Traveling the Way of God is Just Like Learning to Read

Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Chapter 10 On Traveling the Way of God with Vigilance and Sobriety

Let us look at ourselves and be sober, brothers. Dorotheos (Page 163)

We are in such a negligent and ruinous condition that we don’t know why we have come; we don’t know even what we want and, therefore, we make no progress, but we are always distressed. This comes about because we have no set purpose in our hearts and actually if we were to resolve to fight a little, in a short time we should not find life distressing or laborious. For if in the beginning a man does violence to himself and struggles with himself a little, in a short time he makes progress and afterwards he goes on peacefully… (Page 163)

Give blood and receive the spirit. Abba Longinus

We need to fight and generate a state of virtue. Dorotheos says that the effort towards virtue is like the effort it takes to learn to read. When Dorotheos was a child he said that he approached reading a book like someone going up to pet a wild animal. But he persevered in forcing himself to keep trying and, with God’s help, became so enthusiastic about reading that he would miss meals and meetings. He makes the point, “If for the sake of public speaking so much endurance and fervor is needed to fully acquire the art of reading, how much more is needed for the acquisition of virtue.” (Page 164)

The single-mindedness that is necessary to master something (he uses the example of becoming a master carpenter) needs to be our approach to our spiritual craft.

Dorotheos, in the second part of the chapter, directs us to find out about our spiritual condition, the state of our soul. He says, “a man is in one of three conditions:”

1. Giving free rein to the passions: This condition we indulging our passions and give into vice.  The example Dorotheos uses to describe this first condition is something most are familiar with. “When they heard a word against themselves, are put out, snap back five or even ten words… and get excited. They are sorry they did not say more. And they think up speeches… and always say, “Why didn’t I say this?”

2. Checking the passions: This condition we neither indulge our passions nor totally cut them off. We dispute with them and turn them back but allow them to remain with us. “A man hears one word and is troubled, but inwardly; he is sad not because he was abused but because he did not endure it with equanimity… Another may desire not to answer bad, but is betrayed through habit…” This condition even if the person falls they stand back up against the passion.

3. Uprooting the passions: This condition we struggle against them and work to root them out and act contrary to them. “If a man rejoices when he is upbraided because it will bring a reward…

“Let each one find what condition he is in… May God, who is so good, shelter us from these enemies, and give us self-control, and lead us forward on his road.” (Pages 170-171)

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