Since you are speaking of monks and cells, this may help some who struggle with tears - maybe feel they are the only one.
EXPERIENCE OF PRESENCE: BITTER AND SWEET TEARS
The theme of tears is one of the characteristic themes of Syrian ascetical literature. Tears are also an integral part of Isaac the Syrian’s monastic spirituality.
In Syriac, the word abila, which means ‘a mourner’, was used for designating a monk. According to Syrian tradition, a monk is primarily he who mourns for himself, for others, for the whole world. ‘A mourner (abila) is he who passes all the days of his life in hunger and thirst for the sake of his hope and future good things’, Isaac says. ‘A monk (ihidaya) is he who making his dwelling far from the world’s spectacles, has the desire of the world to come as the only entreaty of his prayer. A monk’s wealth is the comfort that comes of mourning…’ In accordance with the notion of a monk as a person whose main activity is mourning for sins, Isaac writes:
What meditation can a monk have in his cell save weeping? Could he have any time free from weeping so as to turn his gaze to another thought? And what occupation is better than this? A monk’s very cell and his solitude, which have a likeness to life in a tomb, far from human joys, teach him that his work is to mourn. And the very calling of his name urges and spurs him on to this, because he is called ‘the mournful one’ (abila), that is, bitter in heart… A monk’s consolation is born of his weeping…
Mourning, according to Isaac, should be constant and unceasing. As one comes closer to the fruit of spiritual life tears become more and more frequent until they flow forth every day and every hour. At the same time constant weeping is not yet the climax of the spiritual journey. The climax is, according to Isaac, the state wherein a person, under the influence of constant weeping, comes to the ‘peace of thought’ and spiritual rest: in this state tears become ‘moderate’. The dynamics of the transition from recurrent tears to constant weeping and then from constant weeping to the ‘moderate’ tears of the perfect is shown by Isaac in Homily XIV from Part I. Here Isaac suggests that the birth of the weeping of repentance in a person signifies his embarking upon the way to God. In the first stage of this way, the tears are temporary and recurrent, in the second they flow forth without ceasing, and in the highest, they come to a ‘measure’. Isaac considers this teaching of his as the faith of the whole Church:
When you attain to the region of tears, then know that your mind has left the prison of this world and has set its foot on the roadway of the new age, and has begun to breathe that other air, new and wonderful. And at the same moment it begins to shed tears, since the birth pangs of the spiritual infant are at hand. For grace, the common mother of all, makes haste mystically to give birth in the soul to the divine image for the light of the age to come.
While the infant has not yet been born, the tears come to a solitary from time to time, but when the infant is born, as long as he grows up the tears increase until they flow forth unceasingly: ‘the eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more, that is, during the time of transition’. After two years or more of transition, the person enters into the ‘peace of thought’ and the ‘rest’ of which St Paul spoke. ‘When you enter into that region which is peace of the thoughts, then the multitude of tears is taken away from you, and afterwards tears come to you in due measure and at the appropriate time. This is, in all exactness, the truth of the matter as told in brief, and it is believed by the whole Church and by Her eminent men and front-line warriors’.
The tears of repentance that are born in a person from the consciousness of sins are accompanied by a ‘bitterness of the heart’ and contrition. But the dynamics of the development of a person involves a gradual transition from this type of tears to another, to the sweet tears of compunction. The teaching on the two types of tears is expounded by Isaac in Homily XXXVII of Part I:
There are tears that burn and there are tears that anoint as if with oil. All tears that flow out of contrition and an anguish of heart on account of sins dry up and burn the body, and often even the governing faculty feels the injury caused by their outflow. At first a man must necessarily come to this order of tears and through them a door is opened unto him to enter into the second order, which is superior to the first; this is the sign that a man has received mercy. These are the tears that are shed because of insight; they make the body comely and anoint it as if with oil, and they pour forth by themselves without compulsion… The body receives from them a sort of nourishment, and gladness is imprinted upon the face. He who has had experience of these two alterations will understand.
The tears of compunction which are accompanied by the feeling of spiritual joy are granted to someone when he reaches the state of the purity of heart and dispassion. These tears are a consequence of the fact that a person is deemed worthy of revelations from above and the vision of God. This is implied in the Beatitudes: