THE ART OF INCISING A SOUL
We have a problem. If we use
the knife too gently, thus removing only a part of the cancer, a part of the
cancer remains. But if we incise deeply, the suffering could drive the
patient to desperation and make him throw away bandage, remedy and all.
Giving the exact medicine could cause spiritual damage; giving less can also
cause ineffectiveness of the medicine. Effectiveness of the cure does not
depend only on the doctor and medicines but in the disposition of the
The disposition of the sinner
is important, lest, whilst wishing to mend what is torn, the rent is made
worse and, in our zeal to restore, the ruin might be greater. For weak and
careless characters, addicted for the most part to the pleasures of the
world and having occasions to be proud on account of birth and position, may
yet, if gently and gradually treated, be brought to repent of their errors.
A full discipline may deprive them of this slight chance of amendment. For
when a soul is badly handled, it lapses into a callous condition, yielding
neither to kindly words nor threats nor susceptible to gratitude.
And so, a priest must have a
thousand eyes to see all these nuances. Otherwise, his zeal is in vain. When
a shepherd sees his sheep go astray, a loud shout suffices to bring him
back. But not so for the shepherd of souls. The right faith, great
exertion, perseverance and patience are required. For the patient
cannot be dragged back by force, nor constrained by fear; he must be led
back by persuasion to the truth from which he originally swerved.
The priest must not despair
for the salvation of such wanderers for it is God who gives repentance to
the acknowledgment of the truth. To be saved, one needs self-discipline; to
tend Christ's flock one needs more than self-discipline.
St. John Chrysostom: Treatise
Concerning the Christian Priesthood