Abba Elias: Choose

Home » Meditations

Abba Elias: Choose

Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

“A brother who followed the life of stillness in the monastery of the cave of Abba Saba came to Abba Elias and said to him, ‘Abba, give me a way of life.’ The old man said to the brother, ‘In the days of our predecessors they took great care about these three virtues: poverty, obedience, and fasting. But among monks nowadays avarice, self-confidence, and great greed have taken charge. Choose whichever you want most.’

Abba Elias in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 72.

Today the Scriptures and Abba Elias call us to “remember” our “predecessors” who led us and spoke the Word of God to us. We are to consider the result of their way of life and imitate their faith.

But every generation must choose. They must choose what people “nowadays” are doing or follow the disciplines that are central to the Christian faith.

Avarice is the desire for gain. Self-confidence is rooted in pride. And, greed is linked to accumulation when fasting is the opposite. Every generation, every person must “choose whichever you want most.”

Choose wisely.

Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit and only flows from the one who exchanges the desire for gain, pride, and accumulation for poverty, obedience, and fasting.

Look closely at Jesus and those who followed after Him. You will see why the author of Hebrews exhorted us to remember them and imitate their faith.

Read more

Abba Isaiah: Avarice and Calumny

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24

“Abba Isaiah, when someone asked him what avarice was, replied, ‘Not to believe that God cares for you, to despair of the promises of God, and to love boasting.’ He was also asked what calumny is and he replied, ‘It is ignorance of the glory of God, and hatred of one’s neighbour.’ He was also asked what anger is and he replied, “Quarrelling, lying, and ignorance.'”

Abba Isaiah in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 70.

We must remember to watch out for avarice.

In the words of Abba Isaiah, it is living like we do not believe God cares for us and despairing rather than trusting in His promises, which results in boasting against him because our trust is in ourselves to sustain us.

We must also look out for calumny.

This is slandering our neighbor and exhibiting anger which takes the form of quarrelling, lying, and ignorance. The alternative is love. This is desperately needed when everyone seems to be fighting about so many things.

Practicing generosity helps us avoid avarice and calumny.

It leads us to give sacrificially which means we must rely on God’s promises and not our resources to sustain us. It also teaches us empathy. As we care for our neighbor’s needs rather than bickering, we show God’s love to the world.

God, please bless our neighbors, Ken and Carol, who thought of our needs yesterday and shared food with us. Protect them from COVID until we can fellowship again. Protect all who are vulnerable in Jesus name. Amen.

Read more

Epiphanius of Cyprus: Very Low Price

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” Luke 21:1-4

“[Epiphanius] said, ‘God sells righteousness at a very low price to those who wish to buy it: a little piece of bread, a cloak of no value, a cup of cold water, a mite.’ He added, ‘A man who receives something from another because of his poverty or his needs has therein his reward, and because he is ashamed, when he repays it he does so in secret. But it is the opposite for the Lord God; he receives in secret, but he repays it in the presence of the angels, the archangels and the righteous.'”

Epiphanius of Cyprus, a bishop in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 59.

The irony of the widow’s mite story never ceases to amaze me. It reminds me, with the words of Epiphanius, that the right way is a path that anyone can take.

Generosity and sacrifice is not just something rich people can do. It’s actually hardest for them because they have so much. Give sacrificially and secretly today.

Compared to the reward in heaven, anything we would give, including all the wealth of the world, is a very low price compared to our eternal reward.

Read more

Abba Bessarion: Leather Bottle

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62

“Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, ‘One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, “Father, I am very thirsty.” He said a prayer and said to me, “Drink some of the sea water.” The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, “Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on.” Then the old man said, “God is here, God is everywhere.”‘”

Abba Bessarion, a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 40.

Our human tendency when we see provision is to hoard it. We do. We pull out our leather bottle for fear. Fear drives us to to grasp, to collect, to accumulate.

Then we rationalize the behavior as prudent concern for our future. So perhaps pause and ask yourself this question. Do you have a leather bottle? What’s in yours?

The call to discipleship is a “don’t look back” invitation to trust. With Abba Bessarion, we must remind ourselves: “God is here, God is everywhere.”

So, where are you today on your spiritual journey? Do you have needs? Lift them to God. Do you have provision? Enjoy and share it.

But if you have a leather bottle, don’t fill it for fear. Go forth living generously  in faith remembering that “God is here, God is everywhere.”

Read more

Abba Apphy: Helper

Surely God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my soul. Psalm 54:4

“They used to say of a bishop of Oxyrrynchus, named Abba Apphy, that when he was a monk he submitted himself to a very severe way of life. When he became a bishop he wished to practise the same austerity, even in the world, but he had not the strength to do so. Therefore he prostrated himself before God saying, ‘Has your grace left me because of my episcopate?’ Then he was given this revelation, ‘No, but when you were in solitude and there was no one else it was God who was your helper. Now that you are in the world, it is man.'”

Abba Apphy, a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 35-36.

Who is your helper? Who or what do you rely on to sustain and empower you for the duties and responsibilities of life?

As I interface with Christian workers around the world, it’s fascinating to see that those in places that are rich with material resources tend to rely on material resources.

Hear me. I don’t think they make a conscious decision that money is the power of ministry. It is more of a subtle shift in trust because having money does make us feel secure and in power.

In places where there are little or no resources, I see far more time spent praying and fasting and most of time it is in groups and takes place frequently.

All around the world, I see the tendency to rely on one’s own capacities when chosen for a role. So, What is the lesson and how does it relate to generosity?

Our only good service is set aside our desires in fasting and prayer, to depend on God and use whatever He supplies by putting it to work.

This keeps us in a posture of perpetual dependence. And it ensures that what happens in and through us is all in accordance with His good pleasure and purposes.

Surely the Lord is our helper; the Lord is the sustainers of our souls.

Read more

Abba Abraham: Controlled

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:16-23

“It was said of an old man that for fifty years he had neither eaten bread nor drunk wine readily. He even said, ‘I have destroyed fornication, avarice and vain-glory in myself.’ Learning that he had said this, Abba Abraham came and said to him, ‘Did you really say that?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’

Then Abba Abraham said to him, ‘If you were to find a woman lying on your mat when you entered your cell would you think that it is not a woman?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘But I should struggle against my thoughts so as not to touch her.’ Then Abba Abraham said, ‘Then you have not destroyed the passion, but it still lives in you although it is controlled.

Again, if you are walking along and you see some gold amongst the stones and shells, can your spirit regard them all as of equal value?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘But I would struggle against my thoughts, so as not to take the gold.’ The old man said to him, ‘See, avarice still lives in you, though it is controlled.’

Abba Abraham continued, ‘Suppose you learn that of two brothers one loves you while the other hates you, and speaks evil of you; if they come to see you, will you receive them both with the same love?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘But I should struggle against my thoughts so as to be as kind towards the one who hates me as towards the one who loves me.’

Abba Abraham said to him, ‘So then, the passions continue to live; it is simply that they are controlled by the saints.'”

Abba Abraham, a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 33-34.

I am back to reading this book on the Desert Fathers. I appreciated this interchange between Abba Abraham and his guest.

The flesh and the Spirit wage war within us. One fruit of the Spirit is self-control. If we are not so controlled, temptations will overcome us.

Related to generosity, we are constantly wooed by shiny things, like gold among the stones and shells. But let us not be overcome by avarice and greed.

Neither let vain-glory captivate you and be kind and generous to all. Let us keep in step with the Spirit, allowing God to work in and through us.

God help us be controlled by you in all we say and do.

Read more

Uncle Screwtape: Under the Influence

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:4

“Let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.”

Uncle Screwtape (Senior Devil) to Wormwood (Junior Devil) in Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil, by C.S. Lewis (Quebec: Samizdat University Press, 2016) 14.

Shout out to our daughter, Sophie, and her husband, Peter, today. Happy First Anniversary! She enjoys the writings of C.S. Lewis, so I am sure she will love this post!

And my pastor, James Hoxworth, quoted this on Sunday. It’s perfect for Inauguration Day when many may be tempted to become “under the influence” of a political cause.

Today is a change in power in America. The country is divided. Some are rejoicing, some are in the middle reflecting, and others are revolting.

But I suggest we focus on remembering something bigger. We are in a spiritual battle. The forces of evil celebrate if our focus shifts from Christ to anything else.

What suffers if we lose our focus? According to Lewis, our prayers, sacraments, and charity drop off. That means our generosity suffers!

As good soldiers, let’s focus on our Lord Jesus Christ alone, and obey His instructions daily, while while serving, giving, and praying for those He has put in authority.

While we do this, that is when we keep our focus, political leaders will come and go and regimes will rise and fall, but we will serve as a constant witness to Christ.

Don’t let Screwtape and Wormwood trick you to be “under the influence.”

Read more

Abba Achilles: Give a man a fishing net

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

“Three old men, of whom one had a bad reputation, came one day to Abba Achilles. The first asked him, ‘Father, make me a fishing-net.’ ‘I will not make you one,’ he replied. Then the second said, ‘Of your charity make one, so that we may have a souvenir of you in the monastery.’ But he said, ‘I do not have time.’ Then the third one, who had a bad reputation, said, ‘Make me a fishing-net, so that I may have something from your hands, Father.’ Abba Achilles answered him at once, ‘For you, I will make one.’ Then the two other old men asked him privately, ‘Why did you not want to do what we asked you, but you promised to do what he asked?’ The old man gave them this answer, ‘I told you I would not make one, and you were not disappointed, since you thought that I had no time. But if I had not made one for him, he would have said, “The old man has heard about my sin, and that is why he does not want to make me anything,” and so our relationship would have broken down. But now I have cheered his soul, so that he will not be overcome with grief.’

Abba Achilles, a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 28-29.

I read, re-read, and re-read this one and I think I am starting to understand it, maybe.

For those two who were brothers it seems that Abba Achilles merely puts up a boundary. This is something I have been learning, that is, to put up a boundary to limit my charity and service. I cannot serve all people at all times. It’s humanly impossible. I need time for rest or other responsibilities.

But for the third one, it seems he makes the most of this opportunity. He acts wisely and even multiplies himself by doing it in view of the others. He bless the undeserving person. This shows that God’s charity is for everyone. It leaves an impact on not just one but on all three.

Consider the lesson as it relates to your generosity. Have boundaries. And yet, make space, even on busy days to make the most of an opportunity to combine a teachable moment for some and to extend grace and kindness to even the most undeserving. This is a powerful lesson.

God help us go and do likewise.

Read more

Abba Agathon: Hospitality to Strangers

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

“Going to town one day to sell some small articles, Abba Agathon met a cripple on the roadside, paralysed in his legs, who asked him where he was going. Abba Agathon replied, ‘To town, to sell some things.’ The other said, ‘Do me the favour of carrying me there.’ So he carried him to the town. The cripple said to him, ‘Put me down where you sell your wares.’ He did so. When he had sold an article, the cripple asked, ‘What did you sell it for?’ and he told him the price. The other said, ‘Buy me a cake,’ and he bought it. When Abba Agathon had sold a second article, the sick man asked, ‘How much did you sell it for?’ And he told him the price of it. Then the other said, ‘Buy me this,’ and he bought it. When Agathon, having sold all his wares, wanted to go, he said to him, ‘Are you going back?’ and he replied, ‘Yes.’ Then said he, ‘Do me the favour of carrying me back to the place where you found me.’ Once more picking him up, he carried him back to that place. Then the cripple said, ‘Agathon, you are filled with divine blessings, in heaven and on earth.’ Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no man; it was an angel of the Lord, come to try him.”

Abba Agathon (360-449) a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 25.

I hope you are enjoying these quotes and stories from the Desert Fathers. I could not help but share this one. So powerful. What a test of faith!

For my part, I would have failed miserably. My culture raised me with the saying “Don’t talk to strangers” and the Scripture says “do not forget to show hospitality” to them.

I am drawn to this as I lean into remember” as my word for the year. Scripture uses the “do not forget” construct seemingly interchangeably with word “remember.”

Might we need to live counterculturally to hear angel stories today. We must notice, help, and even sacrifice for the stranger. Let’s aim at this and pray God tries us with angels.

Read more

Abba Agathon: Prayer

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

“The brethren also asked [Abba Agathon], ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.'”

Abba Agathon (360-449) a desert father in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 21-22.

There’s a play on words here. The name Agathon in Greek means “good” and is associated with “good works.” So now read it again, notice that the brethren were going to Abba Agathon or “Father Good Works” and asking which one calls for the most effort. Notice his reply.

It reveals the key to staying the course in our journey of generosity. We need to persevere in prayer. If we want to serve as conduits of divine blessing then prayer is the way we stay connected to the Source. Remember: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.

Read more
Next Page »