Tag Archives: Abba Poeman

Monday from the Desert

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On this Monday of Holy Week, I call your attention to those Monks who chose to escape the temptation and hardships that beset them when they lived in the cities. Their escape to the desert was the way that they chose to pursue the calling as Christians. I have chosen a few quotes that will set the stage for their way of life. Read and pray on these and God will lead you in the right direction.


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Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

~~~Anthony of Egypt



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A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’

~~~Abba Poemen



For quite some time I have been learning great lessons from the men and women of the desert monastic movement. Their commitment to living a Christ honoring life was given number one priority in their lives. Many of them abandoned influence, wealth, and families to live for Christ. They were the mentors of numerous leaders of early Christianity. Their attitudes and actions drew people to them for inspiration. I have shared some quotes from their teaching today. I will expand on those in the words that follow.

In our first saying we see the age-old question, “What must I do to please God?” That is the most important request that anyone can make. Anthony’s reply is simple. He is saying that it all has to do with focus. He says to begin with your personal life. The Christian must always have God before him. Too many believers make it habit to compartmentalize their lives. When we have a box for God, a box for work and separate boxes for each part of life, we lose sight of what should be our primary focus.  Christians should always have God in front of their eyes and all else will come into focus. Anthony then turns his attention to the scripture and tells us that we should look for its testimony. The Holy Scriptures are given to us by God as a guide for life and work. We should consult with them and live in them for everything we do. Anthony’s next stop is where we live. If we establish stability of place, we will not spend our lives searching for the next adventure or excitement of life. Focus on God, Holy Scriptures and stability of place, and God will bring you great peace and salvation.

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Abba Poeman warns us against excessive guilt and self-loathing. Many people suffer through much in life because they never forgive themselves for some grievance that they have committed. Somehow, they always feel a sense of guilt and never really accept the grace of God. Such an attitude leads to self-loathing and ultimately to destructive behavior. The monk communicates to the brother that God will accept the repentant heart without excessive penance. The message is that we do not earn God’s forgiveness, it is given to the penitent heart. When Christians accept and live out that truth, they are free.

During Holy Week we journey towards the cross. It is a cross of suffering and salvation. Abba Anthony gives us some ways that we can focus our lives. Abba Poeman offers us a way that we can accept forgiveness and move on with life. These two concepts will perhaps give you a vision of how to apply Christ’s suffering and salvation to your life. 

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PRAYER

Lord, As I experience Holy Week lead me to prepare my heart to receive the sacrifice of Jesus with a penitent heart. Let me keep my focus toward Him and His grace.

Amen

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Adversity/Deliverance

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, 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.

~~~ Abba Poeman of the Desert



The popular cry is deliverance, but the old man gives us a different cry -‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’ As difficult as it is, we must acknowledge that in our trials, salvation comes to our souls. Pop preachers and politicians tell us that all adversity will be taken away, and they have the formula for removing these obstacles from our lives. None of us wants to hear the message of endurance and strength. When such a message is proclaimed, we know that the problems of life must be faced, and we must walk in the valley from time to time. That is a very loathsome thought, but the resolve and fortitude we acquire through these times will carry us to new spiritual heights. The wise old man points in the direction of inner strength, a quality that can only be learned by walking in the valley. For amid our darkest times, our relationship and knowledge of God blossoms, and a vital relationship is created. Pray to God for this strength.

This strength comes when we learn to make adversity and suffering an avenue of growth and change. We never grow unless we change. There is a sad old pop culture myth that we can grow without changing. I was told long ago that the best way to market your new product was to make someone dissatisfied with their current product. That is what we are forced to do amid the adversity that we face in our churches, families and jobs. If we find ourselves praying for deliverance so that we do not have to change, we are missing the point. Perhaps this adverse situation is a wakeup call from God.

Some of the greatest and most productive changes I have made in my life have been a result of adverse times. We never change or alter our prayer life, worship pattern or close relationships until we hit a rough spot. Then we are reminded that our lives are not static, and we do not have all the answers. Isn’t that great? I do not have all the answers. That is such a freeing thought, and it causes us to look in new directions. 

The first of these new directions is to look to other people with an open mind. Openness that says that someone else may have a better idea or way to accomplish what we are so desperately trying to do. Bill Gates of Microsoft fame wanted to develop a computer software that would eventually be called Basic. As he was in the early stage, he realized that it could not be done without some help from a previous computer, program and thus he reached and out and was flexible enough to admit that he did not have all the answers. As a result, his product succeeded and at age 31 he became the world’s youngest billionaire. The truth of that story is that Gates had to go through a time of trial and adversity and that looking to others was his way out.

The second of these new directions is to rethink how important God is in our everyday lives and decisions. We can go through life just giving God a nod on Sunday and perhaps here and there during the week. Sooner or later adversity comes in our lives and we can handle it two ways. The way many people handle adversity is to blame God and become bitter, This reaction makes us most miserable and quite hard to be around at times. The person who blames it all on God, and just as importantly, sees himself as the master of his own universe, lives a tormented and miserable life. We must turn to a greater belief and dependence on God in our time of adversity, and he will see us through the fight.

Remember that help in times of adversity radiates from your relationship with God and your neighbors.



PRAYER

LORD, Savior of every life, in following you we choose to love and never to harden our hearts. You wish us to know a Gospel joy. And when the depths of our being are covered by a dark cloud, one way forward remains open, the way of serene trust.

Amen

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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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