Current Study: Orthodox Psychotherapy: The science of the Fathers by Metropolitan Hierotheos. I am undertaking a personal study of his book and discussing it here as I read it.
As part of healing our hearts, we as Christians are called to repentance.
- Psalm 50:19 “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken and humbled heart God will not despise”
St Mark the Ascetic:
[The] heart is made contrite by threefold self-control: in sleep, in food, and in bodily relaxation.
What Saint Mark is getting at is that if we are not in control of our sleep, our intake of food, and our relaxation, we open ourselves up to self-indulgence, which is receptive to evil thoughts.
There are two types of contrition. Godly contrition that leads to unceasing prayer, and does not despair, marked by hope. Bad contrition leads to despair and separation from God.
The most important part of this section of the book for me though was on the outpouring of tears. Tears can come from the godly contrition and the bad contrition.
Drench your cheeks with the weeping of your eyes.
St. Neilos the Ascetic teaches us to pray first for the gift of tears.
The church fathers tell us that tears are a baptism. St. John of the Ladder tells us that,
Greater than Baptism itself is the fountain of tears after Baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so.
As a man, I know that I am averse to tears. Growing up if I scraped a knee or was upset, it was often said to stop crying. And there is some truth in that, not everything needs cried over.
However, I think that our culture teaches men that it is never appropriate to cry, and we become emotionless in a sense.
As I read through Hierotheos’ section on tears, I began to think of manly figures who cried. King David of Israel cried over the death of his son Absalom, over the first child he had with Bathsheba, and especially over Jonathan. Peter, John, and even Jesus wept.
This weeping I believe is part of the godly sorrow. They were contrite over their sins (except Christ). They cried with others, joining in the sorrow. This is natural and healthy.
St Symeon tells us that tears are necessary for life, they are as necessary for our souls as food is for the body.
Some may argue that not everyone is emotional. Not everyone can cry. I think this is in part why St. Neilos above tells us to pray for tears.
Why are tears important?
Tears first off are cathartic. The physical release of emotion helps us process grief and joy. But spiritually, tears are necessary as well. Church Fathers tell us that when the devil comes to a man’s heart, he leaves behind an idol of sin. And it is through tears that our heart is cleansed and the idol removed.
Hierotheos comments, “I believe that the terrible condition in which many people find themselves is due to the fact that we have become estranged from weeping: we do not cry…If we make an attempt, God will send His grace and the tears will become a way of life and so our heart will be purified of passions.”
There are false tears, and I don’t believe that what Hierotheos is getting at is to cry over every little thing.
But when we live a life of repentance and contrition, when we reflect on our spiritual state, and our need for God, this is when the tears should come. It is part of our spiritual life, it is part of our spiritual health, to grieve over our sin and separation from God and to cry for forgiveness and grace and mercy.
Lord our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended thee, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray thee, O Lord: of thy mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.