Instruction Seven. How we must accuse ourselves, and not our neighbors

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.

Abba Dorotheos

4/8/2013

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