A brother came to Abba Silvanus on Mount Sinai. And when he saw the brothers working, he said to the old man: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth”: and “Mary hath chosen the best part.” [John 6:27; Luke 10:42] And the old man said to his disciple: “Call Zacharias, and put this brother in a cell where there is nothing.” And when three o’clock came, he kept looking at the door, to see when they would send someone and summon him to eat. But no one spoke to him. So he rose and went to the old man and said: “Abba, do not the brethren eat today?” And the old man said: “Yes, they have eaten already.” And the brother said: “Why did you not call me?” And the old man answered: “You are a spiritual person and do not need food. We are earthy, and since we want to eat, we work with our hands. But you have chosen the good part, reading all day, and not wanting to take earthly food.” When the brother heard this he prostrated himself in penitence and said: “Forgive me, Abba.” And the old man said: “I think Mary always needs Martha, and by Martha’s help Mary is praised.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 10.69

Mary Magdalene and Martha, the sisters of Lazaras, whom Christ raised from the dead according to the Gospel of John (see John 11), are often used as symbols of the famous dictum attributed to St. Benedict: ora et labora or “pray and work,” respectively. Continue reading