While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came to him saying, ‘Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved.’ Having withdrawn to a solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinfulness.
——-Arsenius of the Desert
Location does not cause us to sin or save us from sin. That is the message of this desert saying. At first glance such an idea takes us by surprise. Most of us think that if we get away from the bad place, the bad company ,or whatever else seems to vex us, things will automatically get better. Arsenius prayed with sincerity asking for an answer to his plight, and he thought he had found one. Going from the palace to the monastery would take care of everything. Apparently after his move, he still felt an emptiness or restlessness. He once again prayed and to his surprise heard the same answer. The fleeing he was called to do came from the inside out not the outside in.
Nothing has changed in the past 1500 years. Change begins in our hearts. Solitude is not a place; it is a condition. There are places that seem more conducive to prayer and contemplation, and we should seek them, but in the end we must find a contemplative heart. Let us not pine away over our inability to change our physical location and work diligently to change the location of our hearts.
He also said, ‘Satan does not know by what passion the soul can be overcome. He sows, but without knowing if he will reap, sometimes thoughts of fornication, sometimes thoughts of slander, and similarly for the other passions. He supplies nourishment to the passion which he sees the soul is slipping towards.’
———–Abba Matoes of the Desert
The wise old man gives us a very important truth, Satan is not all knowing. Far too many people give the evil equal standing with God. Emphatically, he is not! We need not worry that the devil can overcome us without our help. In every sin, we become his partner by enjoying the forbidden fruit. The passion is as much our enemy as the evil one. Our challenge is to recognize those areas of our lives that make us vulnerable to sin, and to give those to God. That task is not an easy one, but it can be accomplished by a lifetime of spiritual disciplines. All of us must seek God in prayer every day, and know that He will be found. The real gem we get from the old man is that the devil does not know our sore spot, and we, through prayer, can find it and give it to God.
The title of the Didache in the manuscript discovered in 1873
From time to time I will be making entries on the Didache. What is the Didache? Simply stated, it is the writings of the apostles about the teaching of Jesus. You might even call it the quick “Quick Help” version of the red letter words of our Lord. The Didache has way of cutting to the heart of the teachings of Jesus. The apostles set this forth as a manual for Christians, and we would do well to make it our guide as well. The translation of the text that I am using was translated and edited by Tony Jones, and is under the protection of a Creative Commons license. I invite your comments
There Are Two Ways
There are two ways, one of life and one of death! And there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. The meaning of these sayings is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the heathens do the same? But you should love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies. Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other also, and be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two. If someone takes your cloak, give also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, don’t ask for it back. You really cannot. Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask for it back. The Father wants his blessings shared. Happy is the giver who lives according to this rule, for that one is guiltless. But the receiver must beware; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless, but if one receives not having need, he shall stand trial, answering why he received and for what use. If he is found guilty he shall not escape until he pays back the last penny. However, concerning this, there is a saying: “Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them.” —–Translated by Tony Jones
The most valuable lesson that anyone can learn is the difference between right and wrong. Many of us think learning such a lesson is basic, but not so. Often we throw up our hands and say, what has our world come to? Things never used to be this way. Yet here we see a document written about 2000 years ago that finds it necessary to address the two ways. Man has not changed so much after all.
The first way and the way that leads to eternal life is the way of selflessness .This way finds it far more valuable to give than to receive, far more rewarding to love than hate, and above all, that love of neighbor is the path of blessing. “First way” people are generous and kind. They know that following Christ can sometimes involve pain, hurt and sacrifice. Proper carrying out of the mission of our Lord requires discernment and patience. The image of the “sweat in your palms” as you give alms is a prime example of the awesome responsibility of Christian service. Whether we are giving alms or helping a brother with a loan, we are given a heavy burden of doing as Christ would do. May we learn from the holy apostles?
A disciple of Abba Anthony said, ‘If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of these passions.’
——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Self-control and overcoming the negative forces and habits that drive each of us is a worthy goal. The wise old man attributes every problem very directly to a “demon.” We do not share such a view of good and evil. We do, however, need to acknowledge the presence of supernatural evil in our world. That being said, I want to concentrate on the positive advice of the saying.
Passion is the root of both good and evil. Learn to reap your positive passions, and subdue your negative (sins) ones and you will be on your way to a life of the Spirit. We are advised to master the passions that lead us away from God and our neighbor, thus banishing that obstacle of spiritual attainment from our lives. May each of us take this to heart, and make it a matter of fervent prayer.
One person armed with the Gospel of peace can change the world. Telemachus did. Who was Telemachus? He was a monk who lived in the 5th century, and his story is a story of courage. He felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome.” Since he was in a cloistered monastery, he put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and discovered it was the day the gladiators would be fighting in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?” When Telemachus ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” Jumping over the railing he went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, and tried to stop them. The crowd became enraged and stoned the peacemaker to death.
Perhaps this is a legend, or perhaps it is history. I do not claim that I can verify this story, but I will say that the truth within speaks loudly to each of us. All too often, we sit idly by and allow so much evil to go on around us. The moral of this story is very simple: when you see injustice or wrong doing, do something. Just imagine for a moment what the world we be like if we took upon ourselves the spirit of Telemachus. The hungry would be fed, the unloved would be loved, the neglected would be treated with regard, and all this would be done by Christians and not the government. Utopia, you say. Maybe, but do something today.
- Obedience to Change History (k2association.wordpress.com)
There are two birds that fly over our nation’s deserts-one is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture. The vultures find the
rotting meat of the desert, because it is the object of their search. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals, and they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is in bloom, because they seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.
In life, there are two birds. The one bird looks for foolishness and stupidity, the other looks for wisdom. The vultures seek to fill themselves with the rotting flesh of drunkenness and debauchery, the hummingbird sobriety, freshness, and the Spirit. In the desert of this world you have your scavengers who are angry and ungrateful, but you also have those who hum a grateful hymn of thanksgiving. The irony is that you find what you are looking for.
I’m sure that all of us want to find what is wonderful and fresh. We want to be in the company of people and things that add value to our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes seek out the wrong things, and find ourselves drawn to things and people that diminish us rather than build us. Remember, it is all there for us to find.
Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, ‘Why do you avoid us?’ The old man said to him, ‘God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.’
—–sayings of the desert
The heavenly hosts have but one will, but men have many directions. At first glance it seems Arsenius is advocating total isolation, with further thought, there is perhaps a deeper meaning. Men are so scattered and confused when attempting to follow after God. We search in many directions, and fail to find peace with God. Constant discussion and speculation dominate our lives, and no truth is found. For thousands of years men have discussed and debated the meaning of miracles, healings, suffering, and have found few answers. The Abba calls us to put God first, and with that decision, we can have the freedom to find His will. Putting God first can be as simple as beginning each day in prayer, or having a time of silence to keep our focus. The Abba warns that we must not abandon God to be in the world.
Monastery of Saint Anthony
A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Abba Anthony. When he told him this, the old man said to him, ‘If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like that.’ The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, ‘Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.’
—– saying of the Desert Fathers
At face value this saying seems to be unreasonable. Meat, birds, dogs, torn flesh what a revolting picture. The real story is, conditional commitment is noe commitment at all. Abba Anthony is trying to tell us that a monk must fully commitment himself to his calling. This same thinking applies to us who seek to be followers of Christ. The goal is to become fully devoted to the Christian journey and to hold nothing back from this way of life. As Christians, we promise to give our all to our savior. In the holding back, we invite temptation and evil to come into our lives. These forces keep us from the high calling that we have received and limit the power of the gospel that lives within us
Abba Serapion said, ‘When the soldiers of the emperor are standing at attention, they cannot look to the right or left; it is the same for the man who stands before God and looks towards him in fear at all times; he cannot then fear anything from the enemy.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
It is a most difficult challenge to simply look toward God in our busy and complicated world. The motive of the soldier to keep his eyes on his commander is varied. For some it is respect, others fear and still others, protection. Those are very good reasons to keep our eyes focused on our God and creator as well.
There’s an old hymn that put it this way:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
The wise old man is telling us that we must learn to keep our eyes, ears and hearts on God, and that is the best protection from the evil one. In doing so we live in the light of His grace.