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)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ST. PETER OF DAMASCUS - Be Thankful to God for Everything

Today we will continue our look at the writings of St. Peter of Damaskos, one of the most prolific writers in the "Philokalia." Of all the many texts in this marvelous collection of spiritual works, St. Peter's works are perhaps the most accessible and understandable for monks and non-monks alike. In this respect, volume III of the "Philokalia" is probably more suited to our everyday reading than the other three volumes which are currently available. If you have not yet added the "Philokalia" to your spiritual library, volume III is a good place to start!

Today's text teaches us to be thankful to God for everything that happens, both good and bad:



We ought all of us always to give thanks to God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us. The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures. The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual.

These include wealth, so that one can perform acts of charity; poverty, so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude; authority, so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue; obedience and service, so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul; health, so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God, sickness; so that one may earn the crown of patience; spiritual knowledge and strength, so that one may acquire virtue; weakness and ignorance, so that, turning one's back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility; unsought loss of goods and possessions, so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may be helped when incapable of shedding all one's possessions or even of giving alms; ease and prosperity, so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls, trials and hardship, so that those who cannot eradicate their own will may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection. All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body.


Better than them all, however, is the patient endurance of afflictions; and he who has been found worthy of this great gift should give thanks to God in that he has been all the more blessed. For he has become an imitator of Christ, of His holy apostles, and of the martyrs and saints: he has received from God great strength and spiritual knowledge, so that he may voluntarily abstain from pleasure and may readily embrace hardship through the eradication of his own will and his rejection of unholy thoughts, and may thus always do and think what is in accordance with God's will. Those who have been found worthy of using things as they ought to be used should in all humility give heartfelt thanks to God, for by His grace they have been freed from what is contrary to nature and from the transgression of the commandments. We, however, who are still subject to the passions and who still misuse things, and who therefore act in a manner that is contrary to nature, should tremble and in all gratitude should give heartfelt thanks to our Benefactor, astonished at His unutterable forbearance, in that though we have disobeyed His commandments, misused His creation and rejected His gifts, He endures our ingratitude and does not cease to confer His blessings on us, awaiting until our last breath for our conversion and repentance.


Thus we should all give thanks to Him, as it is said: "In everything give thanks" (I Thessalonians 5:18). Closely linked to this phrase is another of St. Paul's injunctions: "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17), that is, be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance. For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things. When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life. In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly. And in this way your soul will always rejoice, as St. Paul commends (I Thessalonians 5:16). For, as St. Dorotheos explains, remembrance of God rejoices the soul; and he adduces David as witness: "I remembered God, and rejoiced" (Psalms 77:3). END

from G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, "The Philokalia: vol. III," (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), pp. 172 - 173.