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 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
The current events of our day demand that presidential candidates know everything. As a result, these candidates say things that are not well thought out, and even reckless. People lie on their resumes because they feel they must do so in order to get ahead. The world we have created is one that encourages everyone to be more, do more than is realistic. That demand has been the downfall of many who could function in a world that accepts and respects, “I don’t know.”
“I do not know.” These are four most difficult words. Admitting these words has been difficult for people since the beginning, since 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 the things that remain a mystery to us.
The old monk helps us find a way in the here and now to the mystery of God. The “I do not know” is the way that we express our belief in that unknowing mystery of God. We are surrounded by atheists and doubters who have demanded concise and quick answers about the God we worship. We are first and foremost a people of faith. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Proclaim your faith and live your life in the joy of not having all the answers.
Dear Lord ,I do not know why there is so much evil in the world. I do not know why I fail to love you and my neighbor as much as I should. I do not know why prayers that seem so necessary go unanswered. I do not know why the scripture is full of mysteries. It is in that sort of unknowing that I cry out to you in faith.
A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’
—-Abba Mateos of the Desert
The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.
Abba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. Which means we have a guilty conscience.We must allow our moral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.
Lord help me this day, and all the days that you give me, to be a person of peace. Let the Spirit that dwells in me guide my action to be your actions. Block out the temptations that lead me to become arrogant and mean, and to assume that my way is better than your way. I commit myself to live as though you were watching my every move.
Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he said to the old man, ‘Abba, there are some phrases missing.’ The old man said to him, ‘Go, and practice first that which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.’
—–sayings of the desert
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” Perhaps the Abba was simply taking the advice of scripture by giving the brother the product he produced. We all have a tendency to want more than we can appropriate or manage in our lives. The demand of our day is – I need it all and I need it now. Our real challenge is to have an understanding of place.
I live in New Orleans which is a very unique place with all sorts of people. One the my favorite hustle lines is , “ I bet you five dollars I can tell you where you got ‘dem’ shoes?” I can remember the confusion that came upon me when I heard that line for the first time. How ridiculous, I thought, but the answer was so obvious and correct. I had them on my feet and I was in New Orleans, and that’s where I got ‘dem’ shoes.
The same lesson is taught by the Abba. We miss what we have in front of us for demanding more. Let us learn to be mindful of the milk we have been provided, and grow in the spirit everyday.
I heard a story recently about a Russian Monastery that was dying and declining. The brothers were growing old, many had died. The villagers had stopped coming to visit the monastery. Young men were no longer interested in dedicated themselves to the Monastic order. This decline led to worry and the loss of hope led to bitterness. In desperation the abbot went to visit an old hermit we had heard about. He hoped that the old man might have some wisdom. The abbot arrived after a long journey and explained their problem to the hermit. The hermit prayed for the abbot but said nothing more. The two men sat in silence for a very long time and the abbot patiently waited to hear some word of hope – a blessing, a prophecy, just something simple to try. Finally the abbot could abide the silence no longer and he begged the hermit for an answer. The hermit replied, “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything I have to tell you. I don’t know what the future holds for the monastery. I am sorry – oh, but there is this – I believe that the Messiah is in your midst.” The Messiah?, thought the abbot. Among us at the monastery. He rushed back and reported the unexpected news and the brothers began to question, “Who is it?” “Who among us is the Messiah?” Surely not Bro. Nicolaus, he gripes too much. Surely not Bro. Stavros, he is so whiney. But what if …? And on it went.
And in time as the brothers began to suppose that any one of them could be the Messiah, they began to treat each other with respect and kindness and love. That spirit extended into the village and rumors of the Messiah’s presence continued so that everyone began to wonder if their neighbor might be the Messiah. And though no one was ever identified as the Messiah, the monastery was thriving and the village was blessed and young men devoted themselves to the faith.
Since Jesus is with us always, then discipleship is on-going and it is everyday. It is not something for a special day or a special evening or a special program. It is the pulse of every moment lived in the kingdom of God.
It was said of Abba Theodore of Pherme that three things he held to be fundamental were: poverty, asceticism, flight
He also said, ‘The man who remains standing when he repents, has not kept the commandment.’
—–Sayings of the Desert
The advice from the monk is to have your life characterized by some fundamental attitudes that lead us closer to God. He goes on to tell us that true repentance is manifested in outward humility. The words poverty and asceticism can be summed up by just saying that we are called to a life of simplicity. This type of simplicity allows us to put God first in our lives. Such a simplicity keeps us away from many temptations. Those that live the simple life are generous, compassionate and without greed or envy. The expression “flight from men “can be summed up by saying, put aside the things of the world and spend time with God. This life is designed to keep us constantly distracted and occupied with the things of the world. Such a state of affairs gives us little time for the things of God. We all want to get to a place where we find peace and harmony with ourselves and the rest of the world. That was the Abba’s goal and ours, too.
Striving towards that simplicity demands repentance, not just a casual confession, but true repentance. That repentance is one of depth and conviction, and it brings about conversion. Such a conversion will affect us greatly. There are too many professing Christians who can simply “remain standing” surrounded by their sin. All of us are called to a repentance and conversion of heart that brings us to our knees, helpless without the grace of God.
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
‘Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate, Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven
——- Amma Theodora
Prayer Starter — Lord help me to see the light that you shine upon me.
Lord Jesus Christ, whose will all things obey: pardon what I have done and grant that I, a sinner, may sin no more. Lord, I believe that though I do not deserve it, you can cleanse me from all my sins. Lord, I know that man looks upon the face, but you see the heart. Send your spirit into my inmost being, to take possession of my soul and body. Without you I cannot be saved; with you to protect me, I long for your salvation. And now I ask you for your salvation And now I ask you for wisdom, deign of your great goodness to help and defend me. Guide my heart, almighty God, that I may remember your presence day and night.
March 8 — Day 4
7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
There were two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled. Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.” “I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him: “Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.” To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.” And so they were not able to have a quarrel.
—-Sayings of the Desert
Prayer Starter — Lord help me to be a peacemaker above all else.