On Self-Knowledge

Elder Joseph the Hesychast 1897-1959

[F]rom the beginning of creation [God] separated men into three classes: He gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to another. The first one has the highest gifts: he has greater mental capacity and is called “taught by God”, because he receives teachings from God without a teacher, just like St. Anthony the Great, St. Onouphrios, St. Mary of Egypt, Cyril Phileotes, Luke of Steirion, and thousands of others in the old days who became perfect without a guide. The second type of person has to be taught what is good in order to do it. And the third one, even if he hears, even if he learns, he hides it in the ground: he doesn’t do anything. So that is why there is such a big difference among the people and monks that you see. And that is why first and foremost you must “know thyself”. That is, who you really are in truth, and not what you imagine you are. With this knowledge you become the wisest man. With this kind of awareness, you reach humility and receive grace from the Lord. However, if you don’t obtain self-knowledge, but consider only your toil, know that you will always remain far from the path. The prophet does not say, “Behold, O Lord, my toil,” but says, “Behold my humility and my toil.” (LXX 24:18) Toil is for the body, and humility is for the soul. Moreover, the two together, toil and humility are for the whole man.

Who has conquered the devil? He who knows his own weaknesses, passions, and shortcomings. Whoever is afraid of knowing himself remains far from knowledge, and he doesn’t love anything else except seeing faults in others and judging them. He doesn’t see gifts in other people, but only shortcomings. And he doesn’t see his own shortcomings, but only his gifts. This is truly the sickness that plagues us men of the eighth millennium: we fail to recognize other’s gifts. One person may lack many things, but many people together have everything. What one person lacks, another person has. If we acknowledged this, we would have a great deal of humility, because God, Who adorned men in many ways and showed inequality in all His creations, is honored and glorified; not as the unbelievers say, who toil trying to bring equality by overturning the divine creation. God made all things in wisdom. (cf. LXX Ps. 103:24) (Monastic Wisdom pp. 49-50, Third Letter)