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August 13, 2023

Homily on Abba Dorotheos of Gaza and Saint Maximus the Confessor (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Today our Church celebrates the memory of two great ascetic Fathers, namely our holy and God-bearing Father Dorotheos and Saint Maximus the Confessor, the latter on the occasion of the transfer of his relics. Between these two Fathers there is a common characteristic and that is the ascetic life, which is the basis of Orthodox theology.

First of all, let me refer to Venerable Dorotheos, who lived in the 6th century though we don't know the particular circumstances in which he grew up. In general, he came from a rich family in Gaza, he acquired great philological and philosophical knowledge, but at a very young age he left everything and joined the Sacred Monastery of Seridos, a few kilometers south of Gaza. Two great ascetics lived in asceticism there who were shut up in their cells and had great spiritual experience, that is, Barsanuphios, who did not come into contact with people, but when they asked him written questions, he answered by dictating to his disciple Seridos; also shut up in his cell was John the Prophet.

Saint Dorotheos obeyed these ascetics by asking relevant questions, and the teachers answered him as soon as possible. For a while he was responsible for the hospitality of the pilgrims, he served in the hospital of the Sacred Monastery, it seems that he also had medical knowledge, and gained great experience in penetrating the souls of people and analyzing all their inner dispositions. His asceticism was great, in fact he had asked a brother of the Monastery to wake him up for the night service and another brother to keep him awake during it.

Despite the great patience he exercised and the great experience he gained, and in fact after the repose of the abbot of the Monastery of Seridos, and the repose of Abba John the Prophet, but also the perfect silence of Barsanuphios the Great, Abba Dorotheos founded his own Monastery, apparently in order to transmit to his disciples his rich spiritual experience that he acquired both through his own struggle and through communication with his holy spiritual fathers. Various teachings and letters of his have been preserved.

In these texts of his, his God-given wisdom can be seen, together with the spiritual experience he had, and it is proven that he was a deep anatomist of the human soul, a deep hesychast Father who formulated his teaching with simplicity. It is possible that they are oral teachings that the stenographers of that time saved. Of course, he has knowledge of Holy Scripture, he uses passages from the Great Fathers, such as Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Irenaeus, Athanasius the Great and others.

His writings are amazing and distinguished for God-given psychotherapy and unattainable practicality, since he knows very well the world of the passions of the soul, the world of intrusive thoughts and the world of virtues. He refers to the patience we must show in our lives, with determination, humility and prayer. He writes about "justification" and the "will" on which are imposed bad intrusive thoughts and disturb the inner world of man. Also, he talks about the three states of man in relation to God, that is, those who keep God's commandments, either out of fear of Hell or the reward of Paradise or out of love because they are sons of God. This shows the spiritual maturity of monks and Christians.

Next, let me mention Saint Maximus the Confessor, to whom today we attach the burial and transfer of his relics, a great Father and theologian of the 7th century, who proved to be a champion in the fight against the heresy of Monothelitism, according to which heresy Christ has only one will, whereas as Saint Maximus supported and the Sixth Ecumenical Synod decided that Christ had two wills that acted in the One Person of the Word.

However, Saint Maximus the Confessor, who began his monastic life as a hesychast, wrote the 400 Chapters on Love, in which he defines love throughout his spiritual and ascetic life. These chapters are amazing and move within the perspective of the ascetic tradition of Abba Dorotheos, with the difference that they are written in the form of summary chapters and not as a teaching.

These are small short and concise texts that do not only refer to love, but also to its conditions and its results. Thus, he talks about mind and reason, passions and dispassion, ignorance and knowledge and about the whole course of the Christian, which is praxis and theoria, practical philosophy (purification), natural theoria (illumination) and secret theology (theosis/deification). Both saints, that is, Abba Dorotheos and Saint Maximus the Confessor, have the same ascetic and hesychastic tradition, which is the spiritual medicine and the spiritual healing of man, showing how man is deformed by sin and how he is transformed by the Grace of God and his own struggle.

We live in an age of excessive extroversion, virtual reality, digital technology and ignore our inner world which creates turmoil, anxiety and depression, and that is why various psychoanalytical systems appear to help. We must, however, know that in the Orthodox Church we have amazing texts, like the ones I mentioned, which not only analyze the human soul, but synthesize it and heal it, in general they heal the whole human being. The Orthodox therapeutic method is unknown to many people and it is certainly worth the effort to get to know it.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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