A Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Father: Abba Agathon

“When he was about to die, the holy Agathon remained in his bed motionless for three days, his eyes open and upturned towards heaven. On the third day, when he recovered some, his disciples, who had assembled around him, asked him to tell them where his soul was during all of that interval of time.

“Before the judgment of God,” he murmured, trembling.

“And you are afraid, Father?” the brothers asked with perplexity.

“I tried, as best I could, to keep the laws of God all of my life. But I am a man. How do I know that I have pleased God?” the holy one responded with great pain.

“You are not sure that your works were pleasing to God?” said the astonished monks.

“Until I am before God, no,” answered the holy one, “for man judges with one standard and God with another.”

“The brothers wanted to ask other things for the benefit of their souls, but the holy one nodded to them not to speak any further.

“I am preoccupied,” his lips whispered.

“His countenance began to shine! His disciples saw him leave this vain world for eternal life with the joy which one feels when he sets off to meet his most beloved acquaintance.”

In this Saying we see that Abba Agathon despite years of life as a monk has the humility to recognize that although he has always striven to live a life pleasing to God, he does not know if he achieved that goal. He does not know the mind of God and doesn’t claim to. Instead, he submits himself to God’s judgment.

Clearly, this astonishes his disciples. I can imagine them saying, “Gosh. If Agathon doesn’t know, what hope is there for the rest of us?” They want to plague him with questions because they have forgotten that in Desert Spirituality, it is the journey that they must concentrate on. The destination is in then hands of God, not theirs.

Then they see the evidence that Agathon hs won the race and will rest in the arms of Jesus.

Humility, always humility.  Driven by a desire to please God, yet know all too well that one is merely human. A consistent theme throughout the Sayings is that the monks did not take their salvation for granted. They considered it something to be worked at and striven for without ceasing.

This can be uncomfortable for those of us taught that salvation is God’s free will offering of grace. Which I do not dispute.  But I wonder, sometimes, if believing that makes us the finest bit complacent so that we don’t take sin as seriously as perhaps we ought?

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