(Lesson 9 – On Lies)
St. Dorotheos of Gaza
96. Brethren, I want to remind you of a few things about falsehood. I see that you are not careful about holding your tongue and through that, we are easily led astray. You see, my brothers, as I always tell you, a habit can tend towards good or towards evil. We therefore need great vigilance so that we are not cheated by lies. No-one who lies becomes united with God. The lie is alien to God. It is written that, “Falsehood is from the evil one.” and also that, “He is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). You see he calls the devil “the father of lies,” while God is the truth. He himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). See what we are separating ourselves from and what we attach ourselves to through lies, clearly the devil. Therefore, if we really want to be saved, we are obliged to love the truth, with all our strength and concern, guarding ourselves from all falsehood, so that we are not separated from truth and from life.
97. There are three different kinds of lies: Lying in thinking, lying verbally, and lying through one’s own way of life. The person who lies in his thinking is open to suspicions. When he sees someone talking with his brother, he is suspicious and says, “They are talking about me!” if they happen to stop talking, he is still suspicious, suspecting that they stopped because of him. If someone says one word to him, he suspects that he said it to bother him. Simply he is suspicious of his neighbour in everything, saying, “He did that because of me. He said that or did that because of me.” This is the person who lies in his understanding. Nothing he says is true, but all is based on suspicion. From this comes curiosity, slander, eavesdropping, quarreling and condemnation.
It sometimes happens that he suspects something and it turns out to be true. On account of this, he maintains that he wants to correct himself, so he is always curious thinking that, “if someone speaks against me, I will see what is the mistake he is accusing me of, and thus I can correct myself’. First of all, this principle is from the devil, since he started with lies. That is to say, he suspected what he did not know. How is it possible for an evil tree to produce good fruits? If this person really wanted to correct himself, when a brother says to him, “Don’t do that!” or “Why did you do that?” he should not be distressed, but make a bow and thank him. Then he will be corrected. If God sees that this is his intention, He will never leave him in error, but will always send him a person who can correct him. However, to say that, “I shall believe my suspicions in order to correct myself“ and so eavesdrops and is curious about everything, this is a justification from the devil to destroy him.
98. When I was present in the coenobium, I was tempted to find out about the inner disposition of someone through his gestures. Just such a thing happened to me. I was once standing still when a woman passed in front of me carrying a pitcher. I do not know how I was carried away and stared into her eyes. Immediately, my thoughts told me that she was a prostitute. As I had told myself that, I was greatly troubled and I referred the whole matter to the elder Abba John in this way, “Master, if without wanting to, I see someone’s gesture and my thoughts tell me his inner disposition, what should I do?” The elder answered me thus, “What! Surely, it happens that a person may have a natural defect and through inner struggle manage to overcome it! It is impossible to learn the state of a person’s soul from that. Therefore never trust your suspicions for even a straight rule can be made crooked by a crooked one. Suspicions are not true and harm us.” From that time on, even if my mind told me that the sun was the sun or that darkness was darkness, I would not believe it. Nothing is graver than suspicions. They are so harmful that if we keep them for a long time, they begin to convince us that we clearly see things that do not exist and have never happened.
99. I will tell you a wonderful thing that I witnessed when I was in the coenobium. There we had a brother much troubled by this passion. He was so easily persuaded by his own suspicions that he was certain that all of his suspicions were just as his thoughts dictated to him, and it could not possibly be otherwise. As time passed the evil progressed and the devil had misled him so much that he once went into the garden to spy. He always eavesdropped and pried. He thought he saw one of the brothers stealing figs and eating them. It was Friday and not yet the second hour. Having persuaded himself that what he saw was a reality, he left in silence and watched again during the Eucharist gathering, to see what the same brother would do about Holy Communion. When he saw the brother washing his hands to enter and take Communion, he ran and said to the Abba, “Look, at that brother who is going to take Communion with the other brothers. Order that it not be given to him. I saw him stealing figs from the garden this morning and eating them.” Meanwhile, this brother entered into the holy offering with great compunction. He was one of the devout. When the Abba saw him, he called him, before he reached the priest who was distributing Holy Communion. He took him aside and said to him, “Tell me my brother what you have done today?” The brother was surprised and said, “Where, master?” The Abba said, “In the garden when you went there this morning, what did you do there?” The surprised brother said again to him, “Father, I was in neither the garden, nor indeed the monastery, this morning, for I have only just come back from the road. Immediately after the dismissal of the vigil the steward sent me on an errand far away”. The errand that he referred to was many miles away and he arrived just in time for the Eucharist. The Abba called the steward and asked him “Where did you send this brother?” He confirmed what the brother had already said, namely that he sent him to that particular town. He made a bow to the Abba saying, “Forgive me, father for not sending him to you to get your blessing. It was after the vigil and you were resting.” When the Abba heard all this he gave them both his blessing and allowed them to take Communion. Then he called the other brother who had the suspicions and reprimanded him, banning him from Holy Communion. Not only that but he gathered together all the brothers after the service and told them what happened, in tears. He marked out that brother, in front of everyone. He had three reasons for doing so: Firstly, to shame the devil and make an example of the sower of suspicion. Secondly, to allow the brother’s sin to be forgiven through this dishonour and to obtain God’s help for his advancement. Thirdly, to ensure that the brothers never trusted their own suspicions. He gave much advice about this to us and to the brother concerned saying that, “There is nothing more harmful than suspicion,” and he proved that by this incident.
100. The fathers said many similar things to protect us from the harm that suspicion does to us. Therefore, brethren, let us try not to trust our suspicions, with all our strength. For there is nothing that distances a person from taking care of his own sins, or from always being curious about what does not concern him, more than this. No good comes of it; rather manifold troubles and affliction come of it. They leave a person no time to acquire fear of God. Therefore, if suspicions are sown in us through our own evil, let us immediately transform them into good thoughts. Thus, we will not harm ourselves. Suspicions are evil and they never allow the soul to find peace. This is falsehood of the understanding.
101. As for the liar in words, this is the person who, let us say, is too lazy to get up for the vigil, yet does not say, “Forgive me because I was too lazy to get up.” Instead, he says, “I had a fever. I was faint and I couldn’t get up. I didn’t have the strength.” He says ten lying words to avoid making a bow and humbling himself. If someone someone blames him for something. he sighs and tries to change his words in such a way, so as to refute the person who blames. Likewise, if he happens to quarrel with his brother, he does not stop justifying himself and saying, “But you have,” or “But you did that.” “I didn’t say that, he did.” He says all that, so that the he should not have to humble himself. Also, if he happens to want something, he does not come to the point and say, “I like this, I want it,” but he persists and says in a round-about way, “I suffer this and I need this” or “they told me to do that” and many other lies so as to fulfill his will.
Every sin arises from the desire for pleasure, avarice or ambition. Lying has its roots in three vices. Either from not blaming and humiliating oneself, or for some pleasure or for gain. He does not cease from turning this way and says anything to achieve his purpose. This person is never trusted, for even if he says a true word no one believes him. Even when speaks the truth, the others are in doubt.
102. Sometimes there is a great need. In that case, if one does not hide this, it causes great trouble and sorrow. When a person finds himself in such circumstances and there is no alternative, he can, as I said, alter his words so as to not to become more sorrowful, troubled and endangered. As Abba Alonios (Sayings of the Desert Fathers) said to Abba Agathon, “Suppose two men killed someone in front of you and one of them escapes to your cell. The magistrate is looking for him and asks you saying, “Did a murder take place in front of you?” If you do not accommodate things you will deliver that man to death.”
Even in this case where there is great necessity a person must not be without care but he must repent and in tears before God, he must consider this as a time of temptation. He must not use this very often but as one possibility amongst many others. It is like an antidote for poison or like the purgative, which if taken continuously is harmful, but if taken once a year, when it is necessary, is beneficial. One must face the peculiar situation in a similar way so that if it is necessary, as I said, to adapt the truth, to make that one occasion amongst a great many and only when it is necessary. He must do this rarely and with the fear of God, showing to them his intention and the need, and then God will protect him because even this harms his soul.
103. Thus, we have discussed the liar in thought and the liar in word but we should also talk about the person that lies in his whole life.
The person that lies in his whole life is the one who, while in reality is dissolute, feigns temperance, and being greedy, he speaks about charity and praises sympathy. He is proud but admires humility. Even then, he admires it, without wanting to praise it. If that was the reason, he should with humility firstly confess his own weakness saying, “Woe is me, wretched one, for I have done nothing good in my life.” After confessing his own weakness, he should then have admired and praised the virtue. He praises it without having the intention of avoiding scandalising others because in that case he would have thought as follows: “Indeed I am wretched and subject to passions. Why should I scandalise someone else?” With that thought, even if he had sinned, he would have touched upon good. It is characteristic of humility to accuse yourself and a characteristic of sympathy to take care of your neighbour. However, this person does not admire virtue for the reasons I have mentioned, but rather, either to cover his own shame by giving the impression that he himself has this virtue or often to harm and mislead someone. No evil, no heresy, not even the devil hi,self can lead someone unless it is transformed into virtue. The Apostle says, “Satan himself transforms into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). It is not strange then if his servants are transformed into the servants of righteousness. In like manner, the liar, either through fear of shame and humiliation or, as I said, because he wants to mislead and cheat someone talks about the virtues, praising and admiring them as if they were his own and he had experience of them. This is the whose very life is a lie. This is not a simple person but a two-faced one. He has an internal and external face. His own life is two-faced and worthy of scorn.
Thus, we have said that lies come from the devil. We have also discussed truth and said that God is (the) Truth. Let us avoid falsehood, brethren, so as to be delivered from the evil one and let us struggle to obtain the truth so that we may be united to Him, Who said, “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). Let God make us worthy of His own Truth.
Unto Him be glory and dominion, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.