The Desert Fathers on Judging and How to Treat Others

1024px-Righteous_Syncletica_of_Alexandria_(Menologion_of_Basil_II)If you have decided to embark on the journey of deepening your faith and your connection with God, you will probably meet resistance on the path of peace very soon.

Amma Theodora, one of the Desert Mothers taught the following:

You should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie*, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away.

I share that quote to encourage you to stay strong in this fight against evil. As soon as you decide you are going to attempt to live a life free of judging others, somebody will do something to annoy you, hurt you, or test you in some way. It is not that person’s fault, but rather it is God allowing your resolve to be tested.

For the remainder of this post, I will be following up on my last post on judging others and self-justification. Most of those teachings were from Elder Paisios. Today, I will mostly quote the Desert Fathers on this topic:

THE DESERT FATHERS

ISAAC THE THEBAN

One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, ‘I will not let you enter.’ But he persisted saying, ‘What is the matter?’ and the angel replied, ‘God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned.’ Immediately he repented and said, ‘I have sinned, forgive me.’ Then the angel said, ‘Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so.’

ABBA MACARIUS THE GREAT

*st macariusIf you reprove someone, you yourself get carried away by anger and you are satisfying your own passion; do not lose yourself, therefore, in order to save another.

*Do no evil to anyone, and do not judge anyone. Observe this and you will be saved.**

*If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God. But if we remind ourselves of the evil deeds of the demons, we shall be invulnerable.

ABBA ISAAC, PRIEST OF THE CELLS

‘I have never allowed a thought against my brother who has grieved me to enter my cell; I have seen to it that no brother should return to his cell with a thought against me.’

ABBA JOSEPH OF PANEPHYSIS

If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say ‘Who am I?’ and do not judge anyone.

THEOPHILUS THE ARCHBISHOP

[Someone asked Theophilis,] ‘Father, in this way of life which you follow, what do you find to be best?’ The old man said to him, ‘The act of accusing myself, and of constantly reproaching myself to myself…There is no other way but this.’

abba MOSES THE BLACK

st_moses_3_trim_1200*A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

*The monk [or Christian] must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all, in any way whatever.

*If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbor…To die to one’s neighbor is this: To bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil…Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, ‘God knows each one.’ Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander, and do not hate him who slanders his neighbor.

*This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbor.

*If the monk does not think in his heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear him. A brother asked, ‘What does that mean, to think in his heart that he is a sinner?’ Then Abba Moses said, When someone is occupied with his own faults, he does not see those of his neighbor.

ABBA MATOES

The nearer one draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner.

abba MACARIUS OF ALEXANDRIA

Abba Macarius went one day to Abba Pachomius of Tabennisi. Pachomius asked him, ‘When brothers do not submit to the rule, is it right to correct them?’ Abba Macarius said to him, ‘Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no one else.

ABBA NILUS

If you want to pray properly, do not let yourself be upset or you will run in vain.

ABBA XANTHIAS

A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.

ABBA POEMEN

*A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.

*A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, “If I see my brother committing a sin, is it right to conceal it?” The old man said to him, “At the very moment when we hide our brother’s fault, God hides our own and at the moment when we reveal our brother’s fault, God reveals ours too.”

*Poemen 15-sleepSome old men came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, “When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis, shall we rouse them so that they will be watchful?” He said to them, “For my part, when I see a brother who is dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.”

*If a man has attained to that which the Apostle speaks of “to the pure, everything is pure,” (Titus 1.15) he sees himself less than all creatures. A brother asked him, ‘How can I deem myself less then a murderer?’ The old man said, When a man has really comprehend this saying, if he sees a man committing a murder he says, “He has only committed this one sin but I commit sins every day.”

*“What is integrity?” The old man replied, “To always accuse oneself.”


A FEW OF MY OWN THOUGHTS

This lesson of not ever judging anyone is a difficult one to learn.  Most of us struggle with being critical toward others or looking down on people we deem to be spiritually inferior.  But it is quite impossible to fully love God and experience spiritual freedom if we do not love our brothers and sisters without any kind of judgment.

Of course, a lack of judgment is not the same as disregarding discernment, the latter of which is a spiritual gift of great value.  For example, discernment may lead me to stop associating with a brother who causes me to fall into some type of sin, perhaps due to his sinful habits or my own sinful inclinations.  In doing so, I do not condemn my brother, but know it is not beneficial for me be with him.

Jesus commands us to be wise as serpents (use discernment), but be innocent as doves (don’t judge or condemn people when we happen to notice their faults).  A good start toward that type of lifestyle is to prioritize not judging others.  Discernment will help us to realize our own sinfulness, and deepen purity of heart, which will flow from an awareness of our own sinfulness and genuine repentance.


*Accidie, mentioned above, is “despondency, depression, listlessness, a distaste for life without any specific reason.” It is something that I have seen in my own life and the lives of many others. It is a demonic attack upon ourselves that stems from several things, including an attempt to forestall progress toward Christ, or from hidden vanity and pride. It can also come from judging others since doing so leaves us in a place of spiritual darkness.

** A quick note: there are hundreds of saying in which the Desert Fathers and Mothers tell someone “Do so-and-so, and you will be saved.” We must remember that they were addressing specific people with particular needs for spiritual direction. We cannot simply select one of these sayings, apply it to our lives, and feel we have nothing else to worry about (i.e. not going to church, not receiving the mysteries, not reading the scriptures, not having right beliefs, etc).

***All quotes taken from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection by Benedicta Ward and Metropolitan Anthony (1984)

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.