"The Ladder of Divine Ascent"
by St. John Climacus
Source Used: “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959)
Rungs 1–4: Renunciation of the world and obedience to a spiritual father
An Ascetic Treatise by Abba John, Abbot of the monks of Mount Sinai, sent by him to Abba John,
Abbot of Raithu, at whose request it was written.
On renunciation of the world
1. Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the
servants of God). Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will,
some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged
from God, and others, though feeble creatures are equally His opponents. By friends of God, dear and
holy Father,1 we simple people mean, properly speaking, those intellectual and incorporeal beings
which surround God. By true servants of God we mean all those who tirelessly and unremittingly do
and have done His will. By worthless servants we mean those who think of themselves as having been
granted baptism, but have not faithfully kept the vows they made to God. By those estranged from
God and alienated from Him, we mean those who are unbelievers or heretics. Finally, the enemies of
God are those who have not only evaded and rejected the Lord’s commandment themselves, but who
also wage bitter war on those who are fulfilling it.
2. Each of the classes mentioned above might well have a special treatise devoted to it. But for simple
folk like us it would not be profitable at this point to enter into such lengthy investigations. Come then,
in unquestioning obedience let us stretch out our unworthy hand to the true servants of God who
devoutly compel us and in their faith constrain us by their commands. Let us write this treatise with a
pen taken from their knowledge and dipped in the ink of humility which is both subdued yet radiant.
Then let us apply it to the smooth white paper of their hearts, or rather rest it on the tablets of the spirit,
and let us inscribe the divine words (or rather sow the seeds).2 And let us begin like this.
3. God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all—faithful and unfaithful, just
and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and seculars, wise and simple,
healthy and sick, young and old—just as the diffusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of
the weather are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God’.3
4. The irreligious man is a mortal being with a rational nature, who of his own free will turns his back
on life and thinks of his own Maker, the ever-existent, as non-existent. The lawless man is one who
holds the law of God after his own depraved fashion,4 and thinks to combine faith in God with heresy
that is directly opposed to Him. The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word and deed, as
far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity. The lover of
God is he who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless, and as far as he is able neglects
nothing good. The continent man is he who in the midst of temptations, snares and turmoil, strives
with all his might to imitate the ways of Him who is free from such. The monk is he who within his
earthly and soiled body toils towards the rank and state of the incorporeal beings.5 A monk is he who
strictly controls his nature and unceasingly watches over his senses. A monk is he who keeps his body in chastity, his mouth pure and his mind illumined. A monk is a mourning soul that both asleep and
awake is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of death. Withdrawal from the world is
voluntary hatred of vaunted material things and denial of nature for the attainment of what is above
5. . All who have willingly left the things of the world, have certainly done so either for the sake of the
future Kingdom, or because of the multitude of their sins, or for love of God. If they were not moved by
any of these reasons their withdrawal from the world was unreasonable. But God who sets our contests
waits to see what the end of our course will be.
6. The man who has withdrawn from the world in order to shake off his own burden of sins, should
imitate those who sit outside the city amongst the tombs, and should not discontinue his hot and fiery
streams of tears and voiceless heartfelt groanings until he, too, sees that Jesus has come to him and
rolled away the stone of hardness1 from his heart, and loosed Lazarus, that is to say, our mind, from the
bands of sin, and ordered His attendant angels: Loose him2 from passions, and let him go to blessed
dispassion.3 Otherwise he will have gained nothing.
7. Those of us who wish to go out of Egypt and to fly from Pharaoh, certainly need some Moses as a
mediator with God and from God, who, standing between action and contemplation, will raise hands
of prayer for us to God, so that guided by Him we may cross the sea of sin and rout the Amalek of the
passions.4 That is why those who have surrendered themselves to God, deceive themselves if they
suppose that they have no need of a director. Those who came out of Egypt had Moses as their guide,
and those who fled from Sodom had an angel.5 The former are like those who are healed of the
passions of the soul by the care of physicians: these are they who come out of Egypt. The latter are like
those who long to put off the uncleanness of the wretched body. That is why they need a helper, an
angel, so to speak, or at least one equal to an angel. For in proportion to the corruption of our wounds
we need a director who is indeed an expert and a physician.
8. Those who aim at ascending with the body to heaven, need violence indeed and constant suffering6
especially in the early stages of their renunciation, until our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling
hearts attain to love of God and chastity by visible sorrow. A great toil, very great indeed, with much
unseen suffering, especially for those who live carelessly, until by simplicity, deep angerlessness and
diligence, we make our mind, which is a greedy kitchen dog addicted to barking, a lover of chastity
and watchfulness. But let us who are weak and passionate have the courage to offer our infirmity and
natural weakness to Christ with unhesitating faith, and confess it to Him; and we shall be certain to
obtain His help, even beyond our merit, if only we unceasingly go right down to the depth of humility.
9. All who enter upon the good fight, which is hard and narrow, but also easy, must realize that they
must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them. But, let everyone examine
himself, and so let him eat the bread of it with its bitter herbs, and let him drink the cup of it with its tears, lest his service lead to his own judgment. If everyone who has been baptized has not been
saved—I shall be silent about what follows.1
10. Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and
shake off all things, that they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three
pillars is innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues, taking as
their model the natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful. They have no
insatiate appetite, no insatiable stomach, no body on fire; but perhaps as they grow, in proportion as
they take more food, their natural passions also increase.
11. To lag in the fight at the very outset of the struggle and thereby to furnish proof of our coming
defeat2 is a very hateful and dangerous thing. A firm beginning will certainly be useful for us when we
later grow slack. A soul that is strong at first but then relaxes is spurred on by the memory of its former
zeal. And in this way new wings are often obtained.
12. When the soul betrays itself and loses the blessed and longed for fervour, let it carefully investigate
the reason for losing this. And let it arm itself with all its longing and zeal against whatever has caused
this. For the former fervour can return only through the same door through which it was lost.
13. The man who renounces the world from fear is like burning incense, that begins with fragrance but
ends in smoke. He who leaves the world through hope of reward is like a millstone, that always moves
in the same way.3 But he who withdraws from the world out of love for God has obtained fire at the
very outset; and, like fire set to fuel, it soon kindles a larger fire.
14. Some build bricks upon stones. Others set pillars on the bare ground. And there are some who go a
short distance and, having got their muscles and joints warm, go faster. Whoever can understand, let
him understand this allegorical word.
15. Let us eagerly run our course as men called by our God and King, lest, since our time is short, we
be found in the day of our death without fruit and perish of hunger. Let us please the Lord as soldiers
please their king; because we are required to give an exact account of our service after the campaign.
Let us fear the Lord not less than we fear beasts. For I have seen men who were going to steal and were
not afraid of God, but, hearing the barking of dogs, they at once turned back; and what the fear of God
could not achieve was done by the fear of animals. Let us love God at least as much as we respect our
friends. For I have often seen people who had offended God and were not in the least perturbed about
it. And I have seen how those same people provoked their friends in some trifling matter and then
employed every artifice, every device, every sacrifice, every apology, both personally and through
friends and relatives, not sparing gifts, in order to regain their former love.
16. In the very beginning of our renunciation, it is certainly with labour and grief that we practise the
virtues. But when we have made progress in them, we no longer feel sorrow, or we feel little sorrow.
But as soon as our mortal mind is consumed, and mastered by our alacrity, we practise them with all
joy and eagerness, with love and with divine fire.
17. Those who at once from the very outset follow the virtues and fulfil the commandments with joy
and alacrity certainly deserve praise. And in the same way those who spend a long time in asceticism4
and still find it a weariness to obey the commandments, if they obey them at all, certainly deserve pity.
18. Let us not even abhor or condemn the renunciation due merely to circumstances. I have seen men
who had fled into exile meet the emperor by accident when he was on tour, and then join his company,
enter his palace, and dine with him. I have seen seed casually fall on the earth and bear plenty of thriving fruit. And I have seen the opposite, too. I have also seen a person come to a hospital with some
other motive, but the courtesy and kindness of the physician overcame him, and on being treated with
an astringent, he got rid of the darkness that lay on his eyes. Thus for some the unintentional was
stronger and more sure than what was intentional in others.
19. Let no one, by appealing to the weight and multitude of his sins, say that he is unworthy of the
monastic vow, and for love of pleasure disparage himself, excusing himself with excuses in his sins.1
Where there is much corruption, considerable treatment is needed to draw out all the impurity. The
healthy do not go to a hospital.
20. 20. If an earthly king were to call us and request us to serve in his presence, we should not delay for
other orders, we should not make excuses, but we should leave everything and eagerly go to him. Let
us then be on the alert, lest when the King of kings and Lord of lords and God of gods calls us to this
heavenly office, we cry off out of sloth and cowardice and find ourselves without excuse at the Last
Judgment. It is possible to walk, even when tied with the fetters of worldly affairs and iron cares, but
only with difficulty. For even those who have iron chains on their feet can often walk; but they are
continually stumbling and getting hurt. An unmarried man, who is only tied to the world by business
affairs, is like one who has fetters on his hands; and therefore when he wishes to enter the monastic life
he has nothing to hinder him. But the married man is like one who is bound hand and foot. (So when
he wants to run he cannot.)2
21. Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: ‘We have wives and are beset with social
cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak
evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do
not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do
not wreck another man’s domestic happiness;3 and be content with what your own wives can give you.
If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’
22. Let us charge into the good fight with joy and love without being afraid of our enemies. Though
unseen themselves, they can look at the face of our soul, and if they see it altered by fear, they take up
arms against us all the more fiercely. For the cunning creatures have observed that we are scared. So let
us take up arms against them courageously. No one will fight with a resolute fighter.
23. The Lord designedly makes easy the battles of beginners so that they should not immediately
return to the world at the outset. And so rejoice in the Lord always, all servants of His, detecting in this
the first sign of the Master’s love for us, and a sign that He Himself has called us. But when God sees
courageous souls, He has often been known to act in this way: He lets them have conflicts from the
very beginning in order to crown them the sooner. But the Lord hides the difficulty4 of this contest
from those in the world. For if they were to know, no one would renounce the world.
24. Offer to Christ the labours of your youth, and in your old age you will rejoice in the wealth of
dispassion. What is gathered in youth nourishes and comforts those who are tired out in old age. In our
youth let us labour ardently and let us run vigilantly, for the hour of death is unknown. We have very
evil and dangerous, cunning, unscrupulous foes, who hold fire in their hands and try to burn the
temple of God with the flame that is in it. These foes are strong; they never sleep; they are incorporeal
and invisible. Let no one when he is young listen to his enemies, the demons, when they say to him:
‘Do not wear out your flesh lest you make it sick and weak.’ For you will scarcely find anyone,
especially in the present generation, who is determined to mortify his flesh, although he might deprive himself of many pleasant dishes. The aim of this demon is to make the very outset of our spiritual life
lax and negligent, and then make the end correspond to the beginning.
25. Those who have really determined to serve Christ, with the help of spiritual fathers and their own
self-knowledge will strive before all else to choose a place, and a way of life, and a habitation, and
exercises suitable for them. For community life is not for all, on account of greed; and not for all are
places of solitude, on account of anger. But each will consider what is most suited to his needs.
26. The whole monastic state consists of three specific kinds of establishment: either the retirement and
solitude of a spiritual athlete, or living in silence with one or two others, or settling patiently in a
community. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left,1 but follow the King’s highway.2 Of the three
ways of life stated above, the second is suitable for many people, for it is said: ‘Woe unto him who is
alone when he falleth’ into despondency or lethargy or laziness or despair, ‘and hath not another
among men to lift him up’. 3‘For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst
of them,’ said the Lord.4
27. So who is a faithful and wise monk? He who has kept his fervour unabated, and to the end of his
life has not ceased daily to add fire to fire, fervour to fervour, zeal to zeal, love to love.5
This is the first step. Let him who has set foot on it not turn back.
1. The man who really loves the Lord, who has made a real effort to find the coming Kingdom, who
has really begun to be troubled by his sins, who is really mindful of eternal torment and judgment, who
really lives in fear of his own departure, will not love, care or worry about money, or possessions, or
parents, or worldly glory, or friends, or brothers, or anything at all on earth. But having shaken off all
ties with earthly things and having stripped himself of all his cares, and having come to hate even his
own flesh, and having stripped himself of everything, he will follow Christ without anxiety or
hesitation, always looking heavenward and expecting help from there, according to the word of the
holy man: My soul sticks close behind Thee,6 and according to the ever-memorable author who said: I
have not wearied of following Thee, nor have I desired the day (or rest) of man, O Lord.7
2. After our call, which comes from God and not man, we have left all that is mentioned above, and it
is a great disgrace for us to worry about anything that cannot help us in the hour of our need—that is to
say, the hour of our death. For as the Lord said, this means looking back and not being fit for the
Kingdom of Heaven.8 Knowing how fickle we novices are and how easily we turn to the world through
visiting, or being with, worldly people, when someone said to Him: ‘Suffer me first to go and bury my
father,’ our Lord replied, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.’9 3. After our renunciation of the world, the demons suggest to us that we should envy those living in
the world who are merciful and compassionate, and be sorry for ourselves as deprived of these virtues.
The aim of our foes is, by false humility, either to make us return to the world, or, if we remain monks,
to plunge us into despair. It is possible to belittle those living in the world out of conceit; and it is also
possible to disparage them behind their backs in order to avoid despair and to obtain hope.
4. Let us listen to what the Lord said to the young man who had fulfilled nearly all the
commandments: ‘One thing thou lackest; sell what thou hast and give to the poor1 and become a
beggar who receives alms from others.’
5. Having resolved to run our race with ardour and fervour, let us consider carefully how the Lord
gave judgment concerning all living in the world, speaking of even those who are alive as ‘dead’, when
He said to someone: Leave those in the world who are ‘dead’ to bury the dead in body.2 His wealth did
not in the least prevent the young man from being baptized. And so it is in vain that some say that the
Lord commanded him to sell what he had for the sake of baptism. This3 is more than sufficient to give
us the most firm assurance of the surpassing glory of our vow.
6. It is worth investigating why those who live in the world and spend their life in vigils, fasts, labours
and hardships, when they withdraw from the world and begin the monastic life, as if at some trial or
on the practising ground, no longer continue the discipline of their former spurious and sham
asceticism. I have seen how in the world they planted many different plants of the virtues, which were
watered by vainglory as by an underground sewage pipe, and were hoed by ostentation, and for
manure were heaped with praise. But when transplanted to a desert soil, in accessible to people of the
world and so not manured with the foul-smelling water of vanity, they withered at once. For waterloving plants are not such as to produce fruit in hard and arid training fields.
7. The man who has come to hate the world has escaped sorrow. But he who has an attachment to
anything visible is not yet delivered from grief. For how is it possible not to be sad at the loss of
something we love? We need to have great vigilance in all things. But we must give our whole
attention to this above everything else. I have seen many people in the world, who by reason of cares,
worries, occupations and vigils, avoided the wild desires of their body. But after entering the monastic
life, and in complete freedom from anxiety, they polluted themselves in a pitiful way by the disturbing
demands of the body.
8. Let us pay close attention to ourselves so that we are not deceived into thinking that we are
following the strait and narrow way when in actual fact we are keeping to the wide and broad way.
The following will show you what the narrow way means: mortification of the stomach, all-night
standing, water in moderation, short rations of bread, the purifying draught of dishonour, sneers,
derision, insults, the cutting out of one’s own will, patience in annoyances, unmurmuring endurance of
scorn, disregard of insults, and the habit, when wronged, of bearing it sturdily; when slandered, of not
being indignant; when humiliated, not to be angry; when condemned, to be humble. Blessed are they
who follow the way we have just described, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.4
9. No one will enter the heavenly bridechamber wearing a crown unless he makes the first, second
and third renunciation. I mean the renunciation of all business, and people, and parents; the cutting out
of one’s will; and the third renunciation, of the conceit that dogs obedience. ‘Come ye out from among
them, and be ye separate,’ saith the Lord, ‘and touch not the unclean world.’5 For who amongst them
has ever worked any miracles? Who has raised the dead? Who has driven out devils? No one. All these are the victorious rewards of monks, rewards which the world cannot receive; and if it could, then
what is the need of asceticism or solitude?
10. After our renunciation, when the demons inflame our hearts by reminding us of our parents and
brethren, then let us arm ourselves against them with prayer, and let us inflame ourselves with the
remembrance of the eternal fire, so that by reminding ourselves of this, we may quench the untimely
fire of our heart.
11. If anyone thinks he is without attachment to some object, but is grieved at its loss, then he is
completely deceiving himself.
12. If young people who are prone to the desires of physical love and to luxurious ways wish to enter
the monastic life, let them exercise themselves in all fasting and prayer, and persuade themselves to
abstain from all luxury and vice, lest their last state be worse than the first.1 This harbour provides
safety, but also exposes one to danger. Those who sail the spiritual seas know this. But it is a pitiful
sight to behold those who have survived perils at sea suffering shipwreck in harbour.
This is the second step. Let those who run the race imitate not Lot’s wife but Lot himself, and flee.
On exile or pilgrimage
1. Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country that prevents us from reaching
the goal of the religious life. Exile means modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence
not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisible intention, unseen meditation, desire for
humiliation, longing for hardship, constant determination to love God, abundance of charity,
renunciation of vainglory, depth of silence.
2. Those who have come to love the Lord are at first unceasingly and greatly disturbed by this
thought, as if burning with divine fire. I speak of separation from their own, undertaken by the lovers
of perfection so that they may live a life of hardship and simplicity. But great and praiseworthy as this
is, yet it requires great discretion; for not every kind of exile, carried to extremes, is good.
3. If every prophet goes unhonoured in his own country,3 as the Lord says, then let us beware lest our
exile should be for us an occasion of vainglory. For exile is separation from everything in order to keep
the mind inseparable from God. Exile loves and produces continual weeping. An exile is a fugitive
from every attachment to his own people and to strangers.
4. In hastening to solitude and exile, do not wait for world-loving souls, because the thief comes
unexpectedly. In trying to save the careless and indolent along with themselves, many perish with
them, because in course of time the fire goes out. As soon as the flame is burning within you, run; for
you do not know when it will go out and leave you in darkness. Not all of us are required to save
others. The divine Apostle says: ‘Each one of us shall give account of himself to God.’4 And again he says: ‘Thou therefore who teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?’1 This is like saying: I do not
know whether we must all teach others; but teach yourselves at all costs.
5. In going into exile, beware of the demon of wandering and of sensual desire; because exile gives
him his opportunity.
6. Detachment is excellent; but her mother is exile. Having become an exile for the Lord’s sake, we
should have no ties of affection at all lest we seem to be roving in order to gratify our passions.
7. Have you become an exile from the world? Do not touch the world any more; because the passions
desire nothing better than to return.
8. Eve was exiled from Paradise against her will, but the monk is a willing exile from his home. She
would have liked the tree of disobedience again; and he would certainly expose himself to frequent
danger from relatives according to the flesh.
9. Run from places of sin as from the plague. For when fruit is not present, we have no frequent desire
to eat it.
10. Be on the look out for this trick and wile of the thieves. For they suggest to us that we need not
separate ourselves from people in the world and maintain that we shall receive a great reward if we
can look upon women and still remain continent. We must not believe these suggestions, but rather the
11. When we have lived a year or two away from our family, and have acquired some piety or
contrition or continence, then vain thoughts begin to rise up in us and urge us to go again to our
homeland, ‘for the edification of many’, they say, ‘and as an example, and for the profit of those who
saw our former lax life’. And if we possess the gift of eloquence and some shreds of knowledge, the
thought occurs to us that we could be saviours of souls and teachers in the world—that we may waste
in the sea what we have gathered so well in the harbour. Let us try to imitate not Lot’s wife, but Lot
himself. For when a soul turns back to what it has left, like salt, it loses its savour and becomes
henceforth useless. Run from Egypt without looking back; because the hearts which look back upon it
with affection shall not see Jerusalem, the land of tranquility.2’ Those who left their own people in
childlike simplicity at the beginning, and have since been completely purified may profitably return to
their former land, perhaps even with the intention, after saving themselves, of saving others, too. Yet
Moses, who was allowed to see God Himself and was sent by God for the salvation of his own people,
met many dangers in Egypt, that is to say, dark nights in the world.
12. It is better to grieve our parents than the Lord. For He has created and saved us, but they have often
ruined their loved ones and delivered them up to their doom.
13. He is an exile who, having knowledge, sits like one of foreign speech amongst people of another
14. It is not from hatred that we separate ourselves from our own people or places (God forbid!), but to
avoid the harm which might come to us from them. In this, as in everything else, it is Christ who
teaches us what is good for us. For it is clear that He often left His parents according to the flesh. And
when He was told, ‘Thy Mother and Thy brethren are seeking for Thee’, our good Lord and Master at
once showed us an example of dispassionate3 hatred when He said, ‘My Mother and My brethren are
they who do the will of My Father who is in heaven’.
15. Let him be your father who is able and willing to labour with you in bearing the burden of your
sins; and your mother—contrition, which can cleanse you from impurity; and your brother—your
comrade who toils and fights side by side with you in your striving toward the heights. Acquire an
inseparable wife—the remembrance of death. And let your beloved children be the sighs of your heart.
Make your body your slave; and your friends, the Holy Powers (Angels) who can help you at the hour
of your death, if they become your friends. This is the generation (family) of those who seek the Lord.1
16. Love of God extinguishes our love for our parents. And so he who says that he has both deceives
himself. He should listen to Him who says: No man can serve two masters.2 I have not come, says the
Lord, to bring peace on earth (that is, love of parents among sons and brothers who have resolved to
serve Me) but war and a sword3 in order to separate lovers of God from lovers of the world, the
material from the spiritual, the proud from the humble. For strife and separation delight the Lord when
they spring from love for Himself.
17. Look, beware, lest you be exposed to the deluge of sentiment through your attachment to the things
of your home, and all that you have be drowned in the waters of earthly affection. Do not be moved by
the tears of parents or friends; otherwise you will be weeping eternally. When they surround you like
bees, or rather wasps, and shed tears over you, do not for one moment hesitate, but sternly fix the eye
of your soul on your past actions and your death, that you may ward off one sorrow by another. Our
own, or more correctly, those who are not our own, flatteringly promise to do everything to please us.
But their aim is to hinder our splendid course, and afterwards to bend us in this way to their own ends.
18. For our solitary life let us choose places where there are fewer opportunities for comfort and
ambition, but more for humility. Otherwise, we shall be fleeing in company with our passions.
19. Hide your noble birth and do not glory in your distinction, lest you be found to be one thing in
word and another in deed.
20. No one has gone into exile so nobly as that great patriarch4 to whom it was said: ‘Get thee out of thy
country and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house.’5 And then he was ordered to go into a
foreign and barbarous land.
21. Sometimes the Lord has brought more glory to the man who has gone into exile after the manner of
this great patriarch. But even if glory is God-given, yet it is excellent to divert it from oneself with the
shield of humility.
22. When men or devils praise us for our exile, as for some great success, then let us think of Him who
for our sake was exiled from heaven to earth, and we shall find that throughout all eternity it is
impossible for us to make return for this.
23. Attachment either to some particular relative or to strangers is dangerous. Little by little it can
entice us back to the world, and completely quench the fire of our contrition. It is impossible to look at
the sky with one eye and at the earth with the other, and it is equally impossible for anyone not to
expose his soul to danger who has not separated himself completely, both in thought and body, from
his own relatives and from others.
24. By much labour and effort a good and firm disposition is developed in us. But what is achieved
with great labour can be lost in an instant. ‘For evil company doth corrupt good manners’6, being at
once worldly and disorderly.7 The man who associates with people of the world or approaches them after his renunciation will certainly either fall into their traps or will defile his heart by thinking about
them; or if he is not defiled himself yet by condemning those who are defiled, he too will himself be
Concerning dreams that beginners have
25. It is impossible to hide the fact that our mind, which is the organ of knowledge, is extremely
imperfect and full of all kinds of ignorance. The palate distinguishes different foods, the hearing
discerns thoughts, the sun reveals the weakness of the eyes, and words betray a soul’s ignorance. But
the law of love is an incentive to attempt things that are beyond our capacity. And so I think (but I do
not dogmatize) that after a chapter on exile, or rather in this very chapter, something should be inserted
about dreams, so that we may not be in the dark concerning this trickery of our wily foes.
26. A dream is a movement of the mind while the body is at rest. A phantasy is an illusion of the eyes
when the intellect is asleep. A phantasy is an ecstasy of the mind when the body is awake. A phantasy
is the appearance of something which does not exist in reality.
27. The reason why we have decided to speak about dreams here is obvious. When we leave our home
and relatives for the Lord’s sake, and sell ourselves into exile for the love of God, then the devils try to
disturb us with dreams, representing to us that our relatives are either grieving or dying, or are captive
for our sake and destitute. But he who believes in dreams is like a person running after his own
shadow and trying to catch it.
28. The demons of vainglory prophesy in dreams. Being unscrupulous, they guess the future and
foretell it to us. When these visions come true, we are amazed; and we are indeed elated with the
thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who
believe him, but he is always a liar to those who despise him. Being a spirit he sees what is happening
in the lower air, and noticing that someone is dying, he foretells it to the more credulous types of
people through dreams. But the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge. For if
they did, then the sorcerers would also have been able to foretell our death.
29. Devils often transform themselves into angels of light and take the form of martyrs, and make it
appear to us during sleep that we are in communication with them. Then, when we wake up, they
plunge us into unholy joy and conceit. But you can detect their deceit by this very fact. For angels
reveal torments, judgments and separations; and when we wake up we find that we are trembling and
sad. As soon as we begin to believe the devils in dreams, then they make sport of us when we are
awake, too. He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is
a wise man. Only believe dreams that foretell torments and judgment for you. But if despair afflicts
you, then such dreams are also from devils.
This is the third step, which is equal in number to the Trinity. He who has reached it, let him not look
to the right hand nor to the left.
On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
1. Our treatise now appropriately touches upon warriors1 and athletes of Christ. As the flower
precedes the fruit, so exiles2 either of body or will always precedes obedience. For with the help of these two virtues, the holy soul steadily ascends to heaven as upon golden wings. And perhaps it was
about this that he who had received the Holy Spirit sang: Who will give me wings like a dove? And I
will fly by activity, and be at rest by contemplation and humility.1
2. But let us not fail, if you agree, to describe clearly in our treatise the weapons of these brave
warriors: how they hold the shield of faith in God and their trainer,2 and with it they ward off, so to
speak, every thought of unbelief and vacillation; how they constantly raise the drawn sword of the
Spirit and slay every wish of their own that approaches them; how, clad in the iron armour of
meekness and patience, they avert every insult and injury and missile. And for a helmet of salvation
they have their superior’s protection through prayer. And they do not stand with their feet together, for
one is stretched out in service and the other is immovable in prayer.
3. Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or,
conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is
unquestioning movement, voluntary death, simple life, carefree danger, spontaneous defence by God,
fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the
resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad.
For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is
an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment.
4. The beginning of the mortification both of the soul’s desire and of the bodily members involves
much hard work. The middle sometimes means much hard work and is sometimes painless. But the
end is insensibility and insusceptibility to toil and pain. Only when he sees himself doing his own will
does this blessed living corpse feel sorry and sick at heart; and he fears the responsibility of using his
5. You who have decided to strip for the arena of this spiritual confession, you who wish to take on
your neck the yoke of Christ, you who are therefore trying to lay your own burden on Another’s
shoulders, you who are hastening to sign a pledge that you are voluntarily surrendering yourself to
slavery, and in return want freedom written to your account, you who are being supported by the
hands of others as you swim across this great sea—you should know that you have decided to travel by
a short but rough way, from which there is only one deflection, and it is called singularity.3 But he who
has renounced this entirely, even in things that seem to be good and spiritual and pleasing to God, has
reached the end before setting out on his journey. For obedience is distrust of oneself in everything,
however good it may be, right up to the end of one’s life.
6. When motives of humility and real longing for salvation decide us to bend our neck and entrust
ourselves to another in the Lord, before entering upon this life, if there is any vice and pride in us, we
ought first to question and examine, and even, so to speak, test our helmsman, so as not to mistake the
sailor for the pilot, a sick man for a doctor, a passionate for a dispassionate man, the sea for a harbour,
and so bring about the speedy shipwreck of our soul. But when once we have entered the arena of
religion and obedience we must no longer judge our good manager4 in any way at all, even though we
may perhaps see in him some slight failings, since he is only human. Otherwise, by sitting in judgment
we shall get no profit from our subjection.
7. It is absolutely indispensable for those of us who wish to retain undoubting faith in our superiors to
write their good deeds indelibly in our hearts and constantly remember them, so that when the demons
sow among us distrust towards them, we may be able to silence them by what is preserved in our
memory. For the more faith flourishes in the heart, the more alacrity the body has in service. But he who has stumbled on distrust has already fallen; for all that does not spring from faith, is sin.1 The
moment any thought of judging or condemning your superior occurs to you, leap away from it as from
fornication. Whatever you do, give that snake no licence, no place, no entry, no power; but say to that
serpent: ‘Listen, deceiver, I have no authority to judge of my superior, but he has been appointed to sit
in judgment on me. It is not I who am to be his judge, but he is deputed to be mine.’
8. The Fathers have laid down that psalmody is a weapon, and prayer is a wall, and honest tears are a
bath; but blessed obedience in their judgment is confession of faith, without which no one subject to
passions will see the Lord.2
9. He who submits himself, passes sentence on himself. If his obedience for the Lord’s sake is perfect,
even if it does not seem perfect, he will escape judgment. But if he does his own will in some things,
then although he considers himself obedient, he lays the burden on his own shoulders. It is good if the
superior does not give up reproving him; but if he is silent, then I do not know what to say. Those who
submit themselves in the Lord in simplicity run the good race without provoking the bile of the
demons against themselves by their inquisitiveness.
10. First of all, let us make our confession to our good judge,3 and to him alone. But if he orders, then to
all. Wounds displayed in public will not grow worse, but will be healed.
About a robber who repented
11. Terrible indeed was the judgment of a good judge and shepherd which I once saw in a monastery.
For while I was there, it happened that a robber applied for admission to the monastic life. And that
most excellent pastor and physician ordered him to take seven days of complete rest, just to see the
kind of life in the place. When the week had passed, the pastor called him and asked him privately:
‘Would you like to live with us?’ And when he saw that he agreed to this with all sincerity, he then
asked him what evil he had done in the world. And when he saw that he readily confessed everything,
he tried him still further, and said: ‘I want you to tell this in the presence of all the brethren.’ But he
really did hate his sin, and, scorning all shame, without the least hesitation he promised to do it. ‘And if
you like,’ he said, ‘I will tell it in the middle of the city of Alexandria.’
And so, the shepherd gathered all his sheep in the church, to the number of 230, and during Divine
Service (for it was Sunday), after the reading of the Gospel, he introduced this irreproachable convict.
He was dragged by several of the brethren, who gave him moderate blows. His hands were tied behind
his back, he was dressed in a hair shirt, his head was sprinkled with ashes. All were astonished at the
sight. And immediately a woeful cry rang out, for no one knew what was happening. Then, when the
robber appeared at the doors of the church,4 that holy superior who had such love for souls, said to him
in a loud voice: ‘Stop! You are not worthy to enter here.’
Dumbfounded by the voice of the shepherd coming from the sanctuary (for he thought, as he
afterwards assured us with oaths, that he had heard not a human voice, but thunder), he instantly fell
on his face, trembling and shaking all over with fear. As he lay on the ground and moistened the floor
with his tears, this wonderful physician, using all means for his salvation, and wishing to give to all an
example of saving and effectual humility, again exhorted him, in the presence of all, to tell in detail
what he had done. And with terror he confessed one after another all his sins, which revolted every ear,
not only sins of the flesh, natural and unnatural, with rational beings and with animals, but even poisoning, murder and many other kinds which it is indecent to hear or commit to writing. And when
he had finished his confession, the shepherd at once allowed him to be given the habit and numbered
among the brethren.
12. Amazed by the wisdom of that holy man, I asked him when we were alone: ‘Why did you make
such an extraordinary show?’ That true physician replied: ‘For two reasons: firstly, in order to deliver
the penitent himself from future shame by present shame; and it really did that, Brother John. For he
did not rise from the floor until he was granted remission of all his sins. And do not doubt this, for one
of the brethren who was there confided to me, saying: “I saw someone terrible holding a pen and
writing-tablet, and as the prostrate man told each sin, he crossed it out with a pen.” And this is likely,
for it says: I said, I will confess against myself my sin to the Lord; and Thou hast forgiven the
wickedness of my heart.1 Secondly, because there are others in the brotherhood who have unconfessed
sins, and I want to induce them to confess too, for without this no one will obtain forgiveness.’
13. I saw much else too that was admirable and worth remembering with that ever-memorable pastor
and his flock. And a large part of it I shall try to bring to your knowledge also. For I stayed a
considerable time with him, following their manner of life, and was greatly astonished to see how those
earth-dwellers were imitating the heavenly beings.
14. In this flock they were united by the indissoluble bond of love; and what was still more wonderful,
it was free from all familiarity and idle talk. More than anything else, they tried not to wound a
brother’s conscience in any way. And if anyone ever showed hatred to another, the shepherd put him
in the isolation monastery, like a convict. And once when one of the brethren spoke ill of his neighbour
to the shepherd, the holy man at once ordered him to be driven out, saying: ‘I cannot allow a visible as
well as an invisible devil in the monastery.’
15. I saw among these holy fathers things that were truly profitable and admirable. I saw a
brotherhood gathered and united in the Lord, with a wonderful active and contemplative life. For they
were so occupied with divine thoughts and they exercised themselves so much in good deeds that
there was scarcely any need for the superior to remind them of anything, but of their own good will
they aroused one another to divine vigilance. For they had certain holy and divine exercises that were
defined, studied and fixed. If in the absence of the superior one of them began to use abusive language
or criticize people or simply talk idly, some other brother by a secret nod reminded him of this, and
quietly put a stop to it. But if, by chance, the brother did not notice, then the one who reminded him
would make a prostration and retire. And the incessant and ceaseless topic of their conversation (when
it was necessary to say anything) was the remembrance of death and the thought of eternal judgment.
16. I must not omit to tell you about the extraordinary achievement of the baker of that community.
Seeing that he had attained to constant recollection2 and tears during his service, I asked him to tell me
how he came to be granted such a grace. And when I pressed him, he replied: ‘I have never thought
that I was serving men but God. And having judged myself unworthy of all rest,3 by this visible fire4 I
am unceasingly reminded of the future flame.’
17. Let us hear about another surprising attainment of theirs. For not even in the refectory did they
stop mental activity,5 but according to a certain custom, these blessed men reminded one another of
interior prayer by secret signs and gestures. And they did this not only in the refectory, but at every
encounter and gathering.
18. And if one of them committed a fault, he would receive many requests from the brothers to allow
them to take the case to the shepherd and bear the responsibility and the punishment. That is why this
great man, on learning that his disciples did this, inflicted lighter punishments, knowing that the one
punished was innocent. And he did not even inquire who had actually fallen into the blunder.
19. Could any hint of idle talk and joking exist among them? If one of them began a dispute with his
neighbour, then another, passing by, assumed the role of penitent and so dissolved the anger. But if he
noticed that the disputants were spiteful or revengeful, he would report the quarrel to the father
occupying the second place after the superior, and prepare the ground for their mutual reconciliation
before sundown. But if they continued obstinate, they would either be punished by being deprived of
food until they were reconciled, or else be expelled from the monastery.
20. And it is not in vain that this laudable rigour is brought to perfection among them, for it bears and
shows abundant fruit. And among these holy fathers many become proficient both in active life and
spiritual insight, both in discernment and humility. And there was to be seen among them an awful
and angelic sight: venerable and white-haired elders of holy beauty running about in obedience like
children and taking a great delight in their humiliation. There I have seen men who had spent some
fifty years in obedience. And when I asked them to tell me what consolation they had gained from so
great a labour, some of them replied that they had attained to deep humility with which they had
permanently repelled every assault. Others said that they had obtained complete insensibility and
freedom from pain in calumnies and insults.
21. I have seen others of those ever-memorable fathers with their angelic white hair attain to the
deepest innocence and to wise simplicity, spontaneous and God-guided. (Just as an evil man is
somewhat double, one thing outwardly and another inwardly, so a simple person is not something
double, but something of a unity.)1 Among them there are none who are fatuous and foolish, like old
men in the world who are commonly called ‘in their dotage’. On the contrary, outwardly they are
utterly gentle and kindly, radiant and sincere, and they have nothing hypocritical, affected or false
about them either in speech or character (a thing not found in many); and inwardly, in their soul, like
innocent babes, they make God Himself and their superior their very breath, and the eye of their mind
keeps a bold and strict watch for demons and passions.
22. The whole of my life, dear and reverend father and God- loving community, would be insufficient
to describe the heavenly life and virtue of those blessed monks. But yet it is better to adorn our treatise
and rouse you to zeal in the love of God by their most laborious struggles than by my own paltry
counsels; for beyond all dispute the inferior is adorned by the superior.2 Only this I ask, that you
should not imagine that we are inventing what we write, for such a suspicion would detract from its
value. But let us continue again what we were saying before.
23. A certain man called Isidore, of magistrate’s rank, from the city of Alexandria, had recently
renounced the world in the above-mentioned monastery, and I found him still there. That most holy
shepherd, after accepting him, found that he was full of mischief, very cruel, sly, fierce and arrogant.
But with human ingenuity that most wise man contrived to outwit the cunning of the devils, and said
to Isidore: ‘If you have decided to take upon yourself the yoke of Christ, then I want you first of all to
learn obedience.’ Isidore replied: ‘As iron to the smith, so I surrender myself in submission to you, holy
father.’ The great father, making use of this comparison, at once gave exercise to the iron Isidore, and
said: ‘I want you, brother by nature, to stand at the gate of the monastery, and to make a prostration to everyone coming in or going out, and to say: “Pray for me, father; I am an epileptic.” ‘And he obeyed
as an angel obeys the Lord.
When he had spent seven years there, he attained to deep humility and compunction. Then the
glorious father, after the lawful seven years and the man’s incomparable patience, judged him fully
worthy to be numbered among the brethren and wanted to profess him and have him ordained. But
Isidore through others and through my feeble intervention, implored the shepherd many times to let
him finish his course as he was living before, vaguely hinting that his end and call were drawing near.
And that was actually the case. For when his director had allowed him to remain as he was, ten days
later in his lowliness he passed gloriously to the Lord. And on the seventh day after his own falling
asleep, the porter of the monastery was also taken. For the blessed man had said to him: ‘If I have
found favour in the sight of the Lord, in a short time you also will be inseparably joined to me there.’1
And that is what happened, in witness of his unashamed obedience and divine humility.
24. When he was still living, I asked this great Isidore what occupation his mind had found during his
time at the gate. And the famous ascetic did not hide this from me, wishing to help me: ‘In the
beginning’, he said, ‘I judged that I had been sold into slavery for my sins; and so it was with bitterness,
with a great effort, and as it were with blood that I made the prostration. But after a year had passed,
my heart no longer felt sorrow, and I expected a reward for my obedience from God Himself. But when
another year had gone by, I began to be deeply conscious of my unworthiness even to live in the
monastery, and see and meet the fathers, and partake of the Divine Mysteries. And I did not dare to
look anyone in the face, but bending low with my eyes, and still lower with my thought, I sincerely
asked for the prayers of those coming in and going out.’
25. Once as we were sitting together in the refectory, this great superior put his holy mouth to my ear
and said: ‘Do you want me to show you divine prudence in extreme old age?’ And when I begged him
to do so, the righteous man called from the second table one named Laurence, who had been about
forty-eight years in the community and was second priest in the monastery. He came and made a
prostration to the abbot, and took his blessing. But when he stood up, the abbot said nothing whatever
to him, but left him standing by the table without eating. Breakfast had only just begun, and so he was
standing for a good hour, or even two. I was ashamed to look this toiler in the face, for his hair was
quite white and he was eighty years old. And when we got up, the saint sent him to the great Isidore
whom we mentioned above to recite to him the beginning of the 39th Psalm.2
26. And I, like a most worthless person, did not miss the chance of tempting the old man. And when I
asked him what he was thinking of when he was standing by the table, he said: ‘I thought of the
shepherd as the image of Christ, and I considered that I had not received the command from him at all,
but from God. And so I stood praying, Father John, not as before a table of men, but as before the altar
of God; and because of my faith and love for the shepherd, no evil thought of him entered my mind, for
Love does not resent an injury.3 But know this, Father, that if anyone surrenders himself to simplicity
and voluntary innocence, then he no longer gives the devil either time or place to attack him.’
About a bursar
27. God sent that just saviour of spiritual sheep under God another exactly like himself to be the bursar
of the monastery; for he was chaste and temperate as no one else, and meek as very few are. Once the great elder, for the edification of the others, pretended to get angry with him in church, and ordered
him to be sent out before the time. Knowing that he was innocent of what the pastor accused him,
when we were alone I began to plead the cause of the bursar before the great man. But the wise director
said: ‘And I too know, Father, that he is not guilty, but just as it would be a pity and wrong to snatch
bread from the mouth of a starving child, so too the director of souls does harm both to himself and to
the ascetic if he does not give him frequent opportunities to obtain crowns such as the superior
considers he merits at every hour by bearing insults, dishonour, contempt or mockery. For three very
serious wrongs are done: first, the director himself is deprived of the rewards which he would receive
for corrections and punishments; secondly, the director acts unjustly when by virtue of that one person
he could have brought profit to others, but does not do so; and thirdly, the most serious harm is that
often the very people who seem to be most hard-working and patient, if left for a time without blame
or reproach from the superior as people confirmed in virtue, lose the meekness and patience they
previously had. For even land that is good and fruitful and fertile, if left without the water of
dishonour, can revert to forest and produce the thorns of vanity, cowardice and audacity. Knowing
this, that great Apostle sent word to Timothy: ‘Keep at it, reprove, rebuke them in season and out of
28. I disputed the matter with that true director, and reminded him of the infirmity of our race, and
that the undeserved, or perhaps not undeserved, punishment may make many break away from the
flock. Again that temple of wisdom said: ‘A soul attached to the shepherd with love and faith for
Christ’s sake will not leave him even if it were at the price of his blood, and especially if he has received
through him the healing of his wounds, for he remembers him who says: Neither angels, nor
principalities, nor powers, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of Christ.2 But if the
soul is not attached, bound and devoted to the shepherd in this way, then I wonder if such a man is not
living in this place in vain, for he is united to the shepherd by a hypocritical and false obedience.’ And
truly this great man is not deceived, but he has directed, led to perfection and offered to Christ
29. Let us hear and wonder at the wisdom of God found in earthen vessels. When I was in the same
monastery, I was amazed at the faith and patience of the novices, and how they bore rebukes and
insults from the superior with invincible fortitude, and some times even expulsion; and endured this
not only from the superior but even from those far below him. For my spiritual edification I questioned
one of the brothers called Abbacyrus who had lived fifteen years in the monastery. For I saw that
almost all greatly maltreated him, and those who served drove him out of the refectory almost every
day because the brother was by nature just a little too talkative. And I said to him: ‘Brother Abbacyrus,
why do I see you being driven out of the refectory every day, and often going to bed without supper?’
He replied: ‘Believe me, Father, my fathers are testing me to see whether I am really a monk. But they
are not doing this in real earnest. And knowing the great man’s aim and theirs, I bear all this without
getting depressed; and I have done so now for fifteen years. For on my entry into the monastery they
themselves told me that those who renounce the world are tested for thirty years. And rightly, Father
John, for without trial gold is not purified.’
30. This heroic Abbacyrus lived in the monastery for two years after my coming there, and then passed
to the Lord. Just before his death he said to the Fathers: ‘I am thankful, thankful to the Lord and to you.
For having been tempted by you for my salvation, I have lived for seventeen years without temptations
from devils.’ The just shepherd duly rewarded him and ordered him, as a confessor, to be buried with
the local saints.
About Macedonius the archdeacon
31. I should be quite unjust to all enthusiasts for perfection if I were to bury in the tomb of silence the
achievement and reward of Macedonius, the first of the deacons there. This man, so consecrated to the
Lord, just before the feast of the Holy Theophany,1 actually two days before it, once asked the pastor
for permission to go to Alexandria for a certain personal need of his, promising to return from the city
as soon as possible for the approaching festival and the preparation for it. But the devil, the hater of
good, hindered the archdeacon, and though released by the abbot, he did not return to the monastery
for the holy feast at the time appointed by the superior. On his returning a day late, the pastor deposed
him from the diaconate and put him in the rank of the lowest novices. But that good deacon of patience
and archdeacon of endurance accepted the father’s decision as calmly as if another had been punished
and not himself. And when he had spent forty days in that state, the wise pastor raised him again to his
own rank. But scarcely a day had passed before the archdeacon begged the pastor to leave him in his
former discipline and dishonour, saying: ‘I committed an unforgivable sin in the city.’ But knowing
that Macedonius was telling him an untruth and that he sought punishment only for the sake of
humility, the Saint yielded to the good wish of the ascetic. Then what a sight there was! An honoured
elder with white hair spending his days as a novice and sincerely begging everyone to pray for him.
‘For’, said he, ‘I fell into the fornication of disobedience.’ But this great Macedonius in secret told me,
lowly though I am, why he voluntarily pursued such a humiliating course of life. ‘Never’, he assured
me, ‘have I felt in myself such relief from every conflict and such sweetness of divine light as now. It is
the property of angels,’ he continued, ‘not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them
to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the
property of devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen.’
About a certain other brother
32. A brother who was the bursar of the monastery confided this to me: ‘When I was young’, he said,
‘and was looking after cattle, I once had a very serious spiritual fall. But as it was never my habit to
hide a snake in a hole in my heart, I caught it by the tail (and by the tail I mean the end of the business)
and at once showed it to the physician. But with a smiling face, he struck me lightly on the jaw, and
said to me: “Go, child, and continue your work as before, without being afraid in the least.” And
accepting this with flaming faith, in the course of a few days I received the assurance of my healing,
and continued my way with both joy and fear.’
33. Every kind of creature, as some say, has its differences which distinguish it from others. So, too, in
the company of the brothers there were differences both in success and in disposition. When their
physician noticed that some liked to display themselves before people of the world who were visiting
the monastery, then in the presence of such visitors he subjected them to extreme insults and gave them
the most humiliating task, so that they began to beat a hasty retreat, and the arrival of secular visitors
proved to be their victory. Then an extraordinary spectacle presented itself: vanity chasing herself away
and escaping from people.
About Saint Menas
34. As the Lord did not wish to deprive me of the prayer of a holy father in the same monastery, a
week before my departure He took to Himself a wonderful man called Menas who occupied the second
place after the superior, and had lived fifty-nine years in the community fulfilling all the various
offices. On the third day after the falling asleep of this holy man, when we had performed the
customary rites over him, suddenly the whole place where the saint was resting was filled with fragrance. Then the great man allowed us to uncover the coffin in which he had been placed, and when
this was done we all saw that fragrant myrrh was flowing like two fountains from his precious feet.
Then that teacher said to all: ‘Look! The sweat of his toils and labours have been offered as myrrh to
God and truly accepted.’
The fathers of that place told us of many triumphs of this most saintly Menas, and amongst others the
following: ‘Once the superior wanted to test his God-given patience. In the evening Menas came to the
abbot’s cell, and having prostrated before the abbot, asked him as usual to give him instruction. But the
abbot left him lying on the ground till the hour of the Office, and only then blessed him; and having
rebuked him for being fond of self-display and for being impatient, he ordered him to get up. The holy
man knew Menas would bear all this courageously, and therefore he made this scene for the edification
of all.’ A disciple of Saint Menas confirmed what was told us about his director, and added: ‘I was
inquisitive to know whether sleep overcame him while he lay prostrate before the abbot. But he
assured me that while lying on the ground he had recited by heart the whole psalter.’
35. I must not fail to adorn the crown of this step with this emerald. Once I started a discussion on
silence with some of the most experienced elders in the community. With a smile on their faces and in
jovial mood they said to me in a friendly way: ‘We, Father John, being material, live a material life,
preferring to wage war according to the measure of our weakness, and considering it better to struggle
with men, who are sometimes fierce and some times penitent, than with demons who are continually
raging and up in arms against us!’
36. One of those ever-memorable fathers who had great love for me according to God and was very
outspoken, once said to me kindly: ‘If, wise man, you have within you the power of him who said, I
can do all things in Christ who strengthens me;1 if the Holy Spirit has descended upon you with the
dew of purity, as upon the Holy Virgin; if the power of the Highest has over shadowed you with
patience; then like the Man (Christ our God), gird your loins with the towel of obedience; and having
risen from the supper of silence, wash the feet of the brethren in a spirit of contrition; or rather, roll
yourself under the feet of the community in spiritual self-abasement. At the gate of your heart place
strict and unsleeping guards. Control your wandering mind in your distracted body. Amidst the
actions and movements of your limbs, practise mental quiet (hesychia). And, most paradoxical of all, in
the midst of commotion be unmoved in soul. Curb your tongue which rages to leap into arguments.
Seventy times seven in the day wrestle with this tyrant. Fix your mind to your soul as to the wood of a
cross to be struck like an anvil with blow upon blow of the hammers, to be mocked, abused, ridiculed
and wronged, without being in the least crushed or broken, but continuing to be quite calm and
immovable. Shed your own will as a garment of shame, and thus stripped of it enter the practice
ground. Array yourself in the rarely acquired breastplate of faith, not crushed or wounded by distrust
towards your spiritual trainer. Check with the rein of temperance the sense of touch that leaps forward
shamelessly. Bridle your eyes, which are ready to waste hour after hour looking at physical grandeur
and beauty, by meditation on death. Gag your mind, overbusy with its private concerns, and
thoughtlessly prone to criticize and condemn your brother, by the practical means of showing your
neighbour all love and sympathy. By this will all men truly know, dearest father, that we are disciples
of Christ, if, while living together, we have love one for another.’2 ‘Come, come,’ said this good friend,
‘come and settle down with us and for living water drink derision at every hour. For David, having
tried every pleasure under heaven, last of all said in bewilderment: Behold, what is good, or what is
beautiful? Nothing else but that brethren should dwell together in unity.3 But if we have not yet been
granted this good, that is, such patience and obedience, then it is best for us, having at least discovered
our weakness, to live apart far from the athletic lists, and bless the combatants and pray they may be
granted patience.’ I was won over to the good arguments of this most excellent father and teacher, who disputed with me in an evangelical and prophetic manner, or rather as a friend; and without hesitation
I agreed to give the honours to blessed obedience.
37. And now, when I have noted yet another profitable virtue of these blessed fathers, which comes as
it were from paradise, I shall then come back to my own unlovely and worthless bunch of thistles.1 The
pastor noticed that some repeatedly carried on conversation when we were standing in prayer. Such
people he stood for a whole week by the church, and ordered them to make a prostration to everyone
going in and out; and what was still more surprising, he did this even with the clergy, in fact, with the
38. Noticing that one of the brothers stood during the psalm singing with more heartfelt feeling than
many of the others, and that his movements and the changes of his face made it look as though he was
talking to someone, especially at the beginning of the hymns, I asked him to explain what this habit of
the blessed man meant. And knowing that it was for my benefit not to hide it, he told me: ‘I have the
habit, Father John, at the very beginning, of collecting my thoughts, my mind and my soul, and
summoning them, I cry to them: O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and
39. Having earnestly observed the activities of the brother in charge of the refectory, I saw that he
always had in his belt a small book, and I learnt that he wrote his thoughts in it each day and showed
them all to the shepherd. And I saw that not only he, but also very many of the brethren there did the
same. And this, as I heard, was by order of that great shepherd.
40. Once one of the brothers was expelled by him for slandering his neighbour to him and calling him a
windbag and gossip. The expelled man did not leave the gates of the monastery for a whole week,
begging to be granted entry and forgiveness. When that lover of souls learnt of this, and heard that this
brother had had nothing to eat for six days, he told him: ‘If you have a resolute desire to live in the
monastery, I will degrade you to the rank of a penitent.’ And when the penitent gladly accepted this,
the pastor ordered him to be taken to the separate monastery for those who were mourning over their
falls. And that was done. But since we have mentioned that monastery, I shall now speak about it
41. At a distance of a mile from the great monastery was a place called the prison, deprived of every
comfort. There neither smoke, nor wine, nor oil in the food, nor anything else could ever be seen but
only bread and light vegetables. Here the pastor shut up, without permission to go out, those who fell
into sin after entering the brotherhood; and not all together, but each in a separate and special cell, or at
most in pairs. And he kept them there until the Lord gave him assurance of the amendment of each
one. Over them he placed the sub-prior, a great man called Isaac, who required of those entrusted to
him almost unceasing prayer. And to prevent despondency they had a large quantity of palm leaves.3
Such is the life, such is the rule, such is the conduct of those who truly seek the face of the God of
42. To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to
imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible.
43. When we are bitten by remorse, let us remember our sins until the Lord, seeing the force of our
efforts (the efforts of those who do violence to themselves for His sake), wipes out our sins and
transforms the sorrow that is gnawing our heart into joy. For it is said: According to the multitude of
my sorrows in my heart, thy consolations have gladdened my soul.5 At the right time let us not forget him who said to the Lord: O how many troubles and evils hast Thou shown me! Yet Thou didst turn
and revive me; and from the depths of the earth after I had fallen, again Thou broughtest me up.1
44. Blessed is he who, though maligned and disparaged every day, masters himself for the Lord’s sake.
He will join the chorus of martyrs and boldly converse with the angels. Blessed is the monk who
regards himself as hourly deserving every dishonour and disparagement. Blessed is he who mortifies
his will to the end, and leaves the care of himself to his director in the Lord; for he will be placed at the
right hand of the Crucified. He who will not accept a reproof, just or unjust, renounces his own
salvation. But he who accepts it with an effort, or even without an effort, will soon receive the
remission of his sins.
45. Show God in spirit your faith in your spiritual father and your sincere love for him. And God in
unknown ways will suggest to him that he may be attached to you and kindly disposed towards you,
just as you are well disposed towards him.
46. He who exposes every snake shows that he has real faith; but he who hides them will wander in
47. A man will know his brotherly love and his genuine charity when he sees that he mourns for his
brother’s sins, and rejoices at his progress and graces.
48. He whose will and desire in conversation is to establish his own opinion, even though what he says
is true, should recognize that he is sick with the devil’s disease. And if he behaves like this only in
conversation with his equals, then perhaps the rebuke of his superiors may heal him. But if he acts in
this way even with those who are greater and wiser than he, then his malady is humanly incurable.
49. He who is not submissive in speech, clearly will not be so in act either. For he who is unfaithful in
little is also unfaithful in much, and is intractable. He labours in vain, and he will get nothing from holy
obedience but his own doom.
50. If anyone has his conscience in the utmost purity in the matter of obedience to his spiritual father,
then he daily awaits death as if it were sleep, or rather life, and is not dismayed, knowing for certain
that at the time of his departure, not he, but his director, will be called to account.
51. If anyone receives voluntarily some task from his father, and in doing it suffers a stumble, he
should not ascribe the blame to the giver but to the receiver of the weapon. For he took the weapon for
battle against the enemy, but has turned it against his own heart. But if he forced himself for the Lord’s
sake to accept the task, though he previously explained his weakness to him who gave it, let him take
courage; for though he has fallen, he is not dead.
52. I have forgotten to set before you, my friends, this sweet bread of virtue. I saw there men obedient
in the Lord who subjected themselves to insults and dishonour for God’s sake, so that, having prepared
themselves in this way, they might get used to not quailing before insults coming from others.
53. By resolving to make one’s confession, the soul is thereby held from sinning as by a bridle. For
what we do not confess, that we do fearlessly as though in the dark.
54. When in the absence of the superior we imagine his face and think that he is always standing by us,
and avoid every meeting, or word, or food, or sleep, or anything else that we think he would not like,
then we have really learnt true obedience. Base-born children regard the absence of their teacher as a
joy, but legitimate ones think it a loss.
55. I once asked one of the most experienced fathers and pressed him to tell me how humility is
obtained by obedience. He said: ‘The obedient man who has discernment, even if he raises the dead
and receives the gift of tears and freedom from conflict, will still think that it is the prayer of his
spiritual father that has done it, and he remains foreign and alien to vain presumption. For how could he possibly pride himself on what is done, as he himself admits, by the help of his father, and not by his
56. But the practice of the above virtues is unknown to the solitary.1 For his rigours have brought him
conceit and suggest to him that his achievements are due to his own effort.
57. He who lives in obedience has eluded two snares and remains in future an obedient servant of
The first snare
58. The devil battles with those in obedience, sometimes to defile them with bodily pollutions and
make them hard-hearted, and sometimes to provoke more than usual restlessness. At other times he
makes them dry and barren, sluggish in prayer, drowsy and confused by spiritual darkness, in order to
tear them away from their struggle by making them think they have gained nothing by their obedience
but are only backsliding. For he does not allow them time to reflect that often the providential
withdrawal of our imagined goods or blessings leads us to the deepest humility.
59. However, some have often repelled that deceiver by patience; but while he is still speaking, another
angel2 stands by us and after a little while tries to hoodwink us in another way.
The second snare
I have seen some living in obedience who, through their father’s direction, became filled with
compunction, meek, temperate, zealous, free from inner conflicts, and fervent. But demons came to
them and sowed in them the thought that they now had the qualifications for the solitary life,3 and that
in solitude they would attain to freedom from passion4 as the final prize. Thus deceived, they left the
harbour and put out to sea, but when a storm came down upon them they were pitifully exposed to
danger from this foul and bitter ocean through being unprovided with pilots.
60. This sea is bound to be stirred up and roused and enraged, so as to cast out of it again on to the dry
land the wood, and hay, and all the corruption that was brought down into it by the rivers of the
passions. Let us watch nature and we shall find that after a storm at sea there comes a deep calm.
61. He who is sometimes obedient to his father and sometimes disobedient is like a person who
sometimes puts lotion in his eyes and sometimes quicklime. For it is said, When one builds and an
other pulls down, what profit have they had but the labour ?5
62. Do not be deceived, son and obedient servant of the Lord, by the spirit of conceit, so that you
confess your own sins to your master as if they were another person’s. You cannot escape shame except
by shame. It is often the habit of the demons to persuade us either not to confess, or to do so as if we
were confessing another person’s sins, or to lay the blame for our sin on others. Lay bare, lay bare your
wound to the physician and, without being ashamed, say: ‘It is my wound, Father, it is my plague,
caused by my own negligence, and not by anything else. No one is to blame for this, no man, no spirit,
no body, nothing but my own carelessness.’
63. At confession be like a condemned criminal in disposition and in outward appearance and in
thought. Cast your eyes to the earth, and, if possible, sprinkle the feet of your judge and physician, as
the feet of Christ, with your tears.
64. If everything depends on habit, and follows upon it, then still more do the virtues depend on habit,
for they have God as their great collaborator.
65. You will not labour many years, son, in search of blessed inner peace, if in the beginning you
surrender yourself with all your soul to indignities.
66. Do not think that it is improper to make your confession to your helper, as to God, in a prostrate
position. I have seen condemned criminals, by their sorry appearance and violent confession and
entreaty, soften the severity of the judge and change his anger into mercy. That is why even John the
Baptist required confession before baptism of those who came to him, not because he himself needed to
know their sins, but so as to effect their salvation.
67. Let us not be surprised if even after confession we are still attacked; for it is better to struggle with
thoughts than with conceit.
68. Do not be over-eager and do not be carried away when you hear tales of the silent1 and hermit
fathers. For you are marching in the army of the First Martyr. And if you fall, do not leave the practiceground, for then especially more than ever we need a physician. He who strikes his foot against a stone
when he has help, would certainly not only have stumbled unaided but would have died.
69. When we are brought down, then the demons quickly attack us, and seizing on a reasonable, or
rather unreasonable pretext, they advise us to adopt the life of a solitary. The aim of our enemies is to
inflict wounds upon us as we sin.
70. When a physician protests his incompetence, then you have to go to another, because few are
healed without a physician. And who would think of contradicting us when we say that every ship that
encounters shipwreck with a skilled pilot would be utterly lost without a pilot?
71. From obedience comes humility, and from humility comes dispassion; for the Lord remembered us
in our humility and redeemed us from our enemies.2 Therefore nothing prevents us from saying that
from obedience comes dispassion, through which the goal of humility is attained. For humility is the
beginning of dispassion, as Moses is the beginning of the Law; and the daughter perfects the mother, as
Mary perfects the Synagogue.
72. Those sick souls who try out a physician and receive help from him, and then abandon him out of
preference for another before they are completely healed, deserve every punishment from God. Do not
run from the hand of him who has brought you to the Lord, for you will never in your life esteem
anyone like him.
73. It is dangerous for an inexperienced soldier to leave his regiment and engage in single combat. And
it is not without peril for a monk to attempt the solitary life before he has had much experience and
practice in the struggle with the animal passions. The one subjects his body to danger, the other risks
his soul. Two are better than one, says Scripture.3 That is to say, ‘It is better for a son to be with his
father, and to struggle with his attachments with the help of the divine power of the Holy Spirit.’ He
who deprives a blind man of his leader, a flock of its shepherd, a lost man of his guide, a child of its
father, a patient of his doctor, a ship of its pilot, imperils all. And he who attempts unaided to struggle
with the spirits gets killed by them.
74. Let those entering a hospital for the first time indicate their pains, and let those entering upon
obedience show their humility. For the former, the first sign of their health is the relief of their pains,
and for the latter a growing self-condemnation; and there is no other sign so unerring.
75. Let your conscience be the mirror of your obedience, and it is enough.
76. Those living in silence subject to a father, have only demons working against them. But those living
in a community struggle with demons and human beings. The former, being always under the eyes of
the master, keep his commands more strictly; but the latter, on account of his absence, break them to
some extent. However, those who are careful and industrious more than make up for this failing by
enduring collisions and knocks, and win double crowns.
77. Let us keep guard over ourselves with all care. For when a harbour is full of ships it is easy for them
to get crushed by each other, especially if they are secretly riddled with bad temper as by some worm.
78. Let us practise extreme silence and ignorance in the presence of the superior. For a silent man is a
son of wisdom, always acquiring much knowledge.
79. I have seen a religious who used to snatch the words from his superior’s lips, but I despaired of his
obedience when I saw it led to pride and not to humility.
80. Let us keep wide awake with all vigilance, take care with all carefulness, watch with all
watchfulness as to when and how service should be preferred to prayer. For you cannot do all things at
81. Attend to yourself in the presence of your brethren, and never try to appear more correct than they
are in any circumstance whatever. For if you do, you will have wrought a double ill: you will sting
them by your false and hypocritical zeal and you will give yourself a motive for presumption.
82. Be zealous within your soul, without showing it in the least outwardly, either by visible sign or by
word or by a hint. And you will only do this when you stop looking down on your neighbour. But if
you are still inclined to do this, become like your brethren so that you do not differ from them simply
in being conceited.
83. I saw an inexperienced disciple who in the presence of certain people boasted of the achievements
of his teacher, thinking to win glory for himself from another’s harvest, but he only earned for himself
dishonour, for everybody asked him: ‘But how could a good tree grow such a barren branch?’
84. It is not when we courageously endure the derision of our father that we are judged patient, but
when we endure it from all manner of men. For we bear with our father both out of respect and as a
duty to him.
85. Eagerly drink scorn and insult as the water of life from everyone who wants to give you the drink
that cleanses from lust. Then a deep purity will dawn in your soul and the divine light will not grow
dim in your heart.
86. If anyone sees that the brotherhood is appeased by his efforts he should not boast of it in his heart,
because thieves are around. Always remember Him who said: When you have done all that is
commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were bound to do.1
The judgment on our labours we shall know at the time of our death.
87. A monastery is an earthly heaven. Therefore let us tune our heart to be like angels serving the Lord.
Sometimes those who live in this heaven have hearts of stone. But sometimes again, through
compunction, they attain to consolation, in such a way as to avoid conceit or presumption, and they
lighten their labours with tears.
88. A little fire softens a large piece of wax. So, too, a small in dignity often softens, sweetens and wipes
away suddenly all the fierceness, uncouthness, insensibility and hardness of our heart.
89. I once saw two sitting in hiding and watching the labours and listening to the groans of the ascetics.
But one was doing this in order to emulate them, the other in order, when the chance came, openly to
mock and to impede God’s labourer in his good work.
90. Do not be so unreasonably silent as to annoy and embitter others. And do not be slow in your gait
and actions when ordered to hasten. Otherwise, you will be worse than the possessed and the
rebellious. Often I have seen, as Job says,1 souls suffering from slowness of character, but sometimes
from eagerness. And I was amazed at the diversity of evil.
91. He who is not alone but is with others cannot derive so much profit from psalmody as from prayer;
for the confusion of voices renders the psalms indistinct.
92. Constantly wrestle with your thought, and whenever it wanders call it back to you. God does not
require from those still under obedience prayer completely free of distractions. Do not despond when
your thoughts are filched, but remain calm, and unceasingly recall your mind. Unbroken recollection is
proper only to an angel.
93. He who has secretly vowed not to retire from the struggle till his last breath and to endure a
thousand deaths of body and soul, will not easily fall into any of these defects. For inconstancy of heart
and infidelity to one’s place always cause stumblings and disasters. Those who easily go from place to
place are complete failures, for nothing causes fruitlessness so much as impatience.
94. If you come to an unknown physician and hospital, behave as though you were passing by, and
secretly test the life and spiritual experience of all those living there. And when you begin to feel
benefit from the doctors and nurses and get relief from your sicknesses, and especially with regard to
your special disease, namely, spiritual pride, then go to them and buy it with the gold of humility, and
write the contract on the parchment of obedience with the letters of service and with the angels as
witnesses. And tear up and destroy in their presence the parchment of your own will. By going from
place to place you get into the way of wasting the price with which Christ bought you. Let the
monastery be your tomb before the tomb. For no one will come out of the grave until the general
resurrection. And if some religious have left their tomb, see! They are dead. Let us implore the Lord
that this may not happen to us.
95. When the senses find the orders heavy, the more lazy decide that they would prefer to devote
themselves to prayer. But when they find they are ordered to do something easy they run from prayer
as from fire.
96. Some undertake a particular duty, but for a brother’s peace of mind, at his request they leave it; and
some leave their work through laziness; and some do not leave it out of vainglory; and some do not
leave it out of zeal.
97. If you have bound yourself by obligations and notice that your soul’s eye is making no progress, do
not get leave to quit. The genuine are genuine everywhere, and the reverse is equally true. In the world
slander has caused many separations; but in communities greed produces all the falls and rejections. If
you rule over your mistress (i.e. your stomach), every place of residence will give you dispassion; but if
she rules over you, then outside the tomb you will be in danger everywhere.
98. The Lord who makes wise the blind2 opens the eyes of the obedient to the virtues of their guide,
and He blinds them to his defects. But the hater of good does the opposite.
99. Let us find in what is called quicksilver an image of perfect obedience. For with whatever material
we roll it, it runs to the lowest place, and will mix with no defilement.
100. Let the zealous be particularly attentive to themselves, lest by condemning the careless they
themselves incur worse condemnation. And I think the reason why Lot was justified was because,
though living among such people, he never seems to have condemned them.
101. At all times, but most of all during the singing in church, let us keep quiet and undistracted. For
by distractions the demons aim to bring our prayer to nothing.
102. A servant of the Lord1 is he who in body stands before men, but in mind knocks at heaven with
103. Insults, humiliations and similar things are like the bitterness of wormwood to the soul of a
novice; while praises, honours and approbation are like honey and give birth to all manner of
sweetness in pleasure-lovers. But let us look at the nature of each: wormwood purifies all interior filth,
while honey increases gall.
104. Let us trust with firm confidence those who have taken upon themselves the care of us in the
Lord, even though they order something apparently contrary and opposed to our salvation. For it is
then that our faith in them is tested as in a furnace of humiliation. For it is a sign of the truest faith if we
obey our superiors without any hesitation, even when we see the opposite of what we had hoped for
105. From obedience comes humility, as we have already said earlier. From humility comes
discernment as the great Cassian has said with beautiful and sublime philosophy in his chapter on
discernment.2 From discernment comes insight, and from insight comes foresight. And who would not
follow this fair way of obedience, seeing such blessings in store for him? It was of this great virtue of
obedience that the good Psalmist said: Thou hast in Thy goodness prepared for the poor3 obedient soul,
O God, Thy presence in his heart.
106. Throughout your life remember that great athlete who for eighteen whole years never heard with
his outward ears his superior say the words, ‘May you be saved,’ but inwardly heard daily from the
Lord, not merely, ‘May you be saved’ (which is an uncertain wish), but ‘You are saved’ (which is
definite and sure).
107. Some living in obedience, on noticing the condescension and indulgence of the superior, ask his
permission to follow their own desires. But let them know that when they obtain this they completely
deprive themselves of the confessor’s crown. For obedience is entirely foreign to hypocrisy and one’s
108. There was the man who received an order, but on seeing the intention of the person who gave it,
namely that the fulfilment of the order would not give him pleasure, asked to be excused. And another
saw this, but unhesitatingly obeyed. The question is: which of them acted more piously?
109. It is impossible that the devil should act contrary to his own will. Let those living an easy-going
life, whether persevering in one solitary place or in a community, convince you of this. Let the
temptation to retire from our place be a proof for us that our life there is pleasing to God. For being
warred against is a sign that we are making war.
About Saint Acacius
110. I will not be silent about something which it is not right to leave in silence lest I should
inhumanly keep to myself what ought to be made known. The famous John the Sabbaite told me things
worth hearing. And that he was detached and above all falsehood, and free from words and deeds of evil, you know from your own experience, holy father. This man told me: ‘In my monastery in Asia (for
that is where the good man came from) there was a certain elder who was extremely careless and
undisciplined. I say this without passing judgment on him, but simply to state the truth. He obtained, I
do not know how, a disciple, a youth called Acacius, simple-hearted but prudent in thought. And he
endured so much from this elder that to many people it will perhaps seem incredible. For the elder
tormented him daily not only with insults and indignities, but even with blows. But his patience was
not mere senseless endurance. And so, seeing him daily in wretched plight like the lowest slave, I
would ask him when I met him: “What is the matter, Brother Acacius, how are you today?“ And he
would at once show me a black eye, or a scarred neck or head. But knowing that he was a worker, I
would say to him: “Well done, well done; endure and it will be for your good.” Having done nine years
with this pitiless elder, he departed to the Lord. Five days after his burial in the cemetery of the fathers,
Acacius’s master went to a certain elder living there and said to him: “Father, Brother Acacius is dead.”
As soon as the elder heard this he said: “Believe me, elder, I do not believe it.” The other replied:
“Come and see.” The elder at once rose and went to the cemetery with the master of the blessed ascetic.
And he called as to a living person to him who was truly alive in his falling asleep, and said: “Are you
dead, Brother Acacius?“ And the good doer of obedience, showing his obedience even after his death,
replied to the great elder: “How is it possible, Father, for a man who is a doer of obedience to die ?“
Then the elder who had been Acacius’s master became terrified and fell on his face in tears. Afterwards
he asked the abbot of the Laura for a cell near the tomb, and lived in it devoutly, always saying to the
fathers: “I have committed murder.” And it seemed to me, Father John, that the one who spoke to the
dead man was the great John himself. For that blessed soul told me another story as if it were about
someone else, when it was really about himself, as I was afterwards able to learn for certain.’
About John the Sabbaite, or Antiochus
111. ‘There was another,’ said John, ‘in the same monastery in Asia who became a disciple of a certain
meek, gentle and quiet monk. And seeing that the elder honoured and cared for him, he rightly judged
that this would be fatal for many men, and he begged the elder to send him away. (As the elder had
another disciple, this would not cause him much inconvenience.) And so he went away, and with a
letter from his master he settled in a cenobitic monastery in Pontus. On the first night that he entered
this monastery he saw in a dream his account being made out by someone, and after settling that awful
account he was left a debtor to the sum of a hundred pounds of gold. When he woke up he began to
reflect on what he had seen in his dream and said: “Poor Antiochus” (for this was his name), “you
certainly fall far short of your debt!”’ ‘And when,’ he continued, ‘I had lived in this monastery for three
years in unquestioning obedience, and was regarded by all with contempt and was insulted as the
stranger (for there was no other strange monk there), then again I saw in a dream someone giving me a
credit-note for the payment of ten pounds of my debt. And so when I woke up and had thought about
my dream, I said: “Still only ten! But when shall I pay the rest?“ After that I said to myself: “Poor
Antiochus! Still more toil and dishonour for you.” From that time forward I began to pretend to be a
blockhead, yet without in any way neglecting the service of all. But when the merciless fathers saw that
I willingly served in that same condition, they gave me all the heavy work of the monastery. In such a
way of life I spent thirteen years, when in a dream I saw those who had appeared to me before, and
they gave me a receipt in complete settlement of my debt. So when the members of the monastery
imposed upon me in any way, I remembered my debt and endured it courageously.’ So you see, Father
John, that wise John told me this as if it were about another person. And that was why he changed his
name to Antiochus. But in actual fact it was he himself who so courageously destroyed the
handwriting1 by his patience and obedience.
112. Let us hear what a gift of discernment this holy man obtained by his utter obedience. When he
was residing in the monastery of St. Sabba three young monks came to him wanting to become his
disciples. He gladly received them and at once gave them kindly hospitality, wanting to refresh them
after the labour of their journey. When three days had passed, the elder said to them: ‘By nature,
brothers, I am prone to fornication, and I cannot accept any of you.’ But they were not scandalized, for
they knew the good work of the elder. Yet however much they asked him, they were quite unable to
persuade him. Then they threw themselves at his feet and implored him at least to give them a rule—
how and where they ought to live. So he yielded to their entreaties, and knowing that they would
receive it with humility and obedience, the elder said to one: ‘The Lord wants you, child, to live in a
place of solitude in subjection to a father.’ And to the second he said: ‘Go and sell your will and give it
to God, and take up your cross and persevere in a community and monastery of brothers, and you will
certainly have treasure in heaven.’ Then to the third he said: ‘Take in with your very breath the word of
Him who said: “He who endures to the end will be saved.”1 Go, and if possible choose for your trainer
in the Lord the most strict and exacting person and with daily perseverance drink abuse and scorn as
milk and honey.’ Then the brother said to the great John: ‘But, Father, what if the trainer lives a lax
life?’ The elder replied: ‘Even if you see him committing fornication, do not leave him, but say to
yourself: “Friend, why are you here ?“2 Then you will see all pride vanish from you, and lust wither.’
113. Let all of us who wish to fear the Lord struggle with our whole might, so that in the school of
virtue we do not acquire for ourselves malice and vice, cunning and craftiness, curiosity and anger. For
it does happen, and no wonder! As long as a man is a private individual, or a seaman, or a tiller of the
soil, the King’s enemies do not war so much against him. But when they see him taking the King’s
colours,3 and the shield, and the dagger, and the sword, and the bow, and clad in soldier’s garb, then
they gnash at him with their teeth, and do all in their power to destroy him. And so, let us not slumber.
114. I have seen innocent and most beautiful children come to school for the sake of wisdom,
education and profit, but through contact with the other pupils they learn there nothing but cunning
and vice. The intelligent will understand this.
115. It is impossible for those who learn a craft whole-heartedly not to make daily advance in it. But
some know their progress, while others by divine providence are ignorant of it. A good banker never
fails in the evening to reckon the day’s profit or loss. But he cannot know this clearly unless he enters it
every hour in his notebook. For the hourly account brings to light the daily account.
116. When a foolish person is accused or shouted at he is wounded by it and tries to contradict, or at
once makes an apology to his accuser, not out of humility but in order to stop the accusations. But
when you are being ridiculed, be silent, and receive with patience these spiritual cauterizations, or
rather, purifying flames. And when the doctor has finished, then ask his forgiveness. For while he is
angry perhaps he will not accept your apology.
117. While struggling against all the passions, let us who are in communities struggle every hour,
especially against these two: greed of stomach and irritability. For in a community there is plenty of
food for these passions.
118. The devil suggests to those living in obedience the desire for impossible virtues. Similarly, to
those living in solitude he proposes unsuitable ideas. Scan the mind of inexperienced novices and there
you will find distracted thought: a desire for quiet, for the strictest fast, for uninterrupted prayer, for
absolute freedom from vanity, for unbroken remembrance of death, for continual compunction, for
perfect freedom from anger, for deep silence, for surpassing purity. And if by divine providence they
are without these to start with, they rush in vain to another life and are deceived. For the enemy urges them to seek these perfections prematurely, so that they may not persevere and attain them in due
course. But to those living in solitude the deceiver extols hospitality, service, brotherly love,
community life, visiting the sick. The devil’s aim is to make the latter as impatient as the former.
119. Only a few (and it is true what I say) can live in solitude;1 in fact, only those who have obtained
divine consolation for encouragement in their labours and divine co-operation in their struggles.
120. Let us judge the nature of our passions and of our obedience, and choose our spiritual father
accordingly. If you are prone to lust, then do not select as your trainer a wonderworker who is ready
for everyone with a welcome and a meal, but rather an ascetic who will hear of no consolation in food.
If you are haughty, then let him be stern and unyielding, and not meek and kindly. Let us not seek
those who have the gift of foreknowledge and foresight, but rather those who are unquestionably
humble and whose character and place of residence correspond to our maladies. And after the example
of the above-mentioned righteous Abbacyrus, adopt this good habit so conducive to obedience, of
always thinking that the Superior is trying you, and you will certainly never go wide of the mark. If
your director constantly rebukes you and you thereby obtain great faith and love for him, then know
that the Holy Spirit has invisibly made His abode in your soul and the power of the Highest has
121. But do not boast or rejoice when you bear insults and indignities courageously, but rather mourn
that you have done something meriting your bad treatment and incensed the soul of your director
against you. Do not be surprised at what I am going to say (for I have Moses to support me). It is better
to sin against God than against our father; for when we anger God, our director can reconcile us; but
when he is incensed against us, there is no one to propitiate him for us. But it seems to me that both
cases amount to the same thing.
122. Let us look carefully and make our decision and keep alert as to when we ought to endure
thankfully and silently accusations made to our pastor, and when we ought to reassure him. It seems to
me that in all cases when indignity is offered to us we should be silent; for it is our moment of profit.
But in those cases where another person is involved, we should put up a defence so as to maintain the
link of love and peace unbroken.
123. Those who have jumped out of obedience will tell you of its value; for it was only then that they
fully realized the heaven in which they had been living.
124. He who is running towards dispassion and God regards as a great loss any day in which he is not
reviled. Just as trees swayed by the winds drive their roots deeply into the earth, so those who live in
obedience get strong and unshakable souls.
125. He who has come to know his weakness by living in solitude, and has then changed his place and
sold himself to obedience, has without trouble recovered his sight and seen Christ.
126. Keep at it, brother athletes, and I will say it again, keep running, as you hear Wisdom crying of
you: As gold in the furnace, or rather, in a community, the Lord has tried them, and as a whole burnt
offering has He received them into His bosom.2 To Him belongs the glory and eternal dominion, with
the eternal Father and with the Holy and adorable Spirit! Amen.
This step is equal in number to the Evangelists. Athlete, keep running fearlessly!