Hypothesis XXV

Concerning the fact that evil is easy, and that there are many who choose this, especially in our day; that virtue is demanding, and that there are few who pursue it; and that we must emulate the latter and pay no heed to the majority.


A. From the Gerontikon


1. One of the brethren once came to Abba Theodore of Pherme and said to him: “Such and such a brother returned to the world.” The Elder replied: “Are you surprised at this? Do not be surprised, but be more amazed if you hear that someone was able to escape from the mouth of the Enemy.”


2. An Elder said: “It is better to live with three men who fear the Lord than with ten thousand who do not have fear of God. For in the last days, among the hundreds in the cenobitic monasteries, very few will be saved; for all will turn into devotees of the refectory, and to gluttony, love of power, and avarice. Many are called, but few are chosen” (St. Matthew 22:14).


3. The same Elder said: “If you find yourself in a place and come across men having but little material relief, pay no heed to them; but if you see another man, so poor that he has not even bread, look after him, and then you will find rest of soul.”


4. Abba Poimen besought Abba Makarios with many tears: “Tell me, how am I to be saved?” The Elder replied to him: “What you are seek­ing has now departed from monastics.”


5. Abba John recounted what one of the Elders had seen in an ec­static vision: “Behold, three monks were standing on the opposite shore of the sea. There came to them a voice from the other side, which said: ‘Take up flaming wings and come to me.’ Two of them took up flaming wings and flew to the other side; the other stayed and shed many tears, and cried aloud. He eventually took up, not fiery wings, but weak and powerless ones. He toiled, sinking and rising again, finally, after much toil, reaching the other side. So it is with this generation: Although it takes up wings, they are not flaming, but utterly weak and powerless.”


6. The Holy Fathers prophesied about the last generation, saying to each other in wonderment: “What have we achieved?” One of them, Abba Ischyrion, a great Elder, replied: “We have fulfilled the com­mandments of God.” The others said: “What about those who will come after us, what will they do?” The Elder answered: “They will accom­plish half of our work.” And again the Fathers asked: “What about those who come after them?” Abba Ischyrion replied: “The men of that gen­eration will accomplish no work at all; temptation will come upon them. But those who are found worthy in that epoch will be greater than we and our Fathers.”


B. From St. Ephraim


My beloved, when you see those who are advanced in the monastic life being negligent, watch out and fortify yourself, lest in emulating them you traverse the same path yourself and inherit eternal punish­ment with them. Or again, do not make a show of your own temper­ance and vaunt yourself against them, thereby falling into haughtiness; if you do, you will be in the Enemy’s hands. But attend to yourself and guard yourself intently; for we are not justified or condemned by the deeds of others. Rather, when we are brought before the Judge naked and with our necks bowed, each will give an account of himself and bear his own burden. This is why it is always good to attend to yourself and to imitate those who live their lives according to God, looking to them and becoming like them.

Do not vie with those who neglect their own salvation and who ac­quire the monastic habit for mere external appearance, so as not to re­semble a soldier taken over by the Enemy, who, bearing the King’s em­blem, nonetheless serves the King’s enemies. For He does not lie Who says: “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (St. John 8:34). For the monastic habit is like the leaves of a tree, while deeds are the tree’s fruits. Do not concern yourself, then, with outer appearance or seek to emulate such men, justifying yourself by saying, “You are no worse than others who fall into passions.” Rather, bring to mind the say­ing, that in a great mansion there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthenware ones; some are valuable, others are not. If, then, you disobey the Lord by accomplishing the works of sin, you are a worthless vessel. But if you do the works of the Lord, you will be a chosen vessel, prized, sanctified and useful to the Master, ready for every good deed.

Cherish good company but keep away from bad company, since no sorcerer, brigand, or grave-robber was ever born such, but learned these things from men whose minds were corrupted by Satan. For God made all things exceedingly good. Do not take delight in baths, drinking, gath­erings in the marketplace, and luxury, lest you fall into fatal dangers. Always keep in mind the affliction of sinners, lest you should one day be reckoned among them. Have you never entered a home where peo­ple were in mourning and, after seeing the lamentation and the wail­ing, hastened to depart from that house? Hence it is that we make con­jectures about eternal realities on the basis of temporal phenomena. For the Old Testament says: “Give an opportunity to a wise man, and he will become wiser” (Proverbs 9:9). Be guileless in accepting the com­mandments of God, but crafty in repelling the wiles of the Devil and in cutting off harmful relationships, so that your inner man may be at peace.

Do not spend time with actors and comedians, so as not to corrupt your thoughts; for their words cause more damage to their audience than the venom of asps.* They cause old men to behave like children and lead the young into works of iniquity. If you are in a monastery and see certain brethren walking about in a disorderly manner and saying things that are not pleasing to God, pay no attention to them or to their words, but keep God before your eyes, as it is written: “I beheld the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken” (Psalm 15:8). Do not let the Devil bring temptation to your mind: “If these Elders have been in the monastery and the ascetic life for a long time, what about me, who am their junior? What am I to do?” But hear the Lord, Who says: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (St. Matthew 22:14). And again: “...Are there few that be saved?” (St. Luke 13:23). * The asp is a species of very poisonous snake, the bite of which is fatal.

Become one of the elect and the few, then, not one of the many and the perishing. For those who do evil, whether they are in a cenobitic monastery or in any place whatsoever, are sons of the Evil One, who re­semble the tares in the midst of the wheat (St. Matthew 13:25-30). Be wheat, then, so that you may be gathered into the barns of the Lord and not burned like darnel in the unquenchable fire. Consider that the right­eous Lot dwelled in Sodom, but was not carried away with its hedo­nism and wantonness. For this reason, he was saved, as it is written: “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 St. Peter 2:8). He adds: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the Godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of Judgment to be punished” (2 St. Peter 2:9). And so on.

Although he lived with such men, Lot did not perish with them. Ge­hazi served the Prophet Elissaios and yet sinned (4 Kings 5:20-27). Likewise, Samuel stayed with Eli and associated with his sons; and when they perished (1 Kings 4:1-22), he was saved because he loved the Lord in truth and did not envy the ways of the godless. Judas followed the Lord together with the Disciples, and yet he gave Him over to the hands of the transgressors.

So it is that each of us must always attend to himself. If we dwell with righteous men, looking to them, we shall live righteously our­selves, having examples of virtue close to us; but if we dwell with sin­ners, let us endeavor not only not to emulate their deeds, but rather to provide them with opportunities for salvation through our own good conduct. If anyone says: “I am weak and negligent and am easily led into evil deeds by heedless men,” let him turn his attention to the Divine Scriptures and imitate the Holy Fathers in their way of life; he will then meet with approval from God and men. Let him visit with men who fear the Lord and heal souls, and let him accept with longing everything they say; let him show that he can put their words into practice, and in a short time he will bear fruit. For the Scripture says: “Ask thy father and he will shew thee; thine elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

We must realize that he who lives in a cenobitic monastery, disre­garding his own salvation and doing deeds antithetical to it, will court very severe punishment, not only for himself, but also for the souls of those who are destroyed through him, his having been a model of sloth and evil. Again, however, he who cultivates the virtues and thinks of his own salvation will be granted great glory in Heaven, having made himself a model of virtuous life for his brethren and, through his own zeal, having aroused the eagerness of the more negligent to carry out the commandments. For just as he who has struggled first in the line of battle, and has broken through the enemy’s phalanx, is honored above the rest, so he who is vigilant in doing the work of the Lord, and pro­vides for the many an example of service, will receive greater glory from God.


C. From Antiochos


Just as the wasp eats the products of the labour of bees, so also a sloth­ful brother impairs the virtuous existence of a community; and just as a cowardly soldier paralyzes the hands of his fellow-warriors, so also a negligent monk weakens the eagerness of his brethren; for this reason God will punish him very severely. It is therefore better, brethren, to dwell with a few people who are pleasing to God than with those many men who despise the commandments of the Lord. For where there is fear of the Lord, there is also love and unanimity, and God dwells in the midst of such people. But where men do not fear God, there is strife and envy; and where there is envy, or jealousy, there the Evil One is pleased.

It is preferable, then, to live with a few good men than with a mul­titude of unprofitable men, just as the Divine Scriptures have instructed us. For the author of the Proverbs says: “Do not desire a multitude of un­profitable men, if the fear of the Lord is not with them.” Indeed, one righteous man is better than a thousand sinners; “for in the assembly of sinners fire will be kindled” (Ecclesiasticus 16:6 [Sophia Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach]). Another passage says: “Do not de­sire an unprofitable multitude, and if they increase, do not rejoice over them, if the fear of the Lord is not with them; do not entrust yourself to their life, for you will groan with untimely grief. One righteous man who does the Will of God is better than having impious children; for from one wise man a city will be replenished” (Ecclesiasticus 16:1-4).


D. From Abba Mark


When you see two evil men who have love for each other, know that the one cooperates with the other to accomplish their evil will. A haugh­ty man and a vainglorious man will gladly enter into an alliance with each other; for the former praises the vainglorious one, as he slavishly cringes before him, while the latter exalts the haughty one, as he con­tinually praises him. Keep yourself far away from them, so that you may not suffer the harm that comes therefrom.


E. From the Gerontikon


A brother asked an Elder: “If I see some of my companions return­ing to the world, how can I not be scandalized?” The Elder replied: “You should think of dogs hunting hares. When one of the dogs sees a hare, he pursues it, overcoming every obstacle to reach it, while the other dogs, not seeing the hare, but only the dog pursuing it, run with the dog up to a certain point; but then, subsequently, they turn back. The dog who sees the hare and chases after it does not cease from his course, until he indeed reaches the hare, paying no attention to the dogs that have turned back, giving no thought to the cliffs, the woods, or the goads, and being in no way hindered by them. He clings continually to the goal of the hunt and looks only to the hare he is chasing. In a simi­lar way, he who seeks after our Master Jesus, and hastens to catch up with Him, cleaves unceasingly to the Cross, overlooks everything, and surmounts all the stumbling blocks that he encounters, until he reaches the Crucified One and lays hold of Him Who lives and Who abides.”


F. From St. Ephraim


The enemy hastens to arm the more negligent brothers against the more sober ones. But the more sober, if they are diligent, find a source of spiritual labor in the more negligent, enduring their weaknesses for the Lord’s sake. He who acts mercifully to his neighbour will find mercy with the Lord. Judgment is merciless for him who has not acted merci­fully. Do not help your brother to commit sin; hasten, if you can, to res­cue him from it, so that your soul may live in the Lord. Let the fear of God be ever before your eyes, and sin will have no control over you.


The Evergetinos, Volume 1, pp. 205-212


Back to: From the Holy Fathers