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    The Desert Fathers on Freedom from Worry

    What did the Desert Fathers have to say about wellbeing and happiness?

    April 14, 2024

    It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his elder brother, “I should like to be free of all care, like the angels, who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.” So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it “Who are you?” He said, “I am John, your brother.” But he replied, “John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer among men.” Then the other begged him saying. “It is I.” However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him, “You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat.” Then John made a prostration before him, saying, “Forgive me.”

    Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: “I find myself in peace, without an enemy,” he said. The old man said to him, “Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, “Lord, give me strength for the fight.”

    an icon of Saint Anthony

    Michael Damaskinos, Saint Anthony 

    There was an old man at Scetis, very austere of body but not very clear in his thoughts. He went to see Abba John to ask him about forgetfulness.  Having received a word from him, he returned to his cell and forgot what Abba John had said to him.  He went off again to ask him and having heard the same word from him he returned with it.  As he got near his cell, he forgot it again. This he did many times; he went there, but while he was returning he was overcome by forgetfulness. Later, meeting the old man he said to him, “Do you know, Abba, that I have forgotten again what you said to me? But I did not want to overburden you, so I did not come back.” Abba John said to him, “Go and light a lamp.” He lit it.  He said to him, “Bring some more lamps, and light them from the first.” He did so.  Then Abba John said to the old man, “Has that lamp suffered any loss from the fact that other lamps have been lit from it?” He said, “No.” The old man continued, “So it is with John; even if the whole of Scetis came to see me, they would not separate me from the love of Christ.  Consequently, whenever you want to, come to me without hesitation.” So, thanks to the endurance of these two men, God took forgetfulness away from the old man.  Such was the work of the monks of Scetis; they inspire fervour in those who are in the conflict and do violence to themselves to win others to do good.

    A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses the Black 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 ran 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.

    Source: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Sr. Benedicta Ward SLG, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975), 24, 27, 29-30, 46.

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