There are certain kinds of trees which never bear any fruit as long as their branches stay up straight, but if stones are hung on the branches to bend them down they begin to bear fruit. So it is with the soul. When it is humbled it begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears the lowlier it becomes. So also the saints; the nearer they get to God, the more they see themselves as sinners.
—–Dorotheos of Gaza
Paul called himself the chief, or first, of sinners. Isaiah said, “We are all sheep that have rebelled, and gone our own way, and God has laid our sin upon the shoulders of the messiah.” (My paraphrase) When we can come to grips with these three factors: we are all primarily sinners, we will go our way and Jesus took ours sins upon himself, we will begin the process of becoming humble. Without the humbling of our souls, we will never do the true work of God. On our own we can become legally righteous and live a “punch list” sort of Christianity, but the spirit of the ONE who went to the cross for us will never be the pervasive force in our lives.
A great deal of energy is expended to avoid pain and difficulty in our lives. We shield our children and consequently ourselves from the reality of the world that surrounds us. These activities in and of themselves are not harmful or sinful. They can, however,r lead to a false sense of accomplishment and safety that does not challenge us to meet the powers of this world and find the victory that comes when we do. We are given battles, our souls are weighed down, our branches are pruned, but all of these things make us stronger in our reliance in God. Most importantly, we are reminded that we are fatally flawed without our reliance on Him.
Coming nearer to God, as the monk says, is a matter of acknowledging our sins and living with them and not being controlled by them. We will never know the true power of God until we recognize our weaknesses. If we are to bear fruit in this life we must don the garment of humility that weighs down the arms of self-sufficiency that so naturally dominate us. Such an action will bring humility to our souls and spiritual productivity to our lives.
Lord, give me the wisdom to know the need and marshal the courage to accept the garment of humility that my sinful soul so badly needs. By accepting the garment, I am allowing you to lead me in the direction of spiritual humility which blesses me and those I encounter. Lord, this day I ask my arms to be drawn down by confession of my sins, so I might be lifted by your grace.
There are two kinds of pride. The first kind of pride is when a man despises his brother, considers him worth little or nothing, while he puts much greater value on himself. Such a man, unless he speedily repents and takes great care, will come in a short time to that second kind of pride by which he lifts himself up against God , and ascribes what he does right not to God, but to himself.
-Dorotheos of Gaza
There are many proud people who handle their pride in proper ways. We should be proud of our achievements, our children, our honesty, our morality, but all these things must be credited to God who has given us all that we have. Without a God based pride in ourselves we accomplish very little for ourselves, the world or God. We are His creation and He has created us for good. He wants us to accomplish and thrive for His glory. The scripture says, “…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” He created us for His glory and we are all called by His name. As we do our very best for God, and take pride in doing so, we glorify Him.
I live on a dead end street. Simply expressed, that means if you get to the end of my street, you have to turn around or back up to get out. The two types of pride that Dorotheos refers to are dead ends. The first one, the devaluation of the brother is the beginning of the dead end. It has a way out, the second, the devaluation of God, requires that we turn around or back out before we are destroyed.
Are you traveling down that dead end path of pride? Do you find yourself enjoying the company of yourself more than anyone else? Is it difficult for you to admit the possibility that you may be mistaken? Worse yet, are you forgetting that you are created for God’s glory, not your own? If you see these warning signs in your life, you are headed down a dead end road, but faint not, all things are possible through the God who gives us strength. Take a pause and call on Him. Dorotheos says to “speedily repent,” before it is too late.
Lord I ask You to give me the wisdom to know the difference between the actions that give You glory and the ones that give me glory. I repent of the times that I have acted for my own glorification. I pray that you will forgive me for those times. Set me forth on a road, this day, that will lead to You and Your glory.
While I was in trouble with my feet and very weak, some of the brethren came to see me and ask me to tell them something about the cause of my sickness. I think they had a double purpose, first to comfort me by distracting me from my pain and second to set me off talking about something profitable.
—Dorotheos of Gaza
I truly believe the monk’s assertion of the two fold purpose of any visit to those that are in need is very valid and weighty. When we comfort someone that is hurting, we have a tendency to turn them away from their pain, but more significantly we make them feel a sense of value. The monk was sitting in his cell probably thinking of nothing but the gout that caused him so much pain, but his day was interrupted with a joyful distraction. This interruption lifted him away from the routine of the day and gave him value to the brethren even in the midst of his pain.
Dorotheos gives us a very valuable lesson in his words. This lesson reframes the purpose of visiting the sick and lonely. When we comfort someone in need, we not only minister to them, but give them an opportunity to minister to us. The brothers visited the monk in his time of suffering, and they gave him the chance to feel whole again. Dorotheos teaches us that we should never stop sharing and never stop serving. In this serving and sharing, God allows us to be disciples no matter what our condition may be.
One of the fathers use to say, ‘before anything else we need humility: a being ready to listen whenever a word is spoken to us, and to say, “I submit”, because through humility every device of the enemy, every kind of obstacle, is destroyed.
——Dorotheos of Gaza
Perhaps the definition and function of humility is the foremost issue for anyone who wishes to follow the path of God. Humility is the ability to put yourself last, and to accept hardships that come along with the path of God. For any of us to follow after God, we must have the capacity to submit to God and others. Acquiescing to God is a tough charge, but to others is a near impossibility. We all find submission a problematic part of living. The monk says that submission is the first action, and that all others will follow. Humble wisdom gives us the capacity to sense the good in an act of submission. Further, it is the act of choosing the path that will lead to peace with God and our fellow man. Our day is full of strife and conflict. We live in a time where everyone demands to be heard and followed. Our challenge is to be humble enough to learn the value of a simple act of submission.
A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.
——— Abba Dorotheos
The food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world
Why are we so ready to judge our neighbor? Why are we so concerned about the burden of others? We have plenty to be concerned about, each one has his own debt and his own sins. It is for God alone to judge, to justify or to condemn. He knows the state of each one of us and our capacities, our deviations, and our gifts, our constitution and our preparedness, and it is for him to judge each of these things according to the knowledge that he alone has. For God judges the affairs of a bishop in one way and those of a prince in another. His judgment is for an abbot or for a disciple, he judges differently the senior and the neophyte, the sick man and the healthy man. Who could understand all these judgments except the one who has done everything, formed everything, and knows everything?
——Doretheos of Gaza
The holy monk gives us advice on judging others. We have all experienced the hurt of being judged harshly by others who are not capable of truly understanding the plight that we are facing. Abba Doretheos puts forth the wisdom of tending our own lives before we judge others. He makes it abundantly clear that only the Holy One could possible know all that goes into our decisions in life, therefore, only He can judge us with wisdom and grace. Different people with varying functions in life have unique needs and are judged by appropriate standards. Only God can be a proper judge.
“Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When
those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”
—– Dorotheus of Gaza
One of the prime objectives of the Christian life is to bring us closer to God and each other. Perhaps we have misread the secret of achieving this noble goal. Abba Dorotheus gives us this formula to follow. Most of us want God to be the center of our world and we want to be as close to Him as possible. Could it be that we could solve so many of the world’s problems by simply putting Him, at the center and moving in His direction?
How do we make God the center of our world?
- Set aside time for meditation and prayer
- Serve the poor and needy
- Give generously of your time and talent
- Care for all of His creation.
These suggestions could serve as a start to make God live at the center of our world.
Just recently I was introduced to Dorotheos of Gaza by Professor Emeritus Roberta Bondi from Chandler School of Theology. I find his words an additional treasure trove of desert wisdom that I will be blogging on from time to time. Irvin
In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.
Doretheos of Gaza
——-Dorotheos of Gaza
At first glance Dorotheos seems to be implying that we can approach God with behavior modification. That is not the base point of the teaching. We can dig far deeper by gaining the insight of the undeniable relationship between passion and sin. If we can come to understand that God is seeking to guide us to recognize our passions without allowing them to control us like puppets on a string, we can arrive at a peace that is currently beyond our grasp. Passions and sins are not one in the same. Passions are the root of sin, but passions are not an excuse for sin. The father clearly points out that we can have passions without sin. There are two keys: to observe the commands of God and avoid sin, and to understand that our passions drive us in the direction of sin. With that knowledge, it will be possible to have passions and not sin.
Additionally, I believe that passions allow us to live our lives to the fullest. Our deepest passions are one way we were created in the “image and likeness” of God. We are to go to God and ask Him to gift us with deep passion to live, to love, and to serve. With these passions, we become great servants and productive people. The acknowledgement of evil passions as the root of sin is the beginning of the road to glorification.