|Photo: Mikhail Timofeyev.|
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.