Akedia is a very interesting pattern of thinking. Not only have I noticed the statistical interest that my post on akedia in Evagrius has generated, but my advisor has also told me that the number one reason why people visit his website is because they are interested in akedia. But these aren’t just historical theologians looking at his site and asking him questions, but even atheistic psychologists (not that either term implies the other). Some, he reports, even find it helpful for understanding depression. I’ve also found akedia to be a personally helpful tool for analyzing myself. As soon as it was explained to me I thought, “That’s me!” Ironically, I think akedia has much potential.
In the history of Christian thought and spirituality, Evagrius’ Eight Evil Thoughts get filtered to the West (becoming the Seven Deadly Sins thanks to Gregory the Great) through John Cassian. What he did was dumb Evagrius’ thought down a bit and take out all the controversial parts about pre-existent souls. This is not to insult his work; indeed, I found it (The Institutes that is) to be a refreshing devotional read after trudging through Evagrius.
Reading through The Institutes, I found this description of akedia:
II. 1. Once this has seized possession of a wretched mind it makes a person horrified at where he is, disgusted with his cell, and also disdainful and contemptuous of the brothers who live with him or at a slight distance, as being careless and unspiritual. Likewise it renders him slothful and immobile in the face of all the work to be done within the walls of his dwelling: It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading. He groans quite frequently that spending such a long time there is of no profit to him and that he will possess no spiritual fruit for as long as he is attached to that group of people. He complains and sighs, lamenting that he is bereft and void of all spiritual gain in that place inasmuch as, even though he is capable of directing others and of being useful to many, he is edifying no one and being of no help to anyone through his instruction and teaching. 2. He makes a great deal of far-off and distant monasteries, describing such places as more suited to progress and more conducive to salvation, and also depicting the fellowship of the brothers there as pleasant and of an utterly spiritual cast. Everything that lies at hand, on the contrary, is harsh, and not only is there nothing edifying among the brothers who dwell there but in fact there are not even any of the necessities of life to be obtained there without a huge effort. Thereupon he says that he cannot be saved if he remains in that place. He must leave his cell and get away from it as quickly as he can, for he will perish if he stays in it any longer (Cassian, 219).
There are many similarities here with Evagrius’ description of akedia, but it’s a nice synthesis compared to Evagrius’ terse and sometimes obscure writing (this is what I meant by dumbing Evagrius down).
When I first read this passage, I immediately thought of my then (and somewhat current) dissatisfaction with Evangelicalism and my attraction to Eastern Orthodoxy. Replace “monastery” with “church” and you have a perfect description of what was going on in my soul at that time (note: I know there is a difference between a monastery and a church/denomination, but since the focus of akedia is ones personal dissatisfaction with a current situation, the analogy is appropriate). Indeed, I know I am not the only one to go through such dissatisfaction. Many evangelicals today are becoming Roman Catholic or Orthodox (statistically, though, it is probably insignificant compared to the number who remain Evangelical and the number of RC and EO that leave RC and EO), I think, for this same reason.
Yet, I want to offer this word of caution in reflecting on Cassian’s words: the problem is with you and that needs to be fixed first. If it is not, you will only bring the same sin with you. A change of scenery doesn’t deal with akedia. Deal with this first before making any kind of swim and stop blaming Evangelicalism/Protestantism for your own sin.
For those who have made swims of various kinds, don’t get defensive. Much of this is autobiographical. But I would still encourage you be aware of this type of temptation and the sin to which it leads. To the Evangelicals who are still Evangelical but partake in the transmigration of the saints (i.e., jumping from church to church): stop. If you have problems at your church then deal with them. Stay put.
John Cassian. The Institutes. Translated by Boniface Ramsey, O.P. Ancient Christian Writers 58. New York: The Newman Press, 2000.