The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ABBA EVAGRIUS - Reflections on the "Eight Thoughts"

In today's text, we will begin a new series from another classic of spiritual literature -- "Early Fathers From the Philokalia."  The Philokalia is a massive treatise on prayer first published in Greek in the eighteenth century.  Running over 1200 pages in length, it was subsequently translated into Russian (and expanded) in the nineteenth century.  This version was published in five volumes and contained almost 3,000 pages!  Most of this is now available in English (and can be found in our "Inner Light's Bookstore" by clicking on the link to the left.  The book we will begin studying today focuses on those spiritual teachers from the third to the seventh centuries.  As we approach a new year, I believe it especially appropriate that we conclude this year with a study of prayer.

Let us look now at the teachings of Abba Evagrius the Monk who lived in Scetis in the fourth century. Abba Evagrius's books were well-known to spiritual strugglers and the general public as noted by Jeronimus who said, "Books by Evagrius are being read not only the Greeks throughout the East, but also in the West by the Latins, translated by Rufinus, his disciple."

BEGIN: "Reflections on the Eight Thoughts"

-- There are five occupations which help to gain God's benevolence.  The first is pure prayer; the second, psalmody; the third, reading the Holy Scriptures; the fourth, contrite remembrance of one's sins, of death and the terrible judgment; the fifth, work with one's hands.

-- If while still in your body you wish to serve God like the incorporeal beings, strive to have in your heart a secret unceasing prayer.  For in this way your soul will come near to resembling the angels even before death.

-- As our body becomes dead and full of stench when the soul leaves it, so a soul in which prayer is not active is dead and stenches.  That to be deprived of prayer should be counted worse than death is clearly shown us by Prophet Daniel, who was ready to die rather than be deprived of prayer at any hour.  One should remember God more often than one breathes.

-- Join to every breath a sober invocation of the name of Jesus and the thought of death with humility.  Both these practices bring great profit to the soul.

-- Do you wish to be known by God?  Try as much as possible to be less known to men.  If you will always remember that God is the Seer of all you do with soul or body, you will not sin in any action, and will have God as your Companion.

-- Nothing so makes a man resemble God as doing good to others. But in doing good to them, one should take great care not to transform these good deeds into a thought.

-- In the end you will become worthy of God by the fact tht you do nothing unworthy of Him.

-- You will pay glorious homage to God if, through virtues, you imprint His likeness on your soul.

-- Men become better as they come nearer to God.

-- A wise man who offers to God honor and worship is known by Him.  So he is in no way troubled if he remains unknown to all men.  The task of good judgment is to incite the part of the soul where anger lies to the waging of inner warfare.  The task of wisdom is to urge the mind to constant attentive watchfulness.  The task of righteousness is to direct the part, in which lies lust, towards virtue and towards God.  Finally, the task of courage is to govern the five senses and not let our inner man, that is the spirit, or our outer man, that is the body, be defiled through them.

-- The soul is a living substance, simple, incorporeal, invisible to the physical eye, immortal and endowed with mind and reason.  What the eye is to the body, that the mind is to the soul.

-- Evil is not an actual substance, but absence of good; just as darkness is nothing but absence of light.

-- Occupy yourself with reading with a calm spirit, so that your mind may be constantly raised up to contemplation of the wondrous acts of God, lifted, as it were, by some hand outstretched to it.

-- Every soul, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and by its own work and diligence, can conjoin and combine in itself the following qualities: word with mind, action with contemplation, virtue with science, faith with knowledge free of all forgetfulness, in such a way, moreover, that none of these qualities would be greater or less than another.  For then it will be united with God, Who is good and true, and with Him alone.  END

from "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 113 - 114.