Abba Isaac said: “Once I was sitting with Abba Poemen, and I saw that he was in an ecstasy; and since I used to speak very openly with him, I made a prostration before him and asked him, ‘Tell me, where were you?’ And he did not want to tell me. But when I pressed him, he replied: ‘My thoughts were with St. Mary the Mother of God, as she stood and wept at the Cross of the Savior; and I wish that I could always weep as much as she wept then.’”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Weeping has always held an important part in Orthodox spirituality. I can say little or nothing of the gift of tears since I do not have this gift. But I have seen it. And I have many times seen the people of God in repentance for their sins, offer the pure offering of their tears to God.
The most essential question of the spiritual life is the state of the heart. Is the heart actually “contrite?” Is it in a state that God can use? It is quite possible for us to present a hard heart to God (this I can speak of at length from personal experience), and to find that when we pray, we hardly pray at all; God seems absent to us; spiritual things turn to ashes before us; the sorrows of others fail to touch us. In our modern world the many entertainments offered to our hearts, though geared to appeal emotionally, nevertheless have the frequent effect of hardening our heart. We weep for a character in a movie, but our hearts remain untouched by pictures of great suffering presented to us in actual news footage.
The emotionalism of the first example is not a matter of the heart, but of sentimentality, which has almost nothing to do with the heart or its proper state before God. Much 19th century Christianity was laced with sentimentality. It produced wonderful gothic structures and liturgies, but often was met by sentimentality rather than repentance. It is quite possible to feel religious, but for this to have nothing to do with God.
The softening of our heart is a long, slow process, but perhaps the most essential activity of our spiritual life. We are told that a “broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” The Fathers referred to the tears of repentance as a “second baptism” – very high language for tears.
The making of regular confession is probably among the most important medicines given to us in the Church for the healing of the hardness of our heart. Prayer, proper spiritual reading, and acts of mercy towards others are also important parts of this healing of the heart.
If you do not care enough for those about you – then begin to change your heart by showing mercy. Give away money (a very easy thing indeed that is so rarely used as a tool to soften the heart)! Perform acts of mercy.
If your hard is heart when you pray then go to confession and tell God in the presence of the priest and ask to be healed. We should never neglect a hardened heart. It is the beginning of death and corruption within our soul.
The Mother of God, who yielded her heart to God so completely and with such perfection, was told at the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, “And a sword will pierce your own soul also!” She did not fear such a sword, but stood steadfastly by Christ at the Cross, bearing her sword as he bore His cross. It is little wonder that the Desert Father should want always to weep in such a manner. To have such a heart before God is to know Him and to know Him in His fullness.