Ιn examining the value which sorrow has for human life in our previous text, we had mentioned the temptations which cause it, and the tears which often accompany it. We therefore had an opportunity to see quite briefly the positive -or rather the beneficial- aspects of certain things in this world which, according to current logic, are initially considered as being negative and undesirable.
While we had said whatever was necessary concerning sorrow and temptation, we had intended to speak extensively about tears in a separate article. Not only because there is a great variety of tears, as we shall see below, but especially because the desert Fathers place tears at the peak of all "good things" in the present world. It is not by chance that during the most contrite time of prayer, they did not ask God for wisdom or endurance or courage, not even for holiness. Their chief request was always, invariably, "grant me tears, O God, tears of repentance". This alone would be enough to make us think more deeply about tears and lead us to examine two related questions. First of all, the nature and source of tears and, second, their value in spiritual life.
It is clear that both these questions are closely tied together, but not only because they both refer to tears. Their relationship is much more substantial. The latter is completely dependent on the former. This means that the vaIue of tears depends upon what kind of tears they are. We must therefore arrange tears in some order. To categorise them and rank them accordingly. We can speak about an "order of tears" just as we would say a system of tears. Is this not how we speak of systems and orders of angels, people, waters etc?
Of course, the most important feature of tears is not the liquid which comes from the eyes. This naturally has the same chemical synthesis in every case. Yet, according to the cause of them each time, we have a corresponding quality and category of tears. The main ones are perhaps the following:
Tears of repentance / Tears of fear of God / Tears of contrition
Tears of emotion / Tears of joy / Tears of pain and horror / Tears of indignation
Tears of hypocrisy
When the Fathers and the great ascetics speak about tears, they always mean those three of the first category. Repentance is the most astounding miracle and experience in the life of a person. It is his or her most integral and forceful act. It is the radical ripping out of all features of one's previous life. Ιn such a way that nothing stands up in worldly terms. Literally everything is made "upside down". You feel as if everything is being turned backwards. Being doubted. Being overturned. Being frustrated. Being annihilated forever. This is what repentance is (meta-noia, a change of mind). Is it possible for such an impalement of soul and spirit not to bring tears, not to cause pain?
The root of tears, their very first and inexhaustible source, is repentance. The first and major fruit of this is the "fear of God". A fear which is characterised by Scripture as the "beginning of wisdom" (Psalm ΙΙΙ:10). The more one is made wise in the fear of God, the more one sees and senses miracles within and all around. A miracle is not a miracle unless someone has wondered at it in all its magnitude. Miracle (thavma) is then a wonder (thavmasma).
Only for this reason did God create humankind. To marvel and discover continuously, for a whole lifetime, deeper aspects of the truth, in other words of God's love. Here then is yet another meaning of the Biblical saying: "Those who increase knowledge increase sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18), which is the most mystical equalisation in human life.
It is only natural, following such a deep dive into the mystery of life and death, that the person of faith should feel more and more privileged compared to the rest of creation. It is an incomparable privilege to be a partaker in the deeper rhythm of the world, thereby discovering by first hand the boundless love of God. The only human answer to this "initiation", which reaches a climax in "participation" and eventually leads to "deifιcation", if God is pleased to allow this, are tears. Tears of compunction, contrition and appreciation, which as a result become "supplicatory tears", as they redeem us from all worldly uncertainties and doubts.
St. Isaac the Syrian wrote the following on such a correlation between the fear of God and tears of repentance: "Ι do not have a sorrowful heart to search for you, Ι do not have repentance, Ι do not have compunction, nor tears which return children to their homeland. Ι do not have, Lord, a supplicatory tear; my mind is darkened by the νanity of the world, and it is not able to gaze upon you with pain; my heart has grown cold from the multitude of temptations, and it cannot become warm through tears of love towards you. But you, Lord Jesus Christ my God, the treasury of good things, grant me perfect repentance and a toilsome heart, so that I may come to search for you with all my heart; for without you Ι wish to be estranged from every good thing" (2nd Discourse, Concerning renunciation of the world etc).
Even if we only isolated and underlined one phrase out of this stirring passage, we would see the value which the Saint recognises in tears, when he observes that they alone "return children to their homeland".
Clearly, all of the above comments refer to godly tears. They are what the Fathers called the greatest "gift" of the present world. For it is natural that, since tears arise from the fear of God and repentance, they should lead directly towards God Himself, according to His grace. Thus the character and the value of tears co-incide absolutely.
The second group of tears is also second in terms of importance. This is because it is confined, first of all, to the values of this world for which it either laments or rejoices. This is the group of four which follows the previous group of three. They are tears of pain and horror or joy on the one hand, or indίgnation and emotion on the other. These tears do not cease to have some value, since they spring from sincerity, spontaneously. Indeed they may, by cultivating and refining people, lead them at some stage to repentance, namely to God. Therefore, we enter the mystical process of godly tears which has already been described "through the back door". That is why someone like Victor Hugo could state that "no one can see God unless they have teary eyes".
Ιn concluding this brief reference to the order of tears, we must state that, if there are any kind of tears which are totally futile and which have nothing to do with the cultivation and fate of the soul, they are the tears of hypocrisy. They, as tears which stem from ulterior motives, might be useful only to actors, on a professional level. And even more so to the crocodiles which use them as a means to secure their food.
Archbishop Stylianos of Australia