This morning I was reminded of a man named Dorotheos of Gaza. It had to do with contrition… saying we are sorry. But first let’s learn about this hermit born into the world at Antioch in Syria around 506. From his writings and those of others who knew him–mostly letters–we learn that his parents were wealthy Christians, his father probably a doctor. Dorotheos (a male name then, meaning gift of God) had a brother who also became a monk. As a child he loved swimming and fishing.
Antioch suffered an earthquake when Dorotheos was around 20 years of age; it is surmised that his parents and the family home were lost. Perhaps this is when he and his brother traveled by ship to Gaza. Dorotheos was well educated, and Gaza was reputed as a place of learning. In Gaza Dorotheos met some saintly monks of a monastery a couple miles away which had been built around a small colony of hermit huts. After ten years in Gaza, Dorotheos entered this monastery at Thawatha. It was here that Dorotheos would learn matters of the soul by living out a life of poverty, chastity and obedience…and not without much persecution.
Dorotheos was placed in charge of the infirmary but became ill himself. In fact, he mentions he was not able to practice the austerities due to his own weak health. Yet he rose the ladder of spiritual perfection through losing attachment to the material world as well as learning and practicing virtues and conquering vices. Dorotheos did so with the means about him in his daily life with others…including personal suffering and trials. His spiritual journey continued within himself, over years of moment-by-moment life lessons.
Yes, he had the same types of trials we have with relationships, overcoming the flesh, in prayer, and feeling lazy about striving for the good, for virtues, for God. But Dorotheos persevered. Over time, people turned to him for prayer and counsel. He would tell them in essence, “If you are willing to labor a little, be patient, and pray much, God will come to your assistance.” It was around 543, when Dorotheos was in his late thirties, that he felt called to a life of solitude while yet not distant from the heartbeats of his brethren.
Dorotheos died around 560, probably in his early 50’s. Ill health plagued him most of his adult life, yet he was brought to spiritual perfection in a relatively short period of time. He stripped himself of attachments to that which is below (visible things and material thoughts) and sought the holy. This is not to say that he despised the beautiful world and life God created; he merely was not enslaved to it. Dorotheos had the freedom to love and live fully. Someone who knew him wrote, “He was compassionate and affectionate, truly worthy to instruct and enlighten souls; great by his wisdom, greater still by his personal devotion; pleasing to listen to and even more pleasing to converse with.”
As to what he said–of many profitable words spoken to the benefit of others–I return to his advice and personal action when someone either wrongly or rightly accuses us of something. Dorotheos would humbly answer when accused of something he had truly done: I have done it; I am sorry; please pray for me. When someone accused him of that which he had not done, Dorotheos would say: I am sorry; please pray for me.
This response is truth and humility at best. We should not admit that we have done what we have not done. Yet by careful self-examination, we may see that we have been at fault–or at least grasp the accuser’s perception. Always it is right to admit if we did do a wrong. Either way, even if the accuser is wrong, it is true to say we are sorry. It is a sad and sorry matter to be wrongly accused or for another to have an inaccurate perception or opinion. Finally, always it is good for the accused to sincerely ask: Please pray for me.
Information from: Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings, translated by Eric P. Wheeler. 1977. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.