There was in the Cells an old man called Apollo. If someone came to find him about doing a piece of work, he would set out joyfully, saying, ‘I am going to work with Christ today, for the salvation of my soul, for that is the reward he gives.’
—-sayings of the Desert
Our world could be turned upside down if we would really take the words of this monk to heart. Finding joy and salvation in our work make the work worth doing, and worth doing well. The whole concept of working for Christ when we are doing the tasks of the day allows us to see our days through a new lens that gives us joy and meaning beyond our imagination. We must ask ourselves, what would it take for me to see my work as salvation for my soul?
Definitely it places a new perspective of what it means to work and serve. For most of us, work is a means to an end. The monk leads us to believe work is our end, and we will be incredibly rewarded for doing the tasks of the day. Implicitly, we are being told that God sends our work to us as a means of worship. Imagine the difference it could make in your life if you saw your work as an act of worship and a means of grace.
Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
—-Jesus of Nazareth
- more valuable than gold (humbleodyssey.wordpress.com)
Jerome was a hermit, priest, and father of the church who guided the church as it translated the Bible from Greek to Latin, the language of the people. Jerome wanted the people to read and know the Bible. He lived in Bethlehem for a time to get a feel of how Jesus lived during his earthly journey. Oral tradition tells us that while living in Bethlehem, Jerome had a dream that Jesus visited him. The dream was so real that he rounded up all his material blessings and offered them to Jesus. He heard the Lord declare, “I do not want your possessions.” So being a good church leader, he offered all his money to Jesus. Jesus once again declared, “I do not want your money.” Finally, in desperation, Jerome cried out, “Jesus, what do you want from me?” Jesus simply replied, “Give me your sins. That is what I came for–I came to take away your sin. Give me your sin.”
That’s really what it’s is all about. Jesus wants our sins! He asks us to love and trust Him enough to be able to give all to Him. Our Lord asks us to confess the unforgivable and feel the warmth of His grace. Many of us are far too busy trying to impress God when all He wants is for us to trust in His promise. That promise is: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” As we bring our sins, He offers His rest. Jerome had it right, all Jesus wants is our sins.
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.
One nun came to Blessed Sarah and said to her: Pray for me, my lady. – The blessed one said to her: Neither will I have mercy on you nor will God unless you have mercy on yourself, fulfilling the virtues as the Fathers have commanded us.
——-Amma Sarah of the Desert
The ability to forgive yourself is key to your psychological well-being. Unforgiveness of self causes a wide range of problems. Suicide, addictions and depression are just a few of the many things associated with self-condemnation. Psychologists struggle to develop creative ways to address this issue. Many suffer from a lack of awareness of their problem with this issue. Behavioral professionals, religious and irreligious, know the importance of self-forgiveness. Many corporate hours are spent in seminars that stress the necessity of learning the importance of forgiveness. This endeavor is tremendously costly for the corporate world.
Amma Sara knew about such forgiveness 1500 years ago, and said it was the place to start. God is a God of forgiveness and grace, and we must forgive ourselves in order to receive forgiveness. Our problem with self-forgiveness is that we don’t really believe in grace – that marvelous property of God that allows Him to forgive us even though we are most undeserving. Amma Sarah called the forgiving of ourselves a fulfillment of the virtues that were bestowed upon us by the Creator. Forgiveness, even of our own faults, is a virtue.
- Adventures in Forgiveness (matterofprayerblog.wordpress.com)
- Deep Roots of Unforgiveness (saranortonsanner.com)
If a monk does not think in his own heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear him. The brother said, ‘What does this mean, to think in his heart he is a sinner?’ Then the old man said, ‘When someone is occupied with his own faults, he does not see those of his neighbor.’
—-Abba Moses of the Desert
This type of theme of careful introspection resonates very loudly in our grudge filled and judgmental society. The poet Anne Currin writes, “You’re so devoted to all your grudges, You cherish them like they’re a prize; You hold them with pride on your pedestal Bursting with bliss as your relationships die.” Many years before the poet wrote those words the people of the desert were pondering how to deal with such things. In this saying the Abba points us directly to our awareness of personal sin and its effect on our behavior toward others.
His advice is quite simple. We are called to believe in our hearts that we are sinners, and sin is our nature. Until we can recognize our nature, it is very difficult to improve our lot. When we turn our energies toward self – improvement we steer away from judgment of others, and towards unity with God. That unity, after all, is our primary goal. Own you sins and ask God to give you the grace to overcome.
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
Just recently I was introduced to Dorotheos of Gaza by Professor Emeritus Roberta Bondi from Chandler School of Theology. I find his words an additional treasure trove of desert wisdom that I will be blogging on from time to time. Irvin
In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.
Doretheos of Gaza
——-Dorotheos of Gaza
At first glance Dorotheos seems to be implying that we can approach God with behavior modification. That is not the base point of the teaching. We can dig far deeper by gaining the insight of the undeniable relationship between passion and sin. If we can come to understand that God is seeking to guide us to recognize our passions without allowing them to control us like puppets on a string, we can arrive at a peace that is currently beyond our grasp. Passions and sins are not one in the same. Passions are the root of sin, but passions are not an excuse for sin. The father clearly points out that we can have passions without sin. There are two keys: to observe the commands of God and avoid sin, and to understand that our passions drive us in the direction of sin. With that knowledge, it will be possible to have passions and not sin.
Additionally, I believe that passions allow us to live our lives to the fullest. Our deepest passions are one way we were created in the “image and likeness” of God. We are to go to God and ask Him to gift us with deep passion to live, to love, and to serve. With these passions, we become great servants and productive people. The acknowledgement of evil passions as the root of sin is the beginning of the road to glorification.
He also said, ‘The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself as a sinner. It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself “a man of unclean lips.” ’ (Isaiah 6:5)
——-Abba Mateos of the Desert
These are great words coming from the wise monk. We should take to heart the notion that closeness to God gives us a greater awareness of our inability to live the life of perfection. With this awareness we open ourselves to the abundance of grace that God sends our way, and to a better understanding of our neighbor. In the acceptance of our own sin, forgiveness of others becomes more natural. As long as we hold on to our own pride and power, we will never fully experience the presence of God.
- An Older Gospel (laymansbible.wordpress.com)
English: Orthodox Church and monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. Christ icon over the monastery gate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He also said, ‘Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.’
He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’
—–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Asceticism can be defined as the rejection of the pleasures of life. It does not really matter how much we deprive ourselves in the name of God, if we do not have the discernment to know that we must interact with all of our neighbors. Our true calling as Christ followers is to be at harmony with all who are around us .Our ultimate calling is to gain the trust and friendship of those around us. In this there is Godly living. To be destructive to our neighbor is a sin against God and man.
Lord help me to be at peace and harmony with all whom you send my way. Help me to learn that each person is a part of your creation and that you love them just as you love me. Fill me with your Spirit so that I may learn of your grace and wisdom. Though that grace and wisdom I am given the key of living in love in this unloving world. May you grant this to me through the one who loves me most. Amen