It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
On face value this saying seems a little farfetched. Most of us who live in the 21st century want things to be logical and reasonable. The very idea of watering a dead stick daily for three years and having to travel a huge distance every day to get the water is beyond belief. Here’s the point, -if the story is a fable, it points us to a miracle wrought by obedience. If it’s true it still reveals a miracle that is wrought by obedience. John’s mentor calls it the “fruit of obedience.”
We are all called to obedience to the tasks that we are given. Most of us fight the very idea of being obedient to anything. After all, we live in a very freedom loving world and none of us wants to give up any of that freedom -not even for God. We give up our freedom for the gift of marriage and other relationships in our lives, so why not make one of those relationships with God and His church. Just as Abba John found the great blessing that awaited at the end of his road of obedience, we will find our reward only if we are set to the task.
In what way is God calling YOU today?
Lord give me the insight to recognize the things that I am called to do. Lord give me the humility to put self aside to perform tasks that sometimes seem unimportant to me. In doing so you help me to find the greater blessing that comes in the form of the fruit of obedience. Amen
“The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, ‘You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.”
— sayings of the desert
The true test of any person comes when we face criticism. These are harsh words that cut to the bone. Such words can be true or false, just or unjust but they always hurt. In the times of praise it is very easy to be gracious and loving . When the tables are turned, we learn the ultimate meaning of turning the other cheek. The challenge is to be a person who has the inner trust in God that allows us to be a 24/7 Christian. None of us are there yet, but the journey continues.
Prayer Thought – Lord help me to be a Christian from the inside out.
Abba Marcarius the Great said to the brothers at Scetis, when he dismissed the assembly, ‘Flee my brothers.’ One of the old men asked him, ’Where could we flee beyond the desert?’ He put his finger on his lips and said, ‘Flee that,” and he went into his cell, shut the door and sat down.
— sayings of the desert
There is a quite popular saying in the advertising business – location, location, location. When the monk questioned Marcarius, he was saying we desert monks are in the perfect location. Surely in this desert we have retreated from everything, and are in danger from nothing. Not so, says the great master. The greatest temptation of all still plagued them, and they had overlooked it. Their greatest opponent was the corrupt communication that would come out of their mouths.
The sin of gossip, slander and others originate from the words that come out of our mouths. Silence and introspection are our greatest friends. We must all think before we speak, and remain silent instead of having an opinion on everything. In the plethora of words that spew out of our mouths, much harm is done. The brother had just been dismissed from assembly (worship/prayer) , and Marcarius urged them to go back to their cells and reflect on the revelation that had received rather than to speak idle words to each other. This is a hard but worthy lesson for us.
Prayer Thought – Lord let us see the value of times of silence and reflection.
“What am I to do, Abba, since passions and demons beset me?” a young monk asked the holy Abbot.
“Do not say that you are bothered by demons, child,” answered the elder, “because the greater part of us are beset by our own evil desires.”
——Sayings of the Desert
Flip Wilson was a quite popular stand-up comedian of the 60’s and 70’s whose trademark phrase was “the devil made me do it.” His catch phase served as an excuse for any type of outrageous behavior. Those words became very popular and were used by many to excuse their own behavior. Flip Wilson knew the expression was just a joke, but this expression is hidden in each of us. They are an unrelenting desire to pass responsibility along to someone or something else.
The wise Abba is confronted by the very same concept by a young monk. This young brother couldn’t possibly see that he was largely responsible for his our behavior. His Abba correctly instructed him to start with himself, and in doing so he would find victory over the demons. This approach holds a very profound lesson for us. Transformation begins with me.
My favorite pop philosopher, Jimmy Buffet, says it all in his signature song – Margaritaville. After three verses of decrying his plight with the words “there must be someone to blame,” the final verse says, “its my own d**n fault.
OURS IS THE GREATER PART
It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some evildoers came to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash their feet. But they were filled with confusion, and began to do penance.
— Sayings of the Desert
Sin and guilt are peculiar concepts. Evildoers expect to be treated as such, and when they are surprised, they become confused. The servant attitude of the Abba spoke louder than words, and threw the weight of their sin and guilt crashing down upon them. Simply following the example of Jesus and being their servant was too much for them. Evildoers are armed with smooth words and crafty schemes, but the gospel of love renders them helpless. Basin theology, as exemplified by Jesus, is one of the most power tools for spreading the gospel.
OUR CHALLENGE – Learn to be ready with gospel love and service to all who come our way.
“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 saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved. ‘Having withdrawn to the 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 sinlessness.’ “
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
Threefold is the call to perfection. First we must flee. We flee from the slavery of the demands of the world. We are no longer obedient vassals to what “everyone else” is doing and saying. Second, we must practice silence. The call to silence is a call to be attentive to the voice of God. God speaks loudest when we are silent . The third call is to pray always. In the practice of constant prayer ,we open ourselves to the will of God, and we draw closer to Him. These three concepts are a path to perfection.
A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.
——— Abba Dorotheos
The food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world
One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man
Monastery of Saint Anthony, Egypt
suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, ‘You have not understood it.’ Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, ‘How would you explain this saying?’ and he replied, ‘I do not know.’ Then Abba Anthony ‘Indeed Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: “I do not know.”
—–Abba Anthony of Egypt
“I do not know.” These are the four most difficult words to say in our society. Admitting these words has been difficult for people since the beginning. We are created with a “must know” nature. All men run from mystery, and yet God is a mystery. He calls us to believe what we have not seen. We are led to serve without knowing the results of our service. Be attentive to the voice of the Spirit that calls us to action, even to the things that remain mystery to us.
- Get up again! – Abba Sisoes (sayingsoftheorthodoxfathers.wordpress.com)
Abba 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.