Do not be careless until your last breath

When I had an ailment of the legs which caused me great pain, certain of the brethren who had come to visit me asked me to tell them the reason for my affliction, having as I think a dual purpose: to comfort me a little and draw my thoughts away from my ailment, and to give me an opportunity to converse with them a little on something profitable. But since my affliction did not allow me at that time to tell them what they wished, you must now listen to this: for the account of sorrow is pleasant after the sorrow has passed. So also on the sea, when a storm arises, everyone who is in the boat is worried; but when the storm passes everyone joyfully and animatedly talks with each other about what just happened. It is good O brethren, as I always tell you
, to place all your hope in God in every situation, and to say: nothing happens without the will of God — of course God did this because He knew that this was good and useful and profitable, even though there may some other ostensible reason. For example I could say that because I ate food with pilgrims and forced myself a little in order to play the host to them, my stomach was weighed down, which caused a numbness in my feet and from this I became ill. I could also cite other various reasons, for one who seeks them there is no lack of them; but the most sure and profitable thing is to say: In truth God knew that this would be more profitable for my soul, and therefore it happened in this way. For there is nothing that God has created which is not good: And behold, they were very good (Gen. 1:31). And so that no one should grieve over what happens, but in everything, as I have said, he should place his hope on God's providence and be at ease. There are certain people who become so faint when sorrow strikes them that they renounce life itself and consider death to be sweet, if only they may be delivered from sorrows; but this happens from faintheartedness and great misunderstanding, for such men do not know what a frightful need meets us when the soul departs from the body.

This is God's great love for mankind, O brethren, that we are chastised when we are still in the world; but we, not knowing what happens there (after death), consider what happens here to be difficult. However this is inequitable. Do you not know what it says in the Patericon? One very zealous brother asked a certain elder, "Why does my soul desire death?" The elder replied to him, "Because you flee sorrow and you do not know that the sorrow to come is much more difficult than the present one." Another brother also asked an elder, "Why do I fall into negligence when I am in my cell?" The elder replied to him, "Because you have learned neither of the future blessedness nor of the future torment. For if you knew assuredly of this, then even if your cell were full of worms, and you were to stand in them up to your neck, you would endure all of this without growing faint." But we wish to be saved while sleeping, and therefore we grow faint in sorrows. We should instead give thanks to God and consider ourselves blessed that we are given the chance for a little sorrow here so as to obtain a little repose there. Evagrius also says, "He who has not yet been purified of passions and prays to God to die quickly is like a man who brings a carpenter to chop up a sick man's bed." For while the soul is in this body, even though it is warring with passions, it still has the consolation of being able to eat, drink, sleep, converse, or walk with his kind friends. But when the soul leaves the body, it remains alone with its passions and thus suffers from them—they scorch the soul with their rebelliousness and tear it apart, so that it cannot even remember God; for the very remembrance of God consoles the soul as it is also said in the psalm, I remembered God and rejoiced (Ps. 76:3). But even this the passions do not allow.

If you wish I will explain this to you by an example that I have said to you. Let any one of you come and I will shut him up in a dark cell, and even for three days let him not eat or drink or sleep, neither converse with anyone, nor sing psalms, nor pray, nor think at all about God—then would he see what the passions would do in him. But he would still be here: when the soul is separated from the body, how much more will it suffer from the passions, being left all alone with them, the poor wretch? By the present sorrows you can understand a little what the future sorrows will be like. For when someone has a fever, what is it that burns him? What fire or what matter causes this burning? And if someone has a bilious and dry body, does not this very dryness burn him, constantly disturb him and make his life very painful? So also the passionate soul is always miserable, tormented by its evil habits, ever having bitter remembrances and onerous impressions left by the passions that constantly burn and scorch it. Furthermore, who, O brethren, can imagine those frightful places, the tormented bodies which serve only to increase the captive souls' sufferings, as they themselves never rot; that frightful fire and darkness, those pitiless executioners of torture and other numberless torments so often described in the Divine Scriptures and which correspond to the souls' evil deeds and their evil remembrances? For just as the righteous, as the saints have declared, receive those bright habitations and angelic delights that correspond to their good deeds, so are sinners relegated to dark and somber places filled with fear and terror. For what could be more frightful and miserable than those places to which the demons are sent? And what could be more frightful than the torment to which they will be condemned? However, sinners also will be tortured with these very demons, as Christ says, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). And yet more frightful is that of which St. John Chrysostom spoke, "If the fiery river did not flow and the frightful angels did not stand before, but all men were simply called to judgment and some, receiving praise would be glorified, while others would be sent away with dishonor so that they might not see the glory of God—would not the punishment of this shame and dishonor and the sorrow at falling away from such good things be more frightful than any gehenna?" Then the very accusation of one's conscience and the very remembrance of what one has done, as we said above, will be more intolerable than numberless and unutterable tortures. For souls remember everything they did here, as the fathers say, both words and deeds and thoughts, and they will not be able to forget any of it then. For what is said in the psalm, in that day all his thoughts shall perish (Ps. 145:4) refers to the thoughts of this age, that is, about building, property, parents, children, and every kind of giving and receiving. All of this perishes for the soul when it leaves the body, and the soul neither remembers nor cares for any of this from that time on. And what it has done regarding virtue or passion—all this it will remember and none of it will be lost. But if a man has brought benefit to someone or himself has received it from someone, he will always remember his benefactor and the recipient of his own benefactions. Likewise if he has been harmed by someone or has himself harmed someone, he will always remember both the one who did him harm and the one who suffered harm from him. And there is nothing, as I said, that the soul will forget of what it has done in this world, but it will remember all of it after departing from the body, and indeed better and more clearly because it has been delivered from this earthly body.

Once we were speaking about this with a certain great Elder, and the Elder said that the soul, after it leaves the body, remembers the passions and sins it performed and the people with whom it performed them. But I said to him: "Perhaps it is not so; of course, it will have a bad habit which it acquired through its sin, and it will remember this." We argued for a long time over this subject, wishing to clarify it; but the elder did not agree with me. He insisted that the soul remembers the very form of sin and the very place and the very person with whom it sinned. And truly, if this is so then the end that awaits us is much more terrifying if we will not pay heed to ourselves. Therefore I say to you constantly: strive to cultivate good thoughts so as to find them there, for what a man has here departs with him from hence, and that is what he will be left with there.

Let us take care then brethren, so that we might be delivered from such a misfortune. Let us strive for this and God will perform His mercy upon us: for He is the hope of all the ends of the earth and of them that be far off at sea (Ps. 64:6). Those who are in the ends of the earth are those who are in extreme stages of malice; those who are afar off at sea are those who remain in extreme uncertainty. However Christ is the hope of these also. A little labor is required; let us labor then so as to be granted mercy. If a man has a field and leaves it untilled, it becomes overgrown. If he continues to be negligent, it will become all the more filled with thorns and thistles. When he comes to clean the field, will his hands not be bloodied according to the field's state of neglect, when he tries to uproot that evil growth he allowed by his negligence? For it is impossible that a man not reap what he has sown. And he who desires to clean his field must first entirely uproot all the bad weeds; for if he does not completely pull out all the roots, but only cuts them from the top, they will again grow up; and so he must, as I have said, uproot the very roots. Once he has cleared his field well of weeds, thorns and everything like that, he must plow it, make the rows, and cultivate it in this way. After the field has been well-cultivated, then he must sow a good seed. For if he leaves the field idle after giving it such a clearing, the weeds will again grow up, and, finding the earth soft and fertile from the cleansing will root themselves deeply, become stronger and multiply more greatly in the field. So it is with the soul; first one must cut off all his old attachments and evil habits, for there is nothing worse than an evil habit. St. Basil also says, "It is no small feat to overcome one's habit, for a habit, having been strengthened over a long period of time, often receives the power of nature."

So one must struggle, as I have said, against evil habits and passions, and not only against passions but also against their causes, which are roots; for if the roots are not uprooted, the thorns will inevitably grow up again, especially since certain passions can do nothing at all if a man cuts off their causes. Thus envy in itself is nothing, for it has several causes among which is the love of glory—for he who wishes to be glorified envies one who is glorified or respected. Likewise anger proceeds from various causes but especially from the love of pleasure. Concerning this Evagrius relates what a certain elder said, "I reject enjoyments in order to cut off the causes of irritability." And all the fathers say that every passion is borne from these three: from love of glory, love of money, and love of pleasure, as I have often said to you. Therefore one must not only cut off the passions but also their causes, then fertilize one's habits well with repentance and lamentation, and only then begin to sow good seed, which is good deeds; for as we have said about the field, if after clearing and working it one does not sow good seed in it, the weeds will come up and, finding the earth porous and soft from the cleaning, will become more deeply rooted in it. Thus also it happens with man. If after correcting his habits and repenting over his former deeds a man does not take care to do good deeds and acquire virtues, then in him is fulfilled what is written in the Gospel: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out: and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first (Mt. 12:43-45), for it is impossible for a soul to remain in one and the same condition, for it constantly is prospering in either good or evil. Therefore everyone who desires to be saved must not only cease to do evil, but is obliged also to do good, as is said in the psalm, turn away from evil and do good (Ps. 33:14). It is not written only turn away from evil, but also, do good. For example, if someone has become used to offending, he should not only cease to offend but he should also act righteously; if he has been a fornicator, he should not only cease to give himself over to fornication, but he should also be continent; if he has been angry, he should not only stop getting angry but should also acquire meekness; if someone has been proud, he should not only cease to be proud but also become humbled. And this is what is meant by, Turn away from evil and do good. For every passion has a virtue opposed to it: opposed to pride is the humility of wisdom; opposed to love of money is almsgiving; opposed to fornication is continence; patience opposes faintheartedness; meekness opposes anger; and in a word, every passion, as I have said, has a virtue opposed to it.

I have spoken to you about this many times. Since we have banished virtues and received passions in their place, so we must labor not only to banish passions but also to acquire and implant virtues in their place: because we have virtues which are given to us naturally by God. For when God created man, He sowed virtues in Him, as He also said, Let us make man according to our image and our likeness (Gen. 1:26). It is said: according to our image, for the soul was created immortal with power over itself, and according to our likeness, refers to virtues. For the Lord says, Be ye merciful even as your Father is also merciful (Lk. 6:36); and in another place, Be ye holy, for I am holy (I Pt. 1:16). Likewise the Apostle says, be ye kind to one another (Eph. 4:32). And in the Psalm it is said, The Lord is good to all (Ps. 144:9), and the like; this is what according to our likeness means. Consequently by nature God gave us virtues. Passions do not belong to us by nature, for they do not even have any substance or composition, but just as darkness in its essence has no substance but is a condition of the air, as St. Basil says, which occurs from the lack of light, so also the passions are not natural to us. But the soul, which inclines away from virtues in its love of pleasure, implants the passions in itself and strengthens them against itself. Therefore it is needful for us, as was said about the field, once having finished clearing it to immediately sow good seed, so that it might bring forth good fruit.

So a man after sowing the seed in his field, should cover it deeply with earth, for otherwise birds will come and seize it, and it will perish. But having covering it the sower should await God's mercy, until He sends rain, and then the seed sprouts. Even though the farmer might labor without end on clearing, working and sowing the field, if God does not send rain upon what has been sown, all the labor will have been in vain. So also if we should do something good, we must cover it with the humility of wisdom and entrust all our infirmity to God, entreating Him to look upon our labor; for otherwise it will be in vain. Sometimes even after rain, after the seed has already sprouted, if the rain will not moisten the field from time to time the sprouts will wither and perish. For both the seed and the sprout needs rain from time to time until the plant grows strong, and even then it requires care. Sometimes even after the sprout has grown up and the ear has formed it happens that caterpillars or hail or something else of that nature destroys the fruit. So is it with the soul: when someone labors to cleanse it from all the passions we have mentioned above and strives to acquire all virtues, he must constantly appeal to God's mercy and protection so that he will not be abandoned and thereby perish. For just as we have said about the seed, that even after it has sprouted, grown and brought forth fruit, if rain will not moisten it from time to time it will dry up and perish—so is it with man: even after performing so much labor, if God will even for a short time remove His protection and abandon him, he will perish.

God abandons a man when he does something against his own natural inclinations; for example, if he was reverent and has turned aside to a disorderly life; or if he was humble and becomes insolent. And God would not tend to abandon a person who leads a life of vice because he lives disorderly or insolently, or gets proud, as much as He would abandon a pious man if he were to commit some impropriety, and a humble man were he to become proud: this is what it means to sin against one's own natural inclinations. From this comes God's abandonment. Therefore St. Basil judges in one way the sin of a reverent man and in another way that of a sinner. And when someone has been able to preserve himself even from this, he should be cautious that in doing even the smallest good thing he should not have done it with vainglory, or out of man-pleasing, or from some other human motive, lest this small thing should destroy everything he has previously accomplished, as we have said about the caterpillars, the hail, and things of that nature. Again when the fruit does not suffer any harm in the field but is preserved right up to the harvest, even then the farmer should not be negligent. For it happens that even after a man has harvested his field and his labor is done, an evil man may come and out of hatred light a fire under the sheaves and destroy the fruit and all his labor. Therefore as long as the farmer has not seen to it that his corn has been well-cleared and poured into the granary, he should not be without care. So too if after a man has successfully escaped everything we have mentioned, even then he should not be without care. For it can happen that after all of this, the devil may find an occasion to deceive him either by self-justification or by puffing him up, or by placing in him thoughts of unbelief or evil heresy; and not only does he destroy all the man's labors but he also drives him away from God. What he could not achieve through activity, he brings about through a single thought: for a single thought can also distance a man from God as soon as he accepts it and submits himself to it.

Therefore, one who truly desires to be saved should not be careless until his last breath. Much labor and care is needed, and constant prayer to God—that He might protect us and save us by His grace, to the glory of His name. Amen.

Abba Dorotheos

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