The demon of despondency obscures the soul’s capacity for spiritual contemplation and keeps it from all good works. When this malicious demon seizes our soul and darkens it completely, he prevents us from praying joyfully, from reading Holy Scripture with profit and perseverance, and from being kind and compassionate toward our brethren. That demon instills a hatred of every kind of work and even of the monastic profession itself. Undermining all of the soul’s salutary resolutions, weakening its persistence and constancy, he leaves it senseless and paralyzed- tied and bound by its despairing thoughts.
If our purpose is to fight the spiritual battle and to defeat -with God’s help- the demons of malice, we should take every care to guard our heart from the demon of despondency. just as a moth devours clothing and a worm devours wood, thus despondency devours a man’s soul. It persuades him to shun every helpful encounter and stops him from accepting advice from his true friends, even from giving them a courteous and untroubled reply. Seizing the entire soul, it fills it with bitterness and listlessness. Then, that demon will suggest to the soul that we should go away from other people, since *they* are the cause of its agitation. It does not allow the soul to understand that its sickness does not come from without, but lies hidden within- only manifesting itself when temptations attack the soul because of our ascetic efforts.
A man can be harmed by another only through the causes of the passions which lie within himself. it is for this reason that God -the Creator of all and the Doctor of man’s souls (Who alone has accurate knowledge of the soul’s wounds)- does not tell us to forsake the company of men. He tells us to root out the causes of evil within us and to recognize that the soul’s health is achieved not by a man’s separating himself from his fellows, but by his living the ascetic life in the company of holy men. When we abandon our brothers for some apparently “good” reason, we do not eradicate the motives for despondency, but merely exchange them, since the sickness which lies hidden within us will show itself again in other circumstances.
Thus, it is clear that our whole fight is against the passions within. Once these have been removed from our heart by the grace and help of God, we will readily be able to live not simply with other men, but even with wild beasts. Job confirms this when he says, “and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you” (Job 5:23).
But first, we must struggle with the demon of despondency who casts the soul into despair. We must drive him from our hearts. It was this demon that did not allow Cain to repent after he had killed his own brother, or Judas after he had betrayed his Master. The only form of grief we should cultivate is that which goes with repentance for sin and is accompanies by hope in God. It was of this form of sorrow that the apostle said, “Godly grief produces a saving repentance [that leads to salvation] and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This “Godly grief” nourishes the soul through the hope engendered by repentance, and it is mingled with joy. That is why it makes us obedient and eager for every good work- accessible, humble, gentle, forbearing and patient in enduring all the suffering or tribulation that God may send us. Possession of these qualities shows that a man enjoys the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith, and self-control (cf. of Galatians 5:11). But from the other kind of grief we come to know the fruits of the evil spirit: listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, and sluggishness in praying. So, we should shun this second form of grief (despondency) as we would being unchaste, avarice, anger, and the rest of the passions. It can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on Holy Scripture, and by living amoung godly people.