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, November 14, 2012

ST. NICODEMUS OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN - Guarding the Sense of Hearing

In this issue we will continue our study of the teachings of a more contemporary "Desert Father," St. Nicodemos (1749 - 1809) of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos). St. Nicodemos compiled "The Philokalia" which contains the treasured teachings of many of the ancient Desert Fathers. As a contemporary father of the 18th and early 19th centuries, St. Nicodemus's writings (over 200 in all!) have inspired generations of monastics and spiritual strugglers right up to the present day. His writings are steeped in the teachings and traditions of the ancient Desert Fathers and he is in large part responsible for the revival of interest in the Fathers over the past two hundred years.

We began our series with an overview of the five senses and then the sense of sight; today will look at the second sense, the sense of hearing.



-- The second sense is that of hearing and one must be careful to guard it from corrupt melodies, which are composed for pleasure and which pour out the sweet honey of sound unto the ears. It seems to me that there are three evils that come from such melodies. First, these hedonistic and worldly songs tend to weaken the manly and proud bearing of the soul so that it becomes effeminate and lethargic as it listens to these sweet sounds. Secondly, these sensual songs tend to fill up the mind with the many passionate images which they describe. Thirdly, let us suppose that even if the persons doing the singing are not seen -- and especially when these may be women -- nevertheless the songs themselves are capable of impressing the imagination, moving the desire of the heart and drawing out an asset from the soul. This is why St. Basil taught us: "Do not submit your souls to corrupt melodies that come to us through the ears. Many passions that enslave us have been caused to grow in our natures by this sort of music." St. Gregory the Theologian in one of his paschal homilies said: "Let us not have the flute played to our hearing." And in his Iambic Poetry he wrote, "Block your ears with wax, and foolish words hear not, nor pleasant songs or thrilling melodies. . . . "


-- You must definitely shut your ears to slanderous remarks against other persons, as is commanded by God: "You shall not utter a false report" (Exodus 23:1). You must be especially careful to oppose the slanders leveled against the clergy. St. Paul when writing to Timothy said: "Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses" (I Timothy 5:19).

Open therefore only one of your ears to hear the words of slander according to the example of Alexander the Macedonian. Do not by any means allow yourself to open both ears to the slanderers and to draw your conclusions and decisions on the basis of what they alone have to say, and thereby judging the case 'in absentia' without the presence of the person slandered to defend himself.

Oftentimes many unjust and irrational decisions have followed from such slanderous accusations. St. Basil noted that each slanderer is unjust to three different persons: to himself for lying, to the hearers who may be misled and deceived, and to the person slandered for destroying his good reputation and honor. "For this very reason then I beseech your love in Christ not to accept the slanders presented onesidedly as at all true. For, as it is written, the law does not judge anyone unless the judge listens and finds out what indeed the defendant has done.

It is therefore necessary not to keep silent before such slanders, not that we will avenge ourselves through controversy, but rather because by not conceding (to the slanderer) we do not promote falsehood and do not allow those deceived to fall into harm. He who slanders does harm to three persons at the same time. First of all he is unjust to the person he has slandered; he also harms those persons who have to listen to his slander; finally the slanderer harms himself. . . . "


It goes without saying, of course, that while one must avoid the many abuses of hearing, one must also be more inclined to utilize this important sense of hearing for the many positive ways available to us in our Christian way of life; to listen to the word of God, to attend and participate in the worship services of the Church, to sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God, to listen with compassion and understanding to the concerns of your fellow human beings, and to do so many other positive things with our wonderful sense of hearing. END

From Chamberas, Peter A. (trans.), "Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain: A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel," (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 97 - 100