Sunday, April 26, 2009

St Kronid on Blasphemous Thoughts and Despair

The Holy New Hieromartyr Kronid (in the world Konstantin Petrovich Liubimov) was born in 1859 in the village of Levkievo, Volokolamsk uyezd, Moscow province. In 1915 Archimandrite Kronid was appointed superior of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, remaining in that position until 1920, when it was closed by the Bolsheviks. (This detail from an icon of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia depicts the expulsion of the monks of the Lavra and the seizure of the sacred relics of St Sergius of Radonezh):


Archimandrite Kronid then lived for seventeen years in Zagorsk (known before and after the Communist period as Sergiev Posad, the town surrounding the Lavra), during which he continued to serve as de facto superior of the monastic brotherhood. Archimandrite Kronid was arrested in November 1937, by which point he had gone blind, and imprisoned in the Taganka prison in Moscow. He was tried with fifteen people, ten of whom were monks of the Lavra. Accused of “counter-revolutionary activities,” eleven were shot and four were sentenced to ten years of hard labor. To the question of how he related to the Soviet power, he replied: “I am by conviction a monarchist, a follower of the True Orthodox Church, and I recognize the existing Soviet power as a believer: it was sent to the people as a test of faith in God’s Providence.” Fr Kronid was sentenced as the “leader of a counter-revolutionary monarchical group of monks and clergy.” He was shot in Butovo and buried in a mass grave.


Archimandrite Kronid was glorified as a saint among the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia by the Moscow Patriarchate in August of 2000.

The following is my translation of a remarkable, inspiring, and courageous first-hand account by St Kronid about his battles with blasphemous thoughts and the despair that came with it:
“One evening while standing in the Church of Sts Zosima and Savvaty during the Vigil,” Archimandrite Kronid related about himself, “terrible, horrible thoughts of disbelief, doubt, and blasphemy suddenly and unexpectedly appeared in my head, like lightening. This happened so quickly and suddenly that they, like lightening, burnt me with hellfire. Then such thoughts poured like a river through my consciousness. I was dumb from fear and horror. Something indescribable and inscrutable, horrible and strange took place in my soul. These thoughts did not leave me after I went from church to my cell. These sufferings were indeed nothing of this earth, but of hell. I was deprived of food and sleep. Then days, weeks, months passed; a year, two, three, four passed, but these hellish thoughts continued to flow involuntarily, continuing to haunt me. I could find not a place of relief from the anguish and sorrow; I, the sinner, in my despair, even asked the Lord for death. This mental warfare was indescribably difficult. Imagine the state of someone in battle, when two worlds are within you: one world is bright, of faith and hope in God and the burning desire for salvation; and the other, a world of darkness, instilling only destructive and blasphemous thoughts and disbelief. This unbearable warfare visited me especially when celebrating the Divine Liturgy. Standing at God’s Altar before the Holy of Holies and pronouncing the prayer for the action of the Holy Spirit to consecrate the Holy Gifts, I was at that very same moment continuing to be overcome mentally by defiled thoughts of disbelief and doubt. Therefore my tears of repentance knew no boundaries. Even Hierodeacon Jonathan, who was concelebrating with me, seeing how bitterly I wept, considered me deranged of mind. He, of course, thought this out of ignorance. He did not know what was happening in the depth of my soul. My only consolation and joy was, in my free minutes, to open the book of The Lives of the Saints to read about Niphont, the wonder-worker of Cyprus, who suffered similar thoughts for the course of four years. Destructive thoughts attacked me with special force on the twelve great Feast Days. My nerves came undone by all this, and thoughts of despair and depression pursuit me everywhere. Losing control of myself, I was forced to hide from myself knives, forks, rope, and all other sorts of objects and weapons that could be used for suicide. I lack the words to describe everything, and the tears of horror and the suffering I endured. There were moments at night when I was unable to gain control of myself and ran out of my cell, went to the cathedral, and ran around it, sobbing, unable to wait the minute when the cathedral would be opened and I could weep out my grief and unbearable hardship at the relics of St Sergius. I now remember the words of an ascetic: ‘Seek out for yourself an Elder and director not so much of holiness, but of experience in the spiritual life.’ I was able to test this advice on myself first of all. When in my great sufferings I turned to one spiritually respected person and told him of my mental grief, he listened and said: ‘What’s wrong with you? Lord be with you, how can you give way to such thoughts?’ I left misunderstood by him, neither alive nor dead from desperate sorrow. I did not sleep all night. In the morning, as soon as I had gotten onto my feet, I went, according to my responsibilities, to painting class, and on the way I came upon the leader of the painting studio, Hieromonk Micah. Seeing me upset, he cried out with astonishment: ‘Father Kronid! What’s wrong with you? You’re unrecognizable! Your face has a special air of suffering, full of sorrows, unwittingly expressing you spiritual suffering. Speak, what’s wrong with you?’ Then I told him of all my inner sorrows and thoughts. He listened with tears in his eyes, with a special feeling of compassion and Christian love, as if he himself were enduring these pains with me. He said: ‘Relax, Father Kronid. This great warfare, this unbearable enemy, happens to many people. We are not the first. Many, very many suffer from it. I myself suffered from this warfare for seven years and reached such a state that once, going to the Dormition Cathedral for Vespers, I could not even stay there due to thoughts of disbelief and blasphemy. Running out of church, I went to the cell of my spiritual father, Hieromonk Avraamy, all the while shaking and unable to speak. The Elder asked me a few times: ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you? Tell me.’ After many tears all I could say was: ‘Batiushka, I’m perishing!’ Then the Elder told me: ‘You are not delighting in these thoughts and are not pleased by them, are you? Why are you so intolerably alarmed? Relax! The Lord sees your spiritual martyrdom, and He will help you in all things.’ Then he read the prayer of absolution over me, blessed me, and sent me away with peace, and from that day, with God’s help, they have completely disappeared. They do sometimes appear occasionally, but I pay them no mind, and they disappear, and I calm down quickly.’ Father Micah’s words were like precious balm poured upon my soul, and from that time I have received a significant lessening of this mental warfare.”
As we know from his life, Fr Kronid not only endured this onslaught of what today we might call major depression, but left this life with the crown of martyrdom. May his holy example of patience and longsuffering serve to encourage and strengthen us all!

Holy Hieromartyr Kronid, pray to God for us!

5 comments:

Philippa said...

Christ is Risen!!

Father bless!

How grateful I am to read these two posts on depression and despair, for they are in my life off and on. Words of great comfort and strengthening to know that even the Saints suffered in this way and with God's help, overcame.

Felix Culpa said...

Truly He is Risen!

Thank you for your kind comments.

A couple of thoughts occurred to me while reading these accounts:

1. Both saints kept praying throughout their years of doubt and despair; they kept, so to speak, going through their daily routine. However difficult the onslaught of temptation and despair,they kept attending church and kept praying.

This reminds me a bit of a story I recently read about an Anglican clergyman who went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, confessing to him that he no longer believed. The latter replied: "Don't worry about it. Keep performing the sacraments, and your faith will come back to you." At first this struck me as a bit irreverent -- as if faith in God were somehow a secondary issue -- but the more I've thought about it, the more sense it has begun to make. If we live and act as if we have faith in God, that faith will in due time return. If we live and act as if we were healthy and mentally sound then, God willing, our health and sanity will return. The worst thing to do in either case is to give up and hide from our responsibilities before God, our neighbors, and ourselves.

2. What was it that finally "cured" Fr Kronid? Not the reproach of the first Elder he approached, but the compassion and Christian love of Fr Micah, who assured him that he was not alone. This expression of genuine compassion and love was itself the true miracle that helped Fr Kronid to get through his crisis. It is this that those who suffer from depression need, and this which we should offer to those who seek our help. Abuse and reproach get one nowhere.

Christmas Monastery said...

Going through the motions of your prayer and work yes can keep you in readiness for the fresh winds of the spirit to revive the soul in these periods of dryness and worse of despair.

Here is where classical music can help. As in the work of Rachmaninov and the works he studied, one can touch the feelings and emotions of real sorrow and pain and not be blown away by the force of the emotion. Like in walking a labyrinth,
there is a way back, not an edge to fall over but a path of return and the message of Resurrection.

It is important for us to demonstrate through the life of the composer Rachmaninov there is real hope. Even when physical and emotional pain were part of the OE sensitivities (See Dabrowski) of Rachmaninov composer and artist (1873-1043) he found expression in both the history of Russia and in his day to day experience of revival and work in America to help those who lost everything through Tolstoy Farm. see also tolstoyfoundation.org. To often Rachmaninov is incorrectly viewed through his sensitivities as a stereotype of Russian depression. Not only is this false for Rachmaninov who instead found hope in Christ and was an over comer, but it should be understood in the modal music of the very dance of the Paschal circle of the coming again full circle around the church. In life these circles of return where we hold on because our center is belief in a good God and Eternal Life. (The minor key should not be interpreted as sadness but a “bright sadness” as Father Alexander Schmemann would discuss Great Lent or hope in coming through struggles and pain and holding out even through ritual and waiting for the return supported by those angelic forces and support of the community of believers praising God.)

Western medicine pushes us to take the view of an either or approach and profits highly when medication can be administered at a higher price than prayer. Here balance is important, for aiding the body to recover and using medicine as needed but not in excess or without additional therapies. The redefining of both the history of Rachmaninov (Rachmaninoff) and Leo Tolstoy are a work in progress for examining the realities of mood and relationships. Some historians in marginalizing the influence of these great people have ignored the depth of these emotions explored through art.

The music itself can brings us back. The Great Spring, the Great Hope the Great Pascha as in Stravinsky "Rite of Spring" combined the return of nature and its renewal to the cycles we pass through sometimes achieving only a rote connection but with the continued hope the freshness and renewal of the spring will bring back hope even to bodies another year older or weathered. In Soviet literature analysis and Western dichotomies, these works of the composers became disembodied from their spiritual roots. I hope through blogs as yours these roots will find new transplantations and renewal to continue the revival as we await the great second coming.

Anonymous said...

I have been haunted by lashemous thoughts, thinking all the while that such thoughts were my own, asking God constantly for forgiveness. I now know what I suspected but could not fully accept, that I was under spiritual attack by my enemy, the enemy of my Lord, and the guilt I felt was unnessesary. Satan loses again! I am free my the love of God, praise Jesus, the lover of my soul !

Anonymous said...

I am suffering the evil thoughts aswell, but behold, Our Lord and Saviour has over came them, stick to the truth,and our Lord will honour you, as the lord tempts no man, but a true son is chasisied, take heart brotiers and sisters, ur redemption is at hand, as wee do not fight flesh and blood, but the hevenly rulers of wickedness and princibilitys of this world. Amen brothers and sisters, and the God of alj peace be your refuge