Overcoming Depression

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A few case studies analysed by St. Porphyrios at a rare audio recording and a chapter from his book “Wounded by Love”

“Nowadays people often feel sadness, despair, lethargy, laziness, apathy, and all things satanic.  They are downcast, discontent and melancholy.  They disregard their families, spend vast sums on psychoanalysts and take anti-depressants.  People explain this as ‘insecurity.’  Our religion believes that these states derive from satanic temptation. 

Pain is a psychological power which God implanted in us with a view to doing us good and leading us to love, joy, and prayer.  Instead of this, the devil succeeds in taking this power from the battery of our soul and using it for evil.  He transforms it into depression and brings the soul into a state of lethargy and apathy.  He torments us, takes us captive and makes us psychologically ill.

There is a secret.  Turn the satanic energy into good energy.  This is difficult and requires some preparation.  The requisite preparation is humility.  With humility you attract the grace of God.  You surrender yourself to the love of God, to worship and to prayer.  But even if you do all in the world, you achieve nothing if you haven’t acquired humility.  All the evil feelings, insecurity, despair and disenchantment, which come to take control of the soul, disappear with humility.  The person who lacks humility, the egotist, doesn’t want you to get in the way of his desires, to make any criticism of him or tell him what to do.  He gets upset, irritated and reacts violently and is overcome by depression.

This state is cured by grace.  The soul must turn to God’s love.  The cure will come when we start to love God passionately.  Many of our saints transformed depression into joy with their love for Christ.  That is, they took this power of the soul which the devil wished to crush and gave it to God and they transformed it into joy and exultation.  Prayer and worship gradually transform depression and turn it into joy, because the grace of God takes effect.  Here you need to have the strength to attract the grace of God which will help you to be united with Him.  Art is required.  When you give yourself to God and become one with him, you will forget the evil spirit which drags at you from behind, and this spirit, when it is disdained, will leave.  And the more you devote yourself to the Spirit of God, the less you will look behind to see the spirit that is dragging at you.  When grace attracts you, you will be united with God.  And when you unite yourself to God and abandon yourself to Him, everything else disappears and is forgotten and you are saved.  The great art, the great secret, in order to rid yourself of depression and all that is negative is to give yourself over to the love of God.

Something which can help a person who is depressed is work, interest in life.  The garden, plants, flowers, trees, the countryside, a walk in the open air — all these things tear a person away from a state of inactivity and awake other interests.  They act like medicines.  To occupy oneself with the arts, with music and so on, is very beneficial.  The thing that I place top of the list, however, is interest in the Church, in reading Holy Scripture and attending services.  As you study the words of God you are cured without being aware of it.

Let me tell you about a girl who came to me.  She was suffering from dreadful depression.  Drugs had no effect.  She had given up everything — her work, her home, her interests.  I told her about the love of Christ which takes the soul captive because the grace of God fills the soul and changes it.  I explained to her that the force which takes over the soul and transforms the power of the soul into depression is demonic.  It throws the soul to the ground, torments it and renders it useless.  I advised her to devote herself to things like music which she had formerly enjoyed.  I emphasized, however, most of all her need to turn to Christ with love.  I told her, moreover, that in our Church a cure is to be found through love for God and prayer, provided this is done with all the heart.”

By St. Porphyrios
+2 Dec

 

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Illnesses and Sin

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It is incorrect to say that depression is not an illness or that alcoholism is not an illness or that same-sex attraction is not an illness. The standard definition of an illness is any condition which upsets the homeostasis of a system. There are spiritual illnesses and physical illnesses. I suppose one could even say that there are mental illnesses, although their crossover into spiritual illnesses is profound.

Calling something a mental illness will not give one license to say that we are not spiritually responsible for it and for the things that we do because of it. This is the way of the world nowadays. A person says I have depression and therefore since it’s an illness I’m not responsible for it. A person might say I’m same-sex attracted and I was born this way, and since the world teaches me that I should act on my impulses I am not responsible for them and they must not be sins. This is wrongheaded thinking.

It is always good to think humbly about ourselves and blame ourselves. The world doesn’t understand this, but the Orthodox church, with our wonderful ascetic theology, does understand this. Our prayers make this very clear, and ignorance regarding them is a terrible spiritual problem for many Orthodox Christians.

Any Christian who has great problems, weaknesses or sins must improve his prayer and struggle, or else all other solutions will be ineffective or less effective, or even harmful. Look to yourself if you are depressed, or have SSA, or an addiction. Could you pray even a little bit more? Confess more? Fast at least a little bit more? Struggle to be on time to liturgy, come to the evening service at least sometimes? Read the prayers in the prayer book, and try to learn from them? Pray for a person who has harmed you? Quantity is not important, but EFFORT is. It is almost always true that we can make more effort. Something is always better than nothing.

Blaming ourselves does not mean that we have a terrible poor self-concept about ourselves. Blaming ourselves means taking responsibility for all of our actions and thoughts, and AT THE SAME TIME, with a warm hope in God, Whom we know will help us, because He loves us and is merciful.

Sin is anything that is not like God except for the blameless passions. The blameless passions are things like the need for sleep or food. We have those needs because we are in the flesh. In the next life, we will be in the flesh but not have those needs. All of those needs are signs that we are not yet perfected.

Depression is certainly an illness, and it certainly can be treated with medications in some cases. It is always an incomplete treatment and even a dangerous treatment to only use medications and not also to pray, and struggle to follow the commandments, and understand that our spiritual actions are part of our healing. Our healing for anything is through God because of His love for us.

It is a significant mistake to consider the depression is only a biological illness and not also a spiritual one. When one calls something a mental illness generally what they mean is that there is some biological reason for the illness and that morally the person is completely blameless. Sometimes they believe there is only a biological reason for the illness. The former is often true, but the latter is never true.

Nothing we do should be done without the spirit. That includes taking medicine or getting medical treatment. We are composite creatures with a body and a soul. When we are ill , the body and soul both need attention.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland

Seraphim@orthodox.net