A Reflection on a​ Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“Two fellow ascetics struggled in the Thebaid desert. But they were young and inexperienced and the devil set a great many snares for them.

“The younger one once was warring fervently against the flesh. It was thus that he lost his composure and patience and said resolutely to the older ascetic: “I cannot endure any longer; I am going to return to the world.”

“The older one, terribly distraught by the temptation which had befallen his brother, tried to constrain him.

“I will not let you leave here, to waste your efforts and to lose your purity.”

“But there was no convincing him!

“I am not staying,” he said. “I am leaving. I will taste of everything and then we will see. If you want, come with me and we will either both return, or I will stay forever in the world.”

“The older brother, not knowing what to do, went to seek counsel from an elder who was their neighbor.

“Go with him,” he told him after he had heard of the situation. “I do not think that God, for the sake of your efforts, will let him be lost.”

“And so the two fellow ascetics set off together to go down into the city. But just as they got near, the one who had been tempted suddenly said to his brother: “Suppose I were to fulfill my desire. What would I gain by it? Come, my brother, let us return to our solitude.”

“The older brother looked at him with confusion and could not believe his ears. Then he remembered the words of the holy elder: “God will see your efforts and will not let him come to harm.”

“And, indeed, the brother was relieved from his powerful battle and the two returned happily to their cells.”

A general comment to begin with is that these two monks were not the only monks in the Thebaid Desert of Egypt.  There were a whole lotta monks living individually in separate  huts called cells.

I believe this Saying is telling us that there are two comparative newcomers to the life in the desert with its implacable silence, sitting in a hut praying the psalms while weaving baskets.  Not an attractive life.  With nothing to distract them from their thoughts except Psalms and weaving, I imagine all sorts of thoughts went through their heads.  Anyone who practices contemplation will recognize that instantly.

The younger of the two was horny.  Not getting around that he wanted to get laid. He found the desire for sex impossible to withstand and thought to go and get himself some and when the itch had been scratched, maybe he would come back to the desert.

The elder of these two monks was pretty sure how that would turn out.  The younger man would never return to the life of prayer, of seeking God. Nothing the elder could say swayed the younger. After consulting a more experienced monk, the elder consents to accompany the younger to the city.  Probably Alexandria.

And then, all of a sudden, the younger monk realizes that whatever he might gain in the City wouldn’t really be worth all that much compared to knowing God.

What attracts me to these Desert Christians is their willingness to give up everything, literally everything, so they may know God. Their passion for God is unmistakable. They are willing to endure privation and hardship at a level we would probably never tolerate. Yes, of course, they were extremists. But their Sayings have endured for centuries now simply because, I think, they challenge us all to rethink our lifestyles, how we choose to spend our money, and above all  they challenge us to love God with every fiber of our being.


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