Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

A modern elder said: “Any man who thinks that he can solve his own problems is like a bird which intends to fly without wings.”


We human beings need each other. It’s as simple as that. For those of us who are Christians, we are not only part of the human race but we are also part of the Body of Christ.
We know how our own bodies work, that we need every piece in working order. The same is true for the Body of Christ, we need every piece in working order.
There is a great beauty when we fully participate in the Body. It is also liberating. We none of us have to do everything. We are each called to be our part of the Body and we only have to do that one bit as faithfully and in as holy a manner as possible.
Just think of it. We each have to do only our teensy weensy bit. But if each of us does just that much, collectively we will accomplish a very great deal.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

A young monk went to consult a certain spiritual elder.

“I fulfill all of my monastic duties,” he told him, “and then some; nevertheless, my soul finds no peace. I receive no consolation from God.”

“You live according to your own will – for this reason all of these things occur to you,” the elder explained to him.

“What must I do, then, Abba, to be at peace?”

“Go find an elder having the fear of God in his soul. Surrender yourself to him in all that he wishes and let him guide you, as he sees fit, to the path of God. Then your soul will find consolation.”

The youth listened to the elder’s advice and his soul found peace.


This young monk has discipline and determination, make no mistake about that. His commitment is deep. Would that more of us had such commitment, determination, and discipline to embrace the journey with Christ.
Thing is, though, he is doing it out of his will, and not out of grace. The elder he consults recommends that the younger monk set aside his own desires, his own will to obey a more experienced abba. This frees the young monk from doing it on his own, going ti alone.
Now, of course, one would want to be very careful to whom one relinquishes authority. There have been very dangerous results of that. Such as Jonestown. Such as people in Garland, TX who quit their jobs, sold their homes and stood on a hilltop awaiting the Rapture which didn’t come.
When someone enters monastic life in a community or an order, one relinquishes responsibility for one’s spiritual growth to the monastic superior.
Outside the vowed religious life, we can seek out a spiritual director and discuss and learn from this person.
We can read books by the great Christian writers and be taught that way. Liturgical forms of worship are designed to be a form of spiritual direction.
Kenneth Leech wrote a wonderful book called Soul Friend. I highly recommend it.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

A certain elder, who was asked by the brothers what condemnation is and what it means to speak ill of another, gave the following explanation:

“In the case of speaking ill of someone, one reveals the hidden faults of his brother. In the case of condemnation, one censures something obvious. On the one hand, if someone were to say, for example, that such-and-such a brother is well-intentioned and kind, but lacks discretion, this would be to speak ill of him. If, however one were to say that so-and-so is greedy and miserly, this is condemnation, for in this way he censures his neighbor’s deeds. Condemnation is worse than speaking ill of another.”


While I agree with the abba, I would go in a different direction. To speak ill of someone is to speak ill of their behavior. To condemn a person is to make a negative comment about their identity.
It is one thing to say that a child acts like a naughty child. That describes the child’s behavior. It is something very different to say “You are a naughty child” because that places a negative identity upon someone.

Reflection of a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

A brother went to consult a certain elder: “Is it all right, Abba, for me to keep two gold coins which are left over from my handicraft sales, so as to have them for my old age, or if I happen to get ill?”

“No, it is not at all correct for you to keep them,” the elder answered, “for in this way you learn to set your hopes on them and cease to have the protection of God.”


Did you have the same kneejerk reaction of “Whoa, Nellie” as I when you read this Saying? Because it sure slammed me upside the head.
This is so different from what we are taught, isn’t it? We certainly are not taught to 100% depend on God for everything. We are taught to be prudent, to have three months worth of salary saved up at all times, buy life insurance, buy in bulk so we are never without, and all sorts of other things.
Back in the days of Desert Christianity, prudence is not a value. Yes, they wove mats and baskets and sold them for a bit of food, but they were to have nothing leftover, nothing saved up but were to 100% depend upon God to provide for them.
Such advice is nigh impossible to follow today, but surely we can all simplify our lives if we really looked at ourselves. Do we have stuff in rented storage units we haven’t entered in a year? Do we have clothes in our closets we haven’t worn in quite a while? Do we have a garage so stuffed with stuff we can’t park the car in it? For that matter, how expensive was that car?
The thing is, the Abba is telling the monk that no, he can’t keep the money. But what is the monk supposed to do with it? My guess is that the Abba also told the monk to give those coins to the poor. Had the expression been around back in the Abba’s day, I am pretty sure he might have said, “Live simply so that others might simply live.”

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“A monk,” said one of the ancient Fathers, “means a truthful mouth, a holy body, and a pure heart.”


What I especially like about this Saying is that it is something every follower of Jesus may choose.
Indeed isn’t this exactly what Paul requests of us in Rom 12:1? “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” NIV
Which he follows up with this invitation “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”NIV
Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ words “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” CEB
Of course, achieving this lifestyle requires practice as well as engaging in those activities which nurture our faith such as prayer, reading the Bible, sacred music, reading the great Christian writers, worship, fellowship, contemplation, etc.
What would you add to this list?

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

One of the Fathers of the desert offered the following vivid lesson to the younger monks: “Imagine, my brother, that at this moment I am taking on the person of the just Judge, and I am ascending the throne of judgment. Then I ask you, ‘What do you want me to do with you?’ If you were to say, ‘have mercy on me,’ I would reply, ‘and you have mercy on your brother.’ And if, further, you told me, ‘forgive me,’ I would answer, ‘and you forgive the faults of your neighbor.’

“Is the Judge perhaps unjust? God forbid!

“Brother, gaining the sympathy of the Judge is in your hand: it is enough to have learned to forgive.”


More than anything this makes me think of the way Jesus teaches us to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer, He tells is to say “forgive us our trespasses (or sins or debts, depending on translation) as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The keyword is “as.” We will only be forgiven if we have forgiven others.
Something I have often heard people say is that “So and So doesn’t deserve forgiveness” as if that is a reasonable justification for withholding forgiveness. A bedrock foundation of living the kind of life required to authentically follow Jesus is that there are no reasonable justifications to withhold love from anyone and there have never been any such reasonable justifications and there never will be.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and as God first loved us. We are to love unconditionally. This also requires that we forgive unconditionally. One of the great mysteries of living the spiritual life is that in the long run, loving unconditionally and forgiving unconditionally is a greater benefit to the one who loves and forgives than it is the one loved and forgiven.
To love unconditionally, to forgive unconditionally makes us better people, makes us more like Jesus.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“A monk in our day tells us that he was taught the following by something internal: “Taking pride in not accepting money from others leads one to far worse sins than greed. Accepting money too willingly from others leads to pride and greed. This is why it is said that evil is rooted in money.”

To be honest, I’ve been mulling over this one for a few weeks, trying to decide which of my many thoughts to share.  Maybe something seems self-evident to you, but I think about this Saying and write about it from one who lives in poverty in the USA and who has been helped by the generosity of others who have shared their wealth with me on occasion.

Pride has been considered the sin that leads to all other sins.  We are taught that pride is what caused Lucifer’s fall from heaven.  Back in the day when Christians thought in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Cardinal Virtues, pride (hubris) topped the list of sins.

Taking pride in anything, according to the Desert Christians always leads us into worse and worse sin.  So taking pride in not accepting money, especially I think if we are in need, will also lead us into terrible sin.

Equally wrong is to accept money too willingly.  How could we accept too willingly?  Maybe we are more willing to accept than we are to try to find out own solutions to our problems?  When faced with a problem what is our first inclination?  Do we first try to solve it ourselves or do we first ask someone to solve it for us?

St, Paul writes in a letter to Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Seems to me anyone who has paid any attention to history knows this to be true.