Negligence, the Unsleeping Danger for the Orthodox Christian
Negligence is a terrible conspirator against our lives and
has wronged us many times, and we must never cease to regard it as our most
implacable enemy. The Elder's fervour in protecting us from it and his profound
experience of the crafty and intricate ways in which it confuses and entangles
its victims makes it imperative for us to say something about this enemy of
In the language of the Fathers this is called listlessness (akidia) as well as
negligence and sloth, which all mean the same thingspiritual death. We shall
not go into what the Fathers have said about this pestilence, except that it is
included among the eight evil thoughts as a comprehensive vice. We shall simply
give helpful extracts from the Elder's experience, which are of particular use
in our own generation.
When we asked about the chief cause of man's failure in his
spiritual purpose, he would reply that it was negligence. On one occasion I
asked him how it was that the Fathers give self-esteem as the reason, and he
replied, "Yes, that conspires against us too; but not all of us, only those it
deceives. And again it affects only a few, because self-esteem corrupts
treasures that have been amassed, while negligence does not even let you
collect them. Negligence is like a drought in which nothing grows. Self-esteem
damages those who have fruit, who have made some progress; whereas negligence
harms everyone, because it impedes those who want to make a start, it stops
those who have advanced, it does not allow the ignorant to learn, it prevents
those who have gone astray from returning, it does not permit the fallen to get
negligence spells destruction for all those it holds captive."
"Using the pretext of physical needs and weariness from the
struggle, this deceiver makes itself credible; and like a conductive material,
listlessness transmits us and hands us over to self-love, the more general
enemy. Only a courageous soul grounded in faith and hope in God can overthrow
this conspiracy Otherwise, it is difficult for someone inexperienced to escape
from these nets. This is a great ordeal for those who live alone and for
everyone who avoids a regulated life, whereas it is unable to harm those who
are under obedience and have tasks to perform."
"Listlessness begins with despondency and faintheartedness
and the prolonged withdrawal of grace. It starts off with the application of
economy towards some supposed infirmity or weakness, and ends in total
disbelief and shamelessness and ingratitude. For those who live alone as
hesychasts, it starts from neglect of the rule and order of their lives, and
grows if not attended to in good time. But in those who live with others, it begins
with idle talk and backbiting."
As a cure for negligence, the Elder recommended eschatological meditation in
ascending and descending form: reward and punishment, the Kingdom of heaven and
hell; and also calling to mind the honorable memory of those who have taken
part in the struggle. The means of grace against negligence are prayer, tears
and faith. Again, the Elder would recount many examples from the lives of
earlier spiritual warriors who happened to be led astray by negligence and lost
the record of spiritual progress which they had gained through great fervour
and ascetic labour. The Elder would say, "In my opinion, the other passions
into which spiritual warriors are led astray are complications of indifference,
because this erodes our attention and so opens the way to related and connected
passions, and these take men captive."
To wake us up in the morning he would always shout to us, "Don't be negligent,
boys, lest you fall into the hands of thieves." He even regarded a pointless
occupation as negligence, because he believed that this too could lead to the
same bondage. As David says, "Let not thy foot be moved, and He who keeps thee
will not slumber (Ps. 120:3);" and again, "If Thy law had not been my
meditation, I should have perished in my humiliation (Ps. 118:92)."
From Orthodox Heritage (Vol. 3, Issue 7), p. 14. Reprinted
from the "Plow" magazine, July 2003. Posted 8/21/2005.
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Question: How can a Christian find quietness for praying, a Christian who lives in the tumult and noise of a city?
Answer: We should try to obtain as much as possible! We should not be negligent. Because negligence is the greatest danger for the soul of each man. It means you have no mercy for your own soul, and thus you're in great spiritual danger. You didn't do your [prayer] rule? Negligence tells you, "It doesn't matter." You didn't fast? Negligence tells you, "It doesn't matter." Did you commit fornication? Negligence tells you, "It doesn't matter." We should strive as much as we can and God will help us to be saved. The greater the temptations are, the greater the Grace of God will be and the greater the crown. But God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. If we have prayer and purity of soul and body, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and all great difficulties will easily be solved. These hard times for the salvation of our soul were prophesied by the Holy Fathers. A disciple asked his Elder, "Father, look, we're powerless and the enemy fights us. If that's the way it is as now, what will it be like in the last times?" The Elder responded, "Son, in the last times, the monks will be like laymen and the laymen will be like demons!" But I know people who live in the center of Bucharest and lead a pure and spiritual life.
From an interview with Elder Cleopas (Ilie) of Sihastria Monastery, published in The Orthodox Word (Vol. 28, No. 1 (162)), pp. 16-17.