In his apostolic message St. Paul touches upon a painful subject, something that wreaks havoc in many lives and makes them miserable: depression. In the past no one paid much attention to this illness as it often appeared slowly and imperceptibly, only to press its victim hard under its burden, but it was also known to disappear gradually from the soul of the afflicted person. Today, however, in the modern era of innovative technology, depression is so common that it is not unusual even for children to become afflicted with this disease.
In his epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul explains that all Christians are unique and different. Even when ordeals and misfortunes come upon them, they are unhesitant and do not give up. “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed,” he says. “We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
We often see depressed people around us. Their feelings are nightmarish and so is their behavior. They hurt all over and complain that no one understands their feelings. Indeed, even though it might seem to anyone observing them from the side that these people are just “faking it,” that they are hypochondriacs and that there’s nothing wrong with them other than that they are wallowing in self-pity and trying to attract attention, the truth is that these people really are suffering from an illness. With or without a real reason, a depressed person is always unhappy and weak, unwell and insecure. The Serbs have a terrible curse: “May his bread become tasteless.” This is exactly how a depressed person feels: his bread is tasteless.
When someone has a toothache, everyone understands and feels for that person. When, God forbid, someone is afflicted by a terminal disease, we are always there to show our support by helping and listening. But when a person’s soul becomes ill and when, crushed by the pain, he weeps, we laugh at him and mock him, offering to “cure” him of his affliction with so many blows with a stick on his behind. In Njegosh’s “Mountain Wreath” we read how the sister-in-law of Vuk Mandusic “lost her senses” and how he tried to cure her by taking her to “prophets” and to “holy monasteries where they prayed the Unction services for her.” Everything was in vain, until Vuk took his “triple-thronged whip and scourged her shirt right into her own flesh. Thus the devil took off without a trace, Andjelija, in turn, regained her health.” Poor Andjelija – perhaps she clammed herself shut after that and never spoke of her pain again. Perhaps she wilted and dried up like a flower after that. Perhaps she died without daring to tell anyone of her pain ever again.
There is nothing new under the heavens other than new forms of diseases about which we know little. Depression is a modern-day disease only because it has been given a name. However, this disease of the soul is as old as mankind. There are theories that Cain could only have murdered his brother because he was suffering from severe depression. King David the Psalmist cries out in a loud voice and weeps: “I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with tears. My eye wastes away because of grief” (Ps. 6:6-7). In another psalm he writes how tears are his bread, day and night (PS. 42:3). “I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh; I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” (Ps. 38:6-8). If anyone complained of these symptoms to his doctor, he would most certainly be diagnosed with depression.
In fact, anyone could diagnose a person with these feelings with depression, even if they have never read held a book on psychiatry or psychology in their hands. However, those who can recommend the right cure for depression are very rare. Yet the Prophet David found a cure for his affliction, he grew stronger and became well. The cure is God. When he couldn’t cope with his sadness any more, he first turned to his own soul, and then to the Lord: “Why are you cast down, o my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (Ps. 42:11) He cried out to the Lord from the depths of his soul: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me by Your generous spirit.” (Ps. 51:12)
Now, you could very well say, “What else can a priest say, other than recommend God as the best healer?” It is true, my friends. God is the only cure and the only true Healer. I am deeply convinced of this, not only as a priest, but as a human being. This is why:
Man is born into this world with God and as he grows, his soul leans towards God. This is quite normal and natural. All children are God-seekers by nature. Many parents have told me how their children love going to church and how they beg their parents to take them there. Later, though, when life’s weeds threaten to suffocate this tender God-seeking plant, the children – now young adults – start experimenting and following all kinds of wild new “trends” which can have very harmful results. This is especially true when the person comes to his senses and starts asking himself who he is, where he has come from and where he is going. There is a deep and vast ocean of questions and doubts regarding life’s problems before him, but no answers. Although the answer to all these questions is very obvious, this person takes upon himself the burdensome task of clearing the forest of his doubts and uncertainties alone, by himself, stumbling and falling in the process. Crushed by the weight of it all, feeble and restless, he ends up depressed.
While King David tried to find the way out of his troubles on his own, his bones had all but shriveled up. “When I kept silent,” he says, “my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me. My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4). But then he turned to the Lord in repentance, confessed his sin and laid all his troubles before Him. “I acknowledge my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin’” (Ps. 32:5). Free from his heavy burden, he cried joyfully, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Ps. 32:1)
When the Prophet Jeremiah was struck by the evil-mindedness of men and other afflictions, though having drunk from the bitter cup of wormwood (Laments, 3:15), his spirit did not falter, for he knew that “the Lord will not cast off forever. But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercy” (Lam.nts, 3:30–31)
And when the Prophet Elijah was staggering under a heavy burden and became depressed, as we see from the Scriptures, he went off into the desert and sincerely wished to end his life right there. He cried to the Lord, “It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life!” (1 Kings 19:4). But the Lord raised him up, healed his soul and his body and sent him off to complete his mission.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved,” is King David’s advice (Ps. 55:22).
Human knowledge is frail and our strength is weak. Without God we have no firm support and we are like a straw in the wind. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wins as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint, says the holy Prophet Isaiah. (Is. 40:31)
“Without me you can do nothing,” says the Lord (Jn. 15:5). He offers to take our heavy burdens from us and place them on His own shoulders. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt. 11:28-29)
We are called to live “no longer for ourselves” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We will be cured of all anxiety and depression if we turn to God and to others, instead of being turned inwards, to ourselves. St. Paul says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let y our requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on those things,” (Phil. 4:6-8) “and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29).