Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Poimen

“You cannot cast out malice with malice,” Saint Poimen says. “Thus, if your brother does you some wrong, try to repay him with good. Only goodness can conquer malice.”

This is right out of the Beatitudes, is it not? Jesus tells us we must not repay malice with another act of malice. Jesus tells us that we must never repay violence with another act of violence. After all, the only result is yet more malice and yet more violence. Jesus tells us that the only response to malice, violence, and evil is to respond with holiness. Turning the other cheek. Doing good to those who do us harm.
How strange it is to think this way. How counter-cultural to everything we see in the world where people want their revenge or their justice. Maybe we ourselves have fallen into this. I know I do almost every day when I read the comments of a certain blog I follow. Or when trying to work with a customer service representative of some utility that isn’t working correctly.
Doing as Abba Poimen says, doing as Jesus says, is not my first kneejerk response. I cannot tell you how deeply it grieves me after all these decades to tell you this. I want my first kneejerk response to be forgiveness and love. The spiritual life, as the Desert Christians know, is one long, hard, time-consuming, eve sometimes a tiresome work in progress.

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