ADMONITION OF ONE OF THE FATHERS CONCERNING THE RIGHT SOLITUDE
I wonder at those who trouble themselves in their course of solitude because they desire to comfort others by bodily things.
He also said: It is not becoming to mingle with the service of solitude the thought of any thing in the world, safe only those which it is possible to perform in solitude. And we have to honor every solitary performance in its place, lest we become confuse in our solitary course. For he who cares about many things, is a slave of many persons. He who lets go all and cares for the steadfastness of his soul, is a friend of God. Behold, those who practise alms and completely show their love of neighbours by bodily things, are many in the world. But those who beautifully serve in solitude and have intercourse with God are scarcely to be found. Or who are, among those who practise righteousness and gain it by earthly things, those from whom we may receive one of the gifts which those who work in solitude receive from God?
The same has further said: If thou art a lay man, practise the behaviour which suits lay people. But if thou art a solitary, gain profit by the labours by which the solitaries gain profit. If, however, thou wilt practise both, thou wilt fall short in both. The work of solitaries is this: to become liberated from sensible things and to be constantly with God in the thoughts of the heart and through fatiguing the body by prayer. Judge thou thyself whether it be possible to despise these things and to fill their place with worldly excellence. Or should a solitary be able to practise in solitude two kinds of behaviour, the outward and the inward one viz. meditation on God and burdening his heart with the care of others? I say even this that he who has honestly willed to lead a life with God, and leaves all, fixing his attention solely upon matters of behaviour - that even he will not be able to accomplish without shortcomings all the duties of the practice of solitude. He is found wanting in the bearing of his load, though he desists absolutely from the use and the care of the world - not to mention the case of his being occupied by many other thoughts.
To our Lord are given those who administer and visit His servants and His sons. He has also chosen those who minister before Himself.
We do not only see, in the affairs of earthly kings, that those who are constantly with the king and participate of his secrets are more glorious and elevated in their ranks than those who accomplish their outward affairs with love, but, also in divine affairs, it is easy to see what a freedom of speech those possess who, in intercourse with Him possess the mysteries of prayer at all times, and over what riches of heaven and earth they reign, and how apparent is their mastership over all created natures, which, without dispute, obey their words as those of God. They are stamped with the manifest sign of His image, with a glory greater than that of all rational and irrational (NT: literally: speaking and mute) beings, greater than that of those who serve God with possessions and earthly things and seek to content Him in (the company of) their companions. This may be very beautiful, but as to us, we have not to take as examples those who stand at a low degree in the service of God, but those who are athletes in our path (NT: in the case of: mystic course) and the saints who go our course, and those who once for all have given up and turned their back on the earth and have taken hold of the vault of heaven.
Whereby have the ancient saints pleased God, those who have trodden the way of our behaviour and have excelled: the holy John of Thebaïs, that treasury of excellence and fountain of prophecy? Did he comfort his companions with bodily things, in his reclusion, or did he please God by prayer? I confess that there have been (solitaries) who also in these things pleased (God) and gained profit. But they are less in number than those who pleased God by prayer and by renouncing all things. What their help to their follow brethren who live in solitude is well known. It consists in helping them as often as they are in want of a profitable word or (in helping them) by offering prayer in behalf of them. Apart from these things, it is not wise for him who dwells in solitude to give place in his heart to recollections or thoughts concerning any one as far as bodily things are concerned. ’Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s: and unto God the things that are God’s and what belongs to a neighbour is his, and what belongs to God is His’ does not apply to those who dwell in solitude, but to those who walk without. It is not the duty of him who performs the service of the angels with the thoughts of the soul , to please in earthly things; namely to have thought for manual work or to taking from others and giving to others. His service is in heaven.
It is not becoming for the solitary to allow the thought of anything to move and drive away his spirit from before God. If, however, anyone dare to adduce the example of Paul, who also performed (manual) work and also gave alms, we reply to him: Paul was unique and a master in all things. We know not that another Paul has ever existed who was a master in all things like him. Show it me, if thou art found to be another Paul, and I will believe thee. Do not, therefore, compare the matters of government with the inner practice. For the work of the heralds is different from that of solitude.
But if thou wilt master solitude, be like a Cherub who has no care for earthly things. And think that there is no other man in the created world, excepted thee alone, and God about whom thou thinkest, as thy Fathers who have gone the way before thee, have taught thee. Unless a man harden his heart and restrain his compassion forcibly so as to be far from the thought of any man, should it be for the sake of God or of any bodily being - but he shall only be in prayer, at the times appointed to him, lest love or care of anyone enter his heart - it is not possible for him to be freed from the trouble of thought or to be in solitude. So much is certain. But when a deliberation is awake in thee, urging thee to the thought of anyone under the pretext of excellence, the purpose of which is to drive away from thee the peace that was becoming customary to thy heart through the recollection of God, then say to it: it is beautiful to lead a life of love and compassion for the sake of God, but I do not seek it, even for the sake of God, so it only remains to me to drive thee away for the sake of God. Thus the solitary will speak. Then the deliberation will say to him: And I flee from thee for the sake of God.
Aba Arsenius, for the sake of God, did not open his mouth to speak, neither profitable nor gratuitous words. Another, however, for the sake of God, spoke the whole day and received all the strangers that visited that place. The former, in stead of this, chose silence and solitude.
Thus he voyaged with the spirit of God on the ocean of this world in the ship of solitude, in exalted peace, as is shown in revelation to the athletes who investigate this thing.
This is another denomination of solitude: rest from all things. If thou art full of trouble even in solitude, because thy body is troubled by manual service and various affairs, and because thy soul is troubled by the thought of others, what peace doest thou possess then to care for many things and to please God? Judge thyself. It appears to me ridiculous to talk about mastering the course of solitude without abandoning all things and the care of all things.