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Step 17

ON SLOTH, THE DEATH OF THE SOUL,
PRECEDING THE DEATH OF THE BODY.

1. Sloth, whether in the body or in the soul, is a lethargy which, from habitual languor and criminal indolence, has grown into complete insensibility of heart.

2. This paralysis of the soul, which destroys every sentiment of piety, is a numbness that, in the course of time, becomes natural. It is a torpor of spirit, the result of unchecked habit. It is the shackle with which we fetter our feet, and arrest our fervent progress in the path of salvation. It is a new cord which binds up and holds in captivity all our strength and energy. It is the total privation of a penitential spirit, and the gate of despair. It is oblivious of eternal truths, and with this oblivion feeds its own obduracy. It is the banishment of the holy fear of God.

3. Sloth is a philosophy without reflection, which condemns itself the moment it presumes to teach and direct others. Sloth is an orator whose actions are a severe censure upon his words. It is a blind guide that wishes to make others see what itself cannot see. It speaks of that which is calculated to heal the mortal wound of the soul, yet it ceases not to re-open this wound, and to infuse into it fresh poison. It regrets the malady, yet eats that which fosters it. The slothful Christian beseeches God to deliver him from his criminal servitude, and immediately proceeds to the commission of actions as censurable as before, at the same time reproaching himself with his blindness, whilst his reproaches mantle his cheeks with no blush of shame.

4. The slothful man exclaims: “I have done evil”; and then hastens to renew the evil of which he complained. Whilst his lips are supplicating God to pardon his sin, his body is fighting strenuously for his sinful state. He discourses eloquently on death, and yet lives as if he were immortal. Sighs heave his bosom whilst speaking of the dissolution of his frail tenement, yet he awakens from sleep as if this were his everlasting abode. He preaches upon abstinence, even when labouring to procure good cheer. He reads of the severe judgments of God against the wicked, yet is so little affected that he laughs instead of weeping. Whilst he is pondering upon the sin of vainglory, he yields himself captive to vanity. The moment he has extolled watching, he falls asleep. He eulogises prayer, and flies from it as from chastisement. Obedience is amongst his favourite virtues, and yet he is the first to raise the standard of rebellion. Greatly does he esteem and admire those who are detached from the possessions of earth, yet he is ready to quarrel and contest with any one, no matter whom, about the merest trifles.

5. The slothful Christian becomes angry with himself, for having given way to passion, and he yields to passion through this very anger at himself. Thus, though twice conquered by the same vice, his callous heart is not overwhelmed with confusion. He regrets excess at table, and immediately afterwards commits greater gluttony. Silence receives his warmest encomiums, and he discourses at tiresome length of that virtue, which is the enemy of long speeches. He exhorts others to meekness, and in the very midst of his exhortations frequently gives way to bitterness and sarcasm.

6. If the sluggard at any time awakens from his spiritual lethargy, his bosom heaves with profound sighs, but gently inclining his head, he immediately falls off into his wonted torpor. He censures laughter, and gives lessons upon penitential tears, and laughs whilst he is delivering his lessons. In the presence of others he accuses himself of being boastful, and from this very accusation fills himself full of vanity. He gazes upon agreeable objects with a roving and lustful eye, at the time he is recommending a guarded and modest demeanour. Whilst he is spending his life in fellowship with the world, he hesitates not to praise those that dwell in the desert, forgetting that his praises are his own confusion. He speaks honourably of those who are generous and charitable, whilst he himself scruples not to cast insults upon the poor. Thus he pronounces judgment upon himself, both in his words and actions. But to acknowledge his error, and to be sensible of his evil position, is what he neither wishes nor is able, perhaps, to effect.

7. Of this unhappy vice many are the slaves, who, whilst listening to the subject of death, and to the formidable judgments of God after death, shed abundant tears; yet, whilst their eyes are moist with weeping, sit down to the enjoyments of the table. I could not but wonder, how this shameful vice of intemperance, this imperious mistress, could become so hardened by habits of sloth, as to triumph over grief, and the salutary tears of repentance.

8. With what knowledge and discernment I possess, I have now stated to you the artifices of this foolish and baneful vice, and the wounds which it inflicts upon the soul by rendering it as hard and insensible as a stone. If there is found any one, who, by the assistance of heaven, and his own experience, can apply the proper remedies to these mortal wounds, let him not neglect this most important work. For I must confess without shame my own inability in this respect, since I myself am ruled with no gentle hand by this unhappy vice. And I should not have been able to discover by my own ingenuity all its wiles and deceptions, if I had not courageously done violence against it, if I had not, by tormenting it with the fear of the Lord, and putting it upon the rack of continual prayer, constrained it to acknowledge that which I have written. You may behold very nearly all that this malicious and tyrannical passion has told me in the following words.

9. “When those to whom I am united by the most intimate alliance, behold the bodies of the dead, they refrain not even then from laughter. When they kneel down to pray, they are as obdurate and insensible as the hardest rock, whilst their minds are obscured by the shadows of darkness. In contemplating the hallowed table of the Blessed Eucharist, they experience not the slightest sentiment of piety. They partake of this heavenly food as if it were common and ordinary bread. For myself, when I see persons moved by compunction, I mock and deride their weakness. I have learned from my father to destroy those virtues, which are acquired by fervour of spirit and penitential austerity. I am the mother of dissipation, the nursemaid of sleep, the friend of good cheer. No remonstrances can touch and soften my heart. I am the inseparable companion of false piety.”

10. Filled with astonishment at such language, I enquired from whom it derived its origin. This was the answer: “I have not one, but many parents. I am the effect of many causes. My origin is very uncertain. Gluttony gave me strength, time hastens my growth; bad habits consolidate my power, so that he who indulges such habits can never break in pieces my chains and escape from my bondage. If you have spent much time in watching, if you have meditated without intermission upon eternal torments, I may in this case be obliged, perhaps, to relax my control, and restore to you a portion of your liberty. Weigh well what it was that gave me power over you; what enabled me to take possession of your soul, and then vigorously remove this cause of your bondage. For I do not keep all my slaves in subjection by applying to them the same rule. Frequently go to the churchyard, to make your meditations, and offer up your prayers. Represent to the mind in a lively manner the last moments of your dissolution. Let these deathbed scenes never be effaced from the memory. for if you do not form this mental representation, if you do not employ abstinence and fasting, as a pencil wherewith to trace the outlines of your picture, you will never bring me under subjection.”



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Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
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Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
USA
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