The Seventeenth Instruction. To those who are instructors in monasteries and to disciples: How one should instruct the brethren and how one should receive instruction.

Photo: Travis Dove/National Geographic Stock Photo: Travis Dove/National Geographic Stock

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.

Abba Dorotheos


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