Seventh Letter — Elder Joseph the Cave-Dweller and Hesychast
Listen to something that happened to me.
Just this moment I received your letter and saw what you wrote. I am glad that you are healthy but am sorry for your afflictions.
Everything you mentioned, my child, is happening because you lack patience.
You, my child, are seeking Christ. You are seeking to enter the heavenly city. The elder and the fathers are praying for this, and I, too, the poor one, am praying out here on the crags. So the Lord heard all of us, and in order to crush your proud soul, to humble and defeat your anger, wrath, temper, and ego, He sent you a flea—this small temptation—to keep biting you, so that you learn to bear it. He sent it to bother you, so that you learn to be patient. In this way, your anger, wrath, and agitation are gradually soothed. He sent it so that you learn to choke temptations inside you and not let harsh words come out. And then, once that power of Satan has been stifled inside you repetitively, he goes away and leaves the person meek and calm like a little lamb.
Listen to something that happened to me: When I was in the world, I could take on thousands. I had a lion’s heart. And the love of Christ exhausted me. If I wanted to relate everything I went through on a daily basis with this passion of anger, I would have to write a book. Since God wanted to free me from it, He would bring about everything appropriate: people would bother me unjustly, they would insult me, they would annoy me. And they would not just simply tempt me, but they would do things that would make you commit murder. But by enduring and choking Satan within me with extreme patience, I was delivered from the evil.
So the tempter stored up all his best wiles for a severe winter day, as he knows how to tempt and as God allows one to be tested. He made three or four attempts to tempt me, but he saw that his attacks were futile. Then suddenly a gush of wind burst through the door and blew off the roof with all the pilasters, along with thousands of kilos of stones on top of it—it flew through the air like an airplane—and tossed it across the crags into the snow. After that, we were left under the open sky in the snow.
But if you hear also the kinds of temptations I had, you wouldn’t be able to bear it without being harmed, because you would judge the culprits. Anyway, by enduring your trials, you will receive so much grace instead, in proportion to your temptations, that you won’t be able to measure it. So don’t think that if you shy away from this one, no other temptation will come. One will necessarily come. And if you prove to be unmanly with it, that is how you will be with all temptations as well.
For the tempter is within us. Don’t you see him, my child? Take a look! He ascends from the navel of the belly to the heart and heats it up. He bums it. He heats up the blood and ascends to the throat. He strikes the head. He darkens the nous. He stands in the larynx like a knot and obstructs the air and chokes a person.
The one who causes the temptation might well be the worst person, or rather the tempter pushes him, too, to disturb and upset you. However, the Lord allows him so that you become more experienced every day and reach dispassion. For when you prepare yourself and expect temptations, you are not confounded, you are not troubled; you do not lose control of yourself.
You write that if you knew that you would receive grace, you would endure thousands of temptations like that one. But how do you know that if you endured, you wouldn’t receive grace? I am telling you and all the brethren that there is no shorter road than enduring one’s temptations, no matter how they come. One’s spiritual state and the grace he has are testified by his patience. How does the elder endure all of you? He has patience. This bears witness to the fact that he has grace. He is virtuous.
Virtue does not have a bell so that you can recognize it by its ring. The bell of virtue is forbearance, long-suffering, patience. These are the ornaments of a monk and of every Christian.
When a struggler foresees the reward from above and the grace that he is about to receive from the Lord, he endures everything. See how the elder assigned that strong brother to bear and endure that person who is suffering from the devil. To you who are weak he gave this little thorn. So show patience so that you may also become strong enough to put up with that possessed person. You should bear with him, serve him, and be patient with him. What a great virtue! Do you know what it’s like to endure and put up with a lunatic?
Once a lunatic came to us, and I didn’t have the heart to turn him away. Everywhere they had kicked him out. Well, I kept him so he could rest a little, so his heart could be warmed, because he is a human being too. And so what happened next? I made him keep an extremely strict fast, as the Lord said, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”[1Mk. 9:29]
And so one day while we were all outside, he locked all the doors and windows of the cell and left us outside. He wouldn’t open up even with many entreaties. What could we do? Finally, we found a screwdriver and took apart the hinges and opened the door, and then he went outside.
“Hey you!” I said. “Why did you lock the doors and leave us outside?”
“Because,” he said, “there were potatoes and onions inside, and I wanted to be an ascetic by myself and eat onions and potatoes!”
He got well in a little while, but he left and got possessed again. He came three times, and as soon as he got well, he would leave and then go crazy again, and the demons would overcome him. He is hospitalized now.
As for you, be careful not to despise one of the least of these who are scorned and sick in this world. For this contempt and affront of yours doesn’t stop at those unfortunate fellows, but ascends through them to the presence of the Creator and Fashioner, whose image they bear. You will be greatly astonished in that day, if you see the Holy Spirit of God resting in them more than in your heart.
As for me, I am constantly ill. I am like a paralytic. I can’t take ten steps. Because of this and everything else, I am dead tired. Please, I ask that you pray for me, because I have many souls that seek my help. And believe me, my fathers and brethren, for every single soul that is helped, I go through the warfare he has.
This is also why your elder is constantly ill. He is debilitated by the mental strain and the temptations which he suffers because of all of you. Therefore, my child, don’t repeat what the devil is telling you: that the elder is supposedly indifferent to you and overlooks your toil and your needs. How is it possible for him to be indifferent, since he suffers for all of you?
Be careful! Cast away this thought and be patient, so that God sees your intention and lightens your hard work. Accept the temptation and don’t blame the others. For when you don’t endure temptations and blame the others—since the Lord gives them to us—then He Himself will lash us, which is much harsher and exceedingly more severe. For no man can punish as the Almighty can. Therefore, my child, “lay hold of instruction, lest at any time the Lord of all be angry.”[2cf. Ps. 2:12] Love His will, and accept what befalls you as your own due, lest He deliver you over to faintheartedness and blasphemy.
And whenever you err and fall, repent once more. Don’t despair. Give yourself courage and hope. Say, “Forgive me, my Christ, once again I am repenting!” Don’t say, “The wrath of God is upon me. Isn’t it a shame? We’re only human.”
Don’t be indignant with the brethren, but bear their faults, so that they bear yours. Love them so that they will love you, and endure them so that they will endure you. Become good, and all will become good along with you. Subdue your passions, and you will see many respecting not just your words, but even the wink of your eyes.
As for your diakonemas which you mentioned, if there are too many and you don’t have time for them, and it vexes you, I shall also ask the elder to reduce them so that you won’t do them with grumbling.
And as for the other things you wrote, they show that you have a great deal of vainglory. Therefore, become a corpse that everyone walks over. Become like mud. Beat, hit, and hate yourself like a bitter enemy. Hate your evil side with perfect hatred, because if you don’t knock him down, he will knock you down. Be brave, don’t feel sorry for him! By the grace of God, I support you. But I shall also remind you of the saying of the Holy Fathers: “If you do not shed blood, you shall not receive Spirit.”
Don’t consider yourself to be a man, if you haven’t received grace. If we don’t acquire grace, in vain have we been born into the world.
The more purified and illumined our soul becomes here, the closer and clearer we shall enjoy Christ’s fragrance there, and we shall rejoice and leap for joy more than the others.
So don’t consider yourself to be a man, if you haven’t received grace.
Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Seventh Letter