Abba Arsenius was once asking an old Egyptian for advice about his temptations. And another, who saw this, said: “Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, who are so learned in the Greek and Latin languages, come to be asking that uneducated countryman about your temptations?” He answered: “I have acquired the world’s knowledge of Greek and Latin: but I have not yet been able to learn the alphabet of this uneducated man.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 15.7

A, B, C … learning the alphabet of a language (or system of symbols, as the case may be), is the first step toward literacy in that language. One cannot read a single word if one does not know the letters of the language. One must simply memorized them; their names and sounds cannot be deduced from their shapes. Alphabetic languages often have memorable songs to help, but the task is still large and requires discipline and memory. Nevertheless, as this story teaches, there is a language whose alphabet is far more important to learn and which surpasses the value and achievement of learning any other. Continue reading