A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, ‘My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother’s faults’. The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), ‘In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, “Father, why are you weeping?” “I am weeping over my sins,” the old man answered him. Then his disciple said, “You do not have any sins, Father.” The old man replied, “Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.”
—sayings of the desert
We rarely think of the depth of our failure. Such a thought would be too overwhelming to bear. The best worldly advice we are given is to think positively. Those who fail to see the good in themselves, we are told, can be very perilous. Such a person no longer works as well, fits in the social order as well, and just seems to drag others down. The Abba gives us an important word in this saying. He challenges us to understand that in the recognition of our sins we understand the marvelous grace of God. If we had to carry the full burden of our failures, we would collapse under their weight. Yes, we must recognize and weep for our sins but God will sustain us in our weeping. And, most importantly, He will give us the grace we need.
- God is not Catholic, says Pope (bryanpattersonfaithworks.wordpress.com)
It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest channeled out by the tears which fell from his eyes all his life while he sat at his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned that he was dead, he said weeping, ‘Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering.’
—- Sayings of the Desert
How many of us really take sin seriously enough to weep for ourselves. In a world of much rationalization and warped reasoning, it is woefully easy to excuse ourselves from blame for anything. In the early ‘70s, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Years after Dr. Menninger’s death, his question still remains. Our culture has scraped the idea of sin as glibly as we dispose of our obsolete cell phones and computers. People who attend our churches don’t want to hear anything on Sunday that would upset them or cause just the slightest feeling of discomfort. When the words of the pastor or scripture itself cause introspection, it is time to flee. After all, I come to church to make myself feel better.
Abba Arsenius gives us an entirely different model for this matter. His feeling of sin was so deep that he spent untold hours weeping on his own behalf. Arsenius understood the gravity of the human condition and the gratefulness we should express because of God’s grace. No presumption was made that God loves us so much that we are forgiven even if do not repent. He wept for his own sins, and I believe the world would be a far better place if we did the same.
20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
A brother asked Abba Poemen: What does it mean to get angry at one’s brother without cause? And he replied: When your brother attacks you, whatever the insults are, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Even if he were to pull out your right eye, and to cut off your right hand, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Yet if he were to try to take you away from God, then get angry!
——- Abba Poemen
Prayer Starter — Lord help me to be a person of forgiveness.
- No greater love – Abba Poemen (sayingsoftheorthodoxfathers.wordpress.com)
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.
—- sayings 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. 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 in itself 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 in the midst of our darkest times, our relationship and knowledge of God blossoms, and a vital relationship is created. Pray to God for this strength.
Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with him he said, “How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies hardly?” Abba Poemen said to him, “We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions.”
—–Abba Poeman of the Desert
Oftentimes we misread and mishandle the greatest commands of the scripture. The message of scripture is not to torture and abuse the very body that God created, but to care for our bodies in such a way that we may glorify God. To control passions and to discern negative passions from ones that build fervor for God is one of the greatest challenges of the Christian journey. As far back as the time of the Desert Fathers there was a defiling of the body, both by the church and immoral practices. It seems the church has always wanted us to deny our physical needs to avoid sin. The simple act of Abba Poeman washing his feet was considered a luxury that a Christian should avoid. Let us understand that our desires are not our enemies, but our lack of self control is very much our destroyer.