An old man said, "Many, tempted by bodily pleasures, do not defile their bodies but, committing fornication in thought, they are fornicators in their souls while preserving their bodies unstained. So it is good, my friends, to do that which is written, that each one should guard his heart with great care."
The same brother asked another old man about the same thought. And the old man said to him, "I myself have never had to fight against such a thing." And the brother was schocked at it and went to see another old man, saying to him, "this is what a certain old mans said to me, and I am shocked at it, for he has spoken beyond nature." The second old man said to him, "The man of God has not said that to you simply on the surface; but arise, go and kneel before him, so that he may tell you the meaning of his saying." So the brother arose and went to see the first old man, and he knelt before him and said, "Forgive me, abba, for I have acted like a fool in going away hurriedly, and I beg you to tell me how it is you have never had to fight against lust." The old man said, "Since I became a monk, I have never eaten bread to satiety, nor drunk water, nor slept to satiety, and attention to these things has so weighted me down that it has not let me feel the warfare of which you are speaking." And the brother went away edified.
What words can adequately describe Godâ€™s gifts? They are so numerous that they defy enumeration. They are so great that any one of them demands our total gratitude in response.
Yet even though we cannot speak of it worthily, there is one gift which no thoughtful man can pass over in silence. God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.
Then, when man was deceived by the serpent and fell into sin, which led to death and to all the sufferings associated with death, God still did not forsake him. He first gave man the law to help him; he set angels over him to guard him; he sent the prophets to denounce vice and to teach virtue; he restrained manâ€™s evil impulses by warnings and roused his desire for virtue by promises. Frequently, by way of warning, God showed him the respective ends of virtue and of vice in the lives of other men. Moreover, when man continued in disobedience even after he had done all this, God did not desert him.
No, we were not abandoned by the goodness of the Lord. Even the insult we offered to our Benefactor by despising his gifts did not destroy his love for us. On the contrary, although we were dead, our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to life again, and in a way even more amazing than the fact itself, for his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.
He bore our infirmities and endured our sorrows. He was wounded for our sake so that by his wounds we might be healed. He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for our sake, and he submitted to the most ignominious death in order to exalt us to the life of glory. Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination.
How, then, shall we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? He is so good that he asks no recompense except our love: that is the only payment he desires. To confess my personal feelings, when I reflect on all these blessings I am overcome by a kind of dread and numbness at the very possibility of ceasing to love God and of bringing shame upon Christ because of my lack of recollection and my preoccupation with trivialities.
An old man lived in the desert in a cell twelve miles from the water. Every time he went to draw water he toiled and said, “What good is this labor? I will go and live close to the water.” Saying this, He turned back and saw someone who was going with him and counting his steps and he asked, “Who are you?” He said, “I am the angel of the Lord, and I have been sent to count your steps and to give you your reward.” When he heard this, the old man was reassured and became more courageous, and he went and settled five miles further off.
It is good…to pray always and not to lose heart, as the Lord says, And again the Apostle says, ‘Pray without ceasing’, (Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy On Me) that is by night and by day and at every hour, and not only when coming into the church, and not bothering at other times. But whether you are working, lying down to sleep, traveling, eating, drinking, sitting at table, do not interrupt your prayer, for you do not know when he who demands your soul is coming (death approaching…). Don’t wait for Sunday or a feast day, or a different place, but, as the Prophet David says, ‘in every place of his dominion’.
Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.
A brother at Scetis was a good fighter. The enemy suggested the rememberance of a very beautiful woman to him and he was much afflicted by it. Providentially, another brother who went to Scetis from Egypt said to him, while they were speaking together, "The wife of so and so is dead." Now it was the woman about whom the ascetic had experienced the conflict. When he heard this, he took his cloak and went to open her tomb by night; he soaked teh cloak in the decomposing body. Then he returned to his cell bringing this bad smell with him, and he strove against his thoughts, saying, "here is the desire you are seeking, you have it, be satisfied." And he chastised himself by means of that bad smell until the warfare in him ceased.
‘You shall not make an image of anything in the heavens above, or in the earth below, or in the sea’ (cf. Ex 20.4), in such a way that you worship these things and glorify them as gods. For all are the creations of the one God, created by Him in the Holy Spirit through His Son and Logos, who as Logos of God in these latter times took flesh from a virgin’s womb, appeared on earth and associated with men, and who for the salvation of men suffered, died and rose again, ascended with His body into the heavens, and ’sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High’ (Heb 1.3), and who will come again with His body to judge the living and the dead. Out of love for Him you should make, therefore, an icon of Him who became man for our sakes, and through His icon you should bring Him to mind and worship Him, elevating your intellect through it to the venerable body of the Saviour, that is set on the right hand of the Father in heaven.
In like manner you should also make icons of the saints and venerate them, not as gods –for this is forbidden– but because of the attachment, inner affection and sense of surpassing honour that you feel for the saints when by means of their icons the intellect is raised up to them. It was in this spirit that Moses made icons of the Cherubim within the Holy of Holies (cf. Ex 25.18). The Holy of Holies itself was an image of things supercelestial (cf. Ex 25.40; Heb 8.5), while the Holy Place was an image of the entire world. Moses called these things holy, not glorifying what is created, but through it glorifying God the Creator of the world. You must not, then, deify the icons of Christ and of the saints, but through them you should venerate Him who originally created us in His own image, and who subsequently consented in His ineffable compassion to assume the human image and to be circumscribed by it.
You should venerate not only the icon of Christ, but also the similitude of His cross. For the cross is Christ’s great sign and trophy of victory over the devil and all his hostile hosts; for this reason they tremble and flee when they see the figuration of the cross. This figure, even prior to the crucifixion, was greatly glorified by the prophets and wrought great wonders; and when He who was hung upon it, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, this His great and terrible sign will precede Him, full of power and glory (cf. Mt 24.30). So glorify the cross now, so that you may boldly look upon it then and be glorified with it. And you should venerate icons of the saints, for the saints have been crucified with the Lord; and you should make the sign of the cross upon your person before doing so, bringing to mind their communion in the sufferings of Christ. In the same way you should venerate their holy shrines and any relic of their bones; for God’s grace is not sundered from these things, even as the divinity was not sundered from Christ’s venerable body at the time of His life-quickening death. By doing this and by glorifying those who glorified God –for through their actions they showed themselves to be perfect in their love for God– you too will be glorified together with them by God, and with David you will chant: ‘I have held Thy friends in high honour, O Lord’ (Ps 139.17 LXX).
The old men used to say that the temptation to lust is like a hook. If it is suggested to us and we do not let ourselves be overcome by it, it is easily cut off; but if, once it is presented, we take pleasure in it and let ourselves be overcome, it transforms itself and becomes like iron and is difficult to cut off. Thus discernment is needed about these thoughts, because for those who allow themselves to be seduced there is no hope of salvation, whereas crowns are prepared for the others.