Love for our neigbour is preceded and accompanied by humility in our
human relationships. Hatred towards our neighbour is preceded by
condemnation and criticism of him, detraction and disparagement,
slander and backbiting, scorn for him, otherwise pride.
Holy monks constantly remembered Christ's words: Truly I tell you, when you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. They did not stop to consider whether their neighbour deserved their respect or not: they paid no attention to his numerous and obvious defects. Their attention was taken up with seeing that they did not somehow fail to realize that our neighbour is the image of God, and that Christ accepts what we do to our neighbour as if it were done to Him.
The proud fallen angel hates this notion and does all in his power to filch it from the Christian. This notion is foreign to the carnal and animal outlook of fallen human nature, and special attention is required to retain it in the memory. It requires considerable spiritual effort and it requires the cooperation of divine grace for the heart damaged by sin to grasp this notion so as to have it constantly in mind, in our relations with our brethren. But when by the mercy of God we grasp this notion, it becomes a source of the purest love for our neighbour, a love for all equally. Such love has a single cause the Christ Who is honoured and loved in every neighbour.
The realization of this truth becomes a source of the sweetest compunction, of the most fervent, undistracted, most concentrated prayer. Holy Abba Dorotheus used to say to his disciple, St. Dositheus, whenever he was overcome by anger: 'Dositheus! You get angry, and are you not ashamed that you get angry and offend your brother? Do you not realize that he is Christ and that you offend Christ?'
The great Saint Apollos often used to tell his disciples regarding the reception of strange brethren who came to him that they must be given honour with a prostration to the earth. In bowing to them we bow not to them but to God. 'Have you seen your brother? You have seen the Lord your God. This,' he said, 'we have received from Abraham. And that we must welcome and show hospitality to the brethren we have learnt from Lot who urged (persuaded) the Angels to spend the night at his housed
This way of thought and behaviour was adopted by all the monks of Egypt, the very first in all the world in monastic proficiency and gifts of the Holy Spirit. These monks were deemed worthy of being foreseen and foretold by the Prophet:
Men of prayer will come from Egypt, predicted Saint David of the Egyptian monks.
St. Cassian the Roman, an ecclesiastical writer of the fourth century, relates the following: 'When we (St. Cassian and his friend in the Lord St. Germanus), wishing to learn the rules of the elders, arrived from the region of Syria in the province of Egypt, we were astonished to find that they received us there with extraordinary kindness. Moreover they never observed the rule for the use of food, for which a fixed hour is appointed, contrary to what we had learnt in the Palestinian monasteries. Wherever we went the regular fast for that day was relaxed, with the exception of the canonical (Church) fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. We asked one of the elders: "Why do you all without distinction disregard the daily fasting?" He replied: "Fasting is always with me. but you I must send away eventually and I cannot always have you with me. Although fasting is beneficial and constantly necessary, yet it is a gift and a voluntary sacrifice, whereas the observance of love in a practical way is an invariable duty required by the commandment I receive Christ in your person, and I must show Him wholehearted hospitality; but when I have seen you off after showing the love of which He is the cause. I can make up for the relaxation by increased fasting in solitude. Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast lawfully".
While living in a monastery with brethren, regard only yourself as a sinner and all the brethren without exception as Angels. Prefer all to yourself. When your neighbour is preferred to you, rejoice at it and approve it as a most just act. You will easily attain to such an attitude of soul if you avoid close acquaintanceship and familiarity. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to be free and easy and familiar with people you will never reach the outlook of the saints and will never be able to say and feel sincerely with the Apostle Paul: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.
Through humility in your dealings with your neighbour, and through love for your neighbour, hardness and callousness is expelled from the heart. It is rolled away like a heavy rock from the entrance to a tomb, and the heart revives for spiritual relations with God for which it has been hitherto dead. A new vista opens to the gaze of the mind: the multitudinous wounds of sin with which the whole of fallen nature is riddled. It begins to confess its wretched state to God and implore Him for mercy. The heart assists the mind with mourning and compunction. This is the beginning of true prayer.
On the other hand, the prayer of a resentful person St. Isaac the Syrian compares with sowing on rock. The same must be said of the prayer of one who condemns and despises his neighbour. God not only does not attend to the prayer of one who is proud and angry, but He even permits a person praying in such a state of soul to undergo various most humiliating temptations so that by being struck and oppressed by them he may resort to humility in his relations with his neighbour and to love for his neighbour.
Prayer is the practical expression of a monk's love for God.
The carnal and human point of view has no authority or power here. PERFECT LOVE casts out fear and restores spiritual vision. We must make our vision of Christ so clear that nothing is left of the self or the 'old man'.
In mind: lit. 'In memory.'
Gen. 18. ' Gen. 19.
Men of prayer. So the Slavonic. The Greek may be rendered Elders' or 'Ambassadors'. Hence: Representatives, Intercessors.
St Cassian, Bk. 5. On Gluttony, Ch. 24. Mark 2:19.
1 Tim. 1:15.
Ch. 89 (Russ.) Actually St. Isaac calls it 'sowing in the sea’.
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