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31. A camel-driver came one day to pick up some goods and take them elsewhere. Going inside to bring him what he had woven, Abba John forgot about it because his spirit was fixed in God. So once more the camel-driver disturbed him by knocking on the door and once more Abba John went in and forgot. The camel-driver knocked a third time and Abba John went in saying, 'Weaving—camel; weaving—camel.' He said this so that he would not forget again.
35. It was said of the same Abba John that when he returned from the harvest or when he had been with some of the old men, he gave himself to prayer, meditation and psalmody until his thoughts were re-established in their previous order.
JOSEPH OF PANEPHYSIS
7. Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba, as far as I can say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'
2. A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, 'Come, for everyone is waiting for you.' So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, 'What is this, Father?' The old man said to them, 'My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.' When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
1. Amma Syncletica said, 'In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:24): so we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.'
4. She also said, 'Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure. Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap food, go beyond their abundance of food. It is written: "He who is sated loathes honey" (Prov 27:7). Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine.'
A Study Guide for The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
1. What is the difference between a desert father (abba) and a preacher/priest/spiritual director? Is there a modern parallel to the desert fathers in your church or community? Who in your life encourages and teaches you and holds you accountable?
2. The monks went into the desert not to avoid temptation, but to invite it, believing that it would strengthen their souls. Many of the fathers advise not praying for such temptations to be removed, but for the strength to resist them. In what place or time in your life have you met with the most temptation? How did your battles there strengthen your soul?
3. Much of what the fathers advise may strike us as excessive. For example, Abba Anthony says, "Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. . . . Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep, and groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls."11 How are we to take such advice?
Excerpts from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward, SLG (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1975), 44. Used by permission.
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