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Directions on the Spiritual Life
by St. Dorotheos of Gaza


1. In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.

2. The (old) law had as its purpose to teach us not to do what we did not want done to us; consequently it forbade only the actual doing of evil. Now however (in the New Testament) we are required to banish the passion itself, which urges us to do evil—hatred itself, love of pleasures, love of fame, and other passions.

3. Listen to what the Lord says: "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29). He shows here the root and cause of all ills and their cure, the cause of all good, namely, that self-exaltation has brought us down and that pardon cannot be obtained except through its opposite, humility. What has brought all our afflictions upon us? Was it not pride? Man was created for every kind of enjoyment and was in the Garden of Eden. But one thing he was forbidden to do, yet he did it. You see the pride? You see the disobedience (the daughter of pride)?

4. Thereupon God said: man does not know how to delight in joy alone. If he does not experience afflictions he will go still further and will perish completely. If he does not learn what are sorrow and labor he will not know what are joy and peace; and so God banished him from the Garden of Eden. Here he was surrendered to his own self-love and his own will, that they might break his bones and thereby teach him to follow not himself but God's commandments, and that the very sufferings of disobedience should teach him the blessings of obedience, as the Prophet says: "Thine apostasy shall correct thee" (Jeremiah 2:19). So now God's mercy calls: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He says, as it were: you have labored and suffered enough and have experienced the evil results of disobedience, come now and be converted: restore yourselves to life by humility, in place of the arrogance by which you put yourselves to death. "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29).

5. Some God-loving men, having cut off the actions of passions after their holy baptism, desired to vanquish passions themselves and become passionless. Such were St. Anthony, St. Pachomius and other holy fathers. They conceived the good intention to cleanse themselves "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (II Corinthians 7:1). But realizing that this is hard to achieve while living in the world, they devised for themselves a special form of life, a special form of activity, that is, a solitary life withdrawn from the world; and they began to flee the world and to live in the wilderness, practiced fasting and vigil, slept on bare earth, and endured various other privations, having completely renounced their kith and kin, their goods and possessions.

6. Thus they not only kept the commandments, but also brought gifts to God. Commandments are given to all Christians and it is the duty of every Christian to obey them. It is the same as the tribute that in the world is due to the king. But as in the world there are great and distinguished people, who not only pay tribute to the king but also bring gifts to him for which they are granted special honors, reward and rank, so too the fathers not only paid tribute to God by obeying the commandments, but also brought Him gifts, such as virginity and poverty, which are not commandments but acts of their own will. For it is said of the first: "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (Matthew 19:12), and of the second: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor" (Matthew 19:21).

7. They crucified the world unto themselves, and thereupon strove to crucify themselves unto the world, imitating the Apostle who says, "The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). For when a man renounces the world and becomes a monk, leaves his parents, possessions and all worldly affairs and cares, he crucified the world unto himself. And when, being made free from external things, he fights also against the very enjoyment or the very desire of things, when he struggles against his own wishes, and mortifies the passions themselves, he crucifies himself unto the world and can boldly say with the Apostle, "The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

8. Our fathers, having crucified the world unto themselves, have also crucified themselves unto the world by their efforts. But though, by renouncing the world and retiring into a monastery, we have seemingly crucified the world unto ourselves, we do not want to crucify ourselves unto the world, since we still love its pleasures, are still attached to it, are moved by its glory, have kept in ourselves a fondness for foods, clothes and other vanities. Yet we should not do so, since just as we have renounced the world and its things, so too should we renounce our very attachment to those things.

9. We have left the world, so let us leave also our attachment to it. For attachments tie us again to the world and unite us with it, even if they concern insignificant, ordinary and worthless things. If we wish to be completely transformed and freed from attachments, let us learn to cut off our own desires, even in the least important things. For nothing brings more profit to men than renouncing their own will, since in truth a man gains a greater benefit from this than from any other virtue. Indeed, the cutting off of one's own will and desires can be practiced at every moment. Suppose a man is walking; his thought says to him, "Look at this and at that," but he cuts off his desire and says nothing. He meets some people talking; his thought says to him: "have a few words with them," but he cuts off his desire and says nothing. He comes to the kitchen; his thought says: "let us go and see what the cook is preparing," but he cuts off his desire and does not go, and so on and so on. But cutting off his desires in this way he acquires a habit of cutting them off and, beginning with small things, ends by easily and calmly cutting them off in big things as well. Thus, finally he begins to have no will of his own at all and remains unperturbed, whatever may happen. Thus by cutting off their own will men acquire non-attachment and from non-attachment, with God's help, they rise to complete passionlessness.

10. A certain staretz [NOTE: this is a Russian term which literally means, "old man," but in religious literature it refers to a spiritual father of great wisdom and insight] said: "Above all we need humility." Why did he say this? Why did he not say that above all we need self-mastery, since the Apostle says, "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things" (I Corinthians 9:25). Or why did he not say that above all we need the fear of God, since the Scriptures say, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7). Or why did he not say that above all we need mercy or faith, since it is said, "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged" (Proverbs 16:6) and, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). Why then, laying aside all these which are so needful, does the staretz stress only humility? He shows us by this that neither fear of God, nor mercy, nor faith nor self- mastery, nor any other virtue can be achieved without humility. Moreover, humility destroys all the arrows of the enemy. All the saints followed the way of humility and labored at it. "Look upon mine affliction and my trouble; and forgive all my sins" (Psalms 24:18), and again, "I was brought low, and he delivered me" (Psalms 114:6).

11. The same staretz said, "Humility is neither angered nor angers anyone. Humility attracts God's grace to the soul; and God's grace, when it comes, delivers the soul from these two grievous passions. For what can be more grievous than to be angry with one's neighbor or to anger him? But what am I saying, that humility delivers from only two passions? It delivers the soul from every passion and every temptation."

12. When St. Anthony saw all the nets of the devil spread out, he sighed and asked God, "Who can escape them?" God answered him, "Humility escapes them" and, what is still more wonderful, added, "They will not even touch it." Do you see the power of this virtue? Indeed there is nothing stronger than humility, for nothing can conquer it. If some affliction befalls a humble man, he immediately blames himself for deserving it and will not reproach or blame another. Thus he endures everything that may befall (him) untroubled, without grief, with perfect calm; and so he is angered by no one and angers none.

13. There are two kinds of humility, as there are two kinds of pride. The first kind of pride is when a man reproaches his brother, condemns and reviles him as someone of no account, regarding himself as his superior. If such a man does not speedily come to his senses and try to mend his ways, he comes, little by little, to the second kind of pride, which puffs itself up in the face of God Himself and ascribes to itself its achievements and virtues, as though the man has done it all himself, with his own intelligence and knowledge, and not with the help of God. From this can be seen what constitutes the two kinds of humility.

14. The first humility consists in considering that one's brother has better judgment and is in all things superior to oneself—or in considering oneself below all men. The second humility consists in ascribing one's achievements to God. This is the perfect humility of the saints.

15. No one can describe in words what humility is and how it is born in the soul, unless he learns this from experience. From words alone no one can know it. One day Abba Zossima was speaking of humility, when a sophist who was present asked him: "Do you not know that you have virtues? After all, you see that you are obeying the commandments: how then in that case do you regard yourself as a sinner?" The staretz could not find how to answer him but said simply, "I do not know what to say to you, but I consider myself a sinner." And when the sophist went on bothering him with the question "How?", the staretz continued to repeat the same thing: "I know not how, but I truly regard myself such. Do not confuse me." Or again, when Abba Agathon was nearing death the brethren asked him, "Are you not afraid, father?" He answered, "As far as I could I have made myself keep the commandments, but I am a man, and how can I know whether what I have done is pleasing to God. For God's judgment is one thing and man's another.

16. A staretz once said about what brings a man to humility, "The ways to humility are bodily labors done intelligently, considering oneself below all others, and ceaseless prayer to God." Bodily labors bring the soul to humility, because the soul suffers with the body and shares in all that happens to it; as bodily labors humble the body, the soul is humbled with it. Considering oneself lower than all is a distinctive feature of humility, and if a man practices it and becomes accustomed to it, this by itself implants humility and uproots what we have called the first pride. For how can a man puff himself up before anyone, or blame or belittle anyone if he regards himself as lower than all? In the same way the practice of unceasing prayer obviously goes against the second kind of pride. For it is clear that a man inclines himself towards humility if, knowing that he can achieve no virtue without God's help, he never ceases to pray, asking God to show him mercy. Thus a man who prays without ceasing, if he achieves something, knows why he achieved it, and can take no pride in it; for he cannot attribute it to his own powers, but attributes all his achievements to God, always renders thanks to Him and constantly calls upon Him, trembling lest he be deprived of help. Thus he prays with humility and is made humble by prayer. The more he progresses in virtue the greater becomes his humility, and as his humility grows he receives help and again progresses in humility.

17. In creating man God implanted in him something Divine—a certain thought, like a spark, having both light and warmth, a thought which illumines the mind and shows what is good and what bad. This is called conscience and it is a natural law. By following this law—conscience—the patriarchs and all the saints pleased God, even before the law was written. But when, through the fall, men covered up and trampled down conscience, there arose the need of written law, of the holy Prophets, of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to uncover and raise it up, to rekindle this buried spark by the keeping of His holy commandments.

18. So not it is in our power either to bury it again or to let it shine in us and illumine us, if we obey. When our conscience tells us to do something and we disregard it, and when it tells us again but we continue to trample on it and not act on it, we bury it. Then it can no longer speak to us clearly for the weight which presses upon it, but like a lamp shining behind a curtain it begins to show us things more and more dimly. Just as no one can recognize their face in water muddied with slime, so we, after transgression, fail to apprehend the voice of conscience, so that it seems to us not to exist in us at all.

19. Conscience is called the adversary, because it always opposes our evil will; it reminds us of what we ought to do but do not, and condemns us if we do something we ought not. That was why the Lord called it adversary and commanded us: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him" (Matthew 5:25), that is, while you are in this world, as Basil the Great says.

20. So let us guard our conscience, while we are in this world; let us not allow it to accuse us in something, nor disregard it in anything however small. For you must realize that from disregarding this small and insignificant thing we pass to neglect of big things. If someone begins to say "What does it matter if I eat this scrap? What of it if I look at this or that?", then from this "What matters this, what matters that?" he will fall into a bad habit and will begin to neglect big and important things and trample down his conscience. Thus becoming hardened in evil, he will be in danger of falling into complete insensitivity.

21. Conscience should be guarded towards God, towards one's neighbor and towards things. In relation to God, he guards his conscience who does not neglect God's commandments and who, even in things not seen by men and that no one demands of us, guards his conscience towards God in secret. Guarding conscience towards our neighbor demands that we should never do anything which, to our knowledge, would offend or tempt him, whether by word or deed, look or expression. Guarding conscience towards things means not to misuse a thing, nor let it be spoiled nor throw it away needlessly. In all these respects conscience should be kept pure and unblemished, lest one should fall into the calamity against which the Lord warns us (Matthew 5:26).

22. St. John says, "Perfect love casteth out fear" (I John 4:18). How is it then that the holy Prophet David says, "Fear the Lord, all ye his saints" (Psalms 33:9)? This shows that there are two kinds of fear: the first, initial, the second perfect; one belongs to beginners, the other to perfect saints, who have attained to the measure of perfect love. He who obeys God's will through fear of torment is still a beginner; and he who fulfils the will of God through love for God in order to please Him, is brought by this love into perfect fear; and through this fear, when once he has tasted the delight of being with God, he is afraid to fall away, is afraid to be deprived of it. It is this perfect fear, born of love, which casts out the initial fear.

23. No one can attain to perfect fear unless he first acquires the initial fear. The wise Sirach says, "To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ...The fear of the Lord is a crown of wisdom" (Ecclesiasticus 1:14, 18). By the beginning is meant the initial fear, on which follows the perfect fear of the saints. The initial fear belongs to the state of our soul. It protects the soul from every fall, for it is said, "By the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil" (Proverbs 15:27). But a man who departs from evil from fear of punishment, like a slave in fear of his master, gradually comes to doing good voluntarily—at first like a hireling in the hope of some reward for his good action. If he continues thus constantly to avoid evil from fear, like a slave, and to do good in the hope of reward like a hireling, then, abiding by God's grace in the good and thus correspondingly uniting with God, he finally acquires a taste for the good, comes to a certain sense of what is truly good, and no longer wishes to be parted from it. Then he attains to the dignity of a son and loves good for its own sake; and although he fears, he does so because he loves. This is great and perfect fear.

24. This sequence is expressed by the Prophet David in the following words: "Turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it" (Psalms 33:14). "Turn away from evil," that is, avoid all evil in general, turn away from every action which leads to sin. But having said this he did not stop there, but added "and do good." For sometimes a man does no evil, but neither does he any good: for example, he harms no one but also does not show mercy; or he does not hate but neither does he love. Having said this David continued, "seek peace, and pursue it." He did not merely say "seek," but pursue it with diligence to acquire it. Follow carefully these words in your mind and note the subtlety shown by the Saint. When it is granted to a man to turn away from evil and thereupon, with God's help, diligently to do good, he becomes at once a prey to attacks from the enemy. And so he labors, strives, sorrows, now fearing to return to evil like a slave, now hoping for a reward for good like a hireling. In suffering attacks from the enemy, struggling with him and resisting him from these motives, though the man does what is good, he does it with great effort and grief. But when he receives God's help and acquires a certain habit of good, then he finds rest, then he tastes peace, then he experiences what grievous warfare means and what mean the joy and gladness of peace. Then he begins to seek peace, to strive after it assiduously in order to attain it, to possess it wholly and to establish it in himself. He who has reached this stage tastes at last the blessedness of the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). And henceforth who can impel his soul to do good for the sake of anything but the enjoyment of that good itself? Then such a man knows also perfect fear.

25. The fathers said that man acquires the fear of God if he keeps death and torments in his memory, if each evening he questions himself as to how he spent the day, and each morning how he passed the night, if he is not presumptuous and, finally, if he remains in close communion with a man who fears God. For they relate that once a certain brother asked a staretz, "What should I do, father, in order to fear God?" The staretz answered, "Go, live with a man who fears God; and by the very fact that he fears God, he will teach you too to fear Him." We repel the fear of God from ourselves by doing everything contrary to what has been said—we have neither memory of death nor memory of torments, we have no attention on ourselves and do not question ourselves about how we spend out time, but live heedlessly and commune with men who have no fear of God, and we are presumptuous. This last is the worst of all—it is utter ruin—for nothing drives the fear of God away from the soul more than presumptuousness. Abba Agathon, when asked about it, once said, "Presumptuousness is like a strong scorching wind, from which all flee when it begins to blow, and which kills all the fruit on the trees." May God save us from this all-destructive passion—presumptuousness.

26. Presumptuousness may have many forms; one may be presumptuous by word, gesture, or look. It may lead a man to chatter, to worldly talk, to doing something ridiculous, provoking others to unseemly mirth. It is presumptuousness, too, if a man touches another without need, points at someone who is laughing, pushes him, snatches something out of his hands, shamelessly stares at him; all this is the work of presumptuousness, all this comes of having no fear of God in the soul and so little by little a man becomes utterly careless. Therefore God, when He gave the commandments of the law, said, "Ye shall cause the children of Israel to beware of their uncleannesses" (Leviticus 15:31), for without reverence and modesty man cannot honor even God Himself, nor can he keep a single commandment. Hence nothing is more harmful than presumptuousness; it is the mother of all passions, since it banishes reverence, drives the fear of God away from the soul, and gives birth to carelessness.

27. Over whatever you have to do, even if it be very urgent and demands great care, I would not have you argue or be agitated. For rest assured, everything you do, be it great or small, is but one eighth of the problem, whereas to keep one's state undisturbed even if thereby one should fail to accomplish the task, is the other seven eighths. So if you are busy at some task and wish to do it perfectly, try to accomplish it—which, as I said, would be one eighth of the problem, and at the same time to preserve your state unharmed—which constitutes seven eighths. If, however, in order to accomplish your task you would inevitably be carried away and harm yourself or another by arguing with him, you should not lose seven for the sake of preserving one eighth.

28. The wise Solomon says in the Proverbs, "They that have no guidance fall like leaves: but in counsel there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). So you see what the Holy Scriptures teach us? They enjoin us not to rely on ourselves, not to regard ourselves as knowing all, not to believe that we can control ourselves, for we need help, are in need of those who would counsel us according to God. No men are more unfortunate or nearer perdition than those who have no teachers on the way of God. For what does it mean that where no guidance is, the people fall like leaves? A leaf is at first green, flourishing, beautiful; then it gradually withers, falls and is finally trampled underfoot. So is it with a man who has no guide; at first he is always zealous in fasting, vigil, silence, obedience and other virtues; then his zeal little by little cools down and, having no one to instruct, support and fire him with zeal, he insensibly withers, falls and finally becomes a slave of the enemies, who do with him what they will.

29. Of those who revel their thoughts and actions and who do everything with counsel the Wise One says, "in much counsel there is safety" (Proverbs 9:14). He does not say, "in the counsels of many" that is, in seeking counsel from everyone, but in seeking counsel in all things—naturally from one we trust; and not in such a way as to tell one thing and conceal another, but to reveal everything and seek counsel in all things. For such a man, safety is assured "in much counsel."

30. When we do not reveal our thoughts and intentions and do not seek the counsel of the experienced, we hold on to our own will and follow our own justifications. Then, apparently doing something good, we spread nets for ourselves, and so without realizing it we perish. For how can we understand the will of God or completely surrender ourselves to it, when we trust ourselves and cling to our own will? Therefore Abba Pimen said that "our will is a brass wall between man and God."

31. The devil trips up as he likes the man who trusts his own mind and keeps to his own will. But he has no access to a man who does everything with counsel. That is why he hates questions and the guidance in response, hates the very voice, the very sound of such words. Is it not clear why? Because he knows that his evil wiles will at once be exposed when people begin to ask questions and talk of useful things. And there is nothing he fears more than being exposed, for then he can no longer be wily as he wills. When a man asks and hears the advice of someone experienced, "do this, but do not do that" or, "now is not the time for that" or sometimes "now is the time," the devil cannot find how to harm or bring him down, since he always seeks counsel and protects himself on all sides. So the saying "in much counsel there is safety" is fulfilled for him.

32. The enemy likes those who rely on their own understanding, for they help him and sets traps for themselves. I know of no other way for a monk to fall than when he trusts his own heart. Some say a man falls because of this or that, but I know of no other fall except when a man follows his own lead. If you see a man fallen, know that he followed his own lead. Nothing is more dangerous, nothing more pernicious than this.




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