O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power, and idle talk.
The Prayer of Saint Ephriam
Never delay in undertaking any work you have to do, for the first brief delay will lead to a second, more prolonged one, and the second to a third, still longer, and so on. Thus work begins too late and is not done in its proper time, or else is abandoned altogether, as something too burdensome. Lorenzo Scupoli (Unseen Warfare: Chapter 20)
I often accuse myself with sloth, often without any clear idea of what I mean by that. If questioned I would say: “well, I sometimes neglect my job, and I don’t do my dishes, or clean my house, or arrange social events, or make things.” But that brought on the question of whether one ought to work all the time, or what the limits are on work vs. “free time.” I also supposed that the vice of sloth must be contrasted with a virtue of diligence or industry. So I went and looked up the classical definition of “sloth,” and was surprised to find that, while it was certainly linked to lack of industry, that was not the main definition.
From The Orthodox Monk blog:
The passion of accidie (sloth) is the desire for the pleasure of doing nothing.
Accidie is a spiritual passion, and although it can present itself as a desire to sit around doing nothing at all, it is primarily a passion for doing nothing spiritually. The passion of sloth reminds you, just as soon as you’ve started to pray, that you have a whole pile of things that have to be done right now, that just can’t wait.
Hesychasts have a lifelong battle with accidie. Monks living in coenobitical monasteries have much less of a problem.
St John of the Ladder remarks that monks conquered by accidie are often quite industrious in their worldly works—even to the point of being maniacal.
Lay people are affected by sloth in various ways: by being lazy in the obvious sense, but also by not having enough time for prayer or by being too tired to read the Bible, a spiritual book and so on.
Then, from The Catholic Encyclopedia:
One of the seven capital sins. In general it means disinclination to labour or exertion. As a capital or deadlyvice St. Thomas (II-II:35) calls it sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve (Tristitia de bono spirituali). Father Rickaby aptly translates its Latin equivalent acedia (Gr. akedia) by saying that it means the don’t-care feeling. A man apprehends the practice of virtue to be beset with difficulties and chafes under the restraints imposed by the service of God. The narrow way stretches wearily before him and his soul grows sluggish and torpid at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspiresnot joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness. This is the notion commonly obtaining, and in this sensesloth is not a specific vice according to the teaching of St. Thomas, but rather a circumstance of all vices. Ordinarily it will not have the malice of mortal sin unless, of course, we conceive it to be so utter that because of it one is willing to bid defiance to some serious obligation. St. Thomas completes his definition ofsloth by saying that it is torpor in the presence of spiritual good which is Divine good. In other words, a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. It is then a mortal sin unless the act be lacking in entire advertence or full consent of the will. The trouble attached to maintenance of the inhabiting of God by charity arouses tedium in such a person. He violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength.” (Mark 12:30).
Both of these are interesting perspectives: on the one hand, one can indulge in the sin of sloth both by not working, and on the other, by working in the wrong way, or toward the wrong end. In addition to that, sloth is contrasted with the virtue of charity, not industry. When we sin by way of sloth we are lacking in zeal and love for God, and in the desire to aid our neighbor.