On Cutting Off Passionate Desires

Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Chapter 11 On Cutting Off Passionate Desires Immediately Before They Become Rooted Habits of Mind

Dorotheos begins this chapter with urgency as he give us fatherly direction on not letting sin grow into a habit. “Set your minds, brothers, on looking into your affairs and do not neglect yourselves, since a small neglect may lead us into great danger… let us learn self-control while we have time. Why do we neglect ourselves? Let us be doing something good all the time so that we may find help in the time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? Time once lost cannot be found again by living in idleness and negligence.” (Pages 172-173)

Happy the man who takes your little ones and dashes them against a rock. Psalm 137:9

For we can cut off our unruly desires when they are newly born and we don’t think about it; we allow them to grow up and harden against us so that we make the last evil greater than the first. For, as I often tell you, it is one thing to uproot a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree. (Page 173) Most people I know sin (whether in thought, word or deed) and soon after want to be free of the sin they have committed. Dorotheos is teaching us that we can find freedom by taking action in the beginning that may elude us later on. The time for help is today. Today is the day of salvation.

We are happy when we seize our evil thoughts (as an example) while they are still in their infancy not give them a chance to grow but rather fling them against the rock, which is Christ. In other words he utterly destroy them by taking refuge in Christ. (Page 175)

He encourages a vigilance of paying attention to what we are thinking. “…We ought to scrutinize ourselves and find out how we have passes the day. Similarly we ought to examine how we passes the night.” (Page 176)

For if a man is angry once, he is not straightway called irascible; nor if a man falls once into fornication is he straightway called a fornicator; nor if a man does one act of mercy is he called a merciful man. But virtue and vie are formed in the soul by repeated actions, and ingrained habits bring peace or punishment with them. We speak of virtue bringing rest to the soul and vice bringing punishment. (Pages 179-180)

If an eagle gets out of a snare except for one claw, which remains caught in the net, it has lost all power of escape. So it is with the soul: if it has one passion set into a bad habit, the enemy at any moment he pleases strikes it down, for he has the upper hand over the soul through that passion.  This is why I am always telling you not to allow a passion to harden into a habit. We must go one fighting and praying God night and day lest we fall into temptation. If we get beaten, as being men we shall, and slip into sin, let us quickly get up again and do penance, weeping in the sight of God’s goodness. Let us be on the watch and go on fighting, and God, seeing our good will, our humility and our contrition, will lend us a hand and extend his mercy to us. Amen.


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