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, June 5, 2013

ABBA SERAPION - Avarice and Anger

In this issue, we will continue our study of St. John Cassian's "Conferences" in which we are looking at the teachings of Abba Serapion on "The Eight Principal Vices." In the original text, these teachings are quite long (and incredibly rich in wisdom!), but we will only look at some excerpts here. Last week we studied gluttony and fornication and the relationship between them. Today, we will look at avarice and anger, and then at vainglory. By the way, today's text in the original has some Greek words spelled out using the Greek alphabet, which we are unable to transliterate. Our apologies.

BEGIN: "There are three kinds of avarice. The first does not permit renunciants to be deprived of their wealth and property. The second persuades us by a still greater covetousness to take back what we have dispersed and distributed to the poor. The third demands that we long for and acquire what in face we did not possess before.

-- "There are three kinds of anger. One blazes up interiorly . . . . Another breaks out in word and deed and effect . . . . About these the Apostle says: 'Now, put all these things away -- anger, indignation' (Colossians 3:8). The third, unlike that which flares up, is not finished in a short space of time but is held over for days and seasons . . . . All of these must be condemned by us with an equal horror.

-- "There are two kinds of sadness. The first is begotten once anger has ceased, or from some hurt that has been suffered or from a desire that has been thwarted and brought to naught. The other comes from unreasonable mental anguish or from despair. There are two kinds of acedia (NOTE: this means "anxiety or weariness of heart"). One makes those who are seething with emotion fall asleep. The other encourages a person to abandon his cell and to flee.

-- "Although vainglory is multiform and multifarious and exists in many subdivisions, nonetheless it is of two kinds. The first is that by which we are uplifted because of carnal and external things. The second is that by which we are inflamed with the desire for empty praise because of spiritual and hidden things.

-- "Yet in one way vainglory is beneficial for beginners, for those who are still stirred up by carnal vices. If, thanks to a word spoken at the time when they happen to be harassed by the spirit of fornication, they should think of the dignity of the priestly office or of the opinion of people who might believe that they are holy and blameless, and if only because of this consideration they should reject the impure urges of desire, judging them as base and unworthy either of their own good name or of that rank, they are restraining the greater evil with a lesser one. For it is better for a person to be troubled by the vice of vainglory than for him to fall into the fire of fornication, from which he could not or could barely be saved once he had been ruined.

-- "One of the prophets expresses this sense very well when he speaks in the person of God: 'On my account I will remove my wrath afar off, and with my praise I will bridle you lest you perish' (Isaiah 48:9). That is to say: As long as you are shackled by the praises of vainglory, you will never rush into the depths of hell and sink irretrievably by the commission of deadly sins.

-- "It is not surprising that this passion is so strong that it can hold back someone who is hastening to the destruction of fornication, since the frequent experience of many people shows that once someone has been poisoned by this disease he becomes so tireless that he does not even feel fasts of two or three days.

-- "Even in this desert we have often seen some people admit that when they were living in the cenobia of Syria they were easily able to go without eating for five days, whereas now they are so hungry at the third that they can hardly keep the daily fast until the ninth hour. When someone asked why, after having lived in a cenobium where he felt no hunger and often disdained to eat for whole weeks, he should now be hungry at the third hour. Macarius replied pointedly: 'Because here there is no one to see you fasting and to support and sustain you with his praises. But there the attention of others and the food of vainglory filled you to repletion." END

from St. John Cassian, "The Conferences," (New York: Newman Press, 1997), pp. 191 - 193