On voluntary and involuntary sins and what is the reason they are committed
There is sin, which is committed on account of a sickness whereby a person is attracted involuntarily, and there is sin which is committed voluntarily; there is also sin that exists out of one’s ignorance, which is committed depending on the circumstance. Then again, sin is committed out of one’s persistence in a sin, because of their habitual tendency towards evil. And although all these manners and kinds of sins are blameworthy, they nevertheless differ amongst themselves comparatively as regards punishment, given that the one manner is greater than the other, and the blameworthiness of the one manner is greater (and whose repentance is welcomed with difficulty), whereas the other’s repentance and forgiveness is easier.
And just as Adam, Eve and the serpent had sinned – and all three received the reward for their sin but inherited the curse with a significant difference – the same occurs with each of their sons and descendants, according to their predisposition; and whatever desire they may have for sin, they will savour the appropriate intensity of “hell”.
So, if one does not want to commit sin but on account of negligence (which he has in virtues), he is attracted violently towards it – because he is not engaged in it, even though it displeases him to find himself in sin – his “hell” (torment) will be severe. But if it happens that someone who engages in virtue is touched by a sin, the mercy of God is close by him, in order to cleanse him.
Different is the sin that is committed when a person is found to be engaged and persisting in the labours of virtue, being careful day and night – but because of a certain ignorance or certain contrary things on the path of virtue, or on account of the waves of the passions that are always aroused in his limbs, or on account of a change that may befall him for the testing of his self-government – the “scales that weigh him” will lean only slightly to the “left”, and, drawn by the weakness of the body, he will fall into a kind of sin – for which however he will be saddened and will be anxious and groan with a pained soul for the harassment that was imposed on him by the enemies.
Also different is the sin that is committed when a person is found lax and negligent in the labour of virtue, so that by abandoning altogether the path of virtue and hastening like a servant to the obedience of pleasure towards all sin, he shows zeal in how to invent arts and machinations for the full enjoyment of sin, and is ready – like some kind of servant – to diligently execute the will of his enemy, and to prepare his limbs as weapons of the devil, without in the least remembering repentance, nor heading towards virtue or desisting and putting an end to his disastrous path.
Yet another kind is the sin that is committed on account of a slip-up and falling out, which can occur on the path of virtue, for – as the Fathers have said – fall-outs and oppositions and compulsions and their likes are to be found on the path of virtue.
And finally, there is the downfall of the soul and the complete loss and final abandonment.
From the above therefore, it becomes obvious that when one falls, one must not altogether forget the love of his own father; rather, if he happens to fall into various misdemeanors, let him not show negligence towards the good and pause on the path of virtue; instead, even when he is defeated and fallen, let him stand up again and be ever-present in his fight against the enemy, and let him each day make a new beginning upon the foundations of the ruins of his edifice, while keeping in his mouth until his departure from this world the prophetic words: “let not my enemy rejoice that I have fallen, for I shall rise up again; and if I happen to sit in the dark, the Lord will shine upon me”. Let him not abandon and cease the battle until the hour of death, and let him not betray himself upon the defeat of his soul, while he still has breath. But, even if one day the vessel of his soul is shattered, and the merchandises of his virtues drowned, let him not cease to look after it and take care of it; instead, with borrowing and transitioning to other ships let him travel with hope until the Lord sees his struggles and on pitying his shattered state sends him His mercy and gives him strength to sustain the burning arrows of the enemy. And when he thus receives wisdom from God, he will then be a wise, sick person who had not excised his hope. It is far better to be vilified for a few things, rather than for the abandonment of all things; it is for this, that Abba Martinianos encourages and admonishes us to not become lax and cower in the face of the multitude of struggles and in the various ways of battle, but rather to persevere on the path of virtue and not turn back and deliver our victory to the enemy on account of one ugly work, for this blessed Elder – as a caring father – had with orderliness said these things.
Children, if you are true fighters preoccupied with virtue and caring for the salvation of your soul, you must desire and present your Nous clean to Christ, and work for that activity which is favourable to Him, because you must by all means undertake for the love of Christ every battle that is roused by natural passions, and for the resistance to this world, as well as the malice of the demons and their machinations. Do not fear the unflagging and persistent and violent nature of battle, nor hesitate about the duration of the struggle. Do not tire when frightened by the armies of the enemy, nor fall into the pit of despair. If you should happen to temporarily trip and sin, and suffer something in this major battle, and if you are beaten and wounded face-on, let this not in the least hinder your good intention, but instead, persist in that good labour which you had preferred, and thus achieve this desired and praiseworthy labour: that is, to appear steadfast and immoveable in that battle and painted with the blood of your wounds, never ceasing the fight with your opponent demons.
These are the counsels of the major Elder Martinianos, according to which, you must not be lax and negligent. Woe to that monk who appears to have lied about his promises; and, having trampled on his own conscience had extended and given his hand to the devil, who will proudfully come upon him for a minor or major sin, which will render him unable to thereafter stand up and face his enemies with the ruptured part of his soul. And I wonder, with what countenance will he face the Judge, when his cleansed friends and colleagues encounter each other, from whom he had departed and walked on the path of perdition and had lapsed from the Saints’ outspokenness before God, and from the prayer that ascends from a pure heart and rises up to heaven, passing unhindered through the Angelic ranks and achieves its petition, returning joyfully back to the mouth that had emitted it?
What is even more terrible is that by separating himself from his virtuous brethren, Christ will likewise separate him from them on that day, when the luminous cloud will be carrying their brightened bodies on it, and introducing them to the heavenly gates.
This is why the irreverent will not be resurrected on the day of judgment, given that their actions have been condemned from here; nor will the sinners find themselves before the will of the righteous on the day of the resurrection of the dead.
Source: Essay No.41 The Ascetic Words of Abba Isaac of Syria (book)