The passion of sadness develops through man’s misuse of the virtuous, godly sadness which was given to man for the purpose of repentance and to rid us of the evil within us (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, vol.1, p.186). This passion comes about as man turns from the proper use of sadness, towards the wrong use of it, whereby he/she is overcome by emotions and thoughts detrimental to his/her health. This passion generally arises over the loss of sensual things, material goods, or by way of unfulfilled pleasures and desires (Therapy, vol.1, p.186). However, in addition, more than many other of the passions, pathological sadness also comes about through demonic activity, and can appear to come out of nowhere, inexplicably (vol.1, p.187). Since this sadness often comes about by an attachment to worldly things, an attachment to earthly life, anything that threatens this life can be a source of sadness, such as illness and of course, death (vol.1, p.188).
Another common and strong link to sadness is the related passion of anger, and this passion also is a source of sadness. Sadness often follows on the heels of anger (vol.1, p.189). Man misuses his anger by directing it outward towards others and because of this he feels sadness and isolation; he becomes alienated from others and from God.
Sadness is also man’s response to feeling himself under attack in any way that hurts his self-love, and which injures his image of himself; in this way when pride and vanity are injured man responds both with anger and also with sadness (vol.1, p.189). As these feelings develop, man will also exhibit additional symptoms, related feelings and expressions of despair, spitefulness, resentment, bitterness, rancor and impatience which he then will direct upon others. “For this reason, sadness greatly disturbs man’s relationship with his neighbor” (vol.1, pp.193-194).
As with all of the passions, the treatment for sadness is two-fold and involves turning away from the passion, as a vice, and simultaneously turning towards the associated virtue (vol.2, part 4). The healing of passions involves making the right use of the original gift that God gave to man, directing the gift in the proper direction and acting upon it in the correct way. As with other passions, the healing of sadness first requires that the person desires to be healed, because often people derive pleasure from this passion, they take delight in sadness (vol.3, p.49).
The Fathers offer many solutions or therapies for sadness, few of which are easy, particularly their recommendation to renounce carnal desires and pleasures and to cultivate a detachment from worldly things and attitudes (vol.3, p.50). The idea being that if one is indifferent to something then there can be no morbid sorrow over the loss of anything. However, at the same time as one detaches from all earthy cares one should simultaneously replace this sadness associated with the loss of everything earthly, with the virtuous sadness which arises from the realization of our spiritual poverty (vol.3, p.50). Virtuous sadness, compunction and grief at being separated from God, being deprived of spiritual goods and the negative effects of our sins help heal us of the passion of sadness (vol.3, p.55).
Also, the Fathers advise anyone afflicted with the passion of sadness to cultivate a disdain for worldly honors and glory, since the desire for these things excites our pride and vanity and this is a deep source of human sadness (vol.3, p.51). In place of seeking accolades one should foster humility by seeking abasement. And by accusing ourselves and judging ourselves, we liberate ourselves from sadness, by pulling a source of sadness (pride) out from under it (vol.3, p.53).
Since sadness alienates the sufferer and often causes them to seek isolation it is beneficial for the healing of sadness to be in the company of others; human companionship can help with healing sadness (vol.3, p.52). Additionally, the sufferer of sadness, in the company of a spiritual father, or other compassionate presence can find healing by the administration of consoling words, and by spiritual discourse which elevates, enlightens and mollifies the severity of sorrowful thoughts (vol.3, p.53).
While all of the aforementioned remedies for sadness are important and helpful, perhaps the most efficacious method for the healing of sadness is prayer. “Prayer, in all its forms, forms the main cure for sadness, no matter the latter’s source. Prayer is the antidote for sadness and discouragement,” especially prayer of the heart accompanied with vigilance and attentiveness to recognize and guard against negative or demonic thoughts (vol.3, p.54). And the one who suffers from sadness, while they pray first for themselves, they should also cultivate prayer for others, for the whole world, for out of this act of charity and love one can destroy the effects of passionate sadness (vol.3, p.71).
Closely related to sadness is the passion of anger and, like sadness, it is by the misuse of the anger that man develops this passion. God originally gave man anger to fight against sin and temptation and this was its sole purpose (vol.1, p.203). Instead, we direct our anger against one another and thereby create untold suffering. From this misdirection of our anger we develop bad moods, irritation, impatience, indignation, mockery and scoffing towards our neighbor (vol.1, p.204). We rejoice at other’s misfortunes, and become sad at the successes of those we don’t like, and this is completely backwards to how we were created to be—we take pleasure in our anger, and our pleasures become the cause of our anger; for we put pleasure ahead of loving our neighbor (vol.1, p.206).
It is our attachment to ourselves and our attachment to material resources, our self-love, our pride and vanity that cause our anger (vol.1, p.207) and then we become attached to our anger, and in time our anger overwhelms us; man begins to act like a crazy person, irrational and incapable of reasoned thought (vol.1, p.210).
Anger cuts man off from relationship with God, and corrupts our likeness to the divine image. As this occurs, the Holy Spirit retreats and man is thrust into spiritual darkness, the mind becomes incapable of contemplation (vol.1, p.214). Anger obstructs our prayers, destroys our love for one another, and is the cause of spiritual death in man (vol.1, p.215), anger then leads man on to timidity, apathy, sadness and further pridefulness (vol.1, p.216).
Instead, anger was designed and given by God to draw man closer to Him, by directing man’s anger against anything that came between man and God—evil, temptation, sinfulness etc. In order to heal man of the passion of anger and restore the proper use and function of anger, the Fathers of the Church recommend the cultivation of humility (vol.3, p.85), and the giving of money and food to the poor (vol.3, p.83).
Acts of service, love of others, compassion and self-abasement are sure-fire ways to subvert our pride and vanity and terminate the sadness and anger that arises from our self-love; a healthy love of our neighbor and of God cures us of our unhealthy love of ourselves.
Larchet, J. (2012). Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, Vol. 1-3. Montreal: Alexander Press.