From the Apophthemata
by Mark Manning
For rather accidental reasons, mostly converned with the annual carnival and fund-raiser of a local Greek church, I've been reading a lot of books lately about Eastern Orthodox Christinanity. One of the most famous is the Apophthemata, otherwise known as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Back around the year 150 it seems, various pious Christians began living as hermits in the Sahara Desert. Later on, some of them formed primitive monastaries there. The others began practicing their austere meditiations in the deserts of Syria. On the tops of pillars for some reason. Must have been something in the Syrian waters, I guess.
Anyway, the Desert Fathers would stare into the sun, weave baskets, starve themselves, and othewise act like what we today know as psychotics. Once every so often, someone would see them out there and say to them: "Give me a word, Father." The Father would respond with something considered profound enough to be written down. Their sayings include these examples:
Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came on day to find Father Arsenius. He questioned the old man, to hear a word from him. After a short silence the old man answered him, "Will you put into practice what I say to you?" They promised him this. So he said, "If you ever hear that Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there!"
A brother asked Father Poemen, "An inheritance has been left me, what should I do?" the old man said, "What should I tell you? If you give it to the church, they'll just have a banquet. If you give it to your relatives, you'll never see a whisper of it. If I tell you to give it to the poor, you won't do it. So do whatever you feel like with it; it's none of my business."
Father Anthony said this, "A monk ought to tell his elders confidently how many steps he takes and how many drops of water he drinks, in case there's any question."
A man and his son went to see Father Sisoes. On the way, the son died. The man wasn't troubled by this, but brought the corpse confidently to the Father, and bowed the body down before him. Then he stood up, leaving the child at the Father's feet, and went outside. The Father, thinking that the boy was merely bowing, shouted at him, "Get up, you, and go on out." Immediately the child stood and went out. At this, the man went back in, amazed, and told the whole story. When he heard this, Father Sisoes was filled with regret.
Two brothers went to see Father Joseph. He said to one of them, "Tell your friend to saddle that donkey." The monk replied, "Call him by name and he'll be glad to do so." "What is his name?" asked Father Joseph. "I don't know." "How long has he been with you then, that you don't know his name?" "Two years." "Well, then if you haven't needed to know it in two years, I won't learn it for a single day! Tell your friend to saddle that donkey!"
One day, a brother came to Father John the Dwarf to get some baskets for sale. The old man came out and asked "What do you want?" "Baskets, Father." Going inside to fetch them, he forgot them and sat down to his daily routine, weaving and stacking his supply of saleable baskets. Again the brother knocked. "Bring me those baskets, Father." The old man went in again, and soon was lost in his daily tasks. Once more the brother knocked. Father John the Dwarf came out. "What do you need?" "Baskets." The old man took his hand gently. "Look, Brother, if you want some baskets just say so, then take them and go away. I really don't have time to waste around here."
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