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The Theological Virtue of Hope

Fr. Peter-Michael Prebble

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The theological virtue of hope goes hand in hand with the theological virtue of faith. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells his readers that Abraham, "in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations (4:18). Hope, just like faith, is in that which is not seen. Again St. Paul tells the Romans, "For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (8:24-25).

The classical definition of hope would be the assurance of the good outcome of our lives lived by faith in God. In hope we have a conviction that our lives built on that faith in God will produce fruits. Hope brings us confidence even in this world of darkness and sin. It is also the confidence that the light of the loving God will bring us forgiveness and also brings us the help that we cannot do on our own.

The Psalmist writes, "Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and shield. Yea out hearts are glad in him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Thy steadfast love, O Lord be upon us, even as we hope in Thee" (Psalm 33:20-22).

So what then would we say is the opposite of this virtue of hope? Two things would fall into this category, despondency and despair. The spiritual tradition of the Church would teach that the state of despondency and despair is the most grievous condition that one can possibly find themselves in. Despondency is the worst and most harmful of the sinful states possible for the soul. This of course is from a spiritual sense. If we have no hope then nothing else is possible for us.

If someone falls in faithlessness that person can be chastised and convinced. If another is proud they can be humbled, impure he can be cleaned, weak strong, wicked righteous. But if one is despondent and full of despair their heart and soul will be dead and unresponsive to the grace that only God can give and the support of those around him.

The 6th century Saint Isaac of Syria in his Directions on Spiritual Training relates the following to his spiritual children, "The force of despondence overwhelm him and oppress his soul; and this is a taste of hell because it produces a thousand temptations: confusion, irritation, protesting and bewailing one's lot, wrong thoughts, wanderings from place to place and so on."

For one to rise from this state of despair and despondency he must remain steadfast and have patience. He must be a person of faith even when there is no conviction or feeling that such would be appropriate. The person must take one day at a time and immerse themselves in Scripture reading, liturgical worship, fasting, prayer, and work. St. Benedict would advise the person to remain stable in ones place to and to "what you are doing" and to do it as well as you can will all attention. The important part of recovery would be to find spiritual friends and a spiritual guide during this time.

There is no virtue in feeling weak and helpless in the presence of that which is evil. There is no virtue to consider yourself totally at the mercy of all that is evil and sinful in the world and in your life. Rather it is a virtue that one always is "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" and knowing and believing that the final victory is God's and God's alone (Romans 12:12).

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble is the Pastor of St. Michael’s Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts and the host of the Shepherd of Souls syndicated radio program. Visit Fr. Peter's blog.

Posted: 13-Jan-2009



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