Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“A hermit, who was living the ascetic life in the desert of Jordan, had not been tempted by the devil for many years. This had given him courage, and he frequently asserted that the enemy would not dare to tempt strugglers, but went only to those who were negligent and lazy. Once the devil appeared before him and complained to him: “What have I done to you that you play me down so? Did I ever tempt you?”

“Get out of here, evil spirit,” the hermit fearlessly yelled, picking up his staff to strike him. “You have no right to bother the servants of Christ. Go to those who invite you with their inattentiveness.”

“So that is what you think?” the devil said maliciously. “Do you think I will not find an opportunity, in the forty years you still have to live, to prove you wrong?”

“Sure, now, that the bait had all but succeeded, the devil became invisible, leaving a shuddering laugh in the air. From that moment then, the hermit’s thoughts were confused.

“Forty more years of life; Oh, that is an awfully long time!” he said to himself continually. Then, after a while: “Should I not go into the world to see my relatives? Let me give my tormented body a little rest. When I return, I will continue my ascetic life. I have years before me …, forty years of life!”

“He came to a decision and one morning, with his staff in his hand, he set out for the city. But God, in his benevolence, regretted the loss of so many years of labor and sent his angel to stop him.

“Where are you going, Abba?” the angel asked, stopping him on the road.

“To the city,” the hermit hastened to say.

“Dear man, now, at the end of your life, you let the devil deceive you? Hurry and return to your but and bemoan your foolishness, before it is too late for you.”

“Embarrassed by his setback, the old hermit returned to his cell and died three days later.”

Are you as fascinated by this Saying as I? For one thing, I can’t think, offhand, of another of the ascetics who had ceased to be tempted. This hermit believes he is not tempted because he perseveres in the ascetical life. In other words, he struggles.  He is just a tad conceited, I think, to claim that only those who don’t work so hard are tempted.

And what happens, of course, he is tempted.  What is he tempted with?  Forty more years of the ascetic life, of the struggle.  He is overwhelmed at the thought.  So the hermit decides to take a vacation from the pursuit of holiness in order to go and see his family, intending afterward to return to the ascetical life and endure those forty years.

But surprise!  An angel is sent by God to tell the hermit that he has been deceived by the tempter and that God does not want him to abandon his holy way of living.  Worse still, the hermit learns that he believed the lie that he had forty more years and I daresay, he reposed in peace on that third day.

Yes, living a holy life is hard, challenging, and temptations to take the easy way abound, do they not? But if we claim to love God with every fiber of our being and seek to love our neighbor as ourselves as God first loved us, then surely the challenge is worth it, surely the temptations are worth fighting.  After all, none of us know how long we will live, how long we will have to face the challenges and temptations and how many people our quest for holiness might bless.

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