Coping with Spiritual Paralysis

Periods of impasse, of oppressive grief, of darkness engulfing the soul are inseparable parts of religious life.

BY: Father Matta El-Maskeen (Matthew the Poor)

Reprinted from Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way with permission of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

"For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead." (Ps 143.3)

In times of spiritual


, prayer does not stop. There is nothing to demand that it stop, since the entire soul is still inclined toward God and righteousness. It is not as if it has lost its power or will to strive or to pray, for spiritual aridity has no effect except the absence of the solace, pleasure, and loving encouragements that are the companions and fruits of prayer.



, on the other hand, affects the will. Here, the attack is aimed even at our attempt to pray and to persevere in prayer. A man may stand to pray, but he finds neither words to say nor power to carry on. He may sit down to read, but the book in his hands turns, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, "into lead." It may remain open for a whole day, while the mind fails to grasp a single line. The mind is distracted, unable to concentrate on or follow the meaning of the words passing before it. The will, which controls all activity, is impotent.

Although the desire to pray is present, the power and will to do so are absent. In the end, even the desire to pray may fade. Man becomes unable and unwilling to pray, adding to his suffering and sorrow. His problems seem entirely insolvable.

If man tries to plumb the depths of his soul, he finds himself at a loss, for its depths are beyond his reach. It is as if his spiritual footing has been lost, alienating him from the essence of his life. If he tries to examine his faith and secretly measure it in his heart, he finds that it has died, gone. If he knocks at the door of hope, if he clings to the promises of God he had once cherished and lived by, he finds in what he used to find hope has now turned to ice. Hope is stuck in the cold present and not willing to move beyond it.

The enemy seizes this opportunity, striking with all his firepower. He launches an offensive-to convince man of his failure, of the ruin of all his struggle and effort. The enemy tries to persuade man that his whole spiritual life was not true or real, that it was nothing but fanciful illusions and emotions. He clamps down on man's mind that he might once and for all deny the spiritual life.

Yet, amidst all these crushing inner battles, the soul somehow has an intuition that all these doubts are untrue and that something must exist on the other side of the darkness. It also feels that, in spite of itself, it is still bound to the God who has forsaken it. The soul continues to worship God without realizing or even wanting to! Deep within, far away from the mind's eye or discernment, the heart continues to pray-albeit it is a prayer that gives him no comfort or assurance.

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