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Be the Bee!

[T]he monk who desires to gather spiritual honey, ought like a most careful bee, to suck out virtue from those who specially possess it, and should diligently store it up in the vessel of his own breast: nor should he investigate what any one is lacking in, but only regard and gather whatever virtue he has. For if we want to gain all virtues from some one person, we shall with great difficulty or perhaps never at all find suitable examples for us to imitate. For though we do not as yet see that even Christ is made “all things in all,” as the Apostle says; still in this way we can find Him bit by bit in all.

~ St. John Cassian, Institutes, 5.4

My wife Kelly sent me the following video. I’m sure I’m late in seeing it, but I figured it was worth sharing here anyway. Anyone who can make a video about apatheia that kids could actually get into is doing something right in my book. Kudos.

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Born of the Same Mother

Abba John told this story. Abba Anub and Abba Poemen and the others, who were born of the same mother, were monks in Scete. And some savage Mazicae came and sacked Scete. The monks went away, and came to a place called Terenuthis, while they discussed where to live, and stayed a few days there in an old temple. Abba Anub said to Abba Poemen: “Of your charity, let me live apart from you and your brothers, and we shall not see each other for a week.” And Abba Poemen said: “Let us do as you wish”: and they did so.

In the temple stood a stone statue. And every day at dawn Abba Anub rose and pelted the face of the statue with stones: and every day at evening he said: “Forgive me.” Every day for a week he did this: and on Saturday they met again. And Abba Poemen said to Abba Anub: “I saw you, Abba, throwing stones at the face of the statue every day this week, and later doing penance to the statue. A true Christian would not have done that.” And the old man answered: “For your sakes I did it. When you saw me throwing stones at the statue’s face, did it speak? Was it angry?”

And Abba Poemen said: “No.”

And he said: “When I did penance before the statue, was it troubled in heart? Did it say: ‘I do not forgive you?’ ”

And Abba Poemen answered: “No.”

And he said: “Here we are, seven brothers. If we want to stay together, we must become like this statue, which is untroubled by the injuries I have done it. If you will not become like this statue, see, there are four doors to this temple, and each of us may go in the direction he chooses.”

At these words they fell upon the ground before Abba Anub, and said to him: “As you say, Father. We will do what you tell us.” And afterwards Abba Poemen described what happened. “We remained together all our lives, doing our work and everything else as the old man directed us. He appointed one of us as a steward, and we ate whatever he put before us; no one could have said: ‘Bring something else to eat, or ‘I will not eat that.’ And so we passed our lives in quiet and peace.” 

 ~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15.11

This is one of the few stories from the desert fathers where biological relations seem to be honored. More often, we read of men who leave everything, including family, for the sake of the Gospel, for a life dedicated to Jesus Christ. To such stories we may say that such literal renunciation is not necessary for all Christians. Yet we can still learn from their dedication. Here, however, we have an example far more easily applicable to a life of everyday asceticism. View full article »

Audio: What is Fasting?

I recently had the honor to be a guest on a radio show, prompted by my recent post on fasting. If you’d like to give it a listen, you can find it here. Thanks again to John and Kathy for having me on the program.

Countless Contemplations

I haven’t lately had the time to write new posts. But I came across a passage in St. John Cassian’s Conferences (1.15) that I thought speaks pretty well for itself:

[Abba Moses said:] In many ways we come to contemplate God. We know him in worshipping his very being which we cannot fathom, the vision which is yet hidden, though it is promised, and for which we may hope. We know him in the majesty of his creation, in regarding his justice, in apprehending the help we receive for our daily lives. We contemplate him when we see what he has wrought with his saints in every generation: when we feel awe at the mighty power which rules creation, the unmeasurable knowledge of his eye which sees into the secrets of every heart; when we remember that he has counted the grains of sand upon the shore and the waves upon the sea and the raindrops, that he sees every day and hour through all the centuries past and future: when we remember his mercy unimaginable seeing countless sins committed every moment and yet bearing them with inexhaustible long-suffering; when we contemplate that he has called us by reason of no merit which he found in us but simply of his free grace: when we see so many opportunities of salvation offered to those whom he is going to adopt as his sons: how he caused us to be born in circumstances where we might from our cradles receive his grace and the knowledge of his law: how he is working to overcome the enemy in us, simply for the pleasure of his goodness, and is rewarding us with everlasting blessedness: and, finally, how for our salvation he was incarnate and made man, and has spread his wonderful mysteries among all nations. There are countless other contemplations of this kind, which arise in our perceptions in proportion to our holiness of life and our purity of heart and through which, if our eyes are clean, we see and grasp God. No man in whom anything of earthly passion remains can keep the vision continually. ‘Thou canst not see my face’ said the Lord. ‘For no man shall see me and live’—live to this world and its desires.”

What is Fasting?

Abba John the Short said: “If a king wants to take a city whose citizens are hostile, he first captures the food and water of the inhabitants of the city, and when they are starving subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is earnest in fasting and hunger, the enemies which trouble his soul will grow weak.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 4.19

Evagrios calls gluttony one of three “frontline demons.” Here Abba John the Short uses military imagery as well, except he highlights the proper countermeasure that we ought to take against this frontline enemy: fasting. View full article »

I don’t typically post links here to my other writing, but one today fits so well with the spirit of Everyday Asceticism that it could just as easily have appeared here anyway. At Humane Pursuits, I write,

The Benedictines have bequeathed to the world a twofold motto for daily life: ora et labora, pray and work. While some might presume that the ascetic life is about fleeing to a place of contemplation—and, to an extent, it is—they would be mistaken to believe that this flight from “the world” is also a flight from work. The Church fathers, East and West, have a long tradition that affirms the value of human labor. And their reflections on the subject contain depths of insight still relevant for those of us who live in “the world” today, such as how to find meaning in whatever work one may do.

I then focus on a saying from an anonymous old man from the Egyptian desert about how we ought to work not for that which is impermanent, but rather what is “little and lasting.” To find out more, head over to Human Pursuits and read the rest here.

Combatting Forgetfulness

An old man said: “Satan has three powers, which lead to all the sins. The first is forgetfulness, the second negligence, and the third concupiscence. If forgetfulness comes, it begets negligence: negligence is the mother of concupiscence: and by concupiscence a man falls. If the mind is serious, it repels forgetfulness, negligence does not come, concupiscence finds no entry— and so with help from Christ’s grace, he shall never fall.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 11.46

There are many sayings like these in the ascetic writings of the Church. One could list basic causes of all sin ad infinitum. The important thing to remember is that these sayings arise not (merely, I should say) from abstract theorizing but from practical experience. Thus, this is what this old man has found. As the matter at hand is a practical one, arguments are not necessary, only self-examination. Is his experience, your experience? If so, then his solution might be your solution as well. View full article »

Who Do You Say That I Am?

[T]he figure wherein ye now see me hanging is the representation of that man that first came unto birth. Ye therefore, my beloved, and ye that hear me and that shall hear, ought to cease from your former error and return back again. For it is right to mount upon the cross of Christ, who is the Word [Logos] stretched out, the one and only, of whom the Spirit saith: For what else is Christ, but the word, the sound of God? So that the word is the upright beam whereon I am crucified. And the sound is that which crosseth it, the nature of man. And the nail which holdeth the cross-tree unto the upright in the midst thereof is the conversion and repentance of man.

~ Acts of Peter, 38

Since I already wrote one reflection about St. Paul, and since we just celebrated their joint feast at the end of last month, I decided that I ought to write one about St. Peter as well. There is actually a lot that can be said about St. Peter. In addition to the account of his martyrdom (above), I’d like to single out one of the most View full article »

On Blind Bodyguards

Abba Poemen said: “As a bodyguard is always standing by to protect the Emperor, so the soul ought ever to be ready for the demon of lust.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.8

The fathers, even by many Christians today, are often derided for supposed sexual puritanism (no offense intended to any actual Puritans).

Personally, I’d rather have the fathers who erred on the side of celibacy than what many have today: clergy sexual abusers. Perhaps it has always been this bad—I hope not. View full article »

If [the Holy Spirit] takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world in the nets of Christ, taking them up in the meshes of the Word [Gk. Logos]. Look at Peter and Andrew and the Sons of Thunder, thundering the things of the Spirit. If of Publicans, He makes gain of them for discipleship, and makes them merchants of souls; witness Matthew, yesterday a Publican, today an Evangelist. If of zealous persecutors, He changes the current of their zeal, and makes them Pauls instead of Sauls, and as full of piety as He found them of wickedness.

~ St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 41: “On Pentecost,” 14

Ascension and Pentecost came and went, and I haven’t even reflected on either yet! Monday we will start the Apostles Fast that lasts until the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It’s all too much to cover in one post, so I’ll try not to get carried away, but what I do have might serve as a little bridge between the two seasons. View full article »

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