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.
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
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
—–1 Corinthians 3:2-3
In my office there are many books, some I have read, and some I have not read. Within my collection are books that I have not read since my seminary days. Somehow I am comforted by the clutter of words that surround me and forget that a book is no good unless it is read. The Abba and Paul hit this subject head on.
If we do not use what we have, how can more be of any use to us? Most of us, like the Corinthians and the brother of the story are crying out for fullness and never use what we already possess. We have to begin our spiritual journey by applying the knowledge we possess to our pilgrimage .As we are nourished by the milk we have been given, we then push forth to a higher plain of knowledge. Our spiritual passage begins with the life messages that God has given to us and our application of them. Far too many times we get well ahead of ourselves and begin drowning in an overload of spiritual information with the false illusion that more is better. Only later we discover that we have wasted precious time for blessing by coveting more that we can apply.
Lord help me to absorb with diligence and humility all that you have revealed to me. May I spend my days trying to grow into the Christian that you created. This day I give to you what I know and understand, and I will wait with patience for what is to come. Amen
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
Recently I was attending a function with a clergyperson of another denomination, and we began discussing a mutual acquaintance. Quickly the conversation turned somewhat negative and judgmental. After he made what I thought was a rather harsh judgment, I suggested that I didn’t think we should be passing judgment on the man in that manner. His reply was that he was not judging but making an assessment.
North Africa Wadi el Natrun
It doesn’t matter if we call it an assessment or just plain judgment, the monk gives us some direction about this topic. Our sins are forgiven and run out behind us. They are gone! The world would be a much better place if we refrained from making assessments and followed the path of our Savior who came to heal and forgive.
Some monks of Scetis came one day to visit Amma Sarah. She offered them a small basket of fruit. They left the good fruit and ate the bad. So she said to them, “You are true monks of Scetis.”
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
—-Parables of Jesus
The clarion call of all followers of Jesus is self-denial. Without self-denial we are in a constant state of grabbing and competition for the chief seats. Over and over again Jesus the teacher told His disciples to be self-sacrificing and humble. One of the great sayings of the scripture is, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Is a person who calls himself a Christian but always puts self-interest first really legitimate?
Sara of the desert gives us some insight here. She lived the life of a desert monk, and a real monk knows the meaning of true sacrifice. She entertained some fellow monastics in her cell and offered them fruit, and they ate the bad fruit first. Her reaction was to call them “true monks.” Amma Sara knew that there were true and false monks, and declared that true monks don’t grab for the best but leave the best for others.
In this same way, true followers of Jesus must be willing to take a “back seat’ so that others may thrive and go forward. That sort of thinking is contrary to the norm of our day, but brings us closer to an understanding of the nature of God and His grace. By living out a life of self-sacrifice, we find the divine peace that surpasses all understanding.
Monk in Prayer
A brother went to Abba Mateos and said to him, “How is it that the monks of Scetis did more than the scriptures require in loving their enemies more than themselves?’ Abba Mateos said to him, ‘ As for me I have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself.’
—-Abba Mateos of the Desert
Everyone wants an honest answer to their questions, but they are not always pleased with the answers they receive. The brother went to his spiritual director and asked the age old question about loving our enemies. Somehow he had gotten the impression that the monks of Scetis were miles ahead of him in dealing with the spiritual dilemma of loving enemies. Abba Mateos speaks volumes in his answer. He says that he does not love his closest companions as much as he loves himself. True Christ-like love is a very difficult task. My read is that he was telling his brother not to believe everything he hears, but to work and pray for his own enlightenment.
This Abba’s word is as relevant today as it was 1500 years ago. We are surrounded by people that have arrived spiritually and are willing to tell us everything we must do and how much better they are than us. Discouragement is alive and well, and it is a plague of the church. Humility and knowledge of self is the foundation of all Christian maturity. Take the time to examine your love for yourself and others with the eyes of your heart and not the words of others. That’s my honest answer.
- Get Up…and Love. (renewingeve.wordpress.com)
Another day when a council was being held in Scetis, the Fathers treated Moses with contempt in order to test him, saying, ‘Why does this black man come among us?’ When he heard this he kept silence. When the council was dismissed, they said to him, ‘Abba, did that not grieve you at all? ‘He said to them, ‘I was grieved, but I kept silence.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
The question was posed: “Why does this black man come among us?” Admittedly,it never occurred to me that race would be an issue in the very early church, but here it is right in front of us. For centuries man has struggled with the difficulty of becoming an accepting and open church. There are so many among us who cannot get past some very old and unjustified prejudices. That aside, let us learn from Abba Moses. Sometimes this pain is best handled in silence. In our “fix it” world, we are all to quick to protest if we feel our treatment is unfair, but the father bears it in silence, and in that silence victory is won. In this silence the voice of God is heard. Remember that next time you feel unfairly treated, and let God speak to you.