Sunday, 27 December 2009

Saint Nil de la Sora: Une Voix dans le Désert

Saint Nil de la Sora: Une Voix dans le Désert
texte anglais (c) Miles (Nilus) Stryker
traduction française (c) Jean-Michel Dossogne amdg.be 7 mai 2005.


C'est dans les sauvages et désertiques étendues du nord de la Russie, au milieu des marais et des forêts qui s'étirent autour de la Volga, que saint Nil Sorki appela le monachisme Russe à revenir à la simplicité, à l'humilité, à la prière, et au coeur de l'enseignement des antiques Pères de l'Eglise.
On connaît peu de détails particuliers sur la vie de saint Nil. Les traits principaux sont rapportés par le « Patericon » du monastère de la Trinité-Saint-Serge, et il y a aussi quelques fragments de lettres, de commentaires et d'écrits qui ont survécut tant à la destruction des Tatars qu'à la négligence ecclésiale. Des années durant, l'Eglise Russe vit en Nil plus une énigme qu'une bénédiction. Les autorités de l'Eglise Russe de l'époque n'avaient pas été à même d'apprécier la valeur de son point de vue, ni de prêter attention à ses avertissements, et elles firent en sorte que tant lui que ceux qui l'ont suivit, et leurs idées, soient relégués aux dernières pages de l'histoire ecclésiastique (1). Il est bon pour l'Orthodoxie en général, et l'Eglise Russe en particulier, que pour finir elle fut à même de le reconnaître comme saint, autant que ceux qui avaient des idées plutôt différentes. Ce ne sera cependant pas avant de longues années après sa mort qu'il y aura reprise d'intérêt en faveur de ses écrits et idées, et de son merveilleux exemple personnel de dévotion et détermination Chrétiennes. Bien qu'il ne sera jamais officiellement canonisé par l'Eglise Russe (2), saint Nil commença à apparaître dans les calendiers de paroisses au moins à partir de la fin du 18ème siècle (comme constaté en 1864), et on le retrouvera officiellement repris dans le calendrier ecclésiastique officiel à partir de 1903 (3).

Nil de la Sora (Nil Sorsky) naquit vers 1443 dans une famille appelée Maikov. Quelques auteurs le présente d'ascendance noble (4), mais cette opinion semble dériver du fait qu'il avait de proches disciples et admirateurs qui étaient eux nobles, et de son style d'écriture claire et érudite, et de son éducation. Nil parle de lui-même en utilisant l'épithète poselyanin (habitant rural) (5) et nombre d'auteurs acceptent son origine paysanne.

Il entra jeune dans la vie monastique, et fut tonsuré "dans ma jeunesse" d'après ses propres paroles (6). On ne sait pas grand chose de ses premières années comme moine. Il entra au célèbre monastère de saint Cyril de Belozersk (9 juin). On ne sait pas trop combien de temps il y demeura ni les raisons de son départ. Certains auteurs présentent l'idée que ses capacités d'érudit et ses diligents efforts le firent accepter dans le monastère Russe sur la sainte Montagne de l'Athos en Grèce. On possède cependant un fragment de lettre qui donne une autre raison, et un sens plus personnel de frustration et de mécontentement à l'intérieur de la communauté spirituelle du Lac Blanc.



"Est-ce que mon départ du monastère (du Lac Blanc) n'était pas pour le bien du profit spirituel? Oui, pour son bien; car je n'y voyais plus la préservation de la manière de vivre selon les Lois de Dieu et les traditions des Pères, mais plutôt une vie selon la volonté propre de chacun et les idées humaines; et ils y étaient nombreux ceux qui, agissant de cette manière corrompue, s'imaginaient mener une vie vertueuse." (7)

Il semble donc que Nil soit partit à la recherche d'une forme plus "pure" de vie monastique et accompagné de son disciple, Innocent (qui deviendra saint Innocent de Komel), il fit le voyage de l'Orient pour la vénérable communauté monastique du Mont Athos. Quand y parvint-il, et combien de temps demeura-t'il dans le monastère Russe sur l'île Grecque, on ne le sait pas.

On pense qu'il maîtrisait le Grec, bien que nombre des anciens écrits des Pères de l'Eglise avaient déjà été traduits en Russe (mais non compilés). C'est à cette époque qu'il entama des années dédiées à la lecture, la traduction et l'étude des antiques Pères de l'Eglise. Il semble avoir été particulièrement attiré par les écrits des saints Basile le Grand, Macaire d'Egypte, Isaac le Syrien, Philothée du Sinaï, Jean Cassien, Nil du Sinai (son homonyme), Maxime le Confesseur, Siméon Stéthatos, Pierre Damascène, Jean Climaque et Grégoire le Sinaïte. On voit clairement sa joie à étudier ces écrits si profonds des Pères dans la citation suivante :

"Je vivais comme une abeille voletant de belle fleur en belle fleur afin de connaître le jardin de la vie, la vérité Chrétienne et afin de ranimer mon âme, d'y paver un chemin pour la préparer à son salut." (8)

C'est durant son séjour au Mont Athos que Nil commença à afiner sa pratique de toute une vie, la "prière mentale". Au Mont Athos, la "Prière de Jésus" était utilisée comme centre de la dévotion contemplative du Mystère, et on présume qu'il y a travaillé sous la guidance d'un Ancien expérimenté (Staretz) à cette époque.

(Pour plus d'informations sur le développement spirituel de saint Nil, ses écrits et contributions, merci de voir la partie "écrits" de ce site)

On rapporte que Nil se serait aventuré à partir du monastère méditéranéen pour partir en pèlerinage vers la ville sainte de Consantinople, visitant les monastères avoisinants, bien qu'il n'existe aucun détail de ces séjours. Apparement, il voyageait avec son disciple Innocent, et continua ses études et voyages jusqu'à ce que soit il retourne au Mont Athos, soit en Russie. A nouveau, les détails sont vagues et il n'y a plus de chronologie fiable.
Cependant, il est indiqué que Nil rentra en Russie, et vint auprès de saint Cyril de Belokersk (Lac Blanc) après ses voyages et son séjour au Mont Athos. Pénétré par l'enseignement et l'esprit du monachisme Grec, il chercha à ramener en Russie ce qu'il avait appris. Après son retour de Grèce, Nil demeura quelque temps au monastère de saint Cyril, "s'étant construit une cellule hors du monastère." (9) Apparement cependant, ses dévotions et contemplations étaient constamment interrompues par les gens cherchant son conseil et sa compagnie, et il décida de déplacer sa hutte vers un endroit plus éloigné et moins peuplé.

"Alors je m'éloignai du monastère jusqu'où, par la grâce de Dieu, je trouvai un endroit approprié, peu fréquenté par des matérialistes." (10)

Du fait que ses premières expériences dans un grand monastère lui semblaient comporter nombre de désagréments, Nil espéra ramener dans sa partie une nouvelle forme de vie monastique, basée sur de plus petites communautés de moines. Ce qui deviendra connu sous le nom de système monastique du Skete (Skite) s'était développé hors de Russie. Nil avait observé les Sketes Athonites et Byzantins durant ses voyages et son séjour en Orient, et pensa que cette forme résolvait nombre des problèmes qu'il sentait exister dans les grandes communautés où il avait auparavant vécu.

Les Sketes sont fondés sur le principe de quelques moines qui cherchent à entamer la vie contemplative en bâtissant des cellules individuelles pour la prière et la contemplation, assez proches les unes des autres pour participer ensemble à la Liturgie et aux Offices, et s'entraider en maintenant un moyen de subsistance, ou au moins de quoi se nourrir chacun. De la sorte, tant le sens de la dévotion et de la contemplation privée étaient incorporés à l'interaction plus communautaire du rite et de l'assistance (tant matérielle que spirituelle).

Le système du Skete que Nil amena en Russie était à mi-chemin entre les communautés cénobitiques et l'érémitisme (solitaires, ermites), et leurs formes respectives de dévotion, prière et vie monastique. Le fondateur de plus petites communautés de moines fervents permet à chaque adepte le plus de temps possible pour la prière privée et la méditation solitaire, et reconnaît aussi l'importance des Liturgies communes, des Sacrements et du rituel. Les communautés de Sketes sont basées sur la notion de travail individuel et l'idée que chaque moine travaille pour ses propres besoins. Elles réalisent aussi le fait que la vie présente souvent le besoin de l'assistance matérielle et spirituelle, en coopération avec les autres. Cette voie médianne dans l'ascétisme devint la base pour une nouvelle forme de monachisme qui allait se répandre par la suite en Russie et dans la région de la Trans-Volga. Pour Nil, c'était un moyen de créer une manière de vivre dans une solitude profonde et volontaire en relation avec Dieu, à l'intérieur du réseau d'une communauté. C'était sa manière d'accomplir le dicton de vivre "dans le monde sans en faire partie."

L'endroit que Nil se choisit pour devenir la base de son petit Skete a été décrit par les voyageurs comme une région marécageuse, boueuse, près de la Rivière de la Sora. Il y avait de grandes étendues de sapins, mais la rivière n'y coulait pas à flot en cet endroit-là, et c'était décrit comme un endroit désertique stagnant et isolé. Le sol était détrempé, et Nil eut à élever de la terre pour y bâtir sa première cellule (hutte). C'est dans ce lieu solitaire et désolé que les fondements du système du Skete en Russie sont nés. De là, son influence se répandit et s'implantat fermement comme une "3ème voie" pour le monachisme Russe et les fondations de communautés contemplatives.



Au départ, Nil repoussa ceux qui cherchaient à devenir ses disciples. Lorsqu'il s'éloigna plus encore du monastère de Saint Cyril, il pensa que l'isolement découragerait la perturbation et les moines qui sollicitaient son conseil. Mais un petit groupe d'adeptes dévoués et insistants commença vite à se rassembler autour de lui pour ses enseignements et conseils spirituels.

"Nombre de vertueux frères vinrent à moi, voulant vivre ensemble, bien que j'en refusais beaucoup, parce que je suis un pécheur et une personne stupide, et si faible d'âme et de corps. Mais certains de ceux que j'avais chassés revinrent en insistant pour rester, et ne voulant pas cesser de frapper à ma demeure, ne me laissant pas tranquile. Alors je considérai cela, me disant que c'était peut-être la volonté de Dieu, qu'ils viennent à moi, peut-être avaient-ils le droit de partager la tradition des saints et garder les Commandements de Dieu et vivre en accord avec la tradition des Saints Pères." (11)

Nil ne se présenta jamais comme un Ancien ou un staretz dans le sens traditionnel. Il se présentait à ceux qui sollicitaient ses instructions comme un ami qui participait au même voyage qu'eux, qui connaissait quelques uns des chemins et pistes qu'ils avaient à emprumpter, et avait quelque connaissance des épreuves qu'il serait nécessaire d'affronter dans ce grand voyage vers Dieu. Il se voyait comme égal à ceux qui cherchaient ses conseils, et ne voulut jamais demander le titre d'Ancien, ni le statut spirituel élevé que cela impliquait. Il enseignait par des indications et exemples, et partageait ce qu'il avait appris durant ses longues années à scruter les écrits des Evangiles, les Epitres, et les écrits des Pères de l'Eglise. Ce n'était pas un voyage facile. Il demandait l'attachement à Dieu et aux Règles du Skete. Les hommes qui restèrent avec lui pour étudier et prier n'étaient pas seulement confrontés à des évaluations spirituelles du voyage, mais aussi à la dureté de la pauvreté qu'ils assumaient volontairement, comme limites de leur foi et de leur vie.

"Si l'un d'eux ne voulait pas vivre selon les Commandements de Dieu et la tradition des saints Pères, alors il devait cesser de frapper à mon humble demeure. Je le renvoyait comme s'étant prouvé paresseux et querelleur." (12)

Les activités des moines à l'intérieur du Skete et celles de Nil lui-même était en premier lieu centrées sur la prière et la dévotion. Chaque moine, cependant, établissait ses propres règles de prière et d'activités, était responsable pour maintenir ses propres moyens de subsistance, et soumis aux règles communes de la vie du Skete (voir la section Ecrits).

"Les enseignements de Nil mettaient l'accent sur la dignité et la liberté. Ses Sketes étaient organisés pour assurer un maximum de liberté à l'intérieur de laquelle ses moines étaient libres de chercher après Dieu selon leur manière propre. La vraie sainteté, enseignait Nil, n'était pas définie par un nombre fixe de pratiques ascétiques, ou de prière, mais par les mouvements vers le but, c'est-à-dire le mouvement vers Dieu. Ce mouvement est ressenti comme le but de la vie humaine, et dès lors la signification de la dignité humaine." (13)

Nil et ses disciples entreprirent de copier les livres et de corriger les erreurs majeures dont il ressentait la présence tant dans les textes traduits et dans les interprétations des leurs rédacteurs à l'intérieur des manuscrits, en particulier dans les Vies des Saints. Nil aurait rédigé un compendium majeur des "Vies des Saints", mais malheureusement il a été perdu par l'histoire, bien que des références ont occasionnellement été faites dans des études ultérieures sur sa vie et son oeuvre.

A la fin du 15ème siècle, l'Eglise Orthodoxe et les institutions monastiques avaient grandit et s'étaient consolidées en même temps que les grands des peuples Russes. C'était devenu de puissants propriétaires terriens et les sièges de tant le pouvoir séculier qu'ecclésiastique. On estime qu'à peu près le tiers des terres arables étaient propriété ou contrôlées par ces grands monastères et clercs ecclésiaux. La puissance politique de l'Etat féodal était à la fois soutenue et étayée par les hiérarques ecclésiaux. Mais comme avec tous les grands conglomérats de pouvoir, il y avait de grands abus d'autorité, tant contre les paysans qui travaillaient sur les terres qu'avec les finances qui étaient amassées par les propriétaires terriens ecclésiaux.

"Les monastères furent parmi les premiers propriétaires terriens à demander à la Couronne pour des chartes fixant les paysans au sol.. A son niveau, le monastère de la Trinité-Saint-Serge avait 100.000 "âmes" cultivant ses propriétés dispersées sur 15 provinces." (14)

Non seulement l'Eglise et ses institutions monastiques étaient des acteurs économiques et politiques majeurs à l'intérieur d'une identité nationale croissante, mais étaient aussi des sources majeures pour les hautes études et aussi servaient de centre d'expension culturelle et de développement en ces temps. Les artisans, architectes, maçons et bâtisseurs, graveurs de bois, orfèvres, argentiers, bijoutiers, peintres et artistes, iconographes, et les écrivains, tous commencèrent à se développer et à fleurir sous mécénat et service d'Eglise. Quelques unes des plus belles et durables musiques de la civilisation Occidentale ont aussi grandit de cette nouvelle floraison de la culture nationale Russe, qui était en recherche de sa propre expression du Christianisme et de la musique locale. Tenter d'examiner les époques et influences dans lesquelles saint Nil vécut n'est pas des plus simple. Il y a beaucoup à dire à propos des douleurs de l'accouchement d'une nation, quand les peuples luttaient pour trouver un commun dénominateur de langue, culture et religion. Des erreurs étaient commises, et des excès avaient lieu. Parfois des valeurs se perdaient ou étaient oubliées, et parfois des institutions religieuses attrapaient l'ivresse du pouvoir suite à leur croissance. Nous sommes tous humains, et la propension humaine aux sales manies semble trouver sa place même dans les institutions les plus religieuses et apparement les plus morales.

Mais ce sont ces contradictions-là que saint Nil vit, et au sujet desquelles il nous avertit d'être sur nos gardes. Le Christianisme Orthodoxe est une "religion" qui dit qu'afin de maintenir le sacré dans ses rites et la véritable essence de ses enseignements, il nous faut être "dans le monde sans être de ce monde." Pour saint Nil, c'est la responsabilité première du Chrétien. Etre prévenant et doux au possible dans nos relations humaines, tout en étant en tout temps occupé à essayer de maintenir notre dévotion et notre fidèle relation à Dieu, c'est ce à quoi le Christ appelle chacun d'entre nous. Nil vit l'hypocrisie et le danger d'une hiérarchie ecclésiale qu'il pensait avoir perdu la raison. L'édific de l'Eglise avait certes grandit, mais saint Nil voyait que l'intérieur était délabré, pollué par l'avidité et l'aspiration au pouvoir et au contrôle. Il ne voulait pour rien sacrifier la véritable essence du Mystère ésotérique de l'Eglise pour la grande architecture et la structure humaine et l'Etat national.

Nil et ses disciples menèrent une vie relativement obscure et en paix, jusqu'en 1490 (voir note 19), lorsqu'on lui demanda de participer à un Concile de l'Eglise pour décider du sort d'un groupe d'hérétiques connus comme les Judaïsants. Ces Judaïsants étaient un petit groupe d'intellectuels ecclésiastiques relativement bien placés qui commençaient à avoir une influence sur les interprétations théologiques et le développement de l'Eglise. Ils se contentraient dans la région autour de Novgorod et commencèrent des incursions dans les années 1470 lorsque d'autres critiques éclatèrent contre l'Eglise établie. On a perdu nombre des caractéristiques de cette hérésie, ou elles sont discutées par les historiens ecclésiastiques, mais il semle que c'était surtout une question du rétablissement des interprétations de l'Ancien Testament basées sur les Livres de Moïse et le rétablissement des rites de la tradition Judaïque comme base pour les Sacrements de l'Eglise. Les Judaïsants étaient accusés autant d'être des Juifs traditionnels que des "réformateurs radicaux." Leurs idées ont été considérées par les historiens comme du Judaïsme libre-penseur combiné à des accents Chrétiens ou de la mystique de la Kaballe. Ont dit qu'ils niaient la vue Trinitaire de Dieu, l'Incarnation du Fils, le culte des Saints et la valeur spirituelle des icônes. On dit que leurs études se dirigaient vers l'astrologie, l'alchémie et les manuscrits et écrits hermétiques, de même que des anciens textes de la Kaballe. Ils ne voulaient pas circoncire leurs convertis Orthodoxes afin de conserver leur secrète présence dans l'Eglise. Il est certain qu'ils regardaient vers le Judaïsme et l'Ancien Testament comme leur source majeure de théologie. On a présenté une ressemblance dans le mot pour Juif et le mot pour Espagnol, qui en Russe seraient fort similaires, et il y aurait une possibilité que les Judaïsants aient leurs racines remontant aux alchimistes Juifs d'Espagne, qui avaient émigré via l'Europe Orientale vers la Russie. (15) Les Judaïsants étaient aussi fort critiques face à la richesse croissante et aux propriétés terriennes des monastères et de l'Eglise, et il cherchaient un retour à une forme plus simple de spiritualité et de dévotion. Leur menace pour l'Eglise ne fut pas vraiment considérée comme importante, jusqu'à ce qu'ils commencent à "convertir" des prêtres et à acquérir de la sympathie de la part de membres de la famille du Tsar concernant leurs vues critiques. L'influence des Judaïsants continua à se répandre tant dans l'Eglise que dans la société civile, 15 ans durant, jusqu'à ce que des rumeurs de leur secte secrète et mystique ne parviennent au nouvel évêque de Novgorod.

L'archevêque Gennadij fut nommé pour le district de Novgorod en 1484. Mais il n'eut vent de ces petites bandes d'hérétiques, secrètement adeptes, dans sa juridiction, qu'en 1487, et il commença ses efforts pour écraser les hérétiques. Gennadij considérait relativement favorablement l'Inquisition catholique Romaine, et il pensait que les autorités centrales à Moscou (tant politiques que spirituelles) ne prennaient pas l'hérésie suffisament au sérieux, et commença à rassembler ses propres forces à l'intérieur de l'Eglise pour éliminer les Judaïsants. Il écrivit tant au Primat de Moscou qu'au Grand Duc, pour leur rapporter ses trouvailles. Le Grand Duc ordonna à Gennadij d'arrêter les hérétiques et de les amener à Moscou pour jugement. Gennadij, cependant, s'était fait des ennemis dans l'Eglise, du fait de sa montée en puissance, et Gérontius, le Primat de Moscou, était un d'entre eux. Gérontius ne voulut pas permettre de répondre à la demande d'arrêter les hérétiques et de les tester, et ce ne fut pas avant sa mort, 3 ans plus tard, que Gennadij fut à même de demander à l'Eglise un Concile National pour traiter de l'affaire.

En 1490, un Synode de l'Eglise fut assemblé pour discuter de l'hérésie Judaïsante. Gennadij trouva un allié en la personne de Joseph, abbé du monastère de Volokolamsk. Joseph dirigeait strictement un grand monastère, et était un écrivain compétent, capable de défendre ses points de vue. Il écrivit son traité bien connu "L'Illuminateur" (Prosvetiel) comme défense contre l'hérésie Judaïsante. En lui, il défendait les perspectives théologiques orthodoxes traditionnelles. Mais écrire des traités et admonester les idées hérétiques des autres n'était pas sa principale arme contre l'hérésie. Il était un grand défenseur du traitement Inquisitorial des hérétiques, par leur excommunication et leur remise aux autorités civiles afin d'être brûlés vifs. Il justifiait l'usage des autorités civiles en ces matières comme manière de défendre l'Etat Chrétien, et la règle des autorités qui étaient au pouvoir par la grâce de Dieu. Il tenta de persuader les autorités que si les hérétiques se voyaient autorisés à vivre, alors l'existence de leur règle de pouvoir se trouvait menacée. Joseph était studieux, un bon érudit. Il était très versé dans la Bible et les écrits patristiques, et présenta un dossier convainquant contre les hérétiques. Les 4 derniers chapitres de "L'Illuminateur" traitent en particulier des raisons pour lesquelles la punition corporelle et l'exécution devraient être suivies par l'Eglise à l'encontre des Judaïsants. Il argumentait qu'en fait ils n'étaient pas une hérésie Chrétienne du tout, mais plutôt une faction apostate qui avait abandonné le Christianisme. Il demandait la mort pour leurs dirigeants, la prison à vie (dans de bonnes prisons) pour la plupart des adeptes, et des périodes probatoires longues et strictes pour les quelques uns qu'il considérerait comme s'étant valablement rétractés. (16)

Paisius Yaroslavov (un vénéré startetz Russe, que nombreux pensent avoir été le maître de Nil en Russie) et Nil étaient tous 2 présents au Synode de 1490. Ils étaient connus comme opposants tant aux persécutions séculières qu'au procès ecclésiastique contre les hérétiques. Et tous 2, lorsqu'ils avaient à traiter d'infractions tant par des moines que par des laïcs, conseillaient toujours le pardon et la charité.

Nil pensait que la relation entre un être humain et Dieu n'était connue que de Dieu Seul. Il posa des questions sur le rôle de l'Eglise pour tenter de ramener des soi-disants hérétiques dans le bercail de l'Eglise avec quoique ce soit comme autres moyens que l'admonition, la prière et l'exemple. (17) Bien qu'il n'y ait plus de compte-rendus spécifiques des échanges entre ceux qui étaient contre les persécutions à l'encontre des Judaïsants d'une part, et les Joséphites qui soutenaient leur excommunication et mise à mort de l'autre, Nil maintint toujours son opposition contre la punition corporelle et l'exécution. Certains auteurs présentent que d'après eux il aurait pu avoir admis "certaines circonstances" où l'Etat pourrait intervenir dans la punition des hérétiques, mais que lui "il était l'avocat de la clémence, comme convenant mieux à des Chrétiens. Dans tous les cas, il s'opposa résolument à la peine capitale. Saint Nil enseigna sans la moindre compromission que la conscience humaine devait être libre, et que 'Nul ne devrait être persécuté pour ses vues religieuses'." (18)

On doit se rappeler que la torture et l'exécution des hérétiques par l'Eglise et l'Etat était la norme à travers l'Europe à cette époque-là. L'Inquisition de l'Eglise Romaine battait son plein à l'Ouest, et il n'était pas question de discussion et de débats concernant les vues religieuses en dehors des dialogues canoniques à l'intérieur de l'Eglise. "A l'intérieur de l'Eglise" est le concept capital. Si la divergence de croyance était considérée comme "hors" de l'Eglise ou des frontières de ce qui définisssait le système de croyance traditionnel Chrétien, alors les croyances étaient considérées comme hérésie et les croyants traités de manières plutôt sévères voire horribles. En ce qui concerne Nil, avoir parlé contre les persécutions tant civiles qu'ecclésiastiques des hérétiques était vraiment une approche révolutionnaire, hors des normes traditionnelles du moment. Les vues de Nil sur la liberté de l'individu à poursuivre une relation personnelle avec Dieu et l'idée que Dieu Seul pouvait définir la relation était incroyablement tolérante vu sa culture et société. Il n'y avait pas de philosophie compliquée, ni de propositions théoriques qui étaient à la base de sa tolérance et de ses idées de liberté. Il basait sa vue sur la notion du pardon et de la charité Chrétienne. Il se tournait toujours vers le Christ comme un exemple que tous nous devrions suivre, pas seulement dans le développement de nos relations avec Dieu, mais aussi pour les autorités civiles et la hiérarchie de l'Eglise. Il insistait pour que nous nous souvenions que l'idée civile d'une société Chrétienne était basée en premier sur cet appel constant au pardon et à l'amour. Et dès lors que ces institutions et autorités (y compris le Tsar) qui cherchaient à imiter le Christ devaient servir d'exemple dans leur capacité à pardonner et à réaccepter dans le bercail ceux qui s'étaient éloignés des traditions et compréhensions de l'Eglise.

Il y a plusieurs perspectives historiques dans ces évènements qui sont en discussion. La chronologie des Synodes de l'Eglise de l'époque est assez confuse. Certains auteurs présentent l'idée que les Judaïsants s'étaient simplement "fait taper sur les doigts" à cette époque, et que ce n'est qu'après 1504, ou la mort de Nil en 1508, que des persécutions éclatèrent ensuite par Joseph, et le groupe de clercs qui s'associa avec ses vues, et prévalant, les dirigeants des Judaïsants furent alors brûlés vifs, et le restant emprisonné. Mais quelque soient les particularités de la chronologie, le fait est que les hérétiques furent pour finir tués ou emprisonnés, et que l'Hérésie des Judaïsants fut effacée, ou forcée à vivre encore plus cachée. Cette hérésie, pourtant, n'avait jamais eu d'importance réelle sur la théologie ou la pensée de l'Eglise. Et la tolérance et la charité Chrétienne que Nil conseillait, pour le temps qu'elles ont pu durer, ont finit par succomber face aux standards du jour, en considération avec le traitement de ceux "en dehors" des traditions de l'Eglise.

Il y a aussi un désaccord au sujet du débat suivant, probablement majeur, qui eut lieu dans l'Eglise. Que ce Synode d'Eglise aie eu lieu en 1503 ou 1504 (19), et qu'il fut convoqué pour traiter en premier de la question des Judaïsants ou du mariage des clercs d'Eglise et des problèmes de leurs veuves, (20), les 2 visions principales et camps se développèrent autour du problème de la propriété. A nouveau, Nil fut au centre de la controverse.

Depuis des années, Nil avait vécu dans son Skete du désert avec une douzaine de moines. Il avait peu de contacts avec le monde extérieur. Il était admiré pour son érudition et son humble dévotion à Dieu, et pour son service effacé envers ses étudiants et l'Eglise. Ils avaient bâtit ensemble des huttes individuelles comme cellules, et une petite chapelle pour la Liturgie et le culte. Ils maintenaient une vie sévère et simple, comme ascètes et contemplatifs hors des soucis mondains des grands monastères, et des soucis et problèmes que ceux-ci avaient du fait de leurs grandes propriétés terriennes. Les moines du Skete de Nil étaient engagés dans la prière et la contemplation, se rassemblaient chaque semaine pour la Liturgie, et copiaient et traduisaient les écrits dans anciens Pères de l'Eglise. On rapporte que Nil aurait rédigé des "Vies de Saints" faisant autorité, et un commentaire sur les ascètes du déseret qu'il admirait aussi. Nil avait toujours insisté pour que les moines de son Skete aient leur propre travail et de quoi se subvenir à eux-mêmes. Ils ne possédaient pas de grandes terres ni n'employaient de paysans pour leurs travaux ni n'avaient de travailleurs ou de serviteurs attachés. Ils vivaient aussi simplement que possible, et Nil évitait les intrigues politiques et ecclésiastiques qui étaient légions dans le milieu féodal du moment. Il était hors du Machavélisme ecclésiastique qui montait les abbés et les évêques et les clercs les uns contre les autres.

Personne ne s'attendait à ce que cet homme simple mais érudit, timide et retiré, et visiblement engagé dans des activités loin des soucis du monde vienne se tenir debout et dénoncer les abus de pouvoir et du système des propriétés terriennes qui prévalait dans la communauté monastique. Alorsq que les clercs assemblés étaient assis, ébahis, à écouter son appel déchirant pour un retour à la simplicité spirituelle et à l'austérité, ils réalisèrent qu'il avait appelé à la destruction du système de propriété ecclésiale tel qu'il existait. Joseph, qui était un grand partisan des grandes propriétés monastiques et communautés, et qui avait quitté l'assemblée, fut ramené par ses collègues pour relever le défi de la position mise en avant par Nil.

Joseph s'était trouvé de l'autre côté de la barrière durant les sessions concernant les Judaïsants, et lui et Nil avaient des vues divergentes concernant les responsabilités spitituelles de l'Eglise. Joseph avait un agenda bien plus vaste et spécifique concernant le rôle de l'Eglise dans la politique Russe et les luttes de pouvoir, alors que Nil conseillait aux moines de retourner à leurs voeux de pauvreté, prière et dévotion. Si la contemplation était la raison première des moines pour se rassembler dans des communautés très priantes, alors il serait bon de ne pas être chargés par les soucis de diriger de grandes propriétés, des questions de travail des paysans et de servitude, l'incroyable dépense de temps que prennait la gouvernance des villages attachés aux propriétés monastiques et ecclésiales. La richesse personnelle atteinte par nombre d'abbés et de moines de même que le prestige et la puissance venant avec n'étaient pas seulement loin du chemin de leurs voeux de pauvreté, mais en plus les entravaient grandement dans leur voyage sacré vers Dieu.

Nil, avec les autres clercs et moines qui le soutenaient, reçurent le nom des "Non-Possesseurs". Ils devinrent la conscience qui rappelait à l'Eglise Russe le besoin de la simplicité et de l'humilité dans la relation à Dieu, à la propriété, à la prière, et pour les communautés dévotionnelles qu'ils espéraient voir enrichir la vie spirituelle du peuple Russe. Les "Non-Possesseurs" rappellèrent sans cesse à l'Eglise la tradition des anciens Pères, le rôle de la prière hésychaste telle que propagée par le Mont Athos, et la primauté des Evangiles et des Epitres pour établir une solide fondation de dévotion. Au moindre doute, Nil se tournait toujours vers l'Evangile et priait et méditait pour comprendre ce qu'il lisait. C'était la source première de sa grande vision et de son appel au retour vers les bases de la tradition Trinitaire et le chemin Chrétien de simplicité de l'antique Eglise.

Ceux qui détenaient les clés du pouvoir avaient tout à perdre. Ils consolidèrent leur pouvoir et firent appel à Joseph pour les guider pour repousser les arguments des "Non-Possesseurs". Joseph et son cercle de partisans furent appelés les "Possesseurs". Ils se firent les grands partisans de l'accroisssement des possessions terrestres des communautés monastiques, et à l'accroissement du rôle puissant de l'Eglise dans la relation avec le gouvernement de l'Etat Russe en développement et nouvellement consolidé. Ils soutinrent la noblesse et les grands propriétaires terriens, et reçurent tant de vraies terres que du pouvoir politique en échange de leur continuel soutien. Joseph lui-même reçut 7 villages de See Grannidis comme remerciement pour son soutien et sa guidance.

Les 2 camps se servirent pour modérer de quelques unes des positions extrèmes de l'autre. Les "Non-Possesseurs" furent souvent accusés d'une forme de "puritanisme" en relation avec l'ornementation de l'église, et même remirent en question la valeur spirituelle des nombreuses icônes pleines de bijoux que la plupart des grands monastères possédaient. On dit que Nil ne voulait ni or ni argent dans l'ornementation, les vases et les calices sacramentels de sa petite chapelle taillée à la rude. Bien qu'ils n'étaient sûrement pas iconolastes, les "Non-Possesseurs" encouragaient une forme plus simple d'embellissement architectural et d'iconographie. Nil sentait que la beauté du sanctuaire pourrait finir par distraire le fidèle de sa prière et du développement de sa relation personnelle à Dieu.

Après que Nil eut présenté ses soucis et conseils au Synode, il s'en retourna simplement dans le désert qu'il savait aussi être son refuge. L'inutilité du combat était visible dans l'avidité et le pouvoir qui avait déjà innondé la structure et la hiérarchie des grandes communautés monastiques. Les grands biens terrestres et le développement de la position formaliste et ritualiste à l'intérieur de l'Eglise avait déjà commencé à "dépersonaliser" le Mystère de la relation sacrée entre l'homme et Dieu. Pour Nil, l'Eglise allait vite devenir ce monde auquel il voulait échapper. C'était une institution qui s'était détournée et avait cessé de regarder vers Dieu pour s'occuper des soucis des affaires et du pouvoir et de la politique. Lorsqu'il retourna dansle monde noir et humide de son Skete et des quelques moines qui s'étaient assemblés pour apprendre son chemin vers Dieu, il se retira finallement du monde. Il ouvrit la porte de sa cellule, et vint à la maison de la contemplation priante qui était le centre de sa vie. C'est cet exemple de retour qu'il a légué au monde. Le constant rappel que l'on doit toujours se retourner et se retourner vers Dieu. Peu importe à quel point on aurait pu devenir puissant et riche et imprégné des plaisirs de ce monde. Le coeur doit toujours faire chemin retour vers Dieu, et la Puissance du Saint-Esprit, et l'exemple du Christ. Si quoique ce soit a subsisté de son héritage au-delà des spécificités des "Non-Possesseurs" dans l'Histoire, qui est Histoire d'une nation et d'une Eglise, c'est bien l'appel de saint Nil de la Sora à se tourner vers Dieu. Cet héritage est au-delà du temps et de l'espace, et nous balise tous le chemin vers un désert où nos coeurs peuvent contempler la grande bonté de l'Etre Divin, et où chacun d'entre nous doit lutter pour devenir comme le Christ, basant nos vies sur la simplicité de l'amour et de la vérité et du pardon.
Saint Nil mourrut en 1508 à l'âge de 75 ans. Il a laissé derrière lui sa dernière volonté et instruction à ses disciples.


"Moi, l'indigne Nil, je supplie mes supérieurs et frères qui sont du même esprit que moi, d'accomplir cette dernière volonté qui est mienne. Après ma mort, jettez mon corps dans le désert, afin que les bêtes et les oiseaux puissent le dévorer, car il a bassement péché contre Dieu et est indigne d'une sépulture. S'ils ne font pas cela, alors creuser un grand trou là où nous vivons, et ensevelissez-moi là avec toutes les sortes de manques de respects. Craignez les paroles que le grand Arsène adressa comme commandement à ses disciples, disant : 'Je vous ferez citer au Jugement si vous donnez mon corps à qui que ce soit.' Il a toujours été mon plus cher désir autant que mes forces l'ont permi de ne recevoir ni honneur ni louange dans cette vie monastique, alors qu'il en soit ainsi après ma mort. Je vous supplie tous de prier pour mon âme pécheresse, et je vous demande à tous pardon comme je vous pardonne tous. Puisse Dieu nous pardonner tous." (21)

his text is © Copyright 1999 by Miles (Nilus) Stryker
Traduction française © Jean-Michel Dossogne amdg.be 7 mai 2005.

1. Ware, p. 104, 107; aussi Fedotov, " A Treasury...," p. 86.
2. Maloney, p. 9.
3. Ibid, p. 46.
4. Rose, p. 89; aussi Kontzevitch, p. 206; et Maloney, p. 35.
5. Fedotov, "Russian Religious Mind...", p. 265; aussi Tschizewsky, p. 75.
6. Fedotov, "Russian Religious Mind...", p. 265.
7. Rose, op. cit., p. 89; et Maloney, op. cit., P 40.
8.
9. Fedotov, "Russian Religious Mind..." , op. cit., p. 266.
10. Maloney, op. cit., p. 40.
11. Ibid. P, 41.
12. Ibid.
13. Tarsar, p. 29-30.
14. Pipes, op. cit., p. 226.
15. Billington
16. Goldfrank, p. 9; aussi Bolshakoff, p. 40.
17. Zernov, "Third Rome...p. 39.
18. Bolshakoff, op. cit., p. 43.
19. Ibid., p.34; aussi Grundwald, p. 102.
20. Maloney, op. cit., p.45.
21. Rose, op. cit., p. 93; Maloney, op. cit.,p. 45.

Life of st Nilus Sorsky on Youtube

Selected Quotes from the writings of Saint Nilus

The following writings are by St. Nilus. I have drawn a selection of brief quotes from two major sources. These have had to be brief so as not to infringe on any copyrighted material. Please refer to the two major translated English sources of writings by St. Nilus of Sora. The most extensive is by George A. Maloney in "Russian Hesychasm: The Spirituality of Nil Sorsij" , and George P. Fedotov "A Treasury of Russian Spirituality." (See Bibliography in History). Both are very good. The Paulist Press is in the process of publishing The Complete Writings of Nil Sorsky by George A Maloney but that will not be available until the Fall of l999. They have been kind enough to allow this site to use selected quotes as soon as they are available. The following quotes are drawn from "Russian Hesychasm: The Spirituality of Nil Sorsij" and are translated by George A. Maloney.

Please realize this selection is under construction and as permission to use materials are received much more will be posted.

Selected Quotes
from the writings of Saint Nilus

And when you have to depart from this world, think, what does it profit those who during their lifetime ruled it? If you have much honor, fame, riches all that, what is it but a shadow that passes by and as smoke soon disappears.

Let us look into the grave and what do we see? We see our created beauty, now without form, without glory, nothing good remaining. Seeing our bones, do we know to whom they belong? Was he a king, a beggar, honorable or without honor? All that the world considers beautiful, powerful, turns again into nothingness as a beautiful flower fades and dies, as a shadow passes by: thus all mankind must pass away, Feel this instability and call out to your soul: "Oh, how strange, why does this remain ever for us a mystery? How were we brought into bodily existence? Why do we return to dust in death?

I always sought out the Divine Writings, above all, the laws of God and their explanation of them by the Fathers, and the apostolic traditions, then the lives and the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and I gave my whole attention to these and so gradually learned. In them I lived and breathed...and if there was something to do to improve myself, and if I did not find it immediately in the Holy Writings, I laid it aside until I could find some teaching on this point.

Bind yourself to the Divine Writings-

..it is beneficial that we devote ourselves to the work of God, together with the faithful brethern, animated by the same aspirations, and that we dwell with one or two of them in searching out the will of God in the Divine Writings. If the Lord grant to one a greater understanding, let him aid the other brother, friend instructing friend.

I call you brothers instead of disciples. We have but one teacher, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Like a dog picking up scraps from under the table, I have gathered the words uttered by those blessed Fathers and have written all this down as reminder to us to be their imitators, if only in a small way.

There are many writings, but not all are divine.

When no guide can be found, the Fathers have us turn to the Holy Writings and listen to The Lord Himself speaking. Study the Holy Writings and you shall find eternal life in them.

We are told to draw the waters of life from the sources of the Divine Writings which alone can extinguish the passions that plague us and set us on the road to intellectual truth.

Many do good actions, but neglect the mind; they know nothing of the spiritual contests, the victories and defeats. They neglect the mind which is the eye of the soul.

When you ae conscious of the sweetness of divine grace working in you and when prayer operates in your heart, then you must continue in it. Do not interrupt it or rise up to sing psalms as long as God sees fit to leave its work in you, for to do so would be to leave God who is within, in order to call on Him outside yourself, as if one were to leave the heights to stoop down to the flats.

Nothing that happens to us is contrary to the will of Providence, and everything that is sent us by God is for our good and the salvation of our soul. Even if it does not seem helpful at the moment, we shall understand later on that it was willed so by God, and that it is not what we ourselves wish that is always useful to us. God sends trials out of his Mercy, so that after we have suffered, we may be crowned by Him. Without temptation it is impossible to receive a crown. This is why we should thank God for these sufferings, as out Benefactor and Saviour.

In particulars..the mind must always be persuaded of the reverence due to God and confidence in Him, so as to do all to Please God and not for self vanity or to please men....

We should constantly probe our thoughts and feelings, so that our actions may be in harmony with God's will.

Have this only before your eyes (to repent and to seek God with great love and fear) and obey His commandments, living constantly in prayer.

Above all pray for the gift of tears...

Such tears should be preserved...because they have great power and action in destroying and uprooting sins and passions.

For weeping delievers us from eternal fire and other future punishments, so the Fathers say"

...turn again to the prayer of the heart, for exercise and works of virtue are many, but in relation to the whole, they are all only parts. The prayer of the heart is the source of all good, refreshing the soul as cool waters sprinkle a garden, rejecting all temptations, not only evil, but any appearing good for he calls that quietude when we remove the imaginatons that arise in time, so that we may not be deprived of the most important by taking what seems to us to be good. Hesychia means to seek the Lord in your heart, i.e. to fix with your mind the heart in prayer and only with this to be continually occupied....

Let us do only what is pleasing to God, singing, praying, reading, studying spiritual things, doing manual work or any other labors. And so little by little let us approach God in the interior man, adding by our good works to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one in the Blessed Trinity. Amen.....

We, unwise and with the meagerness of our intelligence, with God's help have written this as a reminder to myself and to others of similar mind who are in need of instruction, if they wish so...If there is anything found here not pleasing to God and not helpful to souls because of my foolishenss and ignorance, let it be not so, but may the will of God perfect it and make it well-pleasing. I ask pardon or beg this, that, if anyone should find anything else more practical and useful, then let him do it and we shall be glad and rewarded. If anyone should find from these writings some help, let him pray for me a sinner that I may obtain mercy before God.

We must resist and avoid like deadly posion the desire to possess earthly goods.

Not only gold or silver and property must be absent from our lives, but we should have only the barest necessities for life, as clothing, shoes, cells, dishes, instruments of manual work. And these should not be of any value, not decorated, not capable of arousing in us a fretting and preoccupation, and thus tempted to have contacts with the world. True victory over avrice and in general attachment to thnigs consists in this that we not only do not have, but do not wish to have anything. This leads us to a spiritual purity.

There are two kinds of work for monks: they can devote themselves to The Holy Scripture or give themselves to so called manual work.

Hold every brother as a saint. ...Do not judge anyone in anything, even if his actions appear not good, but consider yourself as sinful and utterly useless...Be an imitator of their (the saints) way of life, showing patience in sorrows and praying for those who offend you.

...for I have worked hard at this labor. Such for me is the fulfillment of the command to love God and to love my neighbor..This is true love for one's neighbor: to move his conscience to love God and keep His commands according to His true Divine Words, and , according to the life and teachings of the Holy Fathers, to live this as far as possible and thus be saved. If I am sinful and wretched and incapable of doing any good, at least I wish the salvation of many of my neighbors.

Commentary on St. Nil Sorsky

The following is a selection from the book Elder Basil of Poiana Marului: Spiritual Father of St. Paisy Velichkovsky (pages 87-108) . It is copyrighted (copyright l996) by St. John of Kronstadt Press and used by permission. For additional information on this and other publications from St. John of Kronstadt Press, CLICK HERE.

Elder Basil of Poiana Marului:
Spiritual Father of St. Paisy Velichkovsky

Commentary on St. Nil Sorsky

The holy fathers, who teach the suppression of the passions and purification of the heart from evil thoughts through the commandments of Christ alone, set forth two things as the mightiest weapons that strugglers can possess, namely, the fear of God and remembrance of God which are in keeping with the saying: "Through the fear of the Lord every man is turned from evil" (Proverbs 15:27) and "I beheld the Lord before me that I not bemoved" (Psalm 15:8). They also recommend to keep the remembrance of death and gehenna and to read the holy Scriptures.

All these things are good for good and reverent men. But for the insensible and hardened, were that gehenna itself-or even God Himself-to be revealed sensibly, even this would not strike any kind of fear into them. In addition, the very mind of beginning monks quickly grows numb to the remembrance of such things and flees from them like a bee from smoke.

While the memory of such things is good and beneficial in the hour of battle, nonetheless the most spiritual and skilled fathers have shown us an even greater good, one incomparably superior that can help even those who are extremely weak.

The likeness and image of the first mentioned are those who turn their millstones with their own hand power, but the latter are like those who mill with water power and ingenuity. Just as the water on its own moves the wheel and stone, so the sweetest name of Jesus, together with the memory of God, Who is present and lives in perfect fullness in Jesus, moves the mind to prayer. Of this that great theologian Hesychios spoke in the following terms:

The soul that is benefited and sweetened by Jesus, sends up praise to its Benefactor with a certain joy and love and with confession, giving thanks and entreating Him with gladness.

And again:
Just as it is impossible to live in this life without eating and drinking, so without guarding the mind it is impossible for the soul to attain to anything spiritual or pleasing to God or to be freed mentally from sin, even if one force himself out of fear of torment not to sin.
And also:
When thoughts come into the heart, even when we do not desire them and are making every effort and are withstanding them, it is the Jesus Prayer from the depth of the heart which knows how to expel them.134
Concerning the order and artful learning of this mystery the great elder, our holy Father Nil the desert-dweller of Sora, composed this little book in which he explains the beginning of noetic work, the victory and our conquest of invisible assailants.

As for the former way, while progress can be made without mental attentiveness, it is very slow and extremely painful. But through the latter, the struggler draws near to God swiftly and easily, says Gregory of Sinai.135 In the former there is only external prayer and training and the working of the commandments. But here there are both external and internal watchfulness.

A beginner monk, after denying the world and the great and mortal sins he committed, offers his vow before God to refrain not only from the minor and excusable daily sins about which the Lord Himself commanded to pray without ceasing (Luke 21:34; Matthew 26:41), but also from the action of the passions and of evil thoughts as well. When he enters into his heart with his intellect, he begins to summon the Lord Jesus against every assault and every evil thought.

If, through his weakness he agrees to a suggestion of the enemy or does something contrary to the commandments of Christ, he falls down before the Lord with heartfelt prayer repenting and rebuking himself. He continues this to his very death, falling and getting up again, being conquered and conquering, and begging day and night for vengeance against his adversary (Luke 18:1-8). Will this person not have a hope of good blessings and receive salvation?

Experience tells us that from time to time strugglers fall (these are not mortal falls) either in their thoughts or in their feelings-such as through the .intelligent or incensive or appetitive faculty of the tripartite soul136 or through their physical senses, that is by sight, hearing, speaking, taste, touch or smell. It is not possible even for the very greatest of men completely to avoid some fault in these daily sins which are not mortal and which consist of words, a .thought, ignorance, forgetfulness or being compelled willingly or unwillingly by circumstance. These are forgivenby the daily grace of Christ, says St. Cassian.137

If anyone lose courage and say of such things that St. Cassian means that only the saints are cleansed by the grace of Christ from such daily sins and not beginners and passionate persons, then let this opinion have its own place. But then again, take into consideration the teachings and resolution of such questions in the holy Scriptures, that if every beginner and passionate person be condemned through these daily sins and passions and be guilty of eternal torment, how is it that this same person is once again able to receive forgiveness through the grace of Christ just like the saints, through hourly repentance and confession to God?

St. Dorotheos says:

There are those whof ulfill their passions and those who oppose their passions. The one who fulfills a passion, when he hears an angry word is distressed or speaks five or ten words back for a single word. He becomes hostile and distraught and even after he calms down he still continues to think evil and harbor a grudge against the person that spoke that word. He regrets that he did not say more than he did, and in his mind prepares other words that are even more caustic to say to him, and he is always saying, "Why didn't I tell him this, and I'm going to tell him such and such," and he is constantly fuming.
This is one disposition, that is to have the habit of holding grudges. May God deliver us from such a disposition! For such a disposition is surely totally subject to torment.
Another person, when he hears an angry word is also distressed and he also says five or ten in exchange for one, and he grieves that he did not say other words that are even worse, and he is grieved and holds a grudge and acts this way for a few days, and then he mellows. Another acts this way for a week and then he mellows. Another acts this way for a day and then calms down. Another hurls insults, acts hostile, distressed and upsets others but quickly calmsdown.
How different these dispositions are, yet all of them are subject to hell as long as they remain in effect.138
From such examples one can draw clear lessons about all the others, and also why it is that a passionate person cannot be cleansed by the daily grace of Christ from sins which seem small and which are not mortal.

Now let us resolve the question about how such sins can be forgiven for the beginner and the passionate person. This same St. Dorotheos said:

When a person hears an offensive remark, he grieves within himself not because he was insulted but because he did not show patience. This is the condition of a struggler who is opposing his passions. Another struggles and labors, but afterwards he is worn down by the passion and overcome. Another does not want to make an angry reply but he is carried away by habit. Another struggles never to say anything in anger and he grieves that he was offended, but he rebukes himself forgrieving and repents of this. Another does not grieve that he was insulted but neither does he rejoice. All of these are opposing the passion. In their intention they have left off the passion and do not want it to act in them and they grieve and struggle. Now the fathers say that everything that the soul does not desire is short-lived.
I will tell you a parable about the person who fulfills his passion and accepts it. He is like a man under enemy fire who grabs the arrows with his hands and plunges them into his heart. On the other hand, the person who opposes the passion is like a man under enemy fire who is armored with a breastplate and suffers no wounds.139
This person, even though he is passionate, can none the less receive forgiveness through the grace of Christ for such daily sins which occur not by intention but involuntarily. It was these the Lord commanded St. Peter to forgive up to seventy times seven a day (Matthew 18:22]. Also, St.Anastasios of Sinai confirms this saying:
We understand and hold concerning those who receive the holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of the Lord, that if they have some small sins that are readily forgiven, such as being robbed by the tongue or hearing or sight or by vainglory or sorrow or anger or somesuch thing as these, that once they rebuke themselves and make confession to God, let them thus receive the holy Mysteries. We believe that the reception of the holy Mysteries for such persons is unto the cleansing of sins.140
St. Poemen also said something similar:
I prefer a man who has sinned and repents to one who does not sin and is not repenting and so on.141

Since at the beginning we mentioned the fine art of suppressing the passions through noetic prayer and the commandments, we should now reveal more clearly the actual action of the mind's battle with the passion.

When a suggestion of the enemy comes through some passion or evil thought, the struggler calls on Christ against it, and the devil perishes with his suggestion. If someone falls through weakness of resolve either by word or by anger or by carnal desire, he prays to Christ, confessing to Him and repenting.

If one is enveloped by despair and sorrow which oppress his mind and heart, he lays hold on the memory of death and gehenna and God Who is present with him, and after laboring with these a little he calls on Christ. And thus finding peace after the fray he again prays Christ to be merciful to him for his sins, both voluntary and involuntary. He simply flees to Christ then, both at the time of battle and in peace of soul. Christ becomes all in all for him, in both good and evil circumstances. Such a person is not distracted by conceit as if he is doing something special by praying or pleasing God. All of his prayer stems from the fear of torment and has its beginning and end in repentance for his sins.

There is one concept underlying external prayer and another for this internal prayer. With the former a person fulfills a set amount of psalmody and puts his hope in this before God. When he leaves off his rule he condemns himself. But the other person, being smitten by his conscience for the hourly sins we have spoken about and suffering the onslaught of the enemy's suggestions, constantly cries out to Christ bearing this saying in mind, "Even if you climb the whole ladder of perfection, pray for the forgiveness of sins."142 And again, "I would rather speak five words with my .mind that ten thousand with my tongue" (Corinthians 14:19). And thus beyond any doubt, he carries out the opposition to the passions described by Dorotheos. Perhaps even more, because this saint prescribes resistance only to the point of grieving and resolves the matter with the parable of persons under enemy fire who are armored with the breastplate, and so they do not suffer wounds. The saint took this from the prophet who said, "For he was sorrowful and went away sad, and I will heal his way" (Isaiah 57:17-18). And Chrysostom also says, "Even if you only lament over your sins, even this will be a great medicine for you."143 But here there is not just grieving alone, but also prayer and contrition and repentance and a good resolve to keep the commandments plus sighing in confession. The prayers before sleep instruct us by saying, "If I have sworn by Thy name or blasphemed it in my thought or blamed or reproached anyone or in my .anger have detracted or slandered anyone or grieved anyone or if I have gotten angry about anything"144 and the further recollection of forgivable and involuntary sins which occur with those who are learning noetic work. Moreover many do not want even to lift up their eyes when they behold such hourly falls into sin and think that everyone who is learning this sacred activity ought to be pure of such things. But this is not how it is, as it turns out. Unless a person willfully fulfills his passions, these passions and sins can serve as a stench that repulses one person unto life but draws another to his death. In this way, then, the former comes to humility, to a realization of his .weakness and to repentance, but the latter to hardness of heart and eternal perdition because of his excessive boldness. If anyone says that it is possible to be cleansed of such sins without noetic work through the grace of Christ by repentance, we reply thus, repeating what is written here. Let such a person set before me the commandments of Christ on one side and on the other side constant prayer that He forgive us our debts. And let him give me a genuine resolve never to violate a single commandment, that is, never to feel carnal desire, be angry, judge, slander, lie, speak idly, and love his enemies, do good to the hateful, pray for troublemakers and also to avoid love of pleasure, love of money, carnal thoughts, sorrow, vainglory and scornfulness�in a word every sin and evil thought. With this resolve undertake the learning of noetic work and keep strict attention as to how many times every day you still break your resolution by violating the commandments being wounded by so many sins, passions and evil thoughts. Imitate that widow who followed the judge around day and night (Luke 18:1-8) and begin to cry out to Christ at every hour for every commandment that you violate and for every passion and evil thought that overcomes you. In addition, take the holy Scriptures as a good counselor. After spending some time in these activities come and tell me what you see in your soul. Will you yourself not then admit that it is impossible to keep such attentiveness in external prayer without noetic work? For this lesson is learned by the contender diligent for such mysteries and his soul is made aware that he is not breaking his rule when he leaves off the reading of numerous psalms, canons and troparia and turns all his effort to noetic prayer.

Quite the contrary, he is increasing his rule. For just as the power and purpose of the law was to bring all to Christ, even if the law itself seemed to be diminished thereby, so also prolonged psalmody leads the struggler on to noetic prayer and does not continue throughout his entire monastic life. Experience itself teaches such a person when he himself is praying and he realizes that there is a certain barrier between us and God, like a brasswall as the prophet says (Jeremiah 1:18) which does not permit our mind to look clearly to God in prayer nor to be attentive to the heart where all the faculties of the soul have their place and which is the source of thoughts both good and evil (Matthew15:19).

And since this holy little book teaches great caution to those who want to live in stillness and exposes the causes leading to delusion, we will refer the reader to it and speak about the following.

The holy fathers divide all monastic life into only three categories. The first is the community. The second they call the royal way or middle path, when two or three live together holding in common all their necessities, their food and clothing, their labor and handiwork and every other provision for their life, but above all each one cutting off his will and submitting to one another in fear of God and love. The third is the solitude of the anchorite, which is for perfect and holy men.

Nowadays, however, there are some who do not heed the power of the holy Scriptures and contrary to the will and traditions of the holy fathers they have concocted for themselves a fourth category or way of life. Each one lives alone in his own cell wherever he likes, either nearby or far away. Each one caters to his own will and chases after acquisitions with worldly cares, and so on. Formally, according to their way of life, they would appear to be anchorites, but because of their rejection of the holy fathers and the fearsome prohibition for anyone who is still afflicted with passions of soul to dare to enter into single combat with the demons, they liken themselves to the self-willed who stumble over themselves. They themselves concocted this way of life, and they themselves are tripped up thereby, being unable to live in peace and stability, because it does not correspond to their measure and stature.

The person who carefully goes through the book of St. Gregory of Sinai finds that nothing else there is labelled self-will and single combat except the solitary way of life with no association with anyone. Moreover, the writer of the life of this saint points out that he did not permit a single one of his disciples to live alone in his own cell either nearby or faraway.145 After gathering a multitude of monks both old and young in three lavras and two fortified monasteries, he gave them rule of cutting off their will and of .obedience. He taught all of them noetic work, saying:

Instruction is not suitable for some, but living in .obedience is appropriate for even the most crude and illiterate, since obedience contains a share of all the virtues, because of humility. But this is not granted to the insubmissive, so they not be deceived, whether they be crude or intelligent. For the self-willed cannot escape conceit and so on.146
This blessed elder Nil, also, after breathing out many fearsome words against those who seek to live in solitude while they are still passionate, and after heaping praises on the royal way, says that this royalway and discipline exist on the Holy Mountain Athos, where down to the present day the physical structure of the cells, both old and new, serves as a divine model for the royal way for everyone. For the cells there, whether they have a church or not, are built for two or three and not just for one person. If the royal path were for each person to live alone, either nearby or far away, then what need or purpose would there be for dealing with two or three? But given the disposition of the fourth way, whether it is two or three or a multitude, it is all one and the same, because each person lives according to his own will and understanding.

An example and prescription for this way of life is that young brother who, after taking up his residence in a cell alone, replied to those who inquired, "See, I am already an anchorite." The fathers came and took him out of his cell and ordered him to go around and visit everyone saying, "Forgive me fathers, for I am not an anchorite."147 Likewise the elders said, "If you see a young man ascending into heaven, grab his feet and pull him back down to earth."148

But what about the following reason that these people give? am living alone so that I not lose my temper or be angered against my brother and to avoid dle talk and condemnation." Do you not know, my friend, that what you have just said and things like them especially humble and shame a person, as the fathers say, and do not exalt him. And also, that it is beneficial for youth to fall while vainglory, self-esteem, deceit and their likes harden a person and puff him up? For this reason it is better to learn your own weakness and measure by living with a brother and to rebuke yourself for this, praying with repentance before the Lord and being cleansed by the daily grace of Christ, as we have already said, rather than to conceal and nourish the vainglory and conceit you deceitfully bear within yourself, and because of which St. John Climacus, together with all the great fathers, says that you will never find a single trace of solitary stillness.149 The solitary life itself usually brings no little harm to the passionate person."For stillness," says the great Barsanuphios," offers an occasion for conceit."150 Now if stillness leads the weak person to conceit and in addition the very passions of his soul impel him to the same, then what hope can there be for a person who ventures into such single combat and does not submit to the teaching of the holy fathers that two or three living together in stillness is the royal path? If a person binds his intention and will by powerful faith in a brother�s counsel, such a person truly by this alone fulfills without labor the commandments of the Gospel that you not take care for your life or soul, what you eat or what you drink, nor for your body as to what you will wear (Matthew 6:25]. In this way of life, a person both when he stays at home and when he goes out, with the counsel and will of his brother and only for the necessities of life, shall escape kindling the fires of the suggestions and insolence of the enemy who twists and shakes every self-willed person like flour in a sieve.

The communal way of life, through the commandments of Christ alone, grants fervor to a monk against every matter in which Satan opposes him. There is no place here for the self-love and attachment which assail and afflict the enemy's burns on every passionate person who is living alone by himself to keep moving from one affair to the next and from one worry to another. And truly an awesome miracle has been observed in such people during these present times. Leaving their solitude, some of them joined a brotherhood which does not worry about what is "yours" and "mine", as the fathers put it. Here, when they told what a great amount of handiwork they were used to completing every day without supervision, they were assigned to do in the course of a week the same amount that they had previously done for themselves every day. They said, in despair, that this was hard for them. When the amount was cut in half again, they said that even that is impossible. When they were confronted and questioned about this,they replied that when they worked for themselves on their own, they had acertain fervor and zeal, but now complaining and sloth have taken its place.

It is also a true saying that every person who lives in a community with two or three brothers, by the very fact of living together, is set free from self-love and attachment. He must be inspired in everything by the commandments of Christ alone. Without such training and faith a person will think he is a slave or a hired man deprived of his pay and that his way of life is no way for a person to live. By the same token, for the weak and passionate person living alone, the burning fire and moving force in every external matter is self-love and attachment. At the same time, for the person in the community it is only the commandments or Christ Himself that inspire .fervor for the activity that is appropriate in his life. For this reason it is necessary and required of us passionate ones to keep to the royal path and live in stillness, two or three together, in order to escape delusion, not be enslaved by self-love and attachment and escape the vice of self-willfulness. In place of all these we will find an easy path and an open door forfulfilling the commandments of Christ and learning sacred noetic work.

St. Cassian said:

No one should be desirous of solitude in the desert. Only the perfect are to go, he that is purified of every passion, who in a community of cenobitic monks together with the others has boiled down and skimmed off his unrighteousness, and even then, not going off because of discouragement or out of zealous fervor, but only in order to attain divine vision, desiring the perfect and radiant vision of the Lord God; for this can be acquired by the perfect only in solitude. If a monk brings unhealed passions with him into the desert they will simply remain concealed within him but not be eradicated.
For the desert only knows the man who has corrected his ways and who is about to open the entrance to gladsome vision and fulfill the beholding of radiant spiritual mysteries. But those who have not corrected their ways will retain their evil in the desert. Not only this, but they will become deceitful and greatly multiply their evils. Such a monk will think he is keeping patience as long as no one comes and associates with him. But as soon as he allows an occasion for this, he immediately returns to his former ways. Then the hidden passions will break loose and like unbridled horses attened by prolonged idleness will whisk their rider off to catastrophe all the more quickly. If we reject the instruction and chastisement of our brothers, the wild shoots of evil will grow up inside us, unless they are cleared out. Also the wall patience which we maintain when we live in common with our brothers, partly due to their respect and partly to avoid shame and scandal, keeping ourselves thus free from sorrow, will vanish from around us because of negligence.
Any poisonous snake or beast of prey, when it conceals itself and hides in the caves and hiding places of the desert, is it not fierce and harmful? But it does not work any harm at that time and does not know its measure, whether it is innocent or vicious, because there is nothing present to prey on. This is not because of the good disposition of the viper, but because that deserted and uninhabited place does not allow him to work evil. But if he finds an occasion for working harm, he pours out his hidden venom and bitter viciousness. Likewise, for those seeking perfection in the desert, it is not enough simply not to get angry at men. We remember that when we lived in the desert that we became so bitterly angered with the reeds which were either too thick or thin for handiwork and with the hatchet which was dull and did not cut the branches quickly,and also with the flint when it did not give off fiery sparks when we were hurrying to the chanting in the congregation. Our thoughts were so stricken over this that we cursed not only dumb creation but even the demon himself.151
Thus, in order to acquire perfection, it is not enough simply to live no longer among men with whomwe are filled with anger. For if we do not first acquire .patience within ourselves, we will vent our wrath even on inanimate and dumb objects at the slightest provocation.

The holy Climacus says:

He who is afflicted with passions of soul and undertakes stillness is like one who leaps off the ship into the deep and thinks that he will swim safely to dry land on a board. Those who are warring with dung will come to stillness at the proper time, if they have someone guiding them. Solitude, however, requires the might of the angels.152
And again:
Solitude strangles the inexperienced.
All monastic discipline is arranged in three courageous formations: in martyric anchoritism and solitude; or living in stillness with one or two brothers; or sitting patiently in the communal life. "Do not turnaside," says the preacher, "either to the right or tothe left", but come by the royal way (Proverbs 4:27; Numbers 20:17, 21:22; Deuteronomy 5:32). For the middle one of the above three has been beneficial for many but, "Woe to him that is alone" (Ecclesiastes 4:10), for if he fall either into sleep or ethargy or despair there is no one of the human race to help him back up. But, "wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in their midst," says the Lord (Matthew 18:20).154
"Not so much a monk as amonk for a monk." That is, the solitary is not saved fromstumbling as much as he who has another monk with him.155
I have heard of men dwelling in stillness like caged falcons, raging in bitterness and fury to themselves and pouncing on anyone as if he were the cause of their misery. I respectfully counselled these men not to live alone, lest a man turn into a demon. 156
We have recollected in brief these writings from the holy fathers only for the sake of proving beyond all doubt that two or three living together is the royal path on which one does not fall easily, of which the ancient and later fathers write heaping blessing upon it. It has seemed to some that the middle and royal path is not the common life, but when each lives in his own cell separately, whether nearby or far away, and to gather together at times for counsel, but this is not so. No! For every way of life that is not communal, whether the cells are near or far from each other, is not the measure of this middle path. This is rather the solitary life and single combat with the demons. Such was the rule of the monastery of St. Gerasimos of the Jordan, and under such a rule both in ancient times and nowadays a great multitude of the passionate and ailing suffered harm.157 For this reason the saints command that two or three live together communally so that by submitting to one another in the fear of God we may be aware of our weakness.

When two go to live a communal life, they lay down this covenant for themselves: They will undertake everything, be it spiritual or physical, only in keeping with their own strength and the requirements of necessity, not in excess or at the improper time, and in particular through discerning the writings of the holy fathers. Thus when one of them has an intention concerning some matter or of going out somewhere, he speaks to his brother about this, and the other gives the matter some consideration and does not agree to it, either because it is inappropriate or unnecessary. The former brother recognizes the other's good judgement and, not insisting on his own way and opinion, submits to his brother's counsel with the Scriptures as his witness. Is this not cutting off one's own will and spiritual counsel? And again, when he sees that it is necessary and appropriate, the other brother tells him this and agrees to his intention and desire. Then does this other one not cut off his will and submit to his brother's counsel? And so it is in every task and undertaking, either the one or the other, by cutting off his own will, gives a good acclaim to his brother's undertaking or he himself receives it from his brother,and they become accustomed to a good discipline, where one does not easily fall, having resolve and firm faith that there is great profit for their soul insofar as one cuts off his own will before his brother on every occasion, and no harm for the soul or violation of the commandments of Christ can be found in this. If at some time one slips into argumentative self-justification due to a lapse of attention to himself, because he believes this to be the fall of his own soul he turns to God and his brother with repentance and receives forgiveness through the daily grace of Christ, for he fell as a man and got back up again without harboring any doubt. The royal path where one does not fall easily is this and not where each person lives separately.

Addenda

In addition, this same blessed elder of ours St. Nil describes the middle measure of food and drink and quotes from the writings of St. Gregory of Sinai, "Every man who wishes to find God should partake of sweets with abstinence."158 These "sweets� are a puzzle for many; does this refer to seeds and vegetables or to oil and fish? It would appear that the meaning is not seeds and herbs or vegetables and honey for all these are strictly Lenten food and no one has ever abstained from them. So it clearly means fish and oil and wine. This puzzle can be resolved by the words of St. Heraklides the bishop, who says the following:

By partaking of food with discernment and by abstaining with discernmentone will not sin in any way, for it is said, "The law does not apply to the righteous man"(Timothy 1:9).
Now it is less offensive to drink wine with discernment than water with scorn. For I have seen holy men drinking wine with godly discernment and men who were corrupt and vile drinking water with pride like dumb beasts. Moreover, do not reproach or praise the kind of food and drink but praise or reproach the disposition of those who partake of it, whether it be good or bad. The Jews at one time reproached the Lord saying of His disciples, "Why do Your disciples not fast like those of John?" (Mark 2:18). They also reviled His disciples and said with disapproval,"Your Teacher eats and drinks with publicans and sinners" (Mark 2:16). The Saviour replied to them, "John came by the path of righteousness neither eating nor drinking"-meaning meat and wine, for it is impossible to live without any food or drink at all-"and they say he has a demon; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say this man is a glutton and a drunkard, the friend of publicans and sinners"(Matthew 11:18-19).
So what are we to do? We should follow neither the reproachful nor the flatterers. Shall we not fast with discernment together with John even if they say, "You have a demon"? And shall we not drink wine inmeasure with Jesus even though they say, "These men are gluttons and drunkards"? But let us understand that it is not the food or the drink that is really important but faith reaching out in love and deeds. When every action is done out of faith, he that eats and drinks out of faith shall not be condemned; but everything that is not done out of faith is a sin.
However, let none of the lovers of pleasure or those who sin in some other such manners ay, "It is in faith that I partake of food." Or when he is doing anything else in fulfillment of an animal desire or a corrupt conscience, let him not think that he can use he faith as a cover.
The Saviour commanded to know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). The fruit of those who live by the Divine Word and Spirit and discernment is love, peace, long-suffering, meekness and temperance (Galatians 5:22). However, when the flesh is robust, one should avoid rich foods. When the flesh is weak or ill, or when one is in sorrow or difficult circumstances, then let him have food and drink as healing nourishment and a cure for sorrows. Let everyone turn away from those things that harm the soul; I mean anger, jealousy, vainglory, slander and conceit.159
Now it is clear that for the angelic discipline of John the food is strictly lenten that is greens, vegetables, rusks and water. But for the divinely-manful discipline of Christ, the food is sweet, that is, seeds, oil, fish and wine. For both before His Passion and after His Resurrection Christ partook of all of these without disdain.

Concerning these sweet foods, there is a clear indication also in the life of the holyfathers Symeon the Fool for Christ and his brother John.160 Both of them ate and drank the food brought by an angel, white bread, fish and wine, together with a certain lover of Christ who visited them in the desert. Therefore St. Gregory of Sinai calls those foods sweet which are eaten on special occasions and with discernment to the glory of God. Some people sin against a correct understanding by using this for permissiveness and love of pleasure. There are yet others who are afflicted with a lack of faith and courage who shun these foods, thinking that such food and drink is an obstacle to attaining perfection. There is no contradiction, however, between the life of John and of Christ. Not so much because of our physical weakness as due to the weakness of our souls, the discerning fathers teach us to imitate the divinely-manful discipline of Christ and not the angelic way of John. Just as with the passions, as Climacus says, some humble us and some exalt, so it is with the virtues; they too can either humble or puff up those who are weak. One person may be afflicted with the passion, conceit and contempt, but another with lust and love of pleasure. For the first, excessive fasting is oil poured on the fire, but for the second permissiveness is cuddling a snake in his bosom.161 For those persons the prescription is measured and intelligent use of food, as the great Basil said,"He that partakes of food in measure is no different from the faster. In practice, such a person is constantly not eating because of his supremely prudent care for his body."162 And do not disdain this either, O zealot filled with every kind of scorn,says St. Cassian, for both excessive fasting and permissiveness can both be from the devil, but excessive and indiscriminate abstinence brings greater harm than eating to satisfaction.163

Our holy fathers were not digging a pit for us but rather were steering us away from the pit when they commanded us to pursue the middle path and not to run after lofty things out of season. Even those who lived a life surpassing nature attained this through various noetic insights that are totally unknown to us, by which they were moved to lofty fasting and labors. Some of them exhausted their flesh with great suffering out of love for Christ alone inimitation of His voluntary suffering for our sakes. Such was the elder of the great Pachomios, who never tasted cooked food or oil or wine, saying, "Christ was crucified and tasted gall for my sake, and how can I desire to take oil and wine into my mouth?"164 Others endured immeasurable fasting and labors because of their sins, such as Mary of Egypt165 and Paphnutios166 and others like them. Many fasted for the sake of self-control and passionlessness. Some, born according to a promise and consecrated to God from their mother�s womb, endured supernatural labors and fasting, such as the great wonderworker Nicholas,167 Theodore Sykeiotes168 and others like them. Others were touched by heavenly fire which kindled their souls to unspeakable labors and fasting so that they did not feel them; such was Symeon of the Wonderful Mountain169 and all the holy martyrs. In others, the memory of gehenna and of the terrible judgement of Christ so gripped their hearts with feeling that they not only did not feel pain and toil, but they even forgot themselves entirely.Such was that elder who went numb at the feeling of the memory of death and fell down as if dead,170and many others.

All of these perfected lofty virtues and fastings through the .grace of Christ with discernment and a good conscience, without being consciously aware that they were practicing some virtue. Indeed it was through this disposition of theirs alone that they maintained their own spiritual awareness, thus concealing every good work from their sight. For they did not regard their fasting or any other of their labors as a virtue. They were intent on one thing alone: to present themselves before Christ in that natural state in which we were created.

But some, who are of like passions but lack understanding, who not only lack any such awareness or, better to say, the gift of what we have just been discussing, who are totally unaware of such things, have become zealous for the fasting and labors of the saints without proper discernment and resolve while imagining to themselves that they are progressing in virtue. The devil stalks them like a hunting dog and sows in their belly the seed of profane self-satisfaction, by which the internal pharisee is conceived and nourished. Thus gaining strength from day today, these persons give themselves over to unmitigated pride, and because of this God abandons them to the power of Satan.

Even though Paul and Peter and those like them are holy and marvelous men, still they are human. Even the saints themselves are in need of great circumspection lest they slip into conceit. For there is nothing that so easily arouses a person to pride as a conscience aware of its many merits and a soul living with its hope in them. Those lacking in discernment give primary consideration to the kind of food and drink and ignore the disposition of those who abstain or partake of them well or badly.

It is truly for good and with prudence that the saints have given us the royal path and called it free from falls. Did any one�no matter what caliber of person he was�while living together with a brother in stillness ever pray to God to reveal to him what virtue he had not yet perfected? Do not all such persons, when they behold the height and perfection of the commandments of Christ, see how insufficient they are, even if they be holy and perfect? "For if," says the Theologian, "we say that we do not sin, we deceive ourselves" (John 1:8). Again the great Paul,"I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (Corinthians 12:9).

Many solitaries and desert dwellers have done these things magnificently, some with simplicity and with a guileless mind and manners, but others with obvious conceit. For this reason, the Lord Himself, lifting some up to humility, sent them to virtuous men in the cities, such as the monk who pastured with wild buffalo whom He sent to an abbot who had been commanded to make him herd swine. Another He sent to submit himself to obedience in a community, and when he was unable to bear it, he realized his weakness and asked to be released again into the desert.171 But others, because they were incurably ill, He abandoned to the power of Satan. Moreover, Climacus says well that solitary stillness strangles the unskilled. The great Barsanuphios says, "Stillness provides the occasion for conceit," and so on.172 And let no one marvel at this: Everyone who practices fasting, prostrations and vigil, psalmody and lying on the bare ground and such things as these, if he thinks that he is practicing the virtues is committing sin thereby in his offering to God. If anyone of those who have tears and weep thinks that he is doing well, and especially if he scorns someone that does not have tears, he is laboring in vain, says Climacus. 173

QUESTION: One might say, how is it possible for aperson who does such things not to think that he is doing good?

REPLY: It was for this reason that we said abovethat we do not only lack a correct understanding and spiritual disposition, but we cannot even recognize these things when they are described in words. Yet we champ at the bit for solitude and the lofy discipline of the holy fathers. There exists, there actually does exist, a precipitous and adamantine resolve that not only does not see but does not even suffer the thought that anything it does is virtuous. We have already spoken more than a little about this. If this were not so, how could the saints have considered themselves to belower than all creation, or for a person, the more he draws nigh to God, to see all the more vividly how sinful he is, and so on? This is a difficult alphabet: To learn your place and measure and what understanding and resolve you need in order to acquire virtue. Moreover, although by the grace of God some receive a singular feeling or understanding which is the herald of humble mindedness, still it is natural that in every person his inclination or thinking disposes him either to humility or vainglory, to fear of God or to audacity, that is, offering a deviation either to the right or to the left. If a person says that very few attain such a state, the holy fathers reply, "Keep to the royal path, the middle way, which is free from falls, that is, the life in stillness of two or three living together communally." "For on many occasions the enemy gives fervor for the great fasting and labors of the saints," says St. Isaac,"for solitary stillness and quiet, so that from there he can prey on those who heed his advice." And St. Cassian says something similar about this:

The mortification of the flesh and abstinence of thoughts must not exceed one's natural strength; the Lord imparted a divine gift to many remarkable saints for struggles and extreme severity, through a special inspiration which drew them on.

But if you do not have these divine powers, do not kindle your desires to inherit the labors of the saints through severe and extraordinary mortification, but simply examine them and marvel and humble yourself, as the holy Climacus said of the poor:

They behold the royal treasures and thus grow all the more aware of their poverty.174
So also the soul, when it reads about the great virtues of the fathers, humbles its thinking in everyway. St. Justinsays, "Heavenly grace comes to all, but not in equal measure. The Lord wants to save all but not to make everyone a saint."

However, do not consider that you are unfortunate because you cannot in your flesh live in the discipline of severe asceticism like the saints. Even you are able to accomplish internal activity with humility through warm desire and diligence and thus please God. The prophet clothed in royal purple did not say, "I was hungry" or "I kept vigil" or "I lay on the bareground" but rather "I humbled myself, and the Lord saved me quickly" (Psalm 114:5]. And again St. Cassian says, "Let us seek after the gift of discernment with all diligence, for this has the power to preserve us."175 For the mother of the water springs is the abyss, and for discernment it is humility.

Where there is no light, all things are in darkness, and where there is no humility, all we have is in vain. And how can we acquire this? Hearken to the saying of the Lord,

"Without Me you can do nothing"(John 15:5). Let us therefore pray to the Lord with fervor that He grant us in all of our activities to have humility which comes from faith and fear of God, which is trained in meekness and total non-possessiveness, whereby perfect love is also practiced by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.


The Akathist Hymn to st Nilus , wonderworker of Sora

Copyright Isaac E. Lambertsen. Used by permission.

Akathist hymn
To the Venerable Nilus, Wonderworker of Sora
Whose Memory the Holy Church Celebrates on the 7th of May

Kontakion I


For thee, the chosen conqueror of noetic foes, who spurned the false world and carnal pleasures, and, following the words of the psalmist, sought God in the wilderness, have we composed praises. As thou hast boldness before the Lord, pray thou, O venerable one, in behalf of us who honor thy most sacred memory with faith and love, that we may cry to thee:
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Ikos I

Emulating the life of the angels and patterning thyself on those who were great among the fathers, thou didst cut thyself off wholly from the confusion of the world, and, manfully arming thyself for the struggle of asceticism, didst carefully follow the way of the commandments of God, O blessed one; wherefore, we who honor thy most sacred memory with faith do bless thee with these praises:
Rejoice, O emulator of the life of the angels;
rejoice, follower of the life of the fathers of old!
Rejoice, courageous vanquisher of invisible foes;
rejoice, earnest fulfiller of the commandments of God!
Rejoice, careful preserver of the divinely inspired Traditions of the fathers;
rejoice, codifier of rules for the monastic life of asceticism!
Rejoice, most pure mirror of the virtues;
rejoice, sweet-sounding timbrel of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, image of profound humility;
rejoice, zealous doer of the will of God!
Rejoice, for through thee have we learned to tread the straight path;
rejoice, for through thy mediation for us before God we hope to receive salvation!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion II

Beholding thy humblemindedness more lustrous than gold, we boldly say of thee that thou art truly a disciple of Christ and a fellow heir to His kingdom; wherefore, O most blessed one, trusting that, through thy mediation to Him for us, we shall receive the remission of sins, we cry aloud: Alleluia!

Ikos II

Desiring to enrich thyself with an understanding of the most divine Scriptures, thou didst abide continually in the study thereof, O wise one, whereby thou didst give thy soul to drink of the waters of piety, wherewith thou fillest us also, who with love chant unto thee such things as these:
Rejoice, treasury of divine understanding;
rejoice, granary filled to overflowing with the works of faith!
Rejoice, vine of the Master, heavy laden with His goodly harvest
rejoice, thou who learned to fulfill the will of God!
Rejoice, river overflowing with the water of grace divine;
rejoice, thou who wast vouchsafed to receive the knowledge of the divine Scriptures!
Rejoice, thou who with the water of thy discourses gavest drink unto those who thirsted for salvation;
rejoice, thou who becamest a model of salvation for those who followed thee!
Rejoice, splendid adornment of monks;
rejoice, thou who in thyself showed them the way to salvation!
Rejoice, thou who trained them for victory in the noetic battle;
rejoice, thou who set at nought all the wiles of the enemy!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion III

Girded about with the power of the Most High, thou didst boldly go forth to do battle with the enemy; and contending mightily, thou didst vanquish the captains of the demons, and with the streams of thy tears didst drown the infernal pharaoh, showing thyself as a model of victory for all who desire to follow thee in courageous combat, chanting victoriously unto the Lord: Alleluia!

Ikos III

Having within thee exalting humility of mind, thou didst mount to the summit of the virtues; and furnished with wings of divine knowledge, thou didst easily soar above the snares of the enemy; wherefore, thou hast entered the heavenly bridal-chamber with glory, O divinely wise one. And we, marvelling at the height of thy virtuous life, cry aloud with love:
Rejoice, true emulator of the humility of Christ;
rejoice, thou who thereby didst attain unto everlasting rest!
Rejoice, thou who didst obtain wings of humblemindedness and divine knowledge;
rejoice, thou who wast upborne to the heavens by humility and love!
Rejoice, thou who didst arm thyself with the sword of humility and the shield of patience;
rejoice, thou who in lowliness of spirit didst serve Him Who exalteth those of low estate!
Rejoice, thou who didst earnestly emulate Christ Who abased Himself for our sake;
rejoice, thou who for this received great grace from Him!
Rejoice, thou who by meekness and humility didst crush all the snares of the enemy;
rejoice, thou who didst mystically learn to hymn God unceasingly within thy heart!
Rejoice, thou who didst make thy heart a habitation for God;
rejoice, thou who didst offer up unceasing prayers, like incense of sweet savor, unto the Lord Who loved thee!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion IV

Having within me a tempest of vain thoughts, I am unable to lift up my mind to the heights of thy corrections and sing thy praises worthily, O father; yet accept me, who with heartfelt love hymn thee, and mediate salvation for me, who cry: Alleluia!

Ikos IV

Hearkening to thy salvific Traditions and wise instructions, thy disciples joyously hastened after thee, and, guided by thee, came to know lofty and hidden things, chanting to thee in thanksgiving:
Rejoice, thou who transmitted the Traditions of salvation unto thy disciples;
rejoice, thou who clearly indicated to them the goodly path to salvation, and not the path of error!
Rejoice, thou who didst keep the commandments of God with care;
rejoice, thou who didst teach those who followed thee to keep them as well!
Rejoice, thou who didst zealously implement the salvific traditions of the fathers;
rejoice, thou who hast taught us faithfully to follow them!
Rejoice, wise teacher of those who truly desire to live the monastic life;
rejoice, earnest lover of the wonderworking fathers of old!
Rejoice, thou who hast been reckoned among their choir in the mansions of heaven;
rejoice, thou who after thy repose hast been given the gift of miracles!
Rejoice, for through thee do we receive the healing of bodily ailments;
rejoice, for by thy mediation we hope to receive the forgiveness of sins!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion V

Seeing thee as a radiant star shining forth in the wilderness, we rejoice, and, attracted by the brilliance thereof, hastening together we earnestly celebrate thy memory, O venerable one, keeping splendid festival and chanting unto God in thanksgiving: Alleluia!

Ikos V

We perceive thee as a radiant lamp shining brightly in the trackless wilderness, for, even though, because of thy humility of mind, thou art covered as with a bushel, yet hast thou not been able to hide, having been set aloft upon the summit of the virtues. Wherefore, illumined by thy miracles, we cry out to thee such things as these:
Rejoice, thou who wast illumined by the light of the threefold Sun;
rejoice, thou who learned wisdom from the Well-spring of wisdom!
Rejoice, thou who by God hast been given the greatly increased talant;
rejoice, thou who hast been shown to be a chosen husbandman of the vineyard of Christ!
Rejoice, thou who most abundantly watered the field of thy soul with tears of compunction;
rejoice, thou who didst produce manifold fruits of the virtues!
Rejoice, flower of paradise which budded forth in the wilderness;
rejoice, thou who perfumest us with the fragrant myrrh of the virtues!
Rejoice, luminary burning brightly in the firmament of the Church of Christ;
rejoice, thou who hast driven away the gloom of ignorance and dark oblivion!
Rejoice, thou who hast made clear to us the understanding of the writings of the fathers;
rejoice, thou who didst manifestly reveal the mysteries hidden in them!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion VI

Thou wast truly a preacher of the truth, O Nilus our ever-memorable father, clearly showing forth the path which leadeth to the kingdom on high, and showing thyself to be a paragon of true monasticism for those who desire to become heirs thereto, teaching them by word and deed to shun the tumults of the world, and ever moving them to chant the divine hymn: Alleluia!

Ikos VI

Since thine honored repose, thou hast shone forth with the light of miracles, appearing in faraway lands and delivering men from bitter captivity, O Nilus our wonder-working father; wherefore, saved by thee from misfortunes, we, thy servants, cry out to thee in thanksgiving:
Rejoice, deliverer of captives;
rejoice, speedy intercessor for those who invoke thine aid!
Rejoice, thou who helpest those in tribulation;
rejoice, thou who all-gloriously freest them from the assault and violence of unclean spirits!
Rejoice, thou who dost transform sorrows and griefs into joy;
rejoice, thou who breakest asunder the insidious snares of the demons!
Rejoice, for thou dost quickly anticipate the need of those who call upon thee;
rejoice, for from divers misfortunes and perils dost thou rescue those who love thee!
Rejoice, thou who givest consolation to those who languish in despondency;
rejoice, thou who drivest away the dark clouds of sorrows!
Rejoice, physician of bodily illnesses;
rejoice, mediator of the good things of heaven!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion VII

When the time came for thee to leave this world and depart unto the Lord, thy disciples, assembling and shedding tears, said: "Leave us not orphaned, O father!" And with them we cry aloud unto thee: "Forget us not, but visit, console and provide for thy servants, who honor thee with love and cry out to God: Alleluia!"

Ikos VII

A new and all-glorious miracle didst thou show forth when, shining with the brilliance of lightning and spreading an ineffable sweet fragrance, thou didst appear to a God-loving man who was held captive, commanding him to paint the likeness of thine image. And we, marvelling thereat, cry out to thee such things as these:
Rejoice, O all-glorious worker of miracles;
rejoice, fulfiller of the good pleasure of God toward men!
Rejoice, thou who thereby didst make know thine own holiness and boldness toward God;
rejoice, thou who through this hast revealed unto us the grace which thou hadst received from God!
Rejoice, thou who by thine appearance brought gladness unto one who languished captive amid sorrow;
rejoice, thou who promised him speedy liberation from captivity!
Rejoice, thou who gavest him the image of thy countenance;
rejoice, thou who didst arrange for him an all-glorious deliverance from captivity!
Rejoice, thou who returned him, rejoicing, to his homeland;
rejoice, for even the angels are astonished by the favor shown thee by God!
Rejoice, for the fame of thy miracles hath gone forth into all the earth;
rejoice, thou who hast amazed all by thine all-glorious wonder-working!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion VIII

Beholding the strange and all-glorious miracle wrought by thee, O Nilus our father most rich, we beseech thee: Entreat God Who worketh miracles through thee, that we also may withdraw from this vain and deceitful world, may sail safely across the deep of life, and, by thy mediation, may attain unto the calm haven, forever chanting in thanksgiving: Alleluia!

Ikos VIII

Thou wast wholly full of divine love, O most blessed one; and, in nowise yielding to the love of the flesh and the world, thou didst live out thy life in chastity and holiness like one of the incorporeal beings; wherefore, thou didst receive from God the grace to work all-glorious miracles. For which cause accept these praises, offered unto thee from our zeal:
Rejoice, spacious abode of divine love;
rejoice, dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity!
Rejoice, mighty and valorous conqueror of noetic foes;
rejoice, ally of those who call upon thee for aid in vanquishing them!
Rejoice, citizen of the wilderness;
rejoice, thou who art mighty and wondrous in patience!
Rejoice, great lover of stillness;
rejoice, wise establisher of rules for the solitary monastic life!
Rejoice, guide to salvation for monastics;
rejoice, participant in the choir of the venerable!
Rejoice, for with all the saints thou enjoyest everlasting gladness;
rejoice, for with them thou hast joyously inherited the mansions of heaven!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion IX

All of angelic and human nature marvelled at thy wondrous way of life in the flesh, O Nilus our God-bearing father; for, having fought the fight of asceticism, thou didst finish the race without stumbling. Wherefore, thou hast been invested by God with the crown of righteousness, making thine abode with the choirs of the saints in the mansions on high, ever chanting: Alleluia!

Ikos IX

The speech of those wise according to the flesh was shown to be foolish when the foolish were made wise through the activity of the Holy Spirit and tamed their audacious tongues; wherefore, O God-bearer, not worldly wisdom, but the activity of the Holy Spirit made thee also wise and showed thee to speak eloquently of things divine. And we, fashioning hymnody of praise for thee, chant:
Rejoice, thou who wast given wisdom from on high;
rejoice, splendid receptacle of the knowledge of God!
Rejoice, radiant lamp shining with divine effulgence;
rejoice, thou who wast illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, thou who for monastics set down in writing the mystic law;
rejoice, thou who transmitted to them salvific traditions!
Rejoice, mediator of everlasting blessedness;
rejoice, sure instructor of salvation!
Rejoice, guide to the reception of the good things of heaven;
rejoice, thou who shattered the horn of pride!
Rejoice, for by thy supplications for us are we delivered from divers misfortunes;
rejoice, for by thine intercession unto God are we freed from the temptations of the enemy!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion X

Thou wast a true guide for those who desire to be saved, O most blessed father, directing them with the commandments of Christ the Savior and the saving Traditions of the God-bearing fathers. Wherefore, we also, desiring to follow after them, chant with reverence, directed by thy prayers: Alleluia!

Ikos X

Thou wast a bulwark and tower of confirmation for thy disciples, showing forth in thyself a model of courageous struggle, and confirming by deed and word the way whereby they might counter the battle of the enemy mightily. And we who are weak, looking to thee for mediation in our behalf, offer thee this praise, crying:
Rejoice, tower of patience;
rejoice, model of valiant struggle!
Rejoice, brave warrior of the army of Christ;
rejoice, citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem!
Rejoice, thou who sowed tears of compunction on the earth;
rejoice, thou who in the heavens partakest of the fruits of eternal consolation!
Rejoice, thou who endured the afflictions of the wilderness with good cheer;
rejoice, thou who soared aloft from the wilderness to the mansions of paradise!
Rejoice, thou who didst keep vigil in unceasing prayers;
rejoice, thou who didst have thy mind ever uplifted to God!
Rejoice, thou who suffered for Christ in the mortification of the flesh;
rejoice, thou who wast vouchsafed divine glory by Him!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion XI

Accept us who offer thee hymnody of praise, O father, and deliver us from the tyranny of the passions and the storm of evil thoughts; for thee have we, thy servants, acquired as a helper, a fervent intercessor and advocate before God for us who hope, through thee, to receive deliverance and salvation from evils, and who cry: Alleluia!

Ikos XI

O blessed one, Christ hath shown thee to be a radiant beacon for monastics, enlightening us with the immaterial fire of the virtues and illumining with beams of humility of mind and shining with the effulgence of miracles upon us who cry out to thee such things as these:
Rejoice, radiant beacon of monastics;
rejoice, shining lamp of ascetics!
Rejoice, brilliant star shining with the light of the Trinity;
rejoice, thou who dost share in the never-waning light!
Rejoice, rain-laden cloud who poured forth torrents of tears;
rejoice, thou who with lightning-flashes of grace dost illumine those who love thee!
Rejoice, thou who affrighted the enemy as with claps of thunder;
rejoice, thou who drowned them with the downpours of thy tears!
Rejoice, thou who calmly reached the end of thy life in humility;
rejoice, thou who for all wast an image of Christ-like meekness!
Rejoice, thou who hast shone forth miracles since thy repose;
rejoice, thou who with power hast shone forth the loftiness of thy manner of life!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion XII

As Master and Lord of all, the great Bestower of gifts desired to give thee grace and to show thee forth on earth as all-glorious; and He hath likewise glorified thee in heaven, enriching thee with the gift of miracles. He hath sanctified and glorified thee, and taught us to chant in thanksgiving for thee the hymn: Alleluia!

Ikos XII

Hymning thy corrections, struggles and battles, thy profound humility of mind and thine honored passing from earth to heaven, we praise also the grace of miracles which thou hast received from God, Who hath sanctified and glorified thee, and hath taught us to cry out to thee:
Rejoice, thou who hast finished well the course of ascetic struggles;
rejoice, thou who hast inherited the all-joyous abode of paradise!
Rejoice, thou who shone with the brilliance of the virtues on earth;
rejoice, thou who in the heavens hast received the reward for thy manifold labors!
Rejoice, splendid adornment of the wilderness;
rejoice, thou who wast vouchsafed to behold most gladsome joy!
Rejoice, most luminous mirror of the monastic life;
rejoice, bulwark and mighty rampart for us who love thee, against the assaults of the adversary!
Rejoice, for through thee do we avoid divers temptations;
rejoice, for through thine intercession before God for us do we find speedy aid amid divers misfortunes!
Rejoice, bestower of bodily health;
rejoice, mediator of salvation for our souls!
Rejoice, O venerable Nilus, wonderworker of Sora!

Kontakion XIII

O our most blessed and venerable father Nilus, accept from us this hymnody offered thee with love, and deliver us from divers misfortunes, perils and the torment which is to come, that by thy mediation we may be vouchsafed to chant eternally with thee to the triune God this hymn of thanksgiving: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

This kontakion is read thrice, whereupon Ikos I and Kontakion I are repeated.

Prayer I to the Venerable Nilus of Sora

O our most venerable father Nilus, accept this hymn of praise, which is offered to thee with faith and love, and, mercifully bowing down from the heights of heaven, as a solicitous father entreat the Lord and Master of all creation, that He grant forgiveness of sins, amendment of life, and a peaceful Christian end, untroubled by the spirits of evil, unto those who honor thee. At that time stand thou forth, O most blessed father, driving the fear of death away from thy children who love thee, and easing the separation of their souls from their bodies and their passage through the dread way-stations. And by thy mighty supplication and merciful intercession before the Lord for us, vouchsafe that on the day of the dread judgment we may receive a place on the right hand with all who have pleased God. Amen.

Prayer II to the Venerable Nilus

O venerable father Nilus, blessed of God, our divinely wise instructor and teacher! Having withdrawn from the turmoil of the world for the sake of GodΉs love, thou didst choose to make thine abode in the trackless wilderness and impenetrable forests. And having increased the children of the wilderness like a right fruitful branch, thou didst show thyself to them as an image of every monastic virtue by word, writing and manner of life. And having lived on earth like an angel in the flesh, thou now dwellest in the mansions of heaven, where the cry of those who keep festival is unceasing, and, standing with the choirs of saints before God, thou dost continually offer up praises and glorification unto Him. We beseech thee, O thou who art blessed of God: Instruct us also who live under thy protection, that we may follow in thy steps without wavering; that we may love the Lord God with all our heart, please Him alone and think of Him alone, manfully and skillfully trampling underfoot those thoughts which drag us down, and may ever vanquish the assaults of the enemy; that we may love all the restraints of the monastic life, and come to hate the beautiful things of this world out of love for Christ, and plant in our hearts every virtue wherein thou didst labor. Entreat Christ God, that He illumine the minds and hearts of all Orthodox Christians who dwell in the world, that they may see salvation, that He establish them in faith and piety, and in the doing of His commandments, protect them from the deception of this world, and grant unto them and to us remission of sins, and bestow upon them, according to His true promise, all things they need for this transitory life. Yea, let those who abide in the wilderness and in the world live a life of inner stillness, in all piety and honor, and glorify Him with mouth and heart, together with His unoriginate Father and His all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

(I would like to express my appreciation to The Saint John of Kronstadt Press for their kindness in allowing me to use the following copyrighted materials. I would also like to thank Isaac E. Lambertsen for his scholarship and generosity in that regard.

These liturgical materials are provided courtesy of The Saint John of Kronstadt Press, which offers a large selection of liturgical materials. For more information CLICK HERE. )