We have asked priest Igor Spartesny, clergyman of the temple of Sophia the Wisdom of God in Srednie Sadovniki (Moscow), to tell us why this happens.
We are part of the Church, we believe in God, but we are still alone. Why? I do meet people who suffer from loneliness very often. And over the years of pastoral service I have understood that there are various methods to make the pain of loneliness less acute, but it is impossible to heal it entirely by our "earthly" means. "The emptiness that stays in the soul when there is no God in it cannot be filled by the whole world," were the words of saint Nikolaj Velimirović. It means that only God can fill this emptiness, this hole inside the soul.
But what is it like to be full with God? I would compare it to the feeling of being in love. Many of us know the feeling when wings grow behind the back and you are flying towards the long-awaited date with the one you love, no matter how tired or troubled you are. It is true that it is hard to stay in that mood for long. But while you have it, you're experiencing something that's the opposite of loneliness and you're left with the proof that it's possible to live in a different way, that is, with a sense of fulfilment rather than emptiness. But it is impossible to maintain this feeling on your own, without God.
For eight years, I have been dealing with people who are totally devastated and have been addicted for eight years. During that time, I have seen how, having found God, having joined the Church, they have found change: many have created families and have children. But they know, more than anyone else, that once you step away from the Source of Refreshment, the devastation will happen to you again. There will be some fullness, but it will be of a different kind – destructive, not life-saving.
But the reader asks a disturbing question: here we are, we seem to be in the Church, we seem to be believers, but we don't feel this fullness. Yes, this is our trouble. For some reason we ourselves refuse or cannot accept this fullness. What is that reason? The easiest way to explain it is in the parent-child relationship.
If my child is not listening, if after all my attempts to discipline him, he continues to be disobedient and at his own will, I stop trying, otherwise it will only add fuel to the fire. I simply do not enter into a trusting relationship with him, do not actively care for him, do not give advice and, in love, wait until he himself realizes his mistakes and wants to return my favour to him.
It is the same in our relationship with God: we distance ourselves from Him. God is always ready to save us from loneliness, but we are not always ready to accept it.
We are somewhat in the Church, somewhat of believers, but are still alone. Why is it so?
Sometimes we go to church and participate in the sacraments of the Church, but we still do not feel the grace. This leads to spiritual despondency, to a feeling of abandonment and loneliness. But remember the example of St. Seraphim of Sarov: he lived in the woods all alone, but it is impossible to say that he was lonely.
He became lonely when grace departed from him, and in order to return to his former state, he began to pray for a thousand days and a thousand nights on the rock and the Lord filled him with grace again. In your patience gain your souls (Luke 21:19). This is an example, how the saint overcame loneliness through the constant prayer, through cutting off his "desires", because they will give birth to grief, because not always everything happens according to your own way. I have no doubt that Reverend Seraphim would have died on a rock, totally trusting in God: not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).
It seems to me that in some situations we also need to make more spiritual efforts, to prove more zealously that we want to live with God: to pray, to fast, to read the Gospel, to participate in the Sacraments.
We have to prove that we need God's presence in our lives, that we need His grace - not to receive and squander it, but for action, for good. I, for instance, do not give my son money if I see that he does not spend it or spends it on silly things. Use your skills and talents to be useful to others: start a parish theatre club, sing in a church choir, take part in youth movements and social programmes. Make sure that you develop yourself, do not read detective stories, but spiritual literature. It also starts to fill you up – and the feeling of loneliness goes away.
As for me, I know the feeling of being abandoned by grace. And to those people who come to me with that pain, I say: pray! Don't neglect the sacraments of the Church, seek support from other people, both those who are alive now and those who are gone, but who have shared with us their experiences in books. Because loneliness is not a problem that can be solved alone.
One more thing. Remember that the issue of loneliness has more than just a tragic dimension. As a father of five children, for example, I sometimes long to enjoy some peace and solitude. And why did many saints became hermits? Because they realised that no one in the world could make them happier than God, and they went to live in the desert or in the woods to be alone with God. You may ask: If I have not found a friend or a partner on earth, should I be alone with him or her? Because they realised that no one in the world could make them happier than God, and they went to live in the desert or in the woods to be alone with God.
You may ask: If I have not found a friend or a partner on earth, should I become a hermit? I urge you to ask God to live this life with you. It does not matter whether you are a monk or a lay person, whether you are in seclusion or in marriage. If God is with you, you will never feel lonely.
I also want to comfort those who, for whatever reason, think they are left alone. My wife died – at that moment exactly half of me was taken away. But I don't remember feeling that I was left alone. Because you always have much more than you lose – God is with you.