By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
A young and inexperienced man in spiritual combat underlines his every good work by self-praise. But the experienced soldier in the midst of struggles with passions and demons minimizes his every deed and intensifies his prayer for God's help. Abba Matoes used to say: "The closer a man is to God, the more sinful he sees himself to be." He also was known to say: "When I was young, I thought perhaps that I was doing some good; and now when I am old, I see that I do not have any good deed." Did not our Lord say: "No one is good but One, that is God" (Matthew 19:17). Therefore, if only the one God is good and the source of all good, how can a good deed be done that is not from God? And, how can someone who does a good deed ascribe it to himself and not to God? If this is so, with what then can mortal man be praised? By nothing, except with God and the goodness of God!
Two Sayings of Abba Agathon Relating To This Issue
1. It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him:
'Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?'
'Yes, it is very true,' he answered.
They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?'
Again they said 'Aren't you Agathon the heretic?'
But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.'
So they asked him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast at you, but repudiated this last insult.'
He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.'
At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.
2. The old men said of Abba Agathon to Abba Elias in Egypt: 'He is a good Abba.'
The old man answered them, 'In comparison with his own generation, he is good.'
They said to him, 'And what is he in comparison with the ancients?'
He gave them this answer, 'I have said to you that in comparison with his generation he is good but as to that of the ancients, in Scetis I have seen a man who, like Joshua the son of Nun could make the sun stand still in the heavens.'
At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God.