Discourses on Ascetical Discipline (St. Basil the Great, 4th c.)

NOTE: Most of the concepts in these discourses have been rendered obsolete and unnecessary in contemporary Greek-American monasticism where all emphasis is on blind obedience and the Jesus Prayer. Geronda Ephraim emphasizes in the homilies and faxes to his monasteries that “we are the monks of the last days.” In one homily he states, “It is prophesied that in the last days the monks will be like laymen and the laymen will be like demons.” The Desert Father prophecies about the monks of the last days not attaining great spiritual heights, or accomplishing great spiritual feats, but rather, as Geronda Ephraim states, “are weak and useless,” are used to excuse all the worldiness and secularization that exist in the monasteries here. Geronda Ephraim has stated in both homilies and faxes to his monasteries that “as monks of the last days, we will be saved only through obedience, humility and the Prayer.” [and in some homilies he also adds “and patient endurance of temptations”].

basil family

How the monk should be equipped

FIRST AND FOREMOST, the monk should own nothing in this world, but he should have as his possessions solitude of the body, modesty of bearing, a modulated tone of voice, and a well-ordered manner of speech. He should be without anxiety as to his food and drink, and should eat in silence. In the presence of his superiors, he should hold his tongue; before those wiser than he, he should hearken to their words. He should have love for his equals, give charitable counsel to his inferiors, and keep aloof from the wicked, the carnal, and the officious.

He ought to think much but speak little, be not forward in speech nor given to useless discoursing, not easily moved to laughter, respectful in bearing, keeping his eyes cast down and his spirit uplifted, not answering contradiction with contradiction, docile. He should work with his hands, be ever mindful of his last end, joyful in hope, patient in adversity, unceasingly prayerful, giving thanks in all things, humble toward everyone, hating pride, sober and watchful to keep his heart from evil thoughts. He ought to heap up treasure In heaven1 by observing the commandments, examining himself as to his daily thoughts and actions, not entangling himself in the occupations and superfluities of the world. 2

It ill befits him to concern himself about those who lead careless lives; he should emulate the life of the holy fathers, rejoicing with those who are successful in the practice of virtue and not envying them. He must sympathize with the suffering and weep with them,3 sorrowing deeply for these, but not on any account should he condemn them, nor upbraid him who has renounced his sin, nor ever justify himself. He should, above all, confess before God and men that he is a sinner. It is his duty, moreover, to admonish the undisciplined, encourage the faint-hearted, minister to the sick, wash the feet of the saints/ and be mindful of the duties of hospitality and fraternal charity. He must preserve peace with the members of the household of the faith, shun the heretic, read the canonical Scriptures, but have nothing at all to do with apocryphal books.

It befits him not to dispute about Father and Son and Holy Spirit, but he should freely confess in thought and word the uncreated and consubstantial Trinity and say to them who put this matter to question that we ought to be baptized according to the tradition we have received, and hold the belief in which we have been baptized, and worship according as we have believed. He should spend his time in good words and deeds, swear not at all, nor lend money for interest, nor sell grain and wine and oil for profit. He must refrain from reveling and drunkenness and have nothing to do with secular concerns, converse without deceit, speak no word against anyone, and neither gossip nor take pleasure in listening to gossip. He should not be quick to trust evil report of anyone, nor be mastered by ill temper nor overcome by despondency. He ought not become angry with his neighbor without cause, nor nurse wrath against anyone, nor return evil for evil. It behooves him to be reviled rather than to revile, to be struck rather than to strike, to be wronged rather than to do wrong, to be despoiled rather than to despoil.

Before all else, also, the monk must abstain from the society of women and from wine-bibbing because wine and women will cause even the wise to fall away.5 He must not grow weary in observing the precepts of the Lord to the best of his ability, but he should await reward and praise from Him, continuing in his desire for the enjoyment of everlasting life, keeping ever before his eyes the words of David, and saying: ‘I set the Lord always in my sight; for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved.’ 6 Moreover, he should love God as a son, with his whole heart and strength and mind and with all the power that is in him; 7 but as a servant he should reverence, fear, and obey Him and work out his salvation in fear and trembling,8 fervent in spirit,9 girt about with the full armor of the Holy Spirit. He must run not as without a purpose and fight not as beating the air,10 overthrowing his adversary in weakness of body and poverty of spirit, doing all things commanded him, and confessing that he is an unprofitable servant. 11 He should give thanks to God, aweful, glorious, and holy, and do nothing in a spirit of contention and vainglory12 but for God’s sake and to please Him; ‘for God hath scattered the bones of them that please men. 13 He ought never to glorify himself nor speak in his own praise, nor take pleasure in hearing praise from another; but serve in all things secretly, not acting with a view to display before men, but seeking praise from God alone and meditating on His coming, glorious and terrible, as well as upon his own passing out of this world, upon the good things laid up for the just and also on the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.14

But, over and above all this, he must be mindful of the words of the Apostle : Tor the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us;15 and in anticipation proclaim with David that, for those keeping the commandments, there is a great reward,16 munificent recompense, and crowns of justice, everlasting dwellings, life without end, joy unspeakable, an imperishable mansion with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who is true God in heaven, manifestation face to face, dances in company with angels, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, and with all those who have been well-pleasing to God from all eternity. Among these let us eagerly strive to be numbered, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be power and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Βυζαντινές λαξευτές εκκλησίες στην Καππαδοκία.

NOTES

  1. Luke 12.38.
  2. 2 Tim. 2.4.
  3. 12.15.
  4. 1 Tim. 5.10.
  5. 19.2.
  6. 15.8.
  7. Luke 10.27.
  8. 2.12.
  9. 12.11.
  10. 1 Cor. 9.26.
  11. Luke 17.10.
  12. 2.3.
  13. 52.6.
  14. 25.41.
  15. 8.18.
  16. 18.12.
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