THURSDAY OF THE SECOND WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT
On Remembrance of Death.
1. Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Therefore, this subject comes in its proper place in this chapter.
2. The remembrance of death is a daily death; and the remembrance of our departure is an hourly sighing or groaning.
3. Fear of death is a natural instinct that comes from disobedience; but terror at death is evidence of unrepented sin. Christ fears death, but does not show terror, in order to demonstrate clearly the properties of His two natures.
4. As of all foods bread is the most essential, so the thought of death is the most necessary of all works. The remembrance of death amongst those in the midst of society gives birth to distress and frivolity, and even more – to despondency. But amongst those who are free from noise it produces the putting aside of cares, and constant prayer and guarding of the mind. But these same virtues both produce the remembrance of death and are also produced by it.
5. As tin is distinct from silver although it resembles it in appearance, so for the discerning there is a clear and obvious difference between the natural and supernatural fear of death.
6. A true sign of those who are mindful of death in the depth of their being is a voluntary detachment from every creature and complete renunciation of their own will.
7. He who with undoubting trust daily expects death is virtuous; but he who hourly yields himself to it is a saint.
8. Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found) through the action of the Holy Spirit long for their departure.
9. Some inquire and wonder: “Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial for us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?” – not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.
10. Never, when mourning for your sins accept that cur which suggests to you that God is tender hearted (this thought is useful only when you see yourself being dragged down to deep despair.) For the aim of the enemy is to thrust from you your mourning and fearless fear.
11. He who wishes ever to retain within him the remembrance of death and judgment and God, and at the same time yields to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.
12. A vivid remembrance of death cuts down food; and when in humility food is cut, the passions are cut out too.
13. Insensibility of heart dulls the mind, and abundance of food dries the fountains of tears. Thirst and vigil afflict the heart, and when the heart is afflicted the waters flow. The things we have said will seem cruel to epicures and incredible to the indolent; but a man of action will readily test them, and he who has found them out by experience will smile at them. But he who is still seeking will become more gloomy.
14. Just as the Fathers lay down that perfect love knows no sin, so I for my part declare that a perfect sense of death is free from fear.
15. There are many activities for an active mind. I mean, meditation on the love of God, on the remembrance of God, on the remembrance of the Kingdom, on the remembrance of the zeal of the holy martyrs, on the remembrance of God Himself present, according to him who said, “I saw the Lord before me,” on remembrance of the holy and spiritual powers, on remembrance of one’s departure, judgment, punishment, and sentence. We began with the sublime, but have ended with things that never fail.
16. An Egyptian monk once told me: “After I had established in my heart the remembrance of death, whenever need arose and I wanted to comfort the clay a little, this remembrance prevented me like a judge. And the wonderful thing was that, even though I wanted to thrust it away, I was quite unable to do so.”
17. Another who lived here in the place called Thola, often went into ecstasy at the thought of death; and the brothers who found him would lift him and carry him off scarcely breathing, like one who had fainted or had an epileptic fit.
18. And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he left his body. And when he came to himself he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so wrapt in spirit in what he had seen in his ecstasy that he never changed his place but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions this alone was all we heard from him: “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.” We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by his true and praiseworthy repentance the Lord showed us that even after long negligence He accepts those who desire to amend.
19. Just as some declare that the abyss is infinite, for they call it a bottomless place, so the thought of death brings chastity and activity to a state of incorruption. The above-mentioned saint confirms the truth of what has been said. For such men, unceasingly adding fear to fear, do not stop until the very strength of their bones is spent.
20. Let us rest assured that the remembrance of death, like all other blessings, is a gift of God; since how is it that often when we are at the very tombs we are left tearless and hard; and frequently when we have no such sight, we are full of compunction?
21. He who has died to all things remembers death, but whoever is still tied to the world does not cease plotting against himself.
22. Do not wish to assure everyone in words of your love for them, but rather ask God to show them your love without words. Otherwise time will not suffice you for both intimacies and compunction.
23. Do not deceive yourself, rash worker, as if one time can make up for another. For the day is not sufficient to repay in full its own debt to the Lord.
24. It is impossible, someone says, impossible to spend the present day devoutly unless we regard it as the last of our whole life. And it is truly astonishing how even the pagans have said something of the sort, since they define philosophy as meditation on death.
This is the sixth step. He who has mounted it will never sin again. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.
On Mourning Which Causes Joy.
1. Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul, and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting. Or thus: mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed by holy sorrow to watch over the heart.
2. Compunction is a perennial testing of the conscience which brings about the cooling of the fire of the heart through spiritual confession. And confession is a forgetfulness of nature, if anyone because of this really forgot to eat his bread.
3. Repentance is the cheerful deprival of every bodily comfort.
4. A characteristic of those who are still progressing in blessed mourning is temperance and silence of the lips, and of those who have made progress – freedom from anger and patient endurance of injuries; and of the perfect – humility, thirst for dishonours, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions, non-condemnation of sinners, compassion even beyond one’s strength. The first are acceptable, the second laudable; but blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonour, for they shall have their fill of the food that does not cloy.
5. If you possess the gift of mourning, hold on to it with all your might. For it is easily lost when it is not firmly established. And just as wax melts in the presence of fire, so it is easily dissolved by noise and bodily cares, and by luxury, and especially by talkativeness and levity.
6. Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so. For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears. And if God in His love for mankind had not given us tears, few indeed and hard to find would be those in a state of grace.
7. Groanings and sorrows cry to the Lord. Tears shed from fear intercede for us; but tears of all-holy love show us that our prayer has been accepted.
8. If nothing goes so well with humility as mourning, certainly nothing is so opposed to it as laughter.
9. Keep a firm hold of the blessed joy-grief of holy compunction, and do not stop working at it until it raises you high above the things of this world and presents you pure to Christ.
10. Do not cease to picture and scrutinize the dark abyss of eternal fire, and the merciless servants, the unsympathetic and in exorable Judge, the bottomless pit of subterranean flame, the narrow descents to the awful underground chambers and yawning gulfs, and all such things, so that the sensuality in our soul may be checked by great terror and give place to incorruptible chastity, and itself receive the shining of the immaterial light which radiates beyond any fire.
11. During prayer and supplication stand with trembling like a convict standing before a judge, so that both by your outward appearance as well as by your inner disposition you may extinguish the wrath of the just Judge; for He will not despise a widow soul standing before Him burdened with sorrow and wearying the Unwearying One.
12. He who has obtained heartfelt tears will find any place convenient for mourning. But he whose weeping is only outward show will spend endless time discussing places and manners. Just as hidden treasure is safer from robbery than that exposed in the market, so let us apply this to what we have just said.
13. Do not be like those who in burying their dead first lament over them and then get drunk for their sake. But be like the prisoners in the mines who are flogged every hour by the gaolers.
14. He who sometimes mourns and sometimes indulges in luxury and laughter is like one who stones the dog of sensuality with bread. In appearance he is driving it away, but in fact he is encouraging it to be constantly with him.
15. Be concentrated without self-display, withdrawn into your heart. For the demons fear concentration as thieves fear dogs.
16. It is not to a wedding banquet that we have been called here – certainly not – but He who has called us has called us here to mourn for ourselves.
17. When they weep, some force themselves unseasonably to think of nothing at all during this blessed time, not realizing that tears without thought are proper only to an irrational nature and not to a rational one. Tears are the product of thought, and the father of thought is a rational mind.
18. Let your reclining in bed be for you an image of your declining into your grave – and you will sleep less. Let your refreshment at table be for you a reminder of the grim table of those worms – and you will be less luxurious. And in drinking water, do not forget the thirst of that flame – and you will certainly refuse your nature all it wants.
19. When we suffer from the Superior honourable dishonour, scolding, or punishment, let us remember the fearful sentence of the Judge, and we shall kill with meekness and patience, as with a two-edged sword, the irrational sorrow and bitterness which will certainly be sown in us.
20. The sea wastes with time, as Job says. And with time and patience the things of which we have spoken are gradually acquired and perfected in us.
21. Let the remembrance of the eternal fire lie down with you every evening, and let it rise with you too. Then sloth will never overwhelm you at the time of psalmody.
22. Let your very dress urge you to the work of mourning, because all who lament the dead are dressed in black. If you do not mourn, mourn for this cause. And if you mourn, lament still more that you have brought yourself down from a painless state to a painful one by your sins.
23. In the case of tears as in everything else our good and just Judge will certainly take into consideration the strength of our nature. For I have seen small tear-drops shed with difficulty like drops of blood, and I have also seen fountains of tears poured out without difficulty. And I judged those toilers more by their toil than by their tears, and I think that God does too.
24. Theology will not suit mourners, for it is of a nature to dissolve their mourning. For the theologian is like one who sits in a teacher’s seat, whereas the mourner is like one who spends his days on a dung heap and in rags. That is why David, so I think, although he was a teacher and was wise, replied to those who questioned him when he was mourning: “How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” – that is to say, the land of passions.
25. Both in creation and in compunction there is that which moves itself and that which is moved by something else. When the soul becomes tearful, moist, and tender without effort or trouble, then let us run, for the Lord has come uninvited, and is giving us the sponge of God-loving sorrow and the cool water of devout tears to wipe out the record of our sins. Guard these tears as the apple of your eye until they withdraw. Great is the power of this compunction – greater than that which comes as a result of our effort and meditation.
26. He who mourns when he wishes has not attained the beauty of mourning, but rather he who mourns on the subjects of his choice, and not even on these, but on what God wants. The ugly tears of vainglory are often interwoven with mourning which is pleasing to God. Acting devoutly, we shall find this out by experiment when we see ourselves mourning and still doing evil.
27. Genuine compunction is pain of soul shorn of all elation, in which it gives itself no relief but hourly imagines only its dissolution; and it awaits, like cool water, the comfort of God who comforts humble monks.
28. Those who have obtained mourning in the depth of their being hate their own life as something painful and wearisome, and a cause of tears and sufferings; and they turn and flee from their body as from an enemy.
29. When we see anger and pride in those who seem to be mourning in a way pleasing to God, then their tears are to be regarded as repugnant to God. For what fellowship has light with darkness?
30. The fruit of morbid compunction is self-esteem, and the fruit of meritorious compunction is consolation.
31. Just as fire is destructive of straw, so are pure tears destructive of all material and spiritual impurity.