Do not think, O man, that among all the works of ascetics there is any one greater and more profitable than that of vigils. In truth , my brethren, if during the day the ascetic is not distracted by corporeal things and temporal care, but cuts himself off somewhat from the world, and is watchful to even a low degree during vigils, then I do not object to declare unto you in truth, that soon his spirit will fly as with wings and ascend unto God to be in delight. And he will easily look at that glory, and in that knowledge which is higher than human spirit he will quickly swim. The solitary who during his vigils abides by the discernment of the mind, will no longer seem to be clad with flesh . Verily, this work belongs to the class of the angels. And it is impossible that those who applicate themselves to this behaviour, should be left without great divine gifts, on account of the vigilance and serenity of their heart, and because their deliberations tend to Him only.
The soul , therefore, which applies itself in its labours to the duty of vigils, becomes trained, and acquires Cherubs’ eyes in the swiftness and acuteness of their gaze, so that at all times it gazes on heavenly contemplations.
I am of the opinion that he who on account of vaste knowledge and with discernment has chosen for himself this great and divine work, and is wholly devoted to bear the load of the glorious part he has chosen, will necessarily be zealous to guard himself also during the day against the trouble of occupations and of care for (worldly) things, and that he consequently will not be devoid of wonderful fruits and the great delight he will gather from them. And I may say deliberately, without lying, that he who despises this, does not even know for what purpose he performs all this toil: the loss of sleep, the many repetitions, the fatigue of the tongue, the standing on his feet during the whole night, while his mind is not there where he recites his Psalms and prayers; but he performs these works as a matter of custom, as something which is devoid of discernment. And if this were not as I say, how could he suffer to be bereft of and to remain without reaping profitable fruits from the constant occupation with his work? But he strives towards these (results) through the holy occupation of the recitation of the scriptures, which is a fortification of the mind and, principally, a cause of prayer, a helper and a companion of vigils, a light of the mind, a guide on the way and the seed (NT: literally: the sower) of manifold contemplation during prayer. It is a check against the distraction of the spirit and against its occupying itself with idle things. It sows in the soul constant recollection of God and (of) the ways of the saints who have pleased Him. And it causes the mind to acquire wisdom and subtlety.
Wherefore then, O zealous man, doest thou order thy occupations in this way, without discernment? For thou snowest care for thyself in that thou standest upon thy feet during- the whole night, fatiguing thyself with glorifications and Psalms and prayers. It would be easy for thee, by little watchfulness during the day, to be made worthy of the divine grace for thy strenuous efforts in other duties. Wherefore doest thou fatigue thyself and sow in the night, whereas during the day thou renderest useless thy works so as to lose the fruits, dissipating this vigilance and fervour which thou wouldst acquire by vigils, through the distraction of intercourse with men and through different occupations, and destroying thy profit by wandering idleness?
If thou wouldst associate to thy nightly meditation, o man, service during the day without breaking in twain the fervour of the occupations of the heart, thou wouldst quickly embrace Jesus ’ bosom.
And from this thou seest that thou sufferest for lack of discernment. For thou doest not perceive why vigils are necessary for the ascetic. Thou thinkest it is for the sake of toiling only, and not in respect of another thing which is expected to be born from it.
But he that by grace has almost been made worthy of understanding that for which the sages hope in combating sleep and compelling nature to such a degree that during the whole night, awake bodily and mentally, they offer prayers - also knows the strength given by watchfulness during the clay and the profit it grants the spirit in its nightly solitude while at its vigils with discernment, and the power it supplies over the deliberations and the purity and concentration with which it endows the mind, so that without compulsion and strife the spirit gazes at the greatness of the words (recited).
I say this also, that though the body may fall short in the work of fasting on account of its great weakness, yet vigils, by their lonely character, afford the mind steadfastness in prayer, and enable the heart to recognize spiritual powers by means of insight . This can only take place if it is not assailed by any disturbance through relaxation caused by things met during the day.
Therefore I admonish thee, o man of insight who wishest to acquire vigilance of mind in God and knowledge of the new life, that during thy lifetime thou mayest not despise this duty of vigils, by which thy eyes will be opened so as to see the whole glory of ascetic work and the power of the way of righteousness.
And if it should happen - unfortunately - that a thought of relaxation should make its nest in thee, and thou shouldst think, on account of (previous) experience, that thy usual helper is training thee and making thee prudent by means of varying states, such as coldness and heat, or by variety of chance and occasion, or on account of thy body being ill or weak; and f this should induce thee to forego sleep in the evening, though thou shouldst not be willing to fatigue thy body - then I beseech thee with love to desist from all this zealous labour, the reciting of Psalms, the performing of the service, the frequent kneelings during regular praying. I advice thee to sit in solitude, awake, if thou art able to do this, without recitation of Psalms and without prostrations. And if thou art able to do so, pray with thy heart only. But do not sleep. And by all means pass thy night, sitting, in the usual beautiful meditation. Only - do not make thy heart heavy (NT: literally thick) and dark by sleep. Then the old swiftness and force and fervour will be given thee by grace and thou wilt rejoice and exult and thank God. For such heaviness and coldness are admitted unto man in order to test him.
If a man rouse himself fervently and shake off and cast away (despondency), compelling himself somewhat, suddenly grace will approach as before. And another force will impart itself to him, in which ten thousand (gifts of) grace and profitable states are hidden. And man will be astonished while thinking of the former heaviness and the swiftness and strength following it, and of how such a state of a sudden has overcome him.
Therefore he will be prudent henceforth, so that, when this heaviness comes again at other times, he will recognize it. But if he had not been daring on former occasions, he would not have acquired this knowledge.
Thou seest how prudent a man becomes if he rouse himself a little and if he be valiant at the time of struggle. But when his nature really subsists only and no longer struggle, but sickness or natural weakness, it is useless to resist. If a man compel himself in other points, strength in all things will be given him.
Constant solitude, with recitation and moderate food, easily arouse in the spirit a state of ecstasy (NT: amazing attitude regarding things), if perpetual solitude be not broken for any cause. Insight brought about by works performed in solitude, will of itself, automatically and suddenly, impart to these two eyes a kind of baptism, by tears which burst forth and moisten the cheeks by their profuseness.
If thou perceivest in thy body, humbled by the asceticism of watchful solitude, the vehement passion of fornication, - not the usual dark impulse of nature, - know then that thou art tempted in thy spirit by haughtiness. Mix thy food with ashes, press thy belly against the dust and scrutinize what thou hast thought. And recognize the varying states of thy nature and thy service which is above thy nature. Perhaps God will have mercy upon thee and send thee light so that thou wilt know how to be humble, lest thy evil become greater.
So we will not desist from carefulness, till repentance dawns in our heart and we find humility and our heart finds rest in God.