January 25: St. Appolo, Who Insisted on Joy [harrumph!]

No, it’s not a misspelling–he was Appolo and not Apollo. After living in Egypt for many years as a hermit, Appolo emerged to lead some 500 monks, all of whom were required to wear “coarse white habits” (think “inexpensive and itchy”) and to listen to Appolo’s daily lectures. One of this saint’s primary themes for his daily exhortations was that sadness and melancholy were evil…not difficult, not unfortunate, but evil.

Now, one might quite reasonably imagine that dedicating all of what remains of one’s life to God, only to discover that this meant living daily in coarse white habits and receiving lectures, ad infinitum, might well lead many to sadness and a melancholic wistfulness for their pre-monastic existences.

What is more, why should any emotion be eschewed? Why is either sadness or melancholia an evil? Why are they not, instead, indicators that there legitimately is something to be sad or even depressed about? I would suggest that, for Appolo–whom Butler writes “was known to strangers by the joy of his countenance”–to view others in his intentional community who did not share his joy, or did not view their common situation in the same way he did, created a dissonance that propelled him to upbraid others rather than to question at least certain elements of their collective enterprise. Perhaps living so long a period alone, it did not occur to Appolo to respect the diverse reactions of others rather than to swat them down and label them as Bad.

Too often, sadness, anger, fear, pain, and confusion are not honored for what they can teach us. These are branded as impediments rather than roadmaps to a whole and holy life. But this approach means stripping ourselves of part of the equipment we’ve been given not only for surviving but for thriving. Requiring people to ignore their feelings and to instead replace them with so-called positive emotions (especially by equating the former with evil and the latter with holiness) is a means of entrenching status-quo injustices and weakening the power and passions of those whose hearts are pure enough to experience the truth of their lives.


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