Emotions: A Blessing or a Curse?

A conversation  with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos 
Father what you have been saying has been a continuous surprise for me, from which I cannot yet recover. How can it be that emotion is also a result of the Fall, or rather that emotion itself is an ill condition?
 
-Emotion is mixed up with the passions of pleasure-loving. It is not completely identified with them, but is imbued by them to a great degree. A healthy man spiritually is a balanced man in all his manifestations. I said earlier that when man’s nous is illumined -when man is at the illumination of the nous- he is not moved by God simply psychologically and emotionally, but has true communion with God. Moreover, he sees in all creation the “causes of beings” -the uncreated governing energy of God. He is not moved emotionally by nature and its beauty, but sees the energy of God in it. As St. Isaac the Syrian says, faith based on theoria -which man attains when he is at the illumination of the nous- “is a gate to the mysteries of God”.
 
I will mention a simple example. St.Diadochos of Photiki says that the introductory joy is one thing and the perfecting joy is another. The first one, being strongly emotional, is mixed with fantasy, “is not devoid of fantasy”, while perfecting joy is associated with humility. Between emotional joy and perfecting joy there is “god-loving sorrow and painless tears”. Emotional joy, which is called introductory, is not entirely rejected, yet we must be led to the perfecting joy. This perfection and cure is achieved through the cross. “By the cross gladness prevails to all world”. Thus within the Church we struggle to transform all emotions as well as everything mundane. The transformation of emotions to genuine and authentic experiences is accomplished by repentance. Repentance leads us from a painful and tragic monologue to a dialogue with the living God. Through repentance, self-condemnation and humility, we transform emotions to spiritual experiences. In this case also holds true what we mentioned about fantasy. The more a person is emotionally ill, the more he reveals the death and darkness of his nous. And the more a person’s emotions are transformed, the more his nous is illumined; he is at the state of illumination. Can you see that the movement of the nous is very important? Can you see that it plays an important role whether the nous follows the movement according to nature or contrary to nature?
 
-Allow me, continued Irene, to ask you to explain even further how the emotions are transformed to spiritual experiences.
 
-I think I referred to the basic points. But since you wish I can expand more on the subject. The Fathers say that in the woman’s soul psychological experiences are connected more with spiritual ones. In other words, many women consider the so-called psychological conditions to be spiritual experiences. They may for example feel an emotional sweetness, while praying, and think that it is the coming of the grace of God. A lot of attention is needed, because at this point many images of fantasy intervene and create the preconditions for serious psychological anomalies.
 
I give you an example. A small girl expresses motherhood by playing with dolls. She feeds them, washes them, puts them to sleep, etc. When, however, she grows up and becomes a real mother, she does all these things undergoing pain. She feels pain to give birth to the child and pain and toil to bring it up. The little girl expresses motherhood, and, I could say, enjoys it emotionally, without pain and suffering, whereas becoming a mother for a woman is connected with pain and suffering; it is a “cross”. It is in this way somehow that we distinguish emotional joy from spiritual joy, emotions from spiritual experiences. Only true and complete repentance can cleanse all these psychological states and make them spiritual. And, naturally, it is our spiritual father who helps us with this; it is he who has the responsibility of distinguishing and curing this condition. In this way and with the help of our spiritual guide our nous is cured; it is led from the movement contrary to nature to that according to nature and, even more, above nature; the nous then is illumined and united with God and it is cured from fantasies and emotions. This is why the realisation of the real problem, and also the cure of the darkened nous are absolutely necessary.
 
Source-The illness and cure of the soul in the Orthodox Tradition
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
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