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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“Hypocrites, the greedy, and those who are voluptuous in this life resemble roses, which last just a short while and which one quickly sees trampled upon, as though they were weeds without worth. Disdain all things that transform a man into a beast; for, when life is made dirty by sin, as a natural consequence the soul will also be soiled. In such circumstances, people must repent and lament, because they will certainly suffer punishment for their stupid acts. Therefore, have no desire to become rich, or to be honored, for all of these things will destroy you—and we were not created by God to be destroyed. Consider all of these things corruptible; only virtue survives uncorrupted, and it is for virtue that you must be concerned. Indeed, by the lofty philosophy of virtue, man is shown to be God by Grace.”
—“Hypothesis I: That a monastic has vowed to live in poverty; what the sign is of one not wishing material goods; and how the Fathers succeeded in living in poverty.”
That a monastic has vowed to live in poverty; what the sign is of one not wishing material goods; and how the Fathers succeeded in living in poverty.
Corporeal charity is required of laymen, when they are not poor, since they enjoy endless benefits therefrom. Simple believers should practice this kind of charity with all of their might, offering the choicest from what they possess.
The passion of greed is the most destructive of all the other passions.
From whence comes forth the love of God, how it is expressed, and what its works are.
That the greatest achievement among the virtues is silence (hesychia), when one living in silence does so with full knowledge of its meaning; greatness of soul is needed to achieve this. What silence with knowledge is and how one may achieve it.
In what way and from whence one derives strength to gain victory over one’s thoughts, and to what extent we are not responsible for the thoughts that come to us.
That aimless wandering of the mind and forgetfulness spell death for the believer, even as unceasing remembrance and the vision of God constitute life for him and deliverance from every evil.
That we must pray unceasingly; what unceasing prayer is and how it is achieved.
That one who is always walled about by prayer is impregnable to his noetic enemies; for this reason we must be diligent in cultivating prayer.
What the power of prayer is; that through prayer every good thing is given to the man of God; that through prayer man is united to God.
That he who asks something from God should not ask for that which he desires, but that which is in his interest, according to the judgment of God.
He who asks of God what is beneficial for his soul must also gladly accept that which is sent by Divine Providence, even if it is opposed to the desire and will of the petitioner.
Prayer must be strengthened by the performance of good deeds; what things render prayer acceptable to God.
Our prayer is not acceptable when we have enmity against another, or when others have enmity against us and we do not take care to reconcile with them.
It is necessary for a faithful Christian to read Holy Scripture; and great is the benefit therefrom.
That which we read we must also put into action; for salvation is achieved by deeds, not by words. For this reason, knowledge alone is of no benefit. The spiritual person should not limit himself to the words of a text, but rather seek to understand their higher meaning and spirit.
We must not, moved by pride, greatly pry into the lofty meaning of Scripture or dogmatic matters that surpass human reason; nor should we try to comprehend the judgments of God.
A believer should abstain from knowledge falsely so called and must not consort with heretics. What true wisdom in God is, and that certain people would do well to live in simplicity, far from such discussions.
Demons can do nothing against the faithful; hence, we must hold them in contempt, not take fright on account of them, and pay them no heed, whatever they do. How one discerns whether a vision proceeds from the demons or from the Angels; for demons frequently create illusions, in order to lead the simple-minded astray and to bring a (false) consolation to the soul. Regarding which visions are Divine and which are satanic.
Dreams appear in divers manners, for which reason it is safer not to place our trust in them. Nothing of the future is known to the demons, though they pretend to know certain things, foretelling them as if from their own knowledge.
That the demons do not at all know what is in the heart of man, or which passions overcome us; they can discern these only by what we say and do.
What the measure of dispassion is, what its traits are, and how a man acquires these.
How and when one should touch upon theology; what constitutes theological wisdom and what is reckoned knowledge; what the difference is between them and how the mind is made worthy of them.
How and whence the mind becomes a partaker of the Grace of God and is led up to the vision of God, and how it is maintained in this state of Grace.
In how many ways Divine withdrawal and abandonment occur, and what we should do in such instances, so that Divine Grace might again come upon us.
Spiritual contemplation excites the spiritual mind and causes it to forget all earthly things. Divine Grace becomes all things to those perfected: nourishment, drink, and raiment. For this reason, many of the Saints, strengthened by Divine Grace, either gave no heed whatever to these material resources or accounted them of least worth, thus overcoming the boundaries of nature.
The rank of Priest is a great rank; therefore, a believer must not seek after it. On the contrary, out of reverence, one should renounce the call thereto, if indeed he believes that his calling is not according to the Will of God, but from human zeal. A believer should act in a similar way whenever he is called to any position of authority or to work as a Teacher.
Regarding the Priesthood, that he who unworthily carries out the duties of a Priest lays up for himself the most severe punishment, while, on the contrary, he who serves as a Priest with care and remains worthy of his profession is benefited greatly in his soul.
Daily Liturgy occasions great benefit; for this reason, we find that this was a practice among the Fathers. In the Liturgy, heavenly and earthly things are united.
Not just for the living, but also for those who have reposed, oblations provide great aid.
After death, there is not forgiveness, except for very light sins, and this only with the greatest difficulty. As for those whose acts have merited them Hell, it is impossible for them to exit therefrom.
What the nature of the Sanctified Gifts (the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist) is, what their power is, and how one should approach them.
How and when we should approach Communion of the Sacred Gifts and in what state our consciences should be.
Regular Communion is very beneficial, while, on the contrary, infrequent Communion is harmful and dangerous.
Any who are under ban (excommunicated) and not communing during the Divine Liturgy should exit the Church together with the Catechumens.
That burial in the Church benefits the faithful, but incurs further punishment on those condemned to eternal fire.
That a sumptuous burial also brings no small harm to the soul; wherefore, lovers of God greatly desire and prefer humble and inglorious burial.
That teaching is not the work of just anyone, but only of one foreordained by Divine Providence as fit for such: he who puts into practice what he teaches and who has conquered his passions. He who does not have an aptitude for education must watch over himself lest, wishing to instruct others, he should neglect and harm himself. There are some—though rare—who are from the beginning guided directly by the Holy Spirit. Not only are they not in need of human advice and guidance, but they are even able to become the spiritual guides of others. We should marvel at such people, but not attempt to imitate them, ignoring our own weakness.
That for one who makes judgments by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, whatever his judgment may be, it is in accordance with God, even if he is not a Priest. Teaching others is permitted by God not only to Priests, but also to men who are pure in soul. What the mystical Priesthood is. In what manner those in the desert may partake of the Immaculate Mysteries, if there is no Priest.
That the true Shepherd must readily undergo every danger for the sake of his sheep and care wholeheartedly for them.
Those who have received the gift from God to teach, to the extent that they take care to increase the circles of those whom they teach, will correspondingly enjoy greater Grace. For this reason, they should teach indefatigably. And those who listen to their teachings with indifference will be subject to insufferable chastisement. A Superior must remain in his monastery and have a second in command to attend to the brothers.
No one should teach or test those who are not in submission to him, even if they should be sinning, unless they should request such; nor should one even come to their defense, if they are wronged.
We should not conduct ourselves autocratically towards our disciples or assign to them work that is inapposite. All that is assigned with humility of mind and with a clean conscience the Grace of God will bring to an auspicious end.
We should not criticize someone who does some good thing, even if it is perhaps imperfect; on the contrary, we should reinforce his good intention and incite him, bit by bit, to perfection.
The Abbot should instruct the weaker of the brothers in obedience, patience, and other ascetic feats by the example of the stronger; and in all things, he should be lenient with the inexperienced.
You should not ask of everyone the same ascetic feats, but only in keeping with the former life of each and according to the strength of each.
That we should especially care for the weak and be most accommodating with them in circumstances in which they do not violate some command of God, so that they do not suffer scandal. The successes and sins of each individual are judged according to his strength and knowledge.
That we must not immediately oppress with sharp rebukes one who has sinned and is on the verge of despair, but must comfort him tenderly and strive with kindness to raise him from his fall. Likewise, if one has departed from the cœnobion and has thereafter returned, we must receive him affably.
That an Abbot must not remain silent when those under his direction sin, but must chastise and reprove them, trying by every means to cure them.
That he who sins incorrigibly and brings harm to the brotherhood by his persistence must be expelled if, after appropriate care has been taken to bring benefit to him, nothing is achieved; and that the Abbot must not, out of excessive compassion, allow both himself and the rest of the brotherhood to come to harm.
Glossary of General Terms in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity
Index of Selected Names in Book IV
Index of Selected Subjects in Book IV