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What Is The Spiritual Passion Of Despondency?

May 31, 2023

Have you ever experienced a certain heaviness when attempting to pray or read your bible? Has laziness or fatigue prevented you from fulfilling your spiritual tasks and services? Well these kinds of descriptions usually mean one thing – you’re being tempted by the demon of acedia or despondency. Stay tuned to learn more.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

 

What is the spiritual passion of despondency or acedia, and how do we deal with it? Many people today would be tempted to simply explain away despondency with words such as sadness or despair, but this would be insufficient to characterize everything that despondency encompasses. The ancients of the church would properly want us to know that spiritual despondency is much more than that – it is a war tactic adopted by the enemy to place us in a state slothfulness, boredom, discouragement, and even disgust and dissatisfaction. Its purpose is to paralyze and incapacitate the human being from taking action – from doing what the Spirit of God intends us to do.

 

Let’s take a closer look at what the word actually means. In Greek, the word Despondency is known as “Acedia” – “a” means Without, “kedo” meaning Care or Effort. When the fathers of the church wrote about this spiritual condition, they adopted the word acedia to literally mean a state where we make no “no effort”, “no action”, or even a state of “no care” or “nonchalance”.

 

Its especially important to be informed on what Despondency is if you are a person who has embarked on the very important journey of taking your spiritual life seriously. We can be assured that by saying “I want to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ”, we will face this kind of warfare from the demon of despondency. The purpose behind Despondency, or Acedia, is to break the consistency that is required in the spiritual life. In harming or disturbing our ability to be faithful and consistent in our spiritual canons, we lose momentum and never see growth. This then leads to frustrations and disappointments which then lead to despair and eventually we give up.

 

Now if you are anything like me, a person who desires a real relationship with God, but continues to struggle to get up and pray, or to be committed to your scriptural reading, or to get up early for prayers and praises…where it feels like everything is set up to prevent you from pursuing Christ… then this should be ringing a bell for you as much as it does for me. This demon of acedia has clearly been hard at work in tempting many of us.

 

Despondency will often drive a person to a strong feeling of discontentment. Nothing feels right, nothing satisfies or fulfills us. Often when suffering from despondency, we will look to escape the present moment – we want to go numb or be distracted. We may find ourselves fleeing our current immediate responsibilities by wanting to connect with others – not for the sake of actual connection – but rather to avoid facing my reality. Some turn to social media as a distraction to pull them away from their present thoughts or obligations. Some turn to food for comfort, to lust for satisfaction, or to whatever passion they are inclined to give in to. Despondency, opens the door for all of these…

 

In addition to this, despondency drives us to think “something has to change” – as if somehow the problem is our circumstance – “the place” we currently find ourselves in. We begin to imagine new and better “places” for ourselves; focusing only on how dissatisfied we are with “where we are in life”. We excuse these kinds of thoughts by suggesting that we “want more in life” or that “we deserve better”. Now sometimes, and definitely not as often as we think – this may be true – but when suffering from despondency, it’s always a demonic warfare that intends to only drive us to a place of discontentment, anxiety, and worry. Placing us in a position where nothing is ever enough, and nothing leaves us feeling accomplished or happy. Even God is to blame for our uneasiness.

 

Take for example our common struggle with prayer. All of us might have experienced what it is like to “want” to pray but when the time for action comes around, we suddenly grow heavy, find ourselves lazy and fatigued and even disinterested…making it so difficult to fulfill our task. We may even be tempted to think “what’s the point, I don’t even feel God anymore”…all of these thoughts in order to dissuade us.

 

Rest assured we are far from being the only ones to have dealt with this form of warfare. St John Climacus, the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he writes to us about how even the desert ascetics would suffer from this very reality. He explains:

 

“When there is no psalmody, then despondency [i.e. acedia] does not make its appearance. And as soon as the appointed service is finished, the eyes open […] But [when] the hour of prayer has come, again the body is weighed down. [The person] begins to pray, but he grows sleepy and the psalm verses are snatched from his mouth with untimely yawns.” [St John Climacus – Ladder XIII]

 

You can clearly see how this 7th century saint wrote about the very reality that we ourselves struggle with even now, almost 14 centuries later! A warfare that has existed since the beginning of humanity…

 

Now what’s even more concerning, is that even if the person struggling with despondency were to push through and still stand to pray and follow their spiritual canon, this specific passion has a plan B. If it doesn’t paralyze you at first, it will attack you with sadness and a feeling of emptiness. It puts the person in a state where they feel like what they are offering God is “useless” or “without effect”. And this then translates into irritability, anger, and an overwhelming sense of indifference towards their spiritual state.

 

At first im frustrated with myself. The thought is: “what’s wrong with me?”

Then I get irritated with God. The thought: “where are you? Why aren’t you helping?”

I then move towards hopelessness. The though: “I can’t anymore. Nothing is working…”

I then accept defeat. The thought: “there’s no point…why even try.”

 

And there it is. The demon of Acedia’s favorite script and approach to making us give up on our relationship with Christ.

 

In short, despondency can easily stir up all the faculties of the soul in an attempt to prevent us from pursuing God. This demon’s resiliency and persistence is unbelievable. This passion will attempt to bring us to the breaking point and will stir up within is every evil inclination that we already struggle with. There isn’t button it won’t push in attempt to tear us away from God.  The greatest threat of despondency, is that when it has lingered for too long with being fought against,  it leaves the person open and vulnerable to almost all other passions that torment the soul – anger, sadness, pride, envy, lust, gluttony, fear…pick your poison. Despondency will gladly welcome it to help join the fight.

 

Now while this all seems terrible, and indeed it is, the Church prescribes a solution. There is indeed a way to fight off this terrible passion and to receive victory from God. In our next video, we discuss how to deal with despondency, and what we can learn from the holy men and women who came before us and how they overcame.

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