In a community of very old men there was a man by the name of Serapion who was particularly adorned with the grace of discretion and whose conference I think is worth the effort to pur down in writing. When we had begged him to say something about the assault of the vices that would cast light on their origins and causes, he began in this way:
Let us make this still clearer not only by a short discussion as well as we are able, but also by scriptural texts.
The First Evil Pair: Gluttony and Fornication.
Now let us discuss individually the different kinds of each vice. There are three kinds of gluttony. The first impels a person to hasten to eat before the fixed and lawful hour. The second is pleased with a full stomach and with devouring any edibles whatsoever. And the third desires more refined and delicate foods. These three entail no small loss for a person unless he struggles to extricate himself from all of them with equal diligence and care. For just as breaking the fast before the canonical hour is never to be dared, so likewise filling one’s stomach and the preparation of costly and choice dishes must be avoided. From these three causes different and very bad states of health of the soul are produced.
The Remaining Vices: Avarice, Anger, Sadness, Acedia, Vainglory and Pride
There are three kinds of avarice. The first does not permit renunciants to be deprived of their wealth and property. The second persuades us by a still greater covetousness to take back What we have dispersed and distributed to the poor. The third demands that we long for and acquire what in fact we did not possess before.
The Eight Principal Vices: How to Fight Them
Although these eight vices, then, disturb the whole human race, nonetheless they do not assail everyone in the same way. In one person the spirit of fornication is dominant, in another wrath rides roughshod, in a third vainglory tyrannizes, and in still another pride holds sway. And although it is evident that we are all attacked by all of these, yet we each suffer in different ways and manners.
When he finds himself freed from it, he should once again and with similar intensity shine light on the hidden places of his heart, locate for himself whatever is still more horrible that he notices remaining, and move against it in particular with all the arms of the Spirit. Thus, when he has consistently overcome more powerful foes, he will have a quick and easy victory over the ones that remain, because the mind too becomes stronger through a succession of triumphs, and subsequent struggles with weaker foes make for readier successes in the battle. So it is with those who are accustomed to fight for prizes against all sorts of beasts in the presence of the kings of this world.