Tag Archives: John the Dwarf

A Monk’s Toil

1st-john-the-dwarfOne of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.”

—sayings of the desert

Toil is something most of us would prefer to avoid. Yet Abba John say that toil defines the monk, and Christians are defined by the work of monks. The monks are our prime examples of Christian living, because they have given all to follow Christ. I am sure that the “Father” who asked this question of John didn’t get the answer he expected. After all, monks are holy and just sit around getting holier all day long.

What is this toil?

I believe it is the keeping of the most important command of God, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Difficulties and toil abound when we seek to love others as we love ourselves. First, we may not really love ourselves. Many people are self-loathing and take it out on the rest of the world. God created us in His own image and for good; we must learn to believe that before we can accomplish anything. For quite a few people, that is toil. Second, we must believe that God loves everyone, and they are His special creation. Without that belief we find ourselves feeling very superior to a whole lot of people. The only way to put that aside is toil. Such toil puts us on our knees seeking His face so that we may more clearly see the faces of others.

All of this is toil – work, labor, drudgery but they are the calling of the Christian. We are to love God, ourselves and others. That is our task, and it is not an easy one.

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to put toil in its proper perspective so that I might see you in all of your glory.

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The Fruit of Obedience

North Africa 2007 260 Monastery of the Syrians...

North Africa 2007 260 Monastery of the Syrians in Wadi el Natrun (Photo credit: David Holt London)

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 Fathers 

 We live in a world of “have it your way,” but in order for us to communicate with the Creator of the universe we must understand His time. Not only was the Abba obedient, he was patient. He kept about his task for much longer than was reasonable. In our world we expect things to happen very quickly, and if they don’t we just give up. We lack that “long suffering” obedience  it takes to accomplish the very best of this life and the life to come. I dare say that not one among us would water a dead stick for three months, let alone three years! Try to look for the “dead sticks” that God would bring to life if only we were patient and obedient disciples.

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Filed under contemplative, Desert Fathers, Missional Living, Monasticism, Persistance