The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ST. ARSENIUS THE GREAT - Is Asceticism Absolute? Or Relative?

Today's thought is about Abba Arsenius the Great, one of the most famous abbots and ascetics of Scetis, near present-day Alexandria, Egypt. This illustration is very important in understanding asceticism and how it applies differently to different people.

BEGIN: They used to say that on one occasion when Abba Arsenius the Great fell ill in Scete, a priest went and brought him to the church, and he spread a palm-leaf mat for him, and placed a small pillow under his head; and one of the old men came to visit him and saw that he was lying upon a mat that he had a pillow under his head, and he was offended and said, "And this is Arsenius lying upon such things!"

Then the priest took the old man aside privately, and said unto him, "What labor did you do in your village?" And the old man said unto him, "I was a shepherd." And the priest said unto him, "What manner of life did you lead in the world?" And he said unto him, "A life of toil, and great want."

And when the old man had described all the tribulation which he had endured in the world, the priest said unto him, "And here what manner of life do you lead?" And the old man said unto him, "In my cell I have everything comfortable, and I have more than I want." And the priest said unto him, "Consider the position of Abba Arsenius when he was in the world! He was the father of kings, and a thousand slaves, girt about with gold-embroidered vests, and with chains and ornaments around their necks, and clothed in silk, stood before him; and he had the most costly couches and cushions to lie upon. But you were a shepherd, and the comforts which you never enjoyed in the world, you have here; but his man Arsenius has not here the comforts which he enjoyed in the world, and now you are at ease while he is troubled."

Then the mind of the old man was opened, and he expressed contrition and said, "Father, forgive me; I have sinned. Verily this is the way of truth. He has come to a state of humility, while I have attained to ease."

And the old man, having profited, went his way. END

from E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 106-107