– Father, is it easy for a person, who have just started his spiritual way, to have deep awareness of his sinfulness?
When we are at the beginning of our spiritual life, God, by His love, does not allow us to have awareness of our sinfulness, for us not to bend under its weight. Some ambitious and sensitive souls would not be able to bare it and would be harmed. Thus, God blinds our eyes, and we do not see all our sins. For example, the sleeve of our clothes may be stained with bird droppings, and we, looking at this, think that these are flower petals. However, when we succeed in spiritual struggle, God slowly allows us to see our mistakes. Simultaneously He gives us strength to struggle and correct these mistakes. When there is no experience delicate work is not useful. The same thing is with awareness of God’s blessings. If a person, being in the beginning of his spiritual life, sees God’s blessings, he gets spiritual effusion of blood. Because seeing God’s blessings and realizing his ingratitude for them, a person suffers, he melts.
– Father, I do not see my mistakes and my heart is like a stone.
Sometimes God allows our eyes not to see our mistakes, and our heart to be a stone, because otherwise the devil can cast us out into despair. A person should refer to his sinfulness with reasoning. Repentance that has soul torment and despair is not from God, this is the work of the devil. A person should be attentive because the devil by catching him “on the right” – on repentance, can throw him “on the left” – on sadness and despair. The devil wants to break a person – mentally and bodily – and bring him into disrepair. That is, he brings another distress – full of emotional anxiety, in order to distress a person with this distress. For example, the devil can tell a person: “You are such a great sinner that you will not be saved.” Pretending to care about the soul of a person, the devil plunges him into spiritual anxiety and despair! So why let the devil do whatever he wants? When the devil says to you: “You are a sinner,” answer him: “Well, what’s this got to do with you? I’ll say that I’m a sinner when I want it myself, and not when you want it”.
– Why does despondency often visit a soul?
Despondency and soul heaviness are usually caused by guilty conscience, that happens because a person is too sensitive. In such a case a person needs to confess in order to get spiritual father’s help. When a person is too sensitive, the enemy exaggerates even very small sin in his eyes. He shows this sin through a microscope to him in order to cast him out into despair and make him damaged.
For example, the devil can compel such too sensitive person that he allegedly upset his neighbors, that he caused difficulties for them. Thus, the devil leads a person into upset that exceeds his strength. But if the devil really cares for our soul then why does not he wake conscience of insensitive person? But dream on! The devil compels to insensitive person to consider his great sin a small thing.
A person must know himself as he really is and not as the enemy – the devil – shows him in his own eyes. After all, the devil cares of one thing: how to do evil to us. A man should never despair – if only he had repentance, because his sins are less than the sins of the devil, and he has mitigating circumstances: for he is fashioned from the dust of the earth, but being careless he slipped and got dirty.
For a spiritual struggle to be right we must rotate the wheel of our car in the direction opposite to that where the devil rotates it. Does the devil tell us that we are supposedly can make something of ourselves? We should cultivate self-reproach within ourselves. Does he tell we are nothing? Let us say: “God will have mercy on me”. If a person acts like this – with simplicity, trust in God and hope for Him, repentance and meekness enter his life, and he ascends to spiritual heights.
– Therefore, self-reproach does not help in the spiritual struggle?
It helps, but reasoning is required. For example, a person can say to himself: “Oh you such a mess…” However, one should reproach oneself with meekness in order to laugh at the devil, as well as with courage, and not with the feeling of one’s misfortune. We need self-reproach, not despair.
If a person believes that he is not doing anything good, if – in the good sense of the word – he despairs in himself, in his “self”, if he believes that by his deeds he constantly adds zeros to zeros, but still continues his spiritual struggle with hope for God – this is a sign that he has reached spiritual maturity. In this case, Good God, seeing the zeros of his good will, feels sorry for him and puts 1 at the beginning of these zeros. Thus, his zeros rise in price, and he becomes spiritually rich. Good spiritual state lies in a meek state of disappointment in yourself.
From Spiritual Struggle by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds