Advice on anxiety

30 September 2022

Worldly anxiety is the product of worldly prosperity, of worldly success. People try to ease their stress either with tranquillizers or with yoga exercises, but they don’t seek real calm, which comes when you’re humbled, when divine consolation comes to you.

When you see people with a lot of stress, worry and sorrow, even though they’ve got everything and want for nothing, you should know that they’re lacking God.

You need to be careful in the spiritual life. When spiritual people are motivated by vainglory, there’s a void in their soul. There isn’t the fulness, the heart doesn’t take flight, the void  within them grows and they suffer ever more greatly. If there’s anxiety and despair, that’s an accursed spiritual life. Don’t be anxious about anything. Anxiety comes from the devil. Whenever you see anxiety, you know that the devil’s swishing his tail.

If we feel anxiety in our struggle, we should recognize that we’re not acting within God’s realm. God isn’t a tyrant trying to suppress us […]. Christ is wholly love, goodness and consolation. He never oppresses, but has lots of spiritual oxygen and divine comfort.

Simple criteria and humble objects transport monastics notionally to the caves and primitive hermitages of our holy Fathers, and this way they benefit spiritually. Secular things, though, remind us of the world and make monastics secular in their soul. There have been excavations at Nitria [a location in  Egypt famous for its ascetics (4th century)] and the first kellia, the monastic dwellings, have been uncovered. Then, they found some more remains which were more secular and finally some which were more like the drawing-rooms of the rich of the period, with framed illustrations and pictures on the walls and so on. These drew the wrath of God and the places were looted and destroyed by malefactors.

Worldly people say: ‘You’re lucky if you live in a palace and have every convenience’. But blessed are they who’ve managed to simplify their lives and have slipped the noose of these secular advances in ‘making life easier’. Such things actually equate to greater difficulties, so those blessed people have liberated themselves from the terrible anxiety of our times. If you don’t simplify your life, you’re going to be distressed. But if you do simplify your life, you won’t have any stress.

Now I’m talking a lot about simplicity to lay people, as well. Because a lot of what they do isn’t necessary and the stress is eating away at them. I talk to them about simplicity and asceticism. I’m always shouting: ‘Simplify your life, and get rid of the stress’.

If the women in Farasa [the village in Cappadocia where Saint Païsios was born] could have seen the luxury that exists today, even in many monasteries, they’d have said that God would rain fire down on us. He would abandon us.

People in Farasa didn’t fret over details. They knew the joy of a monastic life. If, for example, the blanket wasn’t pulled up properly and was hanging a bit to one side and you said: ‘Straighten the blanket’, the reply would have been: ‘Does it stop you praying?’.

People think that they shouldn’t be deprived of anything, and that they shouldn’t be distressed. If they’d think more monastically, if they lived more simply, they’d be calm. As it is, they’re tormented. Anxiety and despair in their soul.

If you’re ruled by material goods you’ll always be governed by worry and stress, because you’ll be frightened somebody will come and take them away. You should worry instead about somebody coming and taking your soul.

– Elder, what’s the biggest help for people to understand the joy of having less.

They need to realize the deeper meaning of life. ‘First seek the Kingdom of God…’ (Matth. 6, 33). That’s where simplicity starts and you can handle things properly.