My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY:THE ACQUISITION OF THE GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part II)
by Saint Silouan the Athonite [Source: Orthodox Christian Life by Harry Boosalis]
The Loss of Grace
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 cause 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 the Athonite likens the loss of grace to an eagle whose wings have been cliipped.
It is interesting to note the way in which grace is lost. At one point Saint Silouan refers to the lost of grace as an instantaneous experience, "All of 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 and 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 a spiritual trial that can lead to a deeper desire for God. Saint Silouan ever 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 (Saint 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.
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 to the spiritual benefit of the believer. Saint Diadochos 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 lose 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.
(To be continued)
"Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, enlightened the whole world, and recalled Thine own creation. Almighty Lord, glory to Thee."
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the Ages of Ages. Amen.
"It is the day of Resurrection; let us be glorious in splendor for the festival, and let us embrace one another. Let us speak also, O brethren, to those that hate us, and in the Resurrection, let us forgive all things, and so let us cry: Christ has risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life to those in the tombs."
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Glorious Resurrection,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God