While reading a past issue of Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns published by The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, I came across a beautiful and inspiring article which is an excerpted of Mother Alexandra’s book Hospital of the Queen’s Heart. In this excerpt she wrote about “The Gift of Pain.” Since many of us struggle with pain of many sorts – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – I wanted to share it with you.
The little excerpt retells Mother Alexandra’s reintroduction to her childhood playmate whose name happened to be Ileana. Ileana was struck with epilepsy in an era when it was not understood. Her family interpreted the manifestation of her illness as disobedience and did all they could to discipline her out of her naughtiness. Eventually, they came to understand that Ileana was incurable. Her father purchased a small cottage in a small town where she lived away from others so she would not be an embarrassment to them.
In 1944, Mother Alexandra returned to Bran and visited her childhood friend “out of a sense of duty.” What started out being done “out of a sense of duty” became a desire to be with her friend. Mother Alexandra recounted the following:
“She confided in me how tragically her illness had separated her from her family. She had watched her friends grow up and marry, have children and live normal lives, while she lived apart, isolated in her own precarious world of illness. But she was never lonely…She told me about her discovery of the Bible, and the strength and sustenance it gave her. She said that as she studied it she realized that her own struggle…was the common struggle of the human soul through the ages.”
“Because of her illness, Ileana had never had a formal education… We talked about pain…and what it does to people, how it develops or deteriorates something within them.”
“Seeing Ileana’s affliction, caring for my patients in…the hospital, I began to understand the meaning of pain. I began to see it, not as one of the misfortunes of life to be avoided at all costs or to be deplored, but as a discipline and a process of distillation. It is a means whereby faith and reliance upon God are laid bare…when man’s skill and science can be depended upon no longer, or when the world becomes our adversary, we simply and instinctively turn to what has been there all the time, our individual oneness with God. He cannot be escaped although we try our best to do so. He can only be denied and lost sight of, for He is ourselves – our true indwelling nature which we bury deep under sophistry and false values. We are giving the opportunity to find this out when pain breaks down the barrier between.”
“It is almost as if we who are ill, or in deep trouble, are singled out for our schooling,” said Ileana one day. “As if God lays His hand upon us and says, ‘Come apart with Me from the others – I have something to teach you. I will show you a way to find Me, for I have so much to give you if you will take it.'”
May God bless us all in our schooling.