Blessed Theodora also narrated that one monk asked Abba Isiah: Why is it that those who live in the world with their negligence toward fasting, neglect for prayer, running away from vigils, and lack of humility; with their taking pleasure in food, living according to their passions, ‘devouring’ each other, spending the entire day cursing and swearing – how is it that they do not fall, and do not even say that they sin? Yet we monks, with our fasts; vigils; sleeping on the ground; eating only bread; abstinence from wine, oil, and all bodily comfort; with mourning and sobbing – we say we have lost our souls, have deprived ourselves of the Kingdom of Heaven, and are condemned to torments? Are not the Law and the commandments given to everyone equally?
The good Father shed tears and sighed from the depth of his soul and said: You said well, my son, that worldly people do not fall. This is because after they have fallen once, terribly and bitterly, they cannot get up nor do they have any place further to fall. The devil has no need to wrestle or fight against those who are always lying down and never get up. Monks – at times vanquishing and at other times being vanquished; attacking and attacked – they still antagonize the devil. Worldly people, because of their senselessness and ignorance, because of their love for the world and worldly things, remain in their first downfall, not even seeing or realizing their fall. You must understand that not only do you and I – we who only seem to be monks, while not living the monastic life – have need to always weep and lament, but even the great Fathers – in other words, the true ascetics and hermits – had need to be constantly weeping. Listen to this carefully and judge for yourself. Lying is from the devil, as says the Lord (Jn. 8:44). To look upon a woman to lust after her, He put alongside fornication; to be angry with one’s neighbour, He equated with murder, and declared that there is need even to account for every idle word. Who is he, or where do we find anyone who never was tempted by a lie; or by lust for a woman, and was not stained; and would not therefore have need of repentance? For all have sinned, and come short, of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
However, know this, that whether one is a monk or a layperson, a bishop or a king – unless one gives himself totally to the Cross, in other words, gives himself to asceticism in humbleness of mind, he cannot be a true Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ our God beatifies such when He says: Blessed are the poor in spirit for their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 5:3). He did not say the “rich,” but the “poor.” Again: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled… Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted (Mt. 5:6,4).
So where is mentioned here those who lord over luxurious tables and all worldly things, and live in dissoluteness and excess, and enjoy everything to satiety, with laughter, with obscenity, and without fear of God? There are some unfortunate people in the world who say that fasting is demanded only for monks, along with all sufferings and the heavy yoke; people in the world can have pleasures, rest and all sorts of comforts. O you senseless and slow of heart! Do you not hear what the Lord says: Blessed are they which do hunger… for they shall be filled (Mt. 5:6), and Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger (Lk. 6:24-25). And Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it(Mt. 7:13-14).
This and all similar words are meant not for monks – because there were as yet no monks when Sweetest Jesus our God was teaching this – but for people living in the world, those who lead a bustling life, filled with material love. If the Lord was teaching this only for monks, then people in the world are more to be pitied and more unfortunate than even animals, since they would thereby be deprived of the holy commandments and the Beatitudes. If the Law is common to all, then common too are the yoke and the Beatitudes, the Judgement and Hell.
When the monk heard this from the Abba, my good Teacher, he was struck with amazement, and sighing deeply he fell to the feet of the honourable Father and said: So, holy Father, we need great labour, much sweat and asceticism. Pray for me, holy Father.
And the Abba blessed him and let him go.
(Taken from the book Matericon: Instructions of Abba Isaiah to the Honorable Nun Theodora pp. 81-83, published by St. Paisius Serbian Orthodox Monastery; http://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/this-is-a-hard-saying-who-can-hear-it/).