Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“The daughter of a certain rich man in Alexandria was suddenly seized by a wicked spirit and was tormented severely. Her father spent much money in order to make her well. But fruitlessly. The condition of the young girl became worse all the time. Somehow the Father learned that a hermit, who lived alone up on a mountain, had the gift from God to cast out demons. He was told, however, that the hermit was so humble that he would never agree to perform such a cure. So the nobleman had to find some other pretext by which to get him to his home.

“One day the hermit went down to the city to sell his baskets. The father of the girl sent a servant to buy some and to invite the hermit home to be paid. He unsuspectingly went. As soon as he set foot in the door, the demonized girl, who was hidden behind the door, rushed at him and gave him a hard slap across the face. The holy hermit, without losing his calm, turned his other cheek, thus carrying out the commandment of the Lord.

“When this surprising incident took place: the demonized girl began to quiver wildly and to utter despairing cries: “O, hurry! I must leave. I cannot stay any longer. The commandment of Christ is casting me out.”

“With those words, the tormented creature was set free. The whole family, along with the daughter, who had regained her rational powers, glorified God for the great miracle which they had seen with their own eyes and looked for the holy elder so they could thank him. He, however, fleeing from all human praise, had totally disappeared.

“When the Fathers in the desert were informed of these facts, they said among themselves that nothing so puts down the pride of the devil as humility and obedience to the divine commandments.”

There are some jewels to glean from this anecdote.  Here we have a loving father who wants his sick daughter well again and he is willing to try everything. While wanting to believe it is a universal truth that all fathers love their daughters this much, just reading the news informs us that it isn’t a universal truth.

We’ve read other accounts which teach us the degree to which the Desert Christians preferred humility above all other virtues.  If one is humble, then all other virtues are a part of one.

The father is told a certain hermit can cure his daughter but that he can’t ask the hermit to come and do so outright because the hermit is too humble.  I read this to mean that the hermit does not wish to have a reputation for the ability to heal, cast out demons, and perform miracles.  Except, of course, he does have that reputation.  He is lured into the home with the promise of payment for his baskets.

The girl slaps him upside the head and the hermit merely turns and offers her the other side of his face, in an automatic reflex to do what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  The humility of the monk, his obedience to Jesus are sufficient to scare the bejabbers out of the demon which departs in a melodramatic manner.

While the family marvels, the monk departs, presumably unpaid for his baskets. He doesn’t want praise or reward.

When the story reached the ears of the other monks out in the wilderness, I can just see them nodding sagely.  “Yup,” they are saying. “There is nothing better than humility and obedience to Jesus to defeat evil.”

The trick, as i see it, is how to incorporate this Saying into our own lives if one lives in a society such as the one I live in, which places very little value on humility. And plays pick and chose among the Scriptures, obeying some but rejecting others.

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