How to combat discouragement
Beginning the conversation, Bishop Panteleimon reminded us that the experience of the holy fathers in the fight against passions must be applied judiciously and cautiously. We should always bear in mind the difference between their high spiritual level and our own, “perhaps not even zero, but minus. Otherwise, there is only a risk of reinforcing the passion that you are trying to correct, or even acquiring another.
Vladyka cited the words of St. Simeon the New Theologian about how he followed his spiritual path after his mentor, St. Simeon the Blagojevich. The New Theologian poetically says that his mentor was washed in springs and he was pointed to springs of living water. “But I,” the saint laments, “drew clay along with the water, muddied these springs, and instead of purifying myself, polluted myself.
Discouragement is one of the heaviest passions
“The darkness of despondency is thickening in the world,” Bishop Panteleimon noted. – People, thinking to dispel discouragement and seal, try to amuse themselves, but only expose themselves to the greater passion of despondency. Although there are some people who are never discouraged.
Vladyka told us that St. Gregory of Sinai singles out two of the eight passions as the most cruel and difficult: fornication and despondency (“laziness,” in the saint’s terminology). According to St. Gregory, these passions are related to each other. When they take possession of the soul, they lead it to relaxation. Therefore, it is difficult to struggle with these passions, and it is impossible to overcome them altogether, even for an ascetic of high spiritual life, not to mention an ordinary person.
The soul, as St. Gregory Sinaitus teaches, has three powers: “irritable” (to repel evil), “covetous” (love) and rational (knowledge of God and peace). The devil distorts them. Fornication is rooted in the lustful power of the soul, but spills sweetness into all the members. Despondency belongs to the reasoning power of the soul and, “holding the overbearing mind,” entwines both soul and body like ivy and paralyzes the mind and the will. These passions are driven away when the soul in prayer receives from the Holy Spirit joy, strength and deep peace.
There is another scheme in which the main passions are gluttony and pride. Bishop Panteleimon says that it is impossible to arrange the passions in order with mathematical precision. He recalled the expression of St. John the Chronicler, who compared the passions to a ball of snakes, in which one cannot tell whose head and whose tail are whose.
Returning to despondency, we can say that it deprives the soul of the will to resist evil and makes it defenseless against other passions.
If we do not strive for joy, we cannot get rid of our sins. There is much darkness in the world, but let us remember the Chinese proverb: “You cannot forbid the birds of sorrow to hang over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair. So we must have good light thoughts under our hair, and our souls must rejoice. For even Christ’s first greeting to the myrrh-bearers was, “Rejoice!” The apostle Paul commanded us to “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16).
What is the difference between sadness and discouragement?
Bishop Panteleimon reminded us that what distinguishes Christianity from other religions is the commandments that are given for the attainment of the Beatitudes. In different religions we can find moral attitudes close to the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, but only the Beatitudes, given to us by the Savior Himself, teach us how to partake of the divine joy. He advised us to read their interpretations, given by St. Gregory of Nyssa (“On the Beatitudes”) and the righteous men of our time – St. Justine of Chelia (Popovich) in his “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew” and Archimandrite John (Krestyankin) in his “Experience in Making Confessions, Letters and Sermons.
He then cited a poem by the 19th century French poet Paul Verlaine, “Chandra” (translated by B. Pasternak):
And in the heart is a rastrava, And it rains in the morning. Where would such moping come from?
Oh, welcome rain, your rustling is a pretext To the untalented soul to weep at the sound of it.
Why is there such sorrow, and such widowhood of heart? The grief from no cause, From nothing.
And that’s the kind of moping that doesn’t come from bad, or good.
“Such moping is what we call the passion of sorrow. It differs from moping not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively. The holy fathers distinguish them in the same way. When we talk about the loss of joy, it can be associated not only with sins, but also with natural causes, such as the death of loved ones,” said Bishop Panteleimon.
Grief is natural for a person if it has a measure. There are times when a person becomes despondent because of fatigue. Sometimes the cause or consequence of dejection is mental illness.
“Doctors say that 40 percent of people in the world have depression, and the rest just haven’t been examined,” said the lord. – It is very difficult in today’s world to keep a clear mind and joy. It’s very easy to let these birds of sadness in. More precisely, the evil spirits of sadness. It is very important to find the cause of joylessness and fight it with suitable means.”
How can you tell if you are tired or depressed? “I suggest just getting some sleep. If it doesn’t go away, sleep some more. If it doesn’t go away after a few times, go to the doctor,” he added. – When you get sick, you lose a critical attitude toward yourself, and it’s good to have an experienced confessor who can sort out your condition and then go to the doctor.”
He reminded us that the word “sorrow” goes back to the word “custody” and on to what “bakes.” In moments of sadness, everything seems intolerable and horrible, but when that condition passes, it is often the same as it was before. Such sadness has clear signs of diabolical deception. In such a state, one should not draw conclusions, make decisions, or, especially, grumble against those who allegedly offended you. One must simply endure and thank God, who “forgives all but those who constantly murmur” (St. Isaac the Syrian).
St. Nicodemus the Holy Hierarch says that sorrow for past sin is also harmful, because pride and conceit hide behind it. It is necessary to mourn the sin, get up and move on.
Prayer, reading, and fellowship with spiritual people help with sorrow. It is not by chance that even hermits settled at a stone’s throw from each other, so that they would be able to support each other in a difficult situation.
If we weep, we should not weep within ourselves, but before God with that “blessed weeping” of which St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov spoke. Humility should not be in words or intonation, but in the acceptance of sorrow.
Discouragement is the worldview of the devil
Discouragement leads to neglect of the Christian life. Very often a person in despondency becomes jealous of people who live far away from the Church and are not bound by the commandments, and forgetfulness of heavenly blessings occurs. Discouragement turns into relaxation, and in some cases it is overcome by work, and in others, work serves as an excuse to quit praying in discouragement.
Bishop Panteleimon noted that for modern people the memory of death is not connected to the expectation of the Last Judgment and meeting with God. Suicide from despondency is disbelief in eternal life. Such a person does not believe in an encounter with God and is willing to commit suicide just to end the difficulty.
Prayers for discouragement
In discouragement one must fight the spirit of ingratitude and blasphemy against God. Bishop Panteleimon cited brief prayers from discouragement, which were prayed by the ancient holy fathers, and which are cited in his writings by the Russian saint St. Nil Sorsky:
Prt. Varsonophy the Great: “Lord, look upon my sorrow and have mercy on me! God, help me a sinner!”
Prt. Simeon the New Theologian: “Do not allow my soul, O Lord, above my strength, temptation, or sorrow, or illness, but give me relief and strength, that I may be able to endure all with thanksgiving!”
St. Gregory Palamas: “O Lord, enlighten my darkness!”
Vladyka pointed out that it is not a matter of reciting the rules, it is better to recite a short prayer, but with a sense of the soul’s conversation with God. You can also pray in your own words.
Reluctance in discouragement
Bishop Panteleimon noted that sometimes it is impossible to get out of a state of despondency without laughter, but without good laughter, without sarcasm, rudeness and, of course, blasphemy. He recalled the saying “good laughter is no sin,” which Father Paul (Gruzdev) liked to repeat. Archimandrite John (Krestyankin) joked subtly. The famous Soviet-era priest Archpriest Tikhon Pelikh even repented of laughing a lot and then added: “Well there are no tears, so we laugh.
It is possible to eat something tasty to get out of despondency, as, for example, the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov advised the sisters of Diveevo to eat a rusk.
“One elderly patriarch told me that when he was despondent, he watched good comedies: ‘Striped Flight,’ ‘Beware of the Car,’ ‘I’m Walking on Moscow.’ I reread Pushkin. “Captain’s Daughter” I liked it very much in this state, “- said the lord.
It is very good to learn languages, in general to learn something by heart, so that the mind is distracted. It is good to learn prayers by heart.
It helps to tire your body with physical labor. Bishop Panteleimon said that a book “On the life of Sebastianna (Zhukova)” has been published. It contains memoirs about this famous ascetic, spiritual daughter of St. Sebastian of Karaganda, who died in 2015. Mother Sebastian loved the dictum of Dr. F. P. Haase: “If you need a doctor, let you have three remedies: a cheerful disposition of mind, rest and a moderate diet. Christians should be distinguished by good spirits, not gloominess. Even if you have sorrow in your soul, you should “anoint your head with oil” and be joyful.
Bishop Panteleimon recommends going to bed early and getting up early. Waking up early with prayer sets you up for the whole day. In the evening, however, you’re tired and can’t help but be distracted by nothing, news feeds, Instagram. “You don’t notice the people around you, but you read what some virtual friends are posting. You move into an illusory world where God doesn’t reign,” the lord said. – You go home, pray and go to bed.
The measure in all these activities is determined in a very difficult way, by experience. One must choose for oneself the royal, middle way.
Bishop Panteleimon spoke about the seven rules of joy, which he derived from the writings of Abba Dorothea and the other holy fathers:
Rule of Joy 1. Chide oneself.
According to Abba Dorotheus, “the chief cause of confusion is that we do not reproach ourselves.” Without rebuking oneself one will never stop offending oneself and offending others, losing one’s peace of mind.
What about when you are rebuked unjustly? If one tests himself, he will find that he has always given some occasion for offending, by word, deed, or even sight. Perhaps the offense has been done before, or even he has wronged another person and should have suffered for it, but has not been punished. Vladyka said that he knows of many cases where people have suffered for seemingly nothing, but have begun to examine their conscience and remember their grave sins for which they were not held accountable in the past.
The illusion to think that you were calm and someone on the outside outraged you. “Well, why was I so calm, having received the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and you make me mad!” Abba Dorotheus calls this opinion “ridiculous” and “diabolical seduction.” The quarrel only showed the passion that was in the person, and thus gives a chance to see it and repent of it. It is like breaking bread that has rottenness inside. Abba Zosima of Palestine, known from the hagiography of St. Mary of Egypt, suggests that the offender should be considered a doctor. If you are offended, it is as if you are saying to God, “I do not want to take your medicine, but I want to rot from my wounds.”
Sometimes we grieve for what we do not have: a fiancé, health, an apartment. We must say to ourselves, “Christ knows more than I do whether I should get what I want or not. Let Christ be to me instead of this thing or this food.” He can be our Friend and Bridegroom of our souls. He can be space, and we won’t be crowded into one room with five children and parents.
It is the devil’s business, after reading the Gospel, to begin to measure everyone but ourselves by it. Two brothers, the eldest and the youngest, came to Abba Dorothea. The older complained that the other was not listening to him. The younger brother said he would listen if the latter would speak to him with love, not by commandment. Each laid the blame on his neighbor and did not reproach himself. “This is why we get no benefit, but torment ourselves all the time,” wrote the Venerable Father.
Rule of Joy 2. The way to joy is through sorrows
“If we want to learn to rejoice, we must learn to understand the meaning of sorrow and suffering,” Bishop Panteleimon continued. – The cure may be bitter, but it brings healing. We must learn to endure pain, to reduce our material needs. Joy must be experienced by sorrow; moreover, sorrow burns out imaginary joy and removes temptations from a person. If one does not have one’s own sorrows, one can and should have compassion for others.
Rules of Joy 3-5. Joy should be common, chaste, and eternal
Three rules about the qualities of joy. Joy must be common, chaste, and eternal. Common means not to rejoice oneself at the expense of others. Chaste joy must not be voluptuous or sinful.
Also, sorrow makes joy quiet and helps avoid euphoria. Christian joy is neither noisy nor frantic. One should not strive for a thrill, not for joy as a drug, but for a constant steady state of joy.
Joy Rule 6. Joy is multiplied by division
“Sharing joy does not mean selfishly, disregarding others, pouring out a torrent of raptures in euphoria, thinking to convince the sad and grieving that all is well and couldn’t be better. To share joy is to condescend to the depths of other people’s unhappiness, to take their pain into our hearts and tactfully and gently help them to get out of the net of despondency,” continued Vladyka Panteleimon.
He invited all those who wish to learn how to multiply joy by sharing it with those in need to participate in volunteer church projects.
Rule 7: At the heart of joy is gratitude to God.
By thankfulness Bishop Panteleimon means both gratitude to God for His favors and the Eucharist (from the Greek “thanksgiving”).
We need to learn to rejoice in Holy Week. Usually a person fasts during the whole Great Lent, but on Easter he was fasting, relaxed and became discouraged again. Meanwhile, although you can eat meat and take communion even afterwards, you should not relax. Every day it is necessary to try to be in the temple. An Easter hour instead of morning and evening prayers is very little. It is necessary to supplement the rule by reading the Gospel, for example, the Gospel of John, whose reading begins in the temple on the day of the Holy Resurrection of Christ. It is necessary to plan in advance how you will live the Holy Week, try to learn by heart the Easter canon. You should try to fill your soul with the joy of Easter, even violently. Otherwise it turns out that we have been fasting without purpose. Lent is over, and we live our lives as before. Even once we spend Lent in this way, with attention, we can feel the change in ourselves. The soul learns spiritual joy in this way.
“The Church cannot be perfect, and salvation is not in Her in itself, but in the One who is in Her within, the Risen Living Savior,” continued Bishop Panteleimon. – We need to rejoice in all that connects with this joy, to recognize through this authentic joy how it differs from imaginary joy. The main joy is the Liturgy. The basis of joy is connection with Christ. Without it, no amount of psychological techniques or self-esteem-boosting techniques will help. We cannot pull ourselves out of a swamp by our own hair. Only God can do that. God does not give us joy because we do not take from him. Our joy must be united with gratitude to God, with the memory of God’s good deeds. Such joy can be the criterion – true joy is only that which is compatible with the Eucharist,” emphasized Bishop Panteleimon.
He concluded his talk by saying that one who tries to overcome his passions without labor and struggle, but by listening to lectures and reading books, is like a man who, as St. Gregory of Sinai said, learns a shadow instead of the truth. “To what extent this shadow becomes truth depends on how we ourselves live,” summed up Vladyka Panteleimon.
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Discouragement is the “all-pervasive death” and 3 ways to fight it
Strong sorrow or discouragement, the holy Fathers metaphorically compared to the jaws of a lion: before you know it, it can quickly swallow or devour a person, destroying him. John the Chronicler called despondency “the all-present death”.
Discouragement has also often been compared to laziness, loss of strength, loss of courage. Discouragement can especially attack a person in the middle of the day, at noon. This is why it has sometimes been identified with the “midday demon” of Psalm 90 (Psalm 90:7).
Sometimes a person in a state of severe distress, which is close to discouragement, becomes drowsy even though he is not tired. Therefore, it was also said of despondency that it corresponds to a state of drowsiness, a lassitude of mind and body.
The Greek for dejection is ἡ ἀκηδία (akēdia). Literally the word is translated into Russian as “carelessness,” “negligence,” “carelessness.” The Greek despondency is formed from the prefix ἀ, which in this case means negation, and the word τό κῆδος (kēdos), which means “anxiety”, “concern”, “sorrow”.
One may notice that there seems to be a certain paradox here: in fact, it would seem that despondency arises as a consequence of too strong concern for something, when one desires something passionately, but cannot obtain or attain it. So he becomes very sad or discouraged. However, in our opinion, there is a logic to this. Carelessness and carelessness in this context should be identified with idleness, which is one of the main forms of the external manifestation of despondency, as well as one of the main causes of its occurrence. It is a situation of idleness or an inner inability to act, when one is spiritually down and can no longer struggle to have meaning in one’s life. Everything can be endured in life, Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said, if you see meaning in it.
Here we want to remind you of one of our two articles from the “Explanatory Dictionary” project, dedicated to an analysis of the Lenten prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. The point is that in Greek its beginning sounds a bit different than in Church Slavonic and Russian:
Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of idleness, much work, covetousness, and idle talk.
That is, where we have despondency (the second number of vices, from which we ask God to deliver us), the Greeks have much work.
The Greek version of this prayer has its own deep logic, as does ours. With us, this sequence, in which idleness is followed immediately by despondency, expresses the fact that it is idleness that generates despondency. Therefore, as one of the recipes to fight against despondency in the spiritual literature, it is recommended to do handicrafts, crafts, regular physical work. There is a legend about a saint who wove baskets of reeds, then burned all that he wove during the past year and took up his work again.
As the Fathers of the Church taught, victory over discouragement is not given at once and usually involves a long struggle. What other means are there to fight against despondency besides needlework? For despondency is a spiritual disease, and ways to combat it must be not only physical, like crafts or needlework, but, above all, spiritual.
1 One of the chief remedies against gloom is patience (the ancient Greek word ἡ ὑπομονή ). Christ Himself said of this remedy for discouragement: “By your patience save your souls” (Luke 21.19).
2. Other essential remedies against despondency are hope (a man “with a good hope quenches despondency, by the sword of the first he slays the second”) and repentance, remembrance of his sins (“he who weeps for himself knows no despondency”).
3 But probably the most important remedy (and the most difficult to apply in a state of despondency) against this passion is prayer, when God prays that even the impossible becomes possible. Then there is no ground for despondency and despair. After all, they arise from the fact that man sees no way out of the current situation. But here is what the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard said on this subject: “In the possible the believer preserves an eternal and reliable antidote to despair; for God can do everything at any moment… Salvation is the highest impossibility for man; but for God everything is possible! It is here that the battle of faith takes place, which fights like mad for the possible.”