The Holy Abba Dorotheus was a disciple of St John the Prophet in the Palestinian monastery of Abba Seridus in the sixth century.
In his youth he had zealously studied secular science. “When I sought worldly knowledge,” wrote the abba, “it was very difficult at first. When I would come to take a book, I was like a man about to touch a wild beast. When I forced myself to study, then God helped me, and diligence became such a habit that I did not know what I ate, what I drank, whether I had slept, nor whether I was warm or not. I was oblivious to all this while reading. I could not be dragged away by my friends for meals, nor would I even talk with them while I was absorbed in reading. When the philosopher let us go, I went home and washed, and ate whatever was prepared for me. After Vespers, I lit a lamp and continued reading until midnight.” So absorbed was Abba Dorotheus in his studies at that time.
He devoted himself to monastic activity with an even greater zeal. Upon entering the monastery, he says in his tenth Instruction, he decided that his study of virtue ought to be more fervent than his occupation with secular science had been.
One of the first obediences of Abba Dorotheus was to greet and to see to pilgrims arriving at the monastery. It gave him opportunity to converse with people from various different positions in life, bearing all sorts of burdens and tribulations, and contending against manifold temptations. With the means of a certain brother St Dorotheus built an infirmary, in which also he served. The holy abba himself described his obedience, “At the time I had only just recovered from a serious illness. Travellers would arrive in the evening, and I spent the evening with them. Then camel drivers would come, and I saw to their needs. It often happened that once I had fallen asleep, other things arose requiring my attention. Then it would be time for Vigil.” St Dorotheus asked one of the brethren to wake him up for for Vigil, and another to prevent him from dozing during the service. “Believe me,” said the holy abba, “I revered and honored them as though my salvation depended upon them.”
For ten years Abba Dorotheus was cell-attendant for St John the Prophet (Feb. 6). He was happy to serve the Elder in this obedience, even kissing the door to his cell with the same feeling as another might bow down before the holy Cross. Distressed that he was not fulfilling the word of St Paul that one must enter the Kingdom of Heaven through many tribulations (Acts 14:22), Abba Dorotheus revealed this thought to the Elder. St John replied, “Do not be sad, and do not allow this to distress you. You are in obedience to the Fathers, and this is a fitting delight to the carefree and calm.” Besides the Fathers at the monastery of Abba Seridus, St Dorotheus visited and listened to the counsels of other great ascetics of his time, among whom was Abba Zosima.
After the death of St John the Prophet, when Abba Barsanuphius took upon himself complete silence, St Dorotheus left the monastery of Abba Seridus and founded another monastery, the monks of which he guided until his own death.
Abba Dorotheus wrote 21 Discourses, several Letters, and 87 Questions with written Answers by Sts Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet. In manuscript form are 30 Talks on Asceticism, and written counsels of Abba Zosima. The works of Abba Dorotheus are imbued with a deep spiritual wisdom, distinguished by a clear and insightful style, but with a plain and comprehensible expression. The Discourses deal with the inner Christian life, gradually rising up in measure of growth in Christ. The saint resorted often to the advice of the great hierarchs, Sts Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. Obedience and humility, the combining of deep love for God with love for neighbor, are virtues without which spiritual life is impossible. This thought pervades all the writings of Abba Dorotheus.
In his writings the personal experience of Abba Dorotheus is felt everywhere. His disciple, St Dositheus (February 19), says of him, “Towards the brethren laboring with him he responded with modesty, with humility, and was gracious without arrogance or audacity. He was good-natured and direct, he would engage in a dispute, but always preserved the principle of respect, of good will, and that which is sweeter than honey, oneness of soul, the mother of all virtues.”
The Discourses of Abba Dorotheus are preliminary books for entering upon the path of spiritual action. The simple advice, how to proceed in this or that instance, together with a most subtle analysis of thoughts and stirrings of soul provide guidance for anyone who resolves to read the works of Abba Dorotheus. Monks who begin to read this book, will never part from it throughout their life.
Feast Day: August 13
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Dorotheos, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Selected Sayings of Abba Dorotheos of Gaza
“8. Therefore, whoever wants to find true rest in his soul must learn humility and he will see that all joy, all glory and all true rest are to be found there, whilst in pride it is just the opposite. How have we come into all this affliction? How have we fallen into all this misery? Is it not because of our pride? Is it not because of our senselessness? Is it not because we took the wrong decision? Is it not because we chose to impose our bitter will? Why? Was not Man created with every luxury, in all joy, in all rest and in all glory? Was he not in paradise? God said, “Do not do that” but he did it. Do you realise the enormity of his pride? Do you see his obstinacy? Do you see his insubordination? Therefore, when He saw his impudence God said: “He is a fool, he does not know how to be happy. If he does not have a hard time, he will be totally lost. If he does not learn what sorrow is, he will not learn what rest is. Then He gave him that what he deserved and expelled him from paradise”. Thus, Man was given up to self-love and to his own desires which would crush his bones, so as to learn not to trust himself but the commandment of God. The hardships from disobedience will teach him the calmness that comes from obedience as the Prophet says: “Your own wickedness will correct you” (Jer2:19). However, as I said in many ways, the goodness of God has not renounced His creature, but again invites and calls him “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:26). It is as if he is saying, “You were labouring, you were miserable, you were suffering through your disobedience; come then, return, recognise your weakness and your shame, so that you may attain your rest and glory. Come, lead a life of humility, you who were dead through haughtiness. Learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).
9. Oh, Brethren, what is the result of pride? Oh, see what humility can do? What was the need for all these sufferings? For, if from the beginning Man had humbled himself, obeyed God, and kept the commandment he would not have fallen. Again, after his fall, God gave him an occasion to repent and to receive mercy but he kept his stiff-neck held high. He came to him and said “Adam, Where are you?” instead of saying “What glory you have left and what dishonour you have arrived at?” After that, He asked him “Why did you sin*? Why did you transgress the commandment?” By asking these questions, He wanted to give him the opportunity to say, “Forgive me”. However, he did not ask for forgiveness. There was no humility, there was no repentance, but indeed the opposite. He answered, “The woman whom You gave to be with me” (Gen 3:9-12), he did not say, “the woman deceived me”, but “The woman whom You gave to me”, as if he wanted to say: “This catastrophe has come upon me because of You”. So it is, brethren, since Man is not accustomed to blame himself. He does not hesitate to consider even God as the cause of evil. Then God came to the woman and said to her, “Why did you not keep the commandment?” as if He wanted to say, “At least you, say forgive me, so as to humble your soul and to receive mercy”. Again, there was no request for forgiveness. She also answered, “The serpent deceived me” (Gen 3:13), as if she wanted to say, “If the serpent sinned, where is my mistake?” Why did you act in this way, you pitiable ones? Make a bow of repentance, recognise your fault, be sorry for your nakedness. Neither one of them could blame himself, neither of them had the least bit of humility.
10. Thus, you can see, clearly, how we arrived at this situation. You can see how many evils we have arrived at, and of what sort through justifying ourselves, following our own opinion and insisting on our own will. All of which are children of that enemy of God, pride. In contrast, the products of humility are self-criticism, mistrust of our own wisdom and hatred of our own will, because from these one can rediscover one’s own self and return to the natural state through purification which is the gift given to you by keeping Christ’s holy commandments. For without humility one cannot obey the commandments neither can one do good, as Abba Mark says, “Without the heart being broken, it is impossible to be freed from evils and to obtain virtue.” Therefore it is through breaking the heart that one accepts the virtues and is liberated from evils, practices the virtues and returns to one’s rest.”