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August 26, 2021

Four Arguments to Free a Sinner From Despair (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

The arguments with which you will be able to free the sinner from despair are these, Spiritual Father.

1) That despair is the greatest and worst of all evils, because it is opposite to and extremely opposed to God. And even though every sin is opposed to God in some way and partially, despair is entirely opposed to God and in every way, because it negates God, and by taking Him out of the picture it makes evil as another God, as well as the cause of evil, the devil. It would make evil stronger than the goodness of God, more infinite than His infinity, and for despair to even be in the place of wherever God is. What can be found that is more impious or more mindless? To believe that powerless sin is more powerful than Power Himself? That the finite is more infinite than the Infinite Himself? And for non-being to be above the Eternal Being? For this reason the Orthodox Confession writes that despair is opposed to the Holy Spirit. Therefore say to the sinner, Spiritual Father, that which Basil the Great says, that is, if it is possible to measure the fullness and the magnitude of the compassion of God, let the sinner then despair, comparing and measuring the amount and magnitude of his sin: “If it is possible to number the multitude of God’s mercies and the greatness of Gods compassion in comparison with the number and greatness of sins, then let us despair” (Lesser Rules 13, PG 31, 1089C). Even if one’s transgressions are measured and counted, the mercy and compassion of God being immeasurable, why should one despair and not know the mercy of God and blame his transgressions: “But if, as is obvious, the latter are subject to measure and can be numbered, but it is impossible to measure the mercy or number the compassions of God, there is no time for despairing, but only for recognizing mercy and condemning sins; the remission of which is set forth in the blood of Christ" (ibid.).

2) Despair is opposed to common sense, because it does not have a proper place among people. For a sinner to live, even though he sins, is a sign that God accepts him and does not reject him, Who did not put him to death when he sinned as he deserved, but allowed him to live, for no other reason other than that he may repent. The great Gregory of Thessaloniki verifies this for us in this way: “This is why no one should give way to despair... because the time of this life is time for repentance, the very fact that a sinner still lives is a pledge that God will accept whoever desires to return to Him” ('To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia', The Philokalia, v. 4).

3) Despair is an offspring of the devil, according to St. Ephraim. Before someone sins, the devil says to that person how the sin is nothing, and then when he does sin, he says to that person how his sin is terrible and unforgivable (Evergetinos, vol. I, bk. 1). If we search more exactly, we find that despair sprouts both from pride and self-esteem. The prideful who speaks of himself as great in regards to virtue and holiness, when he falls into some mortal sin, he straightway despairs, thinking that that fall is unworthy of his virtue, according to John of the Ladder (Step 26, PG 88, 1032D-1033A). It also sprouts from the inexperience which one has in the noetic warfare of the enemy. Just as Judas was inexperienced in this warfare and despaired, as one Father [St. John of Karpathos, 'Texts for the Monks in India' 85, Philokalia, v. 1] says, thus despairing he hung himself. Peter being experienced, even though he denied, did not despair, but repented, again becoming Peter (the rock). It also sprouts from the many sins one commits, just as Solomon says: “When an ungodly man comes into a depth of evils, he despises himself” (Prov. 18:3). It sprouts from other causes also, like the negligence and idleness in doing good works and not bearing fruits of repentance. Therefore, whoever desires not to fall into the webs of despair, let them remember its causes and correct them, learning the machination of the devil with which he tries to create despair, throwing away one’s pride, becoming experienced in noetic warfare, abstaining from sins, and striving for their salvation with all of their strength.

4) Lastly, despair is opposed to the Old and New Testaments which in a thousand places portrays the immeasurable mercy of God with which He receives all sinners equally. It is opposed to so many examples of sinners, who were great transgressors, who were saved from the beginning of the world until the end without despairing: Lamech, Manasseh, Nebuchadnezzar, David, prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors, prodigals, thieves, Peter, Paul. It is opposed to all of the words of the divine Fathers who taught sinners to hope in the mercy of God and to cast away despair, showing that there is not one sin which can conquer the philanthropy of God. See also the Evergetinos, vol. I, book 1, Hyp. I.

These things having been said, we complete this with the following. Just as despair is opposed to the Holy Spirit, as we said, likewise is exaggerated hope and boldness in the compassion of God opposed to the same Holy Spirit when one is so bold as to sin without fear, as the Orthodox Confession says (p. 221). Concerning this the word of the polymath George Koressios is very wise, saying that the life of Christians must stand between these two, between hope and despair: on the part of God they must hope in His goodness; but on their part they must despair on account of the multitude of their sins (from his Theology).*


* Concerning this last statement by George Koressios, these are the words told to St. Silouan by the Lord: “Keep thy mind in hades, and despair not” (Archimandrite Sophrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, Crestwood, 1999, p. 460).

Source: Part I, Chapter 3 from the Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession).