Category Archives: Abba Poeman

The Great Work of Man

Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the Great Work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.” He also said, “Whoever has not experienced Temptationtemptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.” Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach

—-Abba Anthony of the Desert

There are several very biting suggestions made here by the old Monk. Perhaps we can use his advice to bring us a little closer to God. I am convinced that all men seek closeness to God. Some call this closeness getting in touch with their inner bein., Others may call it karma, but I just call such closeness prayer, and prayer allows me to know  God. He is my creator, friend and redeemer.

Our first step is to take blame for our own sins. A good expression for this is “owning up.” We live in a world of excuses and explanations, but raw truth is always best. I confess to being amused when I heard the expression”alternative facts” this past week. Anthony tells us to simply take blame for our own failures. The scripture says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” That is the beginning of our path to heaven and peace on this earth.

He reminds us to expect temptation every day of our lives. On face value that is very depressing, but temptation drives us to the grace of God. The scripture reminds us that we have all sinned but it also says,“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Simply put, temptation drives us to a choice – God or self satisfaction. God created us with a free will and salvation is a choice, a serious and demanding choice that we all have to make. Our easy, comfortable and pleasure seeking world resists the concept of choices that limit our “freedom.” For those that choose Jesus, there is no greater freedom to be had.

Allow me to chase the “sin rabbit” for just a moment. God offers forgiveness and the world offers forgiveness. There is, however, an astounding difference between God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world. Convicted felons Forgive-Forgetwho have served their time and even expressed genuine remorse for their crimes are excluded from voting and holding public office, have limited credit privileges, can be denied a job,cannot serve on some juries, and are excluded from other rights in ways that vary from state to state. They have served their time, but their crime is not forgotten. ALL of us, whether we admit it or not , are unable to forget the sins (we may forgive and even move on) of those that have offended u., Only God can do that. God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation is the one that we can’t pass up. No one, I mean no one, offers such a gift but God.God says, “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” God is so good to us!

Now back to the monk, “do not trust your own righteousness but control your tongue and stomach” The tongue has the ability to destroy others and ourselves. When we utter a false wittiness against some we have the potential of denying that person so much. With our tongues we can cause people to lose their relationships, reputations and in some cases their lives. In World War Two there was an expression,”Loose lips sink ships.” The importance of keeping confidences and telling the truth cannot be underestimated. Control of the stomach is an analogy for controlling our carnal nature. We should think before we use our bodies in ways that dishonor ourselves and God. Control your carnal nature or it will be the end of you.

Work-of-Man

The great work of man is to trust God and control our nature with the tools He provides. I found a poem that calls this an act of wisdom.


He, in whose bosom wisdom’s seed is sown,

To waste a single day was never known;

Either he strives to work God’s will,

Or else exalts the cup, and works his own.

Omar Khayyam


Prayer

O Lord as I embark on my great work this day I do so fully aware of my dependence on you. Walk with me and keep me aware of your company. Rebuke when I need rebuking. Give me encouragement when I am down. Most of all remind me when I have moved into my own path while forgetting your path. In doing these things you give me the richness of your grace and the benefit of your remarkable love.

Amen

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Weeping for Ourselves

It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest channeled out by the tears which fell from his eyes all his life while he sat at his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned that he was dead, he said weeping, ‘Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering.’

—- Sayings of the Desert

ArseniusHow many of us really take sin seriously enough to weep for ourselves. In a world of much rationalization and warped reasoning, it is woefully easy to excuse ourselves from blame for anything. In the early ‘70s, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Years after Dr. Menninger’s death, his question still remains. Our culture has scraped the idea of sin as glibly as we dispose of our obsolete cell phones and computers. People who attend our churches don’t want to hear anything on Sunday that would upset them or cause just the slightest feeling of discomfort. When the words of the pastor or scripture itself cause introspection, it is time to flee. After all, I come to church to make myself feel better.

Abba Arsenius gives us an entirely different model for this matter. His feeling of sin was so deep that he spent untold hours weeping on his own behalf. Arsenius understood the gravity of the human condition and the gratefulness we should express because of God’s grace. No presumption was made that God loves us so much that we are forgiven even if do not repent. He wept for his own sins, and I believe the world would be a far better place if we did the same.

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The Invisible Lion

David Lion

David, when he was fighting the Lion, seized it by the throat and killed it immediately. If we take ourselves by the throat and by the belly, with the help of God, we shall overcome the invisible lion.”

—-Abba Poeman

The wise man points to a very important fact. The enemy we see is easier to defeat, and the hidden one may well overcome us. We are not so anxious to overcome the subtle evil that dwells in every soul. With great joy we can applaud the victory of King David over the lion, but with far less fervor we seek similar victories in our lives. Poeman pointed to David’s quick and decisive action that allowed him to overcome his foe, and advises us to do the same. Unfortunately our lion is invisible. Perhaps it is the lion of a bad habit or evil thoughts.

The way to defeat this invisible lion is to take ourselves by the throat and the belly. Why the throat and the belly? The throat is where our words originate. Words are wonderful when used properly and with good will. Words are deadly, nasty and surly as well. The control of our words is a key factor in overcoming any sin that besets us. The belly represents our physical appetites, those that consume our lives. I would venture to say that Poeman is proposing that we defeat our sins both mental and physical and do what it takes to achieve that goal.

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Our Neighbors

 

Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman

To instruct your neighbor is the same things as reproving him.

 Do not do your own will; you need rather to humble yourself before your brother.

—-Abba Poeman


The concept of being a good neighbor is addressed in all sorts of literature. The ringing sound of these two quotes from Abba Poeman is to practice humility and selflessness with our neighbors. We are trained from a very early age to take care of ourselves and those who are dependent on us. Even the Bible tells us that a man who does not care for his family is worthless. In accomplishing these lofty goals, we sometimes neglect our relationships with others. At times we see ourselves as superior to those around us and feel the need to correct them.

The Abba’s words and the words of Jesus take us in a slightly different direction. Bible words like “go the second mile and loving my neighbor as myself” provide a different model. They serve to remind us that our lives are bigger than just doing what is best for me and mine, but find their true meaning when we are mindful of others.

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Peace

Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman

 “If you take little account of yourself, you will have peace wherever you live.”

 —-Abba Poeman

 

Over inflated egos are an ancient problem. Abba Poeman gives us these simple words from his desert monastery fourteen hundred years ago. If we are to take little account of ourselves, we must develop a sense of self that is beyond our earthly reach. My world, your world, is dominated by goals and ambitions to further quality of life. This is not wrong in and of itself, but it must be tempered by acknowledging that all comes from the Lord God.

 There are countless stories of people living lives plagued by self-doubt and restlessness, and all of their pain is rooted in their own self-gratification. They move from place to place, relationship to relationship, and job to job searching for that perfect place of peace. The key to peace is knowing who we are in the sight of God. He created us for good. He created us in His image, and yes, He wants us to live in peace. Such a peace is found when we offer ourselves to Him. In offering ourselves to Him, we become smaller to the things of the earth and larger to the things of heaven.

 Give it some thought. Begin to see yourself as a child of God and not a child of man. This transition could give you abundant peace.

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Give Your Heart

Abba Poeman

Abba Poeman

He also said, ‘Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

—–Abba Poeman of the Desert

We miss so much of life because we are not following our hearts. From a very early age we are taught that the longings of our hearts are selfish and should be suppressed. I am a believer that we all have some special something that we can give heart and soul to. This something is a gift from God that satisfies our heart in a marvelous way. Far too many people spend their lives in meaningless toil and misery because they do not seek the deep desires of their heart.

Though Abba Poeman advice is over a thousand years old, it still speaks to us. Our world is full of people in unhappy marriages, jobs, and all other sort of contentious activities. These less than satisfying endeavors of the heart lead to depression and anxiety. Just imagine how much better your life would be if we sought the desires of your heart. Most of us cannot just abandon our present lives and go seeking some Shangri-La, but we can take a heart centered look at what we are doing.

What am I giving my heart to today?

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Living in a Place

Abba Poeman also said,’ do not live in a place where you see some people are jealous of you, for you will not make progress.’

—–Abba Poeman of the Desert

I am sure that the wise monk was telling his fellow monastics that they should flee from a community where they felt a great deal of jealousy aimed at them. Such advice was very helpful for hermits and monastics of the 7th century, but not easy for 21st century Christians. Few among us can just pack up and leave when we feel a sense of jealously from our neighbors or church community, because we live in a much different world. The Abba’s advice is very helpful to us if we begin to see “place” as an interior decision. Place can be defined as a feeling or perception held by people and not a geographical location. With this concept, we have the freedom to leave a place of jealousy and envy for a new place of freedom and love. As we allow ourselves to be carried away from the worry of what others think to the world of what God thinks we can make tremendous progress.

Too many people spend too much time in a place that is riddled by jealousy, envy, competition and not enough time in the grace of God. Let me assert to you that if your life is stuck there, you will not progress spiritually. The Abba says, leave! We depart that interior place by concentrating on the gifts and graces that so freely flow from God, and allowing all this other stuff to just die. Perhaps it is impossible to live in a physical place that is free from jealousy, but it is possible to pray your way to a spiritual place where victory is won.

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Three Disciplines

St. Anthony's Monastery  in EgyptAbba Poeman said, ‘In Abba Pambo we see three bodily activities; abstinence from food until the evening of every day, silence, and much manual work.’

—-Abba Poeman of the Desert

Three disciplines are put forth by this shepherd of the desert. They are abstinence, silence, and manual work. These three disciplines are the heart of the monastic tradition and Christian walk.

Abstinence from food is referred to as fasting. Why should fasting be a building block in our Christian walk? The mastering of the weakness of the body is at the center of offering our true selves to God. As long as we are ruled by our physical needs, we can never fully give ourselves to our Creator.

Silence is, quite simply, prayer – the type of prayer that is not cluttered by words. Any one of us who has ever been called upon to pray in public knows the pressure of the right words. When the monk withdraws to his cell and observes sacred silence, God has the opportunity to speak. We are no different. God must be given the opportunity to speak. Consider having a time of silence every day, and you will be delighted at what God will do.

Now there is manual work. We live in a time when people avoid the use of their hands because it somehow implies that we are less than successful. An important component to the life of any Christian is to work with our hands. Your work could be painting, sewing, or some other work that would allow you to express the gifts that God has given you.

Be mindful of these three disciplines and I believe your life will be remarkably better.

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Who am I ?

Abba Poeman said to Abba Joseph, ’Tell me how to become a monk.’ He said, ‘If you want to find rest here below, (earth) and hereafter,(heaven) in all circumstances say, who am I? — and do not judge anyone.’

St. Anthony's Monastery  in Egypt—— sayings of the Desert

Do not judge anyone. That very small statement is one of the most difficult tasks of any follower of Christ. Our very nature is about judging and discerning, and when we act on that nature we can be very harsh toward those who are the recipients of our judgment. The wise old man says, “Who am I?” This a simple and yet very profound statement that has monumental consequences. Evaluated correctly the Abba was saying, I am not God. We all need to accept the simple fact of our own inability to know what is best for the world, and turn to God for His guidance.

Your journey, when it is focused on you and God, can be radically changed. We are no longer threatened by the sin and confusion that surrounds us, but we are strengthened by the spirit that lives within us. A good first step to getting there would be let God judge – NOT YOU!

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Humility and Strength

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care.  He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, and beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

—-sayings of the desert

Our society cries out that a relationship with God is all about prosperity, victory and success. The wise men of the desert voice a different view, and we have much to learn from them. Abba John the Dwarf prayed for all passions to be extinguished from his life so that he might be carefree, but the pastor (poeman means pastor) tells him that struggle is part of the journey. In our struggles we learn the important lesson of humility, which turns us away from self and toward others, especially the ultimate other-God. Humility teaches us the need to be silent, to pray, to worship, and to understand the greatness of God. Then we can know that we must pray, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

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