Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex, Catechism, charismatic despair, Discernment, Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Elder Sophrony, Elder Sophrony of Essex, Elder Zacharias of Essex, God-forsakenness, Hesychasm, Letters to His Family, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Mindfulness of Death, Mladostarchestvo, Mladostartsy, Noetic Faculty, Orthodox Psychotherapy, Purification, Remember Thy First Love, Spiritual Guidance, St. Symeon the New Theologian
Q. Father, you mentioned how important our reaction is, especially in the early phase of the coming of grace, and you mentioned a few of the dangers. Would you give some advice to all of us concerning the spiritual care of those under our direction?
A. We must be careful when people come to us in that first state, not to treat them psychologically, not to try and make them feel psychologically comfortable and reduce their tension. We should rather give them understanding, we should even increase that tension, but with discretion [discernment], so as to protect them.
I remember someone who was in that tension and had a very strong sense of the futility and vanity of this world and saw death in everything. He would look at a tree and he would immediately conceive of the tree withering, falling down to the ground. He saw behind everything the threat of death which is ready to devastate everything, to swallow everything up. This person had been given the gift of mindfulness of death which is very precious for the man who has turned to God, for it detaches him from everything earthly, from every attachment to this world. And if it is rightly directed, it will attach him to the Spirit of God and make him one spirit with the Lord.
But this person who was in such tension visited a spiritual father, who tried by all means to extinguish that tension psychologically. And Father Sophrony was disappointed and did something he would usually never do: he told him, ‘Find another spiritual father!’ He said that, even though he had great respect for all spiritual fathers, and would never undermine the authority of any of them. But in this case he realised that that particular person would have been completely destroyed by continuing to visit this priest who was trying to quench every tension in him. The person himself was not convinced by the words of this spiritual father, because he did not want that life-giving tension to stop. He simply wanted to find ways of living it correctly and profitably.
Likewise, when the Lord was on the Cross, the Jews said to Him, ‘Come down and we will believe!’ (St. Matt. 27:42) But if He had come down we would not have been saved, death would not have been destroyed. It was at that very moment, when He was dying on the Cross, that death was being destroyed and the currents of life were flowing into humanity. So, we must not blunt nor diminish the tension in people who experience the first grace, but we must explain to them that it is a blessing from God. However, we must also be careful not to go beyond our strength so as not to be broken by our efforts during times of grace. This is a very real danger and if a spiritual person breaks down it is very difficult to repair the damage. That’s why we must be good stewards of our strength. We all need help in this.
—Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex. REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE
Questions and Answers: Chapter 7. Pgs. 357-359