Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, said, One day when I was in Abba Agathon’s cell a brother came in and said to him, “I want to live with the brethren; tell me how to dwell with them.” The old man answered him, “All the days of your life keep the frame of mind of the stranger which you have on the first day you join them, so as not to become too familiar with them.” The Abba Macarius asked, “And what does this familiarity produce?” the old man replied, “It is like a strong, burning wind, each time it arises everything flies swept before it, and it destroys the fruit of the trees.” So Abba Macarius said, “Is speaking too freely really as bad as all that?” Abba Agathon said, “No passion is as worse than an uncontrolled tongue, because it is the mother of all the passions.” Accordingly the good workman should not use it, even as he is living as a solitary in the cell. I know a brother who spent a long time in his cell using a small bed who said, “I should have left my cell without making use of that small bed if no one had told me it was there.” It is the hard-working Monk who is a warrior.
The brethren also asked Abba Agathon “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him. For they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.
The same Abba said “a man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God”
Our fourth struggle is against the demon of anger. We must, with God’s help, eradicate his deadly poison from the depths of our souls. So long as he dwells in our hearts and blinds the eyes of the heart with his somber disorders, we can neither discriminate what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life; and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light; for it is written, “For my eye is troubled because of anger”
Getting angry can sometimes be like jumping into a muscle car, gunning the motor, taking off with the peddle to the metal and discovering you have no brakes. Very shortly we are in a great deal of trouble. Anger is our greatest enemy. It is the deadly poison that starts wars, leads to murder, breaks relationships, and keeps us separated from God. Our world would be so different if we could truly learn to bridle our anger.
The wise monk calls anger a demon. That reference puts this emotion in a very different light. Anger is elevated from a bad habit to a spiritual failure. Habits, good or bad, are conquered by discipline and training. Demons are conquered by prayer and supplication. Perhaps it is time we admit that we do not control our anger, but rather, it controls us. With that confession in hand, we can humbly approach God and ask for healing.
Lord deliver us this day from the deadly poison of anger. Amen
A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’
—-Abba Mateos of the Desert
The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.
Abba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. That is to allow our moral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.