Spiritual Paternity in Ancient Spiritual Monasticism
Sister Lisa Cremaschi, nun of the Community of Bose, Italy
Sister Lisa delves into the best tradition of ancient monasticism. The first part of her article, which we publish in this issue discusses the spiritual father. It will be completed in the next issue.
1. Visiting the elders
‘Visiting the elders was the rule of the ancient fathers’ (Nau 13) answered a monk one day to a disciple who asked him whether it was better to visit the elders in order to question them because they were more experienced in the spiritual life, or to remain in solitude in order to pray there. The Fathers of the desert lived under the primacy of and in total dependence on the word of God, but they knew also that the word was incarnated. They could read it in the life of the brothers, hear it proclaimed by them in their lives, and seek to bring it into reality in their human condition. The story is told that one day the brothers went to Abba Antony and said to him, ‘Give us one word: how can we be saved?’ The old man said to them, ‘Listen to the Scripture. It suits you well.’ They answered ‘But we want to hear it from you, Father’ (Antony 9).
These disciples wanted to hear the Word from the mouth of Antony, the man of God, who had incarnated it in his life. They were looking for someone who would guide them to learn the art of combat, and were conscious that it was not sufficient to read the Scripture and to pray. It was necessary to ‘enter into the Church’ in the communion of the saints of heaven and of earth and, strengthened by their faith and their intercession, to become fathers in their turn, to beget other men to the spiritual life, thus continuing the long uninterrupted chain of tradition. Who is God? He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets, of Jesus Christ, the God of the martyrs, the Fathers of the desert, of Antony, Basil, Augustine, of Jerome, Benedict, Francis, Clare… right up to the faces of those we have known personally, those beings who, in the course of our journey, have revealed to us something of the Father’s face.
Before Pachomius, the founder of the cenobitic life, there was no rule. So the Fathers suggested, ‘Go! Join a man who fears God, and living with him you too will learn to fear God’ (Poemen 65). It is in this context of spiritual paternity that the sayings of the Fathers of the desert were born. An Abba addressed a disciple to help him and to support him in a situation of concrete difficulty. The sayings were transmitted by those who had received them from other disciples, until around the Vth century – when Egyptian monasticism entered upon a phase of progressive decline – some monks realised that this treasure of spiritual experience, accumulatied from generation to generation, must not be lost, and began to put them in writing and edit the great collections which have come down to us.
At the side of a man of God, of a believer who had allowed himself to be re-born by the Word, the disciple learns to fear God – this fear which is the beginning of wisdom – and learns the art of the combat against everything which distracts from the service given to the one God. The Abba, the Father of the desert, exercises a real paternity in the name of God, rousing his disciple to life according to the Spirit. He is not a spiritual director, nor even a master who gives intellectual lessons; rather he is a father who begets sons to God, who guides his disciple to the very threshold of the meeting with God, who prepares the way as did John the Baptist, ready to grow less and to withdraw as soon as his disciples can say – like the inhabitants of the village of Samaria to whom the Samaritan woman had declared that she had met the Messiah – ‘it is not only because of what you say that we believe; we have heard for ourselves and we know that he is truly the Saviour of the world’ (John 4.42).
The best definition of a spiritual father is probably to be found in the words by which Abba Palamon greets the young Pachomius, who was asking him to lead him to the first steps in monastic life: ‘I am willing, so far as my weakness allows, to take trouble with you until you arrive to know yourself’ (Boharic Life of Pachomius 10).
Such is the work of a spiritual father according to the great tradition of the desert: to stand beside the brother, without claiming to act as master, without proposing stereotyped models of sanctity, without making any claim on him, but ready to share the suffering and exhaustion of one who is seeking the will of God for himself. Sometimes the gestation is long: it is necessary to wait patiently, to respect the human and spiritual growth of the disciple and to accompany him on his journey until he himself has learnt the art of discernment of spirits and has come to discern, among the many voices which assail his heart, the voice of the Lord. The elder knows he must sometimes wait for a long time in silence. He knows how to adapt himself to the rhythm of the brother, even if he has already understood what burns in his heart. What is important is that the disciple should arrive at expressing himself, at articulating what he feels and lives. One day, it is said, a disciple, consoled and encouraged by the patience of his Abba, after frequent visits and numerous apparently useless exchanges, found the courage to open his heart to him and reveal to him his thoughts. Then the Abba said to him, ‘Why have you been ashamed for so long to speak to me of them? Am I not also a man?’ (Nau 509).
How has the tradition of the spiritual adventure viewed the relationship of spiritual father and son or mother and daughter? In our analysis we limit ourselves to considering ancient monasticism in the Christian East, and in particular the fathers of the desert. This does not mean that spiritual paternity or maternity is reserved to monks. Of Antony, father of monks, we know that, living a semi-eremitical life, he was visited by very many guests who came to him to ask for a word, sometimes journeying a great distance to be able to meet him. Athanasius tells how at the end of his life innumerable crowds used to come to him.
One impressive element in Antony’s asceticism was that he had the charism of discernment of spirits; he knew their movements, the skills and inclinations of each. Not only was he himself above being deceived by them, but also in advising those who were troubled in mind by them he taught them how to avoid the ambushes of demons, he explained their weaknesses and their tricks. Everyone, therefore, used to part from him full of confidence against the wiles of the devil and his demons, just as though anointed by Antony. How many virgins with suitors remained virgins for Christ simply because they had seen Antony! People from other countries came to him, and, like all the others, having received good advice, returned home as though accompanied by their father (Life of Antony 88).
In the monastic centre of Nitria, the nearest inhabited place, there was a guesthouse where guests could spend a whole year sharing the life of the monks and benefiting from their spiritual accompaniment. But it could also happen, though this was a quite different and rarer situation, that the monks were invited to ask advice on the spiritual life from laypeople. The story is told in one of the accounts of the life of Antony that he sent to a leather-worker in Alexandria to ask him the secret of his holiness.
St Antony was praying in his cell when a voice came to him, ‘Antony, you have not yet progressed so far as a certain leatherworker in Alexandria.’ When he got up next morning the old man set off, staff in hand, in search of this man. He arrived at the place, went in to the man, who was disturbed at seeing him. ‘Tell me what you do,’ asked Antony. The other answered, ‘I don’t know what good I do. Oh yes, in the morning as soon as I get up and start work, I say to myself that the whole city, great and small alike, will enter the Kingdom for the good they do; whereas for me, I shall inherit punishment for my sins. And in the evening I repeat the same thing.’ At these words Abba Antony said, ‘Like a good goldsmith who minds his own business, you will inherit the Kingdom. As for me, I lack all discernment, and it is in vain that I live in the desert, for I am no further advanced than you’ (Nau 490).
The sayings of the Fathers of the desert pass on the questions of the disciples and the answers for the spiritual life of the ancient monks who had received the gift of the Spirit, and supported and guided their brothers on the road to the Kingdom. ‘It would be true to say that the literature of the desert is tantamount to the exercise of spiritual paternity itself. The saying, which is its central feature, is built on the pattern question-and-answer, in which a monk questions an elder, “Abba, give me a word that I may be saved”’ (A. Louf, ‘La Paternité spirituelle’ in AAVV, Abba, dimmi una parola! La spiritualità del deserto, Bose 1989, p. 91). This judgment of Andrew Louf seems to me to sum up the specific character of the varied harvest which the traditional sayings relay to us.
At the side of a man of God a believer allowed himself to be re-born by the Word. The disciple learns to fear God, learns to discern the spirits, learns the art of the struggle against everything which seeks to divert from the service of the one Lord. He approaches the spiritual father in search of a word which is an echo of the Word of God, a word born of long familiarity of the Scriptures and of personal spiritual experience. Antony, father of monks, thus exhorts his disciples, ‘My sons, you bring to your father what you have. I, your elder, pass on to you what experience has taught me’ (Life of Antony 16).
And in a little saying he affirms,
I know monks who undergo many trials and then fall away and succumb to spiritual pride because they have put their hope in their works and neglected the precept, ‘Ask your father and he will tell you’ (Life of Antony 37).
Antony appeals to the word of God to affirm the need for an openness of heart, and to make clear that a spiritual path without a guide is very dangerous.
2. The spiritual father
a. Disciple before being father
Although the Gospel of Matthew forbids its use of any man (cf. Matthew 23.8), the title ‘father’ is used by Paul to designate the ministry of one who, like a father, begets to Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 4.15). Spiritual paternity has nothing to do with a distortion of the image of a father which has long been rejected, but seems to reappear constantly in a new form. In any case it is not an idolatry towards a spiritual father or mother, for there is no psychological dependence. To be father or mother means encouraging the growth of the disciple until the disciple’s own spiritual growth is complete. Such fatherhood is not meant to last for ever, but comes to an end when the spiritual son arrives at ‘the measure of the full maturity of Christ’ (Ephesians 4.13). Precisely for this reason it can happen that the relationship of father to son is reversed: the father, recognizing the spiritual superiority of the disciple, becomes son of him who formerly was his disciple, and vice versa. Normally no one wants to take on the burden of being spiritual guide of a disciple, for one knows how difficult the ministry is of leading someone to life according to the Spirit. Often the fathers chide young monks who set themselves up as guides to others without first having been disciples. Rufinus, in Historia Monachorum 1, speaks of a person
Who seems to have one desire only, to be able to boast of having met a father of the desert. And if they have fixed in their memory one saying which they have heard as disciples of this father, they think they have suddenly become masters, and teach others not what would by useful to them but what they themselves have seen or heard.
Nevertheless, the true spiritual father has first been a disciple. According to an ancient Christian text (Letter to Diognetus 10.1) the catechumen who is coming near to the Christian community must above all experience this paternity: ‘If you also ardently desire this faith and if you embrace
it, you will begin to know the Father’. Antony himself, father of monks, before becoming so was the disciple of an unnamed hermit. Once he recognized the spiritual maturity of his disciple the hermit allowed him to leave and follow his own way.
The spiritual father, then, is not necessarily a man exceptionally gifted, a sort of superman who hold the lives of others in his hands. He is a humble disciple of the Lord who has struggled against temptation and even against demons, has gone down into the depths of his heart to learn how to discern the voice of the Spirit. ‘Give blood and receive the spirit’, taught Abba Longinus (Longinus 5).
One whose heart has been purified in spiritual combat can see far, can support another who is taking the first steps in the spiritual life and can help to discern, among so many voices which assail him, the voice of the Spirit. Antony used to say, ‘I believe that a soul wholly purified and conformed to nature can become more perspicacious, can see more and greater things than can the demons, for he has the Lord to reveal them to him’ (Life of Antony 34).
b. A wounded physician
Precisely because he has learnt to know his own weaknesses and the work of the Spirit in him by ‘the sweat of experience’ (Cassian, Conference 14.17), the spiritual father can become a physician and master of someone who appeals to him for help. He is a physician, but he is also wounded, he needs to be healed, he is begging for mercy. He is a physician who sends to the true ‘physician of souls and bodies’, Christ himself. He is master to the extent that he constitutes himself disciple of the one true master, Christ. His task is not to offer a doctrine, a theory, or to impose a discipline. In humility and awareness of his own weakness, his own limits, he seeks to show by his own life the will of the Lord, in order to make the disciple docile to the interior master, the Spirit.
Sometimes he offers ‘a word of salvation’, sometimes he chides, encourages, consoles. ‘The task of the inhabitant of a skete was to impart zeal to those who are engaged in combat’ (John Colobos 19). Sometimes the Abba offers a teaching by his own life. Abba Sisoes answered a disciple who asked him for a word, ‘Why do you force me to speak unnecessarily? Do whatever you see!’ (Sisoes 46) And the brothers of Pachomius remember that ‘When we heard the words of our father, Abba Pachomius, we were greatly helped and spurred on to the zeal of good works. When we saw him keeping silence, he made a sermon from his very acts, and we were amazed’ (Psenthaisios 1).
In the exercise of his ministry the father needs to know how to adapt himself to each person, to know the possibilities of each, and never impose equal laws for all. In the course of his journey he has learnt that in the spiritual life one can never make comparisons. The Lord loves each uniquely and asks that each should make his own human life a story of love, by taking up in love and liberty his own limits and wounds, by the humble avowal of his sins. The father knows how to share his sufferings, to put himself beside his brother in his suffering, in his struggle, with infinite respect supported by faith, hope and charity, ready for anything for the good of his disciple. Of course charity and paternal affection must not be confused with weakness and indulgence. This would create an alliance with sin instead of a firm support in the struggle against sin. But on the other hand, the father must never, absolutely never, allow himself to make light of his disciple’s temptations or mock his trials and spiritual darkness. Cassian tells in his Collations (II.13) the story of a spiritual father who judged himself culpable of the same temptation which he had despised in the younger and less experienced brother. ‘Wickedness does not eliminate wickedness’ affirms a wise saying in the Armenian collection (Paterica Armeniaca, CSCO 353 IV, 16.7, p. 10).
Of Abba Isidore, on the contrary, the story is told,
If someone had a weak, indolent or insolent brother, even to the point of wishing to send him away, Abba Isidore, who was a priest at Skete, used to say to him, ‘Bring him to me.’ He took the brother to himself and healed his soul by his patience (Collectio syst. lat. 16.5).
The examples are numerous of fathers of the desert who by their patience saved their disciples from temptation (Collectio syst. lat. 10.85). But this love does not make the Abba blind to sin.
If we had charity, charity itself would cover all faults, and we would be like the saints when they see human faults. Are the saints then so blind that they do not see faults? Who hates sin as much as the saints? Nevertheless, they do not hate the sinner. They do not judge the sinner, they do not run away. On the contrary, they sympathize with, they exhort, they console and care for the sinner as for a sick member. They do everything possible to save the sinner. (Dorotheus, Teaching 6.76).
But correction, a severe word, is always accompanied by hope of conversion, even when the son disobeys or sorely tries the patience of the father. Abba Romanos was at the point of death, and his disciples gathered round him and said to him, ‘How can we find our direction?’ The old man said to them, ‘I do not believe I have ever told any of you to do anything without first making the decision not to be angry if what I said was not done’ (Romanus 1). The sincere love of Barsanuph for his spiritual son Dorotheus led him to promise to carry the weight of his sin (Letters 270). We may also recall the gentleness of Evagrius (G. Bunge, Paternité spirituelle, p. 29), a true disciple of him who was ‘meek and humble of heart’ (Matthew 11.29). He said to his disciples, ‘My brothers, any of you who has a profound or troublesome thought should keep it to himself until the brothers withdraw, and then ask me, in private between himself and me.’
But this patience in every trial, this faithful openness to accept the other in good and bad alike, cannot be learned from books; they are the fruit of a life in the Spirit, of a humble awareness of one’s own sin, of an infinite respect for the sons of God and for God’s work in them.
Often the fathers address severe reproaches to young monks who make claim to direct others without themselves first having been disciples. Cassian writes,
Most of the time, without having experience of the teaching of the elders, we dare to take first place in monasteries, making ourselves pass for an ‘Abba’ without first being a disciple. We ordain what we like, more inclined to demand observance of our own ideas than to keep to the proven teaching of the elders’ (Institutions II.3.5).
c. An Intercessor
So the father wrestles with God to save his spiritual son. Abba Sisoes wrestled in prayer, crying out ‘God, whether you like it or not, I shall not leave you alone until you have healed him’ (Sisoes 12). Often prayer leads God to be merciful. So much the saints were bold enough to say. This is a faith full of outspokenness, an attitude before God which characterized the people of the Bible. By intercession
and by his insistence Moses forced God to be merciful, to pardon Israel. The fathers of the desert said without hesitation that if someone was obedient, did the will of God, entered into the mind of God, he would finally force God himself to change his plans and designs and obey. The father prays more than he speaks; his word must be an echo of the word of God, and for this he needs to pray and to learn to see his son with the very eyes of God.
d. The Art of Presence
It is clear that it is impossible to become a master by studying, that it is impossible to declare oneself a father. One becomes a father only when someone else’s request draws forth a word generated by fidelity to the Scripture, fidelity to experience lived in one’s own body, fidelity to the tradition received from other fathers and masters. In a certain sense it is the disciple who brings the master to birth. Questioning, the art of knowing how to question oneself and others, is considered indispensible by the Abbas of the desert. Antony quotes the precept of Deuteronomy 32.7, ‘Ask your father and he will tell you’, and he advises the monk to ‘confide to the elders the number of paces he takes and the number of drops of water he drinks in his cell, in order to know whether he errs in this’ (Antony 38), However, apart from this extreme statement, which is certainly not to be taken literally, the father/master should not issue laws, but should be a teaching by his own vigilance and his affectionate presence. By being at his disciple’s side day after day, in work, in prayer, in sharing the joys and difficulties of each day, the master forms his disciple.
A brother questioned Abba Poemen, ‘Some brothers live with me; should I give them orders?’ The old man said to him, ‘No! First set to work, and if they want to live, they will look after themselves.’ The brother said to him, ‘But, Father, it is they who want me to give them orders.’ The old man said to him, ‘No! You should be their model, not their law-giver’ (Poemen 188).
The conviction that formation comes from living beside a master and from sharing his life rather than from his oral teaching is expressed in another word attributed to Antony:
Three fathers had the custom of going each year to see the blessed Antony. The first two questioned him about their thoughts and their state of soul, but the third kept absolute silence, without voicing any question. After a long time Abba Antony said to him, ‘You have been coming here for a long time, and you never put a question to me.’ The other replied, ‘One thing is enough for me, father: just to see you’ (Antony 27).
The master does not have recourse to books, he does not hold great discourses, even if various catecheses have come down to us in the sources – think only of the Life of Antony! – and although letters of a spiritual character from fathers to disciples have been preserved. In general they are mistrustful of worldly wisdom. Arsenius, who in his early days had lived at the court of Constantinople, perhaps a tutor of the son of the Emperor Theodosius, was asked,
Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, who received such a fine Roman and Greek education, should ask this peasant about your thoughts?’ He replied, ‘I did indeed receive a Roman and Greek education, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.’ (Arsenius 6).
The learned Arsenius recognizes a simple Coptic fellah as his master. Books were available in the desert, especially the Scriptures, but also texts of the fathers. Nevertheless, the accumulation of books was mistrusted; they were considered wealth stolen from the poor, and the priority of practise over theoretical knowledge was strongly stressed. Serapion replied to someone who asked him what he had done with his little book of the Gospels, ‘My child, for my own good I have sold it to him who said to me every day, “Sell what you possess and give it to the poor” (Matthew 19.21). I have given it to him so that I have more confidence in him on the day of judgment’ (Nau 566). And to someone who boasted that he had learn Old and New Testaments by heart an elder replied, ‘You have filled the air with words’ (Nau 385). The first requirement of the masters is that life and word should coincide. Cassian could boast, ‘I have never taught anything that I had not myself done’ (Cassian 5).
What material was taught? As indicated at the beginning of this article, the Scriptures are the first and absolute reference for the life of the monk, and reference to the great figures of the Bible, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah and others, is continual. The master makes use of parables and concrete gestures, sometime real mimes, to convey his teaching. Thus Bessarion did not give any verbal teaching on mercy when the priest of Skete expelled from the church a brother who had sinned. He merely got up and went out, saying, ‘I too am a sinner’ (Bessarion 7). When John the Dwarf had taken part in a rather disturbed meeting of the brothers, he walked three times round his cell. The brothers were dumbfounded and asked him why he had done this. He replied, ‘My ears were full of this dispute, so I walked around to cleanse them and so entered my cell in tranquillity’ (John Kolobos 27). Joseph of Panepho disguised himself as a beggar to teach about hospitality (Joseph of Panepho 1). Makarius told a brother to insult the dead in the cemetery and then to praise them (Makarius 23). The metaphors and parables are numerous; we will mention only that of the torn cloak which was duly returned to its owner. The Abba who told the story concluded, ‘So if you spare your cloak, will not God spare his own creation? (Mios 3).
3. Other Masters
To begin with a terminological precision, in the ancient monastic writing which we have been able to study, the terms ‘master’ (didaskalos) and ‘to teach’ (didaskein) are rarely met. In the Life of Antony for example the term ‘master’ is applied to Antony only in the following passage where, after the saint’s desire to bear witness to his faith by martyrdom, it is said, ‘The Lord kept him for the good of others, to make him, by the ascetic way of life he had derived from the Scriptures, the master of a great number’ (Life of Antony 46.6).
Antony is rather defined as a father (pater – 7 times) or an elder (geron – 12 times) or once as healer (iatros). Similarly the verb ‘to teach’ is not frequent (6 times) and occurs no more often than ‘to imitate’ (mimeisthai - 6 times). In the systematic Greek collection the term ‘master’ occurs no more than four times. It is significant that, with one exception, it occurs always in the plural. This seems to me important because we never find in the monastic writings a single master who forms one or several disciples. The picture is more complex. As far as concerns eastern monasticism, we cannot make a sharp distinction between the eremitical and the cenobitic forms of life. Between the two there existed a multiplicity of intermediate forms, associations of various Abbas under different forms, not necessarily linked by persevering with the same companions. The choice of a spiritual father and master was an open one. In the various stories of pilgrimages to monastic sites the search is for several masters. Even if a disciple remains for a certain time with a particular father, nevertheless, the role of master is attributed to a multiplicity of figures. Even Antony did not have a single master whose life, ‘a rule of monastic life in the form of a story’ (Gregory of Nazianzen, Discourse 21.5) became the model for generations of monks. The story is told about him:
At that time there was living in the village and old man who had lived a solitary life since his youth. Antony saw him and rivalled him in goodness. To begin with he also lived in the neighbourhood of the village. Hence, whenever he heard tell of a zealous person, like a wise bee, he sought him out and would not return to his own hermitage without seeing him. Then, as though he had received from him food for the journey towards virtue, he would return. By behaving like this Antony won the affection of all. He willingly put himself under fervent people whom he went to see and from whom he learned virtue and the ascetic way of life proper to each of them. In one he admired amiability, in another assiduity in prayer; in one he saw patience, in another charity towards a neighbour; in one he noted night-vigils, in another perseverance in reading; he admired one for constancy, another for his fasting and sleeping on the bare ground. He remarked the gentleness of one and the great-heartedness of another. In all he noted at once devotion to Christ and mutual love. Thus filled, he returned to the place where he lived his ascetic life, condensing and being careful to express in himself the virtues of all (Life of Antony 3.3; 4.1).
Several masters and not necessarily a single master. It would be true to say that the true master is the monastic tradition, handed on from Abba to Abba, contemplated in a particular time and place by someone who wishes to ‘enter’ into the monastic tradition. On his deathbed Antony (Life of Antony 91) gave his cloak to Athanasius and ‘the other sheepskin’ to Serapion, that is, he handed on to the Church monastic life in the form of which he is considered the founder. But to his disciples he left the leather tunic, the clothing of one who is dressed in imitation of John the Baptist, considered the precursor of monastic life because in the desert he lived out his expectation of him who was to come, in a quiet and austere way of life. This leather garment is passed on from one disciple to another. It is received from others, not improvised according to one’s own pattern.
Masters are not always up to their task. The sayings idealize neither master nor disciple. There are examples of bad masters and of bad disciples, or even bad masters linked to bad disciples. It was possible to try to find a master after one’s own taste – ‘A fine search, Sir!’ commented an elder to whom such an idea was put (Nau 245) – just as it was possible to have recourse to a father/master who lacked discernment and who could plunge the disciple into despair instead of leading him to hope and faith in God (cf. Nau 217). The bad fathers are also those who claimed to heal others without themselves first being healed. Abba Antony said,
The ancient fathers went off into the desert and were healed. They became physicians and attended to others and healed them. But we others, as soon as we leave the world and before being healed, we want to look after others and relapse, so that the last state is worse than the first, and we hear the Lord say, ‘Physician, first heal yourself’ (cf. Luke 4.23). (Nau 603)
But in some way, besides the master and father, however good and holy he may be, there are always other masters. It seems to me that at least two are distinguishable in the sayings. The first master is reality itself, the vicissitudes of life from which we can draw lessons, warnings, consolation. This theme is illustrated by the words of Bishop Theophilus from whom Amma Theodora asked the meaning of the expression, ‘knowing how to profit from circumstances’ (Ephesians 5.16; Colossians 4.5).
He said to her, ‘This word means a gain. For example, is this a moment of exaltation for you? By humility and patience make this moment of exltation your own and draw profit from it. Is it a moment of shame? Make it your own by resignation and gain by it. Everything which goes against us can become a gain if we want. (Theodora 1)
A check is the mother of humility and patience, injury the mother of resignation, a false accusation the mother of perseverance and hope. In every circumstance, good or bad, a master is hidden. Another precious master, or rather more exactly a healer, is demonstrated by Zosimus, monk of Tyre in Phoenicia, who lived towards the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century. Everyone who does evil, who causes suffering by one means or another, achieves purification, teaches freedom from self-interest. He brings out our pride, our desires for revenge, our inability to forgive, and teaches us to look them in the face. Abba Zosimus said,
Anyone who brews resentment against someone who hurts him, or does him a wrong, abuses him, does him any sort of evil, if he plots evil in return is preparing against himself an ambush such as demons devise. What do I mean by ‘plots evil’? If he does not regard him as a physician, he is doing the greatest injustice to his own self. You must think of such a person as a physician sent to you by Christ. (Conversations 3)
End of Part One – to be continued in next issue