Sometimes, and perhaps more often, I have found it is so beneficial to read something like the following by Elder Porphyrios, rather than theological and philosophical treatises. A bit long but well worth the read.
Melancholy, sadness, anxiety
by Elder Porphyrios
The crucial thing is to enter the Church – to unite with our fellow beings, with everyone's joys and sorrows, to feel them as our own, to pray for all, to ache for their salvation, to forget about ourselves, to do everything for others, like Christ did for us. In the Church we become one with every sorrowful, aching and sinful person. Nobody should want to be saved alone, without the salvation of others. It is wrong for one to pray for himself to be saved. We must love others and pray that no one be lost; that everyone enters the Church. This is what matters. And it’s with this desire that one should leave the world to go to the monastery or the desert.
In the Church, which has the mysteries that save, there is no desperation. We may be extremely sinful. However, we confess, the priest reads the prayer over us and so we are forgiven and we move towards immortality, without any anxiety, without any fear.
Whoever lives in Christ, becomes one with Him, with His Church. He lives something crazy! This life is different to human life. It's joy, light, gladness, an uplift. This is the Church's life, the Gospel's life, God's Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Christ comes in us and we are in Him. And just like a piece of iron placed in fire becomes fire and light; outside the fire, again it turns to dark iron, darkness.
The ones blaming the Church for its representatives' mistakes, aiming supposedly at helping in its correction, are greatly mistaken. They don't love the Church. Nor, Christ to be sure. We love the Church; when in prayer we embrace every part of it and we do as Christ does. We sacrifice ourselves, remain alert, do everything, just like Him, the One “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:23).
We need to pay attention to the basic part too. We need to live the mysteries, especially the mystery of Holy Communion. It’s in these that Orthodoxy is found. Christ is offered to the Church through the mysteries and primarily through Holy Communion.
For many, however, our religion is a struggle, agony and anxiety. For this reason many “religious” people are considered unhappy, because others see their bad state. Indeed, if one is unable to see the depth of the religion and does not live it, the religion ends up a sickness and a terrible one. So terrible, that one loses control over his actions, becomes weak-willed and powerless, is in agony and under stress and behaves under the influence of an evil spirit (meaning demonic energy). He does prostrations, cries, shouts, is supposedly humble, and all this humility is a satanic act. For some of these people the religion is like a type of hell. In church they do prostrations, make the sign of the cross, they say “we are sinners, unworthy,” and as soon as they get out, start blaspheming all things holy when someone annoys them just a little. It is obvious that there is a demon in the middle.
In reality, Christianity transforms a person and heals him. The most important prerequisite, however, for someone to perceive and distinguish truth is humility. Egoism darkens one's mind, confuses him, leads him into deception, into heresy. It is very important for one to comprehend the truth.
All the confused are going to the heretical groups – confused children of confused parents.
Often, neither toil, nor repentance, nor the sign of the cross attract grace. There are secrets. The most important one is to avoid forms and go to the substance. Everything that happens must happen with love.
When you don't live with Christ, you live in melancholy, in sadness, in stress, in grief. You don't live correctly. So then many anomalies appear also in the body. The body gets affected, the endocrinous glands, the liver, the spleen, the pancreas, the stomach. You are told: “In order to be healthy, you must have some milk in the morning, an egg, butter and a couple of rusks.” And yet, if you live correctly, if you love Christ, you are just fine with an apple and an orange. The greatest of all medicine is to offer oneself in devotion to Christ. Everything gets healed. Everything functions properly. God's love transforms all; it alters, it sanctifies, it corrects, it changes, it modifies everything.
Love for Christ is unlike anything else. It doesn't end, you can't have enough of it. It transmits life, gives strength, grants health, it keeps giving...and the more it gives, the more one wishes to fall in love. Whilst human love may wear one out, drive him crazy. When we love Christ, all other loves recede. Other loves have a saturation point...Love for Christ doesn't have one. Carnal love has a saturation point. Jealousy, complaining or even murder may follow. It may convert to hate. Love in Christ does not deteriorate. Worldly love can be maintained for a little while and then it slowly fades, whereas divine love keeps growing and deepening. Any other love may bring a person to despair. Yet divine love, raises us to God's domain, gives us serenity, joy, completion. Other pleasures tire while this one you can't have enough of. It's an insatiable pleasure, that no one ever gets tired of. It's the utmost of goods.
When you love Christ, despite all your weaknesses and their conscious acknowledgment, you still have the certainty that you have overcome death, because you reside in the communion Christ's love.
We need to feel Christ as our friend. He is our friend. He confirms this Himself when He says: “You are my friends...” (John 15:14). We need to look at Him and approach Him as a friend. Do we fall? Do we sin? We should run to Him with feelings of familiarity, in love and trust; not in fear of punishment but in courage granted by the sense of friendship. And say to Him: “Lord, I did it, I fell, forgive me”. But at the same time we need to feel He loves us, and tenderly accepts us with love and forgives us. We need not be separated by sin from Christ. When we believe that He loves us and we love Him, we will not feel estranged and divided, even when we sin. We have secured His love and no matter how we may behave, He loves us.
The Gospel surely states symbolically that the unjust will be found where there is “crying and gnashing of teeth”; this is what it’s like away from God. And from the neptic Fathers of our Church many speak of fear of death and hell. They say: “always bear death in mind”. If we examine those words deeply, they create a fear of hell. As man tries to avoid sin, he brings those thoughts to mind so that his soul gets overrun by the fear of death, hell and the devil.
They all have their meaning, time and occasion. Fear, as a concept, is good during the first stages. It is for beginners, for the those in whom their old self still lives. The beginner, not having been refined yet is retained from evil by fear. And fear is necessary while we are still material and succumbed. But this is a stage, a low degree of relationship with the divine. We take it in as a transaction so that we can win Paradise or escape hell. If we cross examine it, it indicates self-interest, benefit. I don't like this way. When man advances and enters into God's love, what need is there for fear? Whatever he does, he does so from love, and this is of so much more value. Becoming good due to fearing God and not out of love is of little value.
Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet. If the soul gets crushed and becomes unworthy of Christ's love, Christ ceases relations, because Christ doesn't want 'unrefined' souls next to Him.
Let nobody see you, nobody understand your gestures of devotion towards the divine. Do everything in private, in secrecy, like the ascetics. Remember what I told you about the nightingale? It chirps in the woods. In silence. As if someone is listening, praising? What beautiful chirping in the wilderness! Have you seen the way their larynx puffs up? That's what happens to him who falls in love with Christ. If they love, “their throat puffs up, they are taken up, their tongue can't stop”. They go into a cave, a dale and live God in secret, “silent sighing”.
Scorn passions, do not preoccupy yourselves with the devil. Turn to Christ.
Divine grace teaches us our duty. To attract it, we need love, yearning. God's grace needs divine love. Love is enough, to get us into the right 'shape' for prayer. Christ will by himself pore over our heart, as long as He can find some things that please Him: good intention, humility and love. Without these we cannot say, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.
Even the smallest grumbling against your neighbor negatively affects your soul and you are unable to pray. When the Holy Spirit finds the soul in this state, it does not dare approach.
We need to ask that God's will is done; this is the most beneficial, the safest for us and for those we pray for. Christ will grant us everything abundantly. When there is even just a little egoism, nothing happens.
When God won't give us what we persistently ask for, He has His reason. God has His secrets too.
If you aren’t obedient (to a spiritual father) and have no humility, the prayer (that is, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me) won't take effect and there is even the fear of delusion.
Let not the prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me) become tedious work. Pressure may bring about a reaction internally, may do harm. Many people have gotten sick through the prayer because they pressed themselves. Certainly, you can do it, when it becomes tedious work, but it's not healthy.
It's not necessary to particularly focus to say the prayer. You don't need to put effort into it when you have divine love. Wherever you are, on a stool, on a chair, in a car, anywhere, in the street, at school, in the office, at work you can say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, softly, without pressure, without strain.
What’s important in prayer is not the duration but the intensity. Pray even just for five minutes, but given to God with love and yearning. Someone may pray all night, yet this 5 minutes of prayer be superior. It's a mystery, but that's the way it is.
A person of Christ makes prayer out of everything. He turns difficulty and sorrow into a prayer. Whatever happens to him, he immediately says: “Lord Jesus Christ...”. Prayer benefits in all, even the simplest things. For example, do you suffer insomnia; do not think of sleep. Get up, go outside, come back into the room, fall back into your bed as if for the first time, without thinking if you will sleep or not. Concentrate, say the doxology and then three times “Lord Jesus Christ...” and in this way you will fall asleep.
Everything is inside us, instincts and all, and are asking for fulfillment. If we don't fulfill them they will take their revenge, unless we redirect them elsewhere, towards the higher, towards God.
You don’t become holy hunting down evil. Forget about evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door to drive away the enemy, ignore him. Is evil coming this way? Gently let yourself go the other way. Meaning, is evil coming to attack you, give your internal strength to the good, to Christ. Plead: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. He knows how to have mercy on you, in what way. And when you are filled with good, you won't turn to evil anymore. You will become good by yourself, with God's grace. How can evil find any ground anymore? It disappears!
Does a phobia or disappointment get a hold of you? Turn to Christ. Love him in simplicity, with humility, without demands and He will free you.
Do not choose negative ways to correct yourselves. You don't need to be afraid of the devil, or hell, or anything. They create a reaction. I too have a little experience in those things. The point is not to sit, to beat or strain yourselves to improve. The point is to live, to study, to pray, to advance in love, in Christ's love, in the Church's love.
Leave all your weaknesses so that the opposing spirit (the devil) won't become aware of it and immerse you and hold you down in grief. Do not make any effort to free yourselves from them. Strive in gentleness and simplicity, without strain and anxiety. Do not say to yourselves: “Now I will strain myself, I will pray to obtain love, to become good, etc”. It's not good to strain and beat yourself in order to become good. In this way you will only react more. Everything must happen in a soft way, freely and with no rush. Neither should you say: “God free me from it,” for example, from anger, or sadness. It's not good to think and/or pray about a particular passion. Something takes place in our soul and we get more tangled up. Dash yourself to overcome the passion and you will see that it will entwine you, grasp you and you won't be able to do anything.
Freedom cannot be won, if we do not free ourselves internally from confusion and the passions.
This is what our Church is, this is our joy, this is everything for us. And this is what man today is looking for. And he takes poison and drugs so that he can enter joyous worlds, but fake joy. He feels something at that particular moment but the next day he feels torn. One thing scrapes him, eats him up, smashes him, burns him. While the other, that is being given to Christ, enlivens him, gives him joy, makes him enjoy life, feel strong, magnificence.
The ability to sanctify your soul is a great art. One can become holy anywhere. Even in Omonia (the main square in Athens) one can be sanctified, if he wants. You can become saints at work, no matter what it is – in calmness, patience and love. Each day make a new beginning, a new mood, enthusiastically and with love, prayer and silence – not with stress and a heavy heart.
Work vigilantly, simply, gently, without anxiety, joyfully and gladly, in a good mood. Then divine grace comes.
All unpleasant things, that remain in your soul and make you stressed, can become a reason for worshipping God and so stop hurting you. Trust in God.
There is no need in trying hard and strain yourselves. All your effort should be focused on gazing at the light, attaining the light. In this way, instead of turning to grief which is not of God's Spirit, you should turn yourselves to praising God.
Grief shows that we don't entrust our life to Christ.
When communication with Christ takes place simply, softly, under no pressure, it causes the devil to flee. Satan won't flee from pressure, strain. He distances himself from calmness and prayer. He retreats when he sees the soul ignore him and turn to Christ with love. He cannot take disregard because he is arrogant. But the evil spirit understands it when you push yourselves, and it fights you. Don't bother with the devil, don't even ask that he flee. The more you ask that he flee, the more he will entangle you. Ignore the devil. Do not fight him directly. When you stubbornly fight against the devil, he attacks you back like a tiger, a wildcat. When you shoot bullets at him, he throws back a grenade. When you throw a bomb at him he shoots back a missile. Don't look at evil. Look into God's arms, fall into His arms and move on.
A humble person is conscious of his inner state, and no matter how ugly it is, he does not lose his personality. He does not lose his balance. The opposite happens with the egoist, the one who has feelings of inferiority. In the beginning he resembles a humble person. But if one tempts him just a little, he loses his peace, gets irritated, gets upset.
When a person lives without God, without peace, without trust, in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, he develops physical and psychological illnesses. Psychological illness, neurological illness, discord are demonic states. It is also demonic to speak as though humble. It is called a feeling of inferiority. Real humility does not speak out, does not pretend to be humble, that is to say: “I'm a sinner, unworthy, the least of all...”. A humble person is afraid that they may fall into vainglory. God's grace does not draw near that. In contrast, God's grace can be found where there is real humility, divine humility, perfect trust in God, dependence on Him.
The vainglorious person alienates his soul from eternal life. Ultimately, egoism is complete foolishness! Vainglory makes us hollow. When we engage in showing off, we end up completely empty. We must do whatever we do to please God; selflessly, without vainglory, without pride, without ego, without, without...
Our soul must not rebel and say: “why did God do this thing, why did He do the other thing that way, couldn't He have done it differently?” All this indicates internal small-heartedness and reaction. It shows the big opinion we have of ourselves, our pride and our great ego. Those “whys” greatly torture a person, create what people call “complexes”. For example, “why should I be so tall?” or – the opposite – “very short?”. It remains inside. And one may pray and stay awake (to do so), but get the opposite result. And he may suffer and exasperate himself pointlessly. Whilst with Christ, with grace, it all disappears. There remains this “something” deep down, meaning “why,” but God's grace overshadows man and while the root may be a complex, a rosebush grows over it with beautiful roses, and the more one waters it through faith, love, patience and humility, the more evil loses its power and ceases to exist; that is, it doesn't disappear, but it withers. The more the rosebush isn't watered, the more it withers, dries up, disappears and thorns grow out of it instead.
We tempt God when we ask something of Him, but our life is far from God. We tempt Him when we ask for something but our life is not in accordance with His will – that is, (we ask for) things against God: stress and anxiety on one hand, but on the other we entreat Him.
Your spiritual father may tell you: “How I would have liked to be in a quiet place, free from all other affairs and to hear about your life right from the beginning, from when you felt yourself; all the things you can remember and the way you dealt with them, not only the unpleasant but also the pleasant, not only your sins but also the good. Successes and failures. Everything, everything that is part of your life”.
I've applied this type of general confession many times and have seen miracles happen. During the time you speak to the confessor, divine grace comes to relieve you from all your ordeals and wounds and psychological traumas and guilt; because, as you are speaking your confessor sincerely prays for your deliverance.
Let us not go back to the sins that we have confessed. The remembrance of sins wounds. Did we ask for forgiveness? It's over. God forgives everything through confession. I also believe that I sin. I'm not in the right path. But whatever bothers me I pray about; I don't keep it inside me. I go to my spiritual father. I confess it, it's over! Let us not turn back and talk about what we did not do. The important thing is what we will do now, from this moment on.
Desperation and disappointment is the most terrible thing. It's Satan's trap, to make a person lose his eagerness for spiritual things and bring him to desperation.
Almost all disease is due to the lack of trust in God and this causes stress. Stress is caused by the abolishment of religious feelings. If you don't feel love for Christ, if you don't occupy yourselves with holy matters, you will surely fill up with melancholy and evil.
Something that can also help the depressed is an occupation, interest for life. The garden, plants, flowers, trees, the country, a walk outdoors, a hike, all this can bring a person out of idleness and create other interests for him. They act like medicine. Occupying oneself with art, music, etc is very beneficial. But I attach the greatest value to the Church, to studying the Holy Scripture, to the services. By studying God's word, one is healed without being aware of it.
Let us not lose hope, or be in a rush, nor judge according to superficial or external things. If, for example, you see a nude or lewdly dressed woman, don't remain on the external image, but enter deep, into her soul. She may be a very good soul that has existential questions, that she may be manifesting through her extreme appearance. She has internal strength, the strength of projection, she wants people to look at her. However, in ignorance, she has twisted things. Imagine if she were to meet Christ. She would believe, and turn all this ardour to Christ. She would do everything to attract God's grace. She would become a saint.
Often, through our anxiety and fears and poor spiritual state, without knowing or wanting, we can hurt other people, even if we love them very much, like a mother her child for example. A mother can transmit to a child all her stress regarding his life, his health, his progress, even without talking to him directly or showing what she feels. This love, this natural love may hurt him at some point. This does not happen, however, with Christ's love, which is connected to prayer and the holiness of someone’s life. This love sanctifies a person, pacifies him, because God is love.
Life and Words, pub. Holy Monastery of Chrisopigi of Chania
Translate by: Holy Monastery of Pantokrator