The works of God are wondrous and unfathomable for our darkened minds, but as much as possible, we see from Scripture and our personal experience that the Lord sends sicknesses, sorrows, deprivation, droughts, wars, and revolutions either as punishment for our sins; or in anticipation, so that we do not fall into sins; or sometimes to test our faith. And so, we must bow in reverence before His all-wise Providence and give thanks for His ineffable mercy towards us.
Saint Macarius of Optina
I bet if everyone actually set out to do this, the world might just be a better place very quickly! As Christians, what St. Anthony discusses as a remedy to sin should be commonplace among us. It may seem crazy and extreme –but it shouldn’t!
“As a safeguard against sin let the following be observed.
Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impulses of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each other. And be assured that if we should be utterly
ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and harbour no base thoughts in our mind. For who wishes to be seen while sinning? or who will not rather lie after the commission of a sin, through the wish to escape notice? As then while we are looking at one another, we would not commit carnal sin, so if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one another, we shall the more easily keep ourselves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known.”
St Anthony the Great, in his Life by St Athanasius
“If we do not hate those things which are blameworthy, we cannot smell the stench of their activity; and so long as we carry them in ourselves, we shall not be able to perceive their malodour. Therefore, until you cast away from yourself that which is unseemly, you will not comprehend the disgrace that entangles you, nor the shame that arises from it. But when you see your burden in others, understand the dishonour that covers you.
Withdraw from evil, and immediately you will comprehend its malodour. For if you do not withdraw, you will never learn it, nay rather, you will put on its stench like a beautiful fragrance, and you will reckon the nakedness of your shame to be a veil of glory. Blessed is the man who has receded from this darkness and who sees himself!”
St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 32, p. 152
By means of some earthly and carnal affection, by which a man in his natural will is bound, sin entices him, until it becomes to him a fetter and a chain and a heavy weight, sinking and stifling him in the world of wickedness, and not allowing him to come to the surface and get to God. Whatever a man has loved in the world, weighs down his mind, and holds it down, and will not let him come up. In this balance, with its bias to the scale of evil, all mankind hangs and is tested, Christians and all, whether dwelling in cities, or in mountains, or in monasteries, or in fields, or in deserts; because the natural will of man entices him to set his affection, say, on property, another on gold and silver, another on the wisdom of the eloquence of the world for the sake of the glory from men; another has loved power, another glory and honours among men, another wrath and anger—for yielding quickly to it is loving it—another unseasonable conversations, another
jealousy; . . . Whether it be a little thing of the world or a great that ties him, the man is kept down by it, and not allowed to rise. Whatever passion a man does not bravely war against, is an object of his affection; and it holds him fast, and weighs him down, and becomes to him a hindrance and a fetter, preventing his mind from going up to God and pleasing Him, and from serving Him only and thereby proving fit for the kingdom and obtaining eternal life.
Saint Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies,
Homily V, pp. 45‒6
“While Epiphanius was reading (a work of Saint Basil the Great’s), suddenly there came to his nostrils the fragrance of spices, so that he was trembling and amazed for some time. And the blessed Andrew saw him invisibly taking in the perfume; but while Epiphanius was reading, the righteous one said nothing. And when he finished the sermon, the fragrance ceased. And Epiphanius marvelled, and asking the blessed one, said, ‘I pray thee, my lord, tell me what that fragrance was that came a little while ago, when we began the sermon?’ And the righteous one said, ‘It was an Angel of the Lord. Not only one, but many appeared together here as thou wast reading. But one of them, glorifying the words of the Holy Spirit, offered incense in a manner befitting God, and rejoicing.’”
The Life of St Andrew the Fool
“If it is true that the recollection of virtuous men renews virtue within us when we ponder over them, then it is evident that the recollection of the licentious, when we dwell upon them, renews shameful desire in our mind. For the memory of each imprints and inscribes in our reflections the distinctive nature of the deeds of those recollected, and shows us as with a finger, either the shame of their deeds or the loftiness of their manner of life accordingly as they are virtuous or licentious. This strengthens in us thoughts and movements belonging either to the right or to the left. We meditate upon them in the secret place of our mind, and in our mind’s meditation the peculiarity of their way of life is depicted, so that we are always obliged to behold them. Therefore not only does meditation upon evil harm the man who is engaged in it, but also the sight and the recollection of those who do evil things. And again, not only does the working of virtue greatly help him who accomplishes it, but he is also helped by the imagination of the mind which is fashioned from the recollection of the persons who perform virtue.”
St Isaac, Homily 254, p. 267