Why do some become poor in faith and love for the Church in the middle of the path they’re traversing? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because human souls are endlessly diverse and unique. However, by nature of his calling, a priest has the chance to generalize his observations of human destinies, no matter how unrepeatable they may be.
First of all, let us recall the famous testimony of St. Abba Dorotheos, the sixth-century teacher of monastic asceticism, about zeal for God. Most of us have received but failed to preserve this sacred fire in our hearts. The good enthusiasm of the first years of our Church life gradually gets lost, disappears, dissipates bit-by-bit. The joyful excitement of the heart at prayer, the thirst for communion with God gives way to habit, to dedication to external rules of behavior to the detriment of the soul’s trembling stance before the Living God.
I think the reason for this impoverishment is the lack of vigilance, of mental attentiveness to the action of the passions lurking deep within the heart. Being neglectful of the evil thoughts and images that constantly arise in the mind, a Christian becomes like a gardener who’s tired of weeding his beds. Weeds that aren’t plucked out in time gradually choke and stifle the shoots of cultivated plants. The ground remains unproductive, and the harvest doesn’t meet expectations. Cursed be he that doeth the work of the LORD carelessly… (Jer. 48:10).
Many of us who are seemingly rooted in the life of the Church lack gratitude, a warm sense of thankfulness to the Lord Who is benevolent towards us. When one begins to treat the Divine Liturgy, the Sacraments, church and home prayer as something natural, as a matter of course, as simply Church life but not as a miracle of God, the soul of a pious man lowers its wings and withers like a flower deprived of life-giving moisture, or rather, as if is sated with it. Decaying roots can no longer absorb moisture, and the indifferent heart can’t draw the grace of the Lord from the inexhaustible spring of the Church.
Others are impoverished in piety also because they’ve become accustomed to judging other people’s actions harshly, while having leniency for their own shortcomings. A condemnatory thought is like an internal parasite that prevents the body from assimilating food. As they say: “Caviar to the general.” The soul that’s prone to condemnation remains spiritually barren, and therefore alien to God’s grace.
A serious ailment of the modern Christian is the habit of praying absentmindedly, uncollectedly, more with the lips and fingers than with the mind and heart. Imagine an oven filled with damp logs. Giving off moisture, they don’t allow the fire to do its work: They hiss, smolder, smoke, but they don’t ignite. The exact same thing happens with the prayer of an absentminded man. Canons and akathists are read, prostrations are made, the services go on for hours, and the soul remains dark and damp from the passions comfortably hiding in the depths of a heart unenlightened by the Spirit of God.
Finally, there are also “disappointed travelers,” who descend from the path of Church piety because they aren‘t completely sincere and frank in Confession. Out of false shame, they obscure sins, dismissing them with general phrases; and such people remain untreated, and therefore discontented. It’s no surprise that those who are lenient with their own vanity eventually no longer see and feel the inner need to confess often and instead migrate to the camp of lukewarm, ordinary folks, so far removed from sincere and true disciples of Christ.
Much has been said, but not everything. It’s not uncommon nowadays for people to suffer grievously from a lack of love. Not seeing it anywhere around them, they grumble and become despondent, for they don’t see this main fruit of life in Christ in Church society. Constant dissatisfaction with others is fraught with moral decline. Having corrupted his character, the bore and critic becomes a misanthrope, whose way of thinking and living sometimes have nothing in common with Christianity.
Having identified the diseases that lead to our falling away from the Church, let us prescribe medicine for ourselves and our readers, remembering that the best means of treatment is the prevention of the disease.
Our minds must be extremely attentive to our hearts throughout the day. Evil thoughts born within the soul must be met with instant confrontation, expressed in a prayerful appeal to God and His saints. Frequent Confession, fueled by the inner need to purify the conscience, is the greatest aid in the work of our salvation. Let the Holy Eucharist be the object of holy desire, and participation in it the most joyous event in our lives. Gratitude, thanksgiving to God always and for all things is a genuine sign of a believing soul! The warmth of love for others, the ability to sacrificially serve them, forgetting about yourself for a time, cordiality, affability—these are the keys to maintaining spiritual health. The constant invocation of the name of the Redeemer in the recesses of the praying heart is that spark of God which, having flared up, grows over time into a sacred fire, burning day and night on the altar, not made by hands, of the believing heart.