By Abba Dorotheos
1. In the beginning when God created Man He put him in Paradise and, as the Holy Scripture says (Gen 2:25), having adorned him with every virtue commanded him not to eat from the tree in the middle of Paradise (Gen 2:16-17). He was in the luxury of Paradise, in prayer, in the vision of God, in all glory and honour, having sound perception and being in his natural state just as he was created. For God created him after His own image (Gen 1:27), that is to say, immortal, with freewill and adorned with every virtue. However, when he disobeyed God and ate from the tree which God had forbidden him to eat from, he was then expelled from Paradise, he fell from his natural state into a state contrary to nature, that is to say into sin, into ambition and the love of the pleasures of this life and all the other passions and was dominated by them, and became subject to them because of his transgression. Thus, in turn, evil increased and "death reigned" (Rom 5:14). Godliness was no more, and ignorance of God was everywhere. Only a few, as the Fathers said, knew God, moved by natural law. Such were Abraham and the other Patriarchs, Noah and Job. Simply put, those who knew God were very few and very rare. The enemy unfolded all his wickedness then and "sin reigned" (Rom 5:21) and it was from then that, idolatry, polytheism, magic, murders and the rest of the devil's evil started.
2.Then God Who is Good had mercy on his creature and, gave him the written law, through Moses, where some things were forbidden and others were permitted, saying "You shall do this and you shall not do that". He gave commandments and says directly "the Lord your God is one Lord" (Deut 6:4). He said that in order to avert a person's mind from polytheism. He also said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Deut 6:5). Everywhere he proclaims that God is one and there is no other god but him. For, when he said, "You shall love the Lord your God", He has shown that there is one God and one Lord. Again, in the Ten Commandments it says "You shall fear the Lord your God, and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name" (Deut 6:13). He then adds, "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath" (Deut 5:7-8), because they worshipped all creatures.
3. Therefore, God who is good gave the law, for help, for a return and for the correction of evil. However, evil was not corrected. He sent prophets, but they were also unable to correct evil. For, evil prevailed as Isaiah says: "There is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. They have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment" (Is 1:6). We could say that evil is not in one part, nor in one place, but throughout the entire body, it contains the person's whole soul, it constrains all its powers; there is no ointment to put on it, and so on, as if he wanted to say that "everything was under the dominion of sin; everything was ruled by it". Jeremiah also says: "We tried to heal Babylon, but she was not healed" (Jer 28:9 LXX). That is to say, we have revealed your name, we have proclaimed your commandments, your benefactions, your promises. We have foretold the rebellions of Babylon's enemies, and, in spite of this, Babylon was not healed. In other words, it has not repented, it has not been afraid, it has not returned from its sinfulness. As he says elsewhere, "They received no correction" (Jer 2:30), that is to say, advice and teaching. Likewise, the Psalms say, "Their soul abhorred all manner of food. And they drew near to the gates of death" (Ps107:18).
4. Then God, Who is good and loves mankind, sent His only-begotten Son (Jn 3:16), because only God could heal Man and enable him to rise up from this kind of suffering. This was not unknown to the prophets and it was hence as David clearly says, "You who dwell between the Cherubim shine forth ... stir up your strength, and come and save us" (Ps 80:12). Elsewhere, "Bow down your heavens, O Lord, and come down" (Ps 144:5). There are many other sayings in the same vein. The other prophets proclaim the same message, each in his own way. Sometimes they entreated God to come down and at others, they already had been informed of His coming.
Thus, our Lord came down, becoming a Man for our sakes, in order, as St. Gregory says, to heal like with like; the soul by the soul and the flesh by the flesh. He became a perfect man without sin. He has assumed our essence, the first fruit of our nature and He became a new Adam "according to the image of Him who created him" (Col 3:10).
He renews human nature and makes our senses perfect again, as they were at the beginning. He renewed fallen Man by becoming Man. He liberated him from the dominion of sin, which had compelled him by force. The enemy guided Man by force, then, and tyranny. Moreover, as the Apostle points out, those who did not want to sin were almost forced to do so: "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that 1 practice" (Rom 7:19).
5. Therefore, having become Man for our sake, God he freed Man from the tyranny of the enemy. For He destroyed all the devil's power, He has broken all his strength and delivered us from under his control, from slavery to him, unless we want to sin voluntarily. For He gave us power, as He said "to trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy" (Lk 10:19), since He has purified us from every sin through holy Baptism. Through holy Baptism every sin is forgiven and erased. However God Who is good, being aware of our sickness and knowing in advance that even after holy Baptism, we are going to sin again, as it is written, that "the imagination of Man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth" (Gen 8:21 LXX), has given us in His goodness, holy commandments which purify us", so that if we should wish it we can be purified again through observance of the commandments not only from our sins but also from our other passions. Sins are one thing and passions another. The passions are anger, idleness, desire for pleasure, hate, evil desire, and others. Sins, on the other hand are, the acting out of passions, that is to say, someone puts them into practice, when uses his body to enact everything dictated by the passions. It is expected for someone to have passions, but not to carry them out.
6. Thus, as we have said, He gave us commandments which purify us even from our passions, from the evil disposition which is contained "within us" (Rom 7:22; Eph 3:16). He has endowed Man with the ability to distinguish between good and evil. He wakes him up. He shows him the causes of sin and He says to him: "The law said 'You shall not commit adultery', but I say to you that you must not lust (Matt 5:27; Ex 20:13-14). The law said 'You shall not murder', but I say unto you do not even be angry" (Matt 5:27; Ex 20:13-14). If you have this lust, even if you do not commit adultery today, the desire inside you does not cease to tempt you until it makes you commit it. If you are angry and provocative towards your brother, you will soon fall into slander. Then, you will want something bad to happen to him, so gradually you come to the point of murder. Again the law says, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Ex 21:24), and so on, but the Lord advises us not only to accept the blow of him who strikes us with patience, but also to turn the other cheek to him in humility. At that time the purpose of the law was to teach us to not do those things which we do not want to suffer ourselves. It prevented us from doing evil because of fear of suffering the same. But now, as I said, what is asked of us is to expel this hatred, this desire for pleasure, this ambition and the other passions.
7. The aim of our master Christ is simply to teach us how we came into all these sins, how we fell into those evil days. First, as I have already said, He freed us, through holy Baptism, granting us forgiveness of sins. He gave us the power to do good if we wish and not to be forcibly drawn, so to speak, to evil. For, whoever is under the dominion of sin is constrained and drawn by it. As it says, everyone "is caught in the cords of his sins" (Prov 5:22). Then, through the Holy Commandments, He teaches us how we can be purified from the passions, so that we will not fall into the same sins again. Thus, He shows us the cause of our disdain of and disobedience to even these commandments of God. In this way, He gives us the cure for the cause, so that we shall be able to obey and be saved. What is the cure and what is the cause of this disdain? Hear what the Lord says, "Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt 11:29). Here briefly, in one word, He has shown us the root and cause of every evil and the treatment for it and also the cause of every good. He has shown us that arrogance defeated us, and that it is not possible to receive mercy, other than through its opposite, humility. As arrogance produces contempt and destructive disobedience, so humility produces obedience and the salvation of our souls. I have real humility in mind, not that of words and external forms, but of a true humble disposition that is cultivated in the heart itself and within this mind-set. This is what He means when he says "for I am gentle and lowly in heart".
8. Therefore, whoever wants to find true rest in his soul must learn humility and he will see that all joy, all glory and all true rest are to be found there, whilst in pride it is just the opposite. How have we come into all this affliction? How have we fallen into all this misery? Is it not because of our pride? Is it not because of our senselessness? Is it not because we took the wrong decision? Is it not because we chose to impose our bitter will? Why? Was not Man created with every luxury, in all joy, in all rest and in all glory? Was he not in paradise? God said, "Do not do that" but he did it. Do you realise the enormity of his pride? Do you see his obstinacy? Do you see his insubordination? Therefore, when He saw his impudence God said: "He is a fool, he does not know how to be happy. If he does not have a hard time, he will be totally lost. If he does not learn what sorrow is, he will not learn what rest is. Then He gave him that what he deserved and expelled him from paradise". Thus, Man was given up to self-love and to his own desires which would crush his bones, so as to learn not to trust himself but the commandment of God. The hardships from disobedience will teach him the calmness that comes from obedience as the Prophet says: "Your own wickedness will correct you" (Jer2:19). However, as I said in many ways, the goodness of God has not renounced His creature, but again invites and calls him "Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:26). It is as if he is saying, "You were labouring, you were miserable, you were suffering through your disobedience; come then, return, recognise your weakness and your shame, so that you may attain your rest and glory. Come, lead a life of humility, you who were dead through haughtiness. Learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt 11:29).
9. Oh, Brethren, what is the result of pride? Oh, see what humility can do? What was the need for all these sufferings? For, if from the beginning Man had humbled himself, obeyed God, and kept the commandment he would not have fallen. Again, after his fall, God gave him an occasion to repent and to receive mercy but he kept his stiff-neck held high. He came to him and said "Adam, Where are you?" instead of saying "What glory you have left and what dishonour you have arrived at?" After that, He asked him "Why did you sin*? Why did you transgress the commandment?" By asking these questions, He wanted to give him the opportunity to say, "Forgive me". However, he did not ask for forgiveness. There was no humility, there was no repentance, but indeed the opposite. He answered, "The woman whom You gave to be with me" (Gen 3:9-12), he did not say, "the woman deceived me", but "The woman whom You gave to me", as if he wanted to say: "This catastrophe has come upon me because of You". So it is, brethren, since Man is not accustomed to blame himself. He does not hesitate to consider even God as the cause of evil. Then God came to the woman and said to her, "Why did you not keep the commandment?" as if He wanted to say, "At least you, say forgive me, so as to humble your soul and to receive mercy". Again, there was no request for forgiveness. She also answered, "The serpent deceived me" (Gen 3:13), as if she wanted to say, "If the serpent sinned, where is my mistake?" Why did you act in this way, you pitiable ones? Make a bow of repentance, recognise your fault, be sorry for your nakedness. Neither one of them could blame himself, neither of them had the least bit of humility.
10. Thus, you can see, clearly, how we arrived at this situation. You can see how many evils we have arrived at, and of what sort through justifying ourselves, following our own opinion and insisting on our own will. All of which are children of that enemy of God, pride. In contrast, the products of humility are self-criticism, mistrust of our own wisdom and hatred of our own will, because from these one can rediscover one's own self and return to the natural state through purification which is the gift given to you by keeping Christ's holy commandments. For without humility one cannot obey the commandments neither can one do good, as Abba Mark says, "Without the heart being broken, it is impossible to be freed from evils and to obtain virtue." Therefore it is through breaking the heart that one accepts the virtues and is liberated from evils, practices the virtues and returns to one's rest.
11. All the saints have understood this and have tried to unite themselves with God through a humble way of life. Some of them, loving God, after Holy Baptism, not only removed the effect of the passions, but they also wanted to overcome the passions themselves and so to reach apathy: as was the case with St Antony and St Pachomius and the other Godbearing Fathers. Their goal was purification, as the Apostle says, "From all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor 7:1). Moreover, they knew that, as we have already said, the soul is purified and it could be said that the nous is also purified and by the keeping the commandments it can see and arrive at its natural state. This is because "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps 19:8). They have realised that by living in this world they could not attain virtue easily. So they decided to seek a strange life, a strange way. This is the monastic life. So, they started to leave the world and live in the deserts; fasting, sleeping on the ground, keeping vigil and other hardships, renouncing their native land, relatives, money and possessions, they crucified the world in themselves.
14. As we have said, our fathers having crucified the world to themselves, took care to crucify themselves to the world through struggle. However, we seem to have crucified the world in ourselves, that we have left the world and come to the monastery, but in fact, we do not want to crucify ourselves unto the world. We still have the pleasures of the world. We are still bound to the passions of the world. We strive for its glory and we worry about food and clothing. If there is a good tool in the monastery, we yearn for it and we allow this little tool, and, as Abba Zosimas said, to take the place of money for us. We think we have left the world and worldly things, we come to the monastery and yet with very cheap things we fulfill our worldly desire. In our foolishness what happens is that having renounced great and valuable things, we satisfy our passions with things that are trivial and insignificant. Each one of us renounced what he had - the owner of great possessions, gave up those great possessions and the owner of the slightest thing, gave that up too, each according to his ability. We come to the monastery and, as I said, feed our desires through totally cheap and useless things. We should not act in that way, inasmuch as we have renounced the world and the things of the world. So we also ought to renounce our inclination towards material things, and know what this renunciation means and why we came to the monastery, and what the significance of the monastic habit we have received is. We must edify ourselves accordingly and struggle, as our fathers taught us.
15. The habit we wear consists of a sleeveless doublet, a leather belt, a scapular and a cowl. All these are symbolic, and we must learn what these symbols of our monastic habit mean. Why do we wear a sleeveless garment? While all the other men wear sleeves, why do we not wear them? Sleeves symbolise the hands and we use our hands for doing things". When a thought or temptation comes to us to do something according to the "old" man, for example, to steal or to hit someone or any other sin using our hands, we should pay attention to our monastic habit and consider that we do not have sleeves. That is to say, we do not have hands to do the work of the "old" man. Our sleeveless garment also has a certain deep red mark. What is the significance of this crimson mark? We know that everybody who serves in the royal army has crimson in his cloak. Since the king wears red, all who serve in his army wear red in their cloaks, that is to say, royal crimson, so as to show that they pertain to the king and they serve in his army. Likewise, we have the red mark on our sleeveless garment showing that we serve in Christ's army and we must endure all His trials that He suffered for us. For, when our Lord suffered he was wearing a deep red robe (Jn 19:2). First as King, since He is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16), and then whilst being mocked by those impious men. We, who wear the red mark, promise, as I said, to suffer all that He suffered. A soldier does not leave his army and become a farmer or a trader, since, if he does so, he will be demoted from the army. As the Apostle says, "No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life*, in order that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Tim 2:4). Likewise we should also strive to be free from any concern of this world*, and to be occupied only with God, and, as it says, be like a virgin devoted and without distraction (1 Cor 7:34-35).
16. We also wear a belt. Why do we wear it? The belt which we wear symbolises firstly that we are ready for work, since everyone who wants to work puts on his belt and then starts his work, as it says, "Let your waist be girded" (Lk 12:35). Again, as the belt is from the leather of a dead animal, so we have to mortify our desire for pleasure. We put the belt around our waist where the kidneys are, and it is said that the kidneys are the centre of the soul's desire and this is what the Apostle says, "Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness", and so on (Col 3:5).
From + Abba Dorotheos: "Practical Teaching on the Christian Life."
Translation, Introduction and glossary by Constantine Scouteris. Athens, 2000.
to be continued