Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Paphnoutios

Abba Matoes said: “Three elders went to Abba Paphnoutios, who was called the ‘Great Head,’ so that he might tell them something. And the elder said, ‘What do you want me to tell you about, something pertaining to the body or something spiritual?’

” ‘Something spiritual,’ they said.

“And the elder told them: ‘Go, loving affliction more than comfort, dishonor more than glory, and giving more than receiving.’ ”

It’s been a while since I offered a reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian.  The reason is simple.  Quite frankly, I’ve been stumped by this one.  It just didn’t speak to me but this morning I realized, I had to address this and move on. I also realized I was making a mountain out of a molehill.  Silly me.

To be called “The Great Head” simply means Abba Paphnoutios was considered a wise man. One of the first things I notice is the dualism between body and spirit.  We don’t find that in St. Paul’s letters.  There when he speaks of mind, body, spirit, and soul he was using a literary device that when I was in seminary was termed oriental hyperbole. That is to say, he employed several words that meant all the same the same thing.  Paul’s view is wholistic.  It isn’t until Christian encounters Greek philosophy that we have the introduction not only of dualism but compartmentalization, as if what affects the mind no longer affects the body, no longer affects the spirit, no longer affects that soul. Even modern science is telling is that what affects one part of a person affects all the rest.

About the expression “oriental hyperbole,” I know that the use of “oriental” is now  pejorative, but I have not heard that the expression has been replaced with “Asian hyperbole.”  I shall have to research that.

They ask for a word about something spiritual and the Abba tells them to “‘Go, loving affliction more than comfort, dishonor more than glory, and giving more than receiving.’ “

Well, ouch.  I don’t love affliction or dishonor at all. But I do know that when I am afflicted I turn to God more often than when I am in a comfortable state of ife.  While I value intregrity highly and am crushed when mine is called into question, I also know I lean on God more at such times then when my honor is not in question.  As for my giving, I give what I can of what I have. The challenge os to find more ways to give.


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