Another brother asked him: “what is the meaning of ‘Never repay evil with evil’?” [cf. Rom 12.17].
Abba Poemen said to him: “This passion works in four ways: first, in the heart; second, in the sight; third, in the tongue; fourth, in not doing evil in response to evil.
If you can purge your heart, it does not come to the sight.
If it comes to the sight, take care not to speak of it.
If you do speak of it, quickly prevent yourself from rendering evil for evil.” (Give me a Word, p. 233)
The Desert Fathers did not hold to a “one-size fits all” spirituality. They were realistic about the capabilities of different people and allowed for the fact that no everyone would be perfect in following Christ. They did not have a total “black and white” viewpoint of people or of sin. They recognized rather that in spiritual warfare, sometimes one gets only a partial victory. They did not think that if you fail on one point that everything is lost. As in the words above, they saw the battle for the heart as a war of inches, difficult battles with sometimes small victories, a war of attrition in which gains and loses might occur on small levels. One might even suffer some defeats, but one would keep fighting against sin and evil wherever one could.