Friday, November 30, 2012


Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes,

People usually get annoyed either because they are in a bad mood, or they are nurturing unpleasant thoughts about another. However, the main reason for our annoyance is that we don’t reproach ourselves: this incurs spiritual disturbance and loss of inner peace. The true and genuine path toward a calm disposition is continual self-reproach. Even if a person had accomplished many good deeds yet doesn’t hold fast to the path of self-reproach, he will never cease being annoyed and insulting others, thereby losing the fruits of his good labor. In contrast, what joy and tranquility that person acquires who reproaches himself! Wherever he goes and whatever unpleasantness happens, or whatever insults he hears; he has convinced himself beforehand that he deserves all types of sorrows. That’s why when something unpleasant does happen, he doesn’t get annoyed. What more sorrowless condition can there be?

This kind of saying, ‘we should always reproach ourselves,’ always seemed nonsensical to me, somehow masochistic, and I didn't understand it or want to believe it was true, but I kept running across it, not so much in the scriptures, but in the Church fathers. I just figured it must be some kind of personal excess of theirs, and it just wasn't a word meant for me. It sounded to me like an instruction to always be putting oneself down, always blaming yourself for everything. That just didn't seem right.

But I was stupid and shallow in my understanding. Still, I have much compassion for people who thought like I did, because they really do misunderstand what is meant by self-reproach, and no one can naturally be ready to receive this word with understanding and reap the sorrowless condition that results from it, no one can be glad as long as they think of it as sorrow.

Self-reproach is the constant remembrance that all is lost, that all we hoped and worked for is vain and lost, that nothing we wanted to accomplish saw success, that everything we sought and slaved for came to nothing. Self-reproach is the willing acceptance and realization that of ourselves we are total failures, that we have missed the mark, that we gambled and lost, that we deserve nothing good, that our lives were empty and joyless, and that, like Job, we inwardly ‘shout for joy to see the tomb.’

“How is this possible? This is sheer madness!
It's much worse than I thought!”

Such is the response of the natural man,
who trusts in his own strength, his wisdom,
his virtue or his valor.

He forgets that his birth was nothing that he wrought,
that his health and life were nothing that he earned,
that the excellence of which he is so proud is nothing that he bought,
that the grave awaits him, as it awaits all,
and from it no one has returned.

Yes, it is much worse than almost anyone has thought. I know that now, and I know that only when you know for sure that nothing you can do, could do, or ever could have done would have achieved what only the Son of God has achieved for you, then you are able to truly reproach yourself, only then know for sure how to reproach yourself, only then finally know why to reproach yourself, and only then arrive where you can say for certain, as did Abba Dorotheos,

“What more sorrowless condition can there be?”

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