Seven Parables and Stories for the Week: Issue 25

Holy Thoughts

There was an elder who is said to have spent fifty years in complete abstention. He did not even eat bread, and he drank just a little water. That elder boasted that he had eradicated fornication, love of money, and vainglory from his soul. When Abba Abraham heard it, he came to that elder and asked him:
– Have you said so and so?
The elder replied:
– Yes, I have.
Abba Abraham responded:
– Imagine you get into your hut and see a woman in your bed. Can you refrain from thinking that she is a woman?
– No but — but I struggle with the thought and try not to touch her.
Abraham concluded:
– So you haven’t eradicated fornication: it is alive in your heart but it is bound. Again, imagine you are walking down the road and see rocks and potsherds, and gold coins scattered among them. Won’t you think about the gold coins?
The elder admitted:
– No but I will cast that thought away and won’t take the gold.
Abraham stated:
– So your passion is alive but bound. Again: if you meet two brothers, one of whom loves and praises you to the skies, while the other hates and insults you — will your heart be predisposed towards them equally?
The elder replied:
– Of course not but I will struggle with my thoughts and do as much good to the one who hates me as to the one who loves me.
Abba Abraham summed it up:
– Consequently, your passions are still alive but they are bound with holy thoughts.

Pure Heart

Someone asked St. Isaac of Syria:
– How does a person get to know that his heart has become pure?
The elder replied:
– When that person considers all people to be good, and regards no man filthy and foul — that’s when he has a really pure heart.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15)

Strong Wind

A traveler sought advice from the abbot of Skete.
– I’d like to lead a better life but I can’t protect myself against sinful thoughts.
The abbot noticed that it was windy outdoors. He said to the pilgrim:
– It’s hot. I’d appreciate it if you catch some wind from the outdoors and bring it here to make the room less stuffed.
– That’s impossible, – the traveler protested.
– Likewise, you can’t protect yourself against ungodly thoughts, – the monk replied. – But if you know how to say no to the temptation, those thoughts won’t do you any harm.

Service and Praise

One day, elders were sitting at the table. Abba Alonius was waiting on them.
The elders commended him but he did not say anything in response.
One of the elders enquired:
– Why didn’t you say anything to the elders when they praised you?
Abba Alonius told him:
– If I had said anything to them, it would have meant that I accepted their praise.

Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. (Ps. 115:1)

Hermit’s Hunger

There was a hermit who came to his spiritual father to complain that he felt hungry in his secluded cell as early as 9 o’clock every morning, even though he had managed to do without food for several days when he had lived in a monastery.
– Don’t be surprised, my son, – the elder replied. – There is no one in the desert who would see your fasting and support and feed you with praises. Vainglory used to be your food when you were at the monastery. The satisfaction that you felt because of your exceptional abstention was sweeter than a meal.

Three Monks

There were three diligent monks. One of them chose to restore peace among those who quarrelled as his spiritual practice. The second monk decided to put his efforts into visiting the ill. The third monk went to the desert to stay in solitude. The first monk had a lot of work because people just wouldn’t stop quarreling. He came to the second monk and saw that he was likewise tired and ceased to tend to his cause. They agreed to visit the hermit, tell him about their problems, and see what good he had done in the wilderness. The hermit paused and then poured some water into a cup, saying:
– Look at the water.
The water was muddy, and they couldn’t see anything. After a while, he invited them to look at the water again.
– See, the water is still now.
They looked at the water and saw their faces like in a mirror. He said to them:
– That’s what happens to a person who lives amidst other people. He has to cope with so much hassle that he cannot see his sins. When he stays silent, especially in the wilderness, he can spot his shortcomings.

Praising and Cursing the Dead

A newly-tonsured monk came to a renowned hermit hoping that the elder would show him the way to perfection.
– Go to a graveyard tonight, – the elder said, – and praise the dead who lie there till dawn. Then come and tell me how they receive your praises.
The newly-tonsured monk returned from the graveyard the following morning:
– I’ve done what you ordered me, Father! I praised those dead people with a loud voice all night long. I called them holy, blessed fathers, great and righteous men who pleased God, the lights of the universe, the treasure troves of wisdom, and the salt of the earth. I claimed that they had all the virtues I had ever read about in the Holy Scriptures and the philosophers’ books.
– So what? Did they show you their appreciation?
– No, they didn’t, Father: they kept silent all the time. I didn’t hear a single word from them.
– Sounds strange, – the elder said. – That’s what you should do: go to the graveyard again tonight and curse them as hard as you can until you elicit any response.
The newly-tonsured monk returned the following day and reported:
– I kept cursing and smearing them. I called them dirty dogs, devil’s vessels, God-forsakers; I likened them to all wicked men of the Old and New Testament, from Cain who murdered his brother to Judas who betrayed the Lord; from the lustful Gibeonites to Ananias and Sapphira who attempted to lie to God. I claimed that they were guilty of all heresies, from the Simon’s and Valentine’s old heresies to the new one called Monothelitism.
– Well, and how did you escape their anger?
– I didn’t need to, Father! They kept silent all the time. I even put my ear close to their tombs but no one moved.
– You see, – the elder concluded, – you have reached the first stage of Angelic living, which is obedience. You will reach the top level on earth only when you become as indifferent towards praises and curses as those dead people.

…By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true (2 Cor. 6:8)