The deepest, the purest and most permanent benefit comes to the soul exactly at a time when man has nothing to rely on, to fall back on and in a way, when he is hanging in the void. Then, if man is well intentioned and seeks refuge in God, there is hope that true repentance and every other virtue will come to the soul.
It often happens that God leads things to such a point, that in a way, man cannot bear it. God knows how much every soul can bear. But at a time when things happen precisely this way –not once, but many a time- whoever has even minimal trust in God, learns to trust even more. Thus, the old man dies. Selfishness dies and so does the spirit of profanity one may have in them.
Let us not deceive ourselves. There are very few souls which trust God with honesty and are not misled by self love. The majority of us, unless we go through rough times -when we know not what to do, when we feel lost and can no longer bear it, when we are in a deep turmoil-, we will not learn the lesson of repentance. Hopefully, in the most positive judgment, you are humble and have all the virtues, too. That’s how it looks. But deeper, your soul is still in darkness. It’s got sclerosis.
You have to sweat and strain yourself in order to get rid of the old man. Just like the snake, which painfully shuffles its skin so that the new skin underneath can be seen.
Man has to undergo hardship unheard of. Otherwise, the soul cannot be sorted out, cannot become smooth. Otherwise, the soul doesn’t repent, nor does it overcome certain things. The “dregs” of the old man do not easily scrub off. Man makes allowances for himself. He loves himself and doesn’t cast himself aside.
Man has to undergo such hardship to the point that he feels that he truly can’t bear it any longer. But he has to pull through. In spite of not being able to bear it, man has to. And in order to come through, he will have to resort to the “intervention reserve”. What I mean is that he will surrender to God wholeheartedly. He will completely denounce himself, himself which constantly holds things back.
Our virtue is just cover up, which conceals all sickness and sinfulness nesting deep in your heart. That’s why God allows for things to turn out in such a way, that you despair. That’s why God allows for things to turn out in such a way, that nothing stays in place. Except, for a subtle saving hope which is hardly discernible. That’s how you denounce yourself. While God allows hardship, obstacles and temptations to come for our own good, we panic. We actually think that God has abandoned us, exactly because these things come.
While God through these things is present and wants to do work in our hearts, we are scared; we are seized by cowardice, despair. And God leaves us. In this case, we neither benefit nor make any advance. And whoever doesn’t make any advance goes backwards. He doesn’t simply stay put.
Man should surrender himself in the hands of God like prey, like a victim, in the sense that the old man should little by little die. The old man should be sacrificed. Every intention to salvage himself or support his self love and thus feel fake joy, should little by little taper off.
In order to reach a good spiritual state, in order for spiritual work to be done in your heart, so that you see sin dying out in you, so that you start having real communication with God, you will have to ride out a lot of storms. Such storms, that you will feel all is lost. So, at times when you are in a good spiritual state, you can keep up the good work and study a bit more, listen to the word of God, pray better, believe more. If you do so, this will act as good yeast in your heart and when hard times inevitably come, you can lean and rely on that.
Why does God allow for man to be in dire straits, when he doesn’t simply think (but also everything shows indeed) that all is lost as well as his soul, despite his taste of Grace and spiritual experience?
Because the sin of man cannot otherwise die.
Man tries to hold on to his ego in a thousand ways.
Like someone who no matter how drenched he gets in the rain, he still tries to keep some spot dry. However, if he gets thrown into a water reservoir, there is no hope for a dry spot on him.
Likewise, man throws himself in a pool of hopelessness and despair and as all human support gives way, there is nothing he can rely on to hide – in the sense of saving- his ego.
And he surrenders his ego to death.
Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.
Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos