WEDNESDAY OF THE SIXTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT
57. He who is gripped by passions and lives in the desert allows his mind to listen to their chatter. So the holy elder, I mean George Arsilaites, who is not entirely unknown to your reverence, once told me and taught me. He once directed my worthless soul and, guiding me towards solitude, he said: “I have noticed that in the morning it is usually the demons of vainglory and concupiscence who make assaults upon us; at midday the demons of despondency, repining, and anger; and in the evening, those dung loving tyrants of the wretched stomach!”
58. It is better to live (as a cenobite) in poverty and obedience than to be a solitary who has no control of his mind.
59. He who has entered into solitude in the right way and does not see its daily reward is either practising it in the wrong way or else is being robbed of this by his self-esteem.
60. Solitude is unceasing worship and waiting upon God.
61. Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath, and then you will know the value of solitude.
62. For the monk under obedience self-will is the fall, but for the solitary it is a breach in prayer.
63. If you rejoice in having visitors to your cell, know that you are not taking a holiday from despondency alone, but from God.
64. The model for your prayer should be the widow who was wronged by her adversary, and for your solitude – the great and angelic solitary Arsenius. Remember in your solitude the life of this great hermit, and see how often he sent away those who came to him, so as not to lose the better part.
65. My experience is that the demons often persuade foolish gadabouts to visit those living in solitude in the right way so as to use even such as those to throw some hindrance in the way of these active men. Look out for such people, and do not be afraid of offending these idle bodies by your devout behaviour; because, as a result of this offence, they will perhaps stop gadding about. But see that you do not mistakenly offend a soul who in his thirst has come to draw water from you. In all things you need the light (of discretion).
66. The life of those practising solitude, and especially those who are quite alone, should be guided by conscience and common sense. He who runs his race in the right way, and performs all his undertakings, utterances, thoughts, each step, every intention and every movement according to the Lord, works for the Lord’s sake with spiritual fervour as though in the Lord’s presence. If he is robbed, he is not yet living by the rules of virtue.
67. I will expound, says someone, my proposition and my will on the harp, according to my still imperfect judgment. As for me, I shall offer my will to God in prayer, and from Him I shall receive assurance.
68. Faith is the wing of prayer; without it, my prayer will return again to my bosom. Faith is the unshaken firmness of the soul, unmoved by any adversity. A believer is not one who thinks that God can do everything, but one who believes that he will obtain all things. Faith paves the way for what seems impossible; and the thief proved this for himself. The mother of faith is hardship and an honest heart; the latter makes faith constant, and the former builds it up. Faith is the mother of the solitary; for if he does not believe, how can he practise solitude?
69. He who is chained up in prison fears the judge who sentences him, but the hermit in his cell brings forth fear of the Lord; and the tribunal is not so terrifying to the former as the throne of the Judge is to the latter. You need great fear for solitude, excellent man, because nothing else is so effective in dispelling despondency. The convict is continually looking to see when the judge will come to the prison; and the true worker wonders when the angel of death will come. A burden of sorrow oppresses the former, but the latter has a fountain of tears.
70. Bring out the staff of patience, and the dogs will soon stop their insolence. Patience is a labour that does not crush the soul and never wavers under interruptions, laudable or the reverse. The patient man is a faultless worker, who turns his faults into victories. Patience is the limitation of suffering that is accepted day by day. Patience lays aside all excuses and all attention to herself. The worker needs patience more than his food because the one brings him a crown, while the other may bring ruin. The patient man has died long before he is placed in the tomb, having made his cell his tomb. Hope engenders patience and so does mourning; but he who has neither is a slave to despondency.
71. Christ’s warrior should know what foes to parry from a distance, and which to fight at close quarters. Sometimes the combat has earned a crown; sometimes refusal has made men reprobate. It is not feasible to lay down precepts in such matters, for we have not all got the same character or dispositions.
72. There is one spirit on which you should keep a vigilant eye; he is the one who assails you unceasingly during your standing, walking, sitting, movement, rising, prayer and sleep.
73. Not all loaves of the heavenly wheat of this spiritual food have the same appearance. Some people in the field of solitude ever cultivate within them this thought: I see the Lord before me continually; but others: In your patience you will win your souls; some: Watch and pray; others: Prepare thy works for thy death; some: I was humbled and he saved me; some: The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory; and others always have in mind the words: Lest he snatch you away and there be none to deliver you. For all run, but one receives the prize without effort.
74. He who makes progress works not only when awake but when asleep as well. So even in sleep some snub the demons who approach them and admonish dissolute women in the matter of chastity. But do not expect visits and do not prepare for them beforehand, because the state of solitude is perfectly simple and free.
75. No one intending to build a tower and cell of solitude will approach this work without first sitting down and counting the cost, and he will feel his way by prayer, considering whether he has within him the necessary means for completing it, so that he should not lay the foundation and then become a laughing-stock to his enemies and an obstacle to other workers.
76. Examine the sweetness you feel in your soul, lest it be compounded craftily by cruel physicians, or rather treacherous ones.
77. Devote the greater part of the night to prayer and only what is left to recital of the psalter. And during the day again prepare yourself according to your strength.
78. Reading enlightens the mind considerably, and helps it concentrate. For those are the Holy Spirit’s words and they attune those who attend to them. Let what you read lead you to action, for you are a doer. Putting these words into practice makes further reading superfluous. Seek to be enlightened by the words of salvation through your labours, and not merely from books. Until you receive spiritual power do not study works of an allegorical nature because they are dark words, and they darken the weak.
79. Often one cup of wine is sufficient to reveal its flavour, and one word of the solitary makes known to those who can taste it his whole inner state and activity.
80. Have the eye of your soul fixed firm against conceit or self-opinion, for nothing is so banefully destructive.
81. When you leave your cell be sparing with your tongue, because it can scatter in a moment the fruits of many labours.
82. Try to unlearn officiousness and curiosity; for they can spoil solitude as nothing else can.
83. Offer to those who visit you what is necessary both for the body and for the spirit. If they are wiser than we are, let us show our philosophy by silence. And if they are brethren following the same way of life, let us open the door of speech to them in due measure. Yet it is better to regard all as superior to us.
84. I wanted to forbid to those who were still children all bodily work at the time of the church services, but he who carried sand all night in his cloak restrained me.
85. What is said in the dogma of the holy, uncreated, and adorable Trinity contrasts with the doctrine of the providential Incarnation of One of the Persons of this all-hymned Trinity – for what is plural in the Trinity is single in Him; and what there is single, here is plural. And in the same way some habits of life are suitable for solitude and others for obedience (in a community).
86. The divine Apostle says: Who has known the mind of the Lord? And I will say: Who has known the mind of the man who is a solitary in body and spirit?
87. The power of a king consists in his wealth and the number of his subjects; the power of a solitary in abundance of prayer.
On Holy and Blessed Prayer, Mother of Virtues, and on the Attitude of Mind and Body in Prayer.
1. Prayer by reason of its nature is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; it is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, work of angels, food of all the spiritual beings, future gladness, boundless activity, the spring of virtues, the source of graces, invisible progress, food of the soul, the enlightening of the mind, an axe for despair, a demonstration of hope, the annulling of sorrow, the wealth of monks, the treasure of solitaries, the reduction of anger, the mirror of progress, the realization of success, a proof of one’s condition, a revelation of the future, a sign of glory. For him who truly prays, prayer is the court, the judgment hall and the tribunal of the Lord before the judgment to come.
2. Let us rise and listen to what that holy queen of the virtues cries with a loud voice and says to us: Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and you shall find rest for your souls and healing for your wounds. For My yoke is easy and is a sovereign remedy for great sins.
3. If we wish to stand before our King and God and converse with Him we must not rush into this without preparation, lest, seeing us from afar without weapons and suitable clothing for those who stand before the King, He should order His servants and slaves to seize us and banish us from His presence and tear up our petitions and throw them in our face.
4. When you are going to stand before the Lord, let the garment of your soul be woven throughout with the thread that has become oblivious of wrongs. Otherwise, prayer will bring you no benefit.
5. Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.
6. The attitude of prayer is one and the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some converse with God as with a friend and master, interceding with praise and petition not for themselves but for others. Some strive for more (spiritual) riches and glory and for confidence in prayer. Others ask for complete deliverance from their adversary. Some beg to receive some kind of rank; others for complete forgiveness of debts. Some ask to be released from prison; others for remission of accusations.
7. Before all else let us list sincere thanksgiving first on our prayer-card. On the second line we should put confession, and heartfelt contrition of soul. Then let us present our petition to the King of all. This is the best way of prayer, as it was shown to one of the brethren by an angel of the Lord.
8. If you have ever been under trial before an earthly judge, you will not need any other pattern for your attitude in prayer. But if you have never stood before a judge yourself and have not seen others being cross-questioned, then learn at least from the way the sick implore the surgeons when they are about to be operated on or cauterized.
9. Do not be over-sophisticated in the words you use when praying, because the simple and unadorned lisping of children has often won the heart of their heavenly Father.
10. Do not attempt to talk much when you pray lest your mind be distracted in searching for words. One word of the publican propitiated God, and one cry of faith saved the thief. Loquacity in prayer often distracts the mind and leads to phantasy, whereas brevity makes for concentration.
11. If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us.
12. Do not be bold, even though you may have attained purity; but rather approach with great humility, and you will receive still more boldness.
13. Though you may have climbed the whole ladder of the virtues, pray for forgiveness of sins. Listen to the cry of Paul regarding sinners: Of whom I am the first.
14. Oil and salt are seasonings for food; and tears and chastity give wings to prayer.
15. If you are clothed in all meekness and freedom from anger, you will not have much trouble in loosing your mind from captivity.
16. Until we have acquired genuine prayer we are like people teaching children to begin to walk.