The Evergetinos, compiled by St. Makarios of Corinth and first published by St. Nicodemos in 1783, is a companion volume of The Philokalia—indeed a precursor, of sorts, to that work. One of the classic collections of Orthodox spiritual writings, the Evergetinos is a source of inspiration, spiritual guidance, and insight into the lives of men and women who, during the first few centuries of Christianity, attained to the highest ideals of the spiritual life. In the spiritual laboratory of the Egyptian deserts, these seekers after salvation, enlightenment, and union with Christ brought into sharp focus the teachings of the Apostles and the message of Holy Writ in their daily lives and activities.
Divided up into many different “hypothesis” pertaining to a true Christian life, these books offer stories and advice taken from the lives of the Desert Fathers for each one.
In determining which Orthodox books to read,
Dr. Constantine Cavarnos shares a comment from an Athonite Father about these books
“Great value for the striver is also ascribed by the holy men of Athos to reading (a) the lives of saints, (b) The Evergetinos, and (c) The Philokalia. Once I asked a saintly monk, the hermit Gabriel who dwelt at Karoulia—the most secluded and inaccessible region of the Holy Mountain—whether he recommended The Philokalia to persons like me who live in the “world.” He replied: “The Philokalia is an excellent work, but it is for those advanced in the spiritual life. To use an analogy, it is ‘university education.’ First, one has to go to ‘grammar school,’ next to ‘high school,’ and only then is he ready to go to a ‘university.”
“Should one start with The Evergetinos?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “this, too, is advanced. It is ‘high school.’ One must start with something more elementary. One should read simple lives of saints, in order to learn what kind of persons they were, how they lived, and what they did. Then one can proceed to the higher steps.”
Therefore, “we may say that simple lives of saints are “pure spiritual milk for spiritual babes;” the Evergetinos is a kind of mixed fare, comprising both spiritual milk and solid spiritual food; while the Philokalia provides only “solid food.”
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“Abba Poimen said:?‘It is written: “Bear witness to what thine eyes have seen” (cf. Proverbs 25:7). But I tell you, even if you examine something by your own hands, do not bear witness; for a certain brother made a fool of himself, in just this way, by harboring evil suspicions against one of his brothers. One day he saw him sinning with a woman—as he supposed. Perturbed and exceedingly agitated by this, he went and prodded them with his foot, saying:?“Stop now; how much longer will you carry on like this?” Well, lo and behold, what he found were two bundles of wheat, one on top of the other. This is why I told you that, even if you examine something with your hands, you should not be quick to reprove.’”
—“Hypothesis I: That one should not condemn anyone on the basis of suspicions or, in general, give any credence to suspicions.”
That one should not condemn anyone on the basis of suspicions or, in general, give any credence to suspicions.
That one should not condemn or denigrate even one who sins openly, but should be attentive to himself and not busy himself with other people’s affairs; for he who attends to his own vices is incapable of condemning his neighbor.
That one should not cause scandal through deeds performed without a blessing; what the term “scandal” means; that one should not be scandalized; and that one should heal those who are scandalized.
That the Christian should take his every thought into captivity and offer it to Christ; for spiritual people, and certain lay people, draw positive lessons even from most disgraceful circumstances.
Concerning craftiness and guile, simplicity and guilelessness; whence they are engendered; what sort of harm and benefit we derive from them; and concerning envy.
That those who despise and deride unpretentious and self-abasing people sin very gravely.
That the believer should do what he does with a good, and not with a bad, conscience; for God judges the deeds of each man, not according to appearance, but according to the intention of the doer.
That the conscience is a great gift of God to us and is very beneficial to him who listens to it.
That we should always be attentive and guard ourselves on all sides, since the Enemy assails us from all sides and through every means.
That we should examine ourselves, so as to correct our mistakes and increase our good deeds.
That for a faithful Christian it is hazardous to transgress even a single commandment, since he has received from God the ability to fulfill them all; and that a small evil is very harmful.
That monastics and devout lay people who have received Divine knowledge are subjected to great chastisements even for minor sins.
That we must courageously resist listlessness and demonic dejection, and concerning patience.
That the ascetic struggler, even when he is physically ill, should have no desire whatsoever for pleasures or relax his discipline, or place any hope of a cure in medical treatment, but in God, by Whose dispensation illnesses also come to us.
How and when we should seek medical treatment and what kind of treatment; that the monk should not leave his monastery for bodily healing, but should persevere there even if he is ill, being content with the care provided by his brothers.
That a monk should not bathe or strip completely naked unless compelled by necessity.
That there is nothing undetermined by God; all that happens, even sudden death, has been ordained by Divine Providence.
Concerning patience amid illnesses and the benefit to be derived therefrom, and that God brings providential chastisements upon certain virtuous persons for their perfect purification.
That the righteous are often permitted to die a violent death for some beneficial purpose.
That we should not be surprised when some misfortune befalls righteous men.
That the Christian, even when deprived of life’s necessities for his own benefit, should not straightforward become fainthearted, but should give thanks to the Lord and wait on Him and hope without hesitation that God, in His goodness, will unfailingly provide for him. As well, that it is shameful for an ascetic, who is a servant of God, to associate with worldly people and to ask for what he needs, even if he is burdened by indigence.
Concerning that hope in Christ which is imprudent.
That one should violate not even the least commandment on account of bodily necessity, no matter how pressing it may be, or on account of human fear.
That a believer, even if he falls into the tumult of secular life, should not conform to external circumstances, but should look to God and do what is pleasing to Him.
He who seeks to please God must reckon as nothing the dishonors or honors that come from men.
That one must strive for virtue in secret, without display or boasting; and concerning vainglory and pleasing men, and whence vainglory is engendered, what evils it brings about, and how it is destroyed.
That we should not pursue friendships with people who are prominent in the world.
That we should not, on account of feelings of self-conceit, do more than the other brethren of the monastery.
That pride alone is sufficient to destroy a Christian, and that those who become puffed up over their accomplishments are abandoned by Divine Grace and suffer a deadly fall.
Whence blasphemy is engendered and how it is cured.
The greatest among the virtues is discretion; the believer must act in all that he does with discretion. For what is done aimlessly, without discretion, even if it may be good, is not beneficial and can even be harmful.
That without help from on high, the ascetic struggler can neither be delivered from vice nor acquire virtue, and that adoption into sonship does not come about from deeds, but from Divine Grace.
What is the cause of temptations and tribulations, what is the benefit thereof, and what are their different kinds.
How we should withstand temptations; that we should not expose ourselves to them; those circumstances in which we should avoid or endure a temptation.
That one who is able to work miracles should not have recourse to miracle-working, but decline it out of humility; likewise, that we should not aspire to, or ask for, other spiritual gifts. That, even if we are vouchsafed them, we should not be high-minded, but guard ourselves through humility; that those who exhibit a Godly way of life are in no way inferior to those who work miracles; and that there are other spiritual gifts, superior to that of miracle-working, whereby spiritual men are known.
That love is the greatest of all the virtues and that he who loves his neighbor, as God wills, in all circumstances puts the benefit and comfort of his neighbor before his own interests.
That we ought to lay down even our life for our neighbor.
That he who has love and humility in the Lord strives not to grieve his neighbor, but serves him in every way, considering his needs and difficulties as his own.
He who loves his neighbor, as God wills, is his neighbor’s benefactor without the latter ever knowing it.
A pious man, whenever he sells or buys something, or engages in similar actions, should have God before his eyes and not occasion to cause harm to his neighbor, even if the latter should say that he has not suffered harm. As well, the young should be upright and not easily succumb to boldness. In the cœnobion, they should not establish cliques, for these are deleterious.
How we should act towards visitors and how we should receive and speak with them.
During the visits of Godly brothers, many of the Fathers, to refresh their visitors, mildly relaxed their asceticism, without being harmed thereby, since they were dispassionate; some of them would later chastise themselves for this small relaxation. He who maintains his asceticism during visits and consolatory encounters, or relaxes it somewhat, is worthy of praise from those who judge correctly; but we should not give credence to those who compel themselves more than necessary in consolatory encounters.
That one should not casually allow visitors to a cœnobion, even if they are monks, to converse or associate with the brothers; and how the brothers in a cœnobion should behave towards visitors.
That we should not eat with irreligious people; and as for those who ask us questions and do not put our advice into practice, we should avoid them after the first or second meeting.
Now, regarding those who visit places away from home, how they should behave, how they should walk, and how they should act when accompanying brothers.
That we must not turn away empty-handed anyone who approaches us for the purpose of obtaining alms, but must receive him kindly as one sent by God and share with him what we have; and that even if he is importunate, we must imitate God by forbearing with him and not getting angry. That God often recompenses many times over those who give alms. How and by whom alms should be distributed in cœnobitic monasteries.
That a monk should not possess money on the pretext of almsgiving or accept offerings for this purpose; and what sort of almsgiving befits a monk.
That oftentimes those who are poor and give alms to the best of their ability, and who subsequently acquire money, are overcome by avarice and cease the almsgiving that they previously did.
That a monk should not receive indiscriminately from any person; nor should he take more than he needs. And that he who receives alms ought to labor (in prayer and fasting) for the sake of those who give them.
That we should stay away from those things that do not concern us, or which belong to others, as being ruinous.
Glossary of General Terms in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity
Index of Selected Names in Book III
Index of Selected Subjects in Book III