Feast of St Patrick the Hieromartyr & Bishop of Prusa and His Fellow Martyrs Acacius, Menander, and Polyaenus
QUESTION TO the Great Old Man: Since I have severe rheumatism in my feet and hands, and fear that it might come from the demons, tell me father if this is so, and what I should do. For, I am greatly in distress, being unable to fast, and being compelled to consume food many times. And what does it mean, when I see wild beasts in my dream? I entreat you, master, for the Lord’s sake, to send me a small blessing from your holy food and drink, that I may receive comfort from them.
Response by Barsanuphius: Do not grieve, my beloved one. For this is not from the demons, as you think, but it is an external draft, a discipline from God for our improvement, so that we may give thanks to God. Was not Job a genuine friend of God? And what did he not endure, giving thanks and blessing to God? And the end of his patience led him to incomparable glory. Therefore, you also should be a little patient, and you will see the glory of God.
As for fasting, do not grieve. For as I have already told you, God does not require of anyone beyond their ability. What else is fasting but discipline of the body, in order to enslave a healthy body and weaken it on account of the passions? For he says: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12.10). However, illness is greater than discipline, and is reckoned as a substitute for ascetic behavior; and this is even truer of the person who endures it with patience and gives thanks to God. That person reaps the fruit of salvation from such patience.
Therefore, instead of the body being weakened through fasting, it is weakened in and of itself. Give thanks that you have been exempted from the toil of regular behavior. So, if you eat ten times, do not grieve, for you are not condemned. For this is neither a result of demonic action, nor of slack thought; but it is happening to us in order to test and benefit the soul.
As far as the dreams about wild beasts, they are demonic fantasies, which want to deceive you through these, in order to make you believe that your suffering comes from the demons. However, “the Lord abolishes them by the word of his mouth” (2 Thess. 2.8) through the prayers of the saints. Amen.
And do not grieve. “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and he scourges every child whom he receives” (Heb. 12.6 [Prov. 3.12]). Yet I also believe in regard to this bodily suffering that God will do with you as his mercy wills. May the Lord strengthen you and establish you in order to endure. Amen. I have sent you a little water from the vessel of our blessed father, Euthymius. I have also sent you a small blessing from my own food, so that you may bless my food. Pray for me, dearest one.
—Elder Barsanuphius, Letters from the Desert