Pardon this “off topic” post, but I feel a need to address this issue.
This post has been making the rounds, though it is an article written in 2013. It attempts to offer St. Silouan’s aphorism “Keep your mind in hell, but don’t despair” as a “cure” for depression.
This is at first glance quite insensitive to those who struggle with depression, as if a “cure” could be so easily offered on a blog. Upon reading it closely, it is irresponsible, if not very dangerous. If a person diagnosed with clinical depression were to stop taking their medication on the advice of a blog, it could precipitate a dangerous decline in mental health that could result in suicide in a worst-case-scenario.
The advice that St. Silouan purportedly received from God was the result of a very long and hard-fought battle against his own passions as well as demonic powers. St. Silouan was, at the time, already advanced in ascetic discipline even though he was a relatively recent initiate to the monastic life. After receiving a vision of the Lord very early in his struggle, his subsequent despair and struggles came as a result of failing to recapture the ecstasy of that experience.
In short, St. Silouan’s case is not something that will apply to the vast majority of Orthodox Christians. And even if it were, such advice should be given by a spiritual father-confessor and monitored with great care.
Clinical depression is a serious illness that involves brain chemistry. It requires psychiatric care involving counseling and medication as well as spiritual care from a qualified pastor. Such clinical care cannot be cast aside as a “cruch,” and such talk is absolutely reprehensible.
But what is a biblical and Orthodox approach to the inner life? Are we commanded in Scripture to “keep our mind in hell?”
Quite the opposite.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 (NKJV)
Our minds ought to be on Christ, in Heaven seated at the right hand of the Father, for “our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”
“Keep your mind in hell, but don’t despair” is advise given for a very specific situation, where extreme humility is needed to combat and eradicate pride, but it is not a biblical or normative spiritual mindset. Let this be a call to pastors and spiritual fathers to be very careful in the application of this saying, for it could have disastrous effects that could even have legal ramifications.
Please, please, do not let “piety” get in the way of common sense or biblical theology and spirituality. It as if we have forgotten Scripture and replaced it with sayings from various saints and elders, and this is a spiritual malady in itself.
*UPDATE* It is becoming apparent from some of the comments that people are confusing St. Silouan’s metaphorical “hell” for the equivalent of a depressive mental state. This is THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what it was intended for. The command to “KEEP oneself in hell” was for a person who was too elated with his spiritual and ascetic progress and had thus fallen into pride. The “hell” of clinical depression is NOT a place where one should be told to “keep one’s mind.” So, let’s be very clear hear exactly the context in which St. Silouan received this word and not extend it to places where it was not intended.