Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Bishop Nonos

“Once the Patriarch of Antioch was sitting with his bishops in the courtyard of the church of Saint Julian. While they were engaged in discussion, they heard an unusual commotion in the street. At that moment a luxurious carriage was passing by outside the church. The courtesan Pelagia was pridefully seated inside. The road sparkled from the brilliance of the jewels which she wore. The air was filled with the scent of her expensive perfumes. The crowd of people cheered her as though they were out of their minds.

“The bishops turned their heads aside in disgust, to avoid facing the satanic woman, who had led so many of the young aristocrats of the city into the mire of immorality. Only one, Bishop Nonos, followed her persistently with his gaze, until she disappeared at a turn in the road. Afterwards, he turned to the other bishops and said to them with a sorrowful voice:

“Woe to us, brothers in Christ. This woman puts us to great shame. Did you see how much care she takes in dressing her body in order to lure her lovers? While we lazy people-what do we do to adorn our souls to attract the love of our heavenly Bridegroom?”

“Saying these things, he prayed with fervor for that sinful soul. And his prayer was heard. Divine Grace restored her and Pelagia came to believe in Christ, repented her sinful life, was baptized by the holy Nonos, and came to a holy end.”

This Saying is somewhat similar to yesterday’s Saying.  A man who spends his days seeking holiness, sees the radiant Pelagia, a courtesan and instead of looking away in condemnation and judgement, chooses, instead, to learn the lesson that he and his companions are less zealous in their spiritual endeavours than she is to attract men.

The story ends differently than yesterday’s did.  Here, Pelagia comes to repentance of her way of life, is saved and dies in holiness.

If you would like to read more about Pelagia, and I hope you do, I heartily recommend Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (Cistercian Studies Series, 106) by Sr. Benedicta Ward

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