Dealing with Unjust Criticism

The Desert Fathers

A brother went to find Abba Serapion.  According to his custom, the old man invited him to say a prayer.  But the other, calling himself a sinner and unworthy of the monastic habit, did not obey.  Next Abba Serapion wanted to wash his feet, but using the same words again, the visitor prevented him.  Then Abba Serapion made him eat and he began to eat with him.  Then he admonished him saying, ‘My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work; going out is not so profitable for you as remaining at home.’ When he heard these words the visitor was offended and his expressions changed so much that the old man could not but notice it. So he said to him, ‘Up to now you have called yourself a sinner and accused yourself of being unworthy to live, but when I admonished you lovingly, you were extremely put out.  If you want to be humble, learn to bear generously what others unfairly inflict upon you and do not harbor empty words in your heart.’ Hearing this, the brother asked the old man’s forgiveness and went away greatly edified.

——Abba Serapion of the Desert

The greatest measure of true humility is how we react to honest and loving criticism. None of us truly wants to be criticized. The wise Abba was giving the brother some very simple advice about work and prayer and the necessity of stability of life. This advice, lovingly given, was very disturbing to the brother. His reaction, as strong as it was, is not the main lesson of the saying. Serapion is telling us that in order to live of life of humility and service we must learn to bare undeserved criticism. For it is in the manner in which we handle the harshness of our enemy that our true Christian fiber is displayed. We live in a time that people seem to have nothing better to do than to find fault with everyone. Today’s culture demands destruction of all those who disagree or threaten our position. The advice of the Abba is to listen to the criticism of the loving people that our Lord has sent our way, and in that, we find the strength to face the unfairness that the world will bring to our lives.

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Filed under Ascetics, Conflict, contemplative, Criticism, Desert Fathers

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