“The Dark Night of the Soul” is a term made famous by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Spanish mystic. St. John wrote a long poem called “Dark Night” in which he reflects on the steps or stages of mystical experience through which one lets go of this world and enters fully into the Heavenly Reality.
What I mean is that when I had to let go, for example, of certain emotional feelings that I had associated with God, I came to be aware of a “knowing” that was deeper than emotion. Or when a certain theological system that I had put so much faith in proved to be inadequate, I came to know a more mystical theology—not nearly as neat and easily delineated as the old one, but much more—I don’t know what to say—more Real.
I have had dark nights last for months and for years. Some are darker than others. Some have ended with a kind of discovery—like my discovery of the the Orthodox Church, which promised so much light. And I have encountered light as an Orthodox Christian. There have been times when I have felt overwhelmed by the insight, beauty and Presence I have encountered in the Orthodox Church. And I have had some very dark nights as an Orthodox Christian. People fail, systems don’t work as they should (or as I think they should), and lots of hard work and spiritual striving is seen by no one but God: in more than one way Orthodoxy teaches us that our reward is not in this life.
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).