Category Archives: Ascetics

The Silent Focus

Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’

—Abba John the Dwarf

Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught for centuries that silence is a very good avenue to a close relationship to our creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The mendesert-monk-in-prayer_thumb and women who went to the desert felt very much the same . Their journey was to escape those things to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.

Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer. Work and prayer are the heart of the monk’s calling. The well-meaning visitor simply wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He  had no sense of the way of truly engaging the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple, give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.

Prayer

Lord help me earn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that is crowds you out. Amen

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God’s Backdoor

‘It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.’

— Amma Sarah

Amma sara 1The world is full of people who looking are for the right time, the right place, the right motive, or the right feeling to begin to serve others. I have been guilty of this sort of thing more than once in my life. The wise elder is telling us to give for whatever motive that we possess. In this case alms are given to please men, but even a wrongly motivated act of grace can be a backdoor to pleasing God.

God’s essential call to us is to look outside of ourselves and to act as He would act. Think about it, God in the form of the man Jesus, came to live and die on this earth for you and me. Not only did He do this great act of kindness, but He did it knowing that many would reject Him. Let us use His example as a call to action. We are called to muster whatever amount of kindness and compassion that we can find in our souls. Don’t wait for everything to be “just right,” just act. God will use your actions for good. He will be pleased. Enter His backdoor, He welcomes you.

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Laboring for Humility


Abba Carion said, ‘I have labored much harder than my son Zacharias and yet I have not attained to his measure of humility and silence.’

 —-Sayings of the Desert

Person in prayer Very few of us would think of humility as a laborious task, yet the Abba speaks this word about himself. There are two distinct lines of thought in this very brief saying. First, humility is not only a sought after state for the contemplative but is a lifelong labor. The second is the apparent unfairness of some people being rewarded even if they labor less than we do.

 Humility is a hard task, and we must wake every day to the familiar words of the Jesus Prayer, “… have mercy on me, a SINNER.” Until we see ourselves as worthy of nothing but graciously gifted with His saving grace, we will never attain any sort of true humility.

 Feeling cheated or let down by God is an age old problem. So many times in our lives we have felt as though we have done all we can do, and we are still lacking. Exasperatingly, we are confronted with others who did less and received abundant blessings. The lesson here is that we do what we do out of love and worship of God, and not for reward from Him.

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Filed under Ascetics, Christian Journey, Devotional Quotes, Humility, Labor

Source of Approval

The tradition of women going to live a life of prayer and work is as old as that of male monastics. Today I share a saying of the most famous of the Ammas.

 Amma Sarah said, ‘If I prayed God that all men should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure towards all.’

——Amma Sarah of the Desert

Is it really important that our conduct be approved by men? Obviously, Amma Sarah says that such is an unreachable dream. The concept of being penitent to each person as a way of proving your spiritual value is rejected. Difficulty abounds when we seek individual approval because every person we approach has a different standard. The wise mother tells us to pray for purity of heart and all else will follow.

This advice would go a long way for us as we seek to follow the path of God. Surely we know there are many demands that are put upon us. Each of these demands portends to be the way of God. Now, as it was then, it is impossible to satisfy the opinions of all. The enlightening advice is to pray for purity of heart and all our goals will be satisfied. Prayer for purity of heart is the deepest and most personal of desires because it calls for internal change rather that external behavior.

  • Prayer (christianfaithwalk.co.uk)

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Why Am I Worthy?

celtic • cross


Abba Peter said, ‘We must not be puffed up when the Lord does something through our meditation, but we must rather thank Him for making us worthy to be called by Him.’ He used to say it is good to think about each virtue in this way.

—–Abba Peter of the Desert

Clearly, the wise Abba articulates to us that all virtues come from our relationship with the Almighty. This point of view eludes so many people today, because we live as though virtues are man-made. How many times have you heard the expression, “I am a self-made man?” Granted, there are many people who have worked and studied diligently to accomplish their goals. In the midst of such thinking we are called to look higher and outside of ourselves for the source of our success. By taking this approach we do not limit our potential, but it explodes because God is the center of our lives.

 What would the world really be like if God were always the core of our plans? Perhaps we would find it easier to forgive, to say I’m sorry, to turn the other cheek, to give credit to others, and to suddenly discover that the Spirit of God truly dwells with man. This sort of acknowledgement would make for a much kinder and gentler world. Our world would be free of vicious competition and jealousy, because it would no longer be about our ability but about God’s gift expressed through us.

You are worthy because the worthy God is living in you.

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Venerable Bede and Salvation

His name was Bede, also known as Venerable Bede, and he was the father of English history. Bede was truly a master of multiple disciplines, but he is most remembered as the man whose lifelong mission was to bring people closer to God. Bede never traveled more than 30 miles from his Northumbrian Monastery, and from that community he wrote more than forty books covering a wide range of subjects. For all of his 62 years he valued nothing more than his mission.

:"The Venerable Bede Translates John"...

“The Venerable Bede Translates John” by James Doyle Penrose 

Bede said, “He who will not willingly and humbly enter the gate of the Church will certainly be damned and enter the gate of Hell whether he wants to or not!” These strong words establish his doctrine of salvation. The key words to anyone’s faith walk are willingly and humbly. Without this conviction we fail to enter the gates of heaven and live a miserable earthly existence as well.

Scripture proclaims, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20) God’s word is crying out for us to willingly let Him into our lives. He has prepared such a good life for us, and yet it is our choice to neglect or accept His invitation. Salvation, the Christian way, is never forced upon any soul, but it must be received and received willingly.

The second word that Venerable Bede uses is humbly. Jesus said in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Clearly, our Lord articulates to us that acting in humble submission is the key to eternal justification and a peaceful life all the days of our lives. A person who lives humbly not only receives riches in the hereafter but lives without the earthly scourge of excessive pride. This type of pride leads to untold sin and grief.

The word of the Church Father is that the neglect of this simple formula leads to eternal condemnation and a miserable earthly existence. We would do well to give heed to the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Our world cries for rest, and peaceful rest at that. Jesus offers this life to all who come to Him.

A man who was born of questionable parentage, and died a criminal’s death offers us this gift of peace by the power of His resurrection. Some 700 years later a humble Monk who never traveled more than 30 miles from the place of his birth repeats this invitation in very simple words. Let us not complicate the salvation of the Christ, but merely accept willingly and humbly.

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An Honest Answer

Monk in Prayer

A brother went to Abba Mateos and said to him, “How is it that the monks of Scetis did more than the scriptures require in loving their enemies more than themselves?’ Abba Mateos said to him, ‘ As for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself.’

—-Abba Mateos of the Desert

Everyone wants an honest answer to their questions, but they are not always pleased with the answers they receive. The brother went to his spiritual director and asked the age old question about loving our enemies. Somehow he had gotten the impression that the monks of Scetis were miles ahead of him in dealing with the spiritual dilemma of loving enemies. Abba Mateos speaks volumes in his answer. He says that he does not love his closest companions as much as he loves himself. True Christ-like love is a very difficult task. My read is that he was telling his brother not to believe everything he hears, but to work and pray for his own enlightenment.

This Abba’s word is as relevant today as it was 1500 years ago. We are surrounded by people that have arrived spiritually and are willing to tell us everything we must do and how much better they are than us. Discouragement is alive and well, and it is a plague of the church. Humility and knowledge of self is the foundation of all Christian maturity. Take the time to examine your love for yourself and others with the eyes of your heart and not the words of others. That’s my honest answer.

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Back to the Begining

He also said, ‘originally, when we met together we spoke of edifying things, encouraging one another and we were “like the angels”; we ascended up to the heavens. But now when we come together, we only drag one another down by gossiping and so we go down to hell.’

—-Abba Megethius of the Desert

 I do not think that there is one among us who would not like to go back to the beginning of our faith. Those were the wonderful, positive, and powerful days when we really believed that the gospel, in our hands, would change the world. It did not take so long for us to figure out we were wrong. Our conversations, like all others, began to lose the spiritual edge they once had. The fellowship we shared became a poison instead of a blessing. This type of talk, the Abba warns, leads to condemnation. The stern word from the desert is to beware of gossip and slander. They are not the objective of the gospel. We should pray without ceasing that God will hold us up and apart from this sort of behavior. We all should wish to go back to the begining.

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Not There Yet


A brother went to Abba Mateos and said to him, ‘How is it that the monks of Scetis did more than the scriptures required in loving their enemies more than themselves?’ Abba Mateos said to him, ’As for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself.’

——Abba Mateos of the desert

The Christian journey is a long series of “not there yet” experiences. Too often we are prodded along by people that have very high views of their own spiritual worth. These high minded ones are often sources of discouragement to us, but we must always remember that we, and they, have not yet attained perfection. Our lives are a saga of moving toward God but always being fully aware of our sinful nature. Life is about forgiving ourselves and our neighbors as God forgives us. Somehow we must summon the level of mercy that God pours out on us, and understand that it is applicable to all. In that spirit we can love and forgive, not as inferiors or superiors to anyone, but as equals to all.

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Draw Near to God

 

God the Father 04

God the Father

He also said, ‘The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself as a sinner. It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself “a man of unclean lips”’ (Isaiah 6:5)

——Abba Mateo of the Desert

As I ponder these words from the desert, I am symbolically called to the stand in front of a mirror. A mirror is a reminder, sometimes a shocking one, of how we truly look. The older we get the more we are surprised at what the passing of years has done to our faces, but we must accept the true self we see in the mirror or we can become very sick and dysfunctional beings. The Abba reminds us that we must take a “God look” at ourselves to understand our true nature. As we draw closer to God and do more intense soul work we become enlightened and realistic about our place in this world. Like Isaiah of old, our ministry only begins when we see and acknowledge our uncleanness.

The sweet Christian journey gets only sweeter when we know that we are a sinner among sinners, and not a judge sent to make things right. As people who have faced our true selves, we can reach out to our family, friends, and neighbors with the true heart of God. We no longer sit in judgment, but stand beside and walk with those in need. May we all draw near to God?

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