Today we will continue our look at the teachings of two Desert Fathers of sixth century Palestine, Sts. Barsanuphius and John. This series will continue over several issues as much of what they have to teach us goes right to the heart of the questions posed by our friend ñ a question many of us struggle with in our daily lives.
BEGIN: [to a sick monk] Concerning fasting, do not grieve, as I have said to you before: God does not demand of anyone labors beyond his strength. And indeed, what is fasting if not a punishment of the body in order to humble a healthy body and make it infirm for passions, according to the word of the Apostle: “When I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:10). And disease, more than this, is a punishment and takes the place of fasting and even more ñ for one who bears it with patience, thanks God, and through patience receives the fruit of his salvation; for instead of weakening his body by fasting, he is already sick without that. Give thanks to God that you have been delivered from the labor of fasting. Even if you will eat ten times in a day, do not grieve; you will not be judged for this, for you are doing this not at the demon’s instigation, and not from the weakening of your thought; but rather, this occurs to us for our testing and for profit to the soul.
-- To the Monk Andrew, when he became faint from the temptations that had come upon him:
Andrew! My brother one in soul (with me), do not grow faint. God has not abandoned you and will not abandon you. But know that the sentence pronounced by the Master to our common father Adam: “In the sweat of your brow you shall earn your bread” (Genesis 3:19) is immutable. And just as this commandment is given to the outward man, so to the inward man it is commanded to aid the prayers of the Saints by means of one’s own ascetic labors; and these prayers greatly help a man so that he will not remain fruitless. For just as gold which is heated in a furnace, held with pincers and beaten with a hammer, becomes pure and fit for a royal crown, so also a man being supported by the mighty and much-performing prayer of the Saints is heated by sorrows, receives the blows of temptations and, if he endures everything with gratitude, becomes a son of the Kingdom. And therefore, everything that might happen to you occurs for your benefit, so that you also might receive boldness before God, both through the intercession of the Saints and through your own labors. And do not be ashamed to offer now to God the beginning of these labors, lest in place of spiritual joy, sorrow should overtake you; and believe that He who has given the promises will fulfill them (Hebrews 10:23). Prosper in the Lord, my beloved.
-- And so, brother, hate perfectly so as to love perfectly. Depart completely, so as to draw near completely. Disdain one kind of adoption, in order to receive another adoption. Cease to fulfill desires, and you will fulfill desire. Wound yourself, and treat yourself. Mortify yourself, and bring yourself to life. Forget yourself, and know yourself. And you will have the works of a monk.
-- Restrain your tongue from idle talking, your stomach from love of sweetness, and do not irritate your neighbor. Do not be brazen, consider yourself as nothing, preserve love toward everyone, and have always God in your heart, remembering “When I shall appear before the face of God” (Psalms 41:3). Keep this, and your soil will bring forth a hundred-fold fruit to God, to Whom may there be glory unto the ages. Amen.
from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp. 47 - 73 (selections)