The next of the 7 Deadly Sins is called, in common parlance, sloth. The term “sloth”, however, is used differently in our spiritual tradition than how we are accustomed to using it.Ordinarily we use the word“sloth”interchangeably with the word “laziness”, but, spiritually, there is more to it than that. The traditional name for the vice is “acedia”, which means “spiritual sloth”or “despondency”(i.e., the retaining of low spirits caused by the loss of hope or courage with respect to the pursuit of spiritual goods). So acedia isn’t simply downright laziness regarding the practice of our faith, repentance, or prayer. It is a deeper interior infirmity which brings about the failure to move forward in the life of faith and in one’s relationship with God. As such, it can thus take the form of excessive activism in which a person becomes immersed in external non-essential tasks to the detriment of their ability to focus on God and, or to pray. In a similar vein, it can also manifest as a kind of spiritual chaos or unbearable interior noise in which the sinner fails to retain spiritual recollection of the mind and, or, heart due to the constant stream of thoughts and sentiments they allow to preoccupy them in rapid succession. When someone chooses to allow this to continue during prayer, he or she has given in to this vice because the true object or focal point of prayer is only God and remaining attentive to God requires interior stillness.This is only my opinion; however, apart from pride or hubris, acedia is the most evil or destructive of the 7 Deadly Sins. The reason is because, next to pride, it is the most insidious and the most difficult to overcome. It doesn’t really have one virtue that opposes it. It can weasel its way into any vocation and any person’s relationship with God. It has a variety of manifestations. It is hard to diagnose or to realize when it is present. There are countless rationalizations made by the individuals who are plagued by it. It has the capability to completely destroy a person’s faith and the faith of others around them. And it takes a serious commitment over a long period of time to get rid of it once it is present. Nevertheless, the Christian spiritual tradition does suggest the following antidotes. The first is to cultivate the virtue of patience. Patience, patient endurance, and perseverance go a long way in combating this vice. This suggestion originated with Christ Himself when He recommended perseverance in prayer. The second is the virtue of hope which destroys despondency. One is motivated to forge on in the spiritual life when one hopes that one will be delivered from this vice in the long run and will receive blessings from God in the future. Third, repentance, mourning, and compunction help with this vice because when someone remembers that he or she is a sinner and that God is his or her helper in all things and weeps about this state of affairs, it leads to the overcoming of acedia. The fourth remedy for acedia is to remember death. When we remember that our lives in this world are limited, we live each day as if it were our last and we find the incentive we need to get over this kind of spiritual malaise. The fifth spiritual remedy is actually to engage in manual labor. The reason for this is because it helps a person to avoid idleness, to establish or maintain diligence and continuity of presence, and overcome boredom, instability, torpor, and sleepiness, which make up this vice. And finally, the last remedy is prayer. Prayer is the number one greatest cure for acedia because in prayer we are appealing to God for the help that we need in order to become freed from this passion and it enables us to avail ourselves of His grace and His power, which can do all things. So, as the saying goes, “I’m not lazy. I just really enjoy doing nothing”, we should heed the Church’s exhortation that we must remember not only to be attentive to our daily duties in life but also to the presence and the will of God Who is always with us and always asking us to surrender to His plan at each given moment.
In Him, Fr. D