Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Passions of Avarice, Anger, Sorrow, and Sloth


Avarice

The passion for the acquisition of wealth, said the Fathers, is not part of human nature and is due to a lack of faith and people’s sick way of thinking. This is why it requires no small effort to combat this passion, if, with the necessary vigilance over ourselves, we wish to achieve real salvation and the fear of God in our lives. If this passion takes root in us it becomes the most tyrannical of all. And if we become subject to its encouragement and habits, then we’ve lost everything, because Saint Paul says “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6, 10), that is of anger, sorrow and everything else.

Indeed, the Fathers also called it idolatry, because, through avarice, many people have fallen away, not only from the Christian life, but have been damaged in body and soul, as Holy Scripture tells us. And the Fathers tell us that people who hoard  gold and silver and trust in themselves, do not believe in God, Who is actually looking after them.

So let us guard ourselves against this passion, which brings the soul to perdition and destruction, and let us pray to God to expel far from us this evil spirit of avarice. And may we guard against not only gold and silver, but against every external and necessary object, since these lead to greed, when we ask for more than we need. Such as, for example, the acquisition of lots of clothes, shoes, residences, gadgets and so on. Everything we need for our lives shouldn’t be luxurious and expensive, because then we fall into worldly habits. The real rejection of avarice, of ownership of lots of things and the desire for them is not that we shouldn’t have any possessions at all, but that we shouldn’t attach ourselves to the transient and vain things of this present life. Emancipation from the things of this world assists us in the purification of our souls.

Anger

If we’re troubled by anger and it urges us to consider an injury and to return with interest the damage that someone has inflicted on us, then we should think upon the words of the Lord, Who said: “For unless you forgive people their trespasses, Your Father will not forgive you yours” (Matth. 6, 15). It follows, therefore, that people who want their sins to be forgiven are obliged first and foremost to forgive others with all their heart. Because this is how God has taught us to seek forgiveness for our own transgressions. And if we don’t forgive, it’s obvious that our sins won’t be forgiven. It’s in this sense that we should understand the saying of the Fathers that the prayer of angry people isn’t accepted, even if such people have the power to raise the dead.

The Fathers said this not to indicate that irate people can’t raise the dead, but to show the extent to which their prayer is repulsive to God. This is why we should never become angry, nor do any harm to our fellow human beings, not only with words and deeds, but even by changing the way we look at them. Because we can disdain others merely by a look, according to the Fathers. The perfect victory over thoughts of anger is to pray for the person who has provoked them, as Abba Dorotheos advises when he says: “God, help my brother, and through his prayers have mercy upon me, sinner that I am. Because to pray for other people means love and affection, and to ask for their prayers means humility”. We should even do them good, as far as we can, because then we’ll be carrying out the commandment of God that says: “Love your enemies… do well to those who hate you and pray for those who trouble you and persecute you” (Matth. 5, 44).

To those who live by this, the Lord has promised not only the Kingdom of Heaven, some sort of rest or a gift such as those we have in the present, but the very inheritance of adoption, because He says: “Thus you will become children of your father who is in heaven” (Matth. 5, 45). And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who instituted this commandment and promised this great recompense, carried out everything He taught, giving us Himself as an example, so that we might imitate Him, insofar as we can. How many punishments did He endure from the Jews for us sinners, and not only did He refrain from anger, but prayed for them to His heavenly Father saying: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke, 23, 24). In the same way, all the saints walked this path and acquired divine grace, returning good to their persecutors instead of evil. They also prayed for them and covered the sins they saw them committing and taught them with sincerity and affection.

Sorrow

We have a great struggle to wage against the evil spirit of sorrow, which brings the soul into despair and perdition. If the sorrow is occasioned by other people, we have to suffer it with joy, and pray for those who have saddened us, as I said before, bearing in mind that whatever befalls us does so with God’s sanction. Whatever the Lord sends us, He does only for the benefit and salvation of our soul. It may be that, in the beginning, it doesn’t seem to bring us any benefit, but later we’ll realize that what God has allowed us to go through has been better for us than what we ourselves would have wanted to happen.

So we shouldn’t think in human terms, but should believe with certainty that the unsleeping eye of God sees all things and that nothing happens without His will. It’s from the wealth of His mercy that these situations and temptations happen to us, so that we can earn our heavenly reward through our patience. Because without temptations, no-one has ever been crowned. This is why we should offer glory to God for everything, because He is our Dispenser and Saviour, as Saint Isaac the Syrian says: “The mouth that glorifies God is acceptable to God, and grace dwells in the heart which thanks God from its depths”.

Besides, we should avoid complaints and judgements against those who’ve saddened us and should pray for them, as the same saint says: God puts up with all the weaknesses that people have, but those who continually censure other people won’t go without correction. Though we must have the soul-saving sorrow over the sins we commit, with hope in our repentance to God and in the knowledge that there’s no sin which defeats God’s love for us, since He forgives everyone who repents sincerely and prays to Him.

This sorrow is linked to joy (joyful sadness) and kindles in people the desire for everything spiritual and gives them patience in their trials. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death”, says Saint Paul (2 Cor. 7, 10). So we should seek godly sorrow, because it brings internal repose, whereas the grief that proceeds from Satan should be expelled from our hearts, together with all the other passions, through prayer, the study of sacred texts and the receiving of Holy Communion. Grief which is not from God and for the love of God is the cause of all evils, and, unless we free ourselves from it, despair will overcome us and our soul will be devoid of grace, overwhelmed with sloth and won’t even want to pray or read our sacred books.

Sloth

If sloth is the passion that has a greater hold on us than the others, we face a stern struggle. This evil spirit is terrible. It’s closely related to the spirit of sorrow and particularly defeats those who are living alone. When the enormous waves of thoughts and passions rise up against the soul, people feel at that moment that they’ll never be redeemed from them. The spiritual enemy visits upon them all sorts of thoughts and reflections such as that, if things are like this today, they’re only going to get worse tomorrow and the day after.

So the thought buzzes around their head that God has abandoned them, that this is happening because God isn’t looking after them, that this has happened only to them and never to anyone else. But things really aren’t like this at all. Because it’s not only to us that these things occur, but also to His saints, who, throughout the centuries have pleased God and have recognized that He is a loving God and Father and that He chastises us with His spiritual rod out of love and so that we’ll acquire virtues. But after that, there quickly comes an alteration, a restoration of the soul and the mercy of God.

At the most difficult moment, people have the impression that they can’t overcome the pandemonium of their thoughts and passions. All the virtues seem unattainable and hateful, because of the machinations of Satan, but then comes a divine change. Everything seems pleasant and the grievous situations are nothing compared to the peace and blessedness of the visitation of divine grace. Besides, they become more open to the virtues, they’re astonished by this spiritual adjustment and take the decision not to deviate from the path of the virtues under any circumstances. People also realize that, in His great mercy, God has disposed these things for their benefit and testing.

Thus it is that they feel surrounded by the love of God, that He’s always close to faithful Christians and will never allow them to be tried beyond their bent, because without God’s permission, the spiritual enemy cannot do us any harm whatsoever. Since it’s not up to the will of our soul whether we’re tempted a little or a great deal; it’s God’s will and His decision.

With these experiences, striving Christians become wise through temptations and, when they see these alternations of grace in their soul, persevere resolutely in their various trials. With these, a monk expresses his love for God, when he bears them and gradually makes spiritual progress. Because, as John of the Ladder saying, nothing brings the monk so many crowns as the struggle against sloth, provided it’s undertaken without any loss of time.

During the period of relentless warfare, we must arm ourselves against the spirit of ingratitude and blasphemy, because it’s with those weapons that the enemy attacks us at that moment. Satan defeats people with doubt and fear and directs wicked thoughts at them like arrows: that God won’t have mercy on them; that they’ll never be forgiven; never be redeemed and saved from the tortures of eternal perdition. Indeed, they’re also under fire from other thoughts which I can’t write about, and aren’t able to work or read because the temptation won’t let them. This is why, at moments like this, we should forcefully cast despair away from us, and shouldn’t be indifferent to our prayer life. 

We should fall down in prayer, with our faces to the ground, because this attitude of the body is very beneficial in assisting us to pray, as Barsanuphius the Great says: “Lord, help me, sinner that I am. Lord, behold my grief and have mercy on me”. As we’re taught by Saint Symeon the New Theologian: “Lord don’t allow me to be tempted beyond my strength. Not with grief nor with pain of the soul. But redeem me and give me strength so that I can withstand everything with gratitude”. Or, as we raise our eyes and hands to heaven, let us pray over these passions, sloth and immorality, as the blessed Gregory the Sinaite teaches us, because he considered them to be the worst of all. It this way we shall strive to force ourselves, insofar as we can, to read and to do our handiwork, both of which are of great assistance in the time of warfare. It sometimes happens that Christians engaged in the struggle don’t allow even a single passion to get near their soul. Then there’s a great need and opportunity to devote themselves entirely to prayer, with all the strength they have.

In order to defeat the spirit of ingratitude and blasphemy we say: “Get behind me, Satan. I worship my Lord and God and I serve Him alone. I accept all pain and sorrows gratefully, because they’re sent from Him, in order to relieve me of my sins. The Prophet Micah says: ‘I will bear the wrath of the Lord, for I have sinned against Him’. But ingratitude and blasphemy will come back to haunt you, as you’ll find out soon enough. So get away from me. May the God Who made me in His image and likeness destroy you”.

If he continues to bother you, even after those words, busy yourself with something outside- material or spiritual work, that will strengthen your patience and hope, because that’s what your soul has to cling on to, if it wants to please God, as Saint Makarios says. But you need to be careful in your choice of outside work, because the devil often uses it to entrap us in his snares, to bring us into sloth and to distance our soul from hope in God. But God will never allow a soul that hopes in Him to be tested beyond its powers, since He knows what we are capable of. People know what a mule or a donkey or a camel can carry and so they load each one accordingly. A potter is in something of a similar position: he knows the temperature  at which to fire each of his clay vessels, because too fierce a heat would shatter them. Equally, he knows not to take them out of the oven too quickly, because that would render them useless. If people have this much awareness, how much greater and immeasurable is the wisdom of God, Who knows exactly what temptations and how much of each every soul needs to overcome in order to be made worthy of the Kingdom of God. Not only will we be worthy of enjoying the good things to come, but here, too, we’ll receive the comfort of the Most Holy Spirit.

When we know all of this well, we can be steadfast with courage and silence in our cell. Though sometimes people benefit more from conversation with others, as Saint Basil says: “Often, when we’re slothful, a blameless visit to our fellow brethren, at an appropriate time, and conversation with them can, up to a point, dispel the passion of sloth”. And so, people who strive, if they’re gradually strengthened by divine grace,  and their personal experience, devote themselves with even more desire to the good fight for the virtues. But the Fathers, who know this from their personal struggle, say that patience in quietude is more beneficial.

Blessed Nil Sorsky, Περί νοεράς εργασίας, Orthodox Kypseli, pp. 64-74.