Question. In my mind I rejoice over these words and desire that it should indeed be so; why is it that I turn out to be unprepared in time of need?
Reply. Because you are not constantly learning about this. If you wish to have these thoughts at the right time, then be learning about them constantly, constantly keep track of them and believe God that you will prosper. Mix prayer with instruction in Divine Scripture. Please those who are sick, mainly in order to obtain mercy, as I have often said; and besides, when you yourself grow ill, God will inspire a man to serve you; for He has said, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Mt. 7:2).
If you strive to do your duty according to your strength and conscience, then you should know and test yourself, that you have not yet understood the true path; and that is why you are obligated to accept without disturbance or sorrow, but with joy, the knowledge that you have sinned in that which in your opinion you had done according to your conscience. For serving those who are wiser than you can correct all your inadequacies, and everything done well will become even more confirmed. Strive to make progress, so that when you have some sorrow, either physical or spiritual, you might be able to withstand it without growing sad, without heaviness, and with patience. When you hear that you are being accused of something you did not do, do not be surprised at this, and do not be upset, but immediately bow humbly to the one accusing you, saying to him, "forgive me and pray for me"; then be silent, as the Fathers have commanded. And when they ask you if it is true or not, then bow down with humility and tell them the truth about what happened. Having said it, again bow down with humility, saying, "forgive me and pray for me."
Question. What should I do? I am not always equally disposed to the brethren when I meet them.
Reply. You are as yet unable to be equally inclined when you meet the brethren; just the same, strive never to be scandalized by anything, never judge anyone, do not criticize, do not scold a brother for his words, deeds or movements that do not bring you any benefit, but rather try to extract some edification from everything. Do not desire to display yourself vaingloriously, either by word or deed. Acquire moderation in food and in your words, even in the trivial. Know that whoever is warred against by any kind of passionate thought or is sorrowful over it yet does not confess it, strengthens the thought against himself; that is, he gives the thought more power to fight and torment him. If he begins to war and oppose his thought and take actions against it, then as we have said many times, the passion will weaken, and will not have the power to fight him and bring him grief. Thus little by little, struggling and receiving help from God, he will overcome the passion itself. May God cover us through the prayers of all the Saints. Amen.
Question. Why did Abba Poemen say that to fear God, to pray to God, and to do good to one's neighbor are the three chief virtues?
Reply. The Elder said that one should fear God because the fear of God precedes every virtue, for The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110:10), and without the fear of God no one can perform any virtue or anything else good; for by the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil (Prov. 15:27). And he said that one should pray to God because a man by himself cannot acquire any virtue nor do any good, as I have previously noted, even if tries to do this out of fear of God; but nothing can ever be done without God's help. So there must also unfailingly be both our own striving and the help of God. Therefore a man must always pray to God and beg His help, and that He would work with him in everything he does.
To do good to one's neighbor is a deed of love. For one who fears God and prays to God brings benefit to himself alone, but every virtue is perfected by love for one's neighbor--therefore the Elder said that one must do good to one's neighbor. He who fears God and prays to Him must bring benefit to his neighbor, and do him good. For this, as I have said, is love, which is the crown of the virtues as the Holy Apostle says (cf. Rom. 13:10). Glory be to our God unto the ages of ages. Amen.