Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: a monk and his sister

“A very devout and virtuous monk had a sister in the city, who lived a dissolute life and led many young men into sin. The brothers in the desert often urged the monk to go to the city to bring his straying sister to her senses. At first he hesitated. He feared the dangers hiding in the world for young monks. Afterwards, however, out of obedience, he decided to go.

“Just as he got near his father’s home, the neighbors saw him coming and informed his sister. The straying sister’s heart jumped at this unexpected news. For years she had wanted to see her beloved brother. She gave leave of her companions and ran into the street to greet her brother just as she was to be found in her house, with bare feet and her head uncovered.

“He, beholding her destitute state with his own eyes, was greatly troubled. His soul wept. “Are you not sorry for your soul, my sister,” he told her sorrowfully, “and for those who, on your account, go astray? Think of what awaits you after death!”

“The innocent face of the brother, his unassuming attitude, the tears of compassion that flowed from his eyes, along with his just admonition, shook the sinful woman.

“Is there salvation even for me?” her lips murmured.

“O yes, if you sincerely desire it enough.”

“Take me with you,” she begged, “and do not leave me by myself to struggle with the fierce billows of sin.”

“Put on your sandals, cover your head, and follow me,” the monk said resolutely.

“But let me go as I am, brother, because, if I go back into this workshop of Satan, who knows if I will have the strength to come back out?”

“The monk was pleased with her firm resolve. Without wasting time, he led her out of the city and they went on their way to the desert. He intended to take her to a convent that was known to him. While they were walking, they saw a caravan in the distance, coming to where they were.

“Get out of sight a little, sister,” the monk told her. “Hide behind the bushes; for these people, not knowing you are my sister, might see us together and be scandalized.”

“She complied with his advice. When the caravan passed, the brother yelled to her to continue on their way. She did not seem to hear. The monk went near and talked to her again. He pushed her with his foot. There did not appear to be any sign of life. She had died. He saw her bare feet completely covered with blood and torn to pieces by the stones on the road.

“Disconsolate over the sudden death of his sister, the monk returned to his cell. Uncertainty ate away at him.

“It is impossible for her to be saved,” his mind told him, “since she did not have time to repent.”

“He related in every detail all that happened to the elders in the desert. They ordered a fast and prayers for her soul. It was then revealed to a very holy hermit that God had accepted the repentance of the sinful woman and had enlisted her among the righteous for the self-denial she showed, as well as for reviling, not only material things, but her own body.”

Yes, a long one this morning.

Of course, the woman is to be blamed for leading the men into sin. This Saying comes from the part of the history of the church when women were chattel and the source of all evil because of Eve.  This sister was probably earning her living as a prostitute because her brother, her natural protector in the scheme of things back in the day, had abandoned her to go and be a monk. No one had arranged a marriage for her. Presumably, their father was dead or she wouldn’t be entertaining men in their father’s house.

This may be why, out of obedience, the brother returns to the city to talk to his sister. He was under obedience of the elders and they pointed out his sister needed looking after.

He gets to the city and his sister is overjoyed to see him but is he glad to see her?  No.  After leaving her to fend for herself to pursue his desire to be a monk, he has the unmitigated gall to blame her for doing whatever it took to keep a roof over her head and food in her belly. And the sister accepts the blame because that is what women have done entirely too often over the millennia.

Of course, all that I have written above is not the point of this Saying, so let me get to that.

The woman is convicted of her sin and agrees to go with her brother into the desert.  As she was out in the street, scandalously bareheaded and barefooted, he urges her to get footwear and a head covering but she, poor thing, is too afraid to go back inside.  Perhaps some of her customers were waiting for her and she knows they will entice her away from her resolve to no longer pursue a life of sin.

Off they go, walking back to the desert. I don’t know how many days they walked, but it was enough to do such damage to her feet, that she died of her injuries. She had to know her feet were in bad shape. But apparently, she ignored the pain in order to flee sin.

God took note of her sincerity and revealed to one of the monks that she had earned her salvation.

Again, a story of extremism.  I am not going to minimize that. There have been many an extremist throughout Christian history. What is important to me is the single-heartedness of the sister to do better.  There is a sort of purity about her sudden and complete turnaround.  She wanted salvation. She pursued it at the cost of her life.

I have to ask myself.  With what sort of single-heartedness do I obey God?

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