Despair Not

“Do not then despair of the most perfect change [repentance]. For if the devil had such great power as to cast you down from that pinnacle and height of virtue into the extremity of evil doing, much more will God be able to draw you up again to your former confidence; and not only indeed to make you what you were before, but even much happier. Do no be downcast, nor give up hope, nor fall into the condition of the ungodly. For it is not the multitude of sins which is able to plunge men into despair, but impiety of soul. This is why Solomon did not say simply “every one who has entered into the den of the wicked, despises;” but only “he who is ungodly (Proverbs 18.3).” For it is such persons only who are affected in this way when they have entered the den of the wicked. And it is this which does not allow them to look up, and re-ascend to the position from which they fell. For this accursed thought [despair] pressing down like some yoke upon the neck of the soul, and so forcing it to stoop, hinders it from looking up to the Master. Now it is the part of a brave and excellent man to break this yoke in pieces, to shake off the tormentor fastened upon him; and to utter the words of the prophet, “As the eyes of a maiden look unto the hands of her mistress, even so our eyes look unto the Lord our God until He have mercy upon us. Have pity upon us, O Lord, have pity upon us, for we have been utterly filled with contempt. (Ps 123.2-3)” Truly divine are these precepts, and decrees of the highest form of spiritual wisdom. We have been filled, it is said, with contempt, and have undergone countless distresses; nevertheless we shall not desist from looking up to God, neither shall we cease praying to him until He has received our petition. For this is the mark of a noble soul, not to be cast down, nor be dismayed at the multitude of the calamities which oppress it, nor to withdraw, after praying many times without success, but to persevere, until He have mercy upon us.” St. John Chrysostom, Letter 1 to Theodore after his fall

Here we see the pastoral counsel of St. John Chrysostom to a certain Theodore after he had fallen and was on the cusp of falling into a deep despair. As we continue this lenten path and look inwardly, some of us can be overcome by the enormity of our sin and by our ill-doing. However, St. John Chrysostom is adamant that despair is an accursed thought, it is in fact a passion of itself. If we find ourselves despairing the fathers warn us that we may have a far too high ideal of ourselves. We are still only looking to ourselves only and have not directed our eyes to Him Who is able to heal all wounds (for this is truly the nature of sin, not as a legal precept). Perhaps we are unable to believe that we are so decrepit that we fell into a particular sin or perhaps we have always believed ourselves ‘above’ a particular vice or sin. We fall into the trap of thinking that this is a sin that ‘someone else’ falls into. When this proves to not be the case, we are faced with the stark reality that we require a Healer, we need God. However, as soon as this sets upon us, we are also confronted with the temptation to despair, despairing that we were ‘too weak’. Let us take this opportunity, if sin befalls us, to seek Him Who came to heal us. Let us break free of the shackles and chains of sin which constantly turn our selfish gaze back upon ourselves and open ourselves to Him Who has opened Himself to us in love from all eternity.

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