Tag Archives: Abba John

A Monk’s Toil

1st-john-the-dwarfOne of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.”

—sayings of the desert

Toil is something most of us would prefer to avoid. Yet Abba John say that toil defines the monk, and Christians are defined by the work of monks. The monks are our prime examples of Christian living, because they have given all to follow Christ. I am sure that the “Father” who asked this question of John didn’t get the answer he expected. After all, monks are holy and just sit around getting holier all day long.

What is this toil?

I believe it is the keeping of the most important command of God, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Difficulties and toil abound when we seek to love others as we love ourselves. First, we may not really love ourselves. Many people are self-loathing and take it out on the rest of the world. God created us in His own image and for good; we must learn to believe that before we can accomplish anything. For quite a few people, that is toil. Second, we must believe that God loves everyone, and they are His special creation. Without that belief we find ourselves feeling very superior to a whole lot of people. The only way to put that aside is toil. Such toil puts us on our knees seeking His face so that we may more clearly see the faces of others.

All of this is toil – work, labor, drudgery but they are the calling of the Christian. We are to love God, ourselves and others. That is our task, and it is not an easy one.

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to put toil in its proper perspective so that I might see you in all of your glory.

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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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Filed under Abba Poeman, Ascetics, Commitment, Community, Contemplation, Desert Fathers, Humility, Spiritual Growth, suffering