Ladder of Divine Ascent | 26 - 2
Step 26 | part 2
On expert discernment
110. As the hart parched by the heat longs for the streams, so monks long for grasp of the good and divine will, and not only that, but also for what is not the pure will of God, and even for what is opposed to it.
This is a subject that is extremely important for us and not easily explained, namely:
which of our affairs should be done at once, without delay, and as soon as possible, according to him who said:
Woe to him who puts off from day to day, and from time to time; and again, what should be done with moderation and circumspection, as is advised by him who said:
War is a matter for guidance, and again: Let all things be done decently and in order. For it is not for everyone to decide quickly and precisely such fine points.
Even the God-bearing David who had the Holy Spirit speaking within him, prayed for this gift and sometimes says: Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God, and sometimes again: Guide me to Thy truth, and again:
Make known to me the way I should go, O Lord, for I lift up my soul from all the cares of life and passions, and raise it to Thee.
111. Those who wish to learn the will of the Lord must first mortify their own will. Then, having prayed to God with faith and honest simplicity, and having asked the fathers or even the brothers with humility of heart and no thought of doubt, they should accept their advice as from the mouth of God, even if their advice be contrary to their own view, and even if those consulted are not very spiritual.
For God is not unjust, and will not lead astray souls who with faith and innocence humbly submit to the advice and judgment of their neighbour. Even if those who were asked were brute beasts, yet He who speaks is the Immaterial and Invisible One. Those who allow themselves to be guided by this rule without having any doubts are filled with great humility. For if someone expounded his problems on a harp, how much better, do you think, can a rational mind and reasonable soul teach than an inanimate object.
112. On account of self-will many have not accepted the perfect and easy blessing mentioned above, and having tried to discover what was pleasing to the Lord of themselves and in themselves, have handed on to us many and various judgments concerning this matter.
113. Some of those who were seeking the will of God laid aside all attachments; they submitted to the Lord their own thought about this or that inclination of the soul, I mean whether to perform an action or to resist it; they submitted their mind stripped of its own will to Him, offering fervent prayer for a set number of days. In this way they attained to a knowledge of His will, either through the spiritual Mind spiritually communicating with their mind or through the complete disappearance from their soul of their cherished intention.
114. Others on account of the trouble and distractions which attended their undertaking concluded that these disturbances came from God, according to him who said: We wanted to come to you time and again but Satan hindered us.
115. Others, on the contrary, recognized that their action was pleasing to God from its unexpected success, declaring: God co-operates with everyone who deliberately chooses to do good.
116. He who has obtained God within him through illumination, both in actions requiring haste and in actions allowing of delay, is assured of His will by the second way, only without a definite period of time.
117. To waver in one’s judgments and to remain in doubt for a long time without assurance is the sign of an unenlightened and ambitious soul.
118. God is not unjust and does not close the door against those who knock with humility.
119. In all our actions, the intention must be sought from the Lord, whether in those that require haste or in those that require to be postponed. For all actions free from attachment and from all impurity will be imputed to us for good if they have been done especially for the Lord’s sake and not for anyone else, even though these deeds are not entirely good.
120. Seeking for what is beyond us has no safe end. The Lord’s Judgment about us is unfathomable.
By His special providence He often chooses to hide His will from us, knowing that, even if we were to learn it, we should disobey it, and should thereby receive greater punishment.
121. An honest heart is free from the different kinds of distractions which occur and it is safely sailing in the bark of innocence.
122. There are courageous souls who with love and humility of heart throw themselves into tasks that are beyond them; and there are proud hearts who do the same. For our foes often intentionally suggest to us things beyond our powers so that these should cause us to lose heart and leave even what is within our power and make ourselves a great laughing-stock to our enemies.
123. I have seen those who were sick in soul and body who, because of the multitude of their sins, engaged in battles that were beyond them and which they could not continue. I say to such as these that God judges our repentance not by our labours but by our humility.
124. Sometimes upbringing is the cause of great evils, and sometimes company. But often a warped soul is of itself sufficient for its ruin. He who is clear of the first two is free from the third as well. But whoever has the third defect is reprobate everywhere; for there is no place safer than heaven.
125. In the case of those who malevolently dispute with us, whether unbelievers or heretics, we should desist after we have twice admonished them. But in the case of those who wish to learn the truth let us never grow weary in well-doing. However, we should use both opportunities for the establishment of our own heart.
126. The man who despairs of himself when he hears of the supernatural virtues of the saints is most unreasonable. On the contrary, they teach you supremely one of two things: either they rouse you to emulation by their holy courage, or they lead you by way of thrice-holy humility to deep self-contempt and realization of your inherent weakness.
127. Amongst the impure evil demons, there are some more evil than others. They suggest to us that we should not commit sin alone, but they counsel us to have others as companions in evil in order to make our punishment more severe. I have seen one learning a bad habit from another, and although he who taught came to his senses and began to repent and gave up doing wrong, his repentance was ineffectual on account of the influence of his pupil.
128. Stupendous, truly stupendous and incomprehensible is the wickedness of the evil spirits. It is not seen by many, and I think that even those few see it only in part. Thus, how is it that while living in luxury and plenty we keep vigil and do not sleep, and why while fasting and exhausting ourselves with labours are we pitifully overpowered by drowsiness? Or why does our heart become hard while abiding in silence? And why, while sitting among our companions, do we come to compunction? When we are hungry why are we tempted by dreams? Yet when sated we do not experience these temptations. In poverty we become dark and incapable of compunction; but if we drink wine we are happy and easily come to compunction. He who can do so in the Lord, let him bring light to the unenlightened in this matter. For we are not enlightened about this. At least we can say that such a change does not always come from the demons. And this sometimes happens to me, I know not how, by reason of the constitution I have been given and the sordid and greedy corpulence with which I am girt about.
129. With regard to the changes enumerated above, so hard to interpret, let us sincerely and humbly pray to the Lord. And if after prayer and the time which it took we still feel the same thing at work in us, then let us conclude that this is caused not by demons but by nature. Yet it often pleases Divine Providence to benefit us through adversity and to check our conceit by all possible means.
130. It is dangerous to be inquisitive about the depth of the divine judgments, because the inquisitive sail in the ship of conceit.
131. Someone asked one of those who could see: ‘Why does God, who foresees their falls, adorn some with gifts and wonder-working powers?’ And he replied: ‘In order to make other Spiritual men more careful, and to demonstrate the freedom of the human will, and to cause those who fall to be without any excuse at the last judgment.’
132. The law, being imperfect, says: Attend to yourself.But the Lord, being entirely perfect, enjoined upon us the correction of our brother, saying: If thy brother sin against thee, and so on. If your reprimand, or rather your reminder, is pure and humble, you should not refuse to carry out the Lord’s behest, and especially in the case of those who accept correction. But if you have not yet got as far as this, then at least practise the precept laid down by the law.
133. Do not be surprised when you see that those whom you love turn against you on account of your rebukes. Frivolous people are the tools of the demons, and especially against the demons’ foes.
134. One thing about us astonishes me very much: Why do we so quickly and easily incline to the passions when we have Almighty God, angels and saints, to help us towards the virtues, and only the wicked demon against us? I do not wish to speak about this in more detail; in fact, I cannot.
135. If all created substances keep to their nature, then why, as the great Gregory says, am I, the image of God, compounded with clay? If some of God’s creatures have somehow lost their created nature, it is certain that they will continually strive to return to their original state. Man ought to use every means to raise his clay, so to speak, and seat it on the throne of God. And let no one make excuses for not undertaking this ascent, because the way and the door are open.
136. It excites the mind and soul to emulation to hear the spiritual feats of the Fathers, and their zealous admirers are led to imitate them through listening to their teaching.
137. Discernment is a light in darkness, the return of wanderers to the way, the illumination of those whose sight is dim. A discerning man finds health and destroys sickness.
138. All who show surprise at every trifle do so for two reasons: either from crass ignorance, or else they magnify and exalt the deeds of their neighbour with a view to humility.
139. Let us make an effort not only to wrestle with the demons but also to wage war on them. The former sometimes throws them, and is sometimes thrown;but the latter is continuously hounding the foe.
140. He who has conquered the passions wounds the demons; by pretending that he still has passions he deceives his foes and remains unassailable. One of the brethren once suffered disgrace and without being in the least moved in his heart he prayed in his mind. Then he began to bewail the disgrace, hiding his dispassion by passion. Another of the brethren who had no longings at all for the office of superior pretended that he was working for this. And how am I to describe the chastity of that man who went into a brothel ostensibly for the sake of sin, but drew the harlot to the ascetic life? Again, a bunch of grapes was brought very early in the morning to one of the hermits, and after the person who brought them had gone, he ate them with a semblance of gobbling but without any pleasure, to make it seem to the demons that he was a glutton. Another, having lost a few palm-leaves,spent all day pretending that he was grieved about this. Such people need to take care, otherwise in trying to fool the demons they may end by being fooled themselves. It was of these, no doubt, that the Apostle said: As deceivers and yet true.
141. He who wishes to present his body pure to Christ and to show Him a clean heart must carefully preserve chastity and freedom from anger, for without these our labour is quite useless.
142. Just as eyes have different coloured lights in them, so in the soul many different overshadowings of the spiritual Sun occur. One kind comes through bodily tears, another through the tears of the soul; one kind through what is contemplated by the bodily eyes, another through the spiritual. One kind comes from hearing words, another is the joy that spontaneously springs up in the soul; also there is one kind that comes from silence, and another which by rapture ineffably and unexpectedly transports the mind in spiritual light to Christ.
143. There are virtues, and there are mothers of virtues. So a wise man strives rather to obtain the latter. The Teacher of the mother-virtues is God Himself through His own action, while there are plenty of teachers for the daughter-virtues.
144. Let us beware lest we compensate austerity in taking food by excess of sleep, and vice versa; for such behaviour is characteristic of foolish men.
145. I have seen toilerswho for some reason slightly indulged their stomachs, but soon after this, these courageous ascetics chastised their poor stomachs by standing throughout the night, and in this way they taught them to be well content to refrain from satiety.
146. The demon of avarice strives fiercely against those who possess nothing, and when it cannot vanquish them it reminds them of the state of the poor and persuades those who are spiritual to become material again.
147. In times of despondency never fail to bear in mind the Lord’s commandment to Peter to forgive a person who sins seventy times seven. For He who gave this command to another will Himself do far more. But when we are exalted let us again remember the saying: He who shall keep the whole spiritual law, and yet stumble in one passion, that is, fall into pride, has become guilty of all.
148. There exist certain dispositions of wicked and envious spirits which voluntarily leave the saints so as to deprive those who battle of any chance of obtaining crowns for victory over them.
149. Blessed are the peacemakers. No one will deny this. But I have also seen enemy-makers who are blessed. A certain two developed impure affection for one another. But one of the discerning fathers, a most experienced man, was the means whereby they came to hate each other, by setting one against the other, telling each that he was being slandered by the other. And this wise man by human roguery succeeded in parrying the devil’s malice and in producing hatred by which the impure affection was dissolved.
150. Some set aside one commandment for the sake of another commandment. I have seen young men who were attached to one another in a right spirit. Yet in order not to offend other men’s consciences, by mutual agreement they kept apart for a time.
151. Just as a marriage and a funeral are the very opposite of each other, so too are pride and despair.
But as a result of the confusion caused by the demons it is possible to see the two together.
152. At the beginning of the monastic life some of the unclean demons instruct us in the interpretation of the Divine Scriptures. And they are particularly fond of behaving in this way in the case of vainglorious people and of those who have been educated in secular studies so that by gradually deceiving them they may lead them into heresy and blasphemy. We can recognize this diabolical divinity, or rather, devilry, by the disturbances and the confused and unholy joy which are felt in the soul during the instruction.
153. All creatures have received from the Creator their order of being and their beginning, and some their end too. But the end of virtue is infinite. For the Psalmist says: I have seen the end of all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceedingly broad and boundless. If some good ascetics pass from the strength of action to the strength of contemplation, and if love never ceases, and if the Lord will guard the coming in of your fear and the going outof your love, then from this it follows that there is actually no limit to love. We shall never cease to advance in it, either in the present or in the future life, continually adding light to light. And however strange what I have said may seem to many, nevertheless it shall be said. According to the testimonies we have given, I would say, blessed Father, even the spiritual beings (i.e. the angels) do not lack progress; on the contrary, they ever add glory to glory, and knowledge to knowledge.
154. Do not be astonished if the demons often suggest to us good thoughts, and intellectual arguments against them. The aim of our foes in this case is to make us believe that they also know the thoughts of our hearts.
155. Do not judge too severely those who are eloquent in preaching but do not support this in practice, for the profit of a word has often compensated for the dearth of deeds. We do not all obtain everything in equal measure. With some speech takes precedence over action, but with others the latter transcends the former.
156. God is not the cause or the creator of evil, and those who say that certain passions are natural to the soul have been deceived not knowing that we have turned the constituent qualities of nature into passions. For instance, nature gives us the seed for childbearing, but we have perverted this into fornication. Nature provides us with the means of showing anger against the serpent but we have used this against our neighbour. Nature inspires us with zeal to make us compete for the virtues, but we compete in evil. It is natural for the soul to desire glory, but the glory on high. It is natural to be overbearing, but against the demons. Joy is also natural to us, but a joy on account of the Lord and the welfare of our neighbour. Nature has also given us resentment, but to be used against the enemies of the soul. We have received a desire for pleasure, but not for profligacy.
157. An energetic soul rouses the demons against itself. But as our conflicts increase, so do our crowns.
He who has never been struck by the enemy will certainly not be crowned. But the warrior who does not flinch despite his incidental falls will be glorified by the angels as a champion.
158. He who spent three nights in the earth returned to life for ever,and he who has conquered three hours will never die.
159. Divine providence causes the sun to rise in us for our edification, and then for a time to set, and then He makes darkness His hiding place, and night falls, in which prowl the fierce young lions, which had previously left us and all the beasts of the forest of thorny passions, roaring to snatch the hope that is in us, and seeking from God their food of passions either in thought or in action. And again through the darkness of humility the sun rises upon us and the wild beasts gather together and lie down in their dens, that is to say in sensual hearts, but not in us. Then the demons say amongst themselves: The Lord has done great things for them. And we say to them: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad but you are banished. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, no doubt the soul that is raised above all earthly desire, and comes into Egypt, into the heart already darkened, and will shatter the idols of man’s making, that is, vain thoughts of the mind.
160. If Christ, although omnipotent, as man fled bodily from Herod, then let the rash learn not to hurl themselves into temptations. For it is said: Let not thy foot be moved, nor him (the angel) who keeps thee slumber.
161. Vanity or conceit twines itself round courage just as bindweed twines round cypress.
162. Let us constantly guard against admitting even the mere thought that we have attained to any good whatsoever; and let us keep on looking carefully to see whether this is one of our characteristics.
If it is, then we shall know that we have utterly failed.
163. Look unceasingly for evidence of the passions, and then you will find many of them in you which we are unable to distinguish in our diseased condition, by reason of our own weakness or because they are so deeply rooted.
164. God is the judge of our intentions; but in His love He does also require us to act as far as we are able. Great is he who leaves undone nothing that is within his power; but greater is he who humbly attempts what is beyond his power.
165. The demons often hinder us from carrying through what is easy and profitable for us, and they urge us to turn to what is more laborious instead.
166. I find that Joseph is honoured for avoiding the occasion of sin, and not for showing dispassion. It may be asked: From what and from how many sins does aversion merit a crown? For it is one thing to turn away from the shadow, but it is a much greater thing to run towards the sun of righteousness.
167. Being in darkness is a cause of stumbling; stumbling is a cause of a fall; and to fall is a cause of death.
168. Those who have been overcome by wine often wash with water, but those who have been overcome by passions wash with tears.
169. Pollution is one thing, darkness is another, and blindness another. The first is cured by temperance, the second by solitude, and the third by obedience and by God who for our sakes became obedient.
170. We can take as an example two places in which mundane things are cleaned. Let us picture to ourselves by analogy two sublime institutions for those who set their mind on things above; a monastic community such as is pleasing to God is like the laundry in which uncleanness, grossness and deformity of soul are scoured out; and the dye-works will be the solitary life for those who have already laid aside lust, remembrance of wrongs and anger, and who are now passing from the monastery to solitude.
171. Some say that we fall into the same sins because we have been unable to correct our former sins through the inadequacy of our repentance. But it may be asked: Have all those who have not fallen into the same kind of sin really repented as they should? Some fall into the same sins either because they have sunk into a deep forgetfulness of their former sins, or because they imagine in their own pleasure- loving way that God is merciful, or they have lost all hope of their own salvation. I do not know whether anyone will blame me if I say that their trouble arises because they have not been strong enough to bind the foe who is dominating them through the tyranny of habit.
172. We should inquire why the soul which is incorporeal does not see of what nature the spirits are that take up their abode with it. Is it not a result of its union with the flesh? This is known only to Him who joined them.
173. A discerning man once asked me: ‘Tell me, tell me, for I desire to know which of the spirits are liable to depress the mind when we sin and which of them to lift it up?’ But I was embarrassed by the question, and on oath I affirmed my ignorance. Then he who wished to learn taught me himself, saying: ‘I shall give you in a few words the leaven of discernment, and then I shall leave you to seek the rest by your own industry. The spirit of lust, the spirit of anger, the spirit of gluttony, the spirit of despondency the spirit of sleepiness have no tendency to lift up the horn of the mind. But the spirit of love of money, ambition, talkativeness and many others add evil to evil. That is why the spirit of criticism is near to the latter.’
174. If any monk has spent an hour or a day in visiting people in the world, or has had them as guests, he ought to rejoice when he parts from them like someone who has been freed from a clog and a trap.
But if on the contrary he feels the dart of sorrow, this indicates that he has become the toy either of vainglory or of lust.
175. We ought to begin by seeing which way the wind is blowing, and then we shall not set our sails against it.
176. Comfort with love and allow a little respite to old men practised in charity, such as have exhausted their bodies in asceticism. But compel young men who have exhausted their souls with sins to be abstinent, and bring to their memory the eternal torments.
177. It is quite impossible, as I said in another place, suddenly to become perfectly free from gluttony and vainglory at the outset of the monastic life. But we should not fight vainglory with luxury, because victory over gluttony, I mean in beginners, gives rise to vainglory. Rather let us master it by frugality.
For the hour will come, and is already here for those who desire it, when the Lord will also subdue this passion under our feet.
178. When they enter monastic life the young and the aged are not afflicted by the same passions, because they often have quite opposite infirmities Therefore, blessed, truly blessed is humility, because it makes repentance safe and effective for young and old alike.
179. Do not make an uproar at what I am going to say There are indeed true and upright souls, though they are rare, who are strangers to malice, hypocrisy and mischief, for whom living with men is completely uncongenial. But with the help of their guide, from solitude as from a harbour, they can ascend to heaven without desiring or experiencing the disturbances and stumbling blocks of community life.
180. Men can cure the lustful, angels the malicious, but only God the proud.
181. Perhaps one aspect of love often consists in letting the neighbour who is a frequent visitor do what he likes, and in any case showing him all our kindness.
182. It may be asked: How and to what extent, when and whether good is destroyed by a kind of repentancein the same way as evil.
183. We must use great discernment in order to know when to take our stand against sin, and in what cases and to what extent to struggle against the food of the passions, and when to withdraw from the fray. For, on account of our weakness, sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge that flight is better than death.
184. We should watch and see when and how we can empty out our gall by malice. Some of the demons uplift us, some depress us, some harden, some comfort, some darken, some pretend to communicate enlightment to us, some make us slothful, some make us cunning, some make us sad, and some cheerful.
185. We should not be dismayed if we find that our passions are stronger at the beginning of our monastic life than they were in our life in the world. For we have to remove the causes of sickness, and then health will come to us. The beasts were there in hiding all the time, only they did not show themselves.
186. When by some accident those who are otherwise approaching perfection are overcome by the demons in a trivial matter, they should at once use all means in their power to wrench this fault out of them again a hundredfold.
187. As the winds in calm weather ruffle only the surface of the sea, but at other times they stir the depths as well, so you can imagine to yourself the dark winds of iniquity. For in those enslaved by passions they shake the actual consciousness of the heart, but in those who have already made progress they only ruffle the surface of the mind. That is why the latter soon feel their normal calm, for the heart was left undefiled.
188. It is the privilege of the perfect to know unerringly whether a thought in the soul comes from their own consciousness, or from God, or from the demons; for the demons do not at first suggest everything that is repugnant. This is indeed a dark problem and hard to solve.
189. The body is enlightened by its two corporeal eyes; but in visible and spiritual discernment the eyes of the heart are illumined.
Brief summary of all the previous steps
1. Firm faith is the mother of renunciation. The opposite of this is self-evident.
2. Unwavering hope is the door to detachment. The opposite of this is self-evident.
3. Love of God is the foundation of exile. The opposite is self-evident.
4. Obedience is born of self-condemnation and desire for health.
5. Temperance is the mother of health. The mother of temperance is the thought of death and firm remembrance of our Lord’s gall and vinegar.
6. The helper and foundation of chastity is solitude. The quenching of fleshly burning is fasting. The adversary of shameful thoughts is contrition of heart.
7. Faith and exile are the death of cupidity. But compassion and love betray the body.
8. Unflagging prayer is the ruin of despondency. Remembrance of the judgment is a means of fervour.
9. Love of indignity is a cure for anger. Hymnody, compassion and poverty are the suffocation of sorrow.
10. Detachment from things of the senses is contemplation of spiritual things.
11. Quietness and solitude are the foes of vainglory. And if you are amongst people, seek dishonour.
12. Visible pride is cured by grim conditions, but invisible pride can be healed only by Him who is eternally Invisible.
13. The deer is a destroyer of all visible snakes, but humility destroys spiritual ones.3
14. By means of what is natural we can be trained to a clear conception of the spiritual.
15. As a snake cannot strip itself of its old skin unless it crawls into a tight hole, neither can we shed our old prejudices, our oldness of soul and the garment of the old man unless we go by the strait and narrow way of fasting and dishonour.
16. It is just as impossible for the person who nourishes and panders to his flesh to fly to heaven as it is for an overfed bird.
17. Dried up mire offers no attraction for swine, and in exhausted flesh demons no longer find anywhere to rest.
18. As too many sticks often choke a fire and put it out, while making a lot of smoke, so excessive sorrow often makes the soul smoky and dark, and dries the stream of tears.
19. As a blind man is no use as an archer, so a contradictory pupil is a lost one.
20. As tempered iron can sharpen untempered, so a fervent brother has often saved an indolent one.
21. As eggs that are warmed in dung hatch out, so (bad) thoughts that are not confessed hatch out and proceed to action.
22. As galloping horses race one another, so a good community excites mutual fervour.
23. Just as clouds hide the sun, so evil thoughts darken and ruin the mind.
24. As the man under sentence who is going to execution will not talk about theatres, so he who truly weeps for himself will never gratify his stomach.
25. When poor men see the royal treasury they are still more conscious of their poverty, and so too when the soul reads about the great virtues of the Fathers it at least comes to a more humble frame of mind.
26. As steel is attracted to the magnet even without meaning to be, for it is drawn by an inexplicable force of nature, so he who has contracted sinful habits is tyrannized by them.
27. As oil tames the sea, even though it is reluctant to do this, so fasting quenches the involuntary burnings of the body.
28. As a dammed stream of water rushes upwards, so often the soul that is pressed by dangers ascends to God and is saved through penitence.
29. As he who carries perfumes with him makes his presence felt by the fragrance whether he wants to or not, so he who has the Spirit of the Lord is known by his words and his humility.
30. As the sun makes gold glitter, so virtue singles out the man who possesses it.1
31. As winds stir the deep, so temper disturbs the mind more than anything else.
32. As mere hearsay does not provoke violent desire to taste what the eye has not seen, so those who are chaste in body get great relief through their ignorance.
33. Just as thieves will not attack a place where they see royal weapons lying, so he who has knit his heart to prayer will not lightly be raided by spiritual thieves.
34. As fire does not give birth to snow, so those who seek honour here will not enjoy it there (in heaven).
35. As one spark has frequently set fire to much wood, so it has been found that one good deed can wipe out a multitude of great sins.
36. As it is impossible to destroy a wild beast without a weapon, so without humility it is impossible to obtain freedom from anger.
37. As by nature we cannot live without food, so up to the very moment of our death we cannot, even for a second, give way to negligence.
38. As a ray of sun, passing through a crack, lights everything in the house and shows up even the finest dust, so the fear of the Lord, entering a man’s heart, reveals to him all his sins.
39. Crabs are easily caught because they walk sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. So the soul that now laughs, now mourns, now lives in luxury, can make no progress.
40. The drowsy are easily robbed, and so are those who seek virtue near the world.
41. A man who is fighting a lion is lost the moment he takes his eye off it, and so is the man who, while fighting his flesh, gives it any respite.
42. As he who climbs up a rotten ladder runs a risk, so all honour, glory and authority oppose humility and bring down him who has them.
43. As it is impossible for a starving man not to think of bread, so it is impossible for a man eager to be saved not to think of death and judgment.
44. As writing is washed out by water, so sins can be washed out by tears.
45. As some, for lack of water, blot out writing by other means, so there are souls who have no tears, but pound out and scour away their sins by sorrow, sighing and great heaviness of heart.
46. As a mass of dung breeds a mass of worms, so a surfeit of food breeds a surfeit of falls, and evil thoughts, and dreams.
47. As a blind man cannot see to walk, so a lazy man can neither see good nor do it.
48. As he whose legs are tied cannot walk freely, so those who hoard money cannot ascend to heaven.
49. As a fresh wound is easily cured, so the opposite is true of those suffering from chronic wounds of the soul; if they are healed, they are healed with difficulty.
50. As a dead man cannot walk, so a despairing man cannot be saved.
51. He who says he has true faith yet continues to sin is like a man who has no eyes in his face. But he who has no faith, even though he may do some good, is like a man who draws water and pours it into a barrel with holes in it.
52. As a ship which has a good helmsman comes safely into harbour with God’s help, so the soul which has a good shepherd, even though it has done much evil, easily ascends to heaven.
53. Without a guide it is easy to wander from the road, however prudent you may be, and so he who walks the monastic way under his own direction soon perishes, even though he may have all the wisdom of the world.
54. If anyone is weak in body and has had some grave falls, he should take the road of humility and the qualities that belong to her, for he will find no other way to salvation.
55. As one who has suffered a prolonged illness can scarcely obtain health in an instant, so it is impossible suddenly to overcome the passions, or even one passion.
56. Keep track of the extent of every passion and of every virtue, and you will know what progress you are making.
57. As those who exchange gold for clay are the losers, so are those who discuss and divulge the spiritual for material gain.
58. Many have soon obtained forgiveness, but no one has obtained dispassion quickly; this needs considerable time, and love, and longing, and God.
59. Let us find out which particular beasts and birds try to harm us at the time of sowing, and at the time when the seed shoots, and at the time of harvest, so as to set our traps accordingly.
60. Just as a man with fever has no right to commit suicide, so till our very last breath we must never give up hope.
61. As it is irreverent for a man who has just buried his father to go from the funeral straight on to his wedding, so for those who are mourning over their falls it is not proper to seek from men in this present life either honour, or rest, or glory.
62. As citizens have one kind of dwelling and convicts another, so the needs of those who are mourning ought to be quite different from those of the innocent.
63. Just as a king orders a soldier who has received serious wounds in battle in his presence not to be dismissed from his service but rather to be promoted, so the Heavenly King crowns the monk who endures many perils from demons.
64. Spiritual perception is a property of the soul itself, but sin is a buffeting of perception. Conscious perception produces either the cessation or lessening of evil; and it is the offspring of conscience. And conscience is the word and conviction of our guardian angel given to us from the time of baptism. That is why we find that the unbaptized do not feel such keen pangs of remorse in their soul for their bad deeds.
65. The lessening of evil breeds abstinence from evil; and abstinence from evil is the beginning of repentance; and the beginning of repentance is the beginning of salvation; and the beginning of salvation is a good intention; and a good intention is the mother of labours. And the beginning of labours is the virtues; the beginning of the virtues is a flowering, and the flowering of virtue is the beginning of activity. And the offspring of virtue is perseverance; and the fruit and offspring of persevering practice is habit, and the child of habit is character. Good character is the mother of fear; and fear gives birth to the keeping of commandments in which I include both heavenly and earthly.
The keeping of the commandments is a sign of love; and the beginning of love is an abundance of humility; and an abundance of humility is the daughter of dispassion; and the acquisition of the latter is the fullness of love, that is to say the perfect indwelling of God in those who through dispassion are pure in heart. For they shall see God. And to Him the glory for all eternity. Amen.