Acedia, Confession, Discernment, Elder Thaddaeos of Vitovnica, Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Hesychasm, Holy Confession, Noetic Faculty, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, Quietude, scandal, scandals, silence, venting
Tips from the Monastery: Silence vs. Venting (Source)
SR. SARAH AND SR. THEKLA, having become novices around the same time, had a special bond. Not only did they share books and stories, work together, and were even tonsured together they had a unique pact. From the very beginning of their monastic lives they agreed they would never, under any circumstances, indicate to each other that they had gotten into an argument, were upset with, or had been offended by, a member of their monastic community. This decision to safeguard the bond of peace within the sisterhood was a very wise one.
“See, if I had a problem with a certain sister, if for some reason I got upset with her and went and vented to Sr. Thekla, then she might also find herself becoming embittered or disliking the other sister. You know, the way a person sometimes dislikes those whom their friends dislike. We never wanted this to happen, so we agreed that we would never say anything bad about another sister, ever.”
This simple commitment brings with it immeasurable protection. Many times we allow ourselves to vent. We convince ourselves that it is better to get it all out than to allow our anger to boil up inside us, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are wrong on two counts for engaging in such behavior.
First, venting allows our thoughts and suspicions, our hurt feelings and offenses, to become solidified. We confirm our thoughts by justifying them, explaining why we are right and the other person is wrong, how we are wounded and the other is the cruel offender. Second, we pull the other person or persons listening to us into sin with us. We infiltrate their thoughts and perceptions, tainting the way they think and feel about the supposed offender. This is actually worse than the first wrongdoing, because we are not only sinning but creating a stumbling block for someone else.
It is an easy enough temptation to fall into, especially given that contemporary society encourages expressing our anger; it teaches us it’s a necessary evil to pour out the poison in order to avoid blowing up. But since when has the authentic Christian embraced what the world teaches? Here is what Elder Thaddeus teaches we ought to do to resolve our inner turmoil:
When the period of warfare comes, we are overwhelmed by thoughts… This is when we must turn to the Lord in our hearts and keep silent. If we cannot abandon the thought that is bothering us immediately then we must keep silence. We should not think about anything. It is not ours to think. The Lord knows what we can take and what we cannot. Then, when we are in silence and our minds are quiet, we should give it something to do so that it will not wander [and return to the matter that is bothering us]. We should pray.
When we are confronted by strong emotions and thoughts, instead of venting to someone else, we can apply the elder’s advice. And then we go to confession. It is in confession that our venting can take place. Not that confession is an opportunity to accuse, slander, or even simply reveal the faults of others, but it is here in confession that we can reveal our honest feelings and perceptions. Most importantly, it is through confession that our erring thoughts are corrected and we receive consolation for our sorrow. A wise spiritual guide can help us discern where we are at fault in a conflict, or, if we are innocent, how we can bear the injustices done to us.
The sisters protected themselves and each other by committing to keep silent instead of venting. Silence doesn’t mean the heart is at peace, but it does ensure that sin does not progress into action through word or deed. By their silence the sisters “silence the enemy and the avenger” of mankind (Ps. 8:2).
 Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, trans. Ana Smiljanic (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2014), p. 116.