Theodoros the Great Ascetic: A Century of Spiritual Texts
1. Since by God's grace we have renounced Satan and his works and have sworn allegiance to Christ, both at our baptism and now again through our profession as monks, let us keep His commandments. Not only does our double profession demand this of us, but it is also our natural duty, for since we were originally created by God as 'very good' (Gen. 1:31), we owe it to God to be such. Although sin entered us through our negligence and introduced into us what is contrary to nature, we have been reclaimed through God's great mercy, and renewed by the passion of Him who is dispassionate. We have been 'bought with a price' (1 Cor. 6:20), namely by the blood of Christ, and liberated from the ancient ancestral sin. If, then, we become righteous, this is nothing great; but to fall from righteousness is pitiable and deserves condemnation.
2. Just as a good act performed without genuine faith is quite dead and ineffective, so too faith alone without works of righteousness does not save us from eternal fire; for 'he who loves Me', says the Lord, 'will keep My commandments', (cf John 14:45, 23). If, then, we love the Lord and believe in Him, we shall exert ourselves to fulfill His commandments, so as to be granted eternal life. But how can we call ourselves faithful if we neglect to keep His ordinances, which all creation obeys, and if, although we have been honored above all creation, we are the only creatures who disobey the Creator and show ourselves ungrateful to our Benefactor?
3. When we keep Christ's commandments we do not benefit Him in any way, since He is in need of nothing and is the bestower of every blessing. It is ourselves that we benefit, since we win for ourselves eternal life and the enjoyment of ineffable blessings.
4. If anyone whatsoever opposes us in the fulfillment of God's commandments, even if it is our father or mother, we ought to regard him with hatred and loathing, lest we be told: 'He who loves father or mother or anyone else whatsoever more than Me is not worthy of Me' (cf Matt. 10:37).
5. Let us bind ourselves with all our strength to fulfill the Lord's commandments, lest we ourselves should be held by the unbreakable cords of our evil desires and soul-corrupting pleasures (cf. Prov, 5:22), and lest the sentence passed on the barren fig tree should be passed on us as well; 'Cut it down, so that it does not clutter up the ground' (Luke 13:7). For, as Christ says, whatever 'does not produce good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire' (Matt. 3:10).
6. He who gives himself to desires, and sensual pleasures and lives according to the world's way will quickly be caught in the nets of sin. And sin, when once committed, is like fire put to straw, a stone rolling downhill or a torrent eating away its banks. Such pleasures, then, bring complete perdition on him who embraces them.
7. So long as the soul is in a state contrary to nature, running wild with the weeds and thorns of sensual pleasures, it is a dwelling-place of grotesque beasts. Isaiah's words apply to it: ass-centaurs shall rest there, and hedgehogs make their lair in it, and there demons will consort with ass«centaurs (cf Isa. 34:11, 14. LXX) - for all these animals signify the various shameful passions. But the soul, so long as it is joined to the flesh, can recall itself to its natural state at any time it wishes: and whenever it does so and disciplines itself with diligent effort, living in accordance with God's law, the wild beasts that were lurking inside it will take to flight, while the angels who guard our life will come to its aid, making the soul's return a day of rejoicing (cf. Luke 15:7). And the grace of the Holy Spirit will be present in it, teaching it spiritual knowledge, so that it may be strengthened in what is good and rise to higher levels.
8. The Fathers define prayer as a spiritual weapon. Unless we are armed with it we cannot engage in warfare, but are carried off as prisoners to the enemy's country. Nor can we acquire pure prayer unless we cleave to God with an upright heart. For it is God who gives prayer to him who prays and who teaches man spiritual knowledge.
9. It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not the passions are going to harass and attack the soul. But it does lie within power to prevent impassioned thoughts from lingering within us and arousing the passions to action. The first of these conditions is not sinful, inasmuch as it is outside our control: where the second is concerned, if we fight against the passions and overcome them we are rewarded, but we shall be punished if because of laziness and cow- ardice we let them over-come us. 10. There are three principal passions, through which all the rest arise: love of sensual pleasure, love of riches, and love of praise. Close in their wake follow five other evil spirits, and from these five arise a great swarm of passions and all manner of evil. Thus he who defeats the three leaders and rulers simultaneously overcomes the other five and so subdues all the passions.
11. Memories of all the impassioned actions we have performed exert an impassioned tyranny over the soul. But when impassioned thoughts have been completely erased from our heart, so that they no longer affect it even .is provocations, this is a sign that our former sinful acts have been forgiven. For so long as the heart is stimulated by passion, sin clearly reigns there.
12. Bodily passions or passions concerned with material things are reduced and withered through bodily hardship, while the unseen passions of the soul are destroyed through humility, gentleness and love.
13. Self-control together with humility withers passionate desire, love calms inflamed anger, and intense prayer together with mindfulness of God concentrates distracted thoughts. Thus the tripartite soul is purified. It was to this end that the apostle said: 'Pursue peace with all men and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14).
14. Many people wonder whether thought stimulates the passions or the passions stimulate thought. Some say the first and some the second. My own view is that thoughts are stimulated by the passions. For unless passions were in the soul, thoughts about them would not disturb it.
15. The demons, who are always waging war against us, try to prevent us from performing actions that are within our power and that would help us to acquire the virtues, while at the same time they suggest ways of accomplishing things that in fact are impossible or else out of place. They compel those progressing in obedience to follow the hesychasts' way of life; and they implant in hesychasts and hermits a desire for the coenobitic rule. They use a similar method with respect to every virtue. So let us be mindful of their designs, knowing that all things are good in their proper time and measure, while things lacking measure and out of place are noxious.
16. With those who live in the world and are associated with the material things that feed the passions, the demons wage war through practical activities; while with those who dwell in the wilderness, where material things are rare, they fight by troubling them with evil thoughts. This second mode of warfare is far more difficult to cope with; for warfare through things requires a specific time and place, and a fit occasion, whereas warfare of the intellect is mercurial and hard to control. But as our trusty weapon in this incorporeal fight we have been given pure prayer: that is why we are told to pray without ceasing (cf I Thess. 5:17), Prayer strengthens the intellect in the struggle, since it can be practiced even without the body taking part.
17. With reference to the perfect mortification of the passions St Paul says: 'They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh together with the passions and desires' (Gal. 5:24). For when we mortify the passions, utterly destroy desires, and subjugate the will of the flesh to the Spirit, we take up the cross and follow Christ (cf Matt. 16:24). For withdrawal from the world is nothing else but the mortification of the passions and the manifestation of the life that is hidden in Christ (cf Col. 3:3-4).
18. Those who have given up their hour-by-hour warfare, because of their distress at the rebelliousness of 'the body of this death' (Rom. 7:24), should blame not the flesh, but themselves. For if they had not given it the strength, providing for it so it could gratify its desires (cf. Rom. 13:14), they would not have been so greatly distressed by it. Do they not see how those who have crucified themselves together with their passions and desires, and who proclaim the death of Jesus in their mortal flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10), have made the flesh tractable and obedient to the law of God, so that it proves an ally rather than an adversary in their aspirations towards the divine? Let them do likewise and they will enjoy the same peace.
19. Every assent in thought to some forbidden desire, that is, every submission to self-indulgence, is a sin for a monk. For first the thought begins to darken the intellect through the passable aspect of the soul, and then the soul submits to the pleasure, not holding out in the fight. This is what is called assent, which - as has been said - is a sin. When assent persists it stimulates the passion in question. Then little by little it leads to the actual committing of the sin. This is why the prophet calls blessed those who dash the children of Babylon against the stones (cf Ps. 137: 9). People with understanding and discretion will know what is meant.
20. Being servants of love and peace, the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke 15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing. The demons, on the contrary, being producers of anger and of evil, rejoice when holiness diminishes in us, and they attempt to seduce our souls with shameful fantasies.
21. Faith is a quality inherent in our nature. It begets in. us the fear of God. and fear of God instills that keeping of the commandments which constitutes the practice of the virtues. From such practice grows the previous flower of dispassion. The offspring of dispassion is love, which is the fulfillment of all the commandments (cf. Rom. 13:10), bidding and holding them in unity.
22. When the body's perception is sound one is aware of what sickness afflicts it, while if one is not aware one is a victim of obtuseness. Similarly, the intellect, as long as it preserves its own proper energy, is conscious of its powers and knows from where the tyrannizing passions enter it; and it makes a determined stand against them. But it is terrible to pass one's days in a state of oblivion, like one who fights by night, not being able to see the evil thoughts against which one is battling. 23. When our intelligence unyieldingly devotes itself to the contemplation of the virtues, and our desire is focused solely on this and on Christ who bestows it, while our soul's incensive power arms itself against the demons, then our faculties are acting according to nature.
24. Every deiform soul is tripartite, according to Gregory the Theologian. Virtue, then established in the intelligence, he calls discretion, understanding and wisdom: when in the incensive power, he calls it courage and patience: and when in the faculty of desire, he calls it love, self-restraint and self-control. Justice or right judgment penetrates all three aspects of the soul, enabling them to function in harmony. Through discretion the soul fights against the hostile powers and defends the virtues. Through self-restraint it views things dispassionately. Through love it urges a man to love all men as himself. Through self-control it eliminates every sensual pleasure. Finally, through courage and patience it arms itself against its invisible enemies. This is the harmony of the melodious organ of the soul.
25. Let him who cultivates self-restraint and longs for blessed purity - which could rightly be called dispassion - discipline the flesh and bring it into subjection, with humble thoughts invoking divine grace, and he will achieve the aim he desires. But he who feeds the body intemperately will be tormented by the demon of unchastity. Just as much water puts out a flame, so hunger or self-control combined with humility of soul extinguishes the fever of the flesh and of shameful fantasies.
26. If you love Christ you must keep the passion of rancor far from your soul. You should on no account yield to feelings of hostility: rancor lurking in the heart is like fire hidden in stalks of dry flax. Rather you should pray fervently for anyone who has grieved you, and you should help him, if you have the means. By this action your soul will be delivered from death (cf Tobit 4:10) and nothing will hinder your communion with God when you pray.
27. The Lord dwells in the souls of the humble; but shameful passions fill the hearts of the proud. Nothing so strengthens these passions against us as arrogant thoughts, and nothing uproots the evil herbs of the soul so effectively as blessed humility. Hence humility is rightly called the executioner of passions.
28. Let your soul be free of evil fantasies and illumined with thoughts of what is truly noble. Constantly remember the saying, 'A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and a chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.' Truly, when pure souls leave the body they are guided by angels who lead them to the life of blessedness. But unclean and unrepentant souls will be taken in charge by the demons.
29. Beautiful is a head adorned with a precious diadem, set with Indian stones and lustrous pearls. But incomparably more beautiful is a soul rich in the knowledge of God, illumined by the most lucid contemplation and having the Holy Spirit dwelling within it. Who can adequately describe the beauty of that blessed soul?
30. Do not let anger and wrath make their home in you: for 'an angry man is not dignified' (Prov. I 1 :25. LXX), whereas wisdom dwells in the hearts of the gentle. If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you, and you will be put to shame as unworthy of monastic solitude.
31. In every trial and in all warfare use prayer as your invincible weapon, and by the grace of Christ you will be victorious. Let your prayer be pure, as our wise teacher counsels. For he says: 'I would have men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without anger and without quarrelling' (1 Tim. 2:8). But the person who neglects such prayer will be delivered over to trials and passions.
32. 'Wine makes glad the heart of man' (Ps. 104:15^. But you who have professed sorrow and grief should turn away from such gladness and rejoice in spiritual gifts. If you rejoice in wine, you will live with shameful thoughts and distress will overwhelm you.
33. Do not plan to spend feast-days in drinking wine, but in regenerating your intellect and purifying your soul. If you eat gluttonously and drink wine you will provoke anger in the person whom the feast is honoring.
34. We have been instructed to keep vigil - with prayers, readings, and the recitation of the Psalter - at all times, and especially at feasts. A monk who keeps vigil refines his mind for contemplation, whereas much! sleep coarsens the intellect. But take care that during vigils you do not pass the time in empty gossip or evil thoughts. It is better to be asleep than to keep vigil with vain words and thoughts.
35. He who keeps a serpent in his breast and he who keeps an evil thought in his heart will both be killed, the one by being bitten in the body by venomous fangs and the other by injecting a lethal poison into his soul. Let us, then, speedily slay the 'offspring of vipers' (Matt. 3:7), and let us not bring forth evil thoughts from our heart, lest we suffer bitter pangs.
36. A pure soul can truly be called a 'chosen vessel' (Acts 9:15), 'an enclosed garden', 'a sealed fountain' (Song of Solomon 4:12), and 'a throne of perceptiveness' (Prov. 12:23. LXX). But a soul polluted with filthy impurities stinks like a sewer.
37. I have heard from elders experienced in the practice of the virtues that evil thoughts are engendered in the soul by showy clothes, the belly's repletion and bad company.
38. Desire for material wealth must not lodge in the souls of those pursuing the spiritual way. For a monk with many possessions is an over-laden ship, driven by the storm of cares and sinking in the deep waters of distress. Love of riches begets many passions, and has aptly been called 'the root of all evil' (1 Tim. 6:10).
39. A condition of total poverty, combined with silence, is a treasure hidden in the field of the monastic life (cf. Matt. 13:44). So 'go and sell all you have and give to the poor' (Matt. 19:21), and acquire this field. And when you have' dug up the treasure, keep it inviolate, so that you may become rich with a wealth that is inexhaustible.
40. When you have taken up your dwelling with a spiritual father and find that he helps you, let no. one separate you from his love and from living with him. Do not judge him in any respect, do not revile him even though he censures or strikes you, do not listen to someone who slanders him to you, do not side with anyone who criticizes him, lest the Lord should be angered with you and blot you out of the book of the living (cf. Exod. 32:33).
41. The struggle to achieve obedience is won by means of renunciation, as we have learned. He who seeks to be obedient must arm himself with three weapons: faith, hope, and divine and holy love (cf. I Cor. 13:13). Thus defended, he will 'fight the good fight' and receive 'a crown of righteousness' (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
42. Do not judge the actions of your spiritual father, but obey his commands. For the demons are in the habit of showing you his defects, so that your ears may be deaf to what he tells you. They aim either to drive you from the arena as a feeble and cowardly fighter, or simply to terrify you with thoughts that undermine your faith, and so to make you sluggish about every form of virtue.
43. A monk who disobeys the commands of his spiritual father transgresses the special vows of his profession. But he who has embraced obedience and slain his own will with the sword of humility has indeed fulfilled fee promise that he made to Christ in the presence of many witnesses.
44. From our own observations we have clearly perceived that the enemies of our life, the demons, are exceedingly jealous of those pursuing the ascetic way under obedience to a spiritual father. Gnashing their teeth at them and devising all sorts of schemes, they do and suggest everything possible so as to separate a monk from his spiritual father's care. They propose plausible excuses, they contrive irritations, they arouse hatred against the father, they represent his admonitions as rebukes, they make his words of correction seem like sharpened arrows. Why, they ask, since you are free, have you become a slave - a slave to a merciless master? How long will you wear yourself out under the yoke of servitude and not see the light of freedom? Then they make suggestions about giving hospitality, visiting the sick and caring for the poor. Next they extol above measure the rewards of extreme stillness and solitude, and sow all sorts of evil weeds in the heart of the devout warrior, simply to cast him out of the fold of his spiritual father, and having unmoored him from that untroubled haven they drive him out to sea, into the fierce and soul-destroying tempest. Finally, when they have enslaved him to their own authority, they use him according to their own evil desires.
45. You who are under obedience to a spiritual father must be alert to the cunning of your enemies and adversaries. Do not forget your profession and promise to God: do not be defeated by insults: do not be afraid of reproof, mockery or sneering: do not give way to the proliferation of evil thoughts; do not evade your father's strictures: do not dishonor the blessed yoke of humility by daring to be self-satisfied and presumptuous. Instead, rooting in your heart the Lord's words, 'He who endures to the end will be saved' (Matt. 10:22), patiently run the race that is set before you, 'looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith' (Heb. 12:1-2).
46. The goldsmith purifies gold by smelting it in a furnace. And a novice must surrender himself to the struggle for obedience and to the fiery ordeals of a holy life, learning with toil and much patience the practice of obedience. And once his old manners and habits have been melted down and he learns true humility, he becomes radiant, fit for heavenly treasures, for a life of immortality and a blessed repose whence 'pain and sorrow have fled away' (Isa. 35:10. LXX), and where gladness and continual joy flourish.
47. True inward faith begets fear of God. Fear of God teaches us to keep the commandments. For where there is fear, it is said, there the commandments are kept. The keeping of the commandments establishes practical virtue, the precursor of contemplative virtue. Of these the fruit is dispassion. Through dispassion, love is born in us. Concerning love the beloved disciple said, 'God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him' ( I John 4:16).
48. The monk's way of life is truly full of beauty and excellence, provided it accords with the rules and laws laid down by its founders and directors, taught as they were by the Holy Spirit. The warrior of Christ must be above material things and detached from all worldly thoughts and deeds; for, as St Paul says: 'In order to please the leader who has chosen him, the soldier going to war does not entangle himself in the affairs of this life' (2 Tim. I :4).
49. The monk, therefore, must be detached from material things, must be dispassionate, free from all evil desires, not given to soft living, not a tippler, not slothful, not indolent, not a lover of wealth, pleasure or praise. Unless he raises himself above all these things, he will fail to achieve the angelic way of life. For those who do achieve it, the yoke is easy and the burden is hght (cf Matt. I 1 :30), divine hope sustaining them in all things. This life and its activities are full of delight, and the lot of the soul that has attained it is blessed and 'cannot be taken away' (Luke 10:42).
50. If you have renounced worldly cares and undertaken the ascetic struggle you should not desire to have wealth for distribution to the poor. For this is another trick of the devil who arouses self-esteem in you so as to fill your intellect with worry and restlessness. Even if you have only bread or water, with these you can still meet the dues of hospitality. Even if you do not have these, but simply make the stranger welcome and offer him a word of encouragement, you will not be failing in hospitality. Think of the widow mentioned in the Gospel by our Lord: with two mites she surpassed the generous gifts of the wealthy (cf. .Mark 12:42-44).
51. These things apply to monks pursuing the life of stillness. But those under obedience to a spiritual father should have only one thought in mind - to depart in nothing from his commands. For if they achieve this, they achieve everything. But if they depart from such Strict obedience they will fail completely in the spiritual life and in every form of virtue.
52. Since you are a friend of Christ, let me give you this further piece of advice. You must aspire to live in exile, free from the conditions and ways of your own country. Do not be caught up by anxiety for your parents or by ties of affection to your relatives. Do not stay in a town but persevere in the wilderness, saying like the prophet: 'Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness' (Ps. 55:7 LXX).
53. Seek out places which are secluded and far from the world. And even if there is a scarcity of essentials in the place you choose, do not be afraid. If your enemies should encircle you like bees (cf. Ps. I 18:12) or pernicious drones, assaulting you and disturbing you with all kinds of thoughts, do not be scared, do not listen to them, do not withdraw from the struggle. Rather, endure patiently, always saying to yourself: 'I waited patiently for the Lord; and He heard me, and listened to my supplication' (Ps. 40: I . LXX). And then you will see the great things God does. His help. His care and all His forethought for your salvation.
54. If you are a friend of Christ you should have as friends persons who are of benefit to you and contribute to your way of life. Let your friends be men of peace, spiritual brethren, holy fathers. It is of such that our Lord was speaking when He said: 'My mother and brethren are those who do the will of My Father who is in heaven' (cf. Matt. 12:49-50).
55. Do not hanker after varied and costly foods or lethal pleasures. For 'she that indulges in pleasure', it is said, 'is dead while still alive' (1 Tim. 5: 6). Even with ordinary foods, avoid satiety as far as possible. For it is written; 'Do not be deceived by the filling of the belly' (Prov. 24: 15. LXX).
56. You must avoid continually wasting time outside your cell, if you have indeed chosen to practice stillness. For it is most harmful, depriving you of grace, darkening your mind and sapping your aspiration. This is why it is said: 'Restlessness of desire perverts the guileless intellect' (Wisd. 4:12). So restrict your relationships with other people, lest your intellect should become distracted and your life of stillness disrupted.
57. When sitting in your cell, do not act in a mindless and lazy manner. 'To journey without direction', it is said, 'is wasted effort.' Instead, work purposefully, concentrate your intellect and always keep before your eyes the last hour before your death. Recall the vanity of the world, how deceptive it is, how sickly and worthless; reflect on the dreadful reckoning that is to come, how the harsh keepers of the toll homes will bring before as one by one the actions, words and thoughts which they suggested but which we accepted and made our own. Recall the chastisements in hell, and the state of the souls imprisoned there. Recall, too, that great and fearful day, the day of the general resurrection, when we are brought before God, and the final sentence of the infallible Judge. Bring to mind the punishment that befalls sinners, the reproach, the reprobation of the conscience, how they will be rejected by God and cast into the age-long fire, to the worm that does not die, to the impenetrable darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf Mark 9:44, Matt. 8:12). Meditate on all the other chastisements, and let your tears continually drench your cheeks, your clothes, the place where you are sitting. I have known many men in whom such thoughts have produced an abundance of tears, and who in this way have wonderfully cleansed all the powers of their soul.
58. But think also of the blessings which await the righteous: how they will stand at Christ's right hand, the gracious voice of the Master, the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, the gift which is beyond the intellect's grasp, that sweet light, the endless joy, never interrupted by grief, those heavenly mansions, life with the angels, and all the other promises made to those who fear the Lord.
59. Let these thoughts dwell with you, sleep with you, arise with you. See that you never forget them but, wherever you are, keep them in mind, so that evil thoughts may depart and you may be filled with divine solace. Unless a soul is strengthened with these thoughts it cannot achieve stillness. For a spring which has no water does not deserve its name.
60. This is the way of life ordained for those who live in still-. ness: fasting to the limit of one's strength, vigils, sleeping on the ground, and every other form of hardship for the sake of future repose. For, says St Paul, 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us' (Rom. 8:18). Especially important is pure prayer - prayer which is unceasing and uninterrupted. Such prayer is a safe fortress, a sheltered harbor, a protector of virtues, a destroyer of passions. It brings vigor to the soul, purifies the intellect, gives rest to those who suffer, consoles those who mourn. Prayer is converse with God, contemplation of the invisible, the angelic mode of life, a stimulus towards the divine, the assurance of things longed for, 'making real the things for which we hope' (Heb. 11:1). As an ascetic you must embrace this queen of the virtues with all your strength. Pray day and night. Pray at times of rejection and at times of exhilaration. Pray with fear and trembling, with a watchful and vigilant mind, so that your prayer may be accepted by the Lord. For, as the psalmist says: 'The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer' (Ps. 34:15).
61. It has been said aptly and appositely by one of the ancients that, among the demons opposing us, there are three groups that fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those that suggest avaricious thoughts, and those that incite us to self-esteem. All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups.
62. Indeed, we have come to know from out own observations that it is not possible for a man to fall into sin or be subject to a particular passion unless he has previously been wounded by one of these three. That is why the devil attacked our Savior with these three thoughts (cf Matt. 4:1-10). But our Lord, having shown Himself superior to them, commanded the devil to depart, in His goodness and compassion bequeathing to us the victory He had achieved. He assumed a body in all respects like ours, but without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15), and showed us the unerring path of sinless-ness, by following which we form in ourselves the new man, who is 'formed again . . . according to the image of his Creator' (Col. 3:10).
63. David teaches us to hate the demons 'with perfect hatred' (Ps. 139:22), inasmuch as they are the enemies of our salvation. This hatred is most necessary for the task of acquiring holiness. But who is the man who hates his enemies with perfect hatred? He who no longer sins either in act or in thought. Yet so long as the instruments of our friendship with them - that is to say, the things that provoke the passions - are still present in us, how shall we achieve such hatred against them? For a self-indulgent heart cannot nurture this hatred within itself.
64. Dispassion is the wedding garment of the deiform soul that is separated from worldly pleasures, has renounced misdirected desires, and is occupied with devout thoughts and the practice of contemplation in its purest form. But through intercourse with its shameful passions the soul discards its robe of self-restraint and debases itself by wearing filthy rags and tatters. The man in the Gospels who was bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness was clothed in a garment woven out of such thoughts and acts; and so the Logos declared him to be unworthy of the divine and mimortal wedding-feast (cf Matt. 22:11-13).
65. From self-love, which causes hatred for all men, everything evil in men is derived, as a wise man has told us. For this terrible enemy, self-love, is the foremost of all evil dispositions, and is like some tyrant with the help of which the three principal passions and the five that come in their wake overwhelm the intellect.
66. I wonder if a man who sates himself with food is able to acquire dispassion. By dispassion I do not mean abstinence from actual sin - for this is called self-control. I mean the abstinence that uproots passionate thoughts from the mind and is also called purity of heart.
67. It is less difficult to cleanse an impure soul than to restore to health a soul which was once cleansed but has been wounded anew. For it is less difficult for those who have recently renounced the confusion of the world to attain dispassion, whatever faults they may previously have committed, than it is for those who have tasted the blessed words of God and walked in the path of salvation and then gone back to sin. This is due partly to the influence of bad habit and partly to the fact that the demon of dejection is always dangling the image of sin before them. But, with the co-operation of divine grace, a diligent and assiduous soul; may readily achieve even this difficult feat of regaining its dispassion; for, long-suffering and compassionate, grace invites us to repentance, and with inexpressible mercy accepts those who return, as we have been taught in the Gospels through the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15: I 1-32).
68. No one among us can prevail by his own unaided strength over the devices and wiles of the evil one; he can prevail only through the invincible power of Christ. Vainly, therefore, do conceited people wander about claiming that they have abolished sin through their ascetic accomplishments and their free will. Sin is abolished only through the grace of God, for it was made dead through the mystery of the Cross. This is why that luminary of the Church, St John Chrysostom, says: 'A man's readiness and commitment are not enough if he does not enjoy help from above as well; equally help from above is no benefit to us unless there is also commitment and readiness on our part. These two facts are proved by Judas and Peter. For although Judas enjoyed much help, it was of no benefit to him, since he had no desire for it and contributed nothing from himself. But Peter, although willing and ready, fell because he enjoyed no help from above. So holiness is woven of these two strands. Thus I entreat you neither to entrust everything to God and then fall asleep, nor to think, when you are striving diligently, that you will achieve everything by your own efforts.
69. 'God does not want us to be lying idly on our backs; therefore He does not effect everything Himself. Nor does He want us to be boastful: therefore He did not give us everything. But having taken away from each of the two ahematives what is harmful. He has left us what is for our good.' Truly does the psalmist say: 'Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain' (Ps. 127:1). For it is impossible to tread on the asp and basilisk and trample on the lion and dragon' (Ps. 91:13. LXX), unless you have first cleansed yourself as far as you can, and have been strengthened by Him who said to the apostles: 'See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and on all the enemy's power' (Luke 10:19). It is on this account that we have been commanded to entreat the Master not to 'lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one' (Matt. 6:13). For if we are not delivered from 'the fiery arrows of the evil one' (Eph. 6:16) through the power and help of Christ, and found worthy of attaining dispassion, we are laboring in vain, thinking that through our own powers or efforts we shall accomplish something. Therefore, he who wishes 'to stand against the wiles of the devil' (Eph. 6: I 1) and render them ineffectual, and to share in the divine glory, ought day and night to seek God's help and divine succor with tears and sighs, with insatiable longing and fire in his soul. He who wishes to share in this glory purges his soul of all worldly pleasures and of hostile passions and desires. It is of such souls that God Speaks when He says: 'I will dwell in them' (2 Cor. 6:16). And the Lord said to His disciples: 'if a man loves Me, he will keep My commandments: and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and take up Our abode with him' (John 14:23).
70. One of the ancients spoke wisely and simply about thoughts. Judge thoughts, he said, before the judgment seat of the heart, to discern whether they are ours or those of our enemy. Place those which are good and properly our own in the inmost shrine of the soul, keeping them in this inviolable treasury. But chastise hostile thoughts with the whip of the intelligence and banish them, giving them no place, no abode within the bounds of your soul. Or, to speak more fittingly, slay them completely with the sword of prayer and divine meditation, so that when the robbers have been destroyed, their chief may take fright. For, so he says, a man who examines his thoughts strictly is one who also truly loves the commandments.
71. He who is battling to repulse what harasses and wars against him must enlist the help of other allies - I mean humility of soul, bodily toil and every other kind of ascetic hardship, together with prayer that springs from an afflicted heart and is accompanied by many tears. He must be like David who says: 'Look on my humility and my toil, and forgive all of my sins' (Ps. 25:18); 'Do not pass my tears over in silence' (Ps. 39:12): 'My tears have been my bread day and night' (Ps. 42:3); and 'I mingled my drink with weeping' (Ps. 102:9).
72. The adversary of our life, the devil, employs many devices to make our sins seem small to us. Often he cloaks them with forgetfulness, so that, after suffering a little on their account, we no longer trouble to lament over them. But, my brethren, let us not forget our offences, even if we wrongly think that they have been forgiven through repentance; let us always remember our sinful acts and never cease to mourn over them, so that we may acquire humility as our constant companion, and thus escape the snares of self-esteem and pride. :
73. Let no one think that he endures suffering and achieves holiness through his own powers. For God is the cause of all the good that comes to us, just as the demon that deceives our souls is the cause of all the evils. Therefore, give thanks to their Cause for whatever good acts you perform; and attribute to their instigator the evils that trouble you.
74. He who yokes the practice of the virtues to spiritual knowledge is a skilful farmer, watering the fields of his soul from two pure springs. For the spring of spiritual knowledge raises the immature soul to the contemplation of higher realities; while the spring of ascetic practice mortifies our earthly members: 'unchastity, uncleanness, passion, evil desire' (Col. 3:5). Once these are dead, the virtues come into flower and bear the fruits of the Spirit: 'love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control' (Gal. 5:22-23). And then this prudent farmer, having 'crucified the flesh together with the passions and desires' (Gal. 5:24), will say together with St Paul: 'I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live ... I live through faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me' (Gal. 2:20).
75. Take note, too, you who are a good friend of Christ, that if one passion finds a place in you and takes root there, it will introduce other passions also into the same shrine. For even though the passions, as well as their instigators the demons, are opposed to each other, yet they are all at one in seeking our perdition.
76. A man who through ascetic effort withers the flower of the flesh, and cuts off all its desires, bears in his mortal flesh the marks of the Lord (cf. Gal. 6:17).
77. The hardships of the ascetic life end in the repose of dis-passion, while soft ways of living breed shameful passions.
78. Do not place reliance on your many years of monastic life and do not fall victim to pride because of the harshness of your ascetic struggles and the way you have endured the wilderness; but keep in mind the saying of the Lord that you are a 'useless servant' (Luke 17:10) and have not yet fulfilled the commandment. Indeed, so long as we are in this life, we have not yet been recalled from exile, but are still sitting by the river of Babylon; we still slave at making bricks in Egypt, having not yet seen the promised land. Since we have not yet 'put off. . . the old man, who is corrupt because of his deceitful desires' (Eph. 4:22), we have not yet put on 'the image of him who is from heaven', for we still bear 'the image of him who is from earth' (1 Cor. 15:49). Accordingly, we have no cause to boast, but ought to weep, calling in prayer to Him who can save us from the burdensome slavery of the harshest of Pharaohs, and can deliver us from this terrible tyranny and bring us to the blessings of the promised land, there to find rest in the holy place of God and to be established at the right hand of the Most High. For these blessed realities, which are above thought, are not to be attained through our own works, however righteous we may think them, but depend on the immeasurable mercy of God. So let us not cease from weeping day and night, following the example of him who says: 'I make myself weary with my sighing; every night I bathe my bed with tears, I water my couch with them' (Ps. 6:6); for 'they that sow in tears shall reap in joy' (Ps. 126:5).
79. Expel from yourself the spirit of talkativeness. For in it lurk the most dreadful passions: lying, loose speech, absurd chatter, buffoonery, obscenity. To put the matter succinctly, 'through talkativeness you will not escape sin' (Prov. 10:19. LXX), whereas a silent man 'is a throne of perceptiveness' (Prov. 12:23. LXX). Moreover, the Lord has said that we shall have to give an' account of every idle word (cf. Matt. 12:36). Thus silence is most necessary and profitable.
80. We have been commanded not to revile or abuse in return those who revile and insult us, but rather to speak well of them and to bless them (cf. Matt. 5: 44). For in so far as we are at peace with men we fight against the demons; but when we feel rancor towards our brothers and fight against them, we are at peace with the demons, whom we have been taught to hate 'with perfect hatred' (Ps. 139:22), fighting against them without mercy.
81. Do not try to trip your neighbor up with deceitful words, lest you yourself be tripped up by the destroyer. For, as the prophet affirms, 'The Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man' (Ps. 5:6), 'The Lord will destroy all deceitful lips, and the tongue that speaks proud words' (Ps. 12:3). Similarly, do not revile your brother for his faults, lest you lapse from kindness and love. For the person who does not show kindness and love towards his brother 'does not know God, for God is love' (1 John 4:8), as John the son of thunder and beloved disciple of Christ proclaims; and he adds that if Christ, the Savior of all, 'laid down His soul for us, then we ought to lay down our souls for our brethren' (1 John 3:16).
82. Love has fittingly been called the citadel of the virtues, the sum of the Law and the prophets (cf. Matt. 22:40: Rom. 13:10). So let us make every effort until we attain it. Through love we shall shake off the tyranny of the passions and rise to heaven, lifted up on the wings of the virtues; and we shall see God, so far as this is possible for human nature.
83. If God is love, he who has love has God within himself. If love is absent, nothing is of the least profit to us (of. I Cor. 13:3); and unless we love others we cannot say that we love God. For, writes St John, Tf a man says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar' (1 John 4:20). And again he states: 'No man has ever seen God. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us' (1 John 4:12). From this it is clear that love is the most comprehensive and the highest of all the divine blessings spoken of in the Holy Scriptures. And there is no form of virtue through which a man may become akin to God and united with Him that is not dependent upon love and encompassed by it; for love unites and protects the virtues in an indescribable manner.
84. When we receive visits from our brethren, we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love. Nor should we receive them as if we were doing them a favor, but rather as if it is we ourselves who are receiving a favor; and because we are indebted to them, we should beg them cheerfully to enjoy our hospitality, as the patriarch Abraham has shown us. This is why St John, too, says: 'My children, let us love not in word or tongue, but in action and truth. And by this we know that we belong to the truth' (1 John 3: 18-19).
85. Accepting the task of hospitality, the patriarch used to sit at the entrance to his tent (cf. Gen. 18: 1), inviting all who passed by, and his table was laden for all comers including the impious and barbarians, without distinction. Hence he was found worthy of that wonderful banquet when he -received angels and the Master of all as his guests. We too, then, should actively and eagerly cultivate hospitality, so that we may receive not only angels, but also God Himself. For 'inasmuch', says the Lord, 'as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren you have done it to Me' (Matt. 25:40).
It is good to be generous to all, especially those who cannot repay you.
86. If a man's heart does not condemn him (cf I John 3 :21) for having rejected a commandment of God, or for negligence, or for accepting a hostile thought, then he is pure in heart and worthy to hear Christ say to him: 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God' (Matt. 5:8).
87. Let us try to use our intelligence in training our senses, especially the eyes, the ears and the tongue, not allowing them to see, hear and speak in an impassioned way, but only to our profit. For nothing can more easily slip into sin than these organs, when they are not trained by the intelligence. Again, (here is nothing more apt for keeping them safe than the intelligence, which guides and regulates them and leads them towards what is necessary and what it wishes. For when they are rebellious, the sense of smell becomes effeminate, the sense of touch becomes indiscriminate, and innumerable passions come swarming in. But when they are subordinate to the intelligence. there is deep peace and settled calm in the whole person.
88. The fragrance of a costly aromatic oil, even though kept in a vessel, pervades the atmosphere of the whole house, and gives pleasure not only to those near it but also to others in the vicinity; similarly the fragrance of a holy soul, beloved of God, when given out through all the senses of the body, conveys to those who perceive it the holiness that lies within. When in the presence of one whose tongue utters nothing harsh and discordant, but only what is a blessing and benefit for those who listen, whose eyes are humble, whose ears do not listen to improper songs or words, who moves discreetly and whose face is not dissolute with laughter but rather disposed to tears and mourning, which of us will not feel that such a soul is filled with the fragrance of holmess? Thus the Savior says: 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven' (Matt. 5:16).
89. What Christ our God called the 'narrow way' (Matt. 7:14), He also called an 'easy yoke' and 'light burden' (Matt. 11:30). How could He equate these things when they seem to be contraries? For our nature, certainly, this path is harsh and steep, but those who pursue it wholeheartedly and with good hope, and who aspire after holiness, find it attractive and full of delight, for it brings them pleasure, not affliction. Hence they eagerly follow the narrow and painful way, greatly preferring it to that which is broad and spacious. Listen to St Luke, who tells us how the apostles, after being beaten, departed from the presence of the council rejoicing (cf Acts 5:41), even though this is not the natural effect of a beating. For scourges normally cause, not pleasure and joy, but pain and suffering. Yet if, because of Christ, they resulted in joy, what wonder is it if other forms of bodily hardship and ill-treatment have, because of Him, the same effect?
90. While we are oppressed and imprisoned by the passions, we are often at a loss to know why we suffer from them. We must, therefore, realize that it is because we allow ourselves to be diverted from the contemplation of God that we are taken captive in this way. But if a man fixes his intellect without distraction on our Master and God, then the Savior of all can Himself be trusted to deliver such a soul from its impassioned servitude. It is of this that the prophet speaks when he says: 'I have set the Lord always before me; for He is at my right hand, so that I shall not be moved' (Ps. 16:8). What is sweeter or safer than always to have the Lord at our right hand, protecting and guarding us and not letting us be moved? And to attain this is within our power.
91. There is no gainsaying what the fathers have so well affirmed, that a man does not find rest except by acquiring inwardly the thought that God and he alone exist; and so he does not let his intellect wander at all towards anything whatsoever, but longs only for Him, cleaving to Him alone. Such a man will find true rest and freedom from the tyranny of the passions. 'My soul', as David says, 'is bound to Thee; Thy right hand has upheld me' (Ps. 63:8. LXX).
92. Self-love, love of pleasure and love of praise banish remembrance of God from the soul. Self-love begets unimaginable evils. And when remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us.
93. He who has completely uprooted self-love from his heart will, with God's help, easily conquer all the other passions. For a man dominated by self-love is under the power of other passions as well, since from it arise anger, irritation, rancor, love of pleasure, licentiousness. By self-love we mean an impassioned disposition towards and love for the body, and the fulfillment of carnal desires.
94. Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs to be near to continuously and uninterruptedly, and he turns himself away from everything that hinders him from being in contact and dwelling with the object of his love. It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with Him and to converse with Him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God. Such a man was he who said: '0 God, my God, I cry to Thee at dawn; my soul has thirsted for Thee' (Ps. 63:1. LXX). For the man who cries to God at dawn has withdrawn his intellect from every vice and clearly is wounded by divine love.
95. We have been taught that dispassion is born from self-control and humility, while spiritual knowledge is born from faith. Through these the soul makes progress in discrimination and love. And once she has embraced divine love, she never ceases to rise towards its height on the wings of pure prayer, until she comes 'to the knowl- edge of the Son of God', as St Paul says, 'to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph. 4:13).
96. Through active virtue desire is brought under control and anger is bridled. Through spiritual knowledge and contemplation the intellect makes its spiritual ascent and, being raised above material things, departs towards God, attaining true blessedness.
97. Our first struggle is this: to reduce the passions and to conquer them entirely. Our second task is to acquire the virtues, and not allow our soul to be empty and idle. The third stage of the spiritual journey is watchfully to preserve the fruits of our virtues and our labors. For we have been commanded not only to work diligently, but also to preserve vigilantly (cf Gen. 2:15).
98. 'Let your loins be girded, and your lamps burning', says the Lord (Luke 12:35). A good girdle for our loins - one which enables us to be nimble and unhampered - is self-control combined with humility of heart. By self- control I mean abstinence from all the passions. Our spiritual lamp is lit by pure prayer and perfect love. Those who have prepared themselves in this way are indeed like men who wait expectantly for their Lord. When He comes and knocks, they open at once; and when He has entered - together with the Father and the Holy Spirit - He will take up His abode with them (cf. John 14:23). Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He comes will find acting in this manner (cf. Luke, 12:37).
99. A monk, as a son, must love God with all his heart and all his mind (cf. Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30), and, as a servant, he must reverence and obey Him, and fulfill His commandments with 'fear and trembling' (Phil. 2: 12). He must be 'fervent in spirit' (Rom. 12: 11), and wear 'the whole armor' of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 6:11). He must strive for the enjoyment of eternal life and do all that is prescribed. He must be in a state of inner wakefulness, guard his heart from evil thoughts, and through good thoughts must continually practice divine meditation. He must examine himself daily concerning his evil thoughts and acts, and must correct any defects. He must not become proud because of his achievements, but must call himself a 'useless servant' (Luke 17:10), altogether in arrears over fulfilling his duties. He must give thanks to God and ascribe to Him the grace of his achievements, and do nothing at all from self-esteem or love of popularity, but do everything in secret and seek praise only from God (cf. Rom. 2:29). Above all and in all things he must completely fortify his soul with the Orthodox faith, according to the dogmas of the Holy Catholic Church as taught by the divine message-bearers, the apostles, and by the holy fathers. Great is the reward for those who live in such a manner. They receive everlasting life and an indestructible abode with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the coessential Divinity in three Persons.
100. 'Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole man' (Eccles. 12:13. LXX). Here the Preacher says to us: I show you in summary form the best way to salvation; fear God and keep His commandments. By fear he means not the initial fear of punishments, but the perfect and perfecting fear, which we ought to have out of love for Him who has given the commandments. For if we refrain from sin merely out of fear of punishment, it is quite clear that, unless punishment had awaited us, we should have done things deserving punishment, since our propensity is for sinning. But if we abstain from evil actions not through threat of punishment, but because we hate such actions, then it is from love of the Master that we practice the virtues, fearful lest we should fall away from Him. For when we fear that we may neglect something that has been enjoined, the fear is clean (cf. Ps. 19:9A arising for the sake of the good itself. This fear purifies our souls, being equal in power to perfect love. He who has this fear and keeps the commandments is the 'whole man', in other words, the perfect and complete man.
Knowing these things, let us fear God and keep His commandments, so that we may be perfect and entire in the virtues. And having a humbled spirit and a contrite heart, let us repeat unceasingly to the Lord the prayer of the great and divine Arsenios: 'My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start.' For the whole of our salvation lies in God's mercy and compassion. To Him be glory, might and worship: to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and through all the ages. Amen.