Now many people admit: “The news about the coronavirus is so sad. Some kind of despondency is embracing. Maybe you don’t watch the news? ” I think it’s time to remember that the Orthodox Church knows about sadness and despondency, and about how to deal with them.
In paradise, Adam and Eve were joyful, careless. After the fall, everything changed: illness and death came, and people have something for which to grieve. To put it another way, after the fall, people needed to grieve . Sadness is not only a normal reaction of a person to some disappointing circumstances of life, but also a necessary means that helps a person in these circumstances. That is the secret.
This sorrow that is useful to us is called sorrow for God. Man realizes that sins distance him from God, from the Source of Eternal Joy. A man grieves over his sins, repents before God, mourns his sins. Crying for sins is an extreme form of sadness for God. The experience of many ascetics testifies that this cry is joyful. That is, sorrow for God, spiritual sorrow leads us to joy in God.
Does sadness lead to joy? This is a penitential sadness, a special sadness. Through sincere repentance, God willingly accepts and forgives us our sins. Hence the joy. We had sins, and here they are not – what a joy! In this way, a feeling of sadness can be creative if it is a repentant sadness.
But sorrow can be destructive if it is worldly, that is, sinful. Orthodox asceticism ranks sadness among the eight main passions. In general, any of our passions lead to sinful sadness. Worldly grief befalls a glutton or fornicator when he hoped to enjoy something and did not receive it. And if you got it? Then the pleasure turns out to be somehow inferior than expected, short-lived and replaced by a painful feeling, emptiness – and again, worldly sorrow.
A person is saddened by recalling how he infringed on his pride, how he failed to avenge his insult. Here sadness is caused by pride and anger. The one who suffered material damage is sad. Here, behind the sadness peers the love of money.
Sadness can gradually gain momentum, and an extreme degree of sadness is despair. Saint John Chrysostom reveals a secret to us:
“The devil does not have in his hands a more formidable weapon than despair. And we do not so much make him happy when we sin, but how much when we despair.”
Demons are having fun with their favorite game. What does it consist of? Seducing man to sin, the demon represents sin as something excusable. After committing sin, the demon inspires in us the thought that sin is unforgivable, and drives a person into despair.
When we observe our lives, we must ask ourselves: does anyone play a similar game with us?
Out of despair, a person can become clouded in mind, open a window, and jump from the 9th floor. At one moment of extreme despair, suicide is committed. In some cases, suicide will be stretched over years, and a person will be drunk with grief, or look for a cure for obsessive sadness in drugs. In other cases, he will go into the world of gambling, or become an obedient slave to the entertainment industry.
Worldly sorrow fills the soul of a person with continuous discontent, grumble, grunts, hostility, cowardice. Saint Isaac the Syrian sees in sinful sorrow the cause of “complication of the soul.” Why do simple things in our life seem so complicated to us? The answer is, from sorrow. Father John Krestyankin admitted: “I love to rejoice and delight.” Spiritual joy shone in him. People with difficult and complicated life situations came to him, he knew how to help, to unravel everything, and to offer consolation. His joyful heart and sympathetic words miraculously healed these unhealthy complications of the soul. It is enough to read his letters to discover this.
The complication of the soul with sadness results in the fact that a person suffering from sadness gratifies in this sadness, and receives unhealthy pleasure from sadness . Recall the poems of decadent poets, or look at the faces of some popular singers. We will not condemn them, but we will draw the correct conclusion: we realize that we must get rid of sinful sorrow. If we have a desire to recover, God will help in recovery.
We feel depressed because we don’t judge ourselves.
The best medicine is repentance. Saint Dorotheos believes that we feel a depressed state of mind because we do not judge ourselves. We are saddened by some people, colleagues and neighbors with whom we want to break off relations. This is a bad decision. The ascetics offer another suggestion: to perceive a person who saddened us as a doctor, who put pressure on a sore spot and found a passion of sadness in us. Imagine: after a stroke, the patient does not feel his left hand, the doctor treats him, and suddenly the hand feels pain. Although it hurts, the patient is grateful because such pain is the beginning of recovery.
Let’s not rush and break off relations with those who sadden us. We must try to normalize relations, pray for this person, and even to give thanks. If this happens, then recovery will go at an accelerated pace. With the righteous Alexy Mechev, Father John Krestyankin did just that when they “flew in” for some reason from the parish authorities. Here is a radical cure for sadness. Maybe for this reason the Holy Fathers Alexy and John had so much joy and light in all their guises and actions. They were able to extract joy from the sad circumstances of life with the help of God, just as Christ promised: “Your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (John 16:20).
Sadness according to God is transformed into joy, and worldly sadness is sometimes transformed into a passion of despondency. In this case, one needs to specifically distinguish between sadness and despondency, which the Orthodox pathologist J.K. Larcher did beautifully. Worldly sorrow is more specific; it is sadness for one reason or another. For example, a person is sad because he expected to get to a festive dinner, but instead he was offered a regular dinner, and he did not manage to overeat. Here the passion of sorrow reacts.
Despondency is more uncertain, it seems to be caused by no external circumstances. Therefore, despondency is often a direct invisible attack of a demon. That’s what one needs to realize – and bring this passion to light. Remember: despondency is a direct attack of a demon.
In Greek, the word despondency can be translated as “negligence, disability.” It seems that a person is not tired, but cannot and does not want to do anything. It is some kind of breakdown. Despondency also manifests itself through laziness. It manifests itself through the drowsiness that occurs with the beginning of a prayer, and at the end of a prayer it disappears. Prayer is the strongest cure for despondency. The correct decision with despondency is to continue to pray, overcoming the heavy sleep of insensibility. Recall that prayer with a dry soul is higher than prayer with tears. So it is written in the “Alphabet of Spirituality,” which Archimandrite John Krestyankin recommended to read to spiritual children.
Despondency acts in a peculiar, twofold way: everything you have causes hatred, while at the same time all that you do not have is longed for. In a radical form of despondency, a person doesn’t recognize something truly valuable that he already has in his life (his own family, for example), but dreams of something unrealizable (for example, to create a family with some kind of celebrity). The person thus becomes a toy in the clutches of gloom.
A milder version of despondency: a person is tired of his place of work, and then a friend said that they have better conditions at work. The individual leaves everything, and with great effort moves to a new place of work; a month later, the new job is also a burden to him. Despondency cannot be overcome by changing jobs: it only encourages passion.
As you can see, despondency can cause a lack of activity: it even becomes difficult to read the prayer rule in the evening. But despondency also causes an excess of activity: one might pray for two minutes, then quit, begin to read the Gospel, then after half a page remember that one wanted to call a friend, and climb over to the phone …
With a lack of activity from despondency, we must force ourselves to pray at least 10 minutes in the evening. We must not listen to thoughts which tell us: “There is no point in saying short, printed prayers. I’d better get up early in the morning, I’ll read the prayers then with a clear head.” If we do not struggle with the passion of despondency, it will not allow us to prepare for the Holy Mysteries at all.
With hyperactivity caused by discouragement, we must also fight. We must stop jumping from one idea to another, from one place to another. We must tell ourselves: “This is the place God put me in. Lord, help me sit still and do Thy will here.”
The demon of despondency acts like any beast of prey: if you run away from it, leaving the business you were involved in, it attacks with double ferocity from behind. Therefore, the ancient monks advised: “Sit in your cell: your cell will teach you everything.” We will not succumb to the temptation to leave our place of spiritual struggle, our place of assignment in the spiritual war. The demon is only waiting for this.
The Ladder considers that of the eight main passions, the spirit of despondency is the gravest, but the struggle with it also delivers the most crowns from God.