“And so God said, the man is mad; he does not know how to be happy”

Let anyone desiring to find true humility and rest for his soul learn lowliness of mind and see that in it is all joy and all glory and all tranquility, and in pretensions to superiority, just the contrary. From where do all those afflictions of the mind come to us? Is it not through our arrogance, our thinking too much of ourselves? Is it not through extolling ourselves and our evil self-preference? Is it not the bitterness of ourselves that will master us? But how did this come about? Was man not created in all comfort, in all joy, in perfect peace and in all glory? Was he not in paradise? He was sent away. Why? God said you shall not do this, and he did do it! Do you not see the pride in that, the obstinacy, the insubordination? And so God said, the man is mad; he does not know how to be happy, unless he experiences evil days he will go away and completely perish. Unless he knows what tribulation is he will never know what rest is. He then gave him what he deserved and expelled him from paradise. Then he delivered him to his own self-will and to his own desires, that he may grind down his own bones and learn that he cannot go straight on his own, but only by the command of God; so that learning the poverty of disobedience may teach him the tranquility that comes from obedience. As the prophet says, “Your rebellion shall teach you” (Jer 2:10). …

And now look and consider how this was only an anticipation of our own state! See how many and great the evils it has brought on us—this self-justification, this holding fast to our own will, this obstinacy in being our own guide. All this was the product of that hateful arrogance towards God. Whereas the products of humility are self-accusation, distrust of our own sentiments, hatred of our own will. By these one is made worthy of being redeemed, of having his human nature restored to its proper state, through the cleansing operation of Christ’s holy precepts. Without humility it is impossible to obey the Commandments or at any time to go towards anything good. As Abba Mark says, without a contrite heart it is impossible to be free from wickedness or to acquire virtue. Therefore, by compunction of heart you get a grip on the Commandments, are free from evil, gain virtue and, what is more, peace of mind returns to you. The holy men of old thoroughly understood this and through all their training and guidance in humility were zealous in uniting themselves to God. Thereby becoming friends of God, they were able, after Holy Baptism, not only to cut out sins arising from evil passions, but to conquer the passions themselves and to acquire complete control of their passions. Such were Saint Anthony, Saint Pachomius and the rest of the God-bearing Fathers.

Their aim was to purify themselves, as the Apostle says, “from every blemish of the flesh and the spirit” (2 Cor 7:1). They knew that by the keeping of the Commandments the soul is purified and the mind too is enlightened, and they perceived that it starts functioning as nature intended it to. “The command of the Lord gives light and enlightens the eyes” (Ps 19:8). Being in this world they knew very well that it was not possible, without trouble, to make progress in virtue, and they worked out for themselves an unusual kind of life, a strange way of passing their time, I mean the solitary life. They began to flee the world and to live in the desert, in watching and fasting and sleeping on the bare earth and other forms of mortification. Having left their homeland and their relations, riches, and possesses, they simply crucified themselves to this world. … They crucified the world to themselves and struggled to crucify themselves to the world. As the Apostle says, “The world is crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). What is the difference? The world is crucified to a man when a man renounces the world to become a solitary, and leaves parents, wealth, possessions, business dealings, and the giving of present. Then he is crucifying the world to himself, for he has left himself, and this is what the Apostle means by “the world is crucified to me.” But then he adds “and I to the world.” How can a man be crucified to the world? When, after being freed from external things he begins the combat against pleasure itself, against the desire of having things, against his own will, and he puts to death his evil passions. Then he himself is crucified to the world and is worthy to say with the Apostle, “the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

St Dorotheos of Gaza

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