The Three Stages

I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,… Luk 15:18

IF then any one is aiming at perfection, from that first Stage of fear which we rightly termed servile (of which it is said: “When ye have done all things say: we are unprofitable servants,”) he should by advancing a step mount to the higher path of hope — which is compared not to a slave but to a hireling, because it looks for the payment of its recompense, and as if it were free from care concerning absolution of its sins and fear of punishment, and conscious of its own good works, though it seems to look for the promised reward, yet it cannot attain to that love of a son who, trusting in his father’s kindness and liberality, has no doubt that all that the father has is his, to which also that prodigal who together with his father’s substance had lost the very name of son, did not venture to aspire, when he said: “I am no more worthy to be called thy son;” (Lk 15:19) for after those husks which the swine ate, satisfaction from which was denied to him, i.e., the disgusting food of sin, as he “came to himself,” (Lk 15:19) and was overcome by a salutary fear, he already began to loathe the uncleanness of the swine, and to dread the punishment of gnawing hunger, and as if he had already been made a servant, desires the condition of a hireling and thinks about the remuneration, and says: “How many hired servants of my father have abundance of bread, and I perish here with hunger. I will then return to my father and will say unto him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’” (Lk 15:18)

But those words of humble penitence his father who ran to meet him received with greater affection than that with which they were spoken, and was not content to allow him lesser things, but passing through the two stages without delay restored him to his former dignity of sonship.

Cassian’s Conferences, 1st Conference of Abbot Chaeremon, Chapter 7, NPNF, 2nd series, Vol.11.

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