Category Archives: Desert Ammas

Owning Forgiveness

One nun came to Blessed Sarah and said to her: Pray for me, my lady.  – The blessed one said to her: Neither will I have mercy on you nor will God unless you have mercy on yourself, fulfilling the virtues as the Fathers have commanded us.

——-Amma Sarah of the Desert

Forgiveness is the act of pardoning an offender. In the Bible, the Greek word translated “forgiveness” literally means “to let go,” as when a person does notclip_image002 demand payment for a debt. Jesus used this comparison when he taught his followers to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is in debt to us.” (Luke 11:4) Likewise, in his parable of the unmerciful slave, Jesus compared forgiveness with canceling a debt.—Matthew 18:23-35.

We forgive others when we let go of resentment and give up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered. The Bible teaches that unselfish love is the basis for true forgiveness, since love “does not keep account of the injury.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5.

The ability to forgive yourself is key to your psychological well-being. Unforgiveness of self causes a wide range of problems. Suicide, addictions and depression are just a few of the many things associated with self-condemnation. Psychologists struggle to develop creative ways to address this issue. Many suffer from a lack of awareness of their problem with this issue. Behavioral professionals, religious and irreligious, know the importance of self-forgiveness. Many corporate hours are spent in seminars that stress the necessity of learning the importance of forgiveness. This endeavor is tremendously costly for the corporate world.

Amma Sara knew about such forgiveness 1500 years ago, and said it was the place to start. God is a God of forgiveness and grace, and we must forgive ourselves in order to receive forgiveness. Our problem with self-forgiveness is that we don’t really believe in grace – that marvelous property of God that allows Him to forgive us even though we are most undeserving. Amma Sarah called the forgiving of ourselves a fulfillment of the virtues that were bestowed upon us by the Creator. Forgiveness, even of our own faults, is a virtue.

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Lord, teach me to forgive others and to own forgiveness for myself. This ownership allows me to move forward. Lord allow me to set aside the crippling pain and shame that so possesses my life and move forward forgiving and forgiven.


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Restrianing Controversy

A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’

—-Abba Mateos of the Desert

The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.

Abba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. Which means we have a guilty conscience.We must allow our Humble manwith wordsmoral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.


Lord help me this day, and all the days that you give me, to be a person of peace. Let the Spirit that dwells in me guide my action to be  your actions. Block out the temptations that lead me to become arrogant and mean, and to assume that my way is better than your way. I commit myself to live as though you were watching my every move.


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God Wins

Amma Theodora said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.

— sayings of the desert

This little snippet of desert wisdom gives us a model for the spiritual teacher. All of us live in a high pressure, performance driven culture. If we are not pressured we have a tendency to lack in passion for our work. On the other hand, our culture is a “me” culture that expects high praise for our efforts. Both student and teacher have certain expectations when they meet. The call of the teacher is to be single minded and focused on the task and not on the gratification or domination that can come from the task. The call is to be humble and allow God to win

Doorways Thin PlacesMore than once I have heard a less than happy church member say, “This church is not meeting my spiritual needs.” The very essence of that statement is that the church is about me. The teacher sometimes struggles with the needs of those who have been entrusted to them, but it is clear that the primary role of the spiritual teacher is to be a lover of souls. The point at which student or teacher loses that concept and turns to self-gratification, the mission is lost.

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The Art of Keeping your Mouth Shout

A devout man happened to be insulted by someone, and he said to him, ‘I could say much to you, but the commandment of God keeps my mouth shut.”’ Again she said this, “A Christian discussing the body with a Manichean expressed himself in these words, “Give the body discipline and you will see that the body is for him who made it.”’

— Amma Theodora

I think we all believe in sacred silence, but the desert advice is a bit different. This sort of silence is as important to our Christian witness as prayer. In this silence we embody the “turning of the other check, going the second mile, doing unto others as you would have them do unto as you.” Those sayings and many other red letter words of Jesus are practiced by simply keeping our mouth shut.

We underestimate the importance of training our bodies so that we mayMark Twain 1 naturally function as God intended. We are made in the “image” of God and as we surrender our whole being to Him, He gives us the ability to do great things. Mark Twain said, ”The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the fellow who can’t read a line.” In that same vain, a person who does not control his body may as well be an animal who acts through raw instinct. The God stamp that dwells within us is our ability to think and reason and strive to change.

The wisdom of the desert tells us to practice the silence of the closed mouth and to discipline our bodies in a way to bring us to spiritual wholeness.


Filed under Desert Ammas, Missional Living, Monasticism