It is the wisdom of the saints to recognize the will of God. Indeed, in obeying the truth, man surpasses everything else, for he is the image and likeness of God. Of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is that of following one’s own heart, that is to say, one’s own thought, and not the law of God. A man who does this will be afflicted later on, because he has not recognized the mystery, and he has not found the way of the saints in order to work in it. For now is the time to labour for the Lord, for salvation is found in the day of affliction: for it is written: “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”‘ (Luke 21.19)
Abba Poemen used to say this about Abba Isidore: every night he plaited a bundle of palms, and the brethren pleaded with him saying, ‘Rest a little, for you are getting old.’ But he said to them, ‘Even if Isidore were burned, and his ashes thrown to the winds, I would not allow myself any relaxation because the Son of God came here for our sake.’
The same Abba said concerning Abba Isidore that his thoughts said to him, ‘You are a great man.’ He said to them, ‘Am I to be compared with Abba Anthony; am I become like Abba Pambo, or like the other Fathers who pleased God?’ When he said this he was at peace. When the demons who are at war with men tried to make him afraid, suggesting that, after all this, he would still go to hell, he replied, ‘Even if I am sent there, I shall find you beneath me.’
There was a spiritual old man who lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honour, and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone’s notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory. The more he wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is written: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
I think it is best that a man should have a little bit of all the virtues. Therefore, get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God. Use great patience, with fear and long-suffering, in the love of God, with all the fervor of your soul and body. Exercise great humility, bear with interior distress; be vigilant and pray often with reverence, with purity of speech and control of your eyes. When you are despised do not get angry; be at peace, and do not render evil for evil. Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing you are less than every created thing. Renounce everything material and that which is of the flesh. Live by the cross, in warfare, in poverty of spirit, in voluntary spiritual asceticism, in fasting, penitence and tears, in discernment, in purity of soul, taking hold of that which is good. Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings. Shut yourself in a tomb as though you were already dead, so that at all times you will think death is near.
There was an old man at Scetis, very austere of body, but not very clear in his thoughts. He went to see Abba John to ask him about forgetfulness. Having received a word from him, he returned to his cell and forgot what Abba John had said to him. He went off again to ask him and having heard the same word from him, he returned with it. As he got near his cell, he forgot it again. This he did many times; he went there, but while he was returning he was overcome by forgetfulness. Later, meeting the old man he said to him, “Do you know, Abba, that I have forgotten again what you said to me? But I did not want to overburden you, so I did not come back.” Abba John said to him, “Go and light a lamp.” He lit it. He said to him, “Bring some more lamps, and light them from the first.” He did so. Then Abba John said to the old man, “Has that lamp suffered any loss from the fact that other lamps have been lit from it?” He said, “No.” The old man continued, “So it is with John; even if the whole of Scetis came to see me, they would not separate me from the love of Christ. Consequently, whenever you want to, come to me without hesitation.” So, thanks to the endurance of these two men, God took forgetfulness away from the old man. Such was the work of the monks of Scetis; they inspire fervour in those who are in the conflict and do violence to themselves to win others to do good.
A teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination vainglory and pride; on3 should not be able to able to fool them by flattery nor blind by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern and a lover of souls.
It is good to live in peace , for the wise man practices perpetual prayer. It is truly a great thing for a virgin or monk to live in peace, especially the younger ones. However you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie (sloth and depression) faintheartedness and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakness of the knees and all the members. It dissipates the strength of the soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away. There was in fact a monk who was seized by cold and fever every time he began to pray, and he suffered from headaches, too. In this condition, he said to himself, “I am ill, and near to death; so now I will get up before I die and pray.” By reasoning in this way, he did violence to himself and prayed. When he finished , the fever abated also. So by reasoning in this way, the brother resisted, and prayed and was able to conquer his thoughts.
If you’re temperate, do not judge a fornicator, for you would transgress the law just as much. And he who said, “Do not commit fornication” also said “Do not judge”.
Glory vs. Ignominy (Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
- Abba Abraham of Iberia: Father, which is right? Ought I to seek glory for myself or ignominy?
- Abba Theodore of Eleutheropolis: As far as I'm concerned I prefer to seek glory rather than ignominy. If I do something good and praise myself for it, I could condemn my thoughts by saying to myself that I do not deserve the praise; but ignominy comes from evil deeds. How then can I appease my conscious if men have been shocked because of me? It is better, therefore to do good and praise oneself for it.
- Abba Abraham: Father you have spoken well.
A thought comes to me which troubles me and it does not leave me free; but not being able to lead me to act it simply stops me progressing in virtue; but a vigilant man would cut it off and get up to pray.