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Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Evagrios

“Take away temptations and no one will be saved” (Abba Evagrios).

It is Tuesday in Holy Week as I write this and also Passover. Had there never been temptation in the first place, none of us would have ever had to be saved. But, alas, temptation does exist and we need saving from it.

We are saved from it.  It is Holy Week and we are remembering the last days of Jesus.  He was put to death because sin is in the world and the authorities were affronted by a sinless man.  One of the many reasons God became incarnate is to show us how to live in this world, how to withstand temptation and to keep from sin.

As the Desert Christians tell us, it is a daily struggle.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

“When you undertake to begin any task whatever,” a certain elder advises, “conscientiously ask yourself this question: ‘If I were visited by the Lord at his moment, what would I do?’ Take care to listen well to what your conscience answers you. If it reproves you, immediately forsake what you had decided to do and begin some other task of which it approves and which, so as assuredly to complete it, is intrinsically rewarding. The virtuous worker must at every moment be ready to face death.

“When you fall into your bed to sleep, or get up from sleep, when you eat or work, when you are thinking or your mind is idle, constantly say to yourself: ‘If the Lord were to call me at this moment, would I be ready?’ Listen also with care to what your conscience tells you and do not fail to comply with its directions. Your heart will, indeed, assure you that God has had mercy on you.”

How often do we ask ourselves this question? If Jesus were to appear before us at any given moment, would we feel ashamed of the way we were using our time?  Shame is one of those uncomfortable emotions we don’t like to feel and which challenges our sense of self-esteem. But shame is a useful feeling because it warns us that maybe we are doing what we ought not. Of course, it is correct to examine the sense of shame to make sure it is well grounded and not a symptom of something else.

Sometimes, we may have shame because of the way we were raised and that shame may be a symptom of a dysfunctional nuclear family. We need to know the difference.

Sometimes we feel shame because we are in the wrong and that is something we need to be adult about, take responsibility for, repent and do better.

When we go to bed at night, waiting for sleep, how do we spend that time?  If Jesus would come before us at just that moment, what would He discover?

If we pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts, it will happen.  Our consciences and hearts become witness to the changes the Holy Spirit is causing within us as we grow into our sanctification.  If we so allow.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

The man who succeeds in having death continually before his eyes conquers faint-heartedness,” an elder said to the younger brothers, who asked him for some beneficial advice. And another time, as he was spinning, he assured them: “I have brought death to mind as many times as this spindle has turned, up to the present.”

Death is inevitable.  Although it seems as if we spend our lives as if it were not. Somethin I have been known to say is that I am not afraid of being dead, it’s just that the manner of getting there can be just hideous.

The Desert Christians and Benedictine monks share the belief that it is good for us to reflect on our deaths for a few minutes every day. Not only does this make us appreciate life more, it also brings our attention to what we really want to achieve before we die, helps set goals, and get our priorities in order.

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.

Refletion on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Agathon

“If a Christian,” Abba Agathon said, “kept the judgment which follows death in mind every moment, he would not sin with such ease.”

Earlier today I read something I would like to contrast with this Saying.  Someone wrote that Christians must repent continually and all I could think was “How self-centered an approach to Christian life.”  If a person is repenting continually, that that person’s eyes will be directed solely at that person.

Abba Agathon, in advising us to keep the day of judgment in mind is telling us to keep an eye out for the results of what we do, which forces our attention away from ourselves and onto others.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves as God first loved us.  I think Jesus appreciates what the Abba says more than the anonymous, modern day person I quoted above.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Saint Ephraim the Syrian

“If you are ever slandered,” Saint Ephraim the Syrian writes, “and your innocence is (subsequently) revealed, do not be arrogant. Serve your Lord with humility and thank him for freeing you from the calumnies of men, observing his commandments faithfully and from the heart.”

How many of us have been slandered? How many of us have had lies told about us?  How many of us have had our words distorted and twisted to mean something we have never said? 

All too many of us, especially we participate in social media or follow and comment on blogs.  It hurts, doesn’t it? We want repudiation and vindication, don’t we?  That’s human nature, isn’t it?

However, Jesus has words for us that He wants us to take seriously.  Don’t return evil for evil.  Turn the other cheek. Don’t do the tit for tat thing. Pray for those who are rotten to us.

God knows the truth about us.  People open to the Holy Spirit know the truth about us.  We don’t have to worry about it.

Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: anonymous

A holy elder, seeing with his own eyes a certain brother fall into deep sin, not only did not judge him, but wept and said: “He fell today; without doubt I will fall tomorrow. But he certainly will repent, whereas for myself, I am not so sure of this.”

How wonderful it would be if all of us had the same reaction as this anonymous monk.  Jesus tells us, as have many great saints and teachers, that we have to pay more attention to the log in our own eyes than to the splinter in the eye of someone else.

This monk reminds us that we are all sinners, we all fall, we all err. When we do we need to repent but as with this holy elder, are we confident that we will ask forgiveness?