From the Lack of Sobriety and Repentance, New Converts Fall into Delusion

Question on Soyuz TV channel on December 8, 2013.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov answers, the host is Archpriest Alexander Berezovsky.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov and Archpriest Alexander Berezovsky

Question: In the writings of the holy fathers and in your sermons, sobriety is often mentioned as an extremely desirable condition for success in the Christian life. Define this term as applied to modern laity, if possible, with examples.

Archpriest Dimitry answers:

Sobriety is a derivative of discernment. Besides, sobriety can be considered as a certain step. Discernment is a very high virtue, which many Holy Fathers put even higher than love, because everyone can achieve love, while discernment can not be achieved by everyone. But the first stage of reasoning is sobriety, and every Christian must somehow succeed in this. Because, unfortunately, very often, especially in the beginning of the Christian life, a person falls into some kind of euphoria. It is simply explained. Because, firstly, a person discovers a new world, and this always happens. He experiences a certain fascination - quite legitimate - since he plunges into the two-thousand-year-old tradition. He begins to meaningfully read the Holy Scriptures, because for a person far from tradition, this is generally a closed book. Thirdly, he immediately encounters new, one might say, objects: a church, a priest, vestments, a choir, and icons. And to research everything, dozens of books are needed. He begins to plunge into it, and, of course, he becomes overwhelmed. Many people, when facing churchliness like that, even stop reading secular books - everything seems tasteless. And one more aspect. This is a contact with the church world, and yet there is also the grace-filled life. And the grace of God affects not only our spirit, but also the soul and body. Man is also transformed externally - he is radiant, dozens of miracles happen every day in his life, and he almost flies. And he still does not know how to fly. And much of what he perceives as the direct action of the grace of God is not really this - it is a spiritual perception of his real contact with the grace-filled life. That is, indirectly. Therefore, there is always a danger to take one thing for another.

Archpriest Alexander: That is, one can take delight for the action of the grace of God.

Archpriest Dimitry: Yes. The soul’s delight for the spiritual ecstasy. And sobriety gives a person the opportunity to stand firmly on the ground, on his feet, which is absolutely correct and does not allow to violate the laws of nature, and then the person is safe. And sobriety is brought up in a person by repentance. Usually a person who is in this position of lack of sobriety usually talks about repentance and perceives it formally, something like “I am a great sinner” or “we are all sinners”, such general meaningless phrases, but he does not feel himself sinful because in his soul he has joy, peace, pleasure, and it is completely legal. But a certain amount of sobriety - it is simply necessary, otherwise a person may even get into trouble, even damage his mind.

Archpriest Alexander: Father, what does it mean to “be sober”? Does it mean to extinguish this joy in yourself all the time?

Archpriest Dimitry: No, no, you need to go by the way of repentance. We should pray to God, we should carefully pay attention to ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, and should not attach great importance to this overwhelming joy. Because yes, of course, invoking the grace of God - it raises a person to heaven, but he always must take ballast with him like a person who wants to travel in a balloon.

Archpriest Alexander: In order not to fly into the stratosphere.

Archpriest Dimitry: Yes, and there is an airless space. It is very dangerous. Therefore, the loss of repentance is the wrong way. Therefore, you need to follow the royal path. There is no need to reject the joy that an immersion in the world of churchliness gives - this is a very legitimate feeling. But without a repentant feeling, this is an excess - well, as an excess of sugar in your diet can cause diabetes even without any stress. The body does not have time to process it and it will be harmful. So it is here. I had such a very good friend, God rest his soul, he called such people sweet tooths. Very aptly, in my opinion. He was very kind and very well versed in this because he himself had come to God as an adult, and something like that was in his life. Moreover, it is dangerous for people who somehow practiced what we call all sorts of Indian practices. Although it’s all not Indian, it’s so pseudo-, on Russian ground, all kinds of yogis there, everything that has to do with it, occultism, it’s generally the shortest path to delusion. And this is already fraught with a psychiatric hospital and a serious illness. It is not necessarily an one hundred percent possibility that this will happen, but it is very, very possible. Therefore, sobriety comes from the word ‘sober’, a person can be drunk, a person can be sober. Here is sobriety; it is absolutely necessary here.

Archpriest Alexander: Often a person, especially a new convert, having tasted such joy from God, begins to invite everyone to the church.

Archpriest Dimitry: Not often, but always.

Archpriest Alexander: And begins to give everyone some advice on how to live.

Archpriest Dimitry: Yes, yes, yes. This is just evidence of the loss of sobriety. Therefore, such people are usually surprised: why do not they listen to me? Why does everyone perceive me as a person who is like an annoying fly - he does not understand that this is so because he is not soberly approaching the task that he sets for himself. You are still human, you are nothing. Something similar happened with the Apostles: when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they looked like they were full of sweet wine. I emphasize: sweet. This then was a new phenomenon for them - the coming of the grace of God, and of course they did not know what to do with this, how to cope with it.