God-Forsakeness

I disagree with your claim that an experience of “God-forsakeness” or “divine abandonment” is something everyone must expect to encounter in following a spiritual path.

It’s rather like glossalalia: no doubt some people receive the gift of speaking in tongues, but the Pentacostals err in supposing that this particular charism is a decisive manifestation of one’s relation with God, or perhaps even a sine qua non of salvation. In the same way, I can well understand that a “dark night of the soul” (to use the western terminology) can serve as an important element of purgation for a given man or woman. But it’s a mistake to insist that everyone must undergo this frightening and dangerous passage.

There are almost certainly elements of delusion in at least some forms or modes of abandonment, notwithstanding the fact that God can of course bring forth good from this evil. Do you know Kyriacos Markides’s book The Mountain of Silence? The following passage seems especially pertinent. The author’s friend and interlocutor “Father Maximos”, a pseudonym for His Eminence Athanasius, Metropolitan of Limassol, is speaking:

“Even saints had to face … obstacles in their spiritual struggle. This is what happened to Saint Silouan while he was a novice at the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mount Athos…. We see a young monk who was patient, obedient, and loved by everybody in the monastery. As a result he was assaulted by the logismos of self-praise, that he was living like a saint. Such a logismos springs from worldly vanity. He was doing all the external things that one is supposed to do, and yet the logismos of vanity was still haunting his mind. Since he lacked spiritual experience he assumed he was right on target heading toward sainthood.”

“He was not quite off the mark,” I [Markides] pointed out. “After all, the Church did canonize him as a saint.”

“But at that time he was young and still under the influence of worldly vanity. His experiences are very instructive. Even though he prayed ceaselessly, the Holy Spirit did not as yet take residence in his heart and that eventually led him to despair and doubt.”

“I suppose,” I pointed out, “that in this case there is an interesting convergence of delusion mixed in with virtue. After all, he struggled for God and dedicated his life to God.”

“This is absolutely so….”

“But if a saint can be so deceived, what does it say about ordinary mortals like most of us?” I complained.

“Don’t forget that Silouan underwent these experiences when he was quite young, a novice who was in a great hurry. From his experience we learn the lesson that ceaseless prayer, without utter humility and metanoia, can lead to all sorts of delusions. It can lead to worldly vanity and even to pathological symptoms….” (pp. 205-206).

As you can see, a feeling of abandonment is, at least in some cases, the result of approaching prayer in the wrong way or with a disproportionate zeal, and that being so, it follows that “God-forsakeness” is by no means an essential state or stage in everyone’s spiritual life. As Markides observes—and “Father Maximos” confirms—virtue on one level can sometimes coexist with delusion on another.

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