Is it just our parish? I don’t think so. But we have been beset with a host of cancer sufferers for whom we pray on a regular basis. Today my wonderful reader Steven informed me that a little boy Max, seven years old, for whom we have been praying, died. Recently our Deacon David lost his beloved Matushka Marilyn, whose forty-day litiya is coming up immediately. Others in the parish have either suffered from this scourge of the age or have close relatives who have been touched by this illness.
I read a review in the New York Times Sunday edition some weeks back on a book by a writer who researches cancer and medical issues. The author said that if we live long enough, everyone contracts some form of cancer. Everyone! This I find astonishing. As a researcher who has done extensive work on the genealogy of my family, I note that only in-laws died from this illness in the distant past. My beloved brother Don reposed in the Lord two years ago, but he had been free of his cancer for almost twenty years prior to his death from other causes at age 85.
In the past I have waxed philosophical about the metaphorical nature of the illness, but any more I tend to be silent about that and leave it to others – like the writer Susan Sontag – to make these points. Mostly I am in anguish at the amount of suffering that occurs in families on a regular basis. Mostly I remember a line from the ancient Jewish Philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said that we should be kind to all the people we meet because everyone is carrying a heavy burden.
In recent months we set aside the fourth Thursday of the month to serve the Akafist to the Pantanassa, refuge of all who suffer from cancer. In summer we stopped because of vacations and other absences but we will resume this beautiful service in the hopes that our prayers are assisting people we don’t know with the burdens they carry.
In his 1967 book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, the Roman Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton wrote that the prayers of monastics, on any given day, were holding the world together under God. I hope that is what we continue to do with our prayers. We can easily turn to silence when we are overwhelmed by the suffering of the world, but we are called to pray for those in our small circle for support, for comfort, and for healing however it may come.