The Fourth Instruction. Concerning the Fear of God

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.

Abba Dorotheos

4/4/2013

Comments
Bette Maria de la Cour7/6/2017 12:23 pm
Thank you for both clarifying things that has been bothering me - and even for correction seeing all one's faults. Thank you for these wonderful words. I have not written before because your site is not safe - but I so much wanted to thank you.
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