life of prayer and repentance, of fasting and good works in His Church, we shall stand upright with the saints even with boldness before Him. Even the weak and most depraved sinner has an opportunity, as God of course knows in advance of our fall having granted us free will, and thus His Kingdom is always already open to us.
Yet when we brazenly in full awareness disobey God or act in abominable ways en mass, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, His severity is revealed in the greater distance from Him we have fallen. But does this mean that plagues and sickness, injury, insult, murder, and other vicissitudes are punishment for serious sins?
No, but perhaps we would do best to receive them as such, just as we did when the Imperial Family was slaughtered. Every insult we receive, every injury if we are hurt, every sickness we acquire, every plague we endure, every terminal illness, exists as a blessing granted by God but which is brought on at our own behest. It is as a gift from God which will allow us to realign ourselves to God upon Whom we depend for absolutely everything. For God loves us so much that He wants us as close as we can possibly come to Him, and if not through a life of faith and works, then it shall be through the only other way, whether that be pestilence, illness, etc.
But no negative, no punishment, and no evil act or intention can be attributed to God, who is Love through and through, and a Person who is acquainted first-hand with human weakness not only in being all-knowing but in both having created us and having lived and voluntary suffered the most brutal and painful of deaths in expiation of sin.
Thus, given the likelihood to hear that the Corona Virus scourge comes from the wrath of God, or is this or that prophecy fulfilled, as is usually done by dart-throwing protestant pastors eager for another doomsday dollar, it is not. And thus also the philosophical Problem of Evil or Theodicy does not stand: evil is a privation or lack of good.
It is rather the case that in this pestilence we have the opportunity to fulfill our redemption for nodding off in absolute satiety as a fragmented, imperfect world which now rushes into a global amalgam or morass of decadence at the speed of light. As St. Ignatius writes in “The Arena,” and which is also appropriate for the fast:
Satiety is extremely harmful even for a weak body; it weakens it and makes it susceptible to disease. Wise temperance of the stomach is the door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance.
Let us pray that we may endure all and any that comes our way this troubled day, unto God’s holy will (from the Trebnik, Moleben in times of death-bearing pestulance):
We have sinned and committed iniquity, wherefore Thy righteous wrath hath smitten us, O Lord our God, and the shadow of death hath fallen upon us, and we are brought to the very gates of hades. But in our sickness we cry with compunction unto Thee, our God: Spare, O spare Thy people, and destroy us not utterly, we humbly pray Thee! Hearken and have mercy!
O Lord Who hast dominion over life and death: Shut not the souls of Thy servants up in death, but cause Thy wrath to cease and stop Thine anger, for our days vanish like smoke, our strength hath faded away, and we perish utterly because of our sins. Be Thou merciful unto Thy servants, in repentance we beseech Thee with tears: Hearken and have mercy!
Remember, O Lord, that we are flesh: our spirit departeth and returneth not; and mercifully avert Thy wrath, which is justly directed against us, whereby Thou dost cut us down, as with a sword, before our time. Cause our illness to cease, and suppress the disease which destroyeth us so suddenly; for the dead do not praise Thee, neither do all those who go down into hades; but we, the living, praise Thee and, groaning in the pain of our hearts, we beseech Thee: Hearken and have mercy!
O Lord our God, from Thy holy height regard the supplication of us, Thy sinful and unworthy servants, who have angered Thy goodness by our iniquities, and have provoked Thy lovingkindness; and enter not into judgment with Thy servants, but avert Thine awesome wrath, which is justly brought to bear upon us. Withdraw the threat of destruction; sheath Thy dread sword, which invisibly cutteth us down before our time; spare Thy poor and wretched servants, and confine not in death the souls of us who in repentance, with contrite heart and tears, fall down before Thee, our wise, kindly and readily placated God. For Thine it is to have mercy and to save us, O our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory—to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit—now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.