Faith and Doubt

…strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3)

Blessed Theophylact, commenting [1] on this passage writes,

This means that Christ will make His abode in your hearts, not superficially, but in the depths thereof.  How does this happen? “By faith.”

Herein lies a problem for modern man: I believe we are truly a generation of people who severely lack faith, myself included.  In practical matters, we turn to science for all explanations, ignoring the spiritual element that at times may be the cause for that which science can measure and detect.

In religious matters, we are perhaps faring even worse.  Popular authors who write about Christianity appear edgy to their readers by embracing doubt, as if it were something novel and virtuous.  One such author wrote a book subtitled To Believe Is Human, To Doubt Is Divine.

Some forms of doubt truly are healthy.  For example, a person who has grown up in a Christian home, when entering into his teenage or early adult years, will have to make the faith his own.  He will hear things in the world that will cause him to question parts or even the entirety of his upbringing.  These are trials of fire that burn away elements that have no real foundation in order to expose the true inner state.  He will realize that in order to be a Christian, he must do more than take his faith for granted.  It must be consciously cultivated to be made real.

The land of doubt is best experienced as a path on which we quickly walk rather than a desert in which we pitch our tent.

The scriptures and fathers of the church constantly exhort faith.  It is through faith that mountains are moved, people are healed, strongholds are overthrown, the dead are raised, sinful habits are broken, stone hearts are vivified, the Holy Spirit empowers, and Christ is internally experienced.

It is no wonder then that our enemy seeks to either throw people off the path of faith entirely or offer them a castrated version of Christianity that discourages any true transformation in divine light.

DAY TO DAY PRACTICALITY

What can be done to acquire faith?  In this I am an unlearned student attempting to teach other students, but here are some things I have heard from some of the masters:

  • Pursue prayer diligently – nothing infuriates the demons more than to see someone sincerely trying to pray. Our prayers may be meager, distracted, and pathetic most of the time, but slowly, ever so slowly, God begins the transformation within us.
  • Read the scriptures and the fathers daily – the former is the cornerstone of all Christian knowledge that leads to faith; the latter helps us to properly understand both scriptures and this spiritual struggle in which we are engaged.
  • Read the lives of the saints – a continuation of the above point, but there are a multitude of heroes who are brilliant examples of a beautiful faith lived out. A good place to start may be The Prologue of Ochrid.
  • Go to church and engage in the services – the Christian faith was never meant to be lived out alone.  Even most of the desert dwelling hermits of ancient times (the Desert Fathers) lived in communities in which they would come together for services and meals at least twice a week (Saturday night and Sunday morning).  The Lone Ranger may have been a lovely Western fairy tale, but it is deadly spiritual practice.  Additionally, the words in our divine services contain some of the deepest, most beautiful and poetic theology you will ever hear.

There are many other tips I could mention, but this is a good starting place.  While technology largely serves to distract us, there are beneficial ways to utilize it in our spiritual journey.  There are several Orthodox apps that offer daily readings and prayers (see my app page for more).  The Dynamic Horologion enables people to construct reader services at home.

THREE STAGES

Lastly, be patient.  Spiritual progress comes slowly and usually does not look the way we think it should.  There are three stages of spiritual growth.  As St. Paisios said [2],

In the first stage, God gives out caramels and chocolates because He sees the need and the weakness of the soul.

That means that when we begin, we see everything as fresh and exciting.  The services are sweet, prayer feels good, and everything seems beautiful.  This is sort of a spiritual honeymoon.

In the second stage, God slightly removes His Grace for training purposes, so that we can realize that without God’s help, we cannot accomplish even the least…The more one advances, the more he is able to detect his weaknesses and his imperfections.

So, ironically, the second stage of progress is becoming acutely aware of our own shortcomings.  Progress is to see how much one is steeped in sin.  A person who thinks he is progressing because he feels like he really has his life together has fallen into prideful delusion.  Most of us will spend a significant portion of our lives in this second stage.  Severe dry periods are sometimes called “the dark night of the soul.”  It is nothing to fear, but let us keep walking.

The third stage is a permanent and steadfast good spiritual state.

May God make it so.  I’m not there.

It is important that we be patient and reject the temptations of hopelessness, despair, and delusion.  God is with us and it is He that makes us progress.  With faith, we can walk along with Him and slowly begin to actually realize his dwelling in our hearts, in the inner man.

Just a little step.

Each day.


End Notes:

[1] The Explanation of The Epistle of St. Paul to The Ephesians by Blessed Theophylact, 2013 Chrysostom Press.  I recommend everything Chrysostom Press publishes.

[2] Passions and Virtues, St. Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels Vol. 5.  Published by Holy Hesychasterion “Evangelist John the Theologian” Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece; 2016.  You can purchase a copy here.

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

2 thoughts on “Faith and Doubt”

  1. Great thoughts. I liked the reminder in the second stage, that if we are progressing we’ll be more acutely aware of our sinfulness. I tend to forget this and become discouraged.

  2. Well said and I like the quotes you reference.

    …strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3) – love this one!

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