By Father Raphael Noica
Allow me to repeat the words: "Keep your mind in hell, and despair not". Father Sophrony, when he heard these words for the first time, he felt that they were divine words, not only for St. Silouan and his own salvation, but for an entire generation, for all the lack of hope that takes shape in a world so full of despair, as he knew it then, after the First World War. I’d like to add these words also: when God says "do not despair", I’ve seen many strain themselves – that they were already so stressed, as in what should I do to not despair so that I don’t make God angry? No, brethren, it’s not about that. God does not forbid lack of hope, but he tells us that we don’t need to lose hope! We don’t need to despair!
When you can’t take it anymore, when you feel you are going crazy, as Fr. Sophrony once told a hermit: "Go and make a cup of tea". Or, as St. Isaac the Syrian told another hermit: "When you feel that the thoughts of blasphemy are overpowering you, cover yourself and go to sleep". I’ll say also, in our modern language: "Take a nap", allow yourself to recover physically, and then, you continue. Fr. Sophrony told that hermit the things he was experiencing himself, seeing the spiritual state that he was in (the hermit was asking for a word on salvation) – he was hosting him, offering him tea, some biscuits and whatever else he had. So: comfort yourself. And when you regain strength, you can continue. The same thing he was doing himself. Continue in what way? Knowing that God’s Providence is working something which you have not yet discovered.
In the most horrific moments of our lives, not only is it needed to not lose hope, nor give ourselves over to death, nor lock ourselves in that despair; but, more so: often times, if not every time, the most horrific moments of our lives are, potentially, the most demanding. Those are the times when you have to go on for yet another moment. Think about a sailor who was caught by a wave on the deck of the ship and for a second or two the deck will be underwater: well, is that the right time to let go of the pole? No, that’s not even the moment to try to run so you don’t lose the cabin. No, that’s when you only do one thing: you hold on to the pole. And you also hold your breath until the wave passes. When the ship is above the waves again, that’s when you can go, fast, to the cabin, if the case. So, the hardest, most painful, and tragic moments, are potentially the most demanding (…)
I’ve talked about our personal lives, but it’s applicable to the world in general. For, we are talking about an eschatological period, meaning one about the end (…) I take it this period, if it’s a tragic one, actually, no: the more tragic and cruel it is, the more demanding it will be, not just concerning our personal lives, but our adamic condition, our history. What will be? We shall see, but we live with hope in our God.
And we ask God that He cultivates in us that which man cannot accomplish by himself, according to His word: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” And, more so than any other time we must say this prayer more frequently: “Lord, come and abide in me and You Yourself work in me the things that are pleasing to You!”. From the things that are pleasing to God, nowadays, we need Faith that is able to take us through the hardest events that are becoming more and more unimaginable. Not only is this not the time to lose hope, but it is the time to hold on to the pole more than ever, until the wave passes. Who knows what will be and in what way? The words that remain essential: "Keep your mind in hell, and despair not" (…)
Since the Industrial Revolution and the First World War a new world has begun. And, in this world, we try as much as we can to live as our Fathers did. When we can do something we say: "Thanks to You, Lord". When we can’t do anything: patience! As Father Cleopa (Ilie) would say: "patience, patience, patience!"
May The Lord give you and give all of us a comforting divine Grace, so that we can go through things! The kind of comfort that the sailor has knowing that the wave will eventually pass, but for now, one thing I know: to hold on to this pole.
Source: From the conference, The Philokalia – Incarnation and Eschatological Premises