Because He is Risen I am Hopeful
Adapted from a sermon by: Fr Daniel Fanous
Hope is an optimistic state of mind, that is based on an expectation of a positive outcome in relation to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. The prime example of this virtue is Abraham, “who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:18). Thus, hope is assurance, confidence and power… but in what? How do we define a ‘positive outcome’? Is it simply passing an exam when, given the amount of study done, we would expect to fail? What about circumstances outside one’s control; for example, how does someone expect a positive outcome given an illness that interrupts their ability to work towards that outcome? If hope is defined as the expectation of a positive outcome, how do we have hope when the positive outcome is not physically possible?
Hope, in the Christian sense, is in SOMEONE. It is not defined by a change in circumstance (which can be outside our power), but rather is defined by us changing and thereby entering a relationship with Christ, who can make our circumstance, our life and our chaos meaningful. In the Psalms, King David writes “Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, just as we hope in You.” (Psalms 33:20-22). There is no mention here to a change in events. Thus, our hope is in Him simply because He is our help, our shield, we trust in Him and His mercy is upon us. That is the positive outcome. And, this is why we can hope against hope, because whatever comes from the caring hands of the Lord must be positive.
The opposite of hope is acedia – a word with Greek origins commonly translated as despondency. In the monastic literature, acedia is nick-named ‘the noonday demon’, to the extent that the monks would think of it as a personified power that drains the person of energy and life. Evagrius of Pontus writes that acedia “tears the soul to pieces as a hunting-dog does a fawn”. He also says that “no other thought follows that of despondency, first because it persists, and then also, because it contains in itself nearly all the thoughts”. A person without hope cannot think of anything beyond their despondency, they are unable to overlook it or break it. Evagrius also goes on to write “A despondent person hates precisely what is available” and nothing satisfies them. A person troubled with acedia, looks at their life with irritability and starts chasing other lives. Thus, some of the Desert Fathers say that there is no greater sin and no more deplorable state than that of acedia.
Thankfully, Fr Daniel suggests the following remedy for acedia:
- Have the Risen Lord always before you. Hope is not that the circumstances will change, but hope is in the Person of the risen Lord, who brings meaning to everything that we do.
- Live in the present (modern psychology calls this mindfulness). The Jesus prayer is the most effective way of practising mindfulness.
- Discipline your thoughts (modern psychology calls this cognitive behavioural therapy). Practice thinking simple rather than complex thoughts.
- Pray regularly. When we place our hand close to a fire, our hand gets warm. Similarly, if we draw near to the only Person who can give meaning to our lives, the only Person who is Hope, we then begin to have hope.
- Avoid being idle. When St Anthony was beset by acedia in the desert, an angel of the Lord was sent to teach him a routine of work and prayer, and his avoidance of idleness saved him from his despondent thoughts.
Thus, hope is not the expectation that our circumstances would change and be positive in a way we understand. Hope is in a Person who can bring comfort and meaning to our lives because no matter what comes from His hand, it must be good. It is a virtue that needs to be worked at and cultivated, as a life without hope is one of the most difficult lives that anyone can live.