What do human beings do?

38. Abba Daniel said that the holy Arsenius told the brothers the following story as if it were about someone else, although it was obvious that it was himself who had had this vision:
“One of the seniors,” he said, “suddenly heard a voice in his cell, saying, ‘Go outside and I will show you what human beings do.’ So he got up and went out. He was taken to where a black Ethiopian was cutting wood with an axe and making a big bundle of it, and then trying to lift it up but was unable to do so because of its size. But he still went back and cut some more to add to the bundle. Again he was shown another man standing by a lake, drawing water from it and putting it into a jar, but there was a hole through which the water was escaping and running back into the lake.

“The voice said. ‘Come with me and I will show you something else.’ And he saw two men on horseback outside a temple, each of them carrying on their shoulders a long wooden pole, and trying to go into the temple but unable to get through the door because they were carrying the pole crossways. Nor were they giving way to each other, but were both trying to get in at the same time; neither of them was humble enough to give way to the other.

“And the visions were explained to him. Those carrying the long poles are those who bear the holy yoke of monastic life, but they justify themselves proudly in their own estimation, they don’t give way to each other, and have no desire to walk humbly in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew 11.29). Because of the pride in their hearts they remain outside, excluded from the kingdom of Christ the King. He who was cutting wood and making his bundle even bigger is one who is burdened with many sins but keeps on adding more of them without repenting of what he has already done, preferring to pile sin upon sin. And he who was drawing water from the lake is one who does some good works, but his evil deeds are more numerous, so that even the good that he does is wiped out and perishes. “It is absolutely necessary, therefore, as the Apostle says, to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling'” (Philippians 2.12).

De Vitis Patrum, Book III, Parag. 38



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