He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’
[Abba Anthony the Great, the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]
[Today is the feast day of the Holy Abba Anthony, the first Christian monk.
“We have not lived your life, nor practised your ways, so remember us in your prayers, Peniot Abba Antonious”]
The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”
[Abba Anthony the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]
The blessings of the contemplative life do not burst in on our lives like a flash of lightning. They do not arrest our attention the moment we open our eyes to look for them. Rather, they permeate our lives imperceptibly. They are like the light of the rising sun. The first faint light of dawn penetrates the veil of darkness – slowly but surely. Although it is difficult to trace the inception of this light, it spreads until it pervades everything. It dispels the darkness before the sun rises into view.
In order to attain a fruitful life of prayer, we should not expect blessings to fall upon us suddenly. Rather, we should make our way through with slow but sure steps. We need a long, disciplines struggle. We need patience and constraint. It is enough to make progress however slow that progress may seem, or however pitch-black the world around us and around our faith may appear. Mere progress in the life of prayer and intimacy with God is a sure sign that we will reach our goal. It is proof positive that the light must appear, however long it may be hidden from us. Once it appears, the fruit of our laborious struggle and our faith and patience will materialise. When we constraint ourselves in our struggle, when we expend our sweat and tears, when we contend with our doubts and whispers – walking on in spite of the darkness that shrouds everything in us, our own eyes may not see in ourselves anything but weakness. The eyes of God, however, see precious and valuable signs of growth: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29); “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake.” (Heb 6:10)
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]
There are three virtues which bestow light on the intellect at all times: knowing no evil against anyone, doing good to those who wrong you, and enduring calmly the things which come your way.
These three virtues give rise to another three which are still greater: knowing no evil against anyone gives rise to love, doing good to those who wrong you produces peace, and enduring calmly the things which come your way brings meekness.
There are four virtues which purify the soul: silence, keeping the commandments, <spiritual> constraint and humility.
The intellect always needs the following four virtues: praying to God by constantly prostrating oneself before him, surrendering before God, being unconcerned with everyone in order not to judge, and being deaf to the passions which speak to it.
Four virtues fortify the soul, allowing it to breathe from the disturbance of the enemy: mercy, freedom from anger, long-suffering, and shaking off every seed coming from sin. Resisting forgetfulness protects all of these.
There are four virtues which, after God Himself, assist the beginner: constant study, resoluteness, vigil and disregard for oneself.
[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetical Discourses, Discourse 7]
A certain brother committed an offence in Scete, the camp of the monks, and when a congregation was assembled on this matter, they sent after Abba Moses, but he refused to come; then they sent the priest of the church to him, saying, “Come, for all the people are expecting you,” and he rose up and came.
He took a basket with a hole in it and filled it with sand, and carried it upon his shoulders, and those who went out to meet him said unto him, “What does this mean, O father?” And he said to them, “The sands are my sins which are running down behind me and I cannot see them, and, even, have come to this day to judge shortcomings which are not mine.” And when they heard this they set free that brother and said nothing further to him.
They used to say of Abba Aghathon that on hearing of his great discretion, some people went to him. Wanting to test him [to see] whether he would become angry they said to him, “Are you Aghathon? We hear that you are given to porneia and arrogant,” but he said, “Yes, that is so.”
They also said to him, “Are you Aghathon, the tattler and slanderer?” and he said, “I am.” Then again they said to him, “Are you Aghathon the heretic?” and he replied, “I am not a heretic,” and they begged him saying, “Tell us why you accepted when we said so many things about you, but you did not tolerate this description?”
He said to them, “I charge myself with the first [faults] because it is good for my soul; but to hear [oneself] called heretic – that is separation from God, and I do not wish to be separated from my God.” On hearing this they were amazed at his discretion, and went their way enlightened.