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.

Bibliography

John Cassian. The Institutes. Translated by Boniface Ramsey, O.P. Ancient Christian Writers 58. New York: The Newman Press, 2000.

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9 thoughts on “Akedia and Why Evangelicals Should Stay Put

  1. Of course, this begs the question of whether one should stay put if the problems at one’s church/denomination/movement are epidemic and perhaps pandemic. The point of being in the Church is that it is the hospital to fix and save the sinner. Why think that one can fix/save the church or oneself if one is in/at a place that is intrinsically broken? (note, I am begging the question whether protestantism or evangelicalism is intrinsically broken, but if one thinks there are problems perhaps one of those problems will be intrinsic and give credence to credal Christianity; or, as you put it, the transmigration of the Saints). It is paradigmatically protestant to think that one can fix what one has if only one tries a little harder, tries this new approach, does this, does that. The point that St. Cassian is trying to make is the EXACT OPPOSITE: here, in the embrace of one’s mother, the Church, you are at peace and rest and here is all that is needed; accept that. The Saint that transmigrates is not seeking a new fix, he is seeking the source of fixing. Your admonition or warning would have all christians remain where they are and fix that which is broken (even if it is themselves). But, this is not the Christian way! The fundamental Christian attitude is one of seeking healing ad fontem, not in self-diagnosis and medication. Akedia is indeed restlessness of spirit, but seeking truth is not akedia; desiring the life of the Sacraments is not akedia. Your analogy would preclude even evangelism to non-Christians! Why, after all, should they leave their cell and seek a far-off and distant faith? Your analogy also breaks down to the extent that Cassian is speaking to Catholic (pre-schism) Christians and the monk that desires to leave one Catholic monastery for another Catholic monastery. I.e. he remains what he IS and merely desires a change of scenery and new monks to be with. Cassian is pointing out that there is one faith, regardless of the monastery; why think he will find it any better in Alexandria, or Antioch, or Rome? But, moving from evangelicalism to Rome, or to Constantinople, or Antioch, or Alexandria, or Moscow is NOT the same as from one monastery to another. That is not akedia.

  2. I don’t see how this begs the question at all (by the way, are you using it in the colloquial sense or the technical sense?). Akedia is a temptation to impose a picture of reality presented by the demon and to act accordingly, and that picture is not about orthodoxy because that’s not the issue (as you yourself seemed to notice). What is at issue is the present dissatisfaction of the individual where he/she is at. The way one fights akedia is through perseverance, which means (as my entire post was trying to argue) staying where one is at. For example, in my paper I wrote:

    “Perseverance is the most direct way to combat the thought of akedia. The key feature of akedia is best described in the English word, restlessness. If one is restless about his labors, whether they be manual or ascetical, it is important not to give in to the restlessness and go here or there to avoid ones responsibilities. Instead, perseverance does not give into those distractions but through joy and thanksgiving meditates on the cross of Christ.”

    As such, your comment is a red herring, and I’m not going to follow that trail. 🙂

    1. Hmm…I may not have been clear as I first thought I was, so I will explain….there is not enough time, so I will summarize. Cassian’s concern isn’t strictly orthodoxy as you want to make it. He may assume it, true, but that’s not the point and for you to make it the point is to miss the point and lead the discussion off point (hence, red herring). Might I need to address the issue more clearly? Probably. My point, reflecting upon my own motivations in the past, was that Cassian’s description of akedia summarizes a common trend within evangelicalism, and thus (applying the remedy for akedia within evangelicalism) they need to first stay put and get that dealt with (or possibly stay and help others as Cassian describes) before changing churches. Now, this does assume a different view of “church” than you hold, true, but that doesn’t take away from the main point and, lets be honest, is an assumption (i.e., your view of the church not argued here) on your part as well.

      I should also point out that, according to your comment, evangelicals aren’t Christians since you say there would be no need to evangelize according to what I said. This places evangelical’s in the same camp as non-Christians since I take your statement to mean that if the way to fight akedia is to stay put then that would mean non-Christians should stay put and never change. By the way, I never said there should never be change, only that one should not react quickly to the promptings of the demon of akedia.

  3. I fail to see how my comments about evangelising precludes evangelicals from being christians. Your paragraph above is simply confusing. I guess I mean begging the question in both forms (ha!). You are using Cassian to say something about/to evangelicals. No problem there. But why think it is possible in the first place? That’s my point. Akedia happens in all sorts of situations and for lots of reasons, why think that it will go away if one grits one’s teeth over breakfast every day and stays put? i.e. my comment is precisely the sort you didn’t want: one from one who has made the transmigration and is defensive.

    1. I don’t think I ever said the problem will go away just by gritting one’s teeth. That, again, is not the point. The point is one of priority. As I said, this is partly autobiographical in that I saw within myself the desire to leave was based on a dissatisfaction with my current state and the perceived spiritual wasteland within my background. While I still have my critiques, I see this perception now as false and thus my desire to leave had little to do with the way things actually were. People may leave for various reasons, but mine desire was wrong and the right remedy for such temptations is perseverance. The post was directed at Evangelicals who may be going through the same desire. And please don’t think that I would ever not want your comments. The point of me doing a blog is to be challenged about the things that I say or think. Your comment made me reevaluate whether or not my analogy was valid. Besides, no one else comments on my blog. 🙂

      P.s.- my comment about transmigration was meant for evangelicals who go from church to church when they get upset at or tired of one, not for those who move and stay put. If you don’t change your mind and become something else within the next year, the term doesn’t apply to you.

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