Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers


18 Entries

A monk should practice the virtue of fasting, avoid ensnarement by the passions, and at all times cultivate intense stillness. St. John of Karpathos "The Philokalia: the Complete Text" (volume I), by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. By G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and (Bishop) Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 298 - 309

Also there were Paisius and Isaias, sons of a Spanish merchant. When their father died, they divided the estate they held, namely five thousand coins, clothes, and slaves.

They deliberated and planned together. "Brother, what kind of life shall we lead? If we become merchants, such as our father was, we will still be entrusting our work to others. Then we would risk harm at the hands of pirates on the high seas. Come, let us take up the monastic life so that we may profit by our father's goods and still not lose our souls."

The prospect of monastic life pleased them, but they found themselves in disagreement. For when they had divided the property, they each had in mind to please God, but by taking different ways of life.

Now the one shared everything among the monasteries, churches, and prisons; he learned a trade so that he might provide bread for himself and he spent his time at ascetic practices and prayer.

The other, however, made no distribution of his share, but built a monastery for himself and took in a few brethren. Then he took in every stranger, every invalid, every old man, and every poor one as well, setting up three or four tables every Saturday and Sunday. In this way he spent his money.

After they both were dead, various pronouncements were made about them as though they had both been perfect. Some preferred one, some the other. Then rivalry developed among the brethren in regard to their eulogies. They went to the blessed Pambo and entrusted the judgment to him, thinking to learn from him which was the better way of life. He told them, "Both were perfect. One showed the work of Abraham; the other, that of Elijah." Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 14. 1, 3

And the old man also said, "God saith unto thee thus -- if thou lovest Me, O monk, do that which I ask, and do not that which I do not desire. For monks should lead lives wherein they act not in iniquity, and a man should not look upon evil things with his eyes, no hear with his ears things which are alien to the fear of God, nor utter calumnies with his mouth, nor plunder with his hands; but he should give especially to the poor, and he should not be unduly exalted in his mind, and he should not think evil thoughts, neither should he fill his belly. Let him do then all these things with discretion, for by them is a monk known." The old man also said, "These things form the life of a monk: good works, and obedience, and training. A man should not lay blame on his neighbor, and he should not utter calumnies, and he should not complain, for it is written, 'The lovers of the Lord hate wickedness.'" E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," (Seattle, St. Nectarios Press), 1984, p. 135

Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion for stumbling in anything (II Corinthians 6:3) in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world. St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step26: On Discernment of Thoughts, Passions and Virtue

BROTHER: Behold, through what have the men of old triumphed?

OLD MAN: Through the fervor of their supernatural love, and through the death of the corruptible man, and through the contempt for pride, and through the abatement of the belly, and through the fear of the judgement, and through the promise of certainty; through the desire for these glorious things the fathers have acquired in the soul the spiritual body. E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984, pp. 264-265

BROTHER: Who is the true monk?

OLD MAN: He who makes his word manifest in deeds, and bears his passion with patient endurance; with such a man life is found, and the knowledge of the spirit dwells in him E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984, pp. 264-265

Let no one on seeing or hearing something supernatural in the monastic way of life fall into unbelief out of ignorance; for where the supernatural God dwells, much that is supernatural happens. St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step26: On Discernment of Thoughts, Passions and Virtue

Let us monks, then, be as trustful as the birds are; for they have no cares, neither do they gather into barns. St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston; Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), STEP 17: On Non-Permissiveness (that Hastens One Heavenwards)

Monastic life is called the art of arts and the science of sciences; for it does not bring perishable blessings akin to the things of this world, which drive the mind from what is best and engulf it; but monk hood promises us wonderful and unspeakable treasures which the ' Eye that not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man' (1 Cor. ii. 9). Hence, ' we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world' (Ephes. vi. 12). If therefore present existence is but darkness. let us flee from it, let us flee by returning our mind and our heart. Let us have nothing in common with the enemy of God, for 'whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God' ( James iv. 4). And who can help the enemy of God ? Therefore let us imitate our fathers and, like them, let us seek the treasure existing within our hearts and, having found it, let us hold fast to it in doing and guarding - for which task we were destined from the beginning. Nicephorus the Solitary

Monasticism itself is a perpetual labor of conquering passions and uprooting them in order that, being in a pure and immaculate state, one may preserve oneself before the face of God. This, then, is your task! Give your attention to it, and direct all your powers towards it. St. John Chrysostom

My sons, wen a man wishes to acquire the skills of a particular art he needs to devote all his possible care and attention to the activities characteristic of his chosen profession. He must observe the precepts and, indeed, the advice of the most successful practitioners of this work or of this way of knowledge. Otherwise he is dealing in empty dreams. One does not come to resemble those whose hard work and whose zeal one declines to imitate.

I have known some people who came here from where you live and who travelled around to the monasteries of the brethren, and all for the sake of acquiring knowledge. But it never occurred to them to practice the rules or the customs which were the objective of their travels. Nor would they withdraw into a cell where they could try to practice what they had seen and heard. They stuck to their old habits and practices, just as they had learned them, and the criticism was made of them that they had left their own provinces not for the sake of their own progress but to avoid the presence of poverty. Not only were they unable to acquire any learning but they could not even stay around here because of the sheer stubbornness of their disposition. They would make no changes in their habits of fasting, in the order in which they followed the psalms, or even in what they wore. What else could we believe except that they had come here solely for the purpose of getting fed?

Now I believe that is if for the sake of God that you have come here to get to know us. You must therefore abandon all those teachings which marked your own beginning as monks. You must take to yourselves, completely and quite humbly, all the practices and teachings of our old masters. It may be that a moment will come when you fail to grasp the deep meaning of a certain statement or of a mode of conduct. Do not be put off and do not fail to conform. Those seeking profit only, and struggling to imitate faithfully what they have seen their masters doing and saying, and have not argued about them, these will receive a knowledge of everything even while they are still undergoing the experience. But the man who teaches himself by engaging in arguments will never reach the truth. The Enemy will note that he relies more on his own judgement than upon that of the fathers and he will easily bring him to the point where he considers even the most useful and saving matters to be unnecessary or dangerous. The Master of deceit will take advantage of his presumptuousness and the man will hold so stubbornly to his unreasonable opinions that he will reach the stage of being convinced that the only thing that is holy is that which his own blind obstinacy deems to be right and just.

What you have to learn first, therefore, is the appropriate sequence and the first steps of our profession. You must know about how they came into being and where they came from. Then it will be possible for a man to pursue more effectively the discipline of the art to which one is committed. One will be moved to practice it more eagerly when one has recognized the worth of those who originated it and established it.

In Egypt there are three types of monk. Two of them are quite excellent. The third is a lukewarm type and is to be avoided in every way.

The first type is that of the cenobites, those who live together in one community under the authority of an elder. Most of the Egyptian monks are of this kind.

The second type is that of the anchorites, men who are first trained in monasteries, have achieved perfection in their way of life and who have chosen the hidden life of solitude. And our wish is to belong to this profession.

The third type – and one to be deplored – is that of the sarabites.

To all of those, one by one, we will devote a fuller discussion.

The founders of these three professions are those who, as I have said, you must first get to know. Our of this will arise the detestation of the profession to be avoided and a longing for that which ought to be followed, for it is necessarily the case that each route will take its follower to the end reached by the one who established it and founded it. Colm Lubheid, trans., "John Cassian: Conferences," from "The Classics of Western Spirituality" series, (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 184-185

O monk, take thou the greatest possible care that thou sin not, lest thou disgrace God Who dwelleth in thee, and thou drive Him out of thy soul. Paradise of the Fathers

One of the fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, "What is a monk?" He said, "He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

The Christian religion rejoiced in these two monastic professions. But a gradual decline began to set into this scene. A very bad and unfaithful band of monks emerged subsequently. Back to life and growing once again came that dangerous plant which, at the beginning of the Church, had grown because of Ananias and Sapphira and which had been cut down by the severity of Peter. For a long time it was looked upon by monks as something detestable, something accursed, and the frightening memory of a sentence so terrible had kept it from appearing among anyone. Those first guilty of it were given no chance at all by the blessed apostle either to repent or make recompense. A speedy death had cut out the very deadly germ.

Yet, little by little, prolonged carelessness and the passage of time ensured that many forgot the example of severe punishment set by the apostle in regard to Ananias and Sapphira. And it was then that there appeared that band of sarabites. The name "sarabites" is Coptic and they are so called because they cut themselves off from the monastic communities and take care of their own needs. They are descendants of that crowd I mentioned who prefer to put on the show of evangelic perfection rather than to take it up for what it really is. Their incentive to act in this way is envy, as well as the praises heaped upon those who prefer the utter poverty of Christ to all the riches of the world.

These men of puny spirit concern themselves with something requiring the highest virtue or else there was some compulsion upon them to approach this profession. They hurried to bear the name of being monks, though they lacked all urge to be really like them. They have no interest in monastic discipline. They do not submit to the direction of elders and they do not learn their instructions in how to overcome their own desires. They do not accept any of the correct and formative rules deriving from sensible guidance. Their withdrawal from the world is for the sake of public show and is something done before men’s eyes. Or else they remain in their own houses, enjoy the name of being monks, and continue to do what they always did. Or else they build cells for themselves, give them the title of monasteries, and then freely live in them as they choose. They never fall in with the gospel commands not to be concerned about one’s daily bread and not to be taken up with worldly affairs. This is something done, without any of the doubtings of lack of faith, by those who have liberated themselves from all the wealth of this world and who have submitted themselves to monastic rules to the extent that they do not admit to having any authority over themselves.

But these others, as I have said, run from monastic austerity. They live two or three to a cell. The last thing they want is to be guided by the concern and the authority of a father-superior. Their special concern is to be free of the yoke of elders, to be free to do what they themselves wish, to travel out, to wander wherever they please, to do what takes their fancy. In their activities they do more by day and by night than those who live in monasteries, though not from the same kind of faith and for the same purpose. They do this not with the intention of handing over the fruit of their work to be disposed of as their mentor thinks fit but to collect and to save money.

Observe the great difference between both kinds of monk.

Cenobites think nothing of the morrow. They present the fruit of their sweated labor as an offering that is most agreeable to God. But the others push the selfish concerns of their faithless souls not only into the coming day but over the length of many years. They think of God as being a liar or as one without resources, as someone unable and unwilling to live up to His promise of adequate food and clothing.

The ceaseless plea of the cenobites is to be bereft of everything and always to be poor. The others wish for an abundance of all goods. The cenobites strive in their daily work to go beyond what is required of them so that whatever remains over and beyond the needs of the monastery can, at the abbot’s discretion, be given to prisons or hostels, to hospitals or to the poor. The others work so that anything left after the satisfaction of daily greed can be available to their profligate wishes or saved to gratify avarice.

Finally I wish that the sarabites would make better use of the money which, with their bad objectives, they had accumulated for themselves. They come nowhere near the virtue or the perfection of the cenobites, who earn so much money for their monasteries, hand it over each day, continue to persevere in their utterly humble submissiveness; who stand away from deciding themselves what to do with what they have earned by the sweat of their brow and who, in this daily renunciation of what they have earned, manage to renew ceaselessly the zeal of their first act of renunciation. But these others are puffed up by the fact of giving something to the poor, and every day they slide headlong to disaster.

The cenobites continue to show the patience and the discipline with which they persevere in this profession which they once adopted. They never do what they themselves wish. Every day they are crucified to this world and are living martyrs, whereas, in the case of the others, their lukewarm spirit plunges them into damnation.

The numbers of both sorts of monk – cenobites and anchorites – are roughly equal in this province. As for the other provinces through which I had to travel because of matters connected with the Christian faith, I discovered that this third kind – the sarabites – flourished and indeed was almost the only kind to exist. In the days of Lucius, who was bishop of the Arian perfidy – this was in the reign of Valens – I brought help to our brothers, from Egypt and the Thebaid, who had been condemned to the mines of Pontus and of Armenia because of their loyalty to the Christian faith. In a few towns I saw very little monastic discipline and I could not find out if the name of anchorite had ever been heard among them. John Cassian, "Conferences," (from a conversation with Abba Piamun) trans. by Colm Luibheid, from the "Classics of Western Spirituality Series," (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 188 - 190

The brothers said, "Why is it that the monks are obliged to go around begging for the food and clothes they need, like those who are in the world, although our Lord promised them, saying, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and that of which ye have need shall be given to you’ (Matt. 6:23)?"

The old man said, "This saying is a proof of the wisdom and grace of God toward those who are in the world, for in the majority of cases, the righteousness of the children of this world consists of alms and compassion; but the children of light are righteous people and monks who, in their persons, and in their bodies, and in their thoughts, serve our Lord. And God has made the monks to have need of the children of this world because of His love, so that they may care for each other, and may pray for each other; that is to say, the children of the world must care for the monks and the monks must pray in love for them.

"And as the children of the world make the monks associates with them in the corporeal things of the world, the monks must make the children of the world to be associates with them in the things of heaven, for our Lord spoke to the children of the world, saying, ‘Make ye to yourselves friends of this mammon of iniquity so that when they have become perfect they may receive you into their tabernacles which are forever.’ (Luke 14:9)" E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," (Seattle, St. Nectarios Press, 1984), p.304

Truly wretched and three times miserable is the soul that has left the world and dedicated itself to God but has not lived in a manner worthy of its promise. Then, brothers, let us not allow this age, which is short and contemptible and passes like a shadow, to steal that blessed and immortal life away from us. St Pachomius, Armand Veilleux, trans., "Pachomian Koinonia -- Volume II," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1981), pp. 41 - 44

Those who fervently desire to remain amid (in the world) as well as those who live a worthy life in communities, in mountains and in caves are saved; and God bestows on them great blessings solely because they rest their faith in Him. St. Symeon the New Theologian

Remaining faithful to Monasticism is considered to be a martyrdom. Elder Amphilochios Makris -

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