A brother once went to an Elder in the Ferem* Mountain, who had a highly spiritual life and was well-advanced in working good deeds. Crossing himself before the Elder as usual, the monk asked him:
– Father, what should I do? My soul is wasting away.
The Elder asked him:
– How is your soul wasting away?
The brother answered:
– When I was living in the world as a layman, I used to fast very much, prayed and did night vigils, and had much spiritual zeal, humility, and tears – now that I have given up the world and have become a monk, I no longer see any of those good things in me.
The Elder told him:
– My son, believe me, those good things that you say you used to do as a layman, you were doing them all to be praised by people and for your pride; because the one who would push you to do them was the one who fights against you secretly – and those deeds of yours were not received by God. That is the reason why the devil did not pay attention to you then, nor did he battle with you in any way to diminish your growth. Now he sees that you have “gone to war” against him and that is why he’s taking up arms against you. God will appreciate and receive more one psalm that you will read now humbly, than a thousand psalms that you used to read full of pride, as a layman.
The brother said again:
– But Father, I cannot even fast now and any strength I had for the good things and deeds has been taken away from me.
The Elder told him:
– My brother, it is enough what you have now; bear it patiently and it will be useful for you.
But the brother kept saying:
– Truly, my Father, my soul is lost.
Then the Elder told him:
– Believe me, my brother, for I had not meant to tell you this, lest your thoughts should become weak – but I see that you are highly deluded by the enemy, the devil, and that you have been cast into sloth and despair. Listen to my advice and forget your view that you had a good and zealous life and did good deeds while you were a layman — just as the Pharisee, who for the good deeds that he had done with much pride and for which he thought God liked him more than anyone else – lost all his benefit, because of his prideful opinion.
Rather, by humbling yourself before God and by casting off any thought that you do anything good in front of Him — that humble mindset alone will be enough for you to save your soul, just as the Publican, who had done nothing good, but he straightened himself up through humility. As it is far more pleasing to God to see a sinful and lazy man with a broken and humble heart, than one who does many good deeds and thinks highly of himself in his mind, deeming himself more pleasing to God than others.
Upon hearing this, the brother felt much usefulness and comfort in his soul and bowed to the ground before the Elder and said:
– I say, my Father, today you have saved my soul.
And he left, giving thanks to the Lord.
(Words by the Anonymous Elders of the Egyptian Desert)
Taken from „Slava deşartă. Apoftegme ale Sfinţilor Părinţi selectate şi comentate de ieromonahul Savatie Baştovoi”, Cathisma Publishing House, Bucureşti, 2007