There was an old man who was served by a holy virgin and men said he was not pure. The old man heard what was said. When he was at the point of dying he said to his fathers, “When I am dead, plant my stick in the grave; if it grows and bears fruit, know that I am pure from all contact with her; if it does not grow; know that I have sinned with her.” So they planted the stick and on the third day it budded and bore fruit, and they all gave glory to God.
The importance of this saying is not in its factual content but in its parabolic truth. In the day of the lost art of telling the story, we miss so much. The wise old man is illustrating the point that our real selves will not be seen in this life but in what our lives bring forth – that is seen through the eyes of our Creator. As we toil from day to day we miss so much of the grace of God’s creation. In our struggle to find and do right, we miss the most important point of all. God makes things right. Holy is living not really about virgins and sprouting sticks. Cassian tells us that the old man knew God and his life bore fruit.
He also said, ‘Satan does not know by what passion the soul can be overcome. He sows, but without knowing if he will reap, sometimes thoughts of fornication, sometimes thoughts of slander, and similarly for the other passions. He supplies nourishment to the passion which he sees the soul is slipping towards.’
———–Abba Matoes of the Desert
The wise old man gives us a very important truth, Satan is not all knowing. Far too many people give the evil equal standing with God. Emphatically, he is not! We need not worry that the devil can overcome us without our help. In every sin, we become his partner by enjoying the forbidden fruit. The passion is as much our enemy as the evil one. Our challenge is to recognize those areas of our lives that make us vulnerable to sin, and to give those to God. That task is not an easy one, but it can be accomplished by a lifetime of spiritual disciplines. All of us must seek God in prayer every day, and know that He will be found. The real gem we get from the old man is that the devil does not know our sore spot, and we, through prayer, can find it and give it to God.
Abba Poeman said to Abba Joseph, ’Tell me how to become a monk.’ He said, ‘If you want to find rest here below, (earth) and hereafter,(heaven) in all circumstances say, who am I? — and do not judge anyone.’
—— sayings of the Desert
Do not judge anyone. That very small statement is one of the most difficult tasks of any follower of Christ. Our very nature is about judging and discerning, and when we act on that nature we can be very harsh toward those who are the recipients of our judgment. The wise old man says, “Who am I?” This a simple and yet very profound statement that has monumental consequences. Evaluated correctly the Abba was saying, I am not God. We all need to accept the simple fact of our own inability to know what is best for the world, and turn to God for His guidance.
Your journey, when it is focused on you and God, can be radically changed. We are no longer threatened by the sin and confusion that surrounds us, but we are strengthened by the spirit that lives within us. A good first step to getting there would be let God judge – NOT YOU!
- Fool! Heretic! (everydayasceticism.com)