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

"For the enemy has pursued me; he hascrushed my life to the ground; he hasmade me sit in darkness like those longdead." (Ps 143.3)
In times of spiritual aridity, prayer does not stop. There is nothing todemand that it stop, since the entire soul is still inclined toward God andrighteousness. It is not as if it has lost its power or will to strive or to pray, forspiritual aridity has no effect except the absence of the solace, pleasure, and lovingencouragements that are the companions and fruits of prayer.

Spiritual languor, on the other hand, affects the will. Here, the attack isaimed even at our attempt to pray and to persevere in prayer. A man may standto pray, but he finds neither words to say nor power to carry on. He may sitdown to read, but the book in his hands turns, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, "intolead." It may remain open for a whole day, while the mind fails to grasp a singleline. The mind is distracted, unable to concentrate on or follow the meaningof the words passing before it. The will, which controls all activity, isimpotent. Although the desire to pray is present, the power and will to do so areabsent. In the end, even the desire to pray may fade. Man becomes unable andunwilling to pray, adding to his suffering and sorrow. His problems seementirely insolvable. If man tries to plumb the depths of his soul, he finds himself at a loss, forits 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 andsecretly measure it in his heart, he finds that it has died, gone. If he knocks atthe door of hope, if he clings to the promises of God he had once cherished andlived by, he finds in what he used to find hope has now turned to ice.
Hope isstuck in the cold present and not willing to move beyond it. The enemy seizes this opportunity, striking with all his firepower. Helaunches an offensive-to convince man of his failure, of the ruin of all hisstruggle and effort. The enemy tries to persuade man that his whole spirituallife 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 thespiritual life. Yet, amidst all these crushing inner battles, the soul somehow has an intuitionthat all these doubts are untrue and that something must exist on theother side of the darkness. It also feels that, in spite of itself, it is still bound tothe God who has forsaken it. The soul continues to worship God without realizingor 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 nocomfort or assurance. When the enemy seeks to deal his fatal blow, trying to force the soul torenounce its faith and hope, he encounters no response. The soul may givein to the enemy in the battle of the mind in complete surrender and to thefarthest limits of error.
But it is absolutely impossible for the soul to takeaction, for at the point where imagination and thought turn into action,the will springs forth like a lion out of his den to terrify all the foxes ofcorruption. Hence, behind spiritual languor there exists a relationship with God that,though inactive, is real and still very strong, stronger than all the whispers ofthe devil. Yet until the decisive moment of danger, this relationship sleeps. This relationship remains hidden from the soul. It is vain to try to convince asoul of its existence, that the soul might rely on this or reassure itself of its presence.For in this tribulation, the soul is called to stand alone. The soul remains within the sphere of God's dominion. Althoughunaware, it is still making progress and on the right path. It is still led by aninvisible hand and carried by an unfelt power. The tangible proof for all thisis the extreme, constant grief of the soul over its fall from its former activity,zeal, and prominent effort into its present state. The movement of faith was born one day within the heart of the pilgrim,now on the trek whose final destination is God. Faith was lit like a lamp withthe light of God. It was kindled by love and zeal and has pushed the soul forwardon its march.
The pilgrim must not believe that this movement can beabruptly withdrawn from the depths of his heart, that he can be left in suchsudden emptiness. It cannot be assumed that a man will constantly see or feel the light orwarmth of God. Yet both are constant and active, both in the light of this lifeas well as in its darkness, its coldness as well as its warmth, its happiness as wellas its grief. The way of the spirit is not to be measured exclusively by periodsof light, warmth, joy, or fruitful activity. Periods of impasse, of darknessengulfing the soul, of grief which oppresses the heart, periods of coldness paralyzingall spiritual emotion are inseparable parts of the narrow spiritual way.Such conditions seem adverse, painful, and deadly. What matters is how weface them. This is what determines our worthiness to proceed further, completingthe blessed struggle until we receive our crowns.