Tag Archive: silence


A pilgrim to the Holy Mountain of Athos asked an old hermit, “Father, how can I attain my salvation?” The venerated holy man replied, “Every day at dusk go to the cemetery and for an hour hurl insults to the dead. Do that for a month and pay attention to everything that happens around you. Then come and report to me.” After a month the pilgrim returned. “Father, I have done what you told me but nothing happened!” The hermit then said, “Go to the cemetery again for another month and sing praises to the dead. Then come and tell me what happened.” After a month the pilgrim returned. “Father, I did what you told me but nothing happened!” The holy father then said, “My son, if you wish to attain your salvation, be like the dead, indifferent to insults and indifferent to praise.”

~ From Inner River, vii
(the epithet on the inside before the TOC)

Ah yes. In the unique manner of monks, we have the recommendation, in addition to always keeping the day of one’s death on one’s mind, to live like the dead, “indifferent to insults and indifferent to praise.” I have written previously on the dangers of praise and the avoidable nature of anger when provoked, and while these are both themes that deserve continued reflection, I would like to primarily focus on something else for this post. Continue reading

To Speak Like Silence

Once when Abba Macarius was praying in his cell, he heard a voice which said: “Macarius, you have not yet reached the standard of two women in that city.” On his arrival, he found the house and knocked at the door. A woman opened it, and welcomed him to her house. He sat down, and called them to sit down with him. Then he said to them: “It is for you that I have taken this long journey. Tell me how you live a religious life.” They said: “Indeed, how can we lead a religious life? We were with our husbands last night.” But the old man persuaded them to tell him their way of life.

Then they said: “We are both foreigners, in the world’s eyes. But we accepted in marriage two brothers. Today we have been sharing this house for fifteen years. We do not know whether we have quarrelled or said rude words to each other; but the whole of this time we have lived peaceably together. We thought we would enter a convent, and asked our husbands for permission, but they refused it. So since we could not get this permission, we have made a covenant between ourselves and God that a worldly word shall not pass our lips during the rest of our lives.”

When Macarius heard it, he said: “Truly, it is not whether you are a virgin or a married woman, a monk or a man in the world: God gives his Holy Spirit to everyone, according to their earnestness of purpose.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 20.17

People of true sincerity and purity, like the two women in this story, are rare. It seems that careless words are far too common, and sincere people are often pariahs, never feeling that they fit. It can be disarming to meet a person who does not laugh at all the same snarky comments as everyone else. And living peaceably is rare too. How often do people prefer to one-up each other? How often do we, in seeking our own victory, forfeit our opportunity for virtue? Continue reading