Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Bissarion

Abba Bissarion, those who had the fortune of knowing him say, passed his life without cares, as do the birds of the sky. Things of his own he did not have – not even the absolutely necessary; for example, a book or a second garment. The garment he wore was so old that not even the last beggar would have lowered himself to take it. He never acquired a hut, nor did he ever stay under a roof. He roamed the deserts, ravaged by ‘tie cold and the heat. If his course took him by some hermitage or monastery, he would sit at the gate and weep, as though he had been rescued from some shipwreck.

“Why are you grieving like this, brother?” those not yet familiar with him would ask.

“Because of the wealth which I lost and my previous nobility and glory,” was his usual answer. It was impossible to convince him to enter, in order to offer him hospitality. The brothers would take him a little food there, outside, where he sat.

“Eat a little and have hope in God. He will give you back what you lost,” they would comfort him, believing that he was really the victim of a shipwreck.

“I am not worthy to receive it,” Abba Bissarion would sigh. “But as long as I live, I shall not cease seeking it.” Then they would understand that he was speaking of heavenly goods.

“It is further said of him that he once stood upright for forty days and nights on a pile of wood, in order to conquer sleep. He had never lain down to sleep. It was sufficient for him to sleep a little while standing or sitting on a rock.”

When I first read this a few days ago, I was appalled and had to sit with it for a bit. It’s been at least four days and I still can’t glean anything of a positive nature from this.  In the past, I have mentioned that among the regrettable features of the Desert Christians is extremism.  Well, here is a blatant example of that.

What is really meant by “passing through life without cares” is, I think, passing through life without attachment to things, at least according to the examples given but cares he certainly did have. How else would he sit and weep?  I do love the idea of a book as a necessity. But not to have a second garment and to have one’s only garment fo revolting that not even a thief would steal it, is extremism.  There is another Saying I will paraphrase that a monk’s garment should be such that if left outside for three days even then no one would steal it. I am certain Abba Bissarion’s rainment would pass that test.

Seems he had a habit of deceiving other monks by pretending he had been shipwrecked.  I am rather surprised at this because the Desert Christians believed in honesty. How the monks figured out that Abba Bissarion was speaking of the things if heaven, I am sure I don’t understand.

This business of refusing to lie down to sleep is just silly. If we don’t take care of our bodies, we are unable to offer service to others. we have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we do it for others.

Abba Bissarion is one of those Desert Christians who constantly dwells on unworthiness to be part of God’s kingdom. I can only imagine how depressing it is to think that way and how very depressed Abba Bissarion was. I am thankful that today we know that we were unworthy but have been made worthy through God’s grace. Let us concentrate on receiving that beautiful gift in full measure.


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