Wisdom from Abba Dorotheos
There came to me once two brothers who were always rowing, and the elder was saying about the younger, ‘I arrange for him to do something and he gets distressed, and so I get distressed, thinking that if he had faith and love towards me he would accept what I tell him with complete confidence.’ And the younger was saying, ‘Excuse me, reverend father, but he does not speak to me with the fear of God, but rather as someone who wants to give orders. I reckon that this is why my heart has not full confidence, as the Fathers say.’ Impress on your minds that each blames the other and neither blames himself, but both of them are getting upset with one another, and although they are begging each other’s pardon, they both remain unconvinced ‘because he does not [from his heart] show me deference and, therefore, I am not convinced, for the Fathers say that he should.’ And the other says, ‘Since he will not have complete confidence in my love until I show him deference I, for my my part, do not have complete confidence in him.’ My God, do you see how ridiculous this is? Do you see their perverse way of thinking? God knows how sorry I am about this; that we take the saying of the Fathers to excuse our own will and the destruction of our souls. Each of these had to throw the blame on the other… What they really ought to do is just the opposite. The first ought to say: I speak with presumption and therefore God does not give my brother confidence in me. And the other ought to be thinking: My brother gives me commands with humility and love but I am unruly and have not the fear of God. Neither of them found that way and blamed himself, but each of them vexed the other.
Don’t you see that this is why we make no progress, why we find we have not been helped towards it? We remain all the time against one another, grinding one another down. Because each considers himself right and excuses himself, as I was saying, all the while keeping none of the Commandments yet expecting his neighbor to keep the lot! This is why we do not acquire habits of virtue, because if we light on any little thing we tax our neighbor with it and blame him saying he ought not to do such a thing and why did he do it—whereas ought we not rather to examine ourselves about the Commandments and blame ourselves for not keeping them? How did that Senior reply when asked, ‘What do you find most important in this way of life, Father?’ He replied, ‘In everything to blame oneself’. And when his questioner agreed with him about this, he underlined it by saying, ‘There is no other way but this.’…
Everywhere we find that the Fathers kept to this [rule] relating everything to God, even the slightest things, and they found peace. Such was the holy old man who was ill and his brother, instead of honey, poured linseed oil over his food—pernicious stuff that it is. Nevertheless the old man said nothing but ate it in silence and even took a second helping to satisfy his need without blaming his brother or saying that he had done it maliciously. Not only did he say nothing, he was not annoyed with him even in thought. And then the brother learned what he had done and began to lament over it saying, ‘O Father, I have murdered you! And you have put this sin upon me because you said nothing!’ How meekly he replied, ‘Don’t be troubled, my son. If the Lord wished me to eat honey he would have made you put honey on it’, and he immediately confided the matter to God. What has it to do with God, venerable old man? The brother made a mistake and you say, ‘If God wished’. What has it to do with God? And he insists, ‘Yes! If God had wanted me to eat honey, the brother would have put honey on.’ The fact that the old man was so sick that day that he could take no food did not make him angry with his brother, but he referred the whole thing to God; and the old man was quite right to say, ‘If God had wanted me to eat honey he would even have changed the oil into honey.’ But we, for each little thing, go and accuse our neighbor and blame him as if he were maliciously going against his conscience. And if we hear a word we straight away distort its meaning and say, ‘If he did not intend to annoy me he would not have said it.’…
We, however, do not come to the point of saying about our brother that the Lord told him to say it. If we hear a word we immediately react like dogs. If someone throws a stone, they leave the one who throws it, run after the stone and bite it. This is how we act. We leave God who grants us occasions of this kind to purify us from our sins and we run after our neighbor crying, ‘Why did you say this to me? Why did you do this to me?’ And whereas we would be able to reap great profit from things of this kind, we bring just the opposite on ourselves, being unaware that everything happens by the foreknowledge of God for the benefit of each of us. May God make us really understand this through prayers of his saints. Amen.
Excerpted from Eric P. Wheeler, trans., Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings, Cistercian Studies Series, vol. 33 (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1978), pp. 144-7, with permission from Cistercian Publications. Discourses and Sayings may be purchased in the online bookstore of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. (Please note that the Holy Trinity Monastery Bookstore is not directly affiliated with The Monastic Library or the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, and we cannot answer any questions regarding purchases.)