Godly Sorrow

Marina was the child of wealthy Christian parents. Her mother died when Marina was very young, so Marina was raised as a devout Christian by her father Eugenius. As Marina approached marriageable age, her father intended to find his child a husband and then retire to a Monastery. When Marina learned of his plan, she asked why he intended to save his own soul and destroy hers? When asked by her father, “What shall I do with you? You are a woman”, Marina answered that she would live as a monk with him: she then shaved her head and changed into men’s clothes. Eugenius, seeing his child’s strong determination, gave all his possessions to the poor and traveled with Marina to the monastery to live in monastic community life, where they shared a cell. She took the name Marinos. The other monks attributed her soft voice to long periods of prayer, or else believed their new brother was a male eunuch.

After ten years of prayer, fasting and worship together, Eugenius died. Now alone, Marina became only more intently ascetic, and continued to conceal her sex. One day, the abbot of the monastery sent her with three other monks to attend to some business for the monastery. As the journey was long, they were forced to spend the night at an inn. Also lodging there was a soldier of the eastern Roman front. Upon seeing the beauty of the innkeeper’s daughter, who was working there, the soldier seduced her and defiled her virginity, instructing her to say, “it was the monk, Father Marinos, who has done this to me” should she conceive a child.

After some time, it was discovered that the inn keeper’s daughter was pregnant and, as was agreed, she told her father that Marinos (Marina) was to blame. On hearing the story, the man went furiously to the abbot of the monastery. The abbot calmed the man and told him that he would see to the matter. He called for Marina and reprimanded her severely. 

How would you feel if you were Marina? If you were a woman accused of getting another woman pregnant? Angry. Falsely accused. Helpless. 

In today’s gospel we meet other people who are also grieving and who are experiencing sorrow.

At that time, Jesus went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!

Luke 7:11-16

The widow was a very vulnerable person in Israelite society. She has no one to defend her, to provide for her. She is at the mercy of everyone. There is a reason why Jesus saw a widow who who only has two pennies bringing them to the temple.

The widow is part of a kind of figure of speech, or a shorthand for vulnerable people. For example, in Exodus it says, “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.”

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.

Deut. 10:18

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deut. 24:19

“to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Isaiah 10:2

They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Mark 12:40

The widow in today’s gospel has only one son and he died. The only person in the world who was obligated to help her has died. And all her neighbors and friends come to grieve with her. But if they are so grieved why don’t they take her in to their house? Why don’t they provide for her?

Ungodly sorrow or “worldly sorrow” is sorrow which takes no responsibility. Something undesirable has happened, I am hurt, I am grieving, traumatized, offended, angry, humiliated, wrongly accused, misunderstood.

Worldly sorrow stops there. Worldly sorrow doesn’t want to go beyond that. In today’s world the “victim” of injustice has a kind of sacred status. The person who has been wronged, or at least can say that they have been wronged, has this status, and everyone suddenly treats them like a celebrity. The anger of the victim is listen to as a kind of prophetic truth. And because the victim is given so much attention, they have this status of being what all of us wish we could be. We all want to be listened to, so the status of victim becomes very desirable.

But worldly sorrow only wants to be angry and right. Victims today are believed to be telling the truth when they accuse people, simply because they say that they are victims. If you have the status of a victim than whatever you say is believed.

And everyone wants to become a victim. Then you are untouchable. No one can question whether you’re telling the truth or not, whether you are being reasonable, whether you also did something wrong. You’re a victim, and anyone who doesn’t believe you is an oppressor.

As Orthodox Christians we might think that we are immune to this spiritual disease. We are not. How many of us love to wallow in our disapproval of society around us. We love to perceive ourselves to be the victims of the world’s intolerance or the world’s rejection of our values and morals.

Worldly sorrow looks at my first-hand experience of sorrow and anger and pain and says: that is ultimate truth. The ultimate truth of this world is my experience. When I am angry, that is the way the truth and the life. My anger and my pain is the gospel. Everyone needs to hear it. Everyone must hear it. You must all bow down in submission to the truth of my pain and my anger.

You can hear where I’m going with this. The pain of the victim becomes an imposter-gospel, a fake religion. It is a religion that can do nothing to relieve pain. It is a gospel which has no good news for anyone.

When Jesus finds a whole village mourning with worldly sorrow he knows that none of them are going to actually do anything about it. No one is going to take care of this woman. No one is going to willingly accept discomfort and indignities in order to give her life. No one is going to embrace pain as a context in which to glorify God.

When Jesus raises the son of the widow the people say, “God has visited us.” They still think of God primarily as one who either does what we want (which makes us happy) or someone who doesn’t do what we want (which makes us mad).

Yeah God!!!

If the people really understood what was happening they might not have such exuberance. It might be a more sober joy

Jesus touches the dead man. And he does this because the body of Christ is life-giving. The body of Christ has the power to raise the dead. It has this power because Jesus Christ is the crucified one – he is the crucified one for all eternity

At all times in history Jesus is the crucified one. He is always the one who loves us enough to die for us.

The person who truly understands that they need the life that Jesus can give them, asks Jesus, “help me to be willing to die for others.” Jesus is the one who loves us with a love that is truly life-giving. He does not simply sympathize with our pain, he does not simply show us his sad face, pat us on the back, and say, “that’s really terrible, isn’t it.”

Jesus’ solution to our pain is that he enables us to love others in the context of our pain. His solution to our pain is, “come and follow me.” In the midst of our suffering he give us the new life of serving others. 

He raises us from the death of selfishness and self-pity, from the death of worldly sorrow and worldly anger. He raises us from that dead way of being and gives us the true life which is to tell the gospel with our lives.

The young man that Jesus had raised from the dead started to speak – to tell the good news. That is how God reacts to our grief and our death: he gives us a task, he invites us to walk with him on the road to the cross.

Listen to the words of St. Paul:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come (has come into being in the person – he is a new creation): The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:14ff

We were unreconciled to God – we were angry with him. We were blaming God for our problems (Adam). We weren’t ready to listen to his teachings. We didn’t want to take any responsibility. We were addicted to our rage and anger. We loved our status as victims more than we loved our brother.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So that we might become the righteousness of God. This is the gift that God has for us when we experience pain and sorrow. In the midst of our sorrow we can ask God to show us how we can serve him.

Brethren, working together with him, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.”

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul is saying that while our circumstances might be infuriating, and while the world might look at our life and say, “you are a victim,” we know that we are not victims because we have Jesus living within us. We know that if we follow Christ, our suffering is only temporary. We know that we possess everything because the only thing we need is Jesus and he cannot be taken away from us.

St. Paul continues; here is is writing his second letter to the Corinthians, or at least not the first one, and he knows that he was a bit hard on them the first time, and that the people felt hurt and chastised by his previous letter. So he says,

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

Godly sorrow leads us to take responsibility for our own actions, and find a way forward in the service of Jesus. Godly sorrow goes past sorrow to action.

Now the end of our story about Marina the woman who pretended to be a monk. She has just been falsely accused by her abbot of being the father of a child.

Marina understood immediately that all her life as a monk was preparing her for this moment. She knew that a family that had an illegitimate child would not want the child. They might just abandon the child. She saw that they were trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug, so maybe the mother of the child would be able to get married. Maybe no one would know that the mother had gotten herself pregnant, maybe it would be like nothing had ever happened.

And so Marina decided even though she was unfairly accused, even though the parents of the child were using her as a scapegoat, even though they were doing something very evil, she decided that anger at their evil deeds was not the answer.

She decided to give that baby the best upbringing she could. She decided to allow the young mother to have a new chance at having a normal life, at getting married. Marina decided to take responsibility for making something good happen in the midst of other people’s sin. 

When Marina realized what was happening she fell to her knees and wept, confessing her own sinfulness (without explicitly stating how she had sinned) and asking forgiveness. The fact that there was no attempt to deny the fault made the abbot so furious that he told Marina to leave the monastery. She left at once and remained outside the gates as a beggar for several years. When the innkeeper’s daughter gave birth, he took the child and gave him to Marina. So Marina raised the child. She fed the child with sheep’s milk, provided by the local shepherds, and remained caring for him outside the monastery for ten years. Finally the monks convinced the abbot to allow Marina to return; he accepted but he also imposed heavy penalties upon Marina, who was to perform hard labour in cooking, cleaning and carrying water in addition to regular monastic duties and caring for the child.

At the age of forty, Marina became ill. Three days later she died from the illness. The abbot ordered that Marina’s body be cleaned, her clothes changed and that she be transferred to the church for funeral prayers. While fulfilling these tasks, the monks discovered that she was, in fact, a woman. This made them very distressed. The monks informed the abbot, who came to Marina’s side and wept bitterly for the wrongs done. The abbot then called for the innkeeper and informed him that Marina was actually a woman. The innkeeper went to where the body lay and also wept for the pain and suffering which he had unjustly brought upon Marina. During the funeral prayers, one of the monks, who was blind in one eye, is said to have received full sight again after he touched the body. It was also believed that God allowed a devil to torment the innkeeper’s daughter and the soldier, and that this caused them to travel to where the saint was buried, where they confessed their iniquity in front of everyone and asked for forgiveness.

Today, Marina’s body is kept at a church in Egypt and is incorrupt.