Orthodox Spiritual Life (Part V)

Prophet Amos

Prophet Amos

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL LIFE: THE LOSS OF GRACE
By Saint Silouan the Athonite (Source: Orthodox Spiritual Life according to Saint Silouan the Athonite and written by Harry Boosalis)

This highly personal and positive experience of the perceptible presence of the grace of the Holy Spirit does not, however, eliminate the possibility of its loss. Saint Silouan wrote at length on this theme of the loss of grace, commenting on its causes and consequences. He refers to the conscious awareness of its withdrawal. Just as the soul senses the presence of Divine grace, so too is it aware of its loss.

He views the loss of grace as one of the most painful and sorrowful experiences that the human soul can ever know. This experience is compared with the grief of a mother who has lost her only child and with her yearning and intense desire to see him again. Elsewhere Saint Silouan likens the loss of grace to an eagle whose wings have been clipped.

It is interesting to note the way in which grace is lost. At one point Saint Silouan refers to the loss of grace as an instantaneous experience, "and on a sudden the soul loses this grace of the Lord." However, he also mentions that it may 'decrease', "the love of the Lord is such a burning love that the soul that has once tasted thereof has no other desire; and if she loses this love, or if grace decreases, what prayers she pours out then before God in her hunger to possess His grace again!" Commenting on the personal experience of Saint Silouan as a young novice in the monastery, Elder Sophrony also refers to grace as diminishing gradually. Furthermore, according to Elder Sophrony, it is not really a matter of a complete withdrawal of grace. He teaches clearly, "Objectively, it is not the complete withdrawal of grace but subjectively the soul experiences even the smallest reduction of grace as abandonment by God." Thus, if there is even a slight reduction or decrease in Divine grace, the soul undergoes such acute pain and suffering that it feels 'abandoned' by God.

Obviously, the way in which grace is lost takes on a variety of forms and depends on a number of diverse factors and differing situations. Furthermore, the loss of grace is not viewed as something arbitrary. Sin is the cause of its loss. Saint Silouan focuses on the sins of pride and vanity. He emphasizes, "...grace is easily lost through vanity, through a single arrogant thought."

Although the loss of grace is referred to as a great personal tragedy, Saint Silouan also views it in a positive light. More exactly, he sees it as a way of preparation for the soul to grow further through a renewed desire for spiritual progress. The loss of the grace of the Holy Spirit is seen as spiritual trial that can lead to a deeper desire for God. Saint Silouan even refers to it as a form of 'schooling' for the soul; an experience that both educates and edifies the believer. He stresses the important lesson of humility, which is also acquired through the experience of the loss of grace.

This theme of the loss of grace as a pedagogical experience is drawn out further by Elder Sophrony when he refers to Saint Silouan's early years as a young novice. He notes the positive impact that these alternating experiences of grace had on the spiritual development of young Simeon (St. Silouan). Through his teaching, as well by example of his own personal experience, Saint Silouan shows the positive outcome that can occur from the loss of grace.

["These alternations between a certain measure of grace followed by abandonment by God...were not sterile...By comparing his alternating state and feelings he arrived at a clearer understanding of what was happening to him, and advanced in spiritual knowledge and judgment. He learned how...to understand the workings of grace. He entered upon a life of deliberate inner striving, realizing that the main purpose of such striving is the acquiring of grace. How grace is acquired and preserved, and why it forsakes the soul, became one of the supreme considerations of his life." Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 40.]

Such views regarding the loss of grace as being beneficial to the soul are also found in the writings of Saint Macarius of Egypt. He teaches that participation in Divine grace is at times more profound and uplifting, while other times it recedes and diminishes, according the spiritual benefit of the believer. Saint Diaochos of Photiki also speaks of these alternating experiences of grace. He makes the interesting observation that grace sometimes 'hides' in order to instruct the soul to depend completely on God. In this way the believer progresses toward spiritual maturity. Saint Silouan uses the same terminology. He too refers to Divine grace as at times 'hidden' for the benefit of the believer, "When He sees that the soul has not established herself in humility, the Lord takes away His grace, but do not lost heart over this: grace is within you, only it is hidden."

Participation in Divine grace is thus considered a rather volatile experience. There is a definite sense of fluctuation between alternating experiences of its acquisition and loss. Saint Silouan refers to this point quite clearly, "I lost the grace I knew but the Lord had pity on me and in His unique mercy gave me more grace." When seen in this positive light, these alternating experiences of grace afford the opportunity of testing and strengthening the believer's will and spiritual stamina. This agonizing yet highly formative experience of the loss of Divine grace awaits all those who earnestly strive for the life in Christ.

The importance of preserving grace is crucial for spiritual life. Many various trials entailed in order for grace to be preserved. The struggle to persevere during those fluctuating intervals of participation in grace and its agonizing loss is extremely difficult. For example, Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes in regard to this struggle, "Whether it was before they had received the grace of the Spirit or afterwards, it was never without many toils, labors, sweat and violence, difficulty and tribulation...So we must endeavor to receive the Holy Spirit within ourselves and to keep him."

[Saint Silouan adds, "The Lord loves us more than a mother loves her children, and gives freely of the grace of the Holy Spirit, but we must preserve this grace with all our might, for there is no greater grief than to lose it." Also, Saint Macarius of Egypt adds, "Can a man fall who has the gift of grace? If he is careless, he certainly falls. For the enemies (Satan and demons) never take a rest nor do they withdraw from the war. How much more you ought not to cease seeking God! For a very great loss comes to you if you are careless, even though you may seem to be confirmed in the very mystery of grace".]

For believers today who are striving to lead a spiritual life, this particular teaching is most enlightening. It shows how one must endure hardship, difficulties and suffering if there is to be any progress and spiritual growth. Moreover, is also warns against the distinct danger of losing the grace that has been granted. It calls the believer toward a sober and concentrated effort of vigilance in maintaining and preserving the blessings received. In summary, we have attempted to present the integral role of man's free will in the acquisition of the uncreated grace of the Holy Spirit and how one is consciously aware of this highly personal experience. Yet participation in Divine grace is considered volatile. Saint Silouan teaches, like the Holy Fathers before him, that the experience of grace will fluctuate, alternating between states of its acquisition and loss. These alternating states of grace are experienced at various intervals throughout the process of spiritual growth. Even though the loss of grace is considered a devastating tragedy, at the same time it is also seen as an opportunity for spiritual progress. Through such formative experiences, and in constant struggle, the soul a higher level of spiritual maturity. Spiritual life thus entails spiritual warfare.

(Next: Spiritual Warfare)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George