Despondency; The Modern Plague?

The demon of acedia [despondency], also called the noonday demon, is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks the monk from about the fourth hour [10am] and besieges his soul until the eighth hour [2 pm]. First of all, he makes it appear that the sun moves slowly or not at all, and that the day seems to be fifty hours long. Then he compels the monk to look constantly towards the windows, to jump out of the cell, to watch the sun to see how far it is from the ninth hour [3pm, coinciding with meal time], to look this way and that lest one of the brother [might come visit him]…. And further, he instills in him a dislike for the place and for his state of life itself, for manual labour [ie work], and also the idea that love has disappeared from among the brothers and there is no one to console him. And should there be someone during those days who has offended the monk, this too the demon uses to add further to his dislike (of the place). He leads him on to a desire for other places where he can easily find the wherewithal to meet his needs and pursue a trade that is easier and more productive: he adds that pleasing the Lord is not a question of being in a particular place: for Scriptures says that the divinity can be worshipped everywhere (cf. John 4.21-4). He joins to these suggestions the memory of his close relations and of his former life; he depicts for him the long course of his lifetime, while bringing the burdens of asceticism before his eyes; and, as the saying has it, he deploys every device in order to have the monk leave his cell and flee the stadium. No other demon follows immediately after this one: a state of peace and ineffable joy ensues in the soul after this struggle.” Evagrius of Pontus, Praktikos, Chapter 12.

While none of us, living in the world, have cells from which to escape and run away, we do have modes of life and responsibilities given to us by God which we are all too willing to put off. The phenomenon of the midday boredom or torpor (another word used to try to depict an element of despondency in English) which has us agitated and unsettled and searching back and forth for another distraction is all too familiar to us. With instant updates on everything and miles of social media updates to scroll through, we have more to distract us than the movement of the sun. As such, we too get the sense that the day is never-ending. And if one of our brothers or sisters has offended us then we are fast to run away from our churches under the pretense that “love has disappeared from among” the church or the community, etc.

In modern medicine it is understood that one cannot cure an illness unless one knows that it is exists and perhaps a little about how it harms the individual. Unless we recognize the evil of this inner boredom and agitation, this inner restlessness that paralyzes us (Evagrius calls it a slackness of the soul in other places) whilst creating restlessness in our inner being, then we cannot be cured of it. Scroll culture is not ‘normal’. It is not ‘normal’ to never be able to settle in one place, in one workplace, in one career, in one church, with one spouse, etc. May we stand firm against the temptation to always find the new and novel exciting thing in our lives, in our prayers, in our most intimate of relationships.

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