The Enticement of the Occult. Bishop Alexander Mileant
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1).
In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (the divine holy scripture says [Gen. 2:20]) adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise. He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in his emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature, as he was created. For, in the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues. When he disobeyed the command and ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat, he was thrown out of paradise (Gen. 3) and fell from a state in accord with his nature to a state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to love of the pleasures of this life and the other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave to them through his transgression. Then, little by little evil increased and death reigned. There was no more piety, and everywhere was ignorance of God. Only a few, I say, of the fathers moved by the law of nature acknowledged God; such were Abraham and the rest of the Patriarchs, and Noah and Jacob. And to speak simply, very few and rare were those who knew about God. For then the Enemy deployed all his wickedness so that sin would rule. Then began idolatry and the worship of many gods, divining, murders and the rest of the devil's wickedness. Then God in His goodness had mercy on His creatures and gave Moses a written law in which he forbade some things and allowed others, saying This you shall do, that you shall not do. He gave the commandments, and said The Lord, your God, is one Lord, (Deuter. 6:4) in order to turn their minds from polytheism, and then: Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy soul and with all thy mind,everywhere proclaiming that God is one, and there is no other. For in saying Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, he showed that God is one and one is the Lord. So also in the Decalogue: The Lord your God shall you adore, Him only shall you worship. You shall adhere to Him and swear by His name(Deut. 6:13) Then he adds, Thou shalt have no other gods, nor any likeness to anything heaven above or on earth beneath (Exod. 20:3, 4), for they used to bow down before all sorts of creatures.
The good God then gave the law as a help—for their conversion, for putting right what was evil, but they did not reform. He sent the prophets, but they were unable to do anything. For evil prevailed as said Isaiah, no injury, no bruise, no wound was cauterized; no chance of soothing dressings; no oil, no bandaging of wounds (Isaiah 1:6), as much as to say that the evil was not in one member, or in one place, but in the whole body. It encompassed the whole soul and all its powers.
Everything was a slave to sin; everything was under the control of sin. As Jeremiah said, We would heal Babylon, but she would not be healed (Jer. 51:9). That is to say, we have revealed Your name, we have announced Your commandments, Your benefits and Your warnings. We have put Babylon on her guard against enemy uprisings. All the same she is not healed; she has not been converted, she has not feared, she has not turned from her wickedness. In another place he says, they have not submitted to discipline (Jer. 2:30), that is, to correction and instruction. And in the psalm it says, All food did their soul abhor, and they drew nigh even unto the gates of death (Ps. 106:18).
Then finally the most good and man-loving God sent His Only Begotten Son; for God alone could heal such a disease, and this was also not unknown to the prophets. Wherefore the Prophet David clearly says, Thou that sittest on the Cherubim; Stir up Thy might and come to save us (Ps. 79:1,2). And again: O Lord, bow down the heaven and come down (Ps. 143:5) and other similar sayings. The Holy Prophets in various ways have spoken much about this: some entreating that He might descend, others declaring that He unfailingly would descend.
And thus our Lord came, becoming man for our sake in order, as St. Gregory says, to heal the similar by means of the similar, the soul by means of the soul, the flesh by means of the flesh, for He became man in everything except sin. He accepted our very nature, the essence of our constitution, and became a new Adam in the image of God, Who created the first Adam. He renewed the natural condition and made the senses again sound, as they were in the beginning. Having become man He raised fallen man, and delivered him who was before in bondage to sin and violently possessed by it. For the enemy had dominion over man with violence and torture, so that even those who did not wish to sin involuntarily sinned, as the Apostle says on our behalf, The good that I will I do not, but the evil which I will not, that I do (Rom. 7:19).
Thus God, having become man for our sake, delivered us from the torture of the enemy. For God overthrew the whole power of the enemy, He crushed his very fortress and delivered us from his dominion; He delivered and freed us from submission and slavery to the enemy, if only we ourselves would not wish to sin of our own free will. Because He gave us power, as He said, to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19), having cleansed us by Holy Baptism from every sin, for Holy Baptism takes away and uproots every sin. At the same time the All-good God, knowing our infirmity and foreseeing that we, even after Holy Baptism, would sin, as is said in the scripture: the imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth(Gen. 8:21), He gave us in His goodness, the holy commandments which cleanse us, in order that we, if we wish, might again be cleansed by the keeping of the commandments—not only of our sins but even of the passions themselves. For the essence of passion is one thing, and the essence of sin another. The passions are: anger, vain-glory, love of pleasure, hatred, evil fleshly desire, and the like. Sins on the other hand are the very actions of the passions, when someone brings them into fulfillment in deed; that is, he performs in body those deeds to which his passions arouse him. For one may have passions, yet not act according to them.
Thus He gave us the commandments, as I have said, cleansing us from our very passions, from our very evil impulses which are in our inner man: for He gives man power to distinguish good from evil; He inspires him, shows him the reasons why he falls into sins, for He said: "The law said, do not commit adultery, but I say, do not even have fleshly desire. The law said, do not kill, but I say, do not even be angry." (cf. Mat. 5:21, 22, 27, 28) For if you shall have fleshly desire—even though you may not commit adultery today, the desire will nevertheless continually disturb you within until it attracts you into the very act. If you become angry and irritated against your brother, then sometime you will fall into speaking evil against him, then you shall begin also to deceive him, and in this way, little by little, going forward you will finally come even to murder. Again the law says: eye for eye, tooth for tooth (Lev. 24:20). But Christ teaches not only to bear patiently a blow on the cheek, but also to turn the other cheek with humility. For then the aim of the law was to instruct us not to do whatever we ourselves did not want to suffer, and therefore it stopped us from doing evil by fear, so that we ourselves would not suffer the same thing. But now it is demanded, as I said, to banish hatred itself, love of pleasure itself, love of glory itself, and the other passions. In a word, now the aim of our Master Christ is to instruct us as to what we have fallen from in all our sins, why such evil days have overtaken us. And thus at first, as I have already said, He delivered us by Holy Baptism, giving us freedom to do good if we desire so, and not to be drawn violently away toward evil; for the passions weigh down and draw away the one who is the slave of sins, even as it has been said: Everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins (Prov. 5:22).
He instructs us how to be cleansed of the passions themselves by means of the holy commandments, so that through them we may not fall again into the same sins. Finally, He shows us also what causes a man to be given to carelessness and disobedience against the very commandments of God, and in this way gives us also the treatment against this cause, in order that we might become obedient and be saved. But what is this treatment and what is the cause of carelessness? Hear what our Lord Himself says: Learn of me, because I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls(Matt. 11:29). Behold how He has shown us here in brief, in one word, the root and cause of all evils and the treatment against them—the cause of everything good. He showed that haughtiness is what has brought us down, that it is impossible to receive mercy in any other way than through what is the opposite of this, that is, humility of wisdom. For haughtiness gives birth to carelessness, disobedience and ruin, just as humility of wisdom gives birth to obedience and the salvation of the soul. Here I understand true humility, not in words only or in outward form, but as a humble impulse which is rooted in the heart itself. And thus, whoever desires to find true humility and peace for his soul, let him learn humility of wisdom and he shall see that in it is every joy, all glory, and all repose, just as in pride there is everything to the contrary. For, why have we been subjected to all these sorrows? Is it not from our pride? Is it not from our senselessness? Is it not from the fact that we do not bridle our evil will? Is it not from the fact that we cling to our bitter self-will? Indeed, and from what else? Was not man, after his creation, in a state of every enjoyment, every joy, all repose, and all glory? Was he not in Paradise? He was commanded not to do this, but he did it! Do you see the pride? Do you see the stubbornness? Do you see the lack of submission?
After this, God, seeing such shamelessness said, "He is senseless, he is not able to take delight in the joy. If he does not experience some evil result, then he will go even further and perish completely. For if he does not learn what sorrow is, then he will not learn what repose is." Then God gave him what he deserved, and banished him from Paradise. And man was given over to his own self-love and his own will, so that they would crush his bones, so that he would learn to follow not himself, but the commandments of God, so that the very suffering of disobedience would teach him the repose of obedience, as is said by the Prophet: Thine apostasy shall correct thee (Jer. 2:19). However, God in His goodness, as I have often said, did not disdain His own creature. Again He exhorts, again He calls: Come to Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28). He says as it were: "Behold how you have labored, behold how you have suffered, behold how you have experienced the evil consequences of your disobedience. Come now and be converted; come, realize your infirmity, in order to enter into your repose and glory. Come, enliven yourself by the humility of wisdom in place of the high-mindedness by which you have killed yourself. Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matt. 11:29) O Marvel, my brethren, what pride does! O Wonder, how powerful is humility of wisdom! For what need was there of all these vicissitudes? If man had humbled himself in the beginning, and obeyed God and preserved the commandment, then he would not have fallen.
Again, after the fall, God gave man the possibility to repent and be forgiven, but his neck remained unbending. For God came, saying to him, Adam, where art thou? (Gen. 3:10). That is, to what shame have you come from your former glory? Then, He asks him: "Why have you sinned, why have you transgressed the commandment?" He prepared him intentionally so that he might say: "Forgive me." But there was no humility! Where was the word "forgive"? There was no repentance—only the exact opposite. For he argued and replied: The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me deceived me (Gen. 3:13), and he did not say, "My wife deceived me," but, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me," as if to say: "This misfortune which You have brought upon my head." For thus it always is, my brethren: When a man does not wish to reproach himself, he does not hesitate to accuse even God Himself. Then God came to the woman and said to her, "Why did you not keep the commandment?" He was as if hinting to her, "You, at least say ‘forgive me', so that your soul might become humbled and you might be forgiven." But again He did not hear the word "forgive." For she also replied, The serpent deceived me (Gen. 3:14). She was saying, as it were: "The serpent sinned, and what has that to do with me?" What are you doing, O wretched ones? Repent, acknowledge your sin, regret your nakedness. But neither of them wished to accuse themselves, and did not find the least humility in a single point. And so, you see now clearly what your attitude has led you to, behold what great misfortunes have resulted from the fact that we justify ourselves, that we keep to our own will and follow ourselves. All this is the offspring of pride, which is hostile to God. But the children of humility of wisdom are: self-reproach, not trusting one's own mind, hatred of one's own will; for through them a man can to come to himself and return to his natural state, through purifying himself by the holy commandments of Christ. Without humility it is impossible to submit to the commandments and attain anything good, as Abba Mark also said: "Without contrition of heart it is impossible to be delivered from evil and to acquire virtue."
Thus through contrition of heart a man becomes obedient to the commandments, is freed from evil, obtains virtues, and at the same time ascends into his repose. Knowing this, the Saints also strove in every way by a humble life to unite themselves with God. For there were certain God-beloved people who, after Holy Baptism, not only cut off the actions of the passions, but also desired to conquer even the passions themselves and become passionless. Such were Sts. Anthony and Pachomius and other God-bearing Fathers. They had the good intention of cleansing themselves, as the Apostle says, from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (II Cor. 7:1), for they knew that by keeping the commandments, as we have already said, the soul is cleansed and, so to speak, the mind is cleansed and begins to see clearly, and returns to its natural state; for, the commandment of the Lord is far-shining, enlightening the eyes (Ps. 18:8). They understood that they could not easily perform virtues while remaining in the world, and so they devised for themselves a special form of life, a special order of spending their time, a special form of activity—in a word, the monastic life. They began to flee from the world and live in the deserts, laboring in fasting, in vigils; they slept on the bare earth and endured other suffering. They cut themselves off completely from their homeland and relatives, from possessions and other things; in a word, they crucified themselves to the world. And not only did they keep the commandments, but they also brought gifts to God; and I shall explain to you how they did this. The commandments of Christ are given to all Christians and every Christian is obliged to fulfill them. They are, we might say, tribute which is owing to the king. And what man who refuses to give tribute to the king shall escape punishment? But there are in the world great and noble people who not only give tribute to the king, but also bring gifts to him: such people are made worthy of great honor, great rewards, and worthy positions. Such were the Fathers; they not only kept the commandments, but they also brought gifts to God. These gifts are: virginity and non-acquisitiveness. These are not commandments but gifts; for nowhere is it said in Scripture, do not take a wife, do not have children. So also Christ, in saying, Sell what thou hast (Matt. 19:21), did not by this give a commandment; for when the lawyer came to him and said: Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? Christ replied, keep the commandments: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, and the others. And when the lawyer said: All these have I kept from my youth up, the Lord added, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and the rest (Matt. 19:16-21). He did not say, "Sell that thou hast," as a commandment, but rather as a counsel; for the words "if thou wilt” are not the words of one commanding, but of one counseling.
Thus, as we have said, along with other virtues the Fathers offered to God also gifts—virginity and non-acquisitiveness; and as we have mentioned before, they crucified the world to themselves. But later they labored to crucify also themselves to the world, as the Apostle says: the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). What is the difference between these? How is the world crucified to a man and a man to the world? When a man renounces the world and becomes a monk, he leaves his parents, property, possessions, business, the act of giving to others and receiving from them. Then the world is crucified to him, for he has renounced it. This is the meaning of the words of the Apostle, the world is crucified unto me; then he adds, and I unto the world. But how is a man crucified to the world? When, having been freed from external things, he labors even against pleasures themselves, or against the very desire for things and against his own desires, and mortifies his passions, then he himself is crucified to the world, and he is able to say with the Apostle: the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Our Fathers, as we have said, crucifying the world to themselves, gave themselves to labors and crucified also themselves to the world. But we think that we have crucified the world to ourselves only because we have left it and have come to a monastery. But we do not wish to crucify ourselves to the world, for we still love its enjoyments, we still have attachments for foods, for clothing; if we have some good tool, we are attached to it and we allow some kind of meaningless tool to produce in us worldly attachment, as Abba Zosimas said. We think that having left the world and come to a monastery, we have left everything worldly; but here also, for the sake of meaningless things, we are filled with worldly attachments. This happens to us because of our great senselessness—in having left great and valuable things, we nonetheless fulfill our passions through various meaningless things; for each of us left whatever he had. He who had something great left this great thing, and he who had anything, left whatever he had, each according to his strength. And coming to the monastery, as I said, we give way to our attachment by means of unimportant things. However, we should not act in this way; but rather since we have renounced the world and its things, so also we must renounce the very attachment to things, knowing in what our renunciation consists, why we have come to a monastery, and what is the meaning of the garment in which we are clothed. We must conform ourselves to it and labor like our Fathers.
The clothing which we wear consists of a mantle which has no sleeves; a leather belt, the paramon and a hood—all these are symbols. And we must know the meaning of these symbols of our clothing. So, why do we wear a mantle which has no sleeves? While all other mantles have sleeves, why do we not have them? Sleeves are like arms, and arms are accepted as an indication of activity. Therefore, when the thought comes to us to do something with the arms of our old man—for example, to steal or strike or in general to do any kind of sin with our arms, we must turn our attention to our clothing and remember that we do not have sleeves, that is, we do not have arms that would enable us to do any kind of deed belonging to the old man.
Then, our mantle has a certain emblem of purple color. What is the significance of this purple emblem? Every soldier of the emperor has purple on his shoulder. For since the emperor wears purple clothing, likewise all his soldiers wear purple on their shoulders, that is, an imperial distinction, so that thereby they might be recognized as belonging to the emperor and serving him. Thus we also wear the purple emblem on our mantle, showing that we have become soldiers of Christ and that we are obliged to endure every suffering, as He suffered for us. For when our Master suffered, He was clothed in a purple garment, first of all as a king, for He is the King of those who reign and the Lord of those who lord, then being mocked by those impious people. Thus we also, having the purple emblem, give a vow, as I said, to endure all His sufferings. And just as a soldier must not leave his service in order to become a farmer or a merchant, for otherwise he is deprived of his rank, as the Apostle says,No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier (II Tim. 2:4), thus we also should labor, not being concerned for anything worldly, and serve God alone in order to be, as was said, the virgin who is diligently and silently occupied with her work (cf. II Cor. 11:2).
We also have a belt. Why do we wear it? The belt which we wear is a symbol first of all that we are ready for action; for everyone who desires to do something first girds himself and then begins the deed, as the Lord also said: Let your loins be girded about (Luke 12:35); and secondly, just as a (leather) belt is taken from a dead body, so we also must mortify our fleshly desire: for a belt is worn about our loins, the location of our kidneys, in which, it has been said, the desiring part of the soul is contained. This is what the Apostle said: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, (Col. 3:5) and the rest.
We likewise have the paramon, which is placed on our shoulders in the form of a cross. This signifies that we wear upon our breast the sign of the cross, as the Lord says: Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Mk. 8:34). And what is the cross? It is nothing other than perfect mortification which is performed in us by faith in Christ. For faith, as is written in the Patericon, removes every obstacle and makes easy for us that labor which leads us into such complete mortification, that is, when a man is dead to everything worldly. And if he has left parents, then let him labor also against attachment to them; likewise, if he has renounced property, possessions, and any other thing in general, then he should renounce also his very attachment to them, as we have already said; for it is in this that complete renunciation consists.
We also put on a hood, which is a symbol of humility. Small and innocent children wear hoods, but a man of mature years does not wear a hood. However, we wear them in order that we might be children in malice, as the Apostle said (I Cor. 14:20) Be not children in understanding, howbeit in malice be ye babes. But what does it mean to be a child in malice? If an innocent child is dishonored he does not become angry, and if he is honored he does not become vainglorious. If anyone takes what belongs to him, he does not grow sad, for he is a child in malice and does not seek revenge for an offense, nor does he seek glory. The hood is likewise an image of God's grace, because the hood covers and warms the head of a child just as the grace of God covers our mind, as is said in the Patericon, "The hood is a symbol of the grace of God our Savior, which covers our reigning part—the mind—and preserves our childlikeness in Christ from the demons who always strive to oppose us and overthrow us."
Behold, we have about our loins a belt, which signifies the mortification of irrational desire, and over our shoulders we have a paramon, that is the Cross. Behold also the hood, which is the symbol of lack of malice, and childlikeness in Christ. Thus, let us live in accordance with our clothing, in order that, as the Fathers have said, we will not be wearing a garb alien to us. But just as we have renounced the great, so let us renounce the small as well. We have left the world—let us leave also our attachment to it. For attachment, as I have said, even to unimportant and ordinary things which are worth no attention at all, again binds us to the world and unites us with it, and we do not understand this. Therefore, if we wish to be completely changed and delivered from the world, let us learn to cut off our desires, and this way, little by little, with the help of God, we shall prosper and attain to dispassion. For nothing brings such benefit to men as the cutting off of their will; and in truth, a man prospers from this more than from any other virtue. For just as a man who while walking on a journey finds a staff along the way and takes it up, and with the aid of this staff traverses a large part of his path, so is it with those who are travelling the path of cutting off their own will. For by cutting off his own will he obtains non-attachment, and from non-attachment he comes, with God's help, to complete dispassion. In a short time one may cut off ten of one's own desires. I shall tell you how this is.
Let us suppose that someone is walking a short distance; he sees something and the thought says to him, "Look over there." He replies to the thought, "Verily I will not look," and he cuts off his desire and tries not look. Or he meets some others who are talking idly among themselves and the thought says to him, "You say a word also," but he cuts off his desire and does not speak. Or the thought says to him, "Go and ask the cook what he is cooking," and he does not go and cuts off his desire. He sees something and the thought says to him, "Ask who brought this," but he cuts off his desire and does not ask. Cutting off his own will in this way, he comes into the habit of cutting it off, and beginning with the small he attains to the cutting off the great also, without labor and peacefully, and he finally comes to the state where he has no will of his own at all. No matter what happens he remains calm, as if his own desire were being fulfilled. Then, no matter how disinclined he is to fulfill his own will, it turns out that it is always fulfilled. For to one who does not have his own will, everything that happens to him is according to his will. In this way he becomes free of attachment, and from non-attachment, as I have said, he comes to dispassion. Do you see to what a state of advancement, little-by-little, the cutting of one's own will leads him?
What kind of person was the Blessed Dositheus previously? From what luxury and ease did he come? He had never even heard the Word of God; however, you have heard to what degree of spiritual maturity blessed obedience and the cutting off of his own will brought him in a short time. Thus God glorified him and did not allow such virtue of his to fall into oblivion, but He revealed it to one holy elder, who saw Dositheus in the midst of all the great saints, enjoying their blessedness.
I shall relate to you now a similar incident which occurred in my presence, so that you might know that blessed obedience and the cutting off of one's will delivers a man even from death.
Once, when I was still in the monastery of Abba Seridos, there came a certain disciple of a great elder of Ascalona with a certain assignment from his Abba. The elder commanded him to return before evening. In the meantime a great storm arose with rain and thunder, and the stream which flows nearby arose to the level of its banks. Remembering his elder’s words the brother wished to go back. We begged him to stay, supposing that it would be impossible for him to cross the stream without danger, but he did not agree to remain with us. Then we said: "Let us go together with him as far as the stream—when he sees it, he will come back himself."
So we went with him. When we came to the river, he took off his garments, tied them to his head, girded himself with his paramon and threw himself into the river—into those frightful rapids. We stood in horror, trembling for him lest he might drown; but he continued to swim and very quickly he was on the other side. He put on his garment, bowed to us from there bidding us farewell, and continued quickly on his way. We stood astonished, wondering at the power of virtue—for while we could hardly look at the river out of fear, he swam across it without harm for the sake of his obedience.
Likewise there is the example of that brother whom his abba sent on errands to the village of a man who served them for the sake of God. When he saw that the daughter of this man was trying to attract him into a sin, he said only, "O God, by the prayers of my Father, save me," and immediately he found himself on the way back to the skete, to his father. Do you see the power of virtue, Christian monk? Do you see the activity of the word? What help is there in the calling upon the prayers of one's Father? He said only, "O God, by the prayers of my father, save me," and immediately he found himself on his way. Pay attention to the humility and the piety of both elder and disciple. The monastery was in a difficult situation, and the elder wished to send the brother to the man who served them—he did not say "go," but asked him, "Do you wish to go?" Likewise the brother did not say, "I shall go," but he replied to him, "As you desire, Father, thus I shall do," for he feared both falling into temptation and disobeying his father. Later, when their need was even greater, the elder said to him, "Arise, and go my son"—he did not say to him, "I hope in my God that He will preserve you," but rather, "I hope in the prayers of my father that God will preserve you." Likewise the brother, when he saw himself in temptation, did not say, "My God, save me," but rather, "O God, for the sake of the prayers of my father, save me." And each of them hoped in the prayers of his father.
Do you see how they joined obedience with humility? For just as in a chariot one horse cannot go ahead of the other or else the chariot will be broken, so also it is needful for obedience to be joined together with humility. Who can become worthy of this grace if, as I have said, he does not force himself to cut off his own will and does not give himself, for the sake of God, to his father, doubting in nothing, but doing whatever they (i.e., the fathers) tell him, with complete faith, as if hearing God Himself? Who could be more worthy of forgiveness? Who more worthy to be saved?
It is related that while visiting his monasteries St. Basil said to one of his abbots: "Do you have someone in your midst who is saving his soul?" The Abba replied to him, "By your holy prayers, O Master, we all desire to be saved." St. Basil said, "I say, do you have anyone in your midst who is saving his soul?" Then the abbot understood the force of the question, for he himself was a spiritual man, and he said, "Yes, I have one." St. Basil said to him, "Bring him here." The abbot called the brother he had in mind, and when he had come, the saint said to him, "Give me water with which to wash myself." He went and brought him water to wash himself. Having washed himself, St. Basil himself took the water in the basin and said to the brother, "Now you wash yourself," and the brother accepted the water from the saint without any doubt. Having tested him in this, the Saint said to him again; "When I go into the altar, you come and remind me and I will ordain you." He again obeyed him without any deliberation. When he saw St. Basil in the altar he went and reminded him, and the Saint ordained him and took him with himself. For whom was it fitting to be with this holy and God-bearing man, if not such a blessed brother? But you do not have experience in undoubting obedience, which is why you do not know the repose which comes from it.
Once I asked the elder, Abba Barsanuphius, "Master, the Scripture says that (Acts 14:22) we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God, but I see that I do not have any sorrow; what must I do so as not to lose my soul?" I said this because I did not have any kind of sorrow. If any thoughts happened to occur to me, I took a tablet and wrote to the elder (when I was not yet serving him I wrote questions to him in written form), and before I was finished writing, I would already feel ease and benefit—so great was my lack of sorrow, and my calmness. Not knowing the power of this virtue, and hearing, "We must through much tribulation (sorrows) enter into the kingdom of God," I feared because I had no sorrows. I explained this to the elder and he replied to me, "Do not grieve, there is no need for you to be upset about anything; for everyone who gives himself over in obedience to the fathers has such sorrowlessness and repose."
To our God may there be glory forever. Amen.
One of the elders has said: "Before everything else humility of wisdom is needful for us, so that we may be ready to say to every word which we hear, forgive me; for by humility of wisdom all the arrows of the enemy and adversary are broken." Let us examine what meaning the words of the elder has. Why does he not say that continence (temperance) is needed first of all? For the Apostle says, (I Cor. 9:25) Every man that strivest for the mastery is temperate in all things. Or why did the elder not say that before everything else the fear of God is needful for us? For in the Scriptures it is said: (Ps. 110:10) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and again, (Prov. 15:27) By the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil. Why did he not say that before everything else alms-giving or faith is necessary for us? For it is said, (Prov. 15:27), By alms and by faithful dealings sins are purged away, and the Apostle says, (Heb. 11:6) Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God).
Thus, if without faith it is impossible to please God, and if by means of almsgiving and faith sins are cleansed, if by the fear of the Lord everyone is brought away from evil, and if the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and one who is laboring must be continent in everything, then why did the elder say before everything else that humility of wisdom is needful for us, setting aside everything else which is so needful? The elder wishes to show us by this that neither the very fear of God, nor almsgiving, nor faith, nor continence, nor any other virtue can be perfected without the humility of wisdom. This is why he says, "Before everything else, humility of wisdom is needful to us—so as to be ready to say to every word we hear forgive me; for by humility of wisdom are all the arrows of the adversary broken." And so you see, brethren, how great is the power of humility of wisdom; you see what force the word forgive has. But why is the devil called not only enemy, but also adversary? He is called enemy because he is the hater of mankind, the hater of good, and a slanderer; and he is called adversary because he strives to hinder every good deed. If one should wish to pray, he opposes and hinders him by means of evil remembrances, by means of captivity of the mind and despondency. If one wishes to give alms, he hinders by means of the love of money and stinginess. If one wishes to keep vigil, he hinders by means of laziness and carelessness, and in this way he opposes us in every deed when we wish to do something good. This is why he is called not only enemy, but also adversary. But by humility of wisdom, all the weapons of the enemy and adversary are broken. For in truth, great is humility of wisdom, and every one of the saints has travelled by this path; by labor they have made short their path, as the Psalmist says, Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins; (Ps. 24:18) and I was brought low, and He saved me (Ps. 114:6). And besides, it is humility alone that may conduct us into the Kingdom, as the elder Abba John has said—but only slowly.
Thus, let us also be humbled a little, and we shall be saved. If we who are infirm cannot labor, then let us try to be humbled; and I believe in the mercy of God that for the little we do with humility, even we shall be in the place of the saints who have labored much and worked for God. Even if we are infirm and cannot labor—can it be that we cannot become humble? Blessed, O brethren, is he who has humility. Great is humility! One saint who had true humility said it very well: "Humility does not become angry at anyone and angers no one, and it considers anger completely foreign to itself." Great is humility, for it alone opposes vainglory and preserves a man from it. And do not people become angry also over property and food? But how is it that the elder says that humility does not become angry at anyone and angers no one? Humility is great, as we have said, and it strongly attracts to the soul the grace of God. Having come, the grace of God protects the soul from the two onerous passions mentioned above. For what can be more onerous than to become angry and to anger one's neighbor? As someone has said: "It is not at all the nature of monks to become angry, nor likewise, to anger others." For in truth, if such a one, (i.e. one who becomes angry or angers others) is not soon covered with humility then he, little by little, comes into a demonic state, disturbing others and himself being disturbed. This is why the elder said that humility does not become angry and does not anger. But what am I saying? As if humility protected from only two passions… It protects the soul also from every passion and from every temptation.
When St. Anthony saw all the nets of the devil and, sighing, he asked God: "But who can escape them?" Then God replied to him: "Humility will escape them," and what is even more astonishing, He added: "They will not even touch you." Do you see the grace of this virtue? In truth there is nothing stronger than humility of wisdom—nothing vanquishes it. If something painful should happen to one who is humble, he immediately turns to himself, judges himself that he is worthy of this, and he does not begin to reproach anyone, or lay the blame on anyone else. In this way he bears whatever happens without disturbance, without sorrow, with complete calmness, and therefore he does not become angry, nor does he anger anyone. And thus, before everything else, humility of wisdom is needful for us.
There are two humilities, just as there are two prides. The first pride occurs when one reproaches his brother, when one judges and dishonors him as being of no importance, and deems himself superior. If that person does not soon come to himself and strive to correct himself, little by little comes to the second kind of pride, rising up against God Himself. He ascribes all his labors and virtues to himself and not to God, as if he performed them by himself, through his own reason and efforts, and not with the help of God. In truth my brethren, I know one person who once came to such a pitiable condition. At first when any of the brethren would say something to him, he would belittle each one and reply: "What is the meaning of that? There is no one worthy apart from Zosimas and those like him." Then he began to judge these persons also and say: "There is no one worthy except for Macarius." After a little time he began to say, "Who is Macarius? There is no one worthy except for Basil and Gregory." But soon he began to judge these also, saying: "Who is Basil, and who is Gregory? There is no one worthy except for Peter and Paul." I said to him: "In truth, brother, you will soon begin to belittle them also." And believe me, in a short time he began to say: "Who is Peter? And who is Paul? No one has any significance except for the Holy Trinity." Finally he raised himself up in pride against even God Himself, and in this way he went out of his mind. Therefore, O my brethren, we must labor with all our power against the first pride, so that we may not little by little fall into the second, that is, into complete pride.
There is a worldly pride and a monastic pride: worldly pride is when one becomes proud before his brother that he is richer or more handsome than he, or that he wears better garments than he or that he is more nobly born than he. When we see that we are becoming vainglorious over such qualities, or because our monastery is larger or richer than others, or because there are many brethren in it, then we must know that we are still in worldly pride. It likewise happens that one becomes vainglorious because of some kind of natural gifts: one, for example, is vainglorious because he has a good voice and sings well, or because he is modest, works zealously, and is efficient in service. These qualities are better than the first ones mentioned, however this is also worldly pride. Monastic pride, on the other hand, is when one becomes vainglorious because he is exercising himself in vigils, in fasting, that he is devout, that he lives well and is careful. It likewise happens that one might become humble for the sake of glory. All this has to do with monastic pride. It is possible for us not to become proud at all; but if one is unable to escape this entirely, then at least let him become proud over the qualities of monastic deeds, and not over something worldly.
We have talked about the first kind of pride is and what is the second. We have likewise talked about worldly pride and monastic pride. Let us examine now the two kinds of humility. The first kind of humility consists in respecting one's brother as more intelligent than oneself and more excellent in every way, and in a word, as the Holy Fathers have said, it consists in considering that one is lower than all." The second kind of humility consists in ascribing one's labors to God—this is the perfect humility of the saints. It is naturally born in the soul from the fulfillment of the commandments. It is just as with a tree—when there is much fruit on it, the fruits themselves bend the branches down; and the branches on which there is no fruit strive upwards and grow straight. There are certain trees which do not give fruit; but if someone were to take a stone and hang it to the branch and bend it down, then it would give fruit. The soul also, when it is humble, produces fruit, and the more fruit it produces, the humbler it becomes; and the nearer the saints came to God, the more they saw themselves as sinners.
I recall that once we were conversing about humility, and when one of the well-known citizens of Gaza heard us say that the closer one comes to God, the more one sees himself as a sinner, he was astonished and said: "How could this be?" Not understanding, he wished to know what these words meant. I said to him: "Noble citizen, tell me what you consider yourself to be in your city." He replied, "I consider myself to be great and the first one in the city." Then I said to him, "But if you were to go to Caeserea, then whom would you consider yourself to be there? He replied, "To be the last of the nobles who are there." "And if," I said, "you were to go to Constantinople, and come near to the Emperor, whom would you consider yourself to be there?" He replied, "Almost as a beggar." Then I said to him, "Even so, the nearer the saints came to God, the more they considered themselves to be sinners. So, when Abraham saw the Lord, he called himself earth and ashes. (Gen. 18:27); and Isaias said I am wretched and unclean (Isa. 6:5); and likewise Daniel, when he was in the pit with the lions and Habakkuk brought him bread saying: Receive the meal which God hath sent thee, replied: Thou has remembered me, O God (Dan. 14:36, 37). What humility his heart had! He was in the pit in the midst of the lions and was unharmed by them, and not once only, but twice, and after all this he was astonished and said, And thus God hath remembered me.
Do you see the humility of the saints and how their hearts were? They even refused out of humility what was sent from God to help them, fleeing glory. Just as one who is clothed in a silk garment would run away if someone were to throw an unclean garment at him, so as not to soil his own precious garment, so also the saints, being adorned with virtues, flee human glory so as not to be defiled by it. One who seeks glory is like a naked man who desires to find some shirt or anything else with which to cover his shame; so also one who is not clothed in virtue seeks human glory. Thus the saints, sent by God to help people, in their humility refused glory. Moses said (Exod. 4:10, 12), I beg Thee to place another one who is able, for I am a stutterer. Jeremiah said: I am the youngest one (Jer. 1:6). In a word, each of the saints acquired this humility, as we have said, through the fulfillment of the commandments. But what precisely this humility is and how it is born in the soul, no one can express in words, unless a man learn this by experience; for it is impossible to learn it from words alone.
Once Abba Zosimas spoke about humility, and a certain sophist who was present heard what he said and desired to understand it precisely. He asked him, "Tell me, why do you consider yourself sinful? Do you not know that you are holy? Do you not know that you have virtue? After all, you see how you fulfill the commandments—so how can you consider yourself sinful when you act in this way?" The elder did not know what answer to give him, but only said: "I do not know what to say to you, but I consider myself sinful." The sophist insisted, desiring to know how this could be. Then the elder, not knowing how to explain this to him, began to say to him in his holy simplicity, "Do not upset me; in truth I consider myself to be sinful."
Seeing that the elder was perplexed as to how to reply to the sophist, I said to him: "Does not the same thing happen in the arts of both sophistry and medicine? When someone has studied an art well and is practicing it, then according to the measure of his practice the physician or sophist acquires a certain habit, but he cannot say and does not know how to explain how he became experienced. In fact, the soul acquires the habit gradually and imperceptibly, through practice in the art. So it is also with humility—from the fulfillment of the commandments there comes a certain habit of humility, but it is impossible to express this in words." When Abba Zosimas heard this he rejoiced, immediately embraced me and said, "You have understood that matter, it is precisely as you have said." Having heard these words, the sophist was satisfied and agreed.
The elders also have told us something which helps us to understand humility. No one can explain the very condition into which the soul comes from humility. Thus, when Abba Agathon was near death and the brethren asked him, "Are you also afraid, Father?" he replied, "As much as I was able, I forced myself to keep the commandments, but I am a man, and how can I know if what I have done is pleasing to God? For one is the judgment of God, and another the judgment of man." Behold how he opened our eyes to understand humility and showed us the path whereby we acquire it. But how it is in the soul, as I have already said many times, no one can say or aphrehend through words alone—the soul can learn this but a little, and only from life. However, the Fathers have told us what brings us to humility, for in the Patericon it is written: "A certain brother asked an elder, "What is humility?" The elder replied, "Humility is a great and divine matter. Serving as a path to humility are bodily labors, performed reasonably. Also, it is when one considers himself below everyone else and constantly prays to God—this is the path to humility. But humility itself is divine and beyond understanding."
But why did the elder say that bodily labors bring a soul to humility? In what way do bodily labors become spiritual virtues? By considering himself below everyone, as we have already said, one opposes the demons and the first kind of pride—for how can one consider himself greater than his brother, or become proud towards another or reproach or belittle anyone, if he considers himself below everyone? Likewise, to pray without ceasing also clearly opposes the second kind of pride, for it is evident that one who is humble and reverent, knowing that it is impossible to perform any kind of virtue without the help and protection of God, does not cease always to pray to God that He might have mercy on him. For one who is ceaselessly praying to God, even if he should be able to do something, knows why he did this and cannot become proud. He does not ascribe this to his own power, but he ascribes all his success to God, always gives thanks to Him, and always calls upon Him, trembling lest he be deprived of such help and his infirmity and powerlessness be discovered. And thus with humility he prays, and by prayer he becomes humble, and the more he advances always in virtues, the more he always becomes humble. And to the degree he becomes humble he receives help and advances through humility of wisdom. But why does the elder say that bodily labors bring one to humility? What relation do bodily labors have to the disposition of the soul? I will explain this for you. After transgressing the commandments the soul was given over, as St. Gregory says, to the deception of the love of pleasure and self-will and came to love the bodily. It became, as it were, united or one with the body, and everything became flesh as, is written, (Gen. 6:4) My spirit shall not remain among these men, for they are flesh. The poor soul then sympathizes with the body and with everything which is done with the body. This is why the elder also said that bodily labor also brings the soul to humility. For there is one disposition of soul in a healthy man and another in a sick man; one disposition in one who is hungry and another in one who is full. Likewise, there is one disposition of soul in a man who is riding upon a horse, another in one who is sitting on a throne, and yet another in one who is sitting on the earth; there is one disposition in one who wears beautiful clothing and another in one who wears poor clothing. Thus, labor humbles the body; and when the body is humbled, the soul is also humbled with it. So, the elder said well that bodily labor leads to humility. Therefore, when Agapius was subjected to warfare from blasphemous thoughts, knowing as a wise man that the blasphemy proceeded from pride, and that when the body is humbled then the soul is also humbled with it, he spent forty days in the open air so that his body, as the writer of his life says, began to bring forth worms as happens with wild animals. He undertook such a labor not for the sake of the blasphemy, but for the sake of humility. Thus, the elder said truly that bodily labors also lead to humility. May the good God grant us humility, for it delivers a man from many evils and protects him from great temptations. May there be glory and dominion to God forever. Amen.
When God created man He sowed in him something divine, a certain thought which has in itself, like a spark, both light and warmth; a thought which enlightens the mind and indicates to it what is good and what is evil—this is called conscience, and it is a natural law. This is that well which, as the Holy Fathers interpret it, Isaac dug and the Philistines covered up (Gen. 26:18). Following this law, that is, conscience, the Patriarchs and all the saints pleased God before the written Law. But when men through the fall of sin buried and trampled upon it, then the written Law became necessary, the Holy Prophets became necessary, the very Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ became necessary in order to reveal and move it (the conscience)—in order that this buried spark might again be ignited by the keeping of His Holy Commandments.
Now it is in our power either to again bury it or to allow it to shine in us and illuminate us, if we shall submit to it. For when our conscience tells us to do something and we disdain it, and when it again speaks, and we do not do what it says, but rather continue to trample upon it, then we bury it and it can no longer speak clearly to us from the weight that lies upon it. But like a lamp which hangs behind a curtain, it begins to show us things more darkly. And just as no one can recognize his own face in water that is obscured by many weeds, so after the transgression, we also do not understand what our conscience tells us—so that it seems to us that we have no conscience at all. However, there is no man who has no conscience, for it is, as we have already said, something divine and never perishes. It always reminds us of what is profitable, but we do not feel it because, as has already been said, we disdain it and trample upon it.
Wherefore the Prophet laments over Ephraim and says (Hosea 5:11) Ephraim altogether prevailed against his adversary, he trod judgment under foot. By adversary was meant the conscience. Wherefore also in the Gospel it is said (Matt. 25,26) Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou has paid the uttermost farthing. But why is the conscience called the adversary? It is called adversary because it always opposes our evil will and reminds us what we must do but do not do; and again, what we should not do but do, and for this it judges us, which is why the Lord calls it the adversary and commands us saying, Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him. The way, as St. Basil the Great says, is this world.
And thus, O brethren, let us strive to preserve our conscience while we are in this world, let us not allow it to refuse us in any matter. Let us not trample upon it in any way, even in the smallest thing. Know that from disdaining this small thing which is in essence nothing, we go on to disdain also a great thing. For if one begins to say, "What does it matter if I say this word? What does it matter if I eat this thing? What does it matter if I look at this or that thing?" From this "what does it matter about this or that?" one falls into a bad habit and begins to disdain what is great and important and to trample down one's conscience, and thus becoming hardened in evil, one is in danger of coming to complete lack of feeling. Wherefore guard yourselves, O brethren, from disdaining what is small, guard yourself from trampling upon it, looking down upon it as something small and unimportant. It is not small, for through it a bad habit is formed. Let us pay heed to ourselves and be concerned for what is light while it is still light, so that it will not become heavy: for both virtues and sins begin from the small and go on to become great good and evil. Therefore the Lord commands us to preserve our conscience and, as it were, He especially exhorts each of us, saying: "Look what you are doing, unfortunate one! Come to yourself, be reconciled with your adversary while you are in the way with him." Then He indicated the lamentable consequences of not preserving this commandment: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou has paid the uttermost farthing. For the conscience accuses us, as I have already said, both in good and in evil, and it shows us what to do; and again it is it that will judge us in the coming Age, which is why it is said, Lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the rest.
The preservation of the conscience has many forms: for a man must preserve it in relation to God, to his neighbor, and to things. In relation to God, a man preserves his conscience if he does not disdain God through His commandments; and even in what people do not see, and in what no one demands of us, he preserves his conscience towards God in secret. For example, one may have grown lazy in prayer, or a passionate thought has entered his heart, and he did not oppose this and did not restrain himself, but accepted it; or when one has seen his neighbor doing or saying something and, as it often the case, he judged him. In short, everything that happens in secret, which no one knows except God and our conscience, we must preserve; and this is preservation of the conscience in relation to God. And the preservation of the conscience in relation to one's neighbor demands that we do nothing at all which, as far as we know, offends or tempts our neighbor by deed, word, appearance, or a glance. For one may offend one's brethren in appearance also, as I often repeat, and even by a glance. In short: a man should not do anything at all that he knows to have the intention of offending his neighbor. By this his conscience is defiled, recognizing that this was done in order to harm his brother or make him sad—this means preserving one's conscience in relation to one's neighbor. And the preservation of the conscience in relation to things consists in not having a careless attitude toward anything, not allowing the conscious to be spoiled, and not throwing it out. If we see something thrown out we should not disdain it, even if it be something insignificant, but should pick it up and put it in its place. Likewise, we should not behave carelessly with regard to our clothing. One might wear his garment for a week or two or even a month, and he often washes it prematurely and thus ruins it, and instead of wearing it for five months or longer. By frequent washing he causes it to become old and useless, and this is against the conscience. Likewise in relation to one's bed—one person may be satisfied with a single pillow, but another seeks a large bed; or he has a rough shirt but wishes to change it and obtain a different one, a new or a beautiful one out of vainglory or despondency. Someone may be satisfied with a single blanket, but he seeks another, better one, and he even quarrels if he does not receive it. If he furthermore begins to take note of his brother, saying, "Why does he have one and I do not?" then he is far from maturity. Likewise, if someone hangs his clothing or blanket in the sun and is slothful about taking it down in time and allows it thus to be ruined by the heat, this also is against the conscience. Or with regard to food, one person might be able to satisfy his needs with a small quantity of vegetables or lentils, or a few olives, but he does not want this, and rather seeks some other food that is tastier and better. All this is against the conscience. The Fathers say that a monk should never allow that his conscience reproach him for anything. Thus it is essential for us brethren to always heed ourselves and preserve ourselves from all this, so that we will not be subjected to that misfortune about which the Lord Himself warns us, which we have stated above. May the Lord grant us to hear and fulfill this, so that the words of our Fathers will not serve as judgment against us.
St. John says in his Catholic epistle (I John 4:18) Perfect love casteth out fear. What does the Holy Apostle wish to say to us through this? What kind of love is he talking about, and what kind of fear? The Prophet David says in the Psalms (Ps. 33:10) Fear ye the Lord all ye His saints, and we find many other similar expressions in the Divine Scriptures. Thus, if even saints, who so loved the Lord, feared Him, then how is it, as St. John says, that Perfect love casteth out fear? By this the Saint wishes to indicate to us that there are two kinds of fear: one initial and the other perfect—one fear is characteristic, so to speak, of those who are beginning to be pious, while the other fear is that of perfect saints, who have attained to the measure of perfect love. For example: he who fulfills the will of God because of fear of tortures, is, as was said, still a beginner; for he does not do good for the sake of good itself, but rather out of fear of punishment. Another one fulfills the will of God out of love for God, loving Him just in order to please Him; he knows what the essence of good consists in, he has understood what it means to be with God. He has true love, which the Saint calls perfect. And this love brings him to complete fear, for such a one fears God and fulfills the will of God not out of fear of punishment, not in order to escape tortures, but because having tasted the very sweetness of being with God, he fears falling away, he fears being deprived of it. This perfect fear, which is born from this love, banishes, casts out the original fear; and this is why the Apostle says: Perfect love casteth out fear.
However it is impossible to attain perfect fear by any other means than of the original fear, the initial fear. St. Basil the Great says, "Who can please God? Either we please Him fearing tortures and then we are in the state of a slave; or we fulfill the commandments of God in hope of reward, for our own benefit, and therefore we are like hirelings; or we do good for the sake of good itself, and then we are in the state of a son. For, when a son reaches mature age and reason, fulfills the will of his father not because he fears punishment, and not in order to receive a reward from him, but because he cherishes a special love for him and reveres him as his father, he loves him and is convinced that all the possessions of his father belong to him also. Such a one is able to hear (Gal. 4:7), Thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Surely he no longer fears God, as we have said, by that initial fear, but he loves Him, as also St. Anthony said, "I no longer fear God, but I love Him." And the Lord, having said to Abraham, when he was taking his son to sacrifice him (Gen. 22:12), Now I know that thou fearest God, by this is signified that perfect fear that was born of love. For otherwise, why would God say, “Now I know,” when Abraham had already done so much out of obedience—he had left all his own people and settled in a foreign land with a people who served idols, where there was not even a trace of the worship of God; and besides all this God brought such a terrible temptation upon him— the sacrifice of his son. After this He said to him, Now I know that thou fearest God. It is evident that He speaks here concerning that perfect fear which is characteristic of the saints, who fulfill the will of God no longer out of fear of torture or to receive rewards, but loving God, as we have said many times, they fear doing anything against the will of God Whom they love. It is for this reason that the Apostle says, Love casteth out fear, for they act no longer out of fear, but they fear and therefore they love. It is in this that perfect fear consists. But it is not possible (as we have already said above) to attain perfect fear if one does not first acquire initial fear. For it is said (Prov. 1:7),The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and again it is said (Sirach 1:15, 18), The fear of God is the beginning and the end. The beginning fear is called the beginning, after which follows the perfect fear of the saints. Beginning fear is characteristic of our condition of soul. It preserves the soul from every evil, as polishing preserves metal, for it is said (Prov. 15:27), By the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil. And thus, if anyone avoids evil out of fear of punishment, as a slave who fears his lord, he gradually comes to the point where he does good voluntarily, and little by little he begins, like the hireling, to hope for a certain reward for his good actions. For when he shall constantly flee evil, as we have said, out of fear as a slave, and do good in hope of reward as a hireling, then abiding by God's grace in the good, and uniting with God commensurately to this, he receives the taste of the good and begins to understand what true good consists in, and he no longer wishes to be separated from it. For who can separate such a person from the love of Christ? as the Apostle said (cf. Rom. 8:25). Then he attains the dignity of son, and he loves good for the sake of good itself, and he fears because he loves. This is the great and perfect fear. Likewise the Prophet, teaching us to distinguish one kind of fear from the other, said (Ps. 33:11, 12): Come, ye children hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there that desirest life, who lovest to see good days.
Pay attention to each word of the Prophet, how each expression has its own force. At first he says, "Come to me," calling us to virtue, and then he adds, "children." The saints call children those whom their words turn away from sin into virtue, as the Apostle also says (Gal. 4:19), My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. Then having called us and prepared us for this appeal, the Prophet says, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Do you see the boldness of the saint? When we wish to say something good, we always say, "If you wish, let us converse a little on the fear of God or on some other virtue." The Holy Prophet, however, does not do that, but rather says with boldness, Come ye children, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there that desirest life, who lovest to see good days? Then, as if hearing from someone the reply, "I desire it, instruct me how to live and see good days," he instructs us, saying, keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. And thus before everything else he cuts off the activity of evil by the fear of God.
Restraining one's tongue from evil signifies not wounding the conscience of a neighbor in anything, not slandering, not irritating. And not speaking a lie with the lips signifies not deceiving one's neighbor. Then the Prophet adds, Turn away from evil (Ps. 33:14) At first he spoke of certain private sins: slander, deceit, and then he speaks of every kind of evil. Turn away from evil, that is, flee in general from every kind of evil, turn away from every deed which leads to sin. Again, having said this, he does not stop with this but adds, And do good. For it happens that one may not do evil, but he also does not do good; one may not offend, but he also does not show mercy; one may not hate, but he also does not love. And thus the Prophet said truly, Turn away from evil and do good. Behold how he shows us the gradualness of the three states of the soul we talked about earlier. Through the fear of God he instructs us to turn away from evil, and then he commands us to begin the good. For when anyone is vouchsafed to be delivered from evil and to turn away from it, he naturally starts doing good, being instructed by the saints.
Having spoken of this so well and systematically, he continues: Seek peace and pursue it. (Ps. 33:14) He did not say only "seek," but also strive after it in order to attain it. Follow this passage attentively with your mind and notice the preciseness the saint observes. When anyone is able to turn away from evil and then to strive, with God's help, to do the good, immediately battles from the enemy arise against him, and he labors in asceticism, works, becomes contrite, not only fearing to return again to evil as we have said concerning the slave, but also hoping, as was mentioned, in rewards for the good like the hireling. And in this way, enduring attacks from the enemy, fighting with him and opposing him, he does the good, but with great pain and great labor; and when he receives help from God, and acquires a certain habit for the good, then he sees rest, he tastes of peace, then he feels what the meaning of the sorrow of battle is and what the joy and happiness of peace is. Then he seeks peace, fervently strives for it, so as to acquire it, so as to obtain good completely and have it within himself.
What can be more blessed than the soul which has been vouchsafed to come into this degree of spiritual maturity? Such a one, as we have said a number of times, is in the condition of a son; for in truth, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9). After this, who can arouse this soul to do good for the sake of anything else except the enjoyment of that good itself? Who can know this joy except for one who has experienced it? It is then that such a person, as we have already said a number of times, comes to know also perfect fear. Now we have heard what the perfect fear of the saints is, what is initial fear, which is characteristic of our orientation of soul, and how a man begins and what he attains through the fear of God. Now we desire to know also how the fear of God comes to dwell in us, and we wish to say what separates us from the fear of God.
The Fathers have said that a man acquires the fear of God if he has the remembrance of death and the remembrance of tortures; if every evening he tests himself on how he spent the day, and every morning on how he spent the night; if he will not be audacious in his contacts with others, and finally, if he will be in close contact with a man who fears God. For it is said that one brother asked a certain elder, "What shall I do, father, in order that I might fear God?" The elder replied to him, "Go and live with a man who fears God, and by the very fact that he fears God, he will teach you also to fear God." We banish the fear of God from ourselves when we act contrary to this: when we have neither the remembrance of death nor the remembrance of tortures, when we do not pay heed to ourselves and do not test ourselves as to how we spend our time, but live carelessly and have contact with people who do not have the fear of God; and when we do not keep ourselves from audacious behavior. This last is the worst thing of all—it is complete ruin. For nothing so banishes from the soul the fear of God as audacity. Wherefore, when Abba Agathon was asked concerning audacity he said, "It is like a great scorching wind, from which, when it blows, everyone flees, and which ruins all of the fruit on the trees." Do you see, O brother, the power of this passion? Do you see its fierceness? And when he was again asked whether audacity is really so harmful he replied, "There is no passion more harmful than audacity, for it is the mother of all passions." He said very well and reasonably that it is that mother of all passions, because it banishes from the soul the fear of God, for if by the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil (Prov. 15:27), then of course, where there is no fear of God there is every passion. May God deliver our souls from the all-ruinous passion of audacity!
There are many forms of presumption: one may be presumptuous in word, in touch, and in glance. From presumption one may fall into idle talking, speaking in a worldly way; he does something humorous and inspires others to unbecoming laughter. Audacity is also when one touches another without need, when he raises his hand at someone laughing, pushes anyone, takes something out of another's hand, shamelessly looks at anyone; all this is what audacity does, all this comes from the fact that in the soul there is no fear of God, and from this a man little by little comes to complete carelessness. Therefore, when God gave the commandments of the Law, He said, Act reverently, O sons of Israel, for without reverence and shame a man does not revere God and does not preserve a single commandment. This is why there is nothing more harmful than audacity; therefore it is also the mother of all passions, for it banishes reverence, chases away the fear of God and gives birth to disdain. Because we are audacious with each other and are not ashamed before each other, it happens that we also speak evilly and offend each other. It happens that one of you sees something which is of no profit and he goes out and judges it and places it in the heart of another brother, and not only is he himself harmed, but he also harms his brother, pouring into his heart an evil poison. Moreover often it happens that the mind of that brother had been occupied with prayer or some other good deed, but you came and drew him away into vain talking. Not only is he thus deprived of something profitable, but he is also led into temptation; and there is nothing more terrible, nothing more ruinous, than to harm not only oneself, but also one's neighbor.
Therefore, it is good for us, O brethren, to have reverence, to fear harming oneself and others, to revere each other and beware even of looking each other in the face, for this also, as one of the elders has said, is a form of audacity. If one should happen to see that his brother is sinning, he should not disdain him and be silent about this, thus allowing him to perish; he should likewise not reproach or speak evil about him, but with feeling of compassion and fear of God he should tell the person who can correct him. Or, the very person who saw him sinning should say something to him with love and humility: "Forgive me my brother, if I am not mistaken, we are not doing this well." If he does not listen, tell it to another whom you know he trusts, or tell his elder or abba, depending upon the importance of the sin, so that they might correct him; and then be peaceful. But let us speak as we have said with the aim of correcting your brother and not for the sake of idle-talking or evil-speaking, and not in order to reproach him, not from a desire to accuse him, not for condemnation, and not pretending that you are correcting him while within you there is something you remember from the past. For truly, if someone will say it even to the Abba himself, but it is not in order to correct his neighbor or to avoid harming himself, then this is a sin, for it is evil-speaking. Let him test his heart whether it does not have some passionate movement; if it does, let him say nothing. If after examining himself attentively he sees that his desire to say something is out of compassion and for his brother’s benefit, but that he is disturbed within by some passionate thought, then let him tell the Abba with humility both concerning himself and his neighbor, speaking thus: "My conscious testifies to me that I wish to speak for the correction of the brother, but I feel that I have within me mixed thoughts. I do not know if this is from the fact that I once had an unpleasant encounter with this brother, or whether this is a temptation that hinders me from speaking to my brother so that he might be corrected." Then the Abba will tell him whether he should speak or not. It happens that one might speak not for the benefit of his brother, not out of fear that he himself might be harmed, and not because he remembers some past evil, but simply out of idleness. For what purpose is such evil-speaking? Often also the brother will learn that people are talking about him, will become upset, and from this will come sorrow and yet greater harm. But when someone talks, as we have said, solely for the benefit of the brother, then God will not allow a disturbance to occur, so that there will be no sorrow or harm.
So strive to restrain your tongue, so that you might not say anything bad to your neighbor, and not tempt anyone either by word, deed, a glance or in any other way, and do not be easily irritated, so that when someone among you hears from his brother an unpleasant word, he will not become immediately disturbed by anger, will not reply to him audaciously, and will not remain offended against him. This is unbefitting those who wish to be saved, and unbefitting those who are laboring in asceticism. Acquire the fear of God and meet each other with reverence, each bowing his head before his brother as we have said. Let everyone be humble before God and before his brother and cut off his own will. In truth, it is good if someone, in doing even some good deed, prefer his brother and yield to him; such a one will receive great benefit before the one to whom he yields. I do not know whether I have ever done anything good, but if God has covered me then I know He covered me because I never considered myself better than my brother, but I always placed my brother above myself.
When I was still in the monastery of Abba Seridos, it happened that the servant of Elder John, the disciple of Abba Barsanuphius, contracted a disease, and the Abba ordered me to serve the Elder. I kissed the very doors of his cell from the outside with the same feeling that another might have when bowing down before the honorable Cross, so glad was I to serve him. Indeed, who would not desire to be vouchsafed to serve such a saint? His every word was worthy of amazement. Every day when I had finished my service, I made a prostration before him so as to receive forgiveness from him and depart, and he would always say something to me. The Elder had the custom of repeating four expressions, and as I have said, every evening when it was time for me to depart, he would repeat one of these four expressions to me, among other things. He would begin thus: "Once I said," for the Elder had the custom of adding to every talk the words, "Once I said, brother," "may God preserve love. The fathers have said that through preserving the conscience with regard to one's neighbor, humility of wisdom is born." Again, another night he would say to me, "Once I said, brother—may God preserve love. The fathers have said, `flee from everything human, and you will be saved.'" And again he would say, "Once I said, brother—may God preserve love. The fathers have said, (Gal. 6:2) Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.'" Every evening, when I would go out the Elder would always give me one of these four instructions, just as someone else might give instruction to one setting out on a journey; and thus they served to guard my whole life.
However, despite the fact that I had such love for the holy man and was so concerned with serving him, nonetheless, as soon as I found out that one of the brethren who also desired to serve the elder and was therefore sorrowful, I went to the Abba and asked him saying, "It is more fitting for this brother to serve a holy man than for me, if this is pleasing to you, O lord (Abba)." But neither the Abba nor the Elder himself would permit me this; however, I did everything in my strength to prefer my brother. And spending nine years there, I do not know whether I said a bad word to anyone, although I had an obedience—so that no one might say that I did not have it. Believe me, I recall very well how a certain brother who was walking behind me from the infirmary to the church itself was heaping reproach on me and I walked in front of him not saying a single word. And when the Abba found out about this—I do not know who told him about it—and wished to chastise the brother, I went and fell to his feet, saying, "For the Lord's sake, do not chastise him, it was I who sinned, that brother is not at all guilty." And another brother likewise, whether to tempt me or from simplicity, God knows why, for a period of time he would release his water over my head every night, so that my very mat was made wet by it. Likewise also certain other brothers dusted their mats before my cell, and I saw that a multitude of bed-bugs had collected in my cell, so that I did not have the strength to kill them, for because of the heat they were innumerable. And later when I would lie down to sleep, they would all collect on me and I would fall asleep only out of extreme exhaustion; and when I arose from sleep, I would find that my whole body had been bitten. However, I never said to any of them, "Do not do this," or "Why are you doing this?" And I do not recall that I ever pronounced a word that would disturb or offend a brother. You too, bear one another's burdens, learn to be reverent before each other; and if one of you hears an unpleasant word from anyone, or if he endures something beyond his expectations, he should not immediately become faint-hearted be disturbed by anger, lest during the time of ascetic labor and profit he should be found to have a heart that is weakened, careless, inconstant, unable to endure any kind of attack, as occurs with melons. If even a small point touches it, it is immediately harmed and rots. To the contrary, have a firm heart, have greatness of soul—let your love for each other conquer everything that happens. And if anyone of you has an obedience or some work with the gardener or the cellarer or the cook, or in general with anyone of those who work with you, then let each one struggle with himself—both he who gives the work and he who fulfills it—before all else to preserve his own state of mind, and let him never allow himself to depart from the commandments of God, into disturbance, stubbornness or attachments, or into any kind of self-will or self-justification. But no matter what kind of work each may have, be it great or small, he should not disdain it nor be careless about it, for disdain is harmful; neither should he prefer the fulfillment of the work to their own state of mind, striving to fulfill the job, but ultimately to the detriment of the soul. In every task you are given, even one that is extremely necessary and demands diligence, I do not wish that you should do anything with arguments or disturbances; but be sure that every work that you do, be it great or small, as we have said, is one eighth of what is sought. But to preserve one's state of soul, even at the expense of not doing the work at all, is three parts and a half.
Do you see the difference? Thus, if you are doing any kind of work and wish to fulfill it completely and entirely, then strive to fulfill the work itself, which as I have said, is the eighth part of what is sought, and at the same time preserve your own state of soul unharmed, which constitutes seven-eighths. But if fulfilling your work, your service takes being distracted, departing from the commandments and harming oneself or another by quarrelling with him, then it is better not to lose the seven-eighths in order to preserve the one-eighth. Therefore, if you discover that anyone is acting in this way—know that he is fulfilling his obedience senselessly; and, either from vainglory or the desire to please men [instead of God], he fights and burdens both himself and his neighbor, only so that later he might hear that no one can conquer him.
O, such amazing and great courage! This is not a victory, O brethren, this is a loss, this is ruin, if one quarrels and scandalizes his brother in order to fulfill his service. This means for the sake of one-eighth to lose seven-eighths. If one's service remains unfulfilled the loss is not great; but to quarrel or scandalize one's brother, not giving him what is needful, or to prefer one's service while departing from the commandments of God—this is a great harm: behold the meaning of the one-eighth and the seven-eighths. Therefore I say to you, if I should send any of you on any task, and you shall see that some disturbance or any other harm arises, leave the work and never do harm to yourself or to each other. Let the work be left and not fulfilled—only do not disturb each other, for you will lose the seven-eighths and endure great harm, and this is always senseless. I do not say this to you, however, so that you would immediately fall into faint-heartedness and leave off work or disdain it, or lightly forget and trample upon your conscience out of the desire to avoid sorrow. Again, I do not say this that you might be disobedient and say, "I cannot do this, this is harmful to me, this causes disturbance to me." For then you will never fulfill any kind of service and you will not be able to keep the commandments of God. But strive with all your strength, to lovingly fulfill every service with humility of wisdom, bowing down before each other, revering and asking each other, for there is nothing stronger than humility of wisdom. However, if at any time you see that you yourself or your neighbor is upset, then abandon the work that causes the scandal, yield to each other; do not insist on your own way until harm follows. For it is better, as I have said to you a thousand times, that the work not be fulfilled in the way you wish, but comes out just as it happens, and as need requires, than from your values or self-justification, however good they might appear. If you should disturb or offend each other, you will lose much for the sake of little.
Furthermore, it often happens that one loses both the one and the other and accomplishes nothing at all, for such is the trait of those who love to quarrel. From the very beginning we have done all our deeds in order to receive some benefit from them. But what benefit is there if we do not humble ourselves before each other, but to the contrary disturb and offend each other! Do you not know what is said in the Patericon: "From our neighbor come life and death?" Learn always from this, O brethren; follow the words of the holy elders, strive with love and fear of God to seek your own benefit and that of your brothers. In this way you may receive benefit from everything that happens to you and advance with the help of God. May our very God, as Lover of mankind, grant unto us His fear, for it is said (Eccl. 21:13), Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is demanded of every man. To our God Himself may there be glory and dominion forever. Amen.
The wise Solomon says in the Proverbs (Prov. 11:14), They that have no guidance fall like leaves, but in much counsel there is safety. Do you see O brethren, the power of this expression? Do you see what the Holy Scriptures teaches us? It exhorts us not to trust in ourselves, not to consider ourselves intelligent, not to believe that we are able to govern ourselves; for we have need of help, we have need of those who instruct us according to God. There are no people more unfortunate and closer to perdition than those who do not have an instructor in God's path. For what does this expression mean: They that have no guidance shall fall like leaves? A leaf is at first always green, in full bloom and beautiful, then it gradually dies and falls, and finally it is despised and trampled upon. So also is it with a man who is not directed by anyone—at first he always has zeal for fasting, for vigil, silence, obedience, and for other good deeds; then this zeal little by little becomes cold, and he, not having anyone to instruct him, to support him and kindle this zeal within him, gradually dries up like a leaf, falls and becomes finally subject to and the slave of the enemies, and they do with him whatever they wish.
But concerning those who reveal their thoughts and actions and do everything with counsel, the Scripture says, In much counsel there is safety. It did not say, "In the counsel of many," to imply that we should counsel with everyone, but rather that we should counsel about everything with someone we trust, not revealing one thing and remaining silent about another, but revealing everything and taking counsel about everything. To one who acts this way there is truly salvation in much counsel.For if a man does not reveal everything concerning himself, and especially if he is possessed of some bad habit or was in bad society, then the devil will find some desire or self-justification in him, and will use this to throw him down.
When the devil sees that someone does not wish to sin, he is not so unskilled in the doing of evil as to begin to suggest to him some kind of obvious sins. He does not say to him, go and commit fornication, or go and steal; for he knows that we do not desire this, and he does not consider it necessary to suggest to us what we do not desire. But he finds in us, as I have said, a single desire, or a single self-justification, and thus under the pretext of something good he does harm to us. Wherefore again it is said, A bad man does harm, wherever he meets a just man (Prov. 11:15). The bad man is the devil, and he does harm wherever he meets a just man, that is, when he joins with our self-justification; then he becomes stronger, then he does us more harm, then he is more effective. For when we keep to our own will and follow our justification, then in doing what seems to be a good work, we lay snares for ourselves and we do not even know how we are perishing. For how can we come to understand the will of God or seek it, if we believe ourselves and keep to our own will? It is for this reason that Abba Poemen says that our will is a bronze wall between man and God. Do you see the power of this saying? He adds that it is like a stone which stands and acts against the will of God. Therefore if a man abandons his own will, he also can say, (Ps. 17:29, 30) By my God shall I leap over a wall. As for my God, blameless is His way. This is very marvelously said! For a man can see the blameless path of God only when he abandons his own will.
But when he obeys his own will, he does not see that the ways of God are blameless. If he hears something pertaining to instruction, he immediately reproves it, denigrates it, casts it aside and acts contrary to it. For how can he endure anything or obey anyone's advice if he insists on his own will! Further the Elder speaks about self-justification: "And if self-justification comes to the aid of the will, then a man becomes completely perverted." It is remarkable what cohesiveness there is in the words of the Holy Fathers! In truth, when justification is joined to the will, this is a complete death, a great danger and a great terror—then the unfortunate one falls completely. For who would be able to force him to believe that another man knows better than he what is useful for him? Then he completely gives himself over to his own will, to his own thought, and finally the enemy arranges his fall as he likes. Therefore is it said, A bad man does harm wherever he meets a just man: and he hates the sound of safety. For the evil one hates not only the instruction itself, but he cannot even bear the very voice of him who pronounces it, he hates even the very voice of instruction, that is, when anyone speaks anything which serves for instruction. Before the one who is asking for profitable counsel begins to act according to the advice that is given to him, before the enemy can tell whether or not he will fulfill what he has heard, the enemy already hates the very fact that he has asked someone about it or has heard something profitable; he hates the very voice, the very sound of those words, and they repulse him. Does one need to ask why? He knows that his evil doings are discovered the moment one begins to ask or speak about what is profitable. And he hates nothing so much and fears nothing so much as to be found out, because then he can no longer deceive the person as he likes. For if the soul becomes rooted in the practice of always asking about its concerns, and hears from an experienced person, "Do this, but do not do that; this is good, but that is not good; this if self-justification, that is self-will," and if he hears likewise, "Now is not the time for this work," and another time he hears, "Now is the time," then the devil does not find a way to harm the man or throw him, because he always, as I have already said, takes counsel and guards himself on all sides. Thus in him are fulfilled the words, In much counsel there is safety.
The evil one does not want this but rather hates it, for he wanted to do evil, and rejoices in those that have no guidance. Why is this? Because they fall like leaves. Remember that brother whom the evil one loved and about whom he told Abba Macarius, "I have a certain brother who, when he sees me, spins like a top." Such ones he loves, and always rejoices over those who live without instruction, not entrusting themselves to someone who might help them and guide them according to God. Did not the demon go at that time to all the brethren, when the Saint saw him carrying various foods in the gourds? Did he not visit everyone? But each of them, perceiving his nets, went to his spiritual father and revealed his thoughts, and found help during the time of temptation; therefore the evil one was not able to master them. He found only one unfortunate one who followed his own way and had help from no one, and therefore the evil one treated him as a toy, thanked him as he departed and cursed the others. When the enemy told Abba Macarius about this matter and told him the name of the brother, the Saint went to him and found that the reason for his condition was that he did not want to confess his thoughts; he found that he did not have the custom of revealing them to anyone. Therefore the enemy spun him as he wished. When the holy elder asked that brother, "And how is it with you O brother?" he replied: "Well enough, by your holy prayers." When the saint again asked, "Are not your thoughts warring with you?" he replied, "Right now, all is well with me." And he did not wish to confess anything until the Saint skillfully forced him to reveal his thoughts and, having spoken the word of God to him, made him steadfast and turned him around.
According to his custom the enemy went again, desiring to vanquish this brother. But he was put to shame, for he found him corrected and could therefore no longer mock him; he went away without succeeding in doing anything, put to shame even by this brother. Therefore, when the saint again asked the demon, "How is that brother, your friend?" the demon no longer called him "friend," but "enemy," and cursed him, saying, "Now he too has been perverted and does not submit to me but has become even fiercer than the rest." You see how the enemy hates the sound of safety? Because he always desires our perdition. You see why he loves those who trust in themselves? Because they help the devil and make traps for themselves. I do not know any other fall for a monk apart from this: when he believes his own heart. Some say that a man falls from this or because of that; but as I have already said, I do not know any other fall apart from this—when a man follows himself. Have you seen one who has fallen? Know that he followed himself. There is nothing more dangerous, there is nothing more ruinous than this. God preserved me, and I always feared this misfortune. When I was living in coenobitism, I revealed all my thoughts to the elder, Abba John, and never, as I have said, did I decide to do anything without his counsel. And sometimes the thought would say to me, "Will not the elder say the same thing to you? Why do you wish to disturb him? And I replied to the thought, "Anathema to you and to your judgment, and to your reason and to your wisdom, and to your knowledge; for what you know you know from demons." Thus would I go and ask the Elder. It sometimes happened that he would reply to me the same thing that I already had in my mind. Then the thought would say to me, "Well, what about this? You see, this is the same thing that I told you: did you not disturb the elder in vain? And I replied to the thought, "Now it is good, now it is from the Holy Spirit; but your word is evil, from the demons, the voice and the work of a passionate disposition of soul; and thus I never allowed myself to submit to my thought without having asked the Elder. And believe me, brethren, I was in great peace, in complete lack of sorrow, so that I was even grieved about this, as I have already said to you, for I heard that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Seeing that I had no sorrow, I was afraid and was in great perplexity, not knowing the reason for such peace, until the Elder explained this to me saying, "Do not grieve, for everyone who gives himself over in obedience to the fathers has this repose and lack of sorrow.
Do you then also, O brethren, ask and do not depend on yourselves. Know what kind of lack of sorrow there is in this, what joy, what peace. But since I have said that I never grieved, listen to what happened later with me.
When I was still there in coenobitic life, there came upon me once a great and unbearable sorrow, and I was in such suffering and pressure that I was ready even to give up my very soul. But this grief came from the treachery of the demons. Such a temptation which is caused by the demons from envy is difficult for a man but short in duration; it is dark, heavy, without consolation, giving repose nowhere, but everywhere is a feeling of pressure. However, soon the grace of God visits the soul, for if the grace of God did not visit it, no one would be able to bear this. And I was, as I have said, in such a temptation, in such pressure.
One day, when I was standing in the monastery courtyard, having grown completely faint and entreating God about this, suddenly I looked into the church and saw a certain man, by appearance a bishop, who seemed to be carrying the Holy Gifts and entering the holy altar. I would never go near a pilgrim or someone who was passing by without need or a command; but something drew me to him and I went after him. Going in, he stood for a long time with raised hands, and I stood behind him praying in fear—for great fear and terror seized me at the sight of him. At the end of the prayer he turned around and came to me, and the closer he came to me the more I felt that fear and terror depart from me. Then, standing in front of me, he stretched out his hands, touched my chest, and striking it with his fingers, said, With patience I waited patiently for the Lord, and He was attentive unto me, and He hearkened unto my supplication. And He brought me up out of the pit of misery, and from the mire of clay. And He set my feet upon a rock, and He ordered my steps aright (Ps. 39:1-3). All these verses he pronounced three times each, striking my chest as I have said, and thus he went out. Immediately after this there settled in my heart a most sweet light, joy, consolation and great happiness, and I was no longer what I was before. When he went out I hastened after him, desiring to find him, but I did not find him for he had become invisible. From that time, by God's mercy, that sorrow or fear no longer troubled me, but the Lord covered me up until now for the sake of the repose of those holy elders. I have told you this, O brethren, so that you might know what peace and lack of sorrow one has who does not follow his own will, and with what lack of danger, with what steadfastness live he who does not trust in himself and does not believe his own thoughts, but in everything that concerns him places his hope in God and on those who are able to instruct him according to God. Thus also learn to conduct yourselves, O brethren, not to trust in yourself, not to believe whatever your thought tells you. Humility is good—in it lies repose and joy. Why should we crush ourselves in vain? We cannot be saved in any other way that this.
However, one might think: "If I do not have someone I can ask, what should I do?" It is true that if a person sincerely desires with all his heart to fulfill the will of God, God will never abandon him, but will instruct him in every way according to His will. In truth, if one directs his heart according to the will of God, God will enlighten even a small child to tell him His will. But if one does not sincerely wish to do the will of God, then though go to a prophet, God might place in the heart of that prophet an answer corresponding to the man's corrupt heart, as the Scripture says, And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err (Ezekiel 14:9). Therefore we must direct ourselves with all our power towards the will of God and not believe our own heart. Even if a deed is good, and we should even hear from a holy man that it is indeed good, we should respect it as good, but we must not trust ourselves to actually perform it well, nor be sure that it will turn out well without fail. But we should fulfill it according to our strength and again relate how we are fulfilling it, and learn whether we have fulfilled it well or not. Then we must not remain careless, but await God's judgment, as the holy Abba Agathon said when he was asked, "Do you too fear, O father?" He replied, "I have done the will of God according to my strength, but I do not know whether my work is pleasing to God; for one is the judgment of God, and another the judgment of men." May the Lord God protect us from the misfortune that comes upon those who trust in themselves, and may He make us worthy to keep to the path of our Fathers who have pleased His name. For to Him belongs every glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.
If we would remember, O brethren, the words of the holy elders, if we would always study them, we would not so easily give ourselves over to carelessness over ourselves. For if, as they have said, we were not careless concerning small things and what seems to us insignificant, we would not fall into what is great and serious. I always say to you that from these insignificant sins, from the fact that we say, "What importance is there in this or in that," is formed in the soul an evil habit, and a man begins to be careless about great things. Do you know what a serious sin it is to judge one's neighbor? For what is more serious than this? What it is that God hates so much, what is so loathsome to him? As the fathers have also said, there is nothing worse than judging. However, a man comes to this great evil from such disregard for the seemingly insignificant. For, from allowing himself a slight disdain for his neighbor, from saying, "Of what importance is it if I listen to what this brother says?" or "What importance is it if I also say that or that word? Of what importance is it if I look to see what this brother will do, or that pilgrim?"—from these very things a person's mind begins to leave its own sins unattended and notice the sins of his neighbor. Later from this we come to judge, speak evil of and belittle our neighbors, and finally, we fall into the very same thing which we are judging. For because a man does not take care for his own sins and does not weep, as the Fathers have said, over his own dead man, he cannot prosper in anything good, but rather constantly turns his attention to the deeds of his neighbor. And nothing so angers God, nothing so deprives a man and leads him into the state of abandonment by God as spiteful talk, or judgment, or belittling of neighbor.
It is one thing to speak evilly or reproach, it is another to judge, and yet another to belittle. To reproach means to say of someone that he lied, or got angry, or fell into fornication, or did some other such thing. Such a one has spoken evilly of his brother, that is, he has spoken with passion concerning his brother's sins. But to judge is to say that the man is a liar, an angry man, a fornicator. Here he has judged the very disposition of that man’s soul, he has pronounced a sentence on his whole life by saying that he is such a thing, and he has judged him as such; and this a serious sin. For it is one thing to say "He became angry," and another thing to say, "He is an angry man," and as I have said, to thus pronounce a sentence on his whole life. The sin of judging is so much more serious than any other sin that Christ Himself said, Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye (Luke 6:42), and the sin of one's neighbor is like a mote—a sliver; while judging is like a beam. So serious is judging, surpassing every other sin.
And that Pharisee praying and thanking God for his own virtues did not lie; he was telling the truth, and was not for this that he was condemned—for we should thank God when we have been vouchsafed to do something good, as He has helped us and worked with us to do it. The Pharisee was not condemned, as I said, for thanking God, enumerating his virtues, and he was not condemned for saying, I am not like other men (Lk. 18:11); but when he turned his attention to the publican and said or like this publican. Then he was given over to condemnation, for he condemned a person and the disposition of his soul—to put it briefly, his whole life. Therefore, the publican rather than the Pharisee went away justified.
Nothing is more serious, as I have said many times, nothing worse than judging, having contempt for or despising our neighbor.
Why do we not rather judge ourselves and our own sins, which we know so well, and about which we have to give an answer before God? Why do we usurp God's right to judge? What do we demand from His creature, His servant? Ought we not to tremble when we hear about what happened to that great elder, who upon hearing of a brother falling into fornication said, "Oh, he has done badly!" Or do you not know about the terrible story related in the Patericon? For an angel brought [Isaac the Theban] the soul of someone who had fallen into sin, and said to him, "Here is the person you have judged. He has just died. Where do you order him to be put, into the Kingdom or into eternal punishment?" Could there be anything more terrible than this burden? What else could the angel mean by these words than, "Since you want to be the judge of the righteous and the sinners, what do you command for this poor soul? Shall you have mercy on him, or give him over to tortures?" The holy elder, stunned by this, spent the rest of his life in moaning and tears and measureless work, praying to God to be forgiven this sin, and all this after having fallen face to the ground before the angel and been forgiven, for the angel said to him, "You see, God has shown you what a serious sin is judging, so that you would never do it again. This signified forgiveness but the soul of the elder would not be consoled or cease its lamentations until he died.
So what is it we want from our neighbor? Why are we so concerned about the burden of others? We have plenty to be concerned about, brothers! Let each one of us attend to himself and his own sins. God alone has the authority to judge, to justify or to condemn, inasmuch as He knows the state of each one of us and our upbringing and our gifts, our constitution and abilities, and it is for him to judge each of these things according to the knowledge that He alone has. For God judges the affairs of a bishop in one way and those of a secular governor in another. His judgment is different for an abbot or for a disciple; he judges differently the aged and the young, the sick man and the healthy man. Who could understand all these judgments except the One who has created everything, formed everything, knows everything?
I remember once hearing the following story: a slave ship put in at a certain port where there lived a holy virgin who was in earnest about her spiritual life. When she learned about the arrival of the ship she was glad, for she wanted to purchase a little girl. She thought to herself, "I will take her into my home and bring her up in my way of life so that she knows nothing of the evils of the world." So she sent and enquired of the master of the ship and found that he had two small girls who he thought would suit her. Whereupon she gladly paid the price of one of the children and took her home. The ship's master left the place where the saint dwelt. He had not gone very far when he was met by a harlot, totally depraved, who saw the other small girl with him and wanted to buy her; the price was agreed and paid, and she took her away. Do you see this mystery of God? Do you see His judgment? Which of us could give explain this? The holy virgin took one of these little ones to bring her up in the fear of God, to instruct her in every good work, to teach her all that belongs to the monastic state and, in short, all the sweet fragrance of God's holy commandments. The harlot, having taken the unfortunate child, made her an instrument of the devil. For what could this plague teach her but the ruin of her soul? What can we have to say about this terrible fate? Both were small, both were sold, neither knew where they were going; one is found in the hands of God and the other falls into the hands of the devil. Is it possible to say that what God asks from the one he asks also from the other? How could that be! Suppose they both fell into fornication or some other deadly sin; is it possible that they both face the same judgment, although they fell into one and the same sin? Could this be possible? One learns about the Judgment and about the Kingdom of God day and night, while the other unfortunate knows nothing of it, never hears anything good but only the contrary, everything filthy, everything diabolical? How can He allow them to be judged by the same standard?
Wherefore a man can know nothing about the judgments of God. He alone is all-seeing and can judge the sins of all as He alone knows. Truly it happens that a man may do some sin out of simplicity, but he may have something good about him which is more pleasing to God than his whole life; and you sit in judgment and burden your own soul? And should it happen that he has fallen away, how do you know how much and how well he fought, how much blood he sweated before he did it? Perhaps so little fault can be found in him that God can look on his action as if it were just, for God looks on his labor and all the struggle he had before he did it, and has pity on him. And you know only his sin, then how God spared him; are you going to condemn him for it, and destroy your own soul? And how do you know what tears he has shed about it before God? You may well know about the sin, but you do not know about the repentance.
But there are times when we not only condemn but also despise a man; for it is one thing to condemn and quite another to despise, as I have said. Contempt is when we not only judge our neighbor, but despise him, are disgusted with him and wants to be rid of him with something vile, and this is worse than rash judgment and exceedingly more destructive.
Those who want to be saved scrutinize not the shortcomings of their neighbor but always their own, and they make progress. Such was the man who saw his brother doing wrong and sighed, saying, "Woe is me; him today—me tomorrow!" Do you see his caution? Do you see the disposition of his soul? How he swiftly foresaw how to avoid judging his brother? When he said "me tomorrow" he aroused fear of sinning, and by this he increased his caution about avoiding those sins which he was likely to commit, and so he escaped judging his neighbor; and he was not satisfied only with this, but cast himself under his brother's feet, saying, "He has repented for his sin but I do not always repent as I should, nor do I attain to repentance, for I have not the strength to repent." Do you see the divine light in his soul? Not only was he able to escape making judgment but he threw himself beneath his brother's feet as well. And we wretches judge rashly, we loathe and despise if we see something, or hear something, or even only suspect something! And what is worse, we do not let it stop at harming ourselves, but we go and look for another brother and say, "Here is what happened!" We harm him and put vile sin into his heart also and we do not fear the saying, Woe to the man who gives his neighbor something dark and dangerous to drink (Habbakuk 2:15)! But we do the devil's work and are not one bit concerned about it. What else has the devil to do but disturb and harm us? We are found to work with him for our own destruction and that of our neighbor, for a man who harms his own soul is working with, and helping, the demons. The man who seeks to profit his soul is co-operating with the angels. How is it that we fall into this state unless it is because we have no true love? If we had true love, then we would view our neighbor's shortcomings with co-suffering and compassion, as it is said, Love shall cover the multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8). Love thinketh no evil; covers everything and the rest (I Cor. 13:5).
As I said, if we have true love, that very love would cover all sins, as did the saints when they saw the shortcomings of men. Were they blind and did not see sins? And who hated sin more than the saints? But they did not hate the sinners all the same time, nor condemn them, nor turn away from them, but they suffered with them, admonished them, comforted them, gave them remedies as sickly members, and did all they could to save them. Take a fisherman: when he casts his hook into the sea and a large fish takes the bait, he perceives first that the fish struggles violently and is full of fight, so he does not try to pull it in immediately by main force for the line would break and the catch would be lost in the end. No, he rather plays out the line and, as he says, allows the fish to run freely, but when he feels the line slacken and the first struggles have calmed down, he takes up the slack line and begins, little by little, to draw him in. So the holy fathers, by patience and love, draw the brother and do not spurn him nor become disgusted with him. As a mother who has an unruly son does not hate him or turn away from him but adorns him with love, and everything she does, she does for his consolation; so do the saints always cover, adorn and help the sinner, so that with time he will correct himself, and not harm anyone else, and in doing so they themselves greatly advance towards the love of Christ.
What did the blessed Ammon do when those brothers, greatly disturbed, came to him and said, "Come and see, Father, There is a young woman in Brother X's cell. What great love there was in that great soul. Knowing that the brother had hidden the woman in a large barrel, he went in sat down on it, and told the others to search the whole place. And when they found nothing he said to them, "May God forgive you!" And thus did he put them to shame, edify them and bring them great benefit by teaching them not to readily believe accusations against their neighbor. By his consideration for his brother he not only covered him after God but corrected him when the right moment came. Having thrown the others out, he took his hand and said, "Take a thought for you soul, brother." Immediately the brother was ashamed and came to compunction, so swiftly did the love and compassion of the elder work upon his soul.
Let us, therefore, strive to gain this love for ourselves, let us acquire this condescension towards our neighbor so that we may guard ourselves from destructively speaking evil of our neighbor, and from judging and despising him. Let us help one another, as we are members one of another. Which of us, having a wound on his hand or foot, or any other member, would despise it and cut it off, even if it turned septic? Would he not rather bathe it and take away the poison and put a plaster on it, sign it with the cross, sprinkle it with holy water and pray and beg the saints to pray for its cure, as Abbot Zosimas used to say—to put it simply, not to turn aside or run away from our own member, not even from its stench, but to do all we can to cure its disease. In this way we ought to bear one another's burden, to help one another and be helped by others who are stronger than ourselves, to think of everything and do everything that can help ourselves and others, as the Apostle said; we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Rom. 12:5); and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it (I Cor. 12:26). What does our coenobium, our community life mean to you? Are we not all essentially one body, and all members of one another? Those in charge are the head; those who supervise and correct are the eyes; those entrusted with instruction are the mouth; those who listen and obey are the ears; those who do the work are the hands; those who run messages, who have outside ministries, are the feet. Are you the head? Instruct and edify. Are you the eyes? Watch and consider. Are you the mouth? Speak and give help. Are you the ear? Listen. The hand? Work. The foot? Do your errands! Let each one give assistance to the body according to his ability and take care to help one another, whether it is a matter of teaching and putting the word of God into the heart of a brother, of consoling him in time of trouble or of giving a hand with work and helping him. In a word, as I was saying, each one according to his means should take care to be at one with everyone else, for the more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.
And now in order to make clearer to you the strength of what has been said, I will give you a comparison from the Fathers. Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle, the middle of which is called the center and a straight line coming from the center point to the circumference is called a radius. Now concentrate your minds on what is to be said: let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God Himself is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of men. To the degree that the saints enter into the things of the spirit, they desire to come near to God; and in proportion to their progress in the things of the spirit, they do in fact come close to God and to each other. The closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God. Now consider in the same context the question of separation; for when they stand away from God and turn to external things, it is clear that the more they recede and become distant from God, the more they become distant from one another. See! This is the very nature of love. The more we are turned away from and do not love God, the greater the distance that separates us from our neighbor. If we were to love God more, we should be closer to God, and through love of Him we should be more united in love to our neighbor; and the more we are united to our neighbor the more we are united to God. May God make us worthy to listen to what is profitable for us and do it. For in the measure that we pay attention and take care to carry out what we hear, God will always enlighten us and make us understand His will. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Portions of this chapter were missing from the manuscript, and therefore adapted and used from Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings (Cistercian Publications, 1978).
Let us examine, brothers, how it is that at one time a man hears a disparaging remark and passes it by without being disturbed, as if he had hardly heard it, and at another time he hears it and is immediately disturbed. What is the reason for such a difference? Is there only one reason for this difference or are there many? As I see it there are many reasons, but there is one thing, one might say, which is the basic generating cause of them all. I will tell you how this is. First, it happens when a man is at prayer or spiritually at rest and being, as one might say, in a good disposition he bears with his brother and is not disturbed. Again it may happen that he is partial to the person who attacks him and for this reason he will suffer without difficulty anything he does to him. Then there is the person who disdains the one who wants to cause him pain and despises what he does, and does not treat him as a man or attribute any meaning to what is said or done by him. I will tell you about an incident of this kind which will astonish you. There was a certain brother living at the monastery before I arrived there and I never saw him put out, troubled or angry with anyone although at various times I saw many of the brethren insulting him and treating him unkindly. That youngster suffered everything that was done to him by everyone as if no one were troublesome to him. I therefore, used to wonder at his extraordinary forbearance and desired to learn how he had acquired such virtue. Once I took him aside and having bowed down before him, beseeched him to tell me what thoughts were habitually in his heart, either when he was insulted or when he was treated badly by someone, that he should manifest such patience. He answered contemptuously and without embarrassment, "Is it my business to pay any attention to their shortcomings, or accept their insults as coming from humans? They are just barking dogs." Having heard this I cast my eyes down and said to myself, "Has this brother found the way?" And signing myself, I went away praying that God would protect both him and me.
It happens, as I said, that a man may not be troubled through disdain. This is manifestly a loss. Being incensed against a brother who is troublesome to us happens because we are not always in a good mood or because we dislike him. There are many causes of this which we have already mentioned. The root cause of all these disturbances, if we are to investigate it accurately, is that we do not accuse ourselves; hence we have all these commotions and we never find rest. It is not to be wondered at that we hear from the Holy Fathers that there is no other way but this and we see that no one at any time went by another way and found rest. We hope to achieve peace of soul and suppose that we are on the right path, yet we never come to the point of accusing ourselves. Truly, if a man were to be perfect in a thousand virtues but not take this path, he would never stop troubling others or being troubled by them, and he would thus waste all his labors. What joy, what peace of soul has the man who accuses himself! As Abba Poemen says, wherever he goes, no matter what happens to him, some dishonor, or any kind of trouble, he is predisposed to accept it as his deserts, and he would never be put to confusion. Could there be a more care-free state than this?
But someone will say, "Suppose a brother troubles me and I examine myself and find that I have not given him any cause, how can I accuse myself?" If a man really examines himself, in the fear of God, he will usually find that he has given cause for offence, either by deed or word or by his bearing. But if, in scrutinizing himself, as I said, he sees that he has given no cause in any of these ways at that moment, it is likely that at another time he has offended him either in the same circumstances or in others, or perhaps he has offended another brother and he should have suffered on that account or for some other wrong doing. If, as I was saying, he takes a look at himself in the fear of God and earnestly examines his own conscience, he will always find himself guilty.
Again there is the case of a man minding his own business, sitting at peace and quiet; and when a brother comes up and says an annoying word to him, he is put out by it. And from the circumstances he thinks that he is justifiably angered, and he speaks against the one who troubled him, saying, "If he had not come and spoken to me and annoyed me I should not have been sinned." This is a diabolic delusion! Could it really be that the one who spoke a word to him put that passion into him? He only showed that it already existed in him; so that he could, if he chose, repent of it. But the man referred to above is like rotten bread, externally good, but inwardly all moldy, and when someone crushes it, its corruption is revealed. He was sitting at peace, as we were saying, but he had this anger inside him and he did not know it. One word to him from the other and the corruption hidden inside him showed itself. If, therefore, he wants to receive mercy, then let him repent, purify himself, and spiritually progress; let him see that he should rather thank that brother, who had been an occasion of spiritual help to him. Temptations would no longer vanquish him in the same way, but in proportion to his advance in this custom he would find that they became easier to bear. For to the degree that a soul advances it becomes stronger and has the power to bear anything that comes upon it. In the same way, if your beast of burden is strong you put a heavy load on it and he carries it; if he does happen to stumble, he gets up quickly and doesn't seem to notice his fall. But if he is a sickly animal the same load weighs him down. If he falls down it takes a lot of help to get him up. So it is with the soul: if it goes on sinning it becomes sickly. Sin makes a man sickly and he has become weak and unsound because of it, for sin weakens and undermines the strength of those who give themselves over to it. Therefore the slightest thing that happens to him will weigh him down; but if a man is advancing all the time in goodness, what happens to him becomes less and less difficult to bear in proportion to the ground he has gained. And so this habit of accusing ourselves will work out well for us and bring us peace and much profit, especially since nothing can happen to us apart from the providence of God.
But suppose someone says, "How can I not be troubled if I need something and don't get it? You see, I am asking for it to satisfy a pressing need." Yet even here he has no reason to blame anybody or to be incensed against anyone. For even supposing there is a real need as he claims and yet he does not receive it, he ought to say, "Christ knows better than I do if I ought to receive what I desire, He will take the place of this object or this food for me." The Sons of Israel ate manna in the desert for forty years and the manna appeared exactly the same for all. For each one it became what he needed. If a man was in need of something salty, it was salty; if he was in need of something sweet, it was sweet. In short, for each it became what was most suited to his actual condition. So when a man wants an egg but he gets only vegetables, he says to his thoughts, "If it was good for me to have it, God would certainly have sent it. Besides, He can also make it so that these vegetables had the power to do me as much good as an egg. And I trust God, that this will be accounted to him as martyrdom. If a man is truly worthy of rest God will convince the hearts of the Saracens that they must deal mercifully with him according to his needs; if he is not worthy or if it is not for his good, he may make a new heaven and a new earth, but he will not find rest. Never mind that a man sometimes finds more rest than he needs and sometimes not even what he needs. It is God, Who is merciful and grants everyone what he needs. It may happen that He sends a man him more than he needs; in doing so he shows the abundance of his love for men and teaches him to give thanks. When he does not grant him what he needs, His word (cf. Matt. 4:4) compensates for the thing he needs and teaches him patience. Missing text ends here.
And thus, whether someone does good to us or we endure evil from someone, we should look above and give thanks to God for everything that happens to us, always reproaching ourselves and saying, as the Fathers have said, that if something good happens to us this is the work of God's providence, when something evil happens to us this it is for our sins. For in truth, everything we endure we endure for our sins. If the saints suffer they suffer for the name of God or so that their virtues might be revealed for the benefit of many, or so that their crowns or reward from God might be multiplied. Can we wretched ones say this of ourselves, we who so sin every day, and satisfying our passions, we have left the right path pointed out by the Fathers, the path of self-reproach, and go on a crooked path, the path of reproaching our neighbors? And each of us strives in every deed to put the blame on our brother and place the whole weight upon him; every one of us disdains the commandments and does not keep a single one, and yet we demand that our neighbor the fulfill them all.
Once there came to me two brothers who had a grievance with each other, and the Elder said about the younger: "When I tell him to do something he gets upset, and I am also upset, because I think that if he had confidence and love towards me he would except my words with faith." And the younger said, "Forgive me Abba, he speaks to me not at all with the fear of God, but he commands me like a despot and I think that is why my heart is not inclined to have confidence in him, as the Fathers say." Notice how both reproach each other, and not one of them reproaches himself. There were also two other brothers who were angry with each other, and, having bowed down before each other, did not receive peace. One of them said: "His bow did not come from his heart and that is why I am not settled, for thus the fathers have said." And the other said, "Since he was not prepared with love for me when I begged forgiveness of him, I am not settled." Do you see what a corruption of understanding this is! God knows I am terrified that even the very sayings of our Holy Fathers we use in accordance with our evil will and for the perdition of our souls. Each one of them should have placed the blame upon himself, and one of them should have said: I did not bow down to my brother from the heart, and that is why God did not dispose him towards me. The other should have said: since I was not prepared with love towards my brother before he asked forgiveness, God did not dispose him towards me. The first two brothers mentioned should have acted in the same way. One of them should have said: "I speak despotically, therefore God did not dispose my brother to have confidence in me"; and the other should have thought: "My brother commands me with humility and love, but I am not obedient and have no fear of God." And not one of them found the path to self-reproach, to the contrary, each laid the blame on the other. This why we do not advance, this is why we cannot come to the knowledge of good, but rather spend all our time at odds with one another and torment our own selves. Because each of us justifies himself, and as I have said, each of us allows himself to ignore the commandments, but we demand that our neighbor fulfill every one, we cannot come to a knowledge of the good. For if we learn even a small portion of something we immediately demand the same of our neighbor, reproaching him and saying: he should have done this, or, why did he do that? Why do we not rather demand of ourselves the fulfillment of the commandments, and why do we not reproach ourselves for the fact that we did not keep them?
Where is the elder who was asked, "What is the chief thing that you have found on this path, father?" and who replied, "To reproach yourself in everything"? The questioner praised this virtue as well, saying, "There is no other way besides this." Abba Poemen said, groaning, "All virtues have entered this house except for one, without which it is difficult for a man to stand firm", and when he was asked, "What is this virtue?" he replied, "That a man reproach himself in everything." St. Anthony said, "Man's great labor consists in taking all his transgressions upon himself before the face of God, and expecting temptation to his last breath." Everywhere we find that the fathers who held to this and placed everything upon God, even the smallest things, found repose.
An example of this is the holy elder who was afflicted with an illness when a brother poured linseed oil into his food instead of honey. The elder at this said nothing but ate in silence the first and even second time, not at all reproaching the brother who was serving him. He did not call him negligent, nor did he even trouble him with a single word. But when the brother found out what he had done and began to grieve, saying, "I have killed you, O Abba, and you have placed this sin upon me by your silence." Then with what meekness did the elder reply to him: "do not grieve, O child; if it were pleasing to God that I should eat honey, then you would have poured honey on for me." And thus he entrusted the matter to God.
What does God have to do with this, O monk? The brother made a mistake and you say, "If it had been pleasing to God;" but what part does God have in this matter? However he said: in truth if it were pleasing to God that I should eat honey, then the brother would have poured honey on for me. Although the elder was so ill and for many days unable to take food, he did not become grieved against the brother but entrusted the matter to God and found repose. And the elder said well, for if it had been pleasing to God that he should eat honey, then He would have turned even this foul smelling oil into honey. But we strive against our neighbor at every incident, insulting and reproaching him as negligent and not conscientious. We hear a single word and immediately reinterpret it saying: "If he did not wish to disturb me he would not have said this."
Where is the prophet David, who said concerning Semei, So let him curse, for the Lord has told him to curse David (II Samuel 16:10). Did God tell a murderer to curse the prophet? Can it really be that the Lord said this to him? But the prophet, having a spiritual understanding and knowing that nothing so draws God's mercy to a soul as temptation, and especially those inflicted and suffered during the time of grief and need, said, Let him curse, for the Lord has told him to curse David. Why? If by any means the Lord may look on my affliction, thus shall He return me good for his cursing this day (11 Samuel 16:12). Do you see how wisely the prophet acted? And what have I to do with you, ye sons of Sarvia? Even let him alone, and so let him curse, for the Lord has told him to curse David(II Samuel 16:10). But we do not want to say of our brother that the Lord told him to do it. If we hear an offensive word we act like a dog who leaves the person who throws a stone to run after the stone and chew on it. Such is our behavior: we leave God who has allowed dangers to come upon us in order to cleanse our sins, and we turn upon our neighbor saying, "Why did he say this to me? Why did he do this to me?" And so while we could have received great benefit from such incidents, we act contrarily, and we harm ourselves not understanding that by God's providence everything is ordered for the benefit of everyone.
May the Lord God enlighten us by the prayers of the saints, for in Him there is every glory, honor and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The Fathers have said that it is not characteristic of monks to become angry or to offend anyone, and furthermore, "He who has overcome anger has overcome the demons, but he who is overcome by this passion is a stranger to the monastic life." And what should we say of ourselves when we not only do not leave off irritability and anger, but also surrender ourselves to the remembrance of wrongs? What must we do but weep over such a pitiful and inhuman state of our souls? And so let us pay heed to ourselves O brethren, and let us strive with God's help to be delivered from this ruinous passion.
If a disturbance should occur among the brethren or dissatisfaction arises, and one of them bows down to the other begging forgiveness, but even after this he continues to grieve and to harbor thoughts against the brother. This brother should not underestimate this but rather cut it off quickly, for this is the remembrance of wrongs; and as I have said, it requires much heedfulness from a man so that he will not become hardened in it and perish. One who has bowed down begging forgiveness, for the sake of the commandment, has in the given moment healed anger, but he has not yet labored against the remembrance of wrongs, and therefore he continues to have a grievance against the brother. For the remembrance of wrongs is one thing, anger is another, yet another is irritability, and another is disturbance. So that you might better understand this I will give you an example. He who is starting a fire first takes a small coal: this is the word of a brother that causes offense. For the time being this is only a small coal; for what is the word of your brother? If you bear it, you have put out the coal. But if you think, "Why did he say this to me? I will tell him such and such. If he had not wanted to offend me he would not have said this. I will offend him in return without fail." Here you have added twigs or something else which likewise will light a fire, and you have caused smoke, which is disturbance. Disturbance is the movement and arousal of thoughts which move and irritate the heart. Irritation is the vengeful uprising against the one who has caused sorrow, which is converted into audacity.
As the blessed Abba Mark has said, "Malice nourished by thoughts irritates the heart, and it is destroyed by prayer and hope, which crush it." If you had borne the small word of your brother, you would have extinguished this small coal, as I have already said, before the disturbance could have been caused. However if you wish it can also be extinguished while it is still insignificant by means of silence, prayer, a single prostration from the heart. But if you will continue to smoke, that is, to be irritated and to stir up the heart by the remembrance, thinking, "Why did he say that to me, I will tell him such and such", then from this very stream and clash of thoughts, so to speak, the heart is heated and burns, and an inflammation of irritation ensues, for irritation is a fever of the blood around the heart, as St. Basil the great says. Here is how irritation occurs. It is likewise called acute biliousness (irascibility). If you wish you may extinguish it also before anger occurs, but if you continue to disturb and be disturbed, then you are like a man who places firewood on the fire and makes it blaze up even more, which produces many burning coals, and this is anger. Zosimas said, when he was asked what the expression means, "Where there is no irritation, their enmity is silent". For as we have said, if at the onset of some disturbance, when it begins to smoke and throw sparks, someone hastens to reproach himself and bow down to his neighbor begging forgiveness before irritation can flare up, he has preserved peace. By the same token, if he does not remain silent when the irritation is enkindled but continues to be disturbed and to stir himself up, he will become, as we have said, like one who places wood on the fire, and the wood will burn until it finally turns into a pile of smoldering coals. And just as smoldering coals can be preserved several years unharmed if they are extinguished and gathered together, and even if should someone pour water on them they will not decay, so also anger if it stagnates turns into the remembrance of wrongs, from which a man is not delivered unless he sheds his own blood (that is, makes great labor and efforts).
And so I have shown you the difference. Do you understand? You have heard what initial disturbance is and what irritation is, what anger is and what the remembrance of evil is. Do you see how one can proceed to such an evil from a single word? For if you would have reproached yourself at the onset, and patiently borne your brother's words without cherishing the desire to revenge yourself upon him, to say two or five words for his one, returning evil for evil, then you would have been delivered from all these hazards. Therefore I say to you: always cut off the passions while they are still young, before they have become strongly rooted in you and begin to oppress you—for if you don’t you will suffer much from them, because it is one thing to uproot a small sprout and another to uproot a great tree.
I am astonished at nothing so much as the fact that we ourselves do not understand what we sing. For we sing every day, cursing ourselves, and do not understand this. Should we not understand what we sing? We constantly say If I have paid back evil to them that rendered evil unto me, then let me fall back empty from mine enemies (Ps. 7:4). What do the words fall back empty mean? While one is still standing he has the strength to combat his enemy—either he strikes or is struck, either he vanquishes or is vanquished; nevertheless, he stands. But if he should happen to fall, how can he fight against his enemy while lying on the earth? And we pray for ourselves not only that we should fall from our enemies but that we should fall back empty. What does it mean to fall back empty from the enemy? We have said that to fall means to have no more strength to resist—to lie on the ground; but to be empty means to have nothing good which might enable us to somehow arise. For one who has strength to arise can take care of himself and then enter again into battle. Then we say, Then let the enemy pursue my soul, and take it; not only let him pursue it, but take it, let us be subject to him, let us submit to him in all things and in every matter; let him overtake us, if we should return evil to the one who does evil to us. And not only do we pray about this, but we also say, let him tread down my life into the dust. What is our life? Our life is virtue, and we pray that the enemy might trample it into the dust. That we may become completely earthly, and that all our wisdom may be nailed to the earth. And my glory let him bring down into the dust. What is our glory if not God's knowledge acquired by the soul through keeping the holy commandments? And so we entreat that the enemy might turn our glory, as the Apostle says, into our shame, so that he might settle it in the dust and make our life and our glory earthly, so that we might not be wise according to God, but entirely bodily, fleshly, like those of whom God said, My spirit shall certainly not dwell among these men forever, because they are flesh (Gen. 6:4). So you see how we curse ourselves when we sing all of this if we then return evil for evil? And how often do we return evil for evil without the slightest concern about this, paying no attention to it?!
One may return evil for evil not only in deed, but also in word and appearance. One may think that he is not returning evil for evil, but actually, as I have said, he returns it by word or by his countenance—for a man can disturb his brother by his countenance alone, or by a movement or glance. When we offend our brother by a glance alone or a movement of the body, this is also returning evil for evil. Another may strive not to revenge himself evilly either in deed, word, appearance or movement, but in his heart there is dissatisfaction against his brother and he is upset with him.
Do you see how different these dispositions of soul are! Another may not have a grievance against his brother but he rejoices if he hears that someone has offended him in some way, has scolded him or belittled him; and thus does he also return evil for evil in his heart. Another man does not nurture malice in his heart and does not rejoice when he hears about his offender's humiliation; he even grows sad if offence is made to him. However, he does not rejoice over his good fortune, but rather grieves when he sees that people praise and please him, and this is also a form of remembrance of evil, however light. Each of us should rejoice over our brother's consolation, and do everything in order to render him honor.
We said at the beginning of this chapter that even after bowing down to his brother, a man may yet continue his grievance against him. We said that he has healed his anger by making his prostration, but has not yet struggled against the remembrance of evil. Yet another man is offended by his brother, but the two bow down to one another and are reconciled, and he lives in peace with him and harbors no thoughts against him in his heart. But when after some time that brother again makes an offensive remark, he recalls the previous events as well, getting disturbed over the first offense as well as the second offence. He is like a man who has a wound to which he applies a plaster—the wound is presently healed and grown over, but the spot is still painful, and if someone were to throw stones at him, this spot would be injured before the rest of the body and would immediately begin to bleed. It is the same with that man who was previously offended. He had a wound and he applied the plaster—that is, he made a prostration, and just like the first one he healed the wound, that is, anger. He likewise begins to direct his strength against the remembrance of wrongs, trying not to nourish a single thought in his heart, for this is what is meant by the covering over of the wound. But it has not completely healed—there is yet a remnant of remembrance of wrongs which is the cover over the wound, and from it the whole wound may be opened again if the man receives a light blow.
Therefore, one should struggle to completely cleanse the inward festering so that the afflicted place might be completely healed, so that no deformation would remain, and it would be impossible to tell that there had even been a wound on this place. How can one achieve this? By praying with his whole heart for the brother who has offended him, saying, "O God! Help my brother and me for the sake of his prayers." This way a man prays for his brother, and this is a sign of compassion and love. He is also humbled, begging help for himself for the sake of his brother's prayers. Where there are compassion, love, and humility, how can irritability or the remembrance of wrongs or any other passion flourish? Abba Zosimas has also said, "Even should the devil conjure all his cunning and his malice together with all his demons, it is all made void and vanquished by humility according to the commandment of Christ." And another elder said: "He who prays for his brother will not have remembrance of wrongs." Put this into practice and you will understand what you now hear; for in truth, you will not learn this by simply hearing it. What man desiring to learn an art can apprehend it through words alone? No, first he works and ruins, works and destroys his work; and thus by his labors and patience he learns the art with God's help, Who looks upon his labor and good intentions. And we wish to learn the art of arts through words alone, without putting them into practice. Is this possible? Let us therefore pay heed to ourselves, O brother, and labor with diligence while we still have time. May God grant us to remember and to fulfill what we hear; that it may not serve to our condemnation on the day of the Lord's judgment. To God belong glory, honor and worship to the ages of ages. Amen.
I wish to remind you, O brethren, about lying, for I see that you do not strive very hard to restrain your tongues and from this we are easily drawn into much evil. Make note my brethren that in every matter, as I constantly tell you, one may acquire a habit either for the good or for the evil; and so one needs great heedfulness so that we will not be robbed by lying, for one who lies has no union with God. Lying is foreign to God. In the scripture it is said that Lying is from the evil one,and for he is a liar, and the father of it (Jn. 8:44). See how the devil is called the father of lies, while truth is God, for He Himself said, I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). Therefore you see from whom we separate ourselves, and with whom we join ourselves by lying: evidently with the evil one. And so if in truth we wish to be saved, we must with our whole soul and all our striving love the truth and keep ourselves from every lie, lest it separate us from truth and from life.
There are three forms of lies: one lies in thought, another lies by word, and another lies by his very life. He lies by thought who takes for truth his own suppositions, that is, vain suspicions against his neighbor; when he sees someone conversing with a brother, he makes his own conjectures and says, "He is speaking about me." If they stop talking he again supposes that it is for his sake that they have stopped. If someone says a word, he suspects that it was said in order to insult him. All the time and in every matter he takes note of his neighbor, saying, "He did this for my sake, he said this because of me, he did this for such and such a reason. A man like this lies in thought, for he says nothing true, but everything out of suspicion alone, and from this proceed: curiosity, evil speaking, eavesdropping, enmity, condemnation. It might happen that one supposes something and this by chance turns out to be true; after this he claims the desire to correct himself, and then begins to constantly take note of everything, thinking, "If someone is speaking about me, I should know what transgression he condemns me for, so that I can correct myself." In the first place, the very beginning of this is already from the evil one, for he began with lie: not actually knowing what was said, he thought up what he did not know; and how can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18)? But if he really desires to be corrected, then when his brother tells him, “Do not do this,” or, “Why did you do that?” he should not be disturbed but should bow down and thank him, and then he will correct himself. For if God sees that such is his good will, he will never let him to go astray, but will send him someone who can correct him. But to say: "I believe my guesses in order to correct myself, and with this aim I eavesdrop and am curious.” This is self-justification inspired by the devil, who desires to make snares for us.
Once when I was living in the coenobium, a diabolical temptation came upon me. I began to draw conclusions concerning a person's state of soul from his movements and the way he walked. And then the following thing happened to me. Once when I was standing, a woman passed by me carrying a pitcher of water. I myself do not know how I was drawn away and looked her in the eyes, but immediately the thought was suggested to me that she was a harlot. However, no sooner had this thought come to me than I began to grieve heavily, and so I told the elder Abba John about it. "Master, what should I do when I involuntarily notice someone's movements and walk and the thought speaks to me concerning the state of this person’s soul?" And the Elder replied to me thus: "What is this? Doesn't it sometimes happen that a person has a natural inadequacy, but just the same corrects himself through great effort and labors? Therefore you must not draw any conclusions from this about his state of soul. So never believe your conjectures, for a crooked rule makes crooked even that which is straight. Human opinions are false and harm the one who surrenders himself to them." And thus from that time on, whenever a thought tells me of the sun that it is the sun, or of darkness that it is darkness, I have not believed it, for there is nothing more onerous than believing one's own opinions. If this becomes rooted in us, it can lead us into such a deleterious state that we think to see things which do not and cannot exist. And I will tell you in this regard about a remarkable incident which occurred in my presence when I was still in the coenobium.
There was a certain brother there who was very troubled by this passion, and he so heeded his own conjectures that he was convinced of the veracity of every one of his suppositions. It seemed to him things were happening precisely as his mind imagined, and that it could not be otherwise. The evil increased with time and the devils led him into such a state of delusion that once, when he entered the garden and looked around (he was always looking around and eavesdropping), it seemed to him that he saw one of the brethren stealing and eating figs, and it was Friday, and not even the second hour yet. And so, convinced that he really saw this, he hid himself and went away in silence. Later during the Liturgy, he again began to watch what this brother who had just stolen and eaten the figs would do during the time of Communion. When he saw that he was washing his hands so as to go and receive Communion, he ran and told the Abbot, "Look, that brother is going to receive Communion of the Divine Mysteries together with the brethren, but do not allow them to give him the Holy Gifts, for I saw this morning how he stole figs from the garden and ate them." Meanwhile that brother was already approaching Holy Communion with great reverence and contrition, for he was very devout. But when the Abbot saw him, he called him over to himself before he could go up to the priest who was distributing the Holy Gifts, and leading him away to the side asked, "Tell me brother, what did you do today?" The brother was astonished and told him, "Where O Master?" The Abbot continued, "When you went in the morning into the garden, what did you do there?" The brother, astonished, again replied to him; "Master, I did not even look at the garden today, and I was not even here this morning in the coenobium, but I have just now returned from a journey, for immediately after the All-Night Vigil the steward sent me on such and such an obedience." Now the place to which this obedience he described took him was very far away, and the brother managed only with difficulty to arrive in time for the Liturgy. The Abbot called the steward and asked him, "Where did you send this brother?" The steward repeated the same thing that the brother had said, that is, that he had sent him to such and such a village. The Abbot asked, "Why did you not call me to receive a blessing from me?" The steward, bowing down replied: "Forgive me Master, you were resting after the Vigil and therefore I did not make him go and receive a blessing from you." When the Abbot was thus satisfied he allowed this brother to receive Holy Communion, and calling the other one, who had trusted his own suspicions, he placed a penance on him and forbade him to receive Holy Communion. Moreover he also called all the brothers at the end of the Liturgy and with tears related to them what had happened, accusing the brother before all, desiring to thus achieve a three-fold purpose: firstly to shame the devil and rebuke the sower of such suspicion; and secondly, so that by putting the sin of that brother to shame, he might thereby be forgiven and receive help from God in the future; and thirdly, in order to convince the brethren never to trust their own opinions. Having instructed both us and the brother concerning this he said that there is nothing more harmful than suspicion, using this incident as an illustration. And the Holy Fathers have spoken much in the same vein, warning us against the harm of believing our suspicions. Therefore let us strive, O brethren, never to trust our own selves. For in truth nothing so removes a man from God and from heedfulness to his own sins, and so arouses constant curiosity over what is not expedient for him than this passion. Nothing good can come from it, only a multitude of disturbances; it never allows a man the opportunity to acquire the fear of God. If by reason of our infirmity evil thoughts are sown in us, we should immediately turn them into good thoughts and they will not harm us; for if we believe our conjectures, there will be no end to them and they will never allow the soul to be peaceful. This is lying by thought.
One lies in word who, for example, from slothfulness is too lazy to get up for the Vigil, but does not say, "Forgive me but I was too lazy to get up." He says instead, "I had a fever, I was completely exhausted from work, I had no strength to get up, I was unwell"; and he utters ten lying words to as not to make a single prostration and be humbled. And if he does not reproach himself in other like circumstances, he will ceaselessly change his words and argue, so as not to undergo reproach. Or if he happens to have an argument with his brother, he will not cease to justify himself and repeat, "But you said… but you did… but I did not say… but so and so said…" and this and that, so as not to be humbled. Again, if he wants something but does not wish to say, "I want this," and instead constantly deviates in his words saying, "I have such and such a disease and I need this; this has been prescribed for me," lying until he satisfies his desire. Just as every sin proceeds either from love of pleasure, love of money, or love of glory, so are lies generated from these three reasons. A man lies either so as not to reproach himself and be humbled, or so as to fulfill his desire, or for the sake of gain, and he does not cease to twist and sophisticate his words until his desire is fulfilled. Such a man will never be believed, and even should he speak the truth no one can give him credence, and his very truth will prove unbelievable.
Sometimes it happens that there is a need under extreme circumstances to conceal something small, and if this small thing were not hidden, the matter would produce great disturbance and grief. When one encounters such extraordinary circumstances and sees himself in need, he may therefore obfuscate his words so that, as I have said, a great disturbance and grief or offence might not ensue. But when such great need arises to depart from words of truth, even then a man should not continue without being saddened over this, but should repent and weep before God and consider the incident a time of temptation. He should not frequently decide upon such deviation—only once out of many occasions. If one takes snake-poison antidote or laxatives often they will harm him; but if he takes them once in a year out of great need, they bring him benefit. So also you should act in this manner: One who wants to modify his word out of great need should not do it frequently but only under exceptional circumstances, once over the course of many years, when he perceives, as I have said, a great necessity; and let that which is allowed infrequently be perpetrated with fear and trembling, showing to God one's good will and the necessity, and then he will be forgiven; but he will receive an injury from it nonetheless. And so we have said what it means to lie by thought, and what it means to lie by word. Now we would like to say what it means to lie by one's very life.
One lies by his life if, being given to fleshly passion, he pretends to be continent; or, being covetous, he speaks of almsgiving and praises mercy; or being arrogant he marvels at the humility of wisdom. And he is amazed at virtue not because he desires to praise it, for if he had spoken with this intention he would have first of all acknowledged his own infirmity with humility, saying: "Woe to me the wretched one, I have become a stranger to every good". Then after acknowledging his infirmity, he would begin to praise virtue and be amazed at it. And again, he does not praise virtue with the aim of guarding others from temptation, for if that were his intention he should have reasoned thus: "In truth I am wretched and passionate, but why should I tempt others? Why should I cause harm to someone else's soul and lay another heavy burden on myself?" Then even though he has sinned by this, he has also touched on some good; for to condemn oneself is a deed of humility, and to spare one's neighbor is a deed of mercy.
But as I have said, a liar is amazed at virtue not for any of the above-mentioned reasons, but either so as to steal the name of virtue in order to hide his own shame, and speak of it as if he himself perfectly possessed it, or often in order to harm someone and deceive him. For not a single ill will, not a single heresy, nor the devil himself can deceive anyone under any other pretext than that of virtue. The apostle says that the devil himself transforms himself into an angel of light, and therefore it is never surprising that his servants should be transformed into the servants of righteousness (cf. II Cor. 11:14-15). So also a lying man, either because he fears shame and does not want to be humbled, or, as we have said, because he desires to deceive someone and harm him, speaks about virtues and praises them, and marvels at them as if he himself behaves accordingly and knows them by experience. Such a man lies by his very life. He is not a simple man but a double-minded one, for he is one way within and another way without, and his life is duplicitous and malevolent.
And so we have spoken about lying, that it is from the evil one; and we have spoken about truth, that truth is God. And so brethren, let us flee lying so as to be delivered from the lot of the evil one, and let us strive to make truth our own, so as to have union with God, Who said, I am the truth (Jn. 14:6). May the Lord God enable us to have His truth; for to Him belongs glory, dominion, honor, and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Let us take a care for ourselves, O brethren, let us be heedful. Who will give us this time back if we lose it in vain? In truth we will seek these days and not find them. Abba Arsenius always used to say to himself, "Arsenius, why did you leave the world?" And we find ourselves in such ruinous sloth that we are not even conscious of what we then desired, and therefore we not only make no progress, but we constantly grieve. This occurs in us because we do not have heedfulness in our heart. And truly, if we only wanted to labor a little, we would grieve little and not suffer difficulties. For if we would force ourselves from the start, then with continual labor we would advance little by little and perfect the virtues with ease; because seeing that we are forcing ourselves, God gives us help. And so let us force ourselves, let us make a good beginning, let us fervently desire the good; for although we have not yet attained perfection, this very desire is already the beginning of our salvation—from this desire we begin with God's help to labor also, and through labor we receive help in acquiring virtues. Therefore one of the fathers has said, "Give blood and receive spirit." That is, struggle, and you will receive the habit of virtue.
When I was studying secular sciences, at first they seemed to me extremely difficult, and when I would come to take up a book, I would be in the same state as a man about to touch a wild beast. But when I continued to force myself, God helped me, and diligence became in me such a habit that from zeal for reading I would not notice what I ate or what I drank or how I slept. And I never allowed myself to be enticed to dinner by any of my friends, nor did I even enter into conversation with them while I was reading, although I was sociable and loved my comrades. When the philosopher would dismiss us, I would wash myself with water, for I became dry from the immoderate reading and had need to refresh myself with water every day. Coming home, I did not know what I would eat, for I had no time to even prepare my own food, but I had a loyal man who cooked what he wanted for me. I ate what I found prepared, having a book beside me on the couch, and often I would become absorbed in it. Likewise at the time of sleeping it would be beside me on my table, and having fallen asleep for a little, I would suddenly jump up in order to continue reading. Again in the evening, when I would return home, after Vespers, I would light a lamp and continue reading till midnight, and in general I was in such a state from reading that I knew not at all the sweetness of repose.
When I entered the monastery I therefore said to myself, "If while studying superficial philosophy the practice of reading had generated within me such desire and zeal, and it had developed into a habit for me, then I should be even more zealous in the study of virtue." I drew much strength and zeal from this example. And so if one wishes to acquire virtue, he should not be careless and distracted. For just as one who studies carpentry does not take up some other craft, so also those who wish to study spiritual work should be concerned with nothing else, but should study its acquisition day and night. Otherwise those who undertake this work not only will make no progress, but they will distress themselves, senselessly troubling themselves. For he who is not attentive to himself and does not labor is easily drawn away from virtue, because virtue is the mean, the royal path of which one elder (Abba Benjamin) spoke: "Go by the royal path and count the miles." And so virtue, as I have said, is a medium between excess and lack. Therefore it is also said in the scripture, Ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but go by the royal path (Deut. 5:32). And St. Basil says, "He is upright of heart whose thought is inclined neither to excess nor to lack, but is directed only toward the mean of virtue."
Evil is nothing in and of itself, for it is not some sort of entity, nor has it any content. But the soul that declines virtue becomes passionate and gives birth to sin, and therefore languishes in sin, not finding in it any natural repose. And does a tree have worms in it by nature? No, but when it begins to rot, this rottenness engenders worms, and these same worms devour the tree. So does metal also produce rust, whereupon it itself is eaten away by rust. And clothes themselves produce the moth, which then eats and ruins the clothing. It is this way with the soul—it engenders evil, which previously had no existence, nor any content, as I have said, and the soul itself is in turn tortured by the evil. As St. Gregory has well said, "Fire is generated by matter and it consumes matter as evil consumes those who are evil." We see the same activity in diseases of the body: when someone lives a disorderly life and does not take care of his health, there occurs an excess or deficiency of something in the body which makes a man sick; whereas this disease did not previously exist at all, it was never something self-perpetuating, and after the body is healed the disease again no longer exists. In precisely the same way, evil is also the infirmity of a soul deprived of its characteristic, natural health, which is virtue.
And this is why we have said that virtue is a mean: thus courage is to be found between fear and impudence; humility of wisdom is between pride and man-pleasing; reverence is between shame and shamelessness; and so on with the other virtues. So when a man has become worthy to acquire these virtues, he is well-pleasing before God, and although everyone sees that he eats, drinks and sleeps just like other men, still he is pleasing to God for the virtues he possesses. But he who is not attentive to himself and does not guard himself is easily turned away from this path either to the right or to the left, that is, to either excess or deficiency, and he engenders that infirmity which is evil. So we have discussed the royal path by which all the saints have travelled.
The miles are the various attitudes which every individual must always count and continually note: where is he, what milestone has he reached, what is his current frame of mind? We are like people who, having set out for the Holy City of Jerusalem, and having left their own cities, might go five miles and stop, while others go ten miles, some make half the journey, and others have not even travelled the path at all, but having left their own city, sit outside the gates amidst its stinking waste dumps. Some of those who are on the way might go two miles and those their way, then return, or, having travelled two miles forward they then go five backward. Others come to the city itself but stop just outside of it, without entering the city itself. The same thing happens with us—for some of us have left the world and entered the monastery with the intention of acquiring virtue, and some have done a little and then stopped; others have done more, and still others have done half of the work and then stopped; some have not done anything at all, but thinking that they have left the world they remain in their worldly passions and their foul odor. Others have done a little good but then destroy it; and some even devastate more than what they have accomplished. Others, while they have performed virtues still have pride and belittle their neighbor, and therefore they have not entered into the city but remain outside of it. These as a result have also failed to achieved their goal, for although they have arrived at the very gates of the city, they remain outside of it, and thus have not fulfilled their intention. And so each of us should consider where he is—has he left his own city but stopped outside the gates in its stinking waste dumps, has he gone a little way, or a great distance; has he reached the middle of his journey; or is he going two miles forward and then two back; has he come to the city and entered into Jerusalem; or, although he has reached the city he was not able to enter it. Let everyone examine his own state to see where he is.
There are three attitudes of soul in a man: Either he acts according to passion, he opposes passion, or he uproots it. He acts according to passion who fulfills it and satisfies it. He opposes passion who does not act according to it, neither does he not cut it off, but struggles so that the passion might pass; nonetheless he still has it within himself. And he uproots passion who labors and does what is opposed to the passion. But these three attitudes have a very broad application. For example, name whatever passion you wish, and we will examine it. Do you wish us to speak of pride? Do you wish us to speak of fornication, or would you rather that we spoke of vainglory? For we are quite conquered by vainglory. Because of vainglory a man cannot bear to hear a word from his brother. When one person hears a single word, he becomes upset or answers five or ten words to his brother's one, and becomes hostile and bitter. When the quarrel is ended he continues to have thoughts against the one who said it to him, he remembers the insult and regrets that he did not say more than he did in reply. He conjures to himself ever stronger words to tell him later. He repeats to himself, "Why didn't I say this or that to him, why did he say that to me, and I will tell him such and such," and he continues to be angry. This is one attitude. This means that evil has been converted into habit. May God deliver us from such an attitude for it unfailingly leads to torments—for every sin which is fulfilled in deed leads to hell, and although such a man might desire to repent, he alone cannot conquer passions unless he receives help from some saints as the fathers have also said. This is why I constantly say to you: Strive to cut off the passions before they become a habit in you. One person hears an offensive word, and although he is disturbed and returns five or ten words to the one, regretful that he did not say three other stronger ones, grieves and remembers the wrong—nevertheless he has a change of heart after a few days. Another spends a week in a like state and then changes; and still another changes within a day. One person is offended, quarrels, becomes disturbed and disturbs others, but is then immediately converted. So you see how many different attitudes there are! However, all these people are subject to hell as long as they fulfill their passions.
Let us speak now of those who oppose the passions. One person when he hears a word is saddened, not because he has been offended, but because he did not bear this offense: this person is in the state of those who are laboring and opposing the passions. Another person is laboring and struggling in asceticism, but at last he is conquered by the compulsion of passion. Yet another wishes to reply in an offensive way, but avoids this because of habit. Another one strives not to say anything at all offensive, but he grieves at being reproached; however he condemns himself and repents that he grieves. Yet another is not embittered by the offense, but he also does not rejoice over it. These are the kinds of people who oppose the passions. However, two of them are to be distinguished from the rest—those who are conquered amidst the struggle and those who are attracted to a passion by habit and are thereby threatened with falling into the same danger as those who act according to passions. I have included them among those who are opposing the passions, for by their good intention they have stopped the passion and do not wish to act according to it, but they are also saddened and continue to struggle. The Fathers have said, that anything that goes against the soul's own desire cannot not last long. But these people must test themselves in order to see whether they do not perform, if not the passion itself, then something which arouses passion, which is why they are conquered or attracted by it. There are also those who strive to stop the passion, but only by instilling another passion: one person is silent because of vainglory, another because of man-pleasing, or from some other kind of passion. Such people want to heal evil by means of evil. But Abba Poemen said that evil can in no way uproot evil. These people are among those who act according to passion, although they succeed in deceiving even themselves.
Finally we would like to speak of those who are uprooting passion. One rejoices when he is offended, but this is because he has in view the reward. He belongs to those who are uprooting passion, but not with understanding. Another rejoices when he receives offense—he considers that he should have endured this offense because he himself gave occasion for this: he is uprooting passion with understanding. To receive offence, to lay the blame upon oneself and consider everything which comes against us as our own is a work of understanding, because everyone who prays to God, "Lord, grant me humility," should know that he is entreating God to send him someone to offend him. Therefore, when someone offends him he himself should reproach himself and belittle himself mentally, so that at that time when another is humbling him from outside, he himself has humbled himself from within. Yet another not only rejoices when he is offended and considers himself to be guilty, but he also is sorry for the disturbance of the one who offends him. May God lead us to such an attitude.
Do you see how broad are these three attitudes? And so let each of us examine, as I have said, which state he is in. Does he willingly act according to passion and satisfy it? Or, not desiring to act according to it, is he conquered by it? Or is he drawn into acting according to his passion by habit, and having committed the act, does he grieve and repent that he acted in this way? Or does he labor with understanding to cut off the passion? Or does he labor against one passion for the sake of another, as in the case we have mentioned of someone who is silent out of vainglory, or man-pleasing, or in general out of some human considerations? Or has he begun to uproot passion, and is he uprooting it with understanding and doing what is contrary to the passion? Let everyone find out where he is, at which stage. For we should test ourselves not only every day, but also every year and every month and every week and say, "Last week this passion troubled me very much, but now what sort am I?" Likewise every year one should ask himself: "Last year I was so conquered by this passion, and now what sort am I?" Thus we should always test ourselves to see whether we have succeeded some little bit, or whether we are in the same state as we were before, or whether we have fallen to something worse. May God grant us strength, so that even if we have not succeeded in uprooting passions, then at least we have not acted according to them and have contested against them. For in truth it is a serious matter to act according to passion and not offer some opposition to it. I will draw a comparison for you of one who acts according to passion and satisfies it. He is like a man whose enemy is shooting arrows at him, and he takes those arrows and pierces his own heart with them. A man who fights against passion is like one who is showered with arrows by his enemy but, but is not wounded because he is clothed with armor. But he who is uprooting passion is like one who, being showered with arrows by his enemy, breaks them or returns them to the hearts of his enemies as is said in the psalms: Let their sword enter into their own hearts, and let their bows be broken (Ps. 36:15).
And so let us also strive, O brethren, even if we cannot return their own weapons into their own hearts, then let us at least not receive the arrows and not pierce our own hearts with them; but let us be clothed in armor so as not to be wounded by them. May the good God protect us from them, may He grant us heedfulness and instruct us on His path, for to Him belongs glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.
When I had an ailment of the legs which caused me great pain, certain of the brethren who had come to visit me asked me to tell them the reason for my affliction, having as I think a dual purpose: to comfort me a little and draw my thoughts away from my ailment, and to give me an opportunity to converse with them a little on something profitable. But since my affliction did not allow me at that time to tell them what they wished, you must now listen to this: for the account of sorrow is pleasant after the sorrow has passed. So also on the sea, when a storm arises, everyone who is in the boat is worried; but when the storm passes everyone joyfully and animatedly talks with each other about what just happened. It is good O brethren, as I always tell you, to place all your hope in God in every situation, and to say: nothing happens without the will of God—of course God did this because He knew that this was good and useful and profitable, even though there may some other ostensible reason. For example I could say that because I ate food with pilgrims and forced myself a little in order to play the host to them, my stomach was weighed down, which caused a numbness in my feet and from this I became ill. I could also cite other various reasons, for one who seeks them there is no lack of them; but the most sure and profitable thing is to say: In truth God knew that this would be more profitable for my soul, and therefore it happened in this way. For there is nothing that God has created which is not good: And behold, they were very good (Gen. 1:31). And so that no one should grieve over what happens, but in everything, as I have said, he should place his hope on God's providence and be at ease. There are certain people who become so faint when sorrow strikes them that they renounce life itself and consider death to be sweet, if only they may be delivered from sorrows; but this happens from faintheartedness and great misunderstanding, for such men do not know what a frightful need meets us when the soul departs from the body.
This is God's great love for mankind, O brethren, that we are chastised when we are still in the world; but we, not knowing what happens there (after death), consider what happens here to be difficult. However this is inequitable. Do you not know what it says in the Patericon? One very zealous brother asked a certain elder, "Why does my soul desire death?" The elder replied to him, "Because you flee sorrow and you do not know that the sorrow to come is much more difficult than the present one." Another brother also asked an elder, "Why do I fall into negligence when I am in my cell?" The elder replied to him, "Because you have learned neither of the future blessedness nor of the future torment. For if you knew assuredly of this, then even if your cell were full of worms, and you were to stand in them up to your neck, you would endure all of this without growing faint." But we wish to be saved while sleeping, and therefore we grow faint in sorrows. We should instead give thanks to God and consider ourselves blessed that we are given the chance for a little sorrow here so as to obtain a little repose there. Evagrius also says, "He who has not yet been purified of passions and prays to God to die quickly is like a man who brings a carpenter to chop up a sick man's bed." For while the soul is in this body, even though it is warring with passions, it still has the consolation of being able to eat, drink, sleep, converse, or walk with his kind friends. But when the soul leaves the body, it remains alone with its passions and thus suffers from them—they scorch the soul with their rebelliousness and tear it apart, so that it cannot even remember God; for the very remembrance of God consoles the soul as it is also said in the psalm, I remembered God and rejoiced (Ps. 76:3). But even this the passions do not allow.
If you wish I will explain this to you by an example that I have said to you. Let any one of you come and I will shut him up in a dark cell, and even for three days let him not eat or drink or sleep, neither converse with anyone, nor sing psalms, nor pray, nor think at all about God—then would he see what the passions would do in him. But he would still be here: when the soul is separated from the body, how much more will it suffer from the passions, being left all alone with them, the poor wretch? By the present sorrows you can understand a little what the future sorrows will be like. For when someone has a fever, what is it that burns him? What fire or what matter causes this burning? And if someone has a bilious and dry body, does not this very dryness burn him, constantly disturb him and make his life very painful? So also the passionate soul is always miserable, tormented by its evil habits, ever having bitter remembrances and onerous impressions left by the passions that constantly burn and scorch it. Furthermore, who, O brethren, can imagine those frightful places, the tormented bodies which serve only to increase the captive souls' sufferings, as they themselves never rot; that frightful fire and darkness, those pitiless executioners of torture and other numberless torments so often described in the Divine Scriptures and which correspond to the souls' evil deeds and their evil remembrances? For just as the righteous, as the saints have declared, receive those bright habitations and angelic delights that correspond to their good deeds, so are sinners relegated to dark and somber places filled with fear and terror. For what could be more frightful and miserable than those places to which the demons are sent? And what could be more frightful than the torment to which they will be condemned? However, sinners also will be tortured with these very demons, as Christ says, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). And yet more frightful is that of which St. John Chrysostom spoke, "If the fiery river did not flow and the frightful angels did not stand before, but all men were simply called to judgment and some, receiving praise would be glorified, while others would be sent away with dishonor so that they might not see the glory of God—would not the punishment of this shame and dishonor and the sorrow at falling away from such good things be more frightful than any gehenna?" Then the very accusation of one's conscience and the very remembrance of what one has done, as we said above, will be more intolerable than numberless and unutterable tortures. For souls remember everything they did here, as the fathers say, both words and deeds and thoughts, and they will not be able to forget any of it then. For what is said in the psalm, in that day all his thoughts shall perish (Ps. 145:4) refers to the thoughts of this age, that is, about building, property, parents, children, and every kind of giving and receiving. All of this perishes for the soul when it leaves the body, and the soul neither remembers nor cares for any of this from that time on. And what it has done regarding virtue or passion—all this it will remember and none of it will be lost. But if a man has brought benefit to someone or himself has received it from someone, he will always remember his benefactor and the recipient of his own benefactions. Likewise if he has been harmed by someone or has himself harmed someone, he will always remember both the one who did him harm and the one who suffered harm from him. And there is nothing, as I said, that the soul will forget of what it has done in this world, but it will remember all of it after departing from the body, and indeed better and more clearly because it has been delivered from this earthly body.
Once we were speaking about this with a certain great Elder, and the Elder said that the soul, after it leaves the body, remembers the passions and sins it performed and the people with whom it performed them. But I said to him: "Perhaps it is not so; of course, it will have a bad habit which it acquired through its sin, and it will remember this." We argued for a long time over this subject, wishing to clarify it; but the elder did not agree with me. He insisted that the soul remembers the very form of sin and the very place and the very person with whom it sinned. And truly, if this is so then the end that awaits us is much more terrifying if we will not pay heed to ourselves. Therefore I say to you constantly: strive to cultivate good thoughts so as to find them there, for what a man has here departs with him from hence, and that is what he will be left with there.
Let us take care then brethren, so that we might be delivered from such a misfortune. Let us strive for this and God will perform His mercy upon us: for He is the hope of all the ends of the earth and of them that be far off at sea (Ps. 64:6). Those who are in the ends of the earth are those who are in extreme stages of malice; those who are afar off at sea are those who remain in extreme uncertainty. However Christ is the hope of these also. A little labor is required; let us labor then so as to be granted mercy. If a man has a field and leaves it untilled, it becomes overgrown. If he continues to be negligent, it will become all the more filled with thorns and thistles. When he comes to clean the field, will his hands not be bloodied according to the field's state of neglect, when he tries to uproot that evil growth he allowed by his negligence? For it is impossible that a man not reap what he has sown. And he who desires to clean his field must first entirely uproot all the bad weeds; for if he does not completely pull out all the roots, but only cuts them from the top, they will again grow up; and so he must, as I have said, uproot the very roots. Once he has cleared his field well of weeds, thorns and everything like that, he must plow it, make the rows, and cultivate it in this way. After the field has been well-cultivated, then he must sow a good seed. For if he leaves the field idle after giving it such a clearing, the weeds will again grow up, and, finding the earth soft and fertile from the cleansing will root themselves deeply, become stronger and multiply more greatly in the field. So it is with the soul; first one must cut off all his old attachments and evil habits, for there is nothing worse than an evil habit. St. Basil also says, "It is no small feat to overcome one's habit, for a habit, having been strengthened over a long period of time, often receives the power of nature."
So one must struggle, as I have said, against evil habits and passions, and not only against passions but also against their causes, which are roots; for if the roots are not uprooted, the thorns will inevitably grow up again, especially since certain passions can do nothing at all if a man cuts off their causes. Thus envy in itself is nothing, for it has several causes among which is the love of glory—for he who wishes to be glorified envies one who is glorified or respected. Likewise anger proceeds from various causes but especially from the love of pleasure. Concerning this Evagrius relates what a certain elder said, "I reject enjoyments in order to cut off the causes of irritability." And all the fathers say that every passion is borne from these three: from love of glory, love of money, and love of pleasure, as I have often said to you. Therefore one must not only cut off the passions but also their causes, then fertilize one's habits well with repentance and lamentation, and only then begin to sow good seed, which is good deeds; for as we have said about the field, if after clearing and working it one does not sow good seed in it, the weeds will come up and, finding the earth porous and soft from the cleaning, will become more deeply rooted in it. Thus also it happens with man. If after correcting his habits and repenting over his former deeds a man does not take care to do good deeds and acquire virtues, then in him is fulfilled what is written in the Gospel: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out: and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first (Mt. 12:43-45), for it is impossible for a soul to remain in one and the same condition, for it constantly is prospering in either good or evil. Therefore everyone who desires to be saved must not only cease to do evil, but is obliged also to do good, as is said in the psalm, turn away from evil and do good (Ps. 33:14). It is not written only turn away from evil, but also, do good. For example, if someone has become used to offending, he should not only cease to offend but he should also act righteously; if he has been a fornicator, he should not only cease to give himself over to fornication, but he should also be continent; if he has been angry, he should not only stop getting angry but should also acquire meekness; if someone has been proud, he should not only cease to be proud but also become humbled. And this is what is meant by, Turn away from evil and do good. For every passion has a virtue opposed to it: opposed to pride is the humility of wisdom; opposed to love of money is almsgiving; opposed to fornication is continence; patience opposes faintheartedness; meekness opposes anger; and in a word, every passion, as I have said, has a virtue opposed to it.
I have spoken to you about this many times. Since we have banished virtues and received passions in their place, so we must labor not only to banish passions but also to acquire and implant virtues in their place: because we have virtues which are given to us naturally by God. For when God created man, He sowed virtues in Him, as He also said, Let us make man according to our image and our likeness (Gen. 1:26). It is said: according to our image, for the soul was created immortal with power over itself, and according to our likeness, refers to virtues. For the Lord says, Be ye merciful even as your Father is also merciful (Lk. 6:36); and in another place, Be ye holy, for I am holy (I Pt. 1:16). Likewise the Apostle says, be ye kind to one another (Eph. 4:32). And in the Psalm it is said, The Lord is good to all (Ps. 144:9), and the like; this is what according to our likeness means. Consequently by nature God gave us virtues. Passions do not belong to us by nature, for they do not even have any substance or composition, but just as darkness in its essence has no substance but is a condition of the air, as St. Basil says, which occurs from the lack of light, so also the passions are not natural to us. But the soul, which inclines away from virtues in its love of pleasure, implants the passions in itself and strengthens them against itself. Therefore it is needful for us, as was said about the field, once having finished clearing it to immediately sow good seed, so that it might bring forth good fruit.
So a man after sowing the seed in his field, should cover it deeply with earth, for otherwise birds will come and seize it, and it will perish. But having covering it the sower should await God's mercy, until He sends rain, and then the seed sprouts. Even though the farmer might labor without end on clearing, working and sowing the field, if God does not send rain upon what has been sown, all the labor will have been in vain. So also if we should do something good, we must cover it with the humility of wisdom and entrust all our infirmity to God, entreating Him to look upon our labor; for otherwise it will be in vain. Sometimes even after rain, after the seed has already sprouted, if the rain will not moisten the field from time to time the sprouts will wither and perish. For both the seed and the sprout needs rain from time to time until the plant grows strong, and even then it requires care. Sometimes even after the sprout has grown up and the ear has formed it happens that caterpillars or hail or something else of that nature destroys the fruit. So is it with the soul: when someone labors to cleanse it from all the passions we have mentioned above and strives to acquire all virtues, he must constantly appeal to God's mercy and protection so that he will not be abandoned and thereby perish. For just as we have said about the seed, that even after it has sprouted, grown and brought forth fruit, if rain will not moisten it from time to time it will dry up and perish—so is it with man: even after performing so much labor, if God will even for a short time remove His protection and abandon him, he will perish.
God abandons a man when he does something against his own natural inclinations; for example, if he was reverent and has turned aside to a disorderly life; or if he was humble and becomes insolent. And God would not tend to abandon a person who leads a life of vice because he lives disorderly or insolently, or gets proud, as much as He would abandon a pious man if he were to commit some impropriety, and a humble man were he to become proud: this is what it means to sin against one's own natural inclinations. From this comes God's abandonment. Therefore St. Basil judges in one way the sin of a reverent man and in another way that of a sinner. And when someone has been able to preserve himself even from this, he should be cautious that in doing even the smallest good thing he should not have done it with vainglory, or out of man-pleasing, or from some other human motive, lest this small thing should destroy everything he has previously accomplished, as we have said about the caterpillars, the hail, and things of that nature. Again when the fruit does not suffer any harm in the field but is preserved right up to the harvest, even then the farmer should not be negligent. For it happens that even after a man has harvested his field and his labor is done, an evil man may come and out of hatred light a fire under the sheaves and destroy the fruit and all his labor. Therefore as long as the farmer has not seen to it that his corn has been well-cleared and poured into the granary, he should not be without care. So too if after a man has successfully escaped everything we have mentioned, even then he should not be without care. For it can happen that after all of this, the devil may find an occasion to deceive him either by self-justification or by puffing him up, or by placing in him thoughts of unbelief or evil heresy; and not only does he destroy all the man's labors but he also drives him away from God. What he could not achieve through activity, he brings about through a single thought: for a single thought can also distance a man from God as soon as he accepts it and submits himself to it.
Therefore, one who truly desires to be saved should not be careless until his last breath. Much labor and care is needed, and constant prayer to God—that He might protect us and save us by His grace, to the glory of His name. Amen.
The scripture speaks of the midwives who did not kill the children of Israel of the male sex, that as the midwives feared God, they established for themselves dwellings (Ex. 1:21). Are they tangible dwellings that are spoken of here? And what does it mean to build house for oneself according to the fear of God? We do the contrary: we are taught to leave even those houses we already have for the sake of the fear of God. The scripture speaks here not of tangible dwellings but of the house of the soul, which a man builds for himself by observing God's commandments. The scripture thus instructs us that the fear of God motivates the soul to keep the commandments, and by means of the commandments the house of the soul is built. Let us also, brethren, be attentive to ourselves, let us also fear God, let us build for ourselves a house so as to find protection in wintertime, in the times of rains, thunder and lightning, because one who does not have a house endures great misfortune in time of winter.
How is the house of the soul built? We can learn this by observing how a material house is built. For he who wishes to build such a house much fortify all around by building walls on all four sides, and not concern himself with one side only, neglecting the other three. Otherwise he will derive no benefit at all, but will waste everything in vain—his intention, expense, and labor. So does it happen also with the soul: for a man who desires to build a house of the soul should not neglect a single wall of his building, but should erect it evenly and harmoniously. This is what is meant by what Abba John said, "I wish that a man would acquire a little of every virtue every day," and not hold to one virtue and abide in it, practicing it alone without any concern for the others, as some are wont to do. It may be also that they have this virtue by habit, or by their natural character, and therefore the passion which is opposed to it does not trouble them; but beyond this they are unnoticeably attracted by other passions and they are troubled by them, however they are not concerned over them, but on the contrary think that they possess something great. Such people are like a man who builds only one wall, raising it up as high as possible; and gazing only at the loftiness of this one wall, he thinks that he has done something great. He does not realize that should the wind blow even once it will blow the wall down, for it stands alone and is not bound to other walls. Besides, no one can set up a defense for himself from one wall, because it is vulnerable from all the other sides. It is unreasonable to act in this way—on the contrary, one who desires to build a house that will protect him should build it and fortify it from all four sides. I will explain to you how this is.
At first a foundation must be placed, that is, faith: for without faith, as the Apostle says, it is impossible to please Him [God] (Heb. 11:6), and then on this foundation a man should erect his building evenly. If obedience is needed, he should place one stone of obedience; if he has been offended by his brother, he should place one stone of long-suffering; if an occasion for continence has presented itself he should place one stone of continence. Thus from every virtue for which an occasion presents itself he should place in the building one stone, and thus build it up from all sides, placing now a stone of compassion, now a stone of cutting off his own will, now a stone of meekness, and so forth. And while doing all this one should be careful to have patience and courage, for they are the foundation stone, by them is bound together the building and one wall is joined with the other, which is why the walls do not lean and are not separated one from the other. Without patience and courage no one can perform a single virtue. For if someone does not have courage in his soul, he will not have patience either; and he who does not have patience can do nothing at all. Therefore it is said, in your patience possess ye your souls (Lk. 21:19).
One who is building must likewise spread mortar on each stone; for if he places stone upon stone without mortar, the stones will fall out and the house will fall down. Mortar is humility, because it is taken from the earth and is to be found at everyone's feet. And every virtue which is performed without humility is not a virtue. This is written also in the Patericon: "Just as one cannot build a boat without nails, so also it is impossible to be saved without the humility of wisdom." And thus, everyone should do everything that he does that is good with humility, so that by humility he might preserve what has been done.
A house must also have so-called rafters, which are discernment: they confirm the building, join stone with stone and tie the walls together, while at the same time adding great beauty to the house. The roof is love, which is the perfection of virtue, and it is the pinnacle of the house. After the roof, there is a railing. What does the railing around the roof mean? In the law about this it is written, if you build a house and make a roof on it, then make around the roof a railing, so that your children will not fall off the roof (Deut. 22:8). The railing is humility, because it defends and preserves all the virtues. And just as every virtue must be joined with humility, like, as we have said, the mortar that is spread upon each stone, so also is humility needful for the perfection of virtue. For all the saints who advance naturally come to humility, just as I have always said to you—the nearer one draws to God, the more one sees himself to be a sinner. And what are the children that the law protects from falling off the roof? The children are the thoughts abiding in the soul which should be preserved by means of humility, so that they might not fall from the roof of the dwelling.
And so the house is finished, it has rafters, it has a roof, which we have said is the perfection of the virtues; and here is the railing surrounding it. In a word, the house is ready. But is not something yet lacking? Yes, there is one thing we have not mentioned. And what is this? That the builder must be skilled, for if he is unskilled, he will make the walls a little crooked, and the house will come down in time. He is skilled who performs virtue with discernment; for someone may take up the labor of virtue, but because he does this labor without discernment he ruins it, or he constantly spoils the work and cannot finish it. He builds and destroys, puts on one stone and takes it out, and sometimes places one and takes away two. For example, a brother has come and has told you a word which has offended you or made you bitter. If you remain silent and bow to him, you have placed one stone. Then you go and say to another brother, "Such-and-such a brother insulted me and told me this and that, and I was not only silent, but I also bowed down to him," and you have placed one stone and taken away two. Again another one might bow down desiring thereby to earn praise, and in him humility turns out to be mixed with vainglory. This means placing a stone and then taking it away. But one who makes a prostration sensibly is one who is firmly convinced that he has sinned, and he is perfectly persuaded that he himself is guilty: this is what it means to make a prostration sensibly. Another one might keep silence, but foolishly, because he thinks that he is performing a virtue while he is not performing it at all. But one who keeps silence sensibly thinks that he is unworthy to speak, as the Fathers have said; this is sensible silence. Again one might not consider himself better than others, and thinks that he is doing something great and that he is being humble; but he does not know that he has nothing, because he acts foolishly. But he who with reason does not consider himself better than others, who thinks that he is nothing and that he is unworthy to be numbered among men, as Abba Moses also said about himself, “You are not a man, then why do you appear in the midst of men?"
Again one may serve a sick man, but he serves him in order to obtain a reward; this is likewise foolish. Therefore if something difficult happens during his service it easily removes him from this good deed and he does not obtain his end, because he has done it foolishly. But one who serves sensibly serves in order to acquire a merciful heart, in order to acquire a feeling of compassion: for one who has such an aim, no matter what may happen to him, whether he be afflicted from within or from without, or even should the sick man himself rise up against him in his faint-heartedness, he bears all this without disturbance, keeping sight of his aim and knowing that the sick man is a greater benefactor to him than he is to the sick man. Believe me, one who sensibly serves the sick is delivered both from passions and from battles. I know a brother who endured warfare from unclean thoughts, and he was delivered from them by the fact that he sensibly served a sick man who was suffering from dropsy. And Evagrius speaks of a certain great Elder who delivered one brother who was disturbed by fantasies at night by commanding him to fast and to serve the sick. When the brother was asked about this he said that these passions are not extinguished by any means as well as by compassion.
And if one should fast either out of vainglory, or thinking to himself that he is performing some virtue, he fasts foolishly, and therefore he could later criticize his brother, for he considers himself to be something great. In this case he has not only placed one stone and taken away two, but he is even in danger of destroying the whole wall through judging his neighbor. But one who fasts sensibly does not think that he is performing a virtue and does not wish to be praised as a faster, but he thinks that through continence he will acquire chastity, and by means of this he will come to humility, as the Fathers say: "The path to humility is bodily labors performed sensibly," and the rest. In a word, a man must perform every virtue so sensibly that he assimilates it and makes it a habit; then he will be, as we have said, a skilled artist, a builder who is able to build a sturdy house.
Thus one who desires, with God's help, to achieve such a good building should not say that the virtues are great and he cannot attain them, for one who speaks like this either has no hope in God's help or he is too lazy to dedicate himself to something good. Name any virtue you wish—we will examine it and you will see that it depends upon us to fulfill it, if we so desire. Thus the Scripture says, Love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 19:19). Pay no attention to how short you fall of this virtue, lest you become fearful and say, "How can I love my neighbor as myself? Can I be concerned for his sorrows as my own, and especially for those secret ones in his heart, which I do not see and do not know?" Do not entertain such thoughts, do not think that the virtue exceeds your strength and is impossible to fulfill, but only place a beginning with hope in God, show Him your goodwill and your effort, and you will see the help He will give you to perform the virtue. Imagine two ladders, one leading above to Heaven and the other going down to hell, and you stand on the earth between these two ladders. Do not think and do not say, "How can I fly up from the earth and be suddenly in the heights of Heaven—that is, at the top of the ladder?" This is impossible and God does not demand this from you. However, be careful at least not to go down. Do not do evil to your neighbor, do not offend him, do not slander him, do not speak evil of him, do not belittle him, do not reproach him, and in this way you will begin with time, little by little, to do good also to your brother, consoling him by words, being compassionate to him or giving him what he needs. Thus, ascending from one step to the next you will attain with God's help even the top of the ladder. For little by little, helping your neighbor, you will ascend to the stage of desiring his profit as your own, and his success as your own. This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
If we seek we will find, and if we ask God He will enlighten us; for in the Holy Gospel it is said, Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you (Matt. 7:7). It is said, "Ask," so that we might call upon God in prayer; and "seek" means that we should experience how virtue itself comes to us, what brings it, and what we should do in order to acquire it; therefore try to know what is meant also by "seek and ye shall find." "Knock" means to fulfill the commandments, for everyone who knocks does so with his hands—and hands signify activity. So, we should not only ask, but seek and act, striving, as the Apostle said, that ye may abound unto every good work (II Cor. 9:8, II Tim. 2:21).
What does it mean to be prepared? When one wishes to build a boat, at first he prepares everything necessary for the boat, down to the smallest nails, tar, and packing. Likewise if a woman wishes to weave canvas, first she prepares everything down to the smallest thread; this is what is called being prepared, that is to have in readiness everything necessary for the work. Let us also then "be prepared for every good work," being fully ready to fulfill the will of God sensibly, as He wishes and as it is pleasing to Him. And what is the meaning of what was said by the Apostle, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom. 12:2)? Everything that happens does so either by God's good will or by His allowance, as the Prophet said, He that prepared light and formed darkness (Isa. 14:7). And again, Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord has not wrought? (Amos 3:6). Evil here is the name given to everything that encumbers us; that is, everything sorrowful that happens for our punishment because of our viciousness, such as, hunger, plague, earthquake, drought, illness, war. All these things happen not by God's good will but rather by His allowance, for our benefit.
But God does not want us to desire something like this or enable it to happen. For example, as I have said, it may happen that by God's allowance a city is destroyed, but God does not want us to set the fire and burn it down, or that we take axes and set about destroying it, inasmuch as it is His will that the city be destroyed. Likewise God might allow that someone have some sorrow or illness, but even though it is God's will that the person be sad, still God does not wish that we be the cause of his sorrow, or that we should say, "It is God's will that he be sick, and therefore we don't feel sorry for him." God does not want this; it is not how He would like us to serve His will. On the contrary, He would like to see us become so good that we would not want that thing that He has wrought by allowance. But what does He want? He wants us to desire His good will, that which occurs, as I have said, by His good will, that is, all that which comes about according to His commandment: that we should love each other, be compassionate, give alms and the like; this is the "good" will of God. And what is the meaning of "pleasing?" Not everyone who does something good does it in a way pleasing to God. And I will tell you how this happens. It happens that someone finds a poor orphan who is beautiful in appearance; she pleases him by her beauty, and he takes her and raises her as a poor orphan, but also as beautiful one. This is the will of God which is "good" but not "pleasing". And "pleasing" is when one give alms not from some human motive but for the sake of good itself, from compassion alone: this is pleasing to God.
And the perfect will of God is when one gives alms not stingily, not indolently, not by compulsion, but with all one's strength and all one's good will, giving in such a way as if he were receiving it himself, and thus performing a good deed as if he himself were receiving a good deed: then is the perfect will of God fulfilled.
Thus a man fulfills the will of God, as the Apostle says, which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2). This means to fulfill it sensibly. But one should know that the very goodness of alms-giving, its very grace, is so great that it can even forgive sins, as the Prophet says, A man's own wealth is the ransom of his life (Prov. 13:8). And again in another place it says, Atone for thy sins by alms (Dan. 4:24). And the Lord Himself said, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful (Lk. 6:36). He did not say, Fast ye, as your Father also fasteth. He did not say, Be ye unacquisitive as your Father is also unacquisitive. But what did He say? Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful,for this virtue especially emulates God and makes a man like unto Him. And thus it is always proper, as we have said, to keep this aim in view and do good sensibly: for the aims of almsgiving can also greatly differ. One gives alms so that his field might be blessed, and God blesses his field and he attains his aim. Another gives alms in order that his ship might be saved, and God saves his ship. Another give alms for his children and God saves and preserves his children. Another gives them in order to be glorified, and God glorifies him. God does not reject anyone, but gives to each one what he desires as long as it will not harm his soul. But these have already received their reward and God owes nothing to them because they sought nothing for themselves from Him, and the aim which they had in mind had no relation to their spiritual profit. You did this so that your field might be blessed, and God blessed your field; you did this for your children and God preserved your children. You did this in order to be glorified and God glorified you. And thus what does God owe to you? He has given you the payment for which you worked.
Another man gives alms in order to be delivered from future torments; another gives them for the profit of his soul; another gives for the sake of God, although he is not yet as God wishes, for he is still in the state of a slave, and a slave does not willingly perform the will of his lord, but rather acts out of fear of punishment. The one who gives alms in order to be delivered from torment, is delivered from torment by God. Another gives alms in order to receive a reward: this one is higher than the first, but he is still not as God wishes—for he is still not in the position of a son, but like a hireling fulfills the will of his lord in order to receive payment and profit from him. Likewise this one also gives alms in order to receive a reward from God. For as St. Basil the Great says, we can do good in three ways, as I have also mentioned to you earlier: either we do good fearing torments, and then we are in the position of a slave; or in order to receive reward and then we are in the position of a hireling: or we do good for the sake of good itself, and then we are in the position of a son, for a son fulfills the will of his father not from fear and not because he wishes to receive a reward from him, but because he want to please him, to revere him and give him rest. So should we too give alms for the sake of good itself, having compassion for one another as for our own members, and we should please others as if we ourselves had been served by them. We should give as if we ourselves were receiving—this would be sensible alms, and we would thereby attain to the position of sons as we have said above. No one can say, "I am poor and I have nothing to give as alms." For if you cannot give as much as those rich men who put their gifts in the treasury, then give the two pennies like that poor widow and God will receive this from you as more than the gifts of those rich men (cf. Mk. 12:42, Lk. 21:2). And if you do not have even this much you have strength and you can show mercy to your infirm brother by serving him. You cannot do even this? Then you can comfort you brother by a word. Show him mercy by words, and you will hear what has been said, Lo, is not a word better than a gift? (Sir. 18:17). And if you cannot help him even by words, then, when your brother becomes angry at you for something you can show him mercy and endure him during the time of his disturbance, seeing that he is tempted by the common enemy, and instead of speaking a word to him that disturbs him all the more, you can remain silent. By this you will show him mercy, delivering his soul from the enemy. And when your brother sins before you, have mercy on him and forgive him his sin, so that you also might receive forgiveness from God; for it is said, forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37). You can show your mercy for the soul of your brother by forgiving him for his sin against you, for God gave us the authority, if we wish, to forgive each other the transgressions which transpire amongst us. In this way, not having any means to show mercy to his body, you have had mercy on his soul. What mercy or alms could be greater than mercy toward his soul? As the soul is more precious than the body, so mercy shown to the soul is greater than that shown to the body.
Therefore no one can say, "I cannot give alms or show mercy," for everyone can show mercy according to his strength and the disposition of his soul. Only let every man strive to do the good he does sensibly, as we have said above, regarding every virtue. For we have said that one who performs virtue sensibly is a skilled artisan who builds his house securely. The Gospel also says (cf. Mt. 7:24, 25), that a wise man builds his dwelling upon a rock, and no opposing force can cause it to fall. May God the Lover of man grant us to hear and to fulfill what we hear, so that these words will not serve for our judgment on the Day of Judgment. For to Him belongs glory unto the ages. Amen.
In the Law it is written that God commanded the sons of Israel to give a tenth part of all they had acquired during each year, and thereby bring a blessing upon all their deeds. With this in mind, the Holy Apostles established and committed to us as a help and benefaction for our souls something yet greater and more exalted--that we should set apart a tenth portion of the very days of our lives and devote them to God. Thereby might we also receive a blessing for all our deeds, and yearly cleanse the sins we have committed over the course of the whole year. Thus discerning, they have sanctified for us out of the 365 days of the year these seven weeks of Holy Great Lent. So they set apart these seven weeks; but later the Fathers deemed it wise to add yet another week: first of all, so that those wishing to initiate themselves in the ascesis of the fast over the course of this week might accustom themselves to it and prepare themselves for it; and secondly, in order to render honor to the number of days of the Great Fast which our Lord Jesus Christ fasted. For after subtracting Saturdays and Sundays from the eight weeks we have forty days; the fast on Great Saturday is particularly honored, because it is most sacred, and the only Saturdays throughout the year on which a fast it kept. Seven weeks minus Saturdays and Sundays make thirty-five days, then to this is added the fast of Holy and Great Saturday and half of the Bright and Light-bearing night; thus we have thirty-six and a half days, which equals exactly a tenth part of the 365 days of the year. For the tenth part of three hundred is thirty, the tenth part of sixty is six, and a tenth part of five is one-half (of the Bright Day). So, as we have said, there are thirty-six and a half days--the tenth portion of the whole year which, as I have said, the Holy Apostles have sanctified for us for repentance and the cleansing of the sins of the whole year.
So blessed, O brethren, is he who preserves himself well in these holy days as he should. For though it might happen that being human we sin out of infirmity or negligence, still God has given these holy days in order that, striving with heedfulness and humility of wisdom, we take care for ourselves and repent for all of our sins, and we will be cleansed of the sins we committed during the whole year. Then our souls will be delivered from their weight, and we will arrive at the Holy Day of the Resurrection cleansed, receive Communion of the Holy Mysteries uncondemned, having become new through the repentance of the Holy Fast. In spiritual rejoicing, with God's help, we will celebrate the entire Holy Pentecost season--for the Pentecost season, as the Holy Fathers say, is the repose and resurrection of the soul. This is signified by our not kneeling during whole Holy Pentecost season.
Thus he who desires during these days of Lent to be cleansed of the sins he has committed over the course of the whole year should first of all refrain from eating much food, for the lack of limitation in food, as the Fathers say, gives birth to every evil in man. Then he should also take care not to violate the fast without great need, not to seek tasty foods, nor weigh himself down with excess food or drink. For there are two kinds of gluttony. The first kind is when a man seeks pleasant foods, and does not always wish to eat much, but desires something tasty. It happens that when this type tastes a dish he likes, he is so won over by its pleasant taste that he holds the food in his mouth, chews it for a long time, and regretting to part with its pleasant taste, he delays swallowing it. This is called in Greek "lemargia,"--the demon of the throat. The other type is assailed by the desire to eat a large quantity--he does not desire good food and is not concerned about its taste, but only wants to eat, whether the dishes are tasty or not, and he makes no distinction. His is only concerned with filling his belly. This is called "gastrimargia," that is, the demon of the belly.
I will tell you also about the etymology of these words. The word "margenin," demonic possession, is the word used by Hellenic scholars to describe those who are possessed by demons, and the possessed person is called margos. So when anyone has this infirmity, that is, a demonic compulsion to fill the belly, then their infirmity is called gastrimargia, from the words indicating demonically-possessed, and belly--that is, to be demonically possessed with regard to the belly. And when the demonic possession regards only the throat it is called lemargia, form the words meaning throat, and demonic possession. Therefore he who wishes to be cleansed of his sins must take great care to flee these kinds of gluttony; they satisfy not the needs of the body, but passion; and if one surrenders himself to them it will be accounted unto him as sin. The act in lawful marriage and fornication is one and the same, but the aim constitutes the difference of the matter; for one acts to conceive children, while the other acts to satisfy his love of pleasure. It is the same in relation to food: to eat out of need and to eat in order to delight one's taste is one and the same act, but the sin is to be found in the intention. Someone eats according to need when he determines for himself how much food to take in a day; and if he sees that this quantity of food he has determined weighs him down and should be a little decreased, he therefore decreases it. If it does not weigh him down, but is rather insufficient for the body and his body requires a little more, he adds a little more. Thus having tested well his need, he holds thereafter to a determined measure and eats food not in order to delight his taste but rather to maintain his body's strength.
However, even the little food that someone eats should be received with prayer, and he should condemn himself mentally as unworthy of any food or consolation. He should likewise pay no attention to others who out of some current requirement or need receive some comfort in this regard, so that he might not desire comfort for himself, and in general he should not think that the repose of the body is an easy thing for the soul.
Once, when I was still in the community, I went to visit one of the elders--for there were many great elders there--and I found that the brother who was serving him took food together with him. Seeing this I told him separately, "Do you not know brother, that these elders who, as you see, eat and make certain condescensions for themselves according to their needs, are like people who have acquired storehouses; and after working for a long time, they have stored therein what they have earned until they have filled them. Once they have filled and sealed the storehouses, they begin again to work now for their own expenses, and they collect another thousand gold-pieces so that they will have something to use in time of need, preserving what they have set aside in the storehouses. So also these elders, after working a long time, have gathered in their youth treasure for themselves, and having sealed it up, they have worked a little longer, to have something in the time of their old age and infirmity to take from, and preserve what they have gathered as a treasure trove. But we have not even acquired the storehouse itself. What shall we have to spend?" Wherefore we should, as I have said, when taking food out of bodily necessity, condemn ourselves and consider ourselves unworthy of any consolation and even of the monastic life itself, and we should not take food without restrain, so that it will not be to our condemnation.
We have said this concerning restraint of the belly. However we must not limit our temperance to food, but refrain also from every other sin. Just as we fast with our stomachs, we should fast also from every other sin; just as we fast with the belly, we should fast also with the tongue, restraining it from slander, from lying, idle-talking, from belittlement, from anger, and in a word, from every sin that is performed by the tongue. We must likewise fast with the eyes, that is, not look at vain things, not give freedom to our eyes, not look at anyone shamelessly and without fear. The hands and feet should also be constrained from every evil deed. Having fasted, as St. Basil the Great says, by a favorable fast, removing ourselves from all the sins of all of our senses, we shall attain to the holy day of the Resurrection, having become as we have said, new, pure and worthy of Communion of the Holy Mysteries. But first let us go out and meet our Lord Jesus Christ Who comes to suffer, and with olive and palm branches let us receive Him sitting upon the foal of a donkey, entering the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Why did the Lord sit upon a foal? He sat upon a foal so that He as the Word of God might subdue and convert our souls--which as the Prophet says are like irrational and unthinking animals--to His Divinity. What does it signify that He is met with palm and olive branches? When someone goes to battle with his enemy and returns victorious, all his subjects greet him as victor with palm branches, for palm branches are a symbol of victory. Likewise when a man suffers offense from another and wishes to appeal to a someone who can defend him, he brings him olive branches, crying out and entreating for mercy and aid, for olive branches are a symbol of mercy. Therefore we meet our Master Christ with palm branches for He is Victor, for He has conquered our enemy; and with olive branches asking of Him mercy, entreating that just as He has conquered for us, so we might conquer through Him--that we might be bearers of the sign of victory not only for the sake of the victory He has won for us, but also for the victory we have won through Him, by the prayers of all the saints. For to Him is due every glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.
To certain kelliotes1 who asked St. Abba Dorotheos about visiting the Brethren
The Fathers say that half of spiritual life is to remain in the cell, and visiting the elders is the other half. This expression means that both inside the cell and outside the cell we must be equally heedful, and we must know why we should keep silence in the cell and why we should go to the fathers and brethren; for one who keeps sight of these aims strives to act as the Fathers teach. These aims are: when the monk remains in his cell he prays, studies the Holy Scriptures, he occupies himself with a little handiwork and according to his strength concerns himself with his thoughts. When he goes out somewhere he notices and examines his state of mind: does he receive benefit from meeting with the brethren or not? And can he return without harm to his cell? If he sees that he has suffered some harm, then he will thereby come to recognize his infirmity; he can see that he has not yet acquired anything from his hesychia, and, being humbled, he returns to his cell, repenting, weeping and praying to God over his infirmity. Thus he resumes abiding in his cell and being attentive to himself.
Later he goes out again to the company of people, and observes himself to see whether he is conquered by the same thing that conquered him before, or perhaps by something else. So he returns again to his cell and does the same thing: he weeps, repents, and entreats God over his infirmity; for the cell exalts, but people tempt. Therefore the Fathers spoke well when they said abiding in the cell is one-half and visiting others is the other half. So should you, brethren, know why you are leaving your cell when you go out to see each other. You should not go anywhere senselessly or without a purpose, for he who undertakes a journey without a purpose, according to the words of the Fathers, will labor in vain.
Thus every monk should unfailingly have an aim when he does something, and should know why he does it. What should be our aim in visiting each other? First of all we should visit each other out of love: for it is said, "Seeing your brother, you have seen the Lord your God." Secondly, in order to hear the word of God, for amongst a multitude of brethren, the word of God is always more readily apprehended; because often what one brother does not know another does know, and the first one asking him, might therefore learn it. Finally, one goes into the company of people in order to find out one's own state of soul, as I have said earlier. For example, if a monk goes, as often happens, to eat with others, he should take note and examine himself: when good food is offered, something he likes, can he refrain and not take it? Do he try not to offend his brother by not taking more than him, or, when something is offered which has been cut into pieces, does he try to take the larger piece and leave the smaller piece to the other? For it happens that one may not even be ashamed to stretch out his hand and give the smaller piece to his brother, taking the larger for himself. What difference can there be between the larger piece and the smaller? Is the difference great? And for such an insignificant thing one offends his brother and commits a sin.
He should also note whether he can refrain from many foods; and upon finding them, does he surrender himself to over-eating, as sometimes happens? He should also note whether he refrains from presumptuousness, or if he takes offense when he sees that another brother is preferred over him and treated with more solicitude. If he sees that someone is too free in manner or talks too much, or does something inappropriate, does he notice this and judge him? Or does he pay no attention to this and disregard it, observing rather the more reverent and zealous? Does he strive to emulate St. Anthony, who when visiting others would notice only what good qualities they possessed, and would emulate them and adopt their qualities as his own. From one he would borrow meekness, from another humility, from another silence, and thus he assimilated the virtues of each one of them. We should do the same, adopting this as our purpose for visiting others, and when we return to our cells we should test ourselves to see what has brought us benefit and what has brought us harm. And if we were preserved from some harm let us give thanks to God; but if we have sinned in any way let us repent, let us weep and lament over the state of our souls. For it is from our own disposition of soul that we receive harm or benefit, and no one else can harm us. If we are harmed, this harm comes, as I have said, from the state of our own souls; for from every thing that happens, as I constantly tell you, we can receive either benefit or harm, as we ourselves wish. I will give you an example so that you might see that this is true.
Let us suppose that a man is standing at night someplace on the street--not a monk, but some resident of the city. Three men pass him by. One sees him and thinks that he is waiting for someone with whom he will commit fornication; the second one thinks that he is a thief; and the third thinks that he has called upon a friend of his in a house nearby, and is waiting for him to go together to a local church and pray. So all three have seen one and the same man at one and the same place but these three men have not formed one and the same idea about him. One has thought one thing, the second another, the third something else; and it is apparent that each has done this in accordance with his own state. For just as bodies that are afflicted with black gall and bad fluids turn every food they take in into bad fluids, even though their food might be good, the cause lying not in the food but in the sickness, as I have said, of the body itself, which converts the food according to its own sickness. For also the soul that has bad tendencies is harmed by everything, however useful the thing is. Imagine a vessel with honey in it: if someone were to pour a bitter tincture into it, would this little amount not ruin all the honey in the vessel and make it bitter? It is the same with us: we mix in a little of our own bitterness and destroy our neighbor's goodness, viewing it through the state of our own soul, and perverting it according to our own immorality. A man with a good disposition is like a man with a healthy body. Even if he eats something harmful it is converted into beneficial fluids by his body's good state; the bad food does not harm him because, as I have said, the body is healthy and it assimilates the food according to its own good quality. The first turns even good food into evil fluids through his evil disposition, while the latter turns even bad things into good fluids through the good qualities of his body. I will give you an example so that you might understand this.
A viper has quite a healthy body, and his food consists of shells, date pits, acorns and leaves; nonetheless, since his body is healthy it converts even such foods into good fluids. So we also, if we have a good disposition and are in a good state of soul, can receive benefit from everything, as I have said before, even though this thing might not be quite beneficial in and of itself. And the Wise Solomon has well said, He who sees lightly will have great mercy (Wisdom 38:13), and in another place, For the ungodly and his ungodliness are both alike hateful unto God (Wis. 14:9).
I heard about a certain brother, that when he had come to one of the brethren and would see that the cell was unswept and disorderly, would say to himself, "Blessed is this brother because he has set aside all cares for everything earthly, and directs all his mind upwards, so that he does not even find time to put his cell in order." And when he would come to another and see that his cell was in good order, swept and tidy, then again he would say to himself, "How pure is the soul of this brother--his cell is clean, and the state of his cell is in accord with the state of his soul." Never did he say of anyone, "This brother is negligent, or this one is vainglorious," but according to his good outlook he received benefit from each one. May the Good God grant to us a good state of soul, so that we also might receive benefit from each person and never notice the faults of our neighbor. And if we, by the sinfulness characteristic of us, should notice or make suppositions about the faults of others, let us then immediately turn our thoughts into good thoughts. For if a man does not notice the faults of his neighbor, then with the help of God there is born in him a goodness which makes him pleasing to God. For to Him is due every glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.
1 The name "kelliotes" means here monks who live not in a coenobitic monasteries, but in separately built cells, or "kellia," although not necessarily as strict hermits.
If you are a superior of brethren, take care of them with a contrite heart and a condescending mercy, instructing and training them in virtues by deed and word, but most of all by deed, because example is more effective than words. If you can, be for them also an example in bodily labors; but if you are infirm, then be an example of a good state of soul and of the fruits of the spirit enumerated by the Apostle: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22, 23). Of mistakes that occur do not be too exacting, but without disturbance show the harm which comes from this fault. If you must give an admonishment, pay heed to the person and choose a suitable time. Do not be excessively demanding over small faults, as if you yourself were completely righteous, and do not often accuse, for this is burdensome, and the habit of accusing leads one to insensibility and carelessness. Do not give directions in an authoritarian manner, but with humility, as if counseling a brother, for such a word will be acceptable, will convince more powerfully and will bring comfort to your neighbor.
But during a time when you are disturbed, when a brother is opposing you, restrain your tongue so as not to say anything at all in anger, and do not allow your heart to exalt itself above him; but remember that he is your brother and member of Christ, and an image of God who is being tempted from our common enemy. Take pity on him so that the devil, having wounded his irritability, will not take him captive and kill him by means of remembrance of evil, and so that because of our lack of attention a soul for whom Christ died might not perish. Remember that you also are sometimes conquered by the passion of anger, and judging by your own infirmity, have compassion for your brother, give thanks that you have found an occasion to forgive another so that you also might receive from God forgiveness of your great and numerous sins; for it is said, Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37). Do you think that your brother will be harmed by your long-suffering? But the Apostle commands us to conquer evil with good, and not good with evil (Rom. 19:21). The Fathers also say that if while giving a scolding to another you are drawn into anger, you will fulfill only your own passion; and no rational person will destroy his own house in order to build the house of his neighbor. But if disturbance continues in you, force your heart and pray, saying: "O Merciful God, Who lovest mankind! Thou Who hast created us from nothing in Thine unutterable goodness in order to enjoy Thy good things, and Who hast called by the Blood of Thine Only-Begotten Son our Savior us who have stepped away from Thy commandments! Come now, help our infirmities; and as once Thou forbade the stormy sea, so now also forbid the disturbance of our hearts so that both of us Thy children, deadened by sin, might not in one hour be deprived of Thee, and so that Thou mightest not say to us: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to destruction? (Ps. 29:9), and Verily I say unto you, I know you not (Mt. 25:12), because our lamps have gone out for want of oil."
After you have said this prayer and your heart has become meek, then you can rationally and with humility of heart according to the word of the Apostle, accuse, threaten, exhort and with compassion heal and correct the brother as an infirm member (Gal. 6:1; II Tim. 4:2). For then the brother also, understanding his own hardness of heart, will receive your instruction with faith, and through your own peace you will bring peace also to his heart. And thus may nothing separate you from the holy commandment of Christ: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:29); for before anything else one must be concerned over one's peaceful state, so that even under a righteous pretext or for the sake of a commandment one's heart will not falter in the conviction that we strive to fulfill all the commandments precisely for the sake of love and for purity of heart. Instructing the brother in this way you also hear the Voice saying, Thou wilt bring forth the precious from the worthless, thou shalt be as my mouth (Jer. 15:19).
If you are in obedience, never believe your own heart, for it is blinded by the attachments of the old man. Do not follow your own judgment in anything and do not assign yourself anything without asking and without counsel. Do not think or suppose that you are better or more righteous than your instructor, and do not investigate his affairs, otherwise you will often be deceived and fall into temptation. For this is the deception of the evil one, who desires to hinder perfect obedience in faith and to deprive us of the certain salvation that comes from it. Acting in this way you will submit peacefully and safely, without going astray, and go safely on the path of our Fathers. Force yourself and cut off your own will in everything, and by the grace of Christ, through training, you will enter into the habit of cutting off your own will, and when you will do this without compulsion or sorrow, it will turn out that everything will happen just as you wish. Do not desire that everything will be done just as you wish; but desire that it might be just as it will be, and in this way you will be peaceful with everyone. This of course applies to that which is not in violation of the commandments of God or the Holy Fathers. Endeavor in every way to reproach yourself, and fulfill the commandment sensibly--the commandment to consider yourself as nothing. And believe that everything that happens to us, even to the very least thing happens according to the Providence of God; and then you will bear without disturbance everything that comes upon you.
Believe that reproaches and dishonors are medicines which heal the pride of your soul, and pray for those who make you meek as the true physicians of your soul, be convinced that he who hates dishonor hates humility, and he that flees those who offend him is fleeing meekness. Do not desire to know the shortcomings of your neighbor, and do not accept suspicions against him which are instilled in you by the enemy; and even if they should arise in you, because of our sinfulness, then strive to turn them into good thoughts. Give thanks for everything and acquire goodness and holy love. First of all let us all keep well our conscience in everything in regard to God, our neighbor and all things, and before we say or do anything let us test and see whether it be in agreement with the will of God. And then, having prayed, let us say or do the thing and offer our infirmity to God, and His goodness will help us in everything, for unto Him belongs every glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.
If you do not wish to fall into irritability and remembrance of evil, have no attachment whatever to things and do not be overly concerned for them, neither despise them as being of little importance or insignificance.When someone asks something of you, give it to him; and if he by chance, or by carelessness, should break or lose something, do not be grieved. You should act this way not out of carelessness for the monastery's things--for you are obliged with all your might and strength to be concerned for them--but rather out of the desire to preserve yourself from disturbance and quarrels, constantly showing to God your mighty striving. You can achieve this only when you will dispose of the monastery things not as your own property but as things which are offered to God and only entrusted to your care. For first you must be disposed not to have attachment to things, and secondly disposed not to despise them. If you will not have this in mind, then be convinced that you will not cease to be subject to disturbance, and you will disturb both yourself and others.
Question. In my mind I rejoice over these words and desire that it should indeed be so; why is it that I turn out to be unprepared in time of need?
Reply. Because you are not constantly learning about this. If you wish to have these thoughts at the right time, then be learning about them constantly, constantly keep track of them and believe God that you will prosper. Mix prayer with instruction in Divine Scripture. Please those who are sick, mainly in order to obtain mercy, as I have often said; and besides, when you yourself grow ill, God will inspire a man to serve you; for He has said, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Mt. 7:2).
If you strive to do your duty according to your strength and conscience, then you should know and test yourself, that you have not yet understood the true path; and that is why you are obligated to accept without disturbance or sorrow, but with joy, the knowledge that you have sinned in that which in your opinion you had done according to your conscience. For serving those who are wiser than you can correct all your inadequacies, and everything done well will become even more confirmed. Strive to make progress, so that when you have some sorrow, either physical or spiritual, you might be able to withstand it without growing sad, without heaviness, and with patience. When you hear that you are being accused of something you did not do, do not be surprised at this, and do not be upset, but immediately bow humbly to the one accusing you, saying to him, "forgive me and pray for me"; then be silent, as the Fathers have commanded. And when they ask you if it is true or not, then bow down with humility and tell them the truth about what happened. Having said it, again bow down with humility, saying, "forgive me and pray for me."
Question. What should I do? I am not always equally disposed to the brethren when I meet them.
Reply. You are as yet unable to be equally inclined when you meet the brethren; just the same, strive never to be scandalized by anything, never judge anyone, do not criticize, do not scold a brother for his words, deeds or movements that do not bring you any benefit, but rather try to extract some edification from everything. Do not desire to display yourself vaingloriously, either by word or deed. Acquire moderation in food and in your words, even in the trivial. Know that whoever is warred against by any kind of passionate thought or is sorrowful over it yet does not confess it, strengthens the thought against himself; that is, he gives the thought more power to fight and torment him. If he begins to war and oppose his thought and take actions against it, then as we have said many times, the passion will weaken, and will not have the power to fight him and bring him grief. Thus little by little, struggling and receiving help from God, he will overcome the passion itself. May God cover us through the prayers of all the Saints. Amen.
Question. Why did Abba Poemen say that to fear God, to pray to God, and to do good to one's neighbor are the three chief virtues?
Reply. The Elder said that one should fear God because the fear of God precedes every virtue, for The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110:10), and without the fear of God no one can perform any virtue or anything else good; for by the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil (Prov. 15:27). And he said that one should pray to God because a man by himself cannot acquire any virtue nor do any good, as I have previously noted, even if tries to do this out of fear of God; but nothing can ever be done without God's help. So there must also unfailingly be both our own striving and the help of God. Therefore a man must always pray to God and beg His help, and that He would work with him in everything he does.
To do good to one's neighbor is a deed of love. For one who fears God and prays to God brings benefit to himself alone, but every virtue is perfected by love for one's neighbor--therefore the Elder said that one must do good to one's neighbor. He who fears God and prays to Him must bring benefit to his neighbor, and do him good. For this, as I have said, is love, which is the crown of the virtues as the Holy Apostle says (cf. Rom. 13:10). Glory be to our God unto the ages of ages. Amen.
He likewise said: Being passionate, we cannot at all believe in our own hearts; for a crooked rule will make even the straight crooked.
He likewise said: It is not a great matter to withhold judgment of or to feel compassion for someone who is in sorrow and submits to you; but it is a great thing not to judge one who contradicts you, not to take revenge on him according to your passion, not to agree with those who condemn him, and to rejoice together with those who respect him.
Again he said, Do not demand love from your neighbor, for he who demands it is disturbed if he does not encounter it; but rather you yourself show love to your neighbor, and you will find rest; and in this way you will also lead your neighbor to love.
Again he said: He who performs a work which is pleasing to God must unfailingly meet with temptation; for a temptation either precedes or follows every good work, and that which is done for the sake of God cannot be confirmed unless it is tested by temptation.
Again he said: Nothing unites men so closely among themselves as when they rejoice over one and the same thing and have a single way of thinking.
Again he said: Not to despise the gift of one's neighbor is a work of humility of wisdom; and one should accept the gift with thanksgiving even if it should be small and insignificant.
Again he said: If I should happen to encounter some work to be done, it is more pleasant for me to undertake it at the counsel of my neighbor, even though it might happen that the matter be ruined according to his counsel, rather to perform the work well following my own will.
Again he said: In every work it is good to attend personally to the little that you need, for it is not profitable to be granted repose in everything.
Again he said: In every matter which I encounter I never have desired to defend myself by means of human wisdom; but whatever the matter might be I always act according to my strength and present everything to God.
Again he said: He who does not have his own will always fulfills his desire. Such a man does not have any desire of his own--therefore he is satisfied with whatever might happen to him, and it happens that his own desires are continually fulfilled; for he does not want things to turn out according to his own wishes, but he rather wishes that they will be just as they will be.
Again he said: It is indecent to correct a brother while he is sinning against you. Indeed, at any other time you should not do this in order to avenge yourself.
He likewise said: Love according to God is more powerful than natural love.
He likewise said: Do not do evil even as a joke; for it happens that one may at first do some evil jokingly, but later he will be attracted by it even though he does not wish it.
He likewise said: One should not desire to be delivered from passion in order merely to flee the sorrows consequent to it, but rather out of complete hatred for it: With perfect hatred have I hated them, they are reckoned enemies with me (Ps. 138:22).
He likewise said: It is impossible for anyone to become angry at his neighbor if his heart has not first been lifted above him; unless he has not despised him, and considered himself higher than him.
He likewise said: A sign of the fact that someone has voluntarily given way to passion is his disturbance when accused or corrected of it. But to endure accusation, that is, exhortation, without disturbance is a sign that one has either been conquered by the passion, or has committed it out of ignorance. To our God belongs glory to the ages of ages. Amen.
It is pleasant for me to speak to you even a little about the hymns which we sing, so that you might take delight not only in the sounds, but that your mind itself might be in due measure inflamed by the power of the words. Thus, what have we sung just now? "This is the day of Resurrection! Let us offer ourselves as a sacrifice."
In antiquity the sons of Israel, on the feast-days or triumphs, offered to God gifts according to the Law, that is sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings, first-fruits and the like. Therefore St. Gregory teaches us also (like them) to make celebration unto the Lord, as they did, and inspires us, saying, "The day of Resurrection," in place of the "The day of the holy feast, the day of the Divine solemnity, the day of the Pascha of Christ." And what does the Pascha of Christ mean? The sons of Israel performed the Pascha, Passover when they departed from Egypt; and now Pascha, the celebration of which St. Gregory is encouraging us to keep, is performed by the soul which departs from the mental Egypt, that is, sin. For when the soul passes over from sin to virtue, that is when it celebrates the Pascha of the Lord as Evagrius has said; the Pascha of the Lord is the passing over from evil to good.
And thus now today is the Pascha of the Lord, the Day of the Bright Festival, the Day of the Resurrection of Christ Who has crucified sin, Who has died for us and arisen. Let us also offer to the Lord gifts, sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings--not of irrational animals, which Christ does not wish, for sacrifice and offering hast thou not desired. Whole burnt offerings and oblations for sin hast Thou not demanded (Ps. 39:9, 10). And Isaiah says, of what value to me is the abundance of your sacrifices? saith the Lord (Is. 1:11), and the rest. But since the Lamb of God was killed for us, according to the words of the Apostle who said: For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7), Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:13, Deut. 21:23), To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:5); and so we also should offer Him a certain God-pleasing gift.
And what kind of gift or what kind of sacrifice is it that we should offer to Christ on the day of the Resurrection, that might be pleasing to Him inasmuch as He does not desires sacrifices of irrational animals? The same Saint instructs us again in this, for having said, "The day of Resurrection" he adds, "Let us offer ourselves." Thus also the Apostle says, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). And how should we offer our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice? By no longer fulfilling the will of our flesh and our thoughts (Eph. 2:3), but acting in the Spirit, and without fulfilling the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16); for this is what it means to Mortify your members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). This is why it is called a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
And why is it called a living sacrifice? Because the irrational animal who is offered in sacrifice, when he is killed, dies. But the Saints who offer themselves as a sacrifice to God are daily killed while being alive, as the Prophet David says, For Thy sake we are slain all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter (Ps. 43:22). This is what is meant by the word of St. Gregory: "Let us offer ourselves," that is let us offer ourselves as a sacrifice; let us daily mortify ourselves, as also all the Saints have mortified themselves for the sake of Christ our God Who died for us.
And how did they mortify themselves? Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (I John 2:15), as is said in the Catholic Epistle, but having renounced the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 5:16)--that is the love of pleasure, the love of money, and vainglory--they took up the Cross and followed after Christ and crucified the world to themselves and themselves to the world (cf. Gal. 6:14). Concerning this the Apostle says, And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). Behold how the saints have mortified themselves. And how did they offer themselves as sacrifice? By not living for themselves, by subjecting themselves to the commandments of God, and abandoning their own desires for the sake of the commandment to love God and their neighbor, as St. Peter has said, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee (Mt. 19:27) What did he forsake? Did he have money or possessions, gold or silver? He had a net, and that was old, as St. John Chrysostom has said. But he abandoned, as was mentioned, everything, that is: all his desires, all his attraction to this world, so that if he had any possessions or wealth, he clearly despised them all, and taking up the Cross he followed after Christ according to what has been said, Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal. 2:20). Behold how the Saints offered themselves as a sacrifice! They mortified in themselves, as we have said, every attachment and their own will and lived for Christ alone and His commandments. Thus let us also offer ourselves in sacrifice as St. Gregory teaches; for God desires us, for we are "His most precious children." In truth a man is more precious than all visible creatures, for the Creator brought them into existence by His Word, saying: "Let there be, and there was," and again, "Let the earth bring forth such-and-such, and it was so; let the water bring forth," and so on (cf. Gen 1:3, 11, 20). But God created man with His own hands, adorned him, and made everything else in order to serve him and give him repose. God set man as king over all this creation and allowed him to enjoy the sweetness of Paradise. And what is even more astonishing, when man was deprived of all this through his sin, God again called him by the Blood of His Only-Begotten Son. Man is the most precious acquisition, as the Saint has said, not only the most precious but the one closest to God of all creation, for He said, Let Us make man according to Our image and likeness. And again, God made man according to the image of God. He made him and breathed upon his face the breath of life (Gen. 1:26, 27; 2:7). And our Lord Himself, having come to us, accepted the form of man, a human body and soul; in a word, He became man in everything except sin, and, so to speak, by this made man like to Himself, made him His own. And thus the Saint has well and fittingly said that "man is the most precious acquisition.' Then, speaking even more clearly, he adds, "Let us render unto the Image that which was created in His Image." But what does this mean? Let us learn this from the Apostle who said, Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (II Cor. 7:1) Let us make our image pure just as we received it, let us wash it from the filth of sin so that its beauty, which comes from the virtues, might be uncovered. It was about this beauty that David prayed when he said, O Lord, by Thy will hast Thou granted power to my beauty (Ps. 29:7). And thus let us purify in ourselves the image of God, for God demands this of us, since He gave us an image having neither spot, nor wrinkle nor any such thing (Eph. 5:27). Let us render unto the Image that which was made according to the image, let us acknowledge our dignity; let us realize what great good thing we have become worthy of; let us remember in Whose image we were created, let us not forget the great good things given to us by God solely out of His goodness and not according to our worth; let us understand that we are created according to the image of God Who created us.
"Let us venerate the Archetype." Let us not offend the Image of God, according to which we were created. What (artist) who, desiring to paint a depiction of the emperor, would dare to use some kind of cheap paint for it? Will he not by this dishonor the emperor and be subject to punishment? On the contrary he will use for this good and shining paints worthy of the depiction of the emperor; he might even apply gold itself to the depiction of the emperor and will strive to present all the garments of the emperor, if possible, in such a way that one seeing a depiction that takes in all the distinctive characteristics of the emperor would think that he is beholding the emperor himself, the original, for the depiction is magnificent and elegant. So also we, being created in the image of God, should not dishonor our Archetype, but should make our image pure and glorious, worthy of the Archetype. For if an artist is punished for dishonoring the image of the emperor, who is visible and has passions like us, then what shall we undergo if we disdain the Divine Image in ourselves, and return, as the Saint has said, "the image unclean?"
"Thus let us honor the Archetype, let us understand the power of the mystery and for whom Christ has died." The power of the mystery of the death of Christ is this: inasmuch as we through sin have lost in ourselves the image of God and therefore through the fall and sin have become mortal, as the Apostle has said (Eph. 2:1), therefore God Who created us in His Image, having had mercy on us, on His own creation and His own image, for our sake became man, and suffered death for all so as to raise us who have been killed into the life which we lost on account of our disobedience. For He ascended on the Holy Cross and crucified sin--the sin for which we were banished from Paradise--and led captivity captive as it says in the Scripture (Ps. 67:18; Eph. 4:8). What does this mean: "led captivity captive?" This means that after the transgression of Adam the enemy took us captive and held us in his power so that human souls which departed from the body went to hell, for Paradise was closed. But when Christ ascended on the heights of the Holy and Life-giving Cross, then by His own Blood He delivered us from the captivity by which the enemy had taken us for our transgression; that is, He snatched us from the hands of the enemy, and so to speak, recaptured us, conquering and overthrowing the one who had taken us captive. Wherefore it says in the Scripture that He "led captivity captive." Such is the power of the mystery; Christ died for us so that, as the Saint said, He might raise us up into life who have been killed.
And thus we have been delivered from hell by Christ's love of mankind, and it is up to us whether we go to Paradise, for the enemy no longer compels us as he did before and does not keep us in slavery. Only let us take care for ourselves O brethren, and preserve ourselves from sin in very deed. For many times before I have said to you that every sin which is fulfilled in deed again enslaves us to the enemy, inasmuch as we voluntarily throw ourselves down and enslave ourselves to him. Is this not a shame and is this not a great misfortune if, after Christ has delivered us from hell by His own Blood and after we have heard all this, we should again go and throw ourselves into hell? Are we not in this case deserving of yet greater and more powerful torture? May the Lover of mankind, God, have mercy on us and grant us heedfulness, so that we might understand all this and profit by it, that we might obtain at least a small portion of God's mercy.
It is good, O brethren, to sing the words of the holy God-bearers, for they strive everywhere to instruct us in everything which leads to the enlightenment of our souls. From the words we sing on the feast day, we should always come to understand the meaning of the what is being commemorated, whether it be a feast of the Lord, of the holy martyrs, or of the holy Fathers; in a word no matter what saint or blessed commemoration it is. Thus we should sing with heedfulness and penetrate with our minds into the significance of the words of the Holy Fathers so that we might sing not only with our lips as is said in the Patericon, but that our heart also might sing together with them. From the first hymn of the feast we have learned as we are able something about Holy Pascha; let us look further and see what St. Gregory wishes to teach us about the holy martyrs. In the hymnody about them, taken from St. Gregory's words, we sing today, "Living sacrifices, rational whole-burnt offerings," and the rest. What does this mean "Living sacrifices?" Sacrificial is the name for everything which is consecrated as a sacrifice to God, as for example sheep, bulls and the like. But why are the Holy Martyrs called living sacrifices? Because a lamb which is offered in sacrifice is first slaughtered and dies and then is sliced in pieces and offered to God; while the holy martyrs, while still being alive, were cut into pieces, scraped, tortured and endured dismemberment. Sometimes the torturers cut off their hands, feet and tongues and gouged out their eyes; and they were scraped in the ribs to such an extent with iron that their very inward parts were visible. In all of this of which I speak the Saints endured while still alive, still having their souls within themselves, which is why they are living sacrifices. And why are they called "rational whole-burnt offerings?" Because sacrifice is one thing and whole-burnt offering another. Sometimes men offer in sacrifice not a whole lamb but only a rudimentary part, as is said in the Law: the right shoulder, the pancreas and both kidneys, and the like (Ex. 29:22). Those who offered these, the rudiments, called this a sacrifice, which is why such an offering in general is called sacrifice. A whole-burnt offering is the name given to an offering of a whole lamb or a whole bull or any other offering burned without any remnant as is said in the same Law: the head with the feet and inward parts, sometimes also with the stomach and in a word, everything is burned entirely, and this is called a whole-burnt offering. Thus the sons of Israel according to the Law offered sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings. These sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings were a pre-figuration of the souls who desire to be saved and to offer themselves as a sacrifice to God.
We will tell you a little also about this from what the Holy Fathers have said, so that when you read this your thoughts might be elevated and your soul nourished. By muscle (shoulder) they understand activity, in place of which the hand is also acceptable as I have often told you, for the muscle comprises the strength of the hand. And thus the Israelites offered in sacrifice the strength of the right hand—that is, good deeds; for the right hand signifies goodness. For all the other parts of an animal which we have mentioned, for example the pancreas and the two kidneys, and the fat from around them, the hip and the fat around the hips, the heart and the chest and the rest are likewise pre-figurations or symbols, for as the Apostle says, Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition (I Cor. 10:11). I will explain this to you.
The soul, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, is composed of three parts: the desiring part, the irritative part, and the reasoning part. Thus they offered in sacrifice the pancreas. Father understood the stomach to be the seat of desire, and the pancreas is the edge of the stomach. They thereby prefiguratively offered the edge of the desiring part, that is its rudimentary part—its best and most important part. This signifies that we should love nothing more than God, and of all that is desirable we should prefer nothing to the striving for God: for we have said that they offered to Him the very best. The kidneys, however, and their fat and the hips and the fat covering the hips signify exactly the same thing: for they say that this is the seat of desire; all these are prefigurations of the desiring part.
Now the prefiguration, the symbol of the irritative part is the heart, for they say that this is the seat of irritability, as St. Basil indicates when he says that irritation is the fever of the blood around the heart. The chest is the symbol of the reasoning part, for this is the accepted meaning of the chest. Wherefore it is said that when Moses clothed Aaron in the garment of the High Priest by command of God, he placed upon his chest a piece called the logion which concerns the intelligence, as described in Leviticus 8:8. And thus all of this as we have said is a symbol of the soul, which by God' help cleanses itself by means of good activity and is restored to its natural condition. For Evagrius says: "The intelligent soul acts according to its nature when its desiring part desires virtue, when its irritative part struggles for it, and its reasoning part is given over to contemplation of the creation. When lambs are offered in sacrifice, or a bull, or something similar, the Israelites took out these parts, that is the kidneys and the rest, out of what was offered and placed them on the altar before the Lord and these they called the sacrifice. But when they offered the sacrifice animal entirely and burned it just as it was, whole and perfect, they called this, as we have said above, a whole-burnt offering. This is a symbol of the perfect, those who say, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee (Mt. 19:27). It is to this measure of spiritual stature that the Lord called that youth who had said to Him, All things have I kept from my youth up. For the Lord replied to this, One thing thou lackest: What is this? Come, take up the cross, and follow me (Mk. 10:21; Mt. 16:24). Thus the Holy Martyrs offered themselves wholly as a sacrifice to God, and not only themselves but also what they possessed. For as St. Basil says, we are one thing, what is ours is another thing, and the third is what we possess. We are our mind and soul, ours is the body; and what we possess is property and other things. The Saints offered themselves as a sacrifice to God fulfilling with all their heart, all their soul, and all their strength the word of the Scripture: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind (Mt. 22:37); for they disdained not only children, wives, glory, possessions and every other wealth, but even their own bodies, and this is why they are called whole-burnt offerings. And they are called rational because man is a rational animal.
"Perfect ones slaughtered unto God," and then, "Lambs knowing God and known by God." How do they know God? As the Lord Himself has indicated and instructed when He said, My sheep hear my voice, and, I know my sheep, and am known of mine (Jn. 10:27, 14). Why did He say, My sheep hear My voice, instead of saying, they hear My word and they keep my commandments and therefore they know Me? For by the keeping of the commandments the Saints draw near to God, and the nearer they draw to Him the more they know Him and are known by Him. For the more someone turns away from someone and distances himself from him, the more it can be said that he does not know that person and is not known by him. This is what the Lord Himself mean when He said, Verily I say unto you, I know ye not (Mt. 25:12). As I have said often, the more the Saints acquire virtues through the keeping of the commandments, the more they become God's own, and the more they become God's, the more they know Him, so does He also know them.
"Their enclosure in inaccessible to wolves." Enclosure is the name for a place which is shielded and fenced all around, where a shepherd gathers the sheep and guards them so that wolves might not seize them or thieves steal them. But if the enclosure has rotted away on some side, both thieves and wolves may easily enter and fall upon the sheep. Now the enclosure of the Saints is fortified and guarded on all sides, as the Lord had said, where neither thieves break through and steal (Mt. 6:20), and nothing harmful can touch them.
So let us pray O brethren that we might be vouchsafed to be shepherded together with them, or at least to be settled in that place of blessed delight and repose. For we have not attained to the state of the Saints and are unworthy of this glory, still we may not be deprived of Paradise if we are heedful and force ourselves a little. St. Clement says, "Even though one may not be crowned, still he should strive to be not far from those who are crowned." (Ep. 11 to the Cor., ch. 7). For just as in imperial, royal palaces there are great and glorious ranks, for example senators, patricians, generals, governors, and members of the privy council, and they are all very honored officials, so in the same palaces there are certain other ranks who serve with a small wage; however they are still called servants of the king and are inside the palaces even though they do not enjoy the same glory of those greater ranks. It occurs that sometimes they also, by advancing little by little, receive great and glorious ranks and honors: thus we also should strive to flee active sin so that at least we might be delivered from hell. Then we obtain the opportunity, thanks to God's love of mankind, to gain entrance into Paradise itself, by the prayers of all the Saints. Amen.
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