Advancing toward Perfection II – Desert Church Fathers
12. They used to say of Abba Theodore of Pherme that he exceeded many in these three points: poverty, asceticism, and fleeing from folk.
13. Abba John Colobos said, “Personally, I would like a person to participate in all the virtues. So when you arise at dawn each day, make a fresh start in every virtue and commandment of God with
greatest patience, with fear and long-suffering, in the love of God, with all spiritual and physical fervor, a
nd with much humiliation; endur- ing affliction of the heart and prevention, with much prayer and intercession, with groans, in purity of the tongue and custody of the eyes; being reviled and not getting angry, li
ving peaceably and not giving back evil for evil; not noticing the faults of others; not measuring oneself, but for you to be beneath the whole of creation, having renounced material goods and the things that
pertain to the flesh; on a cross, in combat, in poverty of spirit, in determination and spiritual asceticism; in fasting, in repentance, in weepi
ng, in the strife of battle, in discretion, in purity of the soul, in generous sharing, [doing] your manual labor in hesychia, in nightly vigils, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in toils, closing your tomb as though you were already dead, so that death seems to be near to you every day.”
14. Abba Joseph the Theban said there are three things that are precious in the sight of the Lord. When a person is sick and temptations come upon him, he accepts them gratefully. The second is when someone renders all his deeds pure in the sight of the Lord, with no human element in them. The third is when someone is living in submission to a spiritual father and renounces all his own desires.1
15. Abba Cassian recounted of one Abba John, superior of a coenobium, that he was great in his lifetime. “When this man was about to die and was migrating to God joyfully and eagerly,” he said, “the brothers gathered around him, asking him to leave them some concise and salvific saying as a legacy by which they would be able to advance toward perfection in Christ. But he sighed and said, ‘I have never done my own will, nor did I teach anyone to do that which I did not first do myself.’”
16. A brother asked Abba Macarius the Great about per- fection, and in answer the elder said, “A person cannot be perfect if he does not acquire great humility in his heart and in the body, declines to measure himself in any matter but rather places himself in humiliation beneath the whole of creation, and refuses to judge anybody at all except himself alone; unless he endures insult and tears all evil out of his heart, forces himself to be long- suffering, kindly, brotherly, chaste, and self-controlled (for it is written, ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers vio- lence and the violent take it by force’ [Matt 11:12]), see- ing what is right with the eyes, maintaining a guard on his tongue, and turning aside from every vain and soul- destroying rumor; there being justice at his hands, purity of heart toward God, and a spotless body; unless he has the remembrance of death before his eyes every day and has renounced all spiritual anger and evil, renounced material goods and the delights of the flesh, renounced the devil and all his works, but has firmly committed himself to God, the universal sovereign, and to all his commandments and is constantly waiting upon God on every occasion, in every matter and every undertaking.”
17. Abba Mark said, “The law of freedom teaches all truth. Most people read [this law] in the light of what they know, but a few think of it as an analogy for the fulfillment of the commandments. Do not look for its perfection in human virtues, for nobody is found to be perfect in them; its perfection is encrypted in the cross of Christ.”
18. A brother asked an elder, “What good activity is there, that I could practice and live in it?” The elder said, “God knows what is good, but I heard that one of the fathers questioned Abba Nisteros the Great, the friend of Abba Antony, saying to him, ‘What good work is there, that I might practice [it]?’ and he said to him, ‘Are not all undertakings equal? For the Scripture says, “Abraham was hospitable and God was with him” [see Gen 18:2]; Elijah loved hesychia and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him.’ So whatever you observe your soul wishing to do for God, do it—and watch over your heart.”
19. Abba Poemen used to say of Abba Nisteros, “Just as with the case of the brazen serpent in the wilderness— anyone of the people who looked at it was healed [see Num 21:9]—so it was with the elder. Possessing all virtue and keeping silence, he would heal everybody.”
20. Abba Poemen said, “Being on the alert, paying attention to oneself, and discretion—these three virtues are the working tools of the soul.”
21. He also said, “God gave this rule of life to Israel: to refrain from what is contrary to nature, that is, from anger, bad temper, jealousy, hatred, slandering a brother, and the rest of the things [pertaining] to the old way of life.”
22. A brother asked him how a person ought to order his life, and the elder said to him, “Let us look at Daniel; no accusation was found against him other than the way he served his God” [Dan 6:5–6].
23. He also said, “Poverty, affliction, and discretion: these are the working tools of the monastic life, for it is written, ‘There were these three men: Noah, Job, and Daniel’ [Ezek 14:14]. Noah represents indifference to material goods, Job toil, and Daniel discretion. If there are these three activities in a person, God is dwelling in him.”
24. Abba Poemen also said, “If a monk hates two things, he can become free of the world.” “What are they?” said the brother to him, and the elder said, “Repose of the flesh and vainglory.”
Source: The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The Systematic Collection. Translated by John Wortley.
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