By Photios Kontoglou
Among the saints who felt joyful sorrow and wrote about it, is Saint Symeon, the so-called New Theologian.
This Saint was very tormented and pained, and shed many tears in his life. He was born a thousand years after Christ, in a village of Paphlagonia, which is a place in Asia Minor near the Black Sea. From a young age he loved religious life.
His parents sent him to Constantinople, because he had an uncle there who was a man of the palace, and he sent him to school to study to bring him to the palace. But Symeon did not want to learn many things, because he thought it unnecessary.
He associated with monastics and pious people, and this association was his joy.
Finally, he became a novice in the famous Monastery of Stoudion, under the instruction of a sanctified elder, who was also called Symeon. After a few years, there was some confusion in the monastery, so his elder took him and they went to the Monastery of Saint Mamas.
There he took the monastic schema, which he so longed for, and gave himself over to complete fasting and uninterrupted prayer, as if he did not have a body, so that the fathers were amazed.
In the monastery he had calligraphy as his handiwork. After a few years passed, the abbot of the monastery died, and then he was ordained a priest and elected abbot, against his will.
With the office he took, his sanctity grew and humility multiplied. His disciples saw him, many times, covered in a bright cloud, at the time he served the liturgy.
Although he was little educated, with the divine illumination of the Holy Spirit he wrote theological discourses, letters to his disciples, and sacred poems. He would write all night.
His sanctity became widely known, and many came from everywhere to receive his blessing and benefit from his words.
Of his most admirable disciples were Leo the most-wise, the so-called Xylokodon, Anthony, Basil, Sotirichos, Ioannikios, Symeon, Hierotheos, and Niketas Stethatos, who wrote his life.
But the envious and cunning devil did not hesitate to bring upon him a big storm. Because, having heard of the fame of his sanctity certain educated clergy, of those who knew dead letters, and were without faith and without works pleasing to God, hated him and wanted to eliminate him.
The worst and most dangerous was Stephen, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, who had left his office for a position in the imperial palace.
He was very educated in secular philosophy, and it bothered him that Saint Symeon, who was unlearned, acquired so much honor from the people. And because he had political power and great boldness before the Patriarch, he began to fight in every way against the Saint.
The persecutions and sufferings he endured, cannot be recorded. But in the end, the righteous one was victorious, and he reposed after working many miracles, was proclaimed a saint, and called the "New Theologian", the third after John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzus.
This Saint, therefore, shed many tears in his life, and wrote much about joyous tears. Here are a few things:
"Let us long with all our soul for the things God commands us to embrace, spiritual poverty, which is humility; constant mourning by night and by day, from which there wells forth the joy of the soul and the hourly consolation for those who love God. By this means all who strive in truth succeed in attaining meekness. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and seek it at all times will obtain the kingdom of God, which 'surpasses all human understanding' (Phil. 4:7). Further, one becomes merciful, pure in heart, full of peace, a peacemaker, courageous in the face of trials (cf. Matt. 5:3-11). All this is the result of mourning day by day. It is also brought to pass that we will hate evil; it kindles in the soul that divine zeal which does not allow it to be ever at ease or to incline to evil deeds with evil men, but fills it with courage and strength to endure to the end against adversities."
Elsewhere he writes:
"The first effect of mourning in God is humility; but later it brings unspeakable joy and gladness. And around humility in God grows the hope of salvation. For the more a man feels with his whole soul that he is the most sinful of men, the more strongly hope and humility grow and blossom in his heart, and fill him with the conviction that, through humility, he will surely gain salvation."
He also writes:
"The more a man descends into the depths of humility and condemns himself as one not worthy of salvation, the more he mourns and sheds streams of tears. The more he mourns and sheds tears, the more spiritual joy flows into his heart, and with it flows increasing hope which gives him the most complete certainty of salvation."
"Every man should examine himself and watch himself with good judgment, lest he rely on hope alone without mourning and humility in God; nor on humility and tears unless followed by hope and spiritual joy."
He writes again:
"Mourning can also come without spiritual humility and those who mourn thus also think that such mourning purifies them from sin. But they deceive themselves, for they are deprived of the delight mysteriously born of the Spirit in the spiritual treasure-house - the repository of the soul - and are not fed by the Lord's goodness. Therefore they are apt to be inflamed by anger and are incapable of complete detachment from the world and what is in the world. Those who are not completely detached from it and do not whole-heartedly hate it, can never acquire a firm, undoubting hope of salvation. Such people will always be pushed hither and thither by doubts, for they have not founded their hope on a rock."
The Saint also says:
"Mourning has a twofold action: like water tears extinguish all the fire of the passions and wash the soul clean of their foulness; and, again, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, it is like fire bringing life, warming and inflaming the heart, and inciting it to love and desire God."
Again he writes:
"When the faithful man, who always pays strict attention to the commandments of God, performs all that the divine commandments enjoin and directs his mind toward their sublimity, that is, to a conduct and purity that are above reproach, he will discover his own limitations. He will find that he is weak and lacks the power to attain to the height of the commandments, indeed that he is very poor, that is, unworthy to receive God and give Him thanks and glory, since he has as yet failed to attain any good of his own. One who thus reasons with himself in the perception of his soul will indeed mourn with that sorrow which is truly most blessed, which will receive comfort and make the soul meek (cf. Matt. 5:5)."
Elsewhere he again writes:
"Where there is humility there is also the enlightenment of the Spirit. And where there is the enlightenment of the Spirit there is also the outpouring of the light of God, there is God in the wisdom and knowledge of His mysteries. Where these mysteries are to be found, there is the kingdom of heaven and the experience of the kingdom and the hidden treasures of the knowledge of God, which include the manifestation of the poverty of spirit. Where poverty of spirit is perceived, there also is the sorrow that is full of joy. There are the ever-flowing tears that purify the soul that love these things and cause it to be completely filled with light."
"O tears, which flow from divine enlightenment and open heaven itself and assure me of divine consolation! Again and many times over I utter the same words out of delight and longing. Where there is abundance of tears, brethren, accompanied by true knowledge, there also shines the divine light. Where the light shines, there also all good gifts are bestowed and the seal of the Holy Spirit, from whom spring all the fruits of life, is implanted in the heart. Here also the fruit of gentleness is borne for Christ, as well as 'peace, mercy, compassion, kindness, goodness, faith and self-control' (Gal. 5:22-23). It is the source of the virtue of loving one's enemies and praying for them (Matt. 5:44), of rejoicing in trials, of glorying in tribulations (Rom. 5:3), of looking on the faults of others as if they are one's own and lamenting them, and of laying down one's life for the brethren with eagerness even unto death."
Therefore, my friends and readers, this is blessed and confident joy, the joy that Christ gives to those who love Him with all their heart and with all their mind and with all their soul. This true joy has with her also true love.
And the love of God, says a Saint, is stronger than this life, and whoever has tasted it, not only will they not care for the good things of this world, but will not even take account for their own life.
The man who follows the path of Christ, and lives together with His remembrance, cannot be without sorrow and bitterness daily. But, while other people avoid sorrows, the Christian accepts them with gratitude and patiently, because they know they are gifts from God, for afflictions give birth to humility, as one Saint says.
God doesn't want the soul to be carefree, and whoever lives a carefree life is outside the will of God.
Whoever has the idea that they are doing the will of God without bitterness, they are proud and deceived.
Piety and afflictions are entangled together.
Be careful, however, to not think that all grief opens up God's compassion, but only those which we bear for His love.
And the Lord knows that it's not possible to live with physical rest, and we should be steadfast in His love.
"Glory to our Master Christ, who grants us the joy of the health of our soul with acrid and bitter remedies."
Source: From Eleutheria, January 20, 1963. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.