There are three forms of lies: one lies in thought, another lies by word, and another lies by his very life. He lies by thought who takes for truth his own suppositions, that is, vain suspicions against his neighbor; when he sees someone conversing with a brother, he makes his own conjectures and says, "He is speaking about me." If they stop talking he again supposes that it is for his sake that they have stopped. If someone says a word, he suspects that it was said in order to insult him. All the time and in every matter he takes note of his neighbor, saying, "He did this for my sake, he said this because of me, he did this for such and such a reason. A man like this lies in thought, for he says nothing true, but everything out of suspicion alone, and from this proceed: curiosity, evil speaking, eavesdropping, enmity, condemnation. It might happen that one supposes something and this by chance turns out to be true; after this he claims the desire to correct himself, and then begins to constantly take note of everything, thinking, "If someone is speaking about me, I should know what transgression he condemns me for, so that I can correct myself." In the first place, the very beginning of this is already from the evil one, for he began with lie: not actually knowing what was said, he thought up what he did not know; and how can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18)? But if he really desires to be corrected, then when his brother tells him, “Do not do this,” or, “Why did you do that?” he should not be disturbed but should bow down and thank him, and then he will correct himself. For if God sees that such is his good will, he will never let him to go astray, but will send him someone who can correct him. But to say: "I believe my guesses in order to correct myself, and with this aim I eavesdrop and am curious.” This is self-justification inspired by the devil, who desires to make snares for us.
Once when I was living in the coenobium, a diabolical temptation came upon me. I began to draw conclusions concerning a person's state of soul from his movements and the way he walked. And then the following thing happened to me. Once when I was standing, a woman passed by me carrying a pitcher of water. I myself do not know how I was drawn away and looked her in the eyes, but immediately the thought was suggested to me that she was a harlot. However, no sooner had this thought come to me than I began to grieve heavily, and so I told the elder Abba John about it. "Master, what should I do when I involuntarily notice someone's movements and walk and the thought speaks to me concerning the state of this person’s soul?" And the Elder replied to me thus: "What is this? Doesn't it sometimes happen that a person has a natural inadequacy, but just the same corrects himself through great effort and labors? Therefore you must not draw any conclusions from this about his state of soul. So never believe your conjectures, for a crooked rule makes crooked even that which is straight. Human opinions are false and harm the one who surrenders himself to them." And thus from that time on, whenever a thought tells me of the sun that it is the sun, or of darkness that it is darkness, I have not believed it, for there is nothing more onerous than believing one's own opinions. If this becomes rooted in us, it can lead us into such a deleterious state that we think to see things which do not and cannot exist. And I will tell you in this regard about a remarkable incident which occurred in my presence when I was still in the coenobium.
There was a certain brother there who was very troubled by this passion, and he so heeded his own conjectures that he was convinced of the veracity of every one of his suppositions. It seemed to him things were happening precisely as his mind imagined, and that it could not be otherwise. The evil increased with time and the devils led him into such a state of delusion that once, when he entered the garden and looked around (he was always looking around and eavesdropping), it seemed to him that he saw one of the brethren stealing and eating figs, and it was Friday, and not even the second hour yet. And so, convinced that he really saw this, he hid himself and went away in silence. Later during the Liturgy, he again began to watch what this brother who had just stolen and eaten the figs would do during the time of Communion. When he saw that he was washing his hands so as to go and receive Communion, he ran and told the Abbot, "Look, that brother is going to receive Communion of the Divine Mysteries together with the brethren, but do not allow them to give him the Holy Gifts, for I saw this morning how he stole figs from the garden and ate them." Meanwhile that brother was already approaching Holy Communion with great reverence and contrition, for he was very devout. But when the Abbot saw him, he called him over to himself before he could go up to the priest who was distributing the Holy Gifts, and leading him away to the side asked, "Tell me brother, what did you do today?" The brother was astonished and told him, "Where O Master?" The Abbot continued, "When you went in the morning into the garden, what did you do there?" The brother, astonished, again replied to him; "Master, I did not even look at the garden today, and I was not even here this morning in the coenobium, but I have just now returned from a journey, for immediately after the All-Night Vigil the steward sent me on such and such an obedience." Now the place to which this obedience he described took him was very far away, and the brother managed only with difficulty to arrive in time for the Liturgy. The Abbot called the steward and asked him, "Where did you send this brother?" The steward repeated the same thing that the brother had said, that is, that he had sent him to such and such a village. The Abbot asked, "Why did you not call me to receive a blessing from me?" The steward, bowing down replied: "Forgive me Master, you were resting after the Vigil and therefore I did not make him go and receive a blessing from you." When the Abbot was thus satisfied he allowed this brother to receive Holy Communion, and calling the other one, who had trusted his own suspicions, he placed a penance on him and forbade him to receive Holy Communion. Moreover he also called all the brothers at the end of the Liturgy and with tears related to them what had happened, accusing the brother before all, desiring to thus achieve a three-fold purpose: firstly to shame the devil and rebuke the sower of such suspicion; and secondly, so that by putting the sin of that brother to shame, he might thereby be forgiven and receive help from God in the future; and thirdly, in order to convince the brethren never to trust their own opinions. Having instructed both us and the brother concerning this he said that there is nothing more harmful than suspicion, using this incident as an illustration. And the Holy Fathers have spoken much in the same vein, warning us against the harm of believing our suspicions. Therefore let us strive, O brethren, never to trust our own selves. For in truth nothing so removes a man from God and from heedfulness to his own sins, and so arouses constant curiosity over what is not expedient for him than this passion. Nothing good can come from it, only a multitude of disturbances; it never allows a man the opportunity to acquire the fear of God. If by reason of our infirmity evil thoughts are sown in us, we should immediately turn them into good thoughts and they will not harm us; for if we believe our conjectures, there will be no end to them and they will never allow the soul to be peaceful. This is lying by thought.
One lies in word who, for example, from slothfulness is too lazy to get up for the Vigil, but does not say, "Forgive me but I was too lazy to get up." He says instead, "I had a fever, I was completely exhausted from work, I had no strength to get up, I was unwell"; and he utters ten lying words to as not to make a single prostration and be humbled. And if he does not reproach himself in other like circumstances, he will ceaselessly change his words and argue, so as not to undergo reproach. Or if he happens to have an argument with his brother, he will not cease to justify himself and repeat, "But you said… but you did… but I did not say… but so and so said…" and this and that, so as not to be humbled. Again, if he wants something but does not wish to say, "I want this," and instead constantly deviates in his words saying, "I have such and such a disease and I need this; this has been prescribed for me," lying until he satisfies his desire. Just as every sin proceeds either from love of pleasure, love of money, or love of glory, so are lies generated from these three reasons. A man lies either so as not to reproach himself and be humbled, or so as to fulfill his desire, or for the sake of gain, and he does not cease to twist and sophisticate his words until his desire is fulfilled. Such a man will never be believed, and even should he speak the truth no one can give him credence, and his very truth will prove unbelievable.
Sometimes it happens that there is a need under extreme circumstances to conceal something small, and if this small thing were not hidden, the matter would produce great disturbance and grief. When one encounters such extraordinary circumstances and sees himself in need, he may therefore obfuscate his words so that, as I have said, a great disturbance and grief or offence might not ensue. But when such great need arises to depart from words of truth, even then a man should not continue without being saddened over this, but should repent and weep before God and consider the incident a time of temptation. He should not frequently decide upon such deviation—only once out of many occasions. If one takes snake-poison antidote or laxatives often they will harm him; but if he takes them once in a year out of great need, they bring him benefit. So also you should act in this manner: One who wants to modify his word out of great need should not do it frequently but only under exceptional circumstances, once over the course of many years, when he perceives, as I have said, a great necessity; and let that which is allowed infrequently be perpetrated with fear and trembling, showing to God one's good will and the necessity, and then he will be forgiven; but he will receive an injury from it nonetheless. And so we have said what it means to lie by thought, and what it means to lie by word. Now we would like to say what it means to lie by one's very life.
One lies by his life if, being given to fleshly passion, he pretends to be continent; or, being covetous, he speaks of almsgiving and praises mercy; or being arrogant he marvels at the humility of wisdom. And he is amazed at virtue not because he desires to praise it, for if he had spoken with this intention he would have first of all acknowledged his own infirmity with humility, saying: "Woe to me the wretched one, I have become a stranger to every good". Then after acknowledging his infirmity, he would begin to praise virtue and be amazed at it. And again, he does not praise virtue with the aim of guarding others from temptation, for if that were his intention he should have reasoned thus: "In truth I am wretched and passionate, but why should I tempt others? Why should I cause harm to someone else's soul and lay another heavy burden on myself?" Then even though he has sinned by this, he has also touched on some good; for to condemn oneself is a deed of humility, and to spare one's neighbor is a deed of mercy.
But as I have said, a liar is amazed at virtue not for any of the above-mentioned reasons, but either so as to steal the name of virtue in order to hide his own shame, and speak of it as if he himself perfectly possessed it, or often in order to harm someone and deceive him. For not a single ill will, not a single heresy, nor the devil himself can deceive anyone under any other pretext than that of virtue. The apostle says that the devil himself transforms himself into an angel of light, and therefore it is never surprising that his servants should be transformed into the servants of righteousness (cf. II Cor. 11:14-15). So also a lying man, either because he fears shame and does not want to be humbled, or, as we have said, because he desires to deceive someone and harm him, speaks about virtues and praises them, and marvels at them as if he himself behaves accordingly and knows them by experience. Such a man lies by his very life. He is not a simple man but a double-minded one, for he is one way within and another way without, and his life is duplicitous and malevolent.
And so we have spoken about lying, that it is from the evil one; and we have spoken about truth, that truth is God. And so brethren, let us flee lying so as to be delivered from the lot of the evil one, and let us strive to make truth our own, so as to have union with God, Who said, I am the truth (Jn. 14:6). May the Lord God enable us to have His truth; for to Him belongs glory, dominion, honor, and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.