Tag Archive: Abba Poemen


The Mark of a Man

Abba Poemen said: “The mark of the true monk only appears under temptation.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

We could easily say the same for any man or woman. It is a strange thing about life that sometimes its best blessings, rightly understood, are tragic. Continue reading

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Bright Sadness

Abba Poemen said also: “Grief is twofold: it works good, and it keeps out evil.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.12

There are many ways in which Abba Poemen could be wrong. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that he is aware of all those. When is Abba Poemen right? When is grief not only not bad, but a double blessing? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

No Small Danger

Abba Ammon said [to Abba Poemen]: “If I need to talk with my neighbour, do you think I should talk to him about the Scriptures, or about the sayings and judgments of the elders?” And the old man said to him: “If you cannot keep silence, it is much better to talk about the sayings of the elders than about the Scriptures. For the danger is no small one.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.20

It may be a curiosity to some why my reflections, which focus on Christian spiritual practice, almost entirely consist of musings on the sayings of the fathers and mothers of the Church rather than the Scriptures. To be sure, the Scriptures are not absent in my reflections, but on the other hand they are always only referenced in the context of seeking to understand one of “the sayings and judgments of the elders.” The reason is quite simple, as Abba Poemen puts it: “the danger is no small one.” Continue reading

Spiritual Utopianism

[Abba Poemen] said: “If a man makes a new heaven and a new earth, he still cannot be safe from temptation.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.24A

The Roman Catholic saint Thomas More famously coined the term utopia in his book of the same name. It is actually a play on words: “topos” is Greek for “place,” whereas “ou” is Greek for “no” and “eu” is Greek for “good.” Thus one may understand it either way (“no place” or “good place”), though the likely intention is to say that the perfection of utopian societies is unattainable this side of the parousia, the return of Jesus Christ. It seems that Abba Poemen would agree.

Utopia as a concept is much discussed in the context of political theory and public policy. I do not wish to explore that here, though having found this saying I don’t doubt that I will reflect on it further in that context in a more appropriate forum at some later date. For now, however, I would rather examine the dangers of utopian thinking for our everyday, spiritual life. Continue reading