The Arabic original can be found here.
The Time of the Weak Spirit
The distinguishing characteristic of contemporary life is weakness of will. This weakness of soul has two causes in particular, ease of life and looseness of the passions. Today, ease of life is caused by the development of means for it, and looseness of the passions is caused by ease of life Sixty years ago, life was hard and difficult. Most people had to bitterly struggle in order to life. One hundred years ago, someone who didn’t struggle died. Half the population of Lebanon died of hunger during the First World War. Children had to grow up quickly. A ten year old child from those times was tougher and more mature than a twenty year-old in our times. In the past people had to expend great efforts to obtain things that are very simple for us today. Nothing was easy. Harshness of life called for manliness. Take bread, for example. Today, it comes to your house any time you want, and you don’t have to expend any effort in obtaining it. You only pay for it, and it’s generally dirt cheap. In the past, I remember when I was a child that my parents would wake up around two in the morning to sift the flour, make it into dough, and then wait for it to rise. Then they would knead it, and leave it again to rest. This activity would take up a significant a significant amount of time, especially since they would prepare enough bread for the whole week. Then the dough would be taken to the public oven and wait its turn. Then it would be run over with a rolling pin, baked, and taken back to the house, loaf stacked upon loaf and then covered with a cloth so it wouldn’t go dry. All this was hard work that required time and effort for the benefit of the whole household, but it was something very ordinary at that time.
In the past, people needed to be tough because of the hardness of life in the world. They wore their bodies out and had to be patient and stoic and had to work long hours during the day. All this and more required a strong will to live. People had to face dangers, sicknesses, hunger without having the most elementary ways of protecting themselves. They had to have strong souls to resist and to endure, lest they die. Only a very few people could live according to their whims. Passions, in general, were controlled because people were preoccupied with the necessities of life. Their circumstances and the hardness of living did not allow them to be overwhelmed by their passions. Looseness of life was severely disapproved because it threatened the family with disintegration and a bad name, and likewise the Church and society. Because of the difficulties of life people were in daily need of God and so for them the fear of God was a necessity. Blessings were a living matter for people, and those who disobeyed the commandments were excluded from the grace of God. Difficult life was a suitable means for faith to deal with Jesus in a living and spontaneous way. For this reason, the lack knowledge apart from theology that spread in the centuries before the twentieth preserved people from dealing with things in a rationalistic manner. Paradoxically, the lack of worldly knowledge and the tradition of dealing with theological matters and walking in faith and piety, at times with the simpleness of children, but in a living way preserved the simplicity of people’s hearts, there is no doubt about it!
Today, souls are week because people are no longer in need of strong souls to deal with the difficulties of life. In general, technology has secured ease and luxury, even if there are a billion starving people in the world. Ease has created a state of inner laxity in people, just has luxury has created fertile ground for the passions of the soul and the body, so people work not only to secure their basic needs, but to secure the needs of their passions as well. If they become accustomed to the way of the passions in life, it is like they are hung on the hook of the Evil One. The satisfaction of the passions dominates them, even to the point of overtaking the need to fulfill one’s daily necessities, and so then you will see a strange sight among people. People suffer hardship in obtaining the basic needs for their life, sometimes, but they do not want to give up treating themselves to the pleasures of their passions—clothing, makeup, tobacco, sitting at the café, buying mobile phones, and so on. Sometimes they even go into debt to satisfy a whim they have. And this is to not even talk about people who are actually well off! In terms of life’s necessities, basic things have become hopelessly mixed with things of the passions and so nothing satisfies people. He runs, and satisfaction runs out of this reach. There is nothing that will make him content! The passions have escaped from their rationalizations, and passions start to give birth to passions! There is no difference between the rich and the poor in terms of the strength of the passions which are active in their souls and bodies, only in their ability to satisfy them lavishly!
And so in this reality, the will of the passions have dominated every other will in man. Ease of material life is reflected in man by a weakness in the soul and a feebleness in the will to have faith in Jesus. Because of the development and diffusion of science, and the intellectualization of life, man has come to be more and more reliant on himself in procuring, then using his own passions. This causes man to be struck with pride and in practice he doesn’t need God’s help except during wars and catastrophes and incurable illnesses. As a result of this, faith atrophies. It simply becomes a set of feelings and affectations and ideas that man uses to support his own passions. In order to open up life, faith needs a will for faith in a new life, and when this will is afflicted and the soul weakens, the heart becomes ill and the soul is sickened and the illnesses of the soul spread while that which is necessary for faith in the Lord Jesus is greater and more distant than the capacity of thought, of the will, of the soul, to seek and attain it. This causes many to distort the faith, or to leave it, or to give themselves over to despair. Man has fallen into a kind of trap. He seeks ease of life and then falls prey to the domination of the passions over him and the passions cause many illnesses in his soul, as they distance him from God and provoke despair about this in his soul! God becomes an elusive stranger!
Thus it becomes clear that poverty, from the perspective of a living faith in God, in difficult times for the worldly life, is better than luxury, and a hard life is better than an easy one. Likewise it becomes clear that in general when the body is exhausted the soul rests and when the body is lax, the soul is exhausted and becomes ill. The question might be asked, is it possible for man to return from this state that has alienated him from God? Preaching, in the current psychological climate, is beneficial to a very limited degree, as are Christian education, spiritual culture, research and studies and things like this. All of this, in the context of contemporary life, works rather to change the outward form of life, and not to change its contents and its consciousness. Man today knows more about God intellectually, this is true, but he knows God less with his heart and his being. And God is a god of hearts! Very rarely will you find theological erudition, no matter how developed, lead to large and profound changes in repentance for a new life in Christ. The distinguishing characteristic of our times is invention, the invention of theologies according to the whims of the individual and the group. And so there is no pastoral guidance, no preaching, no teaching, no church programs which can benefit in this environment in the way we might hope. Only the saints, here and there, can effect the hardness that supports people today more than others, because they send forth a spirit and they put themselves forward as models for a new life. This is the most you can want in this climate of waywardness in which we find ourselves, and the saints are not many. What can be humanly done is very little, regardless of how hard we try, because our consciousness is afflicted. This is not a reason for despair, but rather for repentance and prayer. In any condition, God alone is able to get us out, broadly speaking, of this deep pit, through ways He alone knows. In human terms, there are only wars, catastrophes, famines, and plagues to help us smash the idol of man’s worship of technology, and thus of his mind and his ego, in order to return him to himself, his humility and so to the worship of his Lord. However, to dream of a golden age that combines human achievements, civilization, knowledge, inventions, and culture with the Gospel of Salvation is not something realistic. The prodigal son did not return to his father when he was in the depth of his profligate life, but only after he had fallen to the level of swine. As long as man does not realize the swinefulness of his way of life today with its intense depravity, then he will not return to himself and then to his Lord! After the fall, Eve gave birth to her children in pain, and today it is only in pain that errant man will be born anew for his Lord! And so we must anticipate more hardship and suffering as a result of the explosion of passions, and we must anticipate more prayer for the sake of the world, and not more ease of life and relaxation! Man’s passions have gutted the good things of the earth. Now we have entered the stage of scarcity, and afterwords comes the famine!!! After our great waywardness it has become necessary for our salvation that the love of God come to us hidden in great suffering!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan, Douma
October 24, 2010