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Archive for the 'despondency' Category

We continued our discussion of homily 75. Isaac draws us into the beauty of the practice of vigils. He speaks to us of the freedom from despondency and the onrush of joy the monks who immerse themselves in prayer at night experience. With the mind and heart filled with the things of God and of His word, no foreign thought has room to enter. All they know is God and they speak to him in the secrecy of their heart.

Isaac makes it clear that there is great room for variation, depending upon the monk and the strength of his constitution and will. Adjustments might have to be made, he acknowledges, but one always seeks to keep his mind and heart fixed upon God or upon the example of the saints who lived in this discipline in all of its fullness.

Isaac then begins to lay out for us how it is that these monks were able to sustain themselves in such a life; not only the discipline of it but how they could maintain themselves physically and emotionally in such isolation. As always, Isaac‘s writing is beautiful; no matter what he touches upon, it speaks directly to the heart.

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Tonight we continued reading Homily 65. St. Isaac begins to speak about how one prepares oneself to enter into the life of stillness. One must investigate well what one is considering and the discipline necessary to live such a life. One cannot simply seek the name of solitary.  Rather, a person must engage in the long work of preparing the mind and the heart to embrace the discipline of stillness. One must have a clear aim and fix one’s gaze upon God completely otherwise despondency will overcome them when faced with trials.
The solitary focuses upon God entirely in the stillness to the point of no longer being engaged in the battle and warfare with the passions. In perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs ever written St. Isaac captures for us the nature of the contemplative experience of God and the fruit of stillness.  He speaks of the wonder of the life of stillness and its fruits like no other ascetic writer and his words become an exhortation that reaches to the depths of the heart and creates a longing for God.

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We continued this evening with three very rich paragraphs from homily 54. St. Isaac begins by speaking about how we should approach psalmody. We read and pray with the Scriptures, not simply as those borrowing the words of another, but as those who’ve sought to open their minds and their hearts to God and have prepared the rich earth of their hearts to receive the seed of His  Word. 
Isaac then discusses the struggle with despondency. Whenever we turn away from God, we begin to experience a kind of existential depression and sadness. We cannot ignore He who is Meaning and Life and expect not to feel a void within us.
And finally, Isaac warns us about the struggle with our own thoughts. They are too many for us to handle and the demons are relentless and have the experience of thousands of years on how to manipulate. Therefore we must turn the mind and the heart to God in unceasing prayer, recognizing our poverty and need for His grace.

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Tonight‘s discussion of homilies 32 and 33 focused upon Saint Isaac’s teaching that we should not approach the life of faith as if it were simply self improvement. We must beware of seeking our joys in the things of this world or reducing God to something manageable and controllable rather than an all enveloping mystery. The poverty that we experience in our moral life and psychologically and emotionally simply at times has to be in endured. We are drawn in to the perfection of God by grace. We do not make ourselves perfect. More often than not we are humbled by our weaknesses until we rest solely upon the grace of God.
We continue to struggle of course,  but we must avoid extremes in behavior - excesses in satisfying our appetites or too great a rigor that leads to despondency.  Our life is Christ and often our greatest struggle as human beings is to let go of the illusion that lasting joy can be found in any other place.

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We picked up this evening about midway through Saint Isaac’s Homily 25. St. Isaac has been speaking about the beauty of the solitary way of life and the constant called to intimacy with God. In the sections considered this evening Isaac warns of the pitfalls solitaries often experience. As one is separated from the false self and the ego diminished one experiences the full vision of the poverty of their sin and the darkness it brings.  The self is left to walk in the darkness of faith to rely only on the mercy of God. The temptation is to shrink back from this intimacy and knowledge of God or to seek worldly and sensible consolations. Worse yet one might fall into despair having been stripped of all worldly consolations but not seeking rest in God. This is by far the most pitiable state of man.

Isaac presents this all as a prelude to calling us to live out our lives in Expectation of the promise of life and eternal love that come to us through Christ. To seek the Kingdom above all things and to desire the things of the Kingdom frees us from the net of despair and fosters an invincible form of long suffering. Come what may one lives in and through hope.

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St. John in the final section of this step begins to describe the struggle for stillness. First, St. John details those things that threaten to destroy or prevent one from obtaining an inner state of peace. He identifies in particular the five demons that attack the solitary (despondence, vainglory, pride, dejection and anger) and the three that assail those living in community (gluttony, lust, and avarice). Second, St. John identifies the essential virtues of the hesychast (unceasing prayer, discretion, faith, fear of God, patience, prudence and a discerning spirit). He concludes by exhorting his readers to use every means to protect and strengthen the gift. 

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Throughout the Ladder John Climacus discusses the logical progression from one vice to another. And so it is with the vice of falsehood. It arises out of undisciplined chatter, talkativeness and foolery. Falsehood, or lying, John states, is the destroyer of charity and perjury is the denial of God himself. Thus, he tells us, we must not be fooled into thinking that lying is a minor offense. In reality, it is a sin "above all others."

The effects of one who lies are not restricted to himself, but have the consequence of leading others into sin. Through their ability to deceive, and provoke laughter in doing so, they often distract others from their spiritual pursuits and dry up their tears of contrition. Therefore, John argues that we should seek to separate ourselves from such people, or, when appropriate and helpful, to offer fraternal correction with charity.

To combat such a vice we must foster a genuine fear of the Lord and the judgement He will bring. A strong and well-formed conscience will serve us well in this task. Likewise, true compunction will aid us in this struggle. Sorrow for one's sins will destroy this vice.


St. John explains "tedium of the spirit" in this way: "Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of things worldly." The word for despondency in the Greek is "akidia" and it indicates a listlessness or torpor. The best English word that could be used to explain this is the word "BOREDOM" or perhaps we could even use the word "DISTRACTION." Very often, it begins with a loss of a sense of purpose and ends in despair and spiritual death. St. John gives numerous examples which are sure to strike home to us.

In our day and age, this demon is very much at work. How often does he confuse us with the suggestion that our spiritual labors are in vain!? How often does he suggest to us that our efforts are accomplishing no good result? How often does he point out to us many others who seem to be "gaining ground" without laboring as hard as we are? How often does he suggest that we shouldn't take the spiritual life quite seriously? How often does he remind us of our failures and suggest that perhaps we are wasting our time in pursuing the spiritual life? How often does he weigh our hearts down with earthly cares and thoughts even in the midst of our prayers? How often does he encourage us to take a day off, to sleep in and skip our prayers, to take a spiritual vacation? How often does the demon of boredom confuse our thoughts so that we forget what the goal is and how we are to achieve it?

How do we battle such a powerful demon? St. John suggest two things: Perseverance in the course taken and cooperation with others who are struggling. The only way to beat boredom is to labor through it. Once we have been started on a certain path of prayer and struggle, we must keep on keeping on without allowing ourselves to be distracted. Furthermore, we beat boredom by reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing. Tedium is rebuffed by the common life and by the constant remembrance of the lives of the saints. Knowing that we are not alone, gives us the encouragement and motivation to persevere when we feel like quitting.  

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