I remember years ago, while living in Thessaloniki, my husband and I became acquainted with a couple; he was American, she was Greek. We met at church and were invited to lunch with them in their apartment. During the meal we were talking about how we each became Orthodox (including the Greek wife as she had gone through her own experience of repentance and a conscious embrace of the Orthodox faith she was raised in).
The American had been Orthodox for a number of years, whereas my husband and I were only a few years into being Orthodox. He told us, “Well, hopefully you’ll do better than I have, because it’s been 8 years and I have only gotten worse, spiritually.” I remember at the time thinking, He is mistaken; I’m sure he has spiritually progressed and is just exaggerating. Now, years later, I know from my own experience what it is like to start out full of zeal and love and fervor… only to suddenly wake up and feel as though the spiritual life and the presence of God is a far away dream:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost. (Canto I of Dante’s Inferno)
And yet, I have to fight despairing thoughts and remember all hope is not lost. To feel our weakness in an intimate way, to arise from sleep everyday and know that we must fight hard to acquire grace, this is not spiritual digression so much as it is God gently reminding us that we must rely on Him.
Just listen to what St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain says:
“You advance a little; then you forget your weakness, and Christ removes His Grace. Deprived of divine Grace, you again see your weakness and begin to recover. If you had said to me that as you advance you become better, then I would have been scared. For I would have seen that you are prideful. But now that you see yourself getting worse, I am glad. For I see that you are well. Do not fear. The more one advances, the more he is able to detect his weaknesses and his imperfections. And that is progress.”
Inhale deep breath. Exhale sigh of relief.
God is with us by his grace and love toward mankind, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.