Advancing toward Perfection I – Desert Fathers of the Church

An Exhortation of Holy Fathers on Advancing toward Perfection

1. Somebody asked Antony, “By observing which [pre- cept] shall I be well pleasing to God?” The elder answered, “Observe what I am telling you: Always have God before your eyes wherever you go. Whatever you are doing, have the testimony from Holy Scripture to hand. Wherever you are living, do not be in a hurry to move away. Observe these three [precepts] and you will be saved.” [Great Antony]

2. Abba Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What am I to do?” The elder said to him, “Have no confidence in your own righteousness; have no regrets about a past action; get your tongue and your belly under control.” [Great Antony]

3. The blessed Gregory said, “God requires these three things of every person who has received baptism: correct faith of the soul, the truth of the tongue, self-control of the body.” [Gregory of Nazianzus]

4. Somebody else said that one of the fathers said, “A dry and monotonous diet coupled with love speedily bring the monk to the haven of apatheia.” [Evagrius Ponticus]

5. He also said, “When one of the monks was informed of the death of his father, he said to the messenger, ‘Stop blaspheming, for my father is immortal.’” [Evagrius Ponticus]

6. Abba Macarius said to Abba Zacharias, “Tell me, what is the task of the monk?” “You are asking me, father?” he said, and Abba Macarius said, “I have full confidence in you, Zacharias my son, for there is one who is goading me to question you.” Abba Zacharias said to him, “In my opinion, to coerce oneself in all things, that is [the task] of the monk.” [Abba Zacharias]

7. Abba Isaiah the priest said, “One of the fathers used to say that a person ought before all things to acquire belief in God, a ceaseless yearning for God, guilelessness, not returning evil for evil, mortification and humility, purity, clemency and love for all, submission, gentleness, long-suffering, patience, a desire for God, and [the practice of] constantly calling upon God with a painful heart and genuine love, with a view to not paying attention to what is past but attending to that which is to come, having no confidence in one’s own good works and service, and ceaselessly invoking the help of God in the things that happen to one each day.” [Abba Isaiah]

8. A brother asked Abba Isaiah for a saying, and in answer, the elder said to him, “If you want to follow our Lord Jesus, observe his word, and, if you are willing for your old man to be crucified with him until you die, you ought to cut off those who bring you down from the cross. You have to prepare yourself to tolerate being set at naught; to repose the hearts of those who do you wrong; to humble yourself before those who would have dominion over you; to maintain silence of the mouth; and to refrain from judging anybody in your heart.” [Abba Isaiah]

Desert Church Fathers9. He also said, “Toil, poverty, voluntary exile, fortitude, and keeping silent produce humility, and humility efface many sins. The renunciation of one who does not observe these [practices] is in vain.” [Abba Isaiah]

10. He also said, “Hate everything in the world and repose of the body, for these made you an enemy of God. As a person who has an enemy fights with him, so we ought also to fight against the body to allow it no repose.”[Abba Isaiah]

11. A brother asked Abba Isaiah about the phrase of the prayer in the Gospel: “What is this ‘Hallowed be thy name’?” “This is for the perfect,” he answered, “for the name of God cannot be hallowed in us who are dominated by a passion.” [Abba Isaiah]

Source: The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The Systematic Collection. Translated by John Wortley.

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