The Ladder about Discernment

St. John of Sinai. "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". Step 26.

St John of Sinai (6th-7th cent.)

On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues

1. Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect it is the knowledge which they possess by divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the assured understanding of the divine will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth.

2. He who has piously destroyed within him the three passions [gluttony, cupidity, vainglory] has destroyed the five [lust, anger, despair, despondency, pride (St. Gregory of Sinai, ch. 91)] too; but he who has been negligent about the former will not conquer even one passion.

3. Discernment is undefiled conscience and purity of feeling.

4. Let no one on seeing or hearing something supernatural in the monastic way of life fall into unbelief out of ignorance; for where the supernatural God dwells, much that is supernatural happens.

5. Every satanic conflict in us comes from these three generic causes: either from negligence, or from pride, or from the envy of the demons. The first is pitiable, the second is disastrous, but the third is blessed.

6. After God, let us have our conscience as our aim and rule in all things, so that we may know which way the wind is blowing and set our sails accordingly.

7. In all our actions in which we try to please God the demons dig three pits for us. In the first, they endeavour to prevent any good at all from being done. In the second, after their first defeat, they try to secure that it should not be done according to the will of God. But when these rogues fail in this too, then, standing quietly before our soul, they praise us for living a thoroughly godly life. The first is to be opposed by zeal and fear of death, the second by obedience and humiliation, and the third by unceasing self-condemnation. We shall be faced by toil of this kind until the divine fire enters into our sanctuary (Psalm LXXVI, 16).

And then the force of bad habit will no longer exist in us. Our God is a fire consuming [Hebrews XII, 23] all fever (of lust) and movement (of passion), every inclination rooted in us and all blindness and darkness within and without, both visible and spiritual.

8. The demons generally produce in us the opposite of what has just been said. For when they take possession of the soul and extinguish the light of the mind, then there is no longer in us poor wretches either sobriety, or discernment, or self-knowledge or shame; but there is indifference, lack of perception, want of discernment and blindness.

9. What has just been said is known very vividly by those who have subdued their lust in order to become chaste, who have curbed their freedom of speech and have changed from shamelessness to modesty. They know how after the sobering of the mind, after the ending of its blindness, or rather its maiming, they are inwardly ashamed of themselves for what they said and did before when they were living in blindness.

10. If the day in our soul does not draw to evening and grow dark, then the thieves will not come and rob and slay and ruin our soul.

11. Robbery is loss of property. Robbery is doing what is not good as if it were good. Robbery is unobserved captivity of the soul. The slaying of the soul is the death of the rational mind that has fallen into nefarious deeds. Ruin is despair of oneself following on breach of the law.

12. Let no one plead his incapacity to fulfill the commandments of the Gospel, for there are souls who have gone even beyond the commandments. And you will certainly be convinced of what has been said by him who loved his neighbour more than himself and laid down his life for him, although he had not received this commandment from the Lord. (Abba Leo, who redeemed three captives. See John Moschus, Pratum Spirituale, ch. 111).

13. Those who have been humbled by their passions may take courage. For even if they fall into every pit and are trapped in all the snares and suffer all maladies, yet after their restoration to health they become physicians, beacons, lamps, and pilots for all, teaching us the habits of every disease and from their own personal experience able to prevent their neighbours from falling.

14. If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere word, let them teach. But they should not have authority as well. For, perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practise what they preach. And even if they do not begin, yet they may be able to help, as I saw happen with others who were stuck in the mud. Bogged down as they were, they were telling the passers-by how they had sunk there, explaining this for their salvation, so that they should not fall in the same way. However, for the salvation of others, the all-powerful God delivered them too from the mud. But if those who are possessed by passions voluntarily plunge into pleasures, let them teach by silence; for Jesus began both to do and to teach. (Acts I, 1)

15. Perilous, truly perilous is the sea that we humble monks are crossing, a sea in which there are many winds, rocks, whirlpools, pirates, hurricanes, shallows, monsters and waves. A rock in the soul we may consider to be fierce and sudden anger. A whirlpool is hopelessness which seizes the mind and strives to drag it to the depths of despair. A shallow is ignorance which accepts what is bad as good. A monster is this heavy and savage body. Pirates are the most dangerous servants of vainglory who rifle our cargo and the hard-won earnings of the virtues. A wave is a swollen and burdened stomach which by its greed hands us over to the beast. A hurricane is pride that casts us down from heaven, that carries us up to the sky and then down to the abyss.

16. Those engaged in education know what studies are suitable for beginners, what for the intermediate and what for teachers. Let us take sensible precautions not to prolong our study and stop in the beginners’ lessons. For to see an old man going to a children’s school is a great disgrace.

17. Here is an excellent alphabet for all:

(A) obedience (M) hard work

(B) fasting (N) humiliation

(C) sackcloth (O) contrition

(D) ashes (P) forgetfulness of wrongs

(E) tears (Q) brotherly love

(F) confession (R) meekness

(G) silence (S) simple and unquestioning faith

(H) humility (T) freedom from worldly cares

(I) vigil (U) hateless hatred of parents

(J) courage (V) detachment

(K) cold (X) innocent simplicity

(L) toil (Z) voluntary abasement

18. A good scheme for the advanced, and evidence of their progress is: absence of vainglory, freedom from anger, good hope, silence, discernment, firm remembrance of the judgment, compassion, hospitality, moderation in reproof, passionless prayer, disregard of self.

19. And here is a standard, rule and law for those in the flesh who are piously aiming at perfection in spirit and body:

(A) an unfettered heart (M) fellow worshipper with angels

(B) perfect love (N) abyss of knowledge

(C) a well of humanity (O) house of mysteries

(D) a detached mind (P) a keeper of secrets

(E) indwelling of Christ (Q) a saviour of men

(F) security of the light of prayer (R) god of the demons

(G) abundance of divine illumination (S) lord of the passions

(H) a longing for death (T) master of the body

(I) hatred of life (U) controller of nature

(J) flight from the body (V) banishment of sin

(K) an intercessor for the world (X) house of dispassion

(L) a forcer of God (Z) with the Lord’s help an imitator of the Lord

20. We have need of considerable vigilance when the body is sick. The demons, seeing us laid low and temporarily incapable of entering into the struggle with them owing to our infirmity, try to attack us fiercely at such times. The demon of irritation and sometimes of blasphemy hovers round those living in the world in time of illness. And the demon of gluttony and fornication attacks those living outside the world if they have an abundance of all necessaries; but if they are living in an ascetic way of life bereft of all consolation, then the tyrant of despondency [Cf. Step 13: 1 ff. And see above, p. 52, note 187] and ingratitude is constantly sitting with them.

21. I noticed that the wolf of fornication added to the sufferings of the sick, and during their actual sufferings produced in them movements of the flesh and emissions. And it was astounding to see how the flesh rages and burns with desire amidst violent agonies. And I looked again and saw men lying in bed who were then and there comforted by the power of God or by a sense of compunction, and by this comfort they warded off the pain and reached such a frame of mind in which they never wanted to get rid of their sickness. And again I turned and saw those suffering severely who by illness were delivered from the passions of their soul as if by some penance; and I glorified Him who cleansed clay by clay.

22. A spiritual mind is inevitably wrapped in spiritual understanding. [Or, ‘insight’. Cf. Philippians i, 9, where the word is rendered by A.V. ‘judgment, by R.V. ‘discernment’, by

Douai ‘understanding’, by Knox ‘perception’, by Moffat and Phillips ‘insight’.] Whether it is in us or not, we must never stop seeking this understanding. And when it makes its appearance, the outward senses of their own accord cease their natural action. Knowing this, one of the wise said: And thou shalt obtain a sense of the Divine. [A Russian note refers this passage to St. Nilus of Sinai (died c. 450), who was a disciple of St. John Chrysostom.]

23. The monastic life in regard to deeds, words, thoughts and movements must be lived with heartfelt conviction. Otherwise it will not be monastic life, let alone angelic life.

24. Divine Providence is one thing, Divine help is another, Divine protection is another, Divine mercy is another, and Divine consolation is another. Providence is displayed in all nature, [another reading is ‘creation’] help only in the faithful, protection in the faithful who truly have faith, mercy in those who serve God, and consolation in those who love Him.

25. Sometimes what serves as a medicine for one is poison for another; and sometimes something given to one and the same person at a suitable time serves as a medicine, but at the wrong time it is a poison.

26. I have seen an unskilled physician who, by subjecting a sick man who was contrite in spirit to dishonour, only drove him to despair. And I have seen a skilled physician who operated on an arrogant heart with the knife of dishonour, and drained it of all its evil-smelling pus.

27. I have seen one and the same sick man sometimes drink the medicine of obedience, move, walk and not sleep in order to cleanse his impurity; and sometimes, when the eye of his soul was sick, remain without movement, noiseless and silent. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

28. Some, I know not why (for I have not learned to pry conceitedly into the gifts of God) are by nature, I might say, prone to temperance, or silence, or purity, or modesty, or meekness, or contrition. But others, although almost their own nature itself resists them in this, to the best of their power force themselves; and though they occasionally suffer defeat yet, as men struggling with nature, they are in my opinion higher than the former.

29. Do not boast, man, of the wealth you have obtained without labour. For the Bestower, foreseeing your great hurt, and infirmity, and ruin, at least saves you to some extent by those unmerited gifts.

30. Instruction in childhood, education, studies, when we come of age either help or hinder us in virtue and in the monastic way of life.

31. Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion of stumbling in anything [2 Corinthians VI, 3] in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world.

32. If you will listen to me, you who are willing to do so, it is best for us not to be versatile and not to split our wretched soul into detachments, and not to challenge to battle with oneself thousands and myriads of the enemies: [Cf. Psalm XC, 7] for it is not in our power to comprehend or even to discover all their hosts.

33. With the help of the Holy Trinity, let us battle with three against three. [Poverty, chastity, obedience against cupidity, sensuality, ambition] Otherwise we shall make much toil for ourselves.

34. If He who turned the sea into dry land [Psalm LXV, 6] really abides in us, then our Israel too, that is, the mind that beholds God, will certainly cross this sea untossed, and will see the Egyptians sunk in the waters of tears. But if He has not yet made His abode in us, who will stand the roaring of the waves [Psalm LXIV, 8] of this sea, that is of our flesh?

35. If through our activity God rises in us, His enemies will be scattered; and if we draw near to Him by contemplation, those who hate Him will flee from His face [Psalm LXVII, 1]

and ours.

36. Let us try to learn divine truth more by toil and sweat than by mere word, for at the time of our departure it is not words but deeds that will have to be shown.

37. Those who hear of treasure hidden in a certain place seek it and, having discovered it, take trouble to keep what they have found; but those who get rich without trouble readily squander their possessions.

38. It is difficult to overcome former bad habits; and those who keep on adding further new ones to them either fall into despair or get no benefit at all from obedience. But I know that to God all things are possible, and to Him nothing is impossible. [Cf. Job XLLI, 2; St. Luke I, 37, etc.]

39. Certain people asked me a question difficult to solve and which is beyond the powers of anyone like me, and is not to be found in any of the books that have reached me. For they said: What are the particular offspring of the eight deadly sins? Or which of the three chief sins is the father of the other five (minor sins)? But by pleading praiseworthy ignorance as regards this difficulty, I learnt from the holy men the following: ‘The mother of lust is gluttony, and the mother of despondency is vainglory; sorrow and also anger are the offspring of those three (i.e. cupidity, sensuality, ambition); and the mother of pride is vainglory.’

40. In reply to this statement of those ever-memorable Fathers, I began again earnestly to ask them to tell me about the pedigree of the eight sins — which exactly are born from which? And these dispassionate men kindly instructed me, saying: ‘The irrational passions have no order or reason, but they have every sort of disorder and every kind of chaos.’ And the blessed Fathers confirmed this by convincing examples and supplied many proofs, some of which we are including in the present chapter, in order to draw light from them in judging the rest.

41. The sort of thing I mean is this. Untimely jesting is sometimes born of lust; and sometimes of vainglory, when a man impiously puts on a pious air; and sometimes too of luxury.

42. Much sleep is born sometimes of luxury; and sometimes of fasting, when those who fast are proud of it; and sometimes of despondency; and sometimes from nature.

43. Talkativeness is born sometimes of gluttony, and sometimes of vainglory.

44. Despondency is born sometimes of luxury, and sometimes of lack of fear of God.

45. Blasphemy is properly the offspring of pride; but it is often born of condemnation of our neighbour for the same thing; or of the untimely envy of the demons.

46. Hardness of heart sometimes comes from over-eating, often from coldness and attachment. And again attachment comes sometimes from lust, or from avarice, or from gluttony, or from vainglory, and from many other causes.

47. Malice is born of conceit and anger.

48. Hypocrisy comes from self-satisfaction and willfulness.

49. All the contrary virtues are born of parents contrary to these. But without enlarging on the subject (for I should not have time if I were to inquire into them all one by one), I will merely say that for all the passions mentioned above, the remedy is humility. Those who have obtained that virtue have won the whole fight.

50. The mother of all the vices is pleasure and malice. He who has them within him will not see the Lord; and abstinence from the first will bring but little benefit without abstinence from the second.

51. As an example of the fear of the Lord let us take the fear that we feel in the presence of rulers and wild beasts; and as an example of desire for God let carnal love serve as a model for you. There is nothing against taking examples of the virtues from what is contrary.

52. The present generation is seriously corrupt and all full of pride and hypocrisy. In bodily labours it perhaps reaches the level of our ancient Fathers, but it is not graced with their gifts, though I think nature never had such need of spiritual gifts as now. And we have got what we deserve. For God is manifested not in labours but in simplicity and humility. And if the power of the Lord is made perfect in weakness, the Lord will certainly not reject a humble worker.

53. When we see one of our athletes in Christ in bodily suffering and infirmity, let us not maliciously seek to learn the explanation of his illness, but rather with simple and genuine love let us try to heal him as though he were part of our own body, and as a fellow warrior wounded in the fray.

54. Sickness is sometimes for the cleansing of sins, and sometimes to humble our mind.

55. When our good and all-gracious Lord and Master sees people too lazy in their exercises, He lays their flesh low with sickness, an exercise that gives them no labour; and sometimes it also cleanses the soul from evil thoughts or passions.

56. All that happens to us, seen or unseen, can be taken by us in a good or a passionate or some middle disposition. I saw three brethren punished: one was angry, one suppressed his grief, but the third reaped the fruit of great joy.

57. I have seen farmers who were casting the same seeds on the earth, yet each had his own special intention. One was thinking of paying his debts; another wanted to get rich; another wished to honour the Lord with his gifts; another’s aim was to get praise for his good work from the passers-by on the way of life; another desired to annoy his neighbour who was envious of him; and another did not want to be reproached by people for idleness. Here are the names of those seeds cast to the earth by the farmers: fasting, vigil, alms, services and the like. Let our brethren in the Lord carefully test their intentions.

58. In drawing water from a well we sometimes without noticing it bring up a frog with the water, and so in acquiring the virtues we often get involved in the vices that are imperceptibly entwined with them. The kind of thing I mean is that gluttony is entangled with hospitality; lust with love; cunning with discernment; malice with thoughtfulness; duplicity, procrastination, laziness, contradiction, willfulness and disobedience with meekness; contempt of instruction with silence; conceit with joy; indolence with hope; harsh judgment with love again; despondency and sloth with quietness; acerbity with chastity; familiarity with humility; and behind them all [i.e. all the virtues] as a general salve, or rather poison, follows vainglory.

59. We should not be distressed if in asking the Lord for something we remain for a time unheard. It would have pleased the Lord if all men in a single moment had become dispassionate, only His foresight told Him that this would not be for their good.

60. All who ask and do not obtain their requests from God, are denied for one of the following reasons: either because they ask at the wrong time, or because they ask unworthily and vaingloriously, or because if they received they would become conceited, or finally, because they would become negligent after obtaining their request.

61. No one, I think, would doubt that the demons and passions leave the soul either for a time or entirely; but few know the reasons why they go away from us.

62. Some of the faithful, and even of the unfaithful, have been deserted by the passions, all except one; and that one has been left as a paramount evil which fully takes the place of all the others, for it is so harmful that it can even cast down from heaven.

63. The spent material of the passions is destroyed by the divine fire. And while this material is being uprooted and the soul purified the passions all retire; that is, if the man himself does not attract them again by worldly habits and indolence.

64. Demons leave us of their own accord so as to lead us to carelessness, and then suddenly carry off our wretched soul.

65. I know another way in which those beasts slink off; they go after the soul has thoroughly acquired the habits of vice and is its own betrayer and enemy. Infants are an example of what has been said; for, when weaned from their mother’s breasts, from long standing habit they suck their fingers.

66. I know also a fifth kind of spiritual dispassion which comes from great simplicity and praiseworthy innocence. For on such people help is justly bestowed by God who saves the true of heart [Psalm VII,10] and imperceptibly rids them of all vice; just as infants, when undressed, are quite unaware of it.

67. Vice or passion is not originally planted in nature, for God is not the Creator of passions. But there are in us many natural virtues from Him, among which are certainly the following: mercy, for even the pagans are compassionate; love, for even dumb animals often weep at the loss of one another; faith, for we all give birth to it of ourselves; hope, for we lend, and sail, and sow, hoping for the best. [Another reading is: ‘to get rich’.]So if, as has been shown, love is a natural virtue in us, and is the bond [Cf. Ephesians IV, 3; Colossians III, 14] and fulfilment of the law, [Romans XIII, 10] then it follows that the virtues are not far from nature. And those who plead their inability to practise them ought to be ashamed.

68. Above nature are chastity, freedom from anger, humility, prayer, vigil, fasting, constant compunction. Some of them men teach us, others angels, and of others the Teacher and Giver is God the Word Himself.

69. When confronted by evils, we should choose the least. For instance, it often happens that we are standing at prayer, and brothers come to us, and we have to do one of two things: either to stop praying, or to grieve the brother by leaving him without an answer. Love is greater than prayer, because prayer is a particular virtue but love embraces all the virtues.

70. Once long ago, when I was still young, I came to a town or village and while sitting at table I was attacked by thoughts of gluttony and vainglory, both at once. Fearing the offspring of gluttony, I decided that it was better to yield to vainglory, for I knew that in the young the demon of gluttony often conquers the demon of vainglory. And this is not surprising. In people of the world the root of all evil is love of money, but in monks it is gluttony.

71. Often Divine Providence leaves certain slight passions in spiritual people so that by unsparingly condemning themselves for those trifling and venial defects they may obtain that wealth of humility which none can steal.

72. It is impossible for those who have not first lived in obedience to obtain humility; for everyone who has learned an art on his own fancies himself.

73. The Fathers state that the active life consists in two virtues of the most general kind: in fasting and obedience. And rightly, for the first destroys sensuality, and the other reinforces this destruction with humility. That is why mourning also has a double power, for it destroys sin and produces humility.

74. To the pious it is natural to give to everyone who asks; and to the more pious to give even to him who does not ask. But not to demand a thing back from the person who took it, especially when they have the chance, is characteristic perhaps only of the dispassionate.

75. In every passion, and also in the virtues, let us critically examine ourselves: Where are we? At the beginning, or in the middle, or at the end?

76. All the attacks which we suffer from the demons come from these three causes: from sensuality, or from pride, or from the envy of the demons. The last are blessed, the middle are very pitiful, but the first are failures till the end.

77. There is a certain feeling, or rather habit, called endurance of hardship. He who possesses it will never fear pain, labour or hardship or turn aside from such. Upheld by this glorious grace, the souls of the martyrs recklessly despised their tortures.

78. The guarding of the thoughts is one thing, and the custody of the mind is another. As far as the East is from the West [Psalm CII, 12] so much higher is the latter than the former, even if it is more laborious.

79. It is one thing to pray for deliverance from bad thoughts, another to contradict them, another to despise and disregard them. Of the first way he bears testimony who said: O God, come to my help; [Psalm LXIX, 1] of the second, he who said: And to those who reproach me I will make contradictory answer; [Psalm CXVIII, 42]and again: Thou hast made us a contradiction to our neighbours; [Psalm LXXIX, 7] of the third the witness is the Psalmist: I was dumb, and opened not my mouth; [Psalm XXXVIII, 10] and: I put a bridle on my mouth, when the sinner was before me; [Psalm XXXVIII, 2] and again: The proud have broken the law to excess, but I have not swerved from Thy contemplation. [Psalm CXVIII, 51] He who stands on the middle step will often make use of the first of these means through being taken unawares. But he who stands on the first step is not in a position to ward off his enemies by the second means. But he who has reached the third step spurns the demons altogether.

80. Naturally it is impossible for a bodiless being to be confined by a body; but for a person who has God everything is possible.

81. Just as those whose sense of smell is healthy can tell who has hidden perfumes, so the pure soul can recognize in others both the fragrance which he himself has obtained from God and the stench from which he has been freed, though this is imperceptible to others.

82. It is impossible for all to become dispassionate, but it is not impossible for all to be saved and reconciled to God.

83. Take care that you are not mastered by foreigners, those thoughts which urge you to be inquisitive about the ineffable judgments of Divine Providence or the visions that people have which secretly suggest that the Lord is partial. For they are the offspring of self-esteem, and are known as such.

84. There is a demon of avarice which often apes humility; and there is a demon of vainglory, and one of sensuality too, which both urge to almsgiving. However, if we are clear of them both, we should not stint our acts of mercy wherever we are.

85. Some have said that demons work against demons; but I know that they all seek our destruction.

86. Our own strong desire and intention, with God’s cooperation, precede every spiritual action both visible and mental; for if the first has not paved the way, the second is apt not to follow.

87. If there is a time for everything under heaven, [Ecclesiastes III, 1] as the Preacher says, and by the word ‘everything’ must be understood what concerns our holy life, then if you please let us look into it and let us seek to do at each time what is proper for that occasion. For it is certain that for those who enter the lists there is a time for dispassion (I say this for the combatants who are serving their apprenticeship); there is a time for tears, and a time for hardness of heart; there is a time for obedience, and there is a time to command; there is a time to fast, and a time to partake; there is a time for battle with our enemy the body, and a time when the fire is dead; [Lit. ‘a time of the death of burning’] a time of spiritual storm, and a time of spiritual calm; a time for heartfelt sorrow, and a time for spiritual joy; a time for teaching and a time for listening; a time of pollutions, perhaps on account of conceit, and a time of cleansing by humility; a time for struggle, and a time for safe relaxation; a time for quiet, and a time for undistracted distraction; a time for unceasing prayer, and a time for sincere service. So let us not be deceived by proud zeal and seek prematurely what will come in its own good time; that is, we should not seek in winter what comes in summer, or at seed time what comes at harvest; because there is a time to sow labours, and a time to reap the unspeakable gifts of grace. Otherwise we shall not receive even in season what is proper to that season.

88. By the ineffable providence of God some have received holy returns for their toiling before their labours, some during their labours, some after labours, and some at the time of their death. It is a question which of them was rendered more humble?

89. There is a despair that is the consequence of a multitude of sins, of a burdened conscience and unbearable sorrow because the soul is covered with a multitude of wounds and it sinks under the burden of them into the depth of despair. And there is another kind of sorrow that comes to us from pride and conceit, when someone considers that he has not deserved a fall that he has had. The observant will find the distinguishing feature of each: the one cooly gives way to indifference, the other in despair still clings to his struggle — which does not accord with his state. The former is cured by temperance and good hope, and the latter by humility and the habit of not judging anyone.

90. It should not surprise us or seem to us strange when we see that some do bad deeds under cover of good words; for perhaps even in Paradise the snake was destroyed by overwhelming conceit.

91. In all your undertakings and in every way of life, whether you are living in obedience, or are not submitting your work to anyone, whether in outward or in spiritual matters, let this be your rule and practice, to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God’s will? For example, when we, I mean beginners, carry out some task and the humility acquired from this action is not added to our soul, then in my opinion, be the matter great or small, we are not doing it according to God. For in us who are still young in the spiritual life, growth in humility is the fulfillment of the Lord’s will; and for those who have reached a middle state perhaps the test is the cessation of inner conflicts; and for the perfect, an increase and abundance of the divine light.

92. Even a small thing can be not small to the great; but to the small, even great things are not altogether perfect.

93. When the air is cleared of clouds, the sun shines brightly; and a soul freed from its former habits and granted forgiveness has certainly seen the divine light.

94. Sin is one thing, idleness another, indifference another, passion another and a fall another. He who is able to investigate this in the Lord, let him seek clearly.

95. Some praise above all the gift of miracle-working and the visible spiritual gifts, not knowing that there are many higher than this which are hidden and which therefore remain secure.

96. He who is perfectly purified sees the soul of his neighbour (although not the actual substance of the soul), and can tell its state. But he who progresses further can judge the state of the soul from the body.

97. A small fire often destroys a whole forest; so too a small flaw spoils all our labour.

98. There is a rest from hostility which awakens the power of the mind without stirring the fire of passion. And there is an exhaustion of the body, which perhaps excites even movements in the flesh so that we should not trust in ourselves, [2 Corinthians I, 9] but should trust in God, who, without our knowledge, mortifies the lust living in us.

99. When we see that some love us in the Lord, then we should not allow ourselves to be especially free with them, for nothing is so likely to destroy love and produce hatred as familiarity.

100. The eye of the soul is spiritual and extremely beautiful and, next after the incorporeal beings, it surpasses all things. That is why people who are still subject to passions can often know the thoughts in the souls of others on account of their great love for them, and especially when they have not been sunk and defiled by the clay. If nothing is so opposed to immaterial nature as material nature, let him who reads understand. [The soul is immaterial. The body is material. Nothing is so opposed to the soul as the body. Nothing so

disquiets and blinds the mind as fleshly impurity caused by degrading passions (Romans I, 26). Yet even natural love gives the lover a remarkable insight into the mind and heart of the beloved. Cf. St. Matthew XXIV, 15.]

101. Superstitious observances in the case of lay people are contrary to Divine Providence, and in the case of monks, to spiritual knowledge.

102. Let those who are infirm in soul recognize God’s visitation from their bodily circumstances, dangers and outward temptations; but the perfect recognize it from the presence of the Holy Spirit and an accession of spiritual gifts.

103. There is a demon who comes to us when we are lying in bed and shoots at us evil and dirty thoughts to make us shrink from rising for prayer and from taking up arms against it, and makes us fall asleep with these foul thoughts and then have foul dreams too.

104. There is an evil spirit, called the forerunner, who assails us as soon as we awake from sleep and defiles our first thought. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start. It is worth hearing what an expert told me: ‘From my morning,’ he said, ‘I know the course of the whole day.’

105. There are many ways of piety and perdition. That is why it often happens that a way that is unsuitable for one just fits another; and the intention of both is acceptable to the Lord.

106. In all the temptations that happen to us the devils struggle to make us say or do something improper. And if they cannot do that, they stand quietly and suggest that we should offer God arrogant thanksgiving.

107. Those whose minds are on things above, after the separation of soul and body, ascend on high in two parts; [i.e. first the soul, then after the resurrection the body] but those whose minds are on things below, go below. For souls separated from the body there is no intermediate place. Of all God’s creations only the soul has its being in something else (in a body) and not in itself; and it is wonderful how it can exist outside that in which it received being.

108. Pious daughters are born of pious mothers, and the mothers are born of the Lord. And it is not a bad plan to apply this rule in the contrary sense. [He calls mothers the productive virtues which bear their own. And he calls daughters those which are born of the love of God and of faith and of hope. For these are of God just as their opposites are of the enemy. And the vices likewise are productive. And just as the Lord creates the virtues in us, so the devil creates vices.]

109. Moses, or rather God Himself, forbids the coward to go out to battle lest the last spiritual error should be worse than the first bodily fall. And this is right. [Deuteronomy XX].

The eyes of our body are a light for all the bodily members; and the discernment of the divine virtues is a light for the mind.


On expert discernment


110. As the hart parched by the heat longs for the streams, [Cf. Psalm XLI, 1] so monks long for grasp of the good and divine will, and not only that, but also for what is not the pure will of God, and even for what is opposed to it. This is a subject that is extremely important for us and not easily explained, namely: which of our affairs should be done at once, without delay, and as soon as possible, according to him who said: Woe to him who puts off from day to day, [Ecciesiasticus V, 7—8] and from time to time; and again, what should be done with moderation and circumspection, as is advised by him who said: War is a matter for guidance, [Proverbs XXIV, 6. Cf. XX, 18] and again: Let all things be done decently and in order.[ Corinthians XIV, 40] For it is not for everyone to decide quickly and precisely such fine points. Even the God-bearing David who had the Holy Spirit speaking within him, prayed for this gift and sometimes says: Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God, [Psalm CXLII, 10] and sometimes again: Guide me to Thy truth, [Psalm XXIV, 5] and again: Make known to me the way I should go, O Lord, for I lift up my soul from all the cares of life and passions, and raise it to Thee. [Psalm CXLII, 8]

111. Those who wish to learn the will of the Lord must first mortify their own will. Then, having prayed to God with faith and honest simplicity, and having asked the fathers or even the brothers with humility of heart and no thought of doubt, they should accept their advice as from the mouth of God, even if their advice be contrary to their own view, and even if those consulted are not very spiritual. For God is not unjust, and will not lead astray souls who with faith and innocence humbly submit to the advice and judgment of their neighbour. Even if those who were asked were brute beasts, yet He who speaks is the Immaterial and Invisible One. Those who allow themselves to be guided by this rule without having any doubts are filled with great humility. For if someone expounded his problems on a harp,[Cf. Psalm XLVIII, 4] how much better, do you think, can a rational mind and reasonable soul teach than an inanimate object.

112. On account of self-will many have not accepted the perfect and easy blessing mentioned above, and having tried to discover what was pleasing to the Lord of themselves and in themselves, have handed on to us many and various judgments concerning this matter.

113. Some of those who were seeking the will of God laid aside all attachments; they submitted to the Lord their own thought about this or that inclination of the soul, I mean whether to perform an action or to resist it; they submitted their mind stripped of its own will to Him, offering fervent prayer for a set number of days. In this way they attained to a knowledge of His will, either through the spiritual Mind spiritually communicating with their mind or through the complete disappearance from their soul of their cherished intention.

114. Others on account of the trouble and distractions which attended their undertaking concluded that these disturbances came from God, according to him who said: We wanted to come to you time and again but Satan hindered us. [Thessalonians II, 18]

115. Others, on the contrary, recognized that their action was pleasing to God from its unexpected success, declaring: God co-operates with everyone who deliberately chooses to do good.

116. He who has obtained God within him through illumination, both in actions requiring haste and in actions allowing of delay, is assured of His will by the second way, only without a definite period of time.

117. To waver in one’s judgments and to remain in doubt for a long time without assurance is the sign of an unenlightened and ambitious soul.

118. God is not unjust and does not close the door against those who knock with humility.

119. In all our actions, the intention must be sought from the Lord, whether in those that require haste or in those that require to be postponed. For all actions free from attachment and from all impurity will be imputed to us for good if they have been done especially for the Lord’s sake and not for anyone else, even though these deeds are not entirely good.

120. Seeking for what is beyond us has no safe end. The Lord’s Judgment about us is unfathomable. By His special providence He often chooses to hide His will from us, knowing that, even if we were to learn it, we should disobey it, and should thereby receive greater punishment.

121. An honest heart is free from the different kinds of distractions which occur and it is safely sailing in the bark of innocence.

122. There are courageous souls who with love and humility of heart throw themselves into tasks that are beyond them; and there are proud hearts who do the same. For our foes often intentionally suggest to us things beyond our powers so that these should cause us to lose heart and leave even what is within our power and make ourselves a great laughing-stock to our enemies.

123. I have seen those who were sick in soul and body who, because of the multitude of their sins, engaged in battles that were beyond them and which they could not continue. I say to such as these that God judges our repentance not by our labours but by our humility.

124. Sometimes upbringing is the cause of great evils, and sometimes company. But often a warped soul is of itself sufficient for its ruin. He who is clear of the first two is free from the third as well. But whoever has the third defect is reprobate everywhere; for there is no place safer than heaven. [Yet the devil fell from heaven]

125. In the case of those who malevolently dispute with us, whether unbelievers or heretics, we should desist after we have twice admonished them. [Titus III, 10] But in the case of those who wish to learn the truth let us never grow weary in well-doing. [Galatians VI, 9] However, we should use both opportunities for the establishment of our own heart. [Cf. Hebrews XIII, 9]

126. The man who despairs of himself when he hears of the supernatural virtues of the saints is most unreasonable. On the contrary, they teach you supremely one of two things: either they rouse you to emulation by their holy courage, or they lead you by way of thrice-holy humility to deep self-contempt and realization of your inherent weakness.

127. Amongst the impure evil demons, there are some more evil than others. They suggest to us that we should not commit sin alone, but they counsel us to have others as companions in evil in order to make our punishment more severe. I have seen one learning a bad habit from another, and although he who taught came to his senses and began to repent and gave up doing wrong, his repentance was ineffectual on account of the influence of his pupil.

128. Stupendous, truly stupendous and incomprehensible is the wickedness of the evil spirits. It is not seen by many, and I think that even those few see it only in part. Thus, how is it that while living in luxury and plenty we keep vigil and do not sleep, and why while fasting and exhausting ourselves with labours are we pitifully overpowered by drowsiness? Or why does our heart become hard while abiding in silence? And why, while sitting among our companions, do we come to compunction? When we are hungry why are we tempted by dreams? Yet when sated we do not experience these temptations. In poverty we become dark and incapable of compunction; but if we drink wine we are happy and easily come to compunction. He who can do so in the Lord, let him bring light to the unenlightened in this matter. For we are not enlightened about this. At least we can say that such a change does not always come from the demons. And this sometimes happens to me, I know not how, by reason of the constitution I have been given and the sordid and greedy corpulence with which I am girt about.

129. With regard to the changes enumerated above, so hard to interpret, let us sincerely and humbly pray to the Lord. And if after prayer and the time which it took we still feel the same thing at work in us, then let us conclude that this is caused not by demons but by nature. Yet it often pleases Divine Providence to benefit us through adversity and to check our conceit by all possible means.

130. It is dangerous to be inquisitive about the depth of the divine judgments, because the inquisitive sail in the ship of conceit.

131. Someone asked one of those who could see: ‘Why does God, who foresees their falls, adorn some with gifts and wonder-working powers?’ And he replied: ‘In order to make other Spiritual men more careful, and to demonstrate the freedom of the human will, and to cause those who fall to be without any excuse at the last judgment.’

132. The law, being imperfect, says: Attend to yourself. [Deuteronomy IV, 9] But the Lord, being entirely perfect, enjoined upon us the correction of our brother, saying: If thy brother sin against thee, [St. Matthew XVIII, 15] and so on. If your reprimand, or rather your reminder, is pure and humble, you should not refuse to carry out the Lord’s behest, and especially in the case of those who accept correction. But if you have not yet got as far as this, then at least practise the precept laid down by the law.

133. Do not be surprised when you see that those whom you love turn against you on account of your rebukes. Frivolous people are the tools of the demons, and especially against the demons’ foes.

134. One thing about us astonishes me very much: Why do we so quickly and easily incline to the passions when we have Almighty God, angels and saints, to help us towards the virtues, and only the wicked demon against us? I do not wish to speak about this in more detail; in fact, I cannot.

135. If all created substances keep to their nature, then why, as the great Gregory says, [St. Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 16] am I, the image of God, compounded with clay? If some of God’s creatures have somehow lost their created nature, it is certain that they will continually strive to return to their original state. Man ought to use every means to raise his clay, so to speak, and seat it on the throne of God. And let no one make excuses for not undertaking this ascent, because the way and the door are open.

136. It excites the mind and soul to emulation to hear the spiritual feats of the Fathers, and their zealous admirers are led to imitate them through listening to their teaching.

137. Discernment is a light in darkness, the return of wanderers to the way, the illumination of those whose sight is dim. A discerning man finds health and destroys sickness.

138. All who show surprise at every trifle do so for two reasons: either from crass ignorance, or else they magnify and exalt the deeds of their neighbour with a view to humility.

139. Let us make an effort not only to wrestle with the demons but also to wage war on them. The former sometimes throws them, and is sometimes thrown; [i.e. he who merely wrestles with them] but the latter is continuously hounding the foe. [I.e. he who really wages war against them.]

140. He who has conquered the passions wounds the demons; by pretending that he still has passions he deceives his foes and remains unassailable. One of the brethren once suffered disgrace and without being in the least moved in his heart he prayed in his mind. Then he began to bewail the disgrace, hiding his dispassion by passion. Another of the brethren who had no longings at all for the office of superior pretended that he was working for this. And how am I to describe the chastity of that man who went into a brothel ostensibly for the sake of sin, but drew the harlot to the ascetic life? Again, a bunch of grapes was brought very early in the morning to one of the hermits, and after the person who brought them had gone, he ate them with a semblance of gobbling but without any pleasure, to make it seem to the demons that he was a glutton. Another, having lost a few palm-leaves, [Palm-leaves were used for making baskets] spent all day pretending that he was grieved about this. Such people need to take care, otherwise in trying to fool the demons they may end by being fooled themselves. It was of these, no doubt, that the Apostle said: As deceivers and yet true. [2 Corinthians VI, 8]

141. He who wishes to present his body pure to Christ and to show Him a clean heart must carefully preserve chastity and freedom from anger, for without these our labour is quite useless.

142. Just as eyes have different coloured lights in them, so in the soul many different overshadowings of the spiritual Sun occur. One kind comes through bodily tears, another through the tears of the soul; one kind through what is contemplated by the bodily eyes, another through the spiritual. One kind comes from hearing words, another is the joy that spontaneously springs up in the soul; also there is one kind that comes from silence, and another which by rapture ineffably and unexpectedly transports the mind in spiritual light to Christ.

143. There are virtues, and there are mothers of virtues. So a wise man strives rather to obtain the latter. The Teacher of the mother-virtues is God Himself through His own action, while there are plenty of teachers for the daughter-virtues.

144. Let us beware lest we compensate austerity in taking food by excess of sleep, and vice versa; for such behaviour is characteristic of foolish men.

145. I have seen toilers [i.e. workers for Christ, spiritual athletes, or ascetics] who for some reason slightly indulged their stomachs, but soon after this, these courageous ascetics chastised their poor stomachs by standing throughout the night, and in this way they taught them to be well content to refrain from satiety.

146. The demon of avarice strives fiercely against those who possess nothing, and when it cannot vanquish them it reminds them of the state of the poor and persuades those who are spiritual to become material again.

147. In times of despondency never fail to bear in mind the Lord’s commandment to Peter to forgive a person who sins seventy times seven. [St. Matthew XVIII, 22] For He who gave this command to another will Himself do far more. But when we are exalted let us again remember the saying: He who shall keep the whole spiritual law, and yet stumble in one passion, that is, fall into pride, has become guilty of all. [James II, 10]

148. There exist certain dispositions of wicked and envious spirits which voluntarily leave the saints so as to deprive those who battle of any chance of obtaining crowns for victory over them.

149. Blessed are the peacemakers. [St. Matthew V, 9] No one will deny this. But I have also seen enemy-makers who are blessed. A certain two developed impure affection for one another. But one of the discerning fathers, a most experienced man, was the means whereby they came to hate each other, by setting one against the other, telling each that he was being slandered by the other. And this wise man by human roguery succeeded in parrying the devil’s malice and in producing hatred by which the impure affection was dissolved.

150. Some set aside one commandment for the sake of another commandment. I have seen young men who were attached to one another in a right spirit. Yet in order not to offend other men’s consciences, by mutual agreement they kept apart for a time.

151. Just as a marriage and a funeral are the very opposite of each other, so too are pride and despair. But as a result of the confusion caused by the demons it is possible to see the two together.

152. At the beginning of the monastic life some of the unclean demons instruct us in the interpretation of the Divine Scriptures. And they are particularly fond of behaving in this way in the case of vainglorious people and of those who have been educated in secular studies so that by gradually deceiving them they may lead them into heresy and blasphemy. We can recognize this diabolical divinity, or rather, devilry, by the disturbances and the confused and unholy joy which are felt in the soul during the instruction.

153. All creatures have received from the Creator their order of being and their beginning, and some their end too. But the end of virtue is infinite. For the Psalmist says: I have seen the end of all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceedingly broad and boundless. [Psalm CXVIII, 96] If some good ascetics pass from the strength of action to the strength [Psalm LXXXIII, 8] of contemplation, and if love never ceases, [I Corinthians XIII, 8] and if the Lord will guard the coming in of your fear and the going out [Psalm CXXVIII] of your love, then from this it follows that there is actually no limit to love. We shall never cease to advance in it, either in the present or in the future life, continually adding light to light. And however strange what I have said may seem to many, nevertheless it shall be said. According to the testimonies we have given, I would say, blessed Father, even the spiritual beings (i.e. the angels) do not lack progress; on the contrary, they ever add glory to glory, and knowledge to knowledge.

154. Do not be astonished if the demons often suggest to us good thoughts, and intellectual arguments against them. The aim of our foes in this case is to make us believe that they also know the thoughts of our hearts.

155. Do not judge too severely those who are eloquent in preaching but do not support this in practice, for the profit of a word has often compensated for the dearth of deeds. We do not all obtain everything in equal measure. With some speech takes precedence over action, but with others the latter transcends the former.

156. God is not the cause or the creator of evil, and those who say that certain passions are natural to the soul have been deceived not knowing that we have turned the constituent qualities of nature into passions. For instance, nature gives us the seed for childbearing, but we have perverted this into fornication. Nature provides us with the means of showing anger against the serpent but we have used this against our neighbour. Nature inspires us with zeal to make us compete for the virtues, but we compete in evil. It is natural for the soul to desire glory, but the glory on high. It is natural to be overbearing, but against the demons. Joy is also natural to us, but a joy on account of the Lord and the welfare of our neighbour. Nature has also given us resentment, but to be used against the enemies of the soul. We have received a desire for pleasure, [Another reading is ‘food’] but not for profligacy.

157. An energetic soul rouses the demons against itself. But as our conflicts increase, so do our crowns. He who has never been struck by the enemy will certainly not be crowned. But the warrior who does not flinch despite his incidental falls will be glorified by the angels as a champion.

158. He who spent three nights in the earth returned to life for ever, [St. Matthew XII, 40]

and he who has conquered three hours will never die. [By three hours (according to Elias of Crete) is meant three kinds, three periods of temptation: first, ambition or love of glory; second, sensuality or love of pleasure; and third, cupidity or love of money (i.e. world, flesh, devil).]

159. Divine providence causes the sun to rise in us for our edification, and then for a time to set, [Psalm CIII, 19] and then He makes darkness His hiding place, [Psalm XVII, 12] and night falls, in which prowl the fierce young lions, which had previously left us and all the beasts of the forest of thorny passions, roaring to snatch the hope that is in us, and seeking from God their food of passions either in thought or in action. And again through the darkness of humility the sun rises upon us and the wild beasts gather together and lie down in their dens, [Psalm CIII, 20-3] that is to say in sensual hearts, but not in us. Then the demons say amongst themselves: The Lord has done great things for them. And we say to them: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad [Psalm CXXV, 3-4] but you are banished. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, no doubt the soul that is raised above all earthly desire, and comes into Egypt, into the heart already darkened, and will shatter the idols of man’s making, [Isaiah XIX, 1] that is, vain thoughts of the mind.

160. If Christ, although omnipotent, as man fled bodily from Herod, then let the rash learn not to hurl themselves into temptations. For it is said: Let not thy foot be moved, nor him (the angel) who keeps thee slumber. [Psalm CXX, 3]

161. Vanity or conceit twines itself round courage just as bindweed twines round cypress.

162. Let us constantly guard against admitting even the mere thought that we have attained to any good whatsoever; and let us keep on looking carefully to see whether this is one of our characteristics. If it is, then we shall know that we have utterly failed.

163. Look unceasingly for evidence of the passions, and then you will find many of them in you which we are unable to distinguish in our diseased condition, by reason of our own weakness or because they are so deeply rooted.

164. God is the judge of our intentions; but in His love He does also require us to act as far as we are able. Great is he who leaves undone nothing that is within his power; but greater is he who humbly attempts what is beyond his power.

165. The demons often hinder us from carrying through what is easy and profitable for us, and they urge us to turn to what is more laborious instead.

166. I find that Joseph is honoured for avoiding the occasion of sin, and not for showing dispassion. It may be asked: From what and from how many sins does aversion merit a crown? For it is one thing to turn away from the shadow, but it is a much greater thing to run towards the sun of righteousness.

167. Being in darkness is a cause of stumbling; stumbling is a cause of a fall; and to fall is a cause of death.

168. Those who have been overcome by wine often wash with water, but those who have been overcome by passions wash with tears.

169. Pollution is one thing, darkness is another, and blindness another. The first is cured by temperance, the second by solitude, and the third by obedience and by God who for our sakes became obedient. [Philippians II, 8]

170. We can take as an example two places in which mundane things are cleaned. Let us picture to ourselves by analogy two sublime institutions for those who set their mind on things above; [Colossians III, 2] a monastic community such as is pleasing to God is like the laundry in which uncleanness, grossness and deformity of soul are scoured out; and the dye-works will be the solitary life for those who have already laid aside lust, remembrance of wrongs and anger, and who are now passing from the monastery to solitude.

171. Some say that we fall into the same sins because we have been unable to correct our former sins through the inadequacy of our repentance. But it may be asked: Have all those who have not fall en into the same kind of sin really repented as they should? Some fall into the same sins either because they have sunk into a deep forgetfulness of their former sins, or because they imagine in their own pleasureloving way that God is merciful, or they have lost all hope of their own salvation. I do not know whether anyone will blame me if I say that their trouble arises because they have not been strong enough to bind the foe who is dominating them through the tyranny of habit.

172. We should inquire why the soul which is incorporeal does not see of what nature the spirits are that take up their abode with it. Is it not a result of its union with the flesh? This is known only to Him who joined them.

173. A discerning man once asked me: ‘Tell me, tell me, for I desire to know which of the spirits are liable to depress the mind when we sin and which of them to lift it up?’ But I was embarrassed by the question, and on oath I affirmed my ignorance. Then he who wished to learn taught me himself, saying: ‘I shall give you in a few words the leaven of discernment, and then I shall leave you to seek the rest by your own industry. The spirit of lust, the spirit of anger, the spirit of gluttony, the spirit of despondency the spirit of sleepiness have no tendency to lift up the horn of the mind. But the spirit of love of money, ambition, talkativeness and many others add evil to evil. That is why the spirit of criticism is near to the latter.’

174. If any monk has spent an hour or a day in visiting people in the world, or has had them as guests, he ought to rejoice when he parts from them like someone who has been freed from a clog and a trap. But if on the contrary he feels the dart of sorrow, this indicates that he has become the toy either of vainglory or of lust.

175. We ought to begin by seeing which way the wind is blowing, and then we shall not set our sails against it.

176. Comfort with love and allow a little respite to old men practised in charity, such as have exhausted their bodies in asceticism. But compel young men who have exhausted their souls with sins to be abstinent, and bring to their memory the eternal torments.

177. It is quite impossible, as I said in another place, suddenly to become perfectly free from gluttony and vainglory at the outset of the monastic life. But we should not fight vainglory with luxury, because victory over gluttony, I mean in beginners, gives rise to vainglory. Rather let us master it by frugality. For the hour will come, and is already here for those who desire it, when the Lord will also subdue this passion under our feet.

178. When they enter monastic life the young and the aged are not afflicted by the same passions, because they often have quite opposite infirmities Therefore, blessed, truly blessed is humility, because it makes repentance safe and effective for young and old alike.

179. Do not make an uproar at what I am going to say There are indeed true and upright souls, though they are rare, who are strangers to malice, hypocrisy and mischief, for whom living with men is completely uncongenial. But with the help of their guide, from solitude as from a harbour, they can ascend to heaven without desiring or experiencing the disturbances and stumbling blocks of community life.

180. Men can cure the lustful, angels the malicious, but only God the proud.

181. Perhaps one aspect of love often consists in letting the neighbour who is a frequent visitor do what he likes, and in any case showing him all our kindness.

182. It may be asked: How and to what extent, when and whether good is destroyed by a kind of repentance [Or, ‘regret’. The question proposed is whether a change of mind and purpose for the worse destroys our virtues just as a change for the better destroys our vices]in the same way as evil.

183. We must use great discernment in order to know when to take our stand against sin, and in what cases and to what extent to struggle against the food of the passions, and when to withdraw from the fray. For, on account of our weakness, sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge that flight is better than death.

184. We should watch and see when and how we can empty out our gall by malice. Some of the demons uplift us, some depress us, some harden, some comfort, some darken, some pretend to communicate enlightment to us, some make us slothful, some make us cunning, some make us sad, and some cheerful.

185. We should not be dismayed if we find that our passions are stronger at the beginning of our monastic life than they were in our life in the world. For we have to remove the causes of sickness, and then health will come to us. The beasts were there in hiding all the time, only they did not show themselves.

186. When by some accident those who are otherwise approaching perfection are overcome by the demons in a trivial matter, they should at once use all means in their power to wrench this fault out of them again a hundredfold.

187. As the winds in calm weather ruffle only the surface of the sea, but at other times they stir the depths as well, so you can imagine to yourself the dark winds of iniquity. For in those enslaved by passions they shake the actual consciousness of the heart, but in those who have already made progress they only ruffle the surface of the mind. That is why the latter soon feel their normal calm, for the heart was left undefiled.

188. It is the privilege of the perfect to know unerringly whether a thought in the soul comes from their own consciousness, or from God, or from the demons; for the demons do not at first suggest everything that is repugnant. This is indeed a dark problem and hard to solve.

189. The body is enlightened by its two corporeal eyes; but in visible and spiritual discernment the eyes of the heart are illumined.

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