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Step 05

ON TRUE AND SINCERE REPENTANCE.

1. Repentance is the restoration of baptism. Repentance is a compact made with God, by which we bind ourselves to lead a life very different from the one which we have promised to abandon. The penitent is one who labours by penance to acquire humility. Repentance is a perpetual renouncement of bodily comforts and delights, a judgment which we unceasingly pronounce against ourselves, -- a state of soul entirely occupied with its own welfare, and disengaged from every other care and solicitude. Repentance is the daughter of hope, and the enemy of despair. The penitent is a criminal who does not blush to confess his faults. Repentance is a reconciliation with God by the practice of those good works, which are opposite to the vices we have committed. It is the purification of the conscience, the voluntary endurance of all kinds of pains and labours. The penitent is an ingenious artisan, who forges for himself instruments of penance. In short, repentance is a rigorous mortification of the sensual appetite, a soul touched with a lively sensibility of its own misery.

2. Come quickly, all you who have offended God by sin, come and learn from my mouth the wonders which I have witnessed for my edification. Let us assign the first and most honourable place in our narrative to those illustrious penitents whom I have beheld with admiration, and who are as much more worthy of honour, as they themselves seek for dishonour and contempt. Let all who have fallen into deadly sin learn and practise their holy conduct. Arise from your misery, and continue firm in your good purpose, all you who are still grovelling in iniquity. Be attentive, my brethren, to my words, and you will desire a reconciliation with God by a sincere conversion.

3. When I was in that celebrated monastery of which I have spoken so much, I who was at that time so imperfect in myself, learned to my confusion, that a most extraordinary mode of life and a marvellous humility, were practised in a house separate from the monastery, and called the prison; subject, however, to the former, as the sunbeam to the source of light. I besought the holy man who presided over it, to allow me the pleasure of a visit. This great saint, not wishing that I should be made sorrowful by the refusal of any thing just and proper, gave me the desired permission.

4. When we came to this prison of the penitents, which we might appropriately term the house of weeping, I saw, to use a strong expression, that which the eye of the coward hath never seen, the ear of the negligent never heard, nor the mind of the base and the slothful never conceived: I heard words, and I saw deeds, capable to doing violence to God, mortifications and humiliations sufficiently powerful to move, in a short time, His infinite mercy and compassion.

5. I saw some of these innocent sinners, these unjust justified, who spent the whole night in the open air with their feet immoveable. Although oppressed with sleep, they did violence to nature, and refused repose to their heavy eyelids. Yea, they even accused themselves of cowardice, and roused themselves from their inclination to slumber, by self-reproaches, and objurgations.

6. Others I beheld with their eyes lifted up to heaven, in a manner truly worthy of compassion, imploring with loud cries and supplications, that help which is obtained nowhere but from the throne of mercy.

7. Some, again, were in prayer, with their hands tied behind them, like criminals marched to prison. With their pale and sallow faces bent upon their breasts, they believed themselves unworthy of looking up to heaven. So keen a remorse of conscience had they conceived in their souls, so greatly were they filled with confusion at the thought of their sins, that they placed themselves under a total interdict, and would neither speak to any one, nor pour forth their prayers to God. They knew not in what manner to commence the humble petitions they were to offer to Him; and therefore presented to Him their souls in profound silence, and overcast with darkness, and almost despairing of salvation.

8. I saw some seated upon sackcloth and ashes, concealing their faces between their knees, and striking their foreheads against the ground.

9. Many struck their breasts unceasingly, and recalled with poignant regret, the happy state of their souls, before they fell into sin. Some would water the earth with floods of tears; others, who could not weep, beat their bodies with hard blows. Some, again, would both weep and afflict their bodies, as if they were performing funeral rites over their souls, so unable were they to repress the violence of the grief which oppressed them. Whilst others, moaning in their hearts, endeavoured to stifle their moans, which, in spite of their efforts, would sometimes escape in mournful sobs and plaintive cries.

10. I have seen amongst them those who, by their exterior actions and apparent trouble of mind, seemed to have lost their reason, and to have surrendered themselves to a sad and mournful silence, who were buried in darkness and profound affliction, who had become as it were insensible and dead to all the functions of life, who had descended in spirit into the very depth of humility, and who, through the fire of their indignation against themselves, shed streams of scalding tears.

11. Others I observed, whilst seated, absorbed in interior recollection. With eyes cast upon the ground, they displayed their sorrow by certain extraordinary and continual motions of the head, and sent up from the very bottom of their hearts, sighs and groans like unto the roaring of lions. Some encouraged by hope, made every effort to obtain through their prayers, the pardon of their sins. Others, by an almost inconceivable humility, deemed themselves unworthy of pardon, and declared aloud that they could never satisfy God for their past offences. Some would implore the Almighty to chastise them here, but to spare them hereafter. Others, prostrate beneath the weight of their conscience, besought God to rescue them from eternal torments, whilst at the same time they acknowledged themselves unworthy of any participation of His heavenly kingdom, and they testified their satisfaction if this should be their award.

12. I have seen men so humble, so mortified, so bent down beneath the burden of their offences, that the prayers and supplications which they poured forth to God, were capable of melting the very stones. With downcast eyes they would exclaim: “We acknowledge, O Lord, that we justly deserve every kind of chastisement, because the number of our sins is so great, that were the whole universe assembled to weep with us over their guilt, the tears of the universe would not be sufficient to make due satisfaction. One thing only do we implore, one thing only do we beseech Thee from our hearts, that ‘Thou, O Lord, rebuke us not in thy indignation, nor chastise us in thy wrath; but have mercy on us, for we are weak.’1 It is enough if we can escape, O Lord, Thy terrible threats, and the torments of unquenchable fire. Oh! we dare not ask for a plenary pardon! No! we who have violated the holy vows of our profession, even after we had received the special pledges of Thy loving mercy in the remission of our sins!”

13. Here, dear friends, we might behold the words of holy David literally accomplished. For these contrite penitents were “become miserable and bowed down even to the end”2 of their lives, with their countenances ever overcast with penitential sadness. An offensive odour exhaled from their ulcers, of which they took no care. They were “smitten as grass, and their heart was withered, because they forgot to eat their bread . . . . For they did eat ashes like bread, and mingled their drink with weeping.”3 Their bones cleaved to their skin, which was dry as the grass burnt up by the mid-day sun. No other words escaped their lips but these plaintive lamentations: “Miserable wretches! unfortunate beings! Our punishment is just. We deserve our misery. Spare us, O Lord, spare us!” Some would exclaim: “Mercy! mercy!” Others in a tone still more mournful: “Pardon, O Lord, pardon us, if it be possible to pardon such transgressions as we have committed.”

14. Amongst these penitents, some we observed with their tongues so inflamed with the ardour of their sighs and moanings, that they projected from their mouths like those of dogs. Others punished themselves by exposing their bodies to the burning heat of the sun, whilst others chose for their torment, the most severe cold. Some, when they put a cup of water to their lips, would only take sufficient to prevent them dying of thirst. Others, after eating a little bread, would say with regret, that they were unworthy to be nourished like rational creatures, since they had conducted themselves so irrationally.

15. When were they ever seen to smile? When was an idle word heard to escape their lips? When were they seen with their temper ruffled, or in anger? Indeed, they knew not if men were still prone to anger, so completely had they stiffled its emotions in their own breasts. Was there ever witnessed amongst them the slightest dispute? -- the least testimony of festive joy? -- the most trifling freedom of speech? -- the slightest care of the body? -- the smallest vestige of vainglory? -- the least love of ease or pleasure? -- the most distant desire of wine or relish for fruit? -- the most insignificant preparation of food for their meals? -- or even the slightest wish for that which is agreeable to the palate? In their hearts, so thoroughly mortified, the very thought of these things was extinguished. The care of that which is earthly, claimed no attention in their minds, in which there remained no longer any trace of rash and unfounded judgments.

16. Listen to their continual and plaintive cries to God. Some, striking their breasts with great vehemency, as if they were already knocking at the gates of paradise, would say to Him: “Open to us, O Judge of men, open to us in your mercy, this gate to bliss, which we have closed by our sins.” One would exclaim: “Show us, O Lord, thy face, and we shall be saved.”4 Another: “Enlighten, O Lord, them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and direct our feet in the way of peace.”5 A third: “Remember not our former iniquities; let thy mercies speedily prevent us, for we are become exceeding poor.”6 Many would ask: “Will the Lord show Himself to us again? Others: “Is it possible to obtain, by our good conduct, the discharge of our debts?” This one would utter despondingly: “Will the Lord, some day or other, console us? We are bound in the chains of sin, -- and shall we ever hear the Lord say to us, ‘Be you unfettered and set free?’ We are now in the grave of penance, and shall we ever hear Him bid us come forth to life and liberty? Will our supplications pierce the ears of the Almighty?”

17. When they were sat down, death was always before their eyes, and they would exclaim: “What will happen to us in the last moment of our lives? What will be our sentence? -- what our final destination? Shall we be ever called from this strange land to which we have banished ourselves, on account of our transgressions? Is grace ever granted to sinners covered with confusion and darkness, to poor and miserable criminals like ourselves? Will our prayers have sufficient fervour or strength of wing, to be able to ascend to the throne of the Most High? Or will they be rejected with contempt and disgrace? If they have been received, is the Lord moved by them to compassion? Is His anger mollified? Is the sword of His justice again sheathed in its scabbard? Oh! since they were offered by impure lips and corrupted hearts, they could not have much efficacy. Have they reconciled us with our Judge? If not fully, in part at least? for the half of our faults? Oh! our wounds are, indeed, great, and have need of much perspiration and of many labours, before they can be healed! Do our guardian angels still watch over us? or have they with disgust, withdrawn from our sinful society? For all our labours are unprofitable, as long as these celestial spirits come not near us; for our prayers have not then the humble confidence of the just, nor the spiritual pinion of purity of heart, to wing their flight to God, if our good angels do not receive them into their golden censers, and offer them as fragrant incense before the throne of the Lord.”

18. They sometimes proposed amongst themselves such doubts as these: “Do you believe, dear brethren, that we are making any advancement? Shall we obtain the object of our prayers.” Will God ever again admit us to His favour? Will He open for us the gates of heaven?” Others would answer: “‘Who can tell,’ as our brethren of Ninive said, ‘who can tell, if God will turn and forgive, and will turn away from us His fierce anger, and we shall not perish?’ Let us, therefore, continually do everything in our power to obtain a mitigation of our sentence. We shall but be too happy if we can reopen the gate of heaven. Let us bless God, even if this should not be our good fortune, for He would not close it against us unjustly. In this uncertainty let us continue knocking at the gate of Paradise during the whole period of our lives. Perhaps His goodness may be conquered by our importunity and unremitting perseverance, and it will be finally opened for our reception.”

19. Thus animating and encouraging one another, they would exclaim: “Let us run, brethren, let us run, for we have need of great haste. Let us run with all our might, since we have lost our holy companions by wandering from the right path. Oh! let us not spare these impure and corrupted bodies. No! let us destroy these murderers, since they have assassinated our souls.”

20. Behold the conduct of these virtuous criminals. Their knees were become hard by constant kneeling. Their eyes were without lustre, deep sunk in their sockets, and without any eyelashes. The scalding tears which were continually flowing, had worn deep furrows in their emaciated cheeks. Their faces, so thin and pale, might appropriately be compared to the dead. They bruised their breasts with hard blows, and forced blood from their wounded lungs. They never knew what it was to sleep upon beds. Their clothing, which was never complete, was always unsightly, ragged, dirty, and covered with vermin. What are the suffering of persons possessed by the devil in comparison with such labours? What the sorrows of those who weep for their departed friends? What the loneliness and melancholy of exiles? What even the punishment of murderers? All these torments, all these involuntary chastisements are as nothing contrasted with the pains and self-inflicted punishments of these penitents. Pray do not, my brethren, believe all this to be a mere fable.

21. They often besought their superior, and also their abbot, that angel amongst men, to put iron collars around their necks, and manacles on their hands, and to enclose their feet in the stocks, never more to be set free until they were carried to their graves.

22. Nay, they would sometimes judge themselves unworthy of a grave. For I will not conceal an instance of the profound humility of these fervent penitents, or of their love of God, which filled them with the sorrow of a broken heart, or of their repentance, which left upon their minds a deep impression of their unworthiness. When these illustrious inhabitants of the asylum of penance were ready to appear before the tribunal of a just God, they besought and even conjured their holy abbot, through the intercession of their superior, not to allow them the honour of burial usually granted to Christians, but merely that which was bestowed upon beasts, either by throwing their bodies into some river, or permitting them to be exposed in the open air to be devoured by hyenas and wolves. that bright model of discretion would sometimes grant their request, and deprive them of Christian obsequies, ordering their bodies to be thrown outside the monastery as they had desired.

23. But what a harrowing and terrifying spectacle was the last hour of these penitents! Seeing one of their companions about to leave the world, and go to heaven before them, they would surround him, whilst still in possession of his reason, and carried away by their zeal, with eyes suffused in tears, they would say to him in words of mournful sadness, and with every testimony of grief and compassion: “How, dear brother and companion of our misfortunes and our labours, do you find yourself? What say you now? What are your expectations? Have you obtained that which you sought for with so much pain and labour? Or is that which you have been seeking for unprofitable? Have you arrived safely at the port of rest? or is it still at a distance? Have you received a confident assurance of salvation? or are you still tossed upon the waves of uncertainty? Do you feel yourself in perfect liberty of spirit? or are you still harassed by anxiety and doubt? Have you experienced in your soul a new light? or is it still shrouded in darkness, confusion, and shame? Have you heard in your heart a voice which said: ‘Behold, thou art made whole?’7 or, ‘Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee?’8 Or did you hear this awful sentence: ‘Bind him hands and feet, and cast him into exterior darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth?’9 or, ‘Thou shalt go down into hell?’10 or, ‘In the land of the saints he hath done wicked things, and he shall not see the glory of the Lord?’11 What, brother do you say to these questions? Speak, we beseech you, sincerely, that we may know your present state of mind, which will one day be ours. For you the time of penance is closed for ever. It will never again be at your command during the endless ages of eternity.” One would reply: “Blessed be God, who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.”12 Another, “Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as prey to their teeth.”13 A third, with sentiments of sorrow, would exclaim: “Our soul hath passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul hath passed through a water unsupportable.”14 Not being certain of their salvation, they expressed themselves with diffidence, through dread of the awful account they were about to render at the bar of Divine justice. Some would reply with great doubt and expression of grief: “Unhappy soul, who hast not kept inviolable the vows of thy profession. Behold the hour in which thou wilt know what is prepared for thee during a never ending eternity.”

24. When I both saw and heard these things, and reflecting upon my own cowardice in contrast with their labours and mortifications, I was almost ready to sink into despair. For what was the prison itself, not only in appearance, but in reality? A place in which there reigned a profound gloom, in which there was a most disagreeable odour, and a total neglect of cleanliness. Justly, therefore, was it termed a prison, the abode of criminals. The very sight, indeed, of this sad and mournful dwelling-place was sufficient to draw tears and excite us to labours of penance. That, however, which would be oppressive and unsupportable to others is to those who have fallen from the state of virtue, and forfeited their spiritual treasures, light and easy. For when a soul sees herself deprived of her former liberty and familiarity with God; when she has lost the hope of ever enjoying supreme peace by the subjugation of the passions; when she has broken the seal of chastity, and allowed her treasury of heavenly gifts to be violated and plundered; when she has deprived herself of divine consolation, and broken the holy alliance which she had contracted with the Lord; when she has extinguished the bright flame of celestial charity, which excited so many sweet and precious tears; when, in truth, she reflects upon all these grievous losses, she is pierce with the keenest remorse, the most poignant sorrow; and if there be still left one spark of divine love, one sentiment of the fear of God, she will not only embrace these labours of penance with incredible ardour, but will endeavour to make what may still remain of life a sacrifice worthy of heaven, cutting short even her earthly pilgrimage by the severity of her mortification and penance. Such, in truth, were these virtuous penitents. Filled with the reflections which we have just mentioned, and contemplating the high degree of virtue from which they had fallen, they would exclaim: “Oh! where are our former happy days? Where the fire of our first fervour, which we cannot call to mind without the bitterest regret?” One would suppliantly say to God: “Lord, where are thy ancient mercies, according to what thou didst swear to David in thy truth? Be mindful, O Lord, of the reproach of thy servants.”15 Another: “Who will grant me, that I might be according to the months past, according to the days in which God kept me? When his lamp shone over my head, and I walked by his light in darkness?”16

25. Oh! with what lively sentiments of sorrow did they recall the state of sanctity and perfection in which they had spent the earlier portion of their lives! They wept over their loss with all the grief of children, and whilst the tears gushed from their eyes they would exclaim: “Oh! where is now our former purity? Where our wonted prayers? Where that happy familiarity we held with God in days gone by? where are those delicious tears now changed into waters of bitterness? Where that hope we cherished of seeing not only our bodies perfectly chaste, but even our imaginations free from all impure images. Where that expectation we entertained of undisturbed peace by a complete victory over our passions? Where our confidence in our good pastor? Where that inward strength which he imparted to our souls by the efficacy of his prayers? All is lost! All is vanished, as if it had never been! all these things have disappeared from our souls like a dream or a shadow, and left not a trace behind them!”

26. In uttering these and similar regrets, they would sob and shed tears, and some of them even implore God to allow them to be possessed and tormented by devils. Others earnestly besought Him to afflict them with epilepsy, or blindness, or with some disease that would render them objects of pity to their fellow creatures. Some asked to be struck with paralysis, so as to be unable to rise from the ground, provided that by these sufferings they might be delivered from the torments of reprobation. For myself, dear friends, I must confess, that I took so much pleasure in dwelling in this valley of tears, that I almost forgot the time of my departure. I was so enraptured, so transported beyond my usual sphere, that I was no longer master of myself. But let us return to our discourse.

27. I spent an entire month in this prison; but as I was not worthy to dwell in this holy company, I returned to the great monastery. The abbot seeing me greatly changed, and highly excited, knew by the light of his superior wisdom the reason, and said to me: “Well, father, have you seen the labours of those generous soldiers of Christ?” “Yes,” I replied, “I have both seen and admired them. I have thought these penitents who so grievously lament their offences, more happy than those who have not sinned, and who weep not for themselves, because their fall has been the occasion of a glorious resurrection, which places them beyond all others in security from the danger of relapse.

28. “You judge correctly,” he rejoined. Then this lover of truth related to me the following narrative. “About ten years ago, there was in this monastery a brother, whose ardour and activity in all the exercises was so great, that I trembled exceedingly for his welfare, knowing that the devil would employ this very earnestness in the accomplishment of his destruction, by putting a stumbling block in his path, as he commonly does with those who walk with too much precipitation. What I dreaded came to pass. Late one evening, the brother, after his fall, came to me, laid bare his wound, and besought me to apply a remedy, even fire if necessary; testifying, at the same time, the anguish of his spirit, and the great weight which oppressed his heart. But when he saw that the physician did not wish to employ all the severity which he desired, (for he was truly worthy of compassion), he threw himself upon the ground, embraced my feet, watered them with the abundance of his tears, and conjured me to condemn him to the prison, which you have seen, exclaiming, that no one in justice could exempt him from this obligation. Thus by a holy violence he changed the mildness and charity of his spiritual physician into severity, a practice not common with sick persons. I had no sooner granted him the desired permission, than he ran to the prison, joined himself to the penitents in their labours, and became a most fervent imitator of their afflictions and their tears. His heart was so thoroughly pierced by the sword of spiritual sadness, that eight days afterwards he slept in the Lord, desiring, before his death, that he might be deprived of the honour of burial. I commanded, however, his body to be interred in the cemetery of the fathers, as worthy of that respect; because I saw that after a voluntary service of seven days, he had on the eighth been restored to freedom of soul with God. Indeed, a certain person had known, before the penitent had risen from the abject and miserable feet of him who now speaks to you, that God had forgiven him his sins. and let not this astonish us, since by the same faith and confidence, which animated the penitent Magdalen, he had bathed the feet of his master with his tears. ‘Know,’ says our Redeemer, ‘that everything is possible to him who believes.’ I have seen impure souls, who were possessed even to fury and madness with the love of sensible and corporal objects, embrace afterwards a life of penance, and become so inflamed with the love of the Creator, that they shook off, in a moment, all servile fear, and were pierced with the burning arrows of affection and unquenchable zeal for the honour and glory of God. Hence Jesus Christ did not say to Magdalen, that she feared much, but loved much; and that it was by divine love she had so easily banished from her soul all carnal and profane love.”

29. I doubt not, illustrious servants of Christ, that the combats which I have related of these courageous penitents will appear to some incredible, to others hard of belief, and to many the deeds of desperation. But the valiant Christian will draw from their perusal consequences very different in their tendency. He will derive from them a new impetus to penance, and feel his heart pierced with the glowing dart of divine love, which will enkindle in his bosom a holy jealousy and noble emulation. He who is less fervent, will, at least, acknowledge his own weakness, and acquire by his self-condemnation, a profound humility, which will enable him to follow in the footsteps of the former, and perhaps with equal progress in the career of a holy life. But the cowardly and the negligent ought not to hear what we have related, lest they fall into despair, and discontinue even that slight degree of virtue they were practising, and thereby the single talent of divine grace be taken from them, according to the testimony of the Gospel: “For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound; but to him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have, shall be taken away.”17

30. When we have plunged into the gulf of vice, we can escape from it only by plunging into the gulf of humility, such as was practised by the penitents.

31. The humility of the penitents full of grief and bitterness, is very different from that self-condemnation pronounced by a guilty conscience upon those who run on in their career of sin. Neither is it like that delightful and very happy humility, which God bestows upon those souls, that are made perfect by the efficacy of His divine grace. No effort of ours, no words at our command, can describe this humility of the saints. Every attempt would be fruitless, since it is an ineffable gift of God’s gracious mercy. The humility of penance we know by the calm and unshrinking endurance of contempt and humiliation. With regard to those who still live on in the commission of sin, in defiance of their inward stings of conscience, we are aware that long contracted habits will frequently exercise over them a complete tyranny, even whilst they are lamenting their transgressions. and let us not be astonished, since the reason of God’s judgments and the cause of man’s fall are often shrouded in darkness, and concealed from the most penetrating intelligence. For it is uncertain what are the sins into which we fall through negligence, what are those we commit through the absence of divine grace, specially withheld by the merciful dispensation of Providence, and what we perpetrate through God’s aversion and anger. All I dare say to weak man is this, that when we fall into any sin through God’s hiding Himself from us, by the special appointment of His gracious providence, we shall soon rise from this fall; since the Almighty, who conceals Himself for our welfare, will not permit us to be long under the dominion of His enemy.

32. When we have had the misfortune of falling into sin, let us battle valiantly with the demon of sadness, because he presents himself to us at the time of prayer, and by calling to our remembrance our former familiarity with God, wishes to destroy the attention and efficacy of our devotions, by the troubles and interior conflicts with which he endeavours to harass and agitate the mind.

33. Be not astonished that we fall every day into the same faults; neither be deterred by this consideration from pursuing the important business of your salvation. No; continue with vigour and determination your attainment of virtue, and your guardian angel will respect your patience and your constancy. Whilst a wound is still fresh and bleeding, the cure is easy; whereas one of long standing, if it has been neglected, and allowed to fester and form proud flesh, is very difficult to heal. Sometimes much skill and attention are requisite, yea, even the knife, and cauterization. All wounds, however, even those deemed incurable, may be healed by the grace and power of God.

34. Before the commission of sin, the devils represent God as infinitely merciful, but after its perpetration, as inexorable and without pity.

35. Listen not to the suggestions of your spiritual enemy, when seeing that you have committed some great fault, and are ready to fall into lesser ones, he represents these as nothing, after the more grievous transgression. For your care and vigilance in guarding against small faults are as minor presents, which soften down the anger of your Almighty Judge.

36. He who is performing sincere penance, and making satisfaction for his sins, believes every day, in which he does not weep for them, as lost, whatever other good works he may have performed.

37. Let those penitents who daily lament their sins, wait not until the day of their death, for an assurance of their remission. They cannot even then receive any certainty unless they possess these two clear and manifest testimonies, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a profound humility. Let them, then, say to God continually during the whole period of their lives: “Console, O Lord, Thy servant, by giving to me an assurance of my pardon, that I may not depart from this world without Thy divine refreshment.” Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, there certainly are the bonds of sin broken asunder. Let those, therefore, who depart this world, without either the one or the other of these assurance, -- the presence of the Holy Spirit, or a profound humility, -- be not deceived, for they are not loosed from their sins.

38. He who weeps over his own sins has no leisure to notice the tears or the failings of his brethren, or to forge against them any accusations. A dog that has been bitten by a wild beast, will become the more angry and violent from the pain of the wound, which will prevent it from seeing anything else but its enemy.

39. Let us take care, that it be not the blindness of our malice, but the purity of our conscience which reprehends us. To believe ourselves always indebted to the Divine Majesty is a certain assurance that our debts are discharged.

40. Nothing can be compared to the mercy of God. Nothing is so boundless. Hence he who despairs is a self-murderer. The true evidence of a sincere and perfect repentance, is to esteem ourselves worthy not only of all the visible and invisible afflictions which we endure, but of far greater than any we have yet experienced. After Moses had seen God in the burning bush, he returned into Egypt, that is, into the world, to brick-making, for the service of Pharao, or rather the devil, of whom Pharao, in Holy Scripture, was the image. He failed not, however, to return not only to the burning bush, but likewise to the mountain of God. whoever understands this similitude, will never yield to despair. Holy Job was reduced from great riches to absolute poverty. But when he had triumphed over the devil, he became twice as wealthy as he was in the days of his first prosperity.

41. Falls after entering the holy state of religion are extremely dangerous to cowardly souls; because they deprive them of the hope of obtaining sovereign peace by the mastery of their passions. They too often remain satisfied if they can escape from the gulf into which they have fallen. We should not, however, return to God by the way we have departed from Him, but by a shorter path.

42. I have seen two persons running in the same path at the same time. The elder was more experienced in the labours and austerities of penance; but the younger, still a disciple, passed his companion, and entered before him the tomb of humility.

43. Let us not fall into the fatal error of Origen with respect to the Divine Bounty, that all punishment will have a termination, an error so agreeable to the sensualist.

44. The fire of prayer which consumes the corruption of concupiscence, is, according to holy David, enkindled in meditation, or rather in penitential exercises. “My heart grew hot within me; and in my meditation a fire shall flame out.” Hence take for your model the penitents of who we have spoken. Let their penance be the pattern and image of yours. Besides this you will have need of no other book, until Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself, appear in the resurrection of a true and perfect repentance. Amen.18

Having now ascended the 5th degree, which is repentance, you will by it have purified the five organs of the senses, the five avenues of sin; and by your voluntary pains and labours during this mortal life, you will escape the involuntary chastisements of eternity.


  1. Ps. vi. 2.

  2. Ps. xxxvii. 7.

  3. Ps. ci. 5-10.

  4. Ps. lxxix. 4.

  5. Luke i. 79.

  6. Ps. lxxviii. 8.

  7. John v. 14.

  8. Matt. ix. 2.

  9. Matt. xxii. 13.

  10. Matt. xi. 23.

  11. Isaiah xxvi. 10.

  12. Ps. ixv. 20.

  13. Ps. cxxiii. 6.

  14. Ps. cxxiii. 5.

  15. Ps. lxxxviii. 50.

  16. Job xxix. 2.

  17. Matt. xxv. 29.

  18. Ps. xxxviii. 4.



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Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
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