In his youth he had zealously studied secular science. “When I sought worldly knowledge,” wrote the abba, “it was very difficult at first. When I would come to take a book, I was like a man about to touch a wild beast. When I forced myself to study, then God helped me, and diligence became such a habit that I did not know what I ate, what I drank, whether I had slept, nor whether I was warm or not. I was oblivious to all this while reading. I could not be dragged away by my friends for meals, nor would I even talk with them while I was absorbed in reading. When the philosopher let us go, I went home and washed, and ate whatever was prepared for me. After Vespers, I lit a lamp and continued reading until midnight.” — so absorbed was Abba Dorotheus in his studies at that time.
He devoted himself to monastic activity with an even greater zeal. Upon entering the monastery, he says in his tenth Instruction, he decided that his study of virtue ought to be more fervent than his occupation with secular science had been.
One of the first obediences of Abba Dorotheus was to greet and to see to pilgrims arriving at the monastery. It gave him opportunity to converse with people from various different positions in life, bearing all sorts of burdens and tribulations, and contending against manifold temptations. With the means of a certain brother Saint Dorotheus built an infirmary, in which also he served. The holy abba himself described his obedience, “At the time I had only just recovered from a serious illness. Travellers would arrive in the evening, and I spent the evening with them. Then camel drivers would come, and I saw to their needs. It often happened that once I had fallen asleep, other things arose requiring my attention. Then it would be time for Vigil.” Saint Dorotheus asked one of the brethren to wake him up for for Vigil, and another to prevent him from dozing during the service. “Believe me,” said the holy abba, “I revered and honored them as though my salvation depended upon them.”
For ten years Abba Dorotheus was cell-attendant for Saint John the Prophet (Feb. 6). He was happy to serve the Elder in this obedience, even kissing the door to his cell with the same feeling as another might bow down before the holy Cross. Distressed that he was not fulfilling the word of Saint Paul that one must enter the Kingdom of Heaven through many tribulations (Acts 14:22), Abba Dorotheus revealed this thought to the Elder. Saint John replied, “Do not be sad, and do not allow this to distress you. You are in obedience to the Fathers, and this is a fitting delight to the carefree and calm.” Besides the Fathers at the monastery of Abba Seridus, Saint Dorotheus visited and listened to the counsels of other great ascetics of his time, among whom was Abba Zosima.
After the death of Saint John the Prophet, when Abba Barsanuphius took upon himself complete silence, Saint Dorotheus left the monastery of Abba Seridus and founded another monastery, the monks of which he guided until his own death.
Abba Dorotheus wrote 21 Discourses, several Letters, and 87 Questions with written Answers by Saints Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet. In manuscript form are 30 Talks on Asceticism, and written counsels of Abba Zosima. The works of Abba Dorotheus are imbued with a deep spiritual wisdom, distinguished by a clear and insightful style, but with a plain and comprehensible expression. The Discourses deal with the inner Christian life, gradually rising up in measure of growth in Christ. The saint resorted often to the advice of the great hierarchs, Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. Obedience and humility, the combining of deep love for God with love for neighbor, are virtues without which spiritual life is impossible. This thought pervades all the writings of Abba Dorotheus.
In his writings the personal experience of Abba Dorotheus is felt everywhere. His disciple, Saint Dositheus (February 19), says of him, “Towards the brethren laboring with him he responded with modesty, with humility, and was gracious without arrogance or audacity. He was good-natured and direct, he would engage in a dispute, but always preserved the principle of respect, of good will, and that which is sweeter than honey, oneness of soul, the mother of all virtues.”
The Discourses of Abba Dorotheus are preliminary books for entering upon the path of spiritual action. The simple advice, how to proceed in this or that instance, together with a most subtle analysis of thoughts and stirrings of soul provide guidance for anyone who resolves to read the works of Abba Dorotheus. Monks who begin to read this book, will never part from it throughout their life.
The works of Abba Dorotheus are to be found in every monastery library and are constantly reprinted. In Russia, his soul-profiting Instruction, together with the Replies of the Monks Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet, were extensively copied, together with The Ladder of Divine Ascent of Saint John Climacus and the works of Saint Ephraim the Syrian. Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9), despite his many duties as igumen, with his own hand transcribed the Discourses of Abba Dorotheus, as he did also the Ladder of Divine Ascent.
The Discourses of Abba Dorotheus pertain not only to monks; this book should be read by anyone who aspires to fulfill the commands of Christ.