Chapter Ten: ON THE SINS OF OTHERS AND ONE'S OWN
NOW that you have thus become aware of your own wretchedness, your insufficiency, and your wickedness, you call upon the Lord as did the Publican (Luke 18:13): God, be merciful to me a sinner. And you add: Behold, I am far worse than the Publican, for I cannot resist eyeing the Pharisee askance, and my heart is proud and says: I thank Thee that I am not like him!
But, say the saints, now that you recognize the darkness in your own heart and the weakness of your flesh, you lose all desire to pass judgment on your neighbour. Out of your own darkness you see the heavenly light that shines in all created things reflected the clearer: you cannot detect the sins of others while your own are so great. For it is in your eager striving for perfection that you first perceive your own imperfection. And only when you have seen your imperfection, can you be perfected. Thus perfection proceeds out of weakness.
At this point you are granted the result that Isaac the Syrian promises to those who persecute themselves: And your enemy is driven off as fast as you approach.
Of what enemy is the holy Father speaking here? Naturally, of the same one who once took the shape of a serpent and who, ever since, arouses discontent in us, dissatisfaction, impatience and impetuosity and anger, envy, fear, anguish, anxiety, hate, dispiritedness, laziness, dejection, doubt and especially all that embitters our existence and that has its roots in our self-love and self-pity. For who can wish to be obeyed who realizes, with the pangs of love, that he himself never obeys his Master? What reason, then, has he to be disturbed, to become impatient and impassioned, if everything does not go according to his wishes? Through practice he has accustomed himself to wish for nothing, and for a person with no wishes, everything goes just as he wishes, explains the Abbot Dorotheus. His will has coincided with God's will, and whatever he asks, he will receive (Mark 11:24).
Can one very well be envious of a person who does not exalt himself, but who, on the contrary, sees his own condition and finds that everyone else is far more worthy of fame and honour than he? Are fear, anguish and anxiety possible for the person who knows that, come what may, he, like the robber on the cross, is receiving the due reward of his deeds (Luke 23:41)? Laziness leaves him because he is constantly unmasking it within himself. Dejection finds no place, for how can what is already prostrate be cast down? And his hate is directed exclusively towards all the evil in his own life that dims his view of the Lord: he hates his own life (Luke 14:26). But then there is no longer any ground for doubt, for he has tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 34:8): it is the Lord alone who bears him up. His love grows constantly in breadth, and with it his faith.
He has made peace with himself, as Isaac the Syrian says, and heaven and earth have made peace with him. He is gathering the fruit of humility. But this takes place only on the narrow way, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).