St. Dorotheos of Gaza was a sixth century monk, abbot, and storyteller. Here are two of his stories. One is a familiar story about Isaac of Thebes. The other, a tale of two slave girls, I’ve heard nowhere else.
A story about Isaac the Theban
Nothing is more serious, nothing more difficult to deal with, as I say repeatedly, than judging and despising our neighbor. Why do we not rather judge ourselves and our own wickedness which we know so accurately and about which we have to render an account to God? Why do we usurp God’s right to judge? Why should we demand a reckoning from his creature, his servant? Ought we not to be afraid when we hear about a brother falling into fornication said, ‘He has acted wickedly!’
If you know what it says about this in the Book of the Ancients, it would make you shudder. For an angel brought [Isaac the Theban] the soul of someone who had fallen into sin, and said to him, ‘Here is the person you have judged. He has just died. Where do you order him to be put, into the Kingdom or into eternal punishment?’ Can you imagine a more terrible situation to be in? What else could the angel mean by these words than, ‘Since you want to be the judge of the just and the unjust, what do you command for this poor soul? Is he to be spared or to be punished?’
The holy old man, frightened beyond measure, spent the rest of his life praying with sighs and tears and continuous hard work to be forgiven this sin, and this in spite of having fallen on his knees before the angel and been forgiven, for the angel said to him, ‘You see, God has shown you how serious a thing it is to judge; you must never do it again.’ This was the way he granted forgiveness but the soul of the old man would not allow him to be completely comforted from his pain and repentance until he died.
Why are we so ready to judge our neighbor? Why are we so concerned about the burden of others? We have plenty to be concerned about, each one has his own debt and his own sins. It is for God alone to judge, to justify, or to condemn. He knows the state of each one of us and our capacities, our deviations, and our gift, our constitution and our preparedness, and it is for him to judge each of these things according to the knowledge that he alone has. For God judges the affairs of a bishop in one way and those of a prince in another. His judgment is for an abbot or for a disciple, he judges differently the senior or the neophyte, the sick man and the healthy man. Who could understand all these judgments except the one who has done everything, formed everything, knows everything?
A story about two slave girls
I remember once hearing the following story a slave ship put in at a certain port where there lived a holy virgin who was in earnest about her spiritual life. When she learned about the arrival of the ship she was glad, for she wanted to buy a small serving maid for herself. She thought to herself, ‘I will take her into my home and bring her up in my way of life so that she knows nothing of the evils of the world.’ So she sent and inquired of the master of the ship and found that he had two small girls who he thought would suit her. Whereupon she gladly paid the price and took one of the children into her house.
The ship’s master went away. He had not gone very far when there met him the leader of a dancing troupe who saw the other small girl with him and wanted to buy her; the price was agreed and paid, and he took her away with him.
Now take a look at God’s mystery: see what his judgment was. Which of us could give any judgment about this case? The holy virgin took one of these little ones to bring her up in the fear of God, to instruct her in every good work, to teach her all that belongs to the monastic state and all the sweetness of the holy commandments of God. The other unfortunate child was taken for a dancing troupe, to be trained in the works of the devil.
What effect would teaching her this orgiastic dancing have, but the ruin of her soul? What can we have to say about this frightful judgment? Here were two little girls taken away from their parents by violence. Neither knew where they came from; one is found in the hands of God and the other falls into the hands of the devil. Is it possible to say that what God asks from the one he asks also of the other? Surely not!
Suppose they both fell into fornication or some other deadly sin; is it possible that they both face the same judgment or that their fall is the same? How does it appear to the mind of God when one learns about the Judgment and about the Kingdom of God day and night, while the other unfortunate knows nothing of it, never hears anything good but only the contrary, everything shameful, everything diabolical? How can he allow them to be examined by the same standard?
Wherefore a man can know nothing about the judgments of God. He alone is the one who takes account of all and is able to judge the hearts of each one of us, as he alone is our Master. Truly it happens that a man may do a certain thing (which seems to be wrong) out of simplicity, and there may be something about it which makes more amends to God than your whole life; how are you going to sit in judgment and constrict your own soul? And should it happen that he has fallen away, how do you know how much and how well he fought, how much blood he sweated before he did it?
Perhaps so little fault can be found in him that God can look on his action as if it were just, for God looks on his labor and all the struggle he had before he did it, and has pity on him. And you know this, and what God has spared him for, are you going to condemn him for, and ruin your own soul? And how do you know what tears he has shed about it before God? You may well know about the sin, but you do not know about the repentance.
More from St. Dorotheos
These stories are from St. Dorotheos’s discourse, “On Refusal to Judge Our Neighbor.” If you want to read more by St. Dorotheos, you’ll find it in Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. While you wait for your copy, you can read the rest of the discourse:
- St. Dorotheos of Gaza Explains What God Hates Most
- The Wisdom of Fishermen, and Abba Ammon and the Woman in a Barrel
- The Compass of Dorotheos of Gaza