Let us attend to ourselves, brothers, let us learn self-control while we have time. Why do we neglect ourselves? Let us be doing something good all the time so that we may find help in the time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? We are always hearing a great deal about the spiritual life and we don’t care about it, we even despise it. We see our brothers snatched away from our midst and we don’t abstain, even when we know that in a little while too shall be near death. Look! Since the time we sat down at this conference we have used up two or three hours of our time and got that much nearer to death. Yet we take care to exclude time from our thoughts and we have no fear. Why do we not remember that saying of the Elder that “If a man lose gold and silver, he can always find more to replace it. Time once lost cannot be found again by living in idleness and negligence. No matter how hard we try to regain one hour of this time we shall never find it.” How many desire to hear the word of God and find no one to expound it, while we hear and despise it and are not stirred up by it. God knows, I am frightened by our imperviousness. We who can be saved, and do not even desire it. For we can cut off our unruly desires when they are newly born and we don’t think about it; we allow them to grow up and harden against us so that we make the last evil greater than the first. For, as I often tell you, it is one thing to uproot a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree.
One of the great old men was at recreation with his in a place where there were cypresses of different shapes and sizes, some large, some small. And he said to one of his disciples, “Pull up that cypress over there.” It was a very small one and immediately the disciple pulled it up with one hand. Then the old man showed him another one, larger than the first, and he said, “Pull up that one.” Working it backwards and forwards with both hands he pulled it up. The old man showed him yet a larger one, and with much more trouble he pulled that up too. Then he showed him an even larger one and with much more labor, straining backwards and forwards and sweating profusely, he finally lifted that one too. Then the old man showed him a still larger one, but for all his energy and sweating he could not pull it up. And when the old man saw that he could not pull it up, he turned to another brother and told him to get up and help him, but even the two of them together could not pull it up. And the old man said to all the brothers: “So it is with our evil desires: insofar as they are small to start with, we can, if we want to, cut them off with ease. If we neglect them as mere trifles they harden, and the more they harden, the more labor is needed to get rid of them. But if they grow to any degree of maturity inside us, we shall no longer be able to remove them from ourselves no matter how we labor unless we have the help of the saints interceding for us with God.” No doubt you see the force of what the saints have to say. And the prophet in the psalm says something similar, “O miserable daughter of Babylon; blessed is he who repays you as you repaid us; blessed is he who dashes your little ones to the ground.”
But let us search out the meaning of this saying in detail. “Babylon” means confusion. For Babel has the same meaning as Schechem. “Daughter of Babylon” means enmity [or the enemy]. First the soul is put to confusion and so it produces sin; but he calls sin miserable, because sin (and I have spoken of this elsewhere) has no existence or substance of its own but is brought into existence through our own carelessness; and again through our correction it is destroyed and loses its existence. Therefore, he says, as though a holy man were speaking to sin, “Blessed is he who pays back to you what you have repaid us.” Let us learn what we have given, what we have received, and what we should desire to give back again. We have given our desire and we received back sin. This text calls “happy” the man who gives back this evil and by this “giving back” he means no longer doing it. Then he adds, “Happy the man who takes your little ones and dashes them against a rock:—as if he would say: Happy the man who seized the things generated from you, “the enemy,” i.e., the evil thoughts, not giving them a chance to grow strong in him and constrain him to evil deeds, but immediately, while they are still in their infancy, before they are fed and grow strong against him, flings them down on the rock, which is Christ. In other words he utterly destroys them by taking refuge in Christ.