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Negligence, the Unsleeping Danger for the Orthodox Christian

Elder Joseph the Hesycahst

The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Struggles, Experiences, Teachings

 Negligence is a terrible conspirator against our lives and has wronged us many times, and we must never cease to regard it as our most implacable enemy. The Elder’s fervour in protecting us from it and his profound experience of the crafty and intricate ways in which it confuses and entangles its victims makes it imperative for us to say something about this enemy of ours.

In the language of the Fathers this is called listlessness (akedia) as well as negligence and sloth, which all mean the same thing—spiritual death. We shall not go into what the Fathers have said about this pestilence, except that it is included among the eight evil thoughts as a comprehensive vice. We shall simply give helpful extracts from the Elder’s experience, which are of particular use in our own generation.

When we asked about the chief cause of man’s failure in his spiritual purpose, he would reply that it was negligence. On one occasion I asked him how it was that the Fathers give self-esteem as the reason, and he replied, “Yes, that conspires against us too; but not all of us, only those it deceives. And again it affects only a few, because self-esteem corrupts treasures that have been amassed, while negligence does not even let you collect them. Negligence is like a drought in which nothing grows. Self-esteem damages those who have fruit, who have made some progress; whereas negligence harms everyone, because it impedes those who want to make a start, it stops those who have advanced, it does not allow the ignorant to learn, it prevents those who have gone astray from returning, it does not permit the fallen to get up—in general, negligence spells destruction for all those it holds captive.”

“Using the pretext of physical needs and weariness from the struggle, this deceiver makes itself credible; and like a conductive material, listlessness transmits us and hands us over to self-love, the more general enemy. Only a courageous soul grounded in faith and hope in God can overthrow this conspiracy Otherwise, it is difficult for someone inexperienced to escape from these nets. This is a great ordeal for those who live alone and for everyone who avoids a regulated life, whereas it is unable to harm those who are under obedience and have tasks to perform.”

“Listlessness begins with despondency and faintheartedness and the prolonged withdrawal of grace. It starts off with the application of economy towards some supposed infirmity or weakness, and ends in total disbelief and shamelessness and ingratitude. For those who live alone as hesychasts, it starts from neglect of the rule and order of their lives, and grows if not attended to in good time. But in those who live with others, it begins with idle talk and backbiting.”

As a cure for negligence, the Elder recommended eschatological meditation in ascending and descending form: reward and punishment, the Kingdom of heaven and hell; and also calling to mind the honorable memory of those who have taken part in the struggle. The means of grace against negligence are prayer, tears and faith. Again, the Elder would recount many examples from the lives of earlier spiritual warriors who happened to be led astray by negligence and lost the record of spiritual progress which they had gained through great fervour and ascetic labour. The Elder would say, “In my opinion, the other passions into which spiritual warriors are led astray are complications of indifference, because this erodes our attention and so opens the way to related and connected passions, and these take men captive.”

To wake us up in the morning he would always shout to us, “Don’t be negligent, boys, lest you fall into the hands of thieves.” He even regarded a pointless occupation as negligence, because he believed that this too could lead to the same bondage. As David says, “Let not thy foot be moved, and He who keeps thee will not slumber (Ps. 120:3);” and again, “If Thy law had not been my meditation, I should have perished in my humiliation (Ps. 118:92).”