Once upon a time long ago a young man decided to become a saint. He left his home, family, and possessions and journeyed into the hot sands of the desert where he eventually found a dark cave. He thought, “I can find God here. I will be alone and nothing will disturb me.” He prayed day and night in the cave, but God sent him many temptations. He imagined all the good things in life and wanted them desperately, but he was determined to give up everything and be with God alone. After many months, the temptations stopped and the young man was alone with God.
Then one day God called to him, “Leave your cave and go to a distant town. Look for the local shoemaker. Knock on his door and stay with his family for a few days.” The holy hermit was puzzled by God’s request, but nonetheless left the next morning. He walked across the desert sands and by nightfall had reached the village. He found a small house, knocked on the door and was greeted with a smile and a welcome. The hermit inquired if the man was the local shoemaker. Hearing that he was, the hermit was pleased, but the shoemaker, seeing that the hermit was tired and hungry invited him in to stay. The hermit was given a hearty meal and a clean place to sleep. The hermit stayed with the shoemaker and his family for three days. The two men talked quite a bit and the hermit learned much about the shoemaker, but he revealed little about himself, even though the family was quite curious about him.
Then after three days the hermit said good-bye to the shoemaker and his family and walked back across the desert to his cave, wondering all the while why God had sent him on this mission. When he arrived back at the cave, God questioned the hermit. “What was the shoemaker like?” The hermit answered, “He is a simple man; they have a small home. He has a wife and a baby. They seem to love each other greatly. He has a small shop where he makes shoes. He works very hard and makes very little, but he still gives money and food to those who are less fortunate. He and his wife pray each day; they have lots of friends.” God listened to the hermit and replied, “You will be a great saint, as you wish, but the shoemaker and his family will be great saints as well.”
….a legend of St. Anthony of the desert
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you”. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “what is this, father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
—-sayings of the desert
I do not believe that comments are necessary on this story. Let me offer this prayer.
Lord help me to understand the nature of the grace that you offer to me. May I not waste my time trying to figure out other people’s sin and faults but know that their forgiveness is already been secured. Let me offer my forgiveness in the same manner as You. Amen
Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, ‘One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, “Father, I am very thirsty.” He said a prayer and said to me, “Drink some of the sea water.” The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, “Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on.” Then the old man said, “God is here, God is everywhere.” ‘
——sayings of the desert
In life many of us turn to a mentor or guide for some words of wisdom. With so many situations that make us feel utterly helpless, the comfort of our spiritual companion is quite strengthening. Brother Doulas has a simple request – water. Thirst would be a common sensation in the desert. The men and women who went to the desert were well aware that the land would be arid and isolated. The guide Abba Doulas sought out began to fulfill his request by praying. In that prayer a way was found to quench his thirst.
What happens next is a bit of a surprise. Doulas drinks sea water and it is “sweet.” Only God can make salt water into fresh water. His thirst was quenched by God in a dramatically direct way. Quite naturally, Doulas wanted to prepare for the future by taking a skin of water, but the Abba saw it differently. He uttered the mystical words – “God is everywhere.” Do we really believe that?
Much of our lives is spent preparing for things that never happen, imagining problems that never come to be, all because we fail to see that God is with us no matter what. We are not called to live a life of careless neglect, but we would do well to remember that He walks along side of us wherever we go. In our belief that God is everywhere we find the strength to accomplish the impossible. We can never carry enough “water” to quench our thirst at all times, he journey of life is made less burdensome when we truly believe God is everywhere.
“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.
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.
There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the old men of the desert why it was that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up and returned to their lives in the city.
“Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined in the chase, and they were barking and running as well. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the desert was echoing the sounds of their pursuit but the chase went on into the night.
After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt. “Do you understand,” the old man said, “what I have told you?”
“No,” replied the young monk, “please tell me father.”
“It is simple,” said the desert father, “my dog saw the rabbit.”
—-Sayings of the desert
Seeing the rabbit is the key for us today as well. Just as in the desert monasteries people drift in and out of churches looking for God but never truly find Him. Their problem is that the never see Him. Many are drawn in by the excitement of others but fail to see who God really is and what He does for those who find Him.
“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 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 day at the cells, there was an assembly about some matter or other and Abba Evagrius held forth. ‘Abba, we know that if you were living in your own country you would probably be a bishop and a great leader; but at present you sit here as a stranger.’ He was filled with compunction, but was not at all upset and bending his head he replied, ‘I have spoken once and will not answer, twice but will proceed no further.’ (Job 40:5)
——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
A key to knowing the meaning of the Abba’s words is to pay careful attention to the scripture he quotes. The story of the biblical character Job is a most fascinating and perplexing one. Job is a man of great wealth and influence and losses it all because of a random conversation between God and the evil one. The point at which we jump into this story is where Job finally decides to stop arguing his case to God and begins to listen to the Almighty as a man and not a peer. We all have callings in life, and we try to live them out with all our strength. We, like Abba Evagarius, are faced with the curiosity of our peers. In the midst of these questions we must come to a simple conclusion, and it is that we cannot always explain the ways of God in our life but we must live them out. After you have tried to figure it out several times it is time to be silent and remain attentive to Him. We are surrounded by a world that thinks we should have taken one turn and another in our journeys, but we are consoled that in following the will of the Master we have done the better thing.
Abba Anthony of the Desert
Abba Daniel also said, ‘The body prospers in the measure in which the soul is weakened, and the soul prospers in the measure in which the body is weakened.’
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
This saying is both hard and misunderstood. At its face value it can be used as an excuse to deprive the body in very harsh ways. Some consider the body that God created as evil, but I believe the key to its beauty is to allow our spiritual souls to be in charge of our bodies. The body is good because it is the creation of God. Our God means for us to use all that He has given us for good, and if we put God first our entire being will prosper. If we neglect our spiritual development our bodies will fail us and we will be left empty.