Friday, August 29, 2014

A Cure for Depression from St. Silouan the Athonite

The greatest plague of the 21st century is not AIDS, nor cancer, nor the H1N1 flu, but something that affects much more people in ways we can barely start to understand: depression. Reportedly one in ten Americans suffers from one or the other forms of this malady. The rates of anti-depressant usage in the United States are just as worrisome. A recent poll unveils that one in eight Americans is using them. Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta are not strange alien names anymore, but familiar encounters in almost every American household. Even children approach the usage rates of adults. These are very high and paradoxical numbers in a country where all are free to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even in times of crisis, Americans have a better life than most countries in the world, in all respects. Just glance over to the life of the Christians in the Middle East, and you’ll realize the blessings we enjoy every day. Most of us have a job, a house, a car or two, enough food, education, equal opportunity, religious freedom to name just a few. Practically we shouldn’t be in want for anything; yet, every tenth person is longing for something, is missing something so bad, so important, that they cannot cope with this need on their own. This explains the usage of drugs; with them, the negative aspects of life can be more easily coped with. They are a crutch that helps people move along with their lives for a short while.

But a crutch is still a crutch; it can only take one so far. The depressed man needs a different cure, one that will take care of the root of his problems, will erase his desperation and offer him a new lease on life. A cure, however, cannot come without the understanding of the underlying disease. So, this begs a question: why is America depressed? What are we still missing in the abundance that surrounds us?

A short answer is: we miss God. We may think we miss something else, we can justify our depression by creating some imaginary needs, but at the end of the day, we miss Him. He has created us for a purpose: union with Him unto eternity. Losing sight of this, we lose it all and, in our shortsightedness, we keep longing for something we don’t know we have lost. It all goes back to who we are, what are we doing here and where we are going; it is back to the basics.

In the midst of the information revolution, the world wide web and the boom of technology, man still yearns for the same fundamental things: purpose and direction. The secular society can’t give him either. The purpose is temporary, ceasing to exist when life expires, and the directions one gets are so contradictory that they end up canceling themselves. So man is confused, lost and at the brink of despair. He is thirsty, but there is no well of life, he is hungry but there is no food for his eternal soul, he is lonely and he has no man.

So what to do? In an interview I recently read (you can find it here, it is very edifying), the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.

Through the intercessions of our Father among the Saints Silouan the Athonite, through the prayers of Fr. Sophrony of Essex, of all the ascetic Fathers and all the saints, O Lord of compassion and hope, have mercy on us and save us!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The light of true knowledge is the power to discriminate without error between good and evil. Then the path of righteousness leads the intellect upward towards the Son of Righteousness and brings it into the boundless illumination of spiritual knowledge, so that henceforward it will grow more and more confident in its quest for love.

St. Diadochos of Photiki

Mitrakos, Thomas (2012-11-20). Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers (Kindle Locations 350-354). Orthodox Calendar Company. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wisdom is not based on age

It has been said that wisdom comes with age, and to some degree this is quite true. I've often had conversations with old college friends about how nice it would have been to have had the knowledge and wisdom we have now, back when we were young. Knowing what we know now, back then, would have made life so much easier, and we'd have had fewer days of worry and stress over relationships, grades, all the little things.

After sixty-eight years of hanging around this planet, I'm far less likely to get stressed out about many things that would have overwhelmed me when I was a college student. Yet one thing I know for sure, purity and passionlessness have nothing to do with age. They become part of our nature when we have gained humility. Saint John of the Ladder taught that purity comes not because of our labors, and certainly not because of age, but comes only when we have humbled ourselves. And unless we have become humble, our passions will remain strong, and we will have made no spiritual progress, remaining, as it were, without wisdom.

Love in Christ,

Abbot Tryphon

Monday, August 25, 2014

No GPS for "Life"

've come to the conclusion that most of life is managed by "muddling through".

I've made plans, gone to school to prepare, predicted the future based on data, prayed about it, felt the "Spirit" move, saw the "hand of God" in events and coincidences, made educated guesses, worked my ass off for a goal or a dream and rolled with the punches. In the end, I can't say that any of it really mattered in the end. But, the reality is I hadn't done any of that I wouldn't be where I am (for better or worse).

The "will of God for my life" and the "providence of God" are mostly either delusions that I've poured my efforts into or amounts to spiritualized retrospectively revisionist history. But that said, I still believe I am where I am by some kind of grace of God that accommodates my virtues and sins (regardless of my awareness of the difference) even as I write this sentence. The fact of my faith (however small or great in anyone's estimation, including my own) is evidence of that grace.

I think most things in life are motivated by some tinge of virtue and compromised by some tinge of sin. But, yes, sometimes sin becomes the motive and virtue is vestigial. I'm not a "new age" Romanticist, I've looked long and hard into my mirror too many mornings to think I've always been evolving in a spiritual journey upwards.

At sixty I'm finding that I don't have any more clue about what I'm doing or where I'm headed than when I was six or sixteen. In fact I think I had more of a clue back then, or at least thought I did. Of course the realization of that in itself gives me pause to pronounce that "where I am now" is all that good of a place either.

For good or bad, the difference between six, sixteen and sixty is I have more history now. The other difference is, because of history, I find that I don't NEED to have a clue now, nor do I really want to have a clue. I'm perfectly OK with letting life play out and just being in the present moment. Uncertainty, unknowability, unpreparedness... they aren't tigers and dragons lurking under my bed ready to eat my arm dangling from the bedside. I sleep comfortably with them.

So, for today I do what the day demands (to some degree of competency and with some degree of passion and commitment) and I go to bed tired. I don't get too concerned about "big pictures" of things, predicting the future, spiritualizing the past, aggrandizing the present. The only important thing to me is the word I speak to the person I'm talking to, the kindness I show to the person I encounter, the peace I bring into a room of people, the fulfillment of my duty to the person who pays for my time and talent so I can eat. Yes, even that is "spiritual".

I may not have "it" down, whatever "it" is. I just know I'm not as concerned with making a difference as much as I am with just making it through the present moment with some kind of integrity and a sense of what is really before me rather than what is ahead of me.


Posted by Steve Robinson

Friday, August 22, 2014

Every idle word....

"Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment"

From this you see that an answer and a punishment awaits you for every idle word, and not only for scandalous, shameful ones.

It is because that with our Lord, the All-creating Word, there is not, and cannot be, any idle words:

"The word of the Lord shall not return unto him void "—" for with God nothing shall be impossible."

And as we are created after God's image, therefore our words too ought not to be pronounced idly, in vain, unmeaningly, but every word of ours ought to have spiritual, edifying power.

"Let your speech be always with grace."

Therefore, be most watchful not to speak idly, unmeaningly, either in prayer or in conversation.

St John of Kronstadt

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Different Ways of Psalmodizing

Why do some teach that we should psalmodize a lot, others a little, and others that we should not psalmodize at all but should devote ourselves only to prayer and to physical exertion such as manual labor, prostrations or some other strenuous activity?

The explanation is as follows.

Those who have found grace through long, arduous practice of the ascetic life teach others to find it in the same way. They do not believe that there are some who through cognitive insight and fervent faith have by the mercy of God attained the state of grace in a short time, as St Isaac, for instance, recognizes.

Led astray by ignorance and self-conceit they disparage such people, claiming that anything different from their own experience is delusion and not the operation of grace.

They do not know that 'it is easy for God to enrich a poor man suddenly' (Eccles. 11:21), and that 'wisdom is the principal thing; therefore acquire wisdom', as Proverbs says, referring to grace (4:7).

Similarly St Paul is rebuking the disciples of his time who were ignorant of grace when he says, 'Do you not realize that Jesus Christ dwells within you, unless you are worthless?' (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) - unless, that is to say, you make no progress because of your negligence.

Thus in their disbelief and arrogance they do not acknowledge the exceptional qualities of prayer activated in some people by the Spirit in a special way.

St Gregory of Sinai

On Stillness: Fifteen Texts : Different Ways of Psalmodizing

Monday, August 18, 2014

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From the Evil One

What is temptation and who is the evil one?

Temptation is a test that is either sent to us from God, or comes from the devil, but is allowed by God. Every temptation for us is a kind of endurance test. And sometimes we pass this test, and sometimes we don’t. When we ask God: “And lead us not into temptation,” we are as it were saying to God: “Do not send us a test beyond our strength; send us the kind that we can deal with, so that the trials and tribulations that You send will not crush us or kill our faith.”

The evil one is the devil, the enemy of the human race. With regard to the devil, one needs to avoid two extremes. Some tend to deny the existence of the devil and demons. These people – believers or unbelievers – do not recognize the real existence in this world of evil powers; moreover, not as abstract powers, but as living beings, because the devil and demons, like angels, are real, living beings. There is another extreme, especially widespread among believing and churchly people, when people exaggerate the importance of the devil, when one becomes so afraid of the actions of the devil and evil powers, that he lives in a semi-paralyzed condition. Hence the common fear among believers of the evil eye, black magic, and the like. Hence comes about a timid approach to life, when one is scared of everything, when one sees threats everywhere, and when one can’t live creatively, freely, and fully.

We should remember that evil, of course, has power and can have a negative, even devastating impact on our lives, but only when we ourselves allow it access to us. The devil is powerless where he isn’t invited, where his presence isn’t wanted. If one goes to church, prays, wears a cross, and makes the sign of the cross; if he fulfills God’s commandments and refrains from sins, then the devil is powerless and has no place in such a person. When does the devil gain strength? When one opens the floodgates and vents in one’s home; when, for instance, one falls into a given passion: say, when one becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. The danger of alcoholism is not that people drink more wine than they should; it’s that it weakens him and opens the way for the devil to get inside his soul.

Therefore, when we pray to God: “Deliver us from the evil one,” we are asking that he would always grant us the power to refrain from that which gives the evil one power over our lives. And if we learn this, then neither the devil, nor any other dark power, nor black magic, nor anything like it can have any effect on us.