Today we celebrate the feast day of the first Orthodox saint to visit Australia: St Paisios of Mt Athos. To celebrate the occasion below we share with you his words of wisdom as to why do we sometimes feel empty, even when we undertake spiritual struggles, and how can we find true joy? The question was put to St Paisios by one of the nuns from a monastery founded by him.
Elder, why do I feel a certain emptiness within?
This comes from vainglory. When we seek to be exalted in the eyes of people, we feel inwardly empty – the fruit of vainglory – because Christ does not enter into emptiness, but into the heart of the new man. Unfortunately, spiritual people often desire a virtue, but they also want something on which to feed their pride, that is, recognition, first place and so on, only to end up with an emptiness in their soul, the emptiness of vainglory; there is no fullness, no fluttering of the heart. And the more their vainglory grows, the more the emptiness expands within them and the more they suffer.
Elder, where does the strain I feel in my struggle come from?
You are not struggling humbly. Whoever struggles humbly does not encounter difficulties in his struggle. However, when there are spiritual aspirations watered with vainglory, then the soul is pressured. When we humbly call upon the mercy of God, all the other passions do not cause us as much difficulty in the course of our spiritual ascent. But when the devil steals us away with vainglory, he binds our eyes and leads us along his own rough path, and then we find ourselves under pressure because we are in the devil’s arena.
Spiritual life is not like worldly life. In worldly life, for a business to go well, one must advertise, distribute flyers and do everything necessary to promote his work. On the contrary, in spiritual life the “business” will go well only when one despises advertisement of his spiritual work.
Elder, how can I dispel vainglorious thoughts?
By rejoicing with the opposites of what worldly people seek. You can be active in the spiritual realm only if your pursuits are opposite to those of worldly people.
Do you seek tenderness? Rejoice when people pay no attention to you.
Do you seek a throne? Seat yourself on a stool.
Do you seek praise? Love contempt and scorn in order to experience the love of the despised Jesus.
Do you seek glory? Seek dishonour in order to experience the glory of God.
And when you experience the glory of God, you will sense happiness and have the greatest joy of all the joys in all the world within yourself.
Source: Passions & Virtues (pp 79-80)