Advice to Monastics

Advices to Monastics #

Translated from the Armenian by Beyon Miloyan

Men who are dedicated to the worship of God in body and in will begin contemplation from youth, and are inclined to long-suffering: They depart from their native habitation and retreat to hermitages in deserted lands; not out of resentment do they escape from the poor masses, but seeing the world to be full of all manner of evils, they escape unto their cells in the foothills of desolate places.
As indeed we see frequently in the south, multitudes of men, of one azg and one tongue, dwell in brotherhood without women. Gathered in one place, as though in their native district, they dwell in twos, threes, or in larger companies in separate habitations, with meager walls for protection from the cold, similar ceilings for protection from the sun, and simple floors enhanced with beds of grass. And as it is in our nature to cover ourselves, they like to cover their nudity, so they take with them simple habits of the basest quality with tunics for the summer and cloaks for the winter. They also wear hoods.
Above all, it is their duty to constantly go about in worship, and with joyous spirit they all devote spiritual songs to God. On facing one another, they lower their eyes and gaze at the ends of their toes, as though they were all fixed upon the same point. They put their right hand on their chin and their left upon their breast, as I think they have learned from their natural fathers. The two most precious things in the body are the vital and the thoughtful, which are in service to one another: the vital stands contrary to the irascible, and the thoughtful, to the expression of words. So in the left hand is the bridle, with the chin on the right hand serving the thoughtful, bearing the burden of the door of the mouth, so that it does not dilute [words of] glorification. Before these two parts all sentiments retreat, with the eyes in true vision, the ears in vigilant audition, the mind in holy wisdom, and so on, each in its part.
And with everything thus ordered and disposed, and everyone surrounded as though by the six-winged seraphim, with their voices resounding upwards in unceasing prayer, they complete their blessings to their Creator thrice in a spirit of brotherhood. Thus they pass the whole day in sweet song, sated and enchanted with the heavenly food, until the vespers service. And as their bodies are of the same nature as ours, they eat that they be not famished, and they drink that they be not parched.
Now when you hear what they eat, do not come running after ours, for their bread is simple, their vegetables are wild, and they season them with savory salt; and pure is their water, which they collect in cisterns from the rain. Yet they never tend to their physical needs by day; rather, remaining in brotherhood for the length of the day, they bide their time until sunset, until each of the stars goes to its station and shines brightly. Then with one accord they praise the Lord, saying: “at this dark hour we shall give dark food to our dark bodies.”
Saying this, they raise their voices in company, each in his place, and praise the Holy Trinity with great joy. And as we said they eat bread and hyssop, and drink cold water. Since there are among them delicate older people, they also prepare warm water, which they call temperate, but wine and similar things are not to be found in their monasteries.
Then, rising from their simple supper, they say together, “Glory to you, Lord, glory to you, king, for you gave us food with joy. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we be found pleasing before you and not be ashamed. For you recompense each according to his works.” And thus, crossing themselves, they give themselves over to a light sleep, lest their fine bodies be disturbed by indigestion. Moreover, when they extend their sleep they see dreams and interpret these visions as words from the holy prophets.
When they awake, they all gather in a circle to dance—not in competition, but meekly and calmly, in sweet consent. The leaders [among them] sound their voices, alternating between melodious spiritual songs, while the juniors attend to their voices, each adapting his own voice to the ensemble. Thus they form a choir such that the sound of the multitude echoes as though from one mouth, and prolong their musical service until everyone takes a knee and prays in silence. Then, under the authority of a leader they all stand in prayer and finish by giving praise [to the Lord].
Completing the daytime service, and having risen at night and prayed until dawn, they elect to read Holy Scripture. As for those with the grace of teaching, they interpret these readings for the consolation of the listeners. They recount the creation of the world from nothing, and one by one they give beneficent advice to the crowd of listeners with testimonies from Holy Scripture, and thus instruct all the listeners until they forget about worldly things and so much as their need of food and drink.
And thus rejoicing in the love of God, to the point that they no longer consider themselves as in the flesh but in heaven, they easily pass the long night until morning, for they shudder from the earth and are clothed with heaven. Death is abashed at their doors and hell was embittered [by the thought of] their descent. Their lives are doors for the prayers of the world and their bones are treasures for all who trust in them. Their word is encouragement to all idlers and their works are educational to those who will [to learn]. They are among the ranks of angels and their bodies are lodgings for the Holy Spirit.
Now knowing all this, brothers, we ought to bring ourselves to strive for the same zealous holiness and become like the armies of monastics [who have retreated] from the world and turned toward the heavenly capital, which is free from the diseases of this world: for they are our companions who share of our nature and strengthen our weaknesses. Only will it, take hold of faith, have hope and love, and you shall be able to witness such nahatakutyun, for these temporary torments are nothing next to the lives that have been prepared for such devout ascetics.
For I am greatly terrified at our slothfulness when I see the better part of men wallowing in their earthly possessions. Now does my nature not rebuke me for this, seeing that I was created naked, and placed in paradise naked, and left there naked, and was born naked, and went into the world naked? If we cannot bear it here, why then do we go on idling in this world? Become naked and take fright, O anchorite, lest you grow receptive to the deceitful enemy, for if you fall into his snare, he shall trap you and despoil you of your heavenly treasures. Consider as sufficient the Lord’s canon, that no man can serve two masters, expressed more clearly [as follows] without need for commentary: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Now I see in our land none rescued from such misfortunes. Rather, we read the beautiful Scriptures backwards: under the pretext of our pilgrimage, we departed from our holy fathers and took on other fathers instead; those whom it was worthy to honor, we dishonored; and those upon whom we had no power to place honors, from the agonies of our misfortunes we betrayed. We were rescued from paying taxes to the king, which could have been exacted without fault, and instead became beholden to our possessions, full of covetousness. We did not ascend the holy marriage-bed but gave ourselves precedence over the earth, yet while we sleep in our soft beds every night our minds are struck with impure thoughts.
The shoes on our feet scold us if our ways not be holy. Our clothes bewail our deeds if we are denuded of heavenly garb; our horses show us if we are not carried away to meet the Lord in the air; our lofty mansions indicate to us if we do not have churches in heaven that are not the work of hands in which all the ranks of those who are terrified of earthly diseases shall enter; and our properties scold us if our portion be not of the heavenly inheritance.
We turned abject and insatiable in matters of food, and drank measureless wine, which perverts our thoughts and minds. We all fall into deep slumber and our dreams seem to us as real. The eyes of our minds are closed to the visible mystery and are insatiably attracted by the obscenities of worldly life. Our ears are shut to holy lections yet we give ear to the bellowing of our flocks. The sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit did not reach us for we preferred the perfumes of our diseased world. The palates of our souls did not taste of the heavenly food for we fattened ourselves with delicious foods. Our countenances are darkened for our faces did not rejoice at the Holy Sacraments. The limbs of our bodies are in pain for we first diseased our souls. Our souls resemble whitewashed tombs for we are devoid of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, all manner of evils visited us in our days: We witnessed ourselves turn into corpses, our valiant martyrs fell in battle, and our holy priests were slaughtered by the lawless ones. Beautiful youths were sacrificed to death and many virgins were taken captive. Tender women fell into the tribulations of widowhood and many orphans mourn bitterly. The liberty of the church fell into the yoke of the heathens and its priests are stricken and tormented by ungodly tax-collectors. Mercy has been carried away from the land and compassion has departed from everyone’s thoughts. The heavens above are angry and the earth beneath us trembles and convulses.
Our buildings became tombs for our corpses and the labors of our hands collapsed upon us. Our abundant land tore asunder and many people fell through. Father did not wait for son, sister did not keep an eye on brother, and no longer did we hear the cries of women giving birth, for they were struck with famine. The mighty were suddenly destroyed like the high cedars of Lebanon; they became winetroughs of wrath, and everyone was crushed like grapes beneath their feet— only that instead of wine, it was the blood of innocents that splattered over our clothes. [The taste of] food turned more bitter than gall on our palates and vinegar became our holy drink. With the stricken we struck our souls and bodies and with the dead we tasted of death. Now is it not on account of our idleness that these torments came to pass in our land?
Go on then, away from the world, having already left behind these misfortunes! Shake off the shell of this diseased world. Strip yourself like an athlete and anoint yourself with the oil of Christ, lest the hand of the rival rises against you. Now if the heathens who have grasped perceptible wisdom have not only abandoned their possessions but also abstained from their customary foods and sated themselves with modest, simple drink, and died virtuous deaths, how much more ought we to resemble the beloveds of Christ, who established themselves in angelic faith, mingling with the heavenly hosts!
Let us go, too, O anchorites, and submit to the ways of the enemy with our possessions, as though uprooted to a foreign country, and destroy the enemy. And when we are taken captive, let us, in our affliction, dispose of our possessions—not out of hate for our relatives but out of our love for the poor, who are soldiers of Christ and true intercessors. Otherwise, by growing attached to your belongings here, you shall lead yourself into irredeemable captivity where there is no price for redemption. Hurry, hurry, brother, make haste and save yourself from such a pitiless hell, that you may reach the Strong City, where no doubt or fear can displace or drive you into captivity.
Եւ եթէ եկեսցես զհետ գեղեցիկ վարդապետութեան հարցն, զորս վերագոյնն գծագրեցի քեզ զվարս սուրբ միայնակեցացն, յայնժամ կարասցես համբառնալ զաչս մտացդ առանց ախտից չարչարանաց, հայել եւ տեսանել զքեզ գեր ի վերոյ քան զամենայն երկինս։ Երանի տայցես անձինդ քաջապէս ճողոպրեալ ի վշտալից կենաց աշխարհիս, եւ խառնեսցիս յերամ միայնակեցացն, ի գունդս սրբոց արդարոցն, ի վիճակ առաքելոցն, ի գումարս մարգարէիցն, ի կաճառս մարտիրոսացն, ի բանակս հրեշտակացն եւ ժողովս անդրանկացն, ի մեծ քաղաքն երկնից, ի բազմականսն Աբրահամեան, եւ ի կերակուրս երկնայինս եւ յըմպելիս անկարաւտս։ Դու ես այնուհետեւ մարգարէն, որ ոչ պատուեցար ի մարմնական աշխարհիս. այլ թեւածեալ թռուցար յանմարմին աշխարհի, եւ հանգուցեալ դադարեցեր յանապական ուրախութիւնսն։ Յորս լիցի եւ մեզ՝ վերջին գրչութեամբ աշխատողացս՝ միաբանութեամբ սուրբ ուխտիւս վայելել, շնորհաւքն Տեառն մերոյ Յիսուսի Քրիստոսի, որում փառք յաւիտեանս. ամէն.
And should you follow the beautiful teachings of the Fathers which I illustrated above in describing the conduct of the holy anchorites, then you shall be able to raise the eyes of your mind without the torments of diseases and to see yourself above all the heavens. Blessed is he who bravely slips away from the sorrowful life of this world and mingles in the company of the anchorites, in the bands of the holy just ones, in the ranks of the Apostles, in the numbers of the prophets, in the assemblies of the martyrs, in the hosts of angels and in fellowship with the firstborns in the great Heavenly City as the table-companions of Abraham, with heavenly food and without need of drink. Then will you become the prophet, who were not honored in the material world, but rather spread your wings and flew to the immaterial world where you reposed in incorruptible joy. And may we also be found there, with this last composition of ours, rejoicing with the brotherhood of the faithful and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom glory forever. Amen.