Athonite Flowers: Seven Contemporary Essays on the Spiritual Life HTML version

The Community of the Desert and the Loneliness of the Cities
Toward the end of the eighteen century, St. Kosmas Aitolos foretold that a time would come when a
person would have to travel for days to meet another person whom he could embrace as a brother. We are
living in an age where this is already happening. Contemporary man, in his loneliness, experiences pathological
anxiety, anguish and suffering. He is tormented and, in turn, torments others.
Why? This essay will attempt an answer by bringing the fragrance of community found in the desert to
the loneliness and the desolation found in cities.
Loneliness is the absence of communication and relationship – the inability to develop and maintain
associations with others. Contemporary culture and the structures of society, the mass media reflecting
prevailing ideologies, even children's games, lead to social alienation, political estrangement and personal
isolation. The individual person begins, early on, to be possessed by an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy, to
lose the meaning and purpose of life, to live without principles and discipline, to be constantly suspicious and in
Alone and insecure, anxious and disorderly, modern man – and particularly the contemporary young
person – attempts to build bridges, to raise flags, to shout slogans. But without a guide – or with bad guides –
he is readily disillusioned and becomes hard and aggressive, a plaything for political exploiters and power-
hungry anarchists. The desire for freedom becomes the bitter death of his freedom.
The young, who earlier had declared that they would never compromise with anyone, are now
themselves compromised. They take refuge in demonstrations and sit-ins, becoming rebellious in an effort to
relieve themselves of the weight of their loneliness, not realizing that they are thrusting themselves into an even
more unbearable slavery.
It is particularly unfortunate that all this is happening where least expected – even with young people of
good education, exceptional intelligence, energy and talent. Unsatisfied with material prosperity and
disillusioned by the hypocrisy of their elders, these young people struggle for simpler life, for quality in life, for a
better way of life – but unfortunately they do not manage to make the right beginning.
Modern art is a good example of the spiritual alienation that we see. Instead of shedding light and
opening windows – toward others and toward heaven – it tends to shut us in an to plunge us, ever deeper, into
obscurity and darkness.
It is not long before isolated man begins to talk to himself, to the irrational animals, to the shadows that
surround him, and to the dead. By now he is seriously sick. Melancholy, phobias, suspicion and mistrust have
made him a psychopath. A most appropriate observation characterizes our time as the century of the
psychiatrist. According to World Health Organization statistics for 1985 there are more than 400 million
people in the world suffering from deep depression, with about 400,000 committing suicide each year. And
these statistics refer only to the developed countries.
In his isolation man is plagued relentlessly by egotism and pride which are the natural parents of his
If egotism and pride foster this kind of loneliness, then true humility – even though the term is misused