August 13, 2013

Abba Dorotheos of Gaza as a Model for our Lives

St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Feast Day - August 13)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Abba (Father) Dorotheos is a great ascetic personality from the sixth century, but to most people he remains unknown. However, for those who love the study of patristic texts he is known from the book of his wonderful discourses which we will mention below.

At a young age he lived in a cenobitic monastery, whose abbot was Abba Seridos. Near the monastery lived two great ascetics, Barsanuphios and John, who are known from The Book of Barsanuphios and John, which contains wise answers to various questions of a spiritual nature. Because they were recluses, they would receive written questions and write back their answers. These holy hesychasts were very much revered by the abbot Seridos, and with his consent he was advised on every serious issue that had to do with the spiritual path, and without their consent he did nothing. In the Synaxarion of the venerable Dorotheos there are references to the questions he asked the two great ascetics, as well as the wise answers he received.

We will refer to one example.

Once the thought roused him to leave the monastery and go into the desert, to live a more quiet and prayerful life, since in the hospital of the monastery which he served, he had many distractions and could not find quiet and enough time for prayer, and because of this he thought he would "lose his soul". He revealed his thought to Abba John, as was his custom, and in turn was obedient. The truly inspired advice of the great ascetic marked the life and great spiritual journey of the then young monk Dorotheos. He told him that quietude was for one to protect the heart from giving and receiving and people-pleasing and other acts. To reap the fruits of quietude the leaves of asceticism and the practical life must emerge. That is, he must do obedience and have patience. And Abba Barsanuphios as well, who also was asked, gave the same response. So Dorotheos remained in obedience, service and patience and made substantial progress in the spiritual life.

But when the "fullness of time" came, he departed for the desert, in a most mature spiritual age. He wanted to live and end his life as a hesychast. But God had other plans for him, since He wanted him to shepherd and guide souls. "As much as he shunned responsibility, distraction and glory, so much did they pursue him." Around him gathered a large number of monks, which caused him to establish a monastery. In the book which we referred to in the beginning, which is titled Abba Dorotheos: Ascetic Works, there are contained his words and teachings to his disciples. "These teachings are probably oral speeches which were preserved in manuscripts by his listeners, who initially wrote down the central points and meanings of each issue and later were developed under supervision." Some of these are: "On Renunciation", "On Humility", "On the Conscience", "On the Building Up and Harmony of the Virtues of the Soul", "That We Must Take Care To Quickly Cut the Passions Before They Are Acquainted With the Soul", "On the Holy Fasts", etc. They are amazing discourses which answer the great existential questions, as well as create inspiration and appeal to experience the Orthodox spiritual life.

Anyone studying the venerable Dorotheos agitates and inflames the desire for prayer. At the same time one feels consolation and sweetness in the soul. One's pain and suffering are forgotten, and we are taught to exceed them. We even feel, I would say, a rebuke of our conscience, but not despair and desperation. It is a grief for the passions and sins, but also a hope that repentance exists. It contains a deep and scrupulous anatomy of the human soul, but it is also full of grace. Besides, this is the case with all the Saints; as strict as they are with themselves, so are they lenient with others.

Below I will very briefly and selectively write some excerpts from the book with his discourses, which I am sure that if we begin to study it, we will love it very much and want to indulge in it.

- "Nothing uncovers a man and leads him to neglect as much as the slander, condemnation and defamation of our neighbor. Slander is to disseminate with words the sins and transgressions of our neighbor, that is, he did this or that. Condemnation is to accuse the man himself, saying that he is a liar, riotess, etc."

- "Believe me, we are relieved from the passions and wars when we serve the sick with awareness."

- "Absolutely nothing quenches the passions as much as compassion."

- "None of those who lie are united with God."

- "You should never believe your suspicions, because they are false and damaging. For there is nothing heavier than suspicions. They are so very harmful, because they live within us for a long time, and begin to persuade us to think we can clearly see things that do not exist and have not occurred."

May you gain inspiration and appeal for the spiritual struggle, with the study of his words and his God-persuading intercessions.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΒΒΑΣ ΔΩΡΟΘΕΟΣ", August 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.