Abba John said, “We have put the light burden on one side, that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy one that is to say, self-justification.”
The parents of a young girl died, and she was left an orphan; she was called Paesia. She decided to make her house a hospice, for the use of the Fathers of Scetis. So for a long time she gave hospitality and served the Fathers. But in the course of time, her resources were exhausted and she began to be in want. Some wicked men came to see her and turned her aside from her aim. She began to live an evil life, to the point of becoming a prostitute. The Fathers, learning this, were deeply grieved, and calling Abba John the Dwarf said to him, ‘We have learnt that this sister is living an evil life. While she could, she gave us charity, so now it is our turn to offer her charity and to go to her assistance. Go to see her then, and according to the wisdom which God has given you, put things right for her.’
So Abba John went to her, and said to the old door-keeper, ‘Tell your mistress I am here.’ But she sent him away saying, ‘From the beginning you have eaten her goods, and see how poor she is now.’ Abba John said to her, ‘Tell her, I have something which will be very helpful to her.’ The door-keeper’s children, mocking him, said to him, ‘What have you to give her, that makes you want to meet her?’ He replied, ‘How do you know what I am going to give her?’ The old woman went up and spoke to her mistress about him. Paesia said to her, ‘These monks are always going about in the region of the Red Sea and finding pearls.’ Then she got ready and said to the door-keeper, ‘Please bring him to me.’ As he was coming up, she prepared for him and lay down on the bed.
Abba John entered and sat down beside her. Looking into her eyes, he said to her, ‘What have you got against Jesus that you behave like this?’ When she heard this she became completely rigid. Then Abba John bent his head and began to weep copiously. She asked him, Abba, why are you crying?’ He raised his head, then lowered it again, weeping, and said to her, ‘I see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?’ Hearing this, she said to him, Abba, is it possible to repent?’ He replied ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Take me wherever you wish.’ ‘Let us go,’ he said and she got up to go with him. Abba John noticed that she did not make any arrangements with regard to her house; he said nothing, but he was surprised.
When they reached the desert, the evening drew on. He, making a little pillow with the sand, and marking it with the sign of the cross, said to her, ‘Sleep here.’ Then, a little further on, he did the same for himself, said his prayers, and lay down. Waking in the middle of the night, he saw a shining path reaching from heaven to her, and he saw the angels of God bearing away her soul. So he got up and went to touch her feet. When he saw that she was dead he threw himself face downwards on the ground, praying to God. He heard this: ‘One single hour of repentance has brought her more than the penitence of many who persevere without showing such fervour in repentance.’
[Abba John the Dwarf, Apophthegmata Patrum]
“If a man does not put himself in the attitude of a sinner, his prayer will not be heard before God.” A brother said to him, “What is a sinful soul?” And the elder said, “Every one who bears his own sins, and does not consider those of his companion.”
[Abba Moses the Strong, Apophthegmata Patrum]
[On this day the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the Glorious Feast of the Cross: may the Lord’s victory on the cross be a strength and reminder to us all this day.]
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Truly this symbol is thought despicable; but it is so in the world’s reckoning, and among men; in Heaven and among the faithful it is the highest glory. Poverty too is despicable, but it is our boast; and to be cheaply thought of by the public is a matter of laughter to them, but we are elated by it. So too is the Cross our boast. He does not say, I boast not, nor, I will not boast, but, Far be it from me that I should, as if he abominated it as absurd, and invoked the aid of God in order to his success therein.
And what is the boast of the Cross? That Christ for my sake took on Him the form of a slave, and bore His sufferings for me the slave, the enemy, the unfeeling one; yea He so loved me as to give Himself up to a curse for me. What can be comparable to this! If servants who only receive praise from their masters, to whom they are akin by nature, are elated thereby, how must we not boast when the Master who is very God is not ashamed of the Cross which was endured for us.
Let us then not be ashamed of His unspeakable tenderness; He was not ashamed of being crucified for your sake, and will you be ashamed to confess His infinite solicitude? It is as if a prisoner who had not been ashamed of his King, should, after that King had come to the prison and himself loosed the chains, become ashamed of him on that account. Yet this would be the height of madness, for this very fact would be a special ground for boasting.
[St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on Galatians]
Once at Scetis Abba Arsenius was ill and he was without even a scrap of linen. As he had nothing with which to buy any, he received some through another’s charity and he said, ‘I give you thanks, Lord, for having considered me worthy to receive this charity in your name.’
[Abba Arsenius, Apophthegmata Patrum]
“By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him but I did not find him. ‘I will rise now,’ I said, ‘and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.’ I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said, ‘Have you seen the one I love?’ Scarcely had I passed by them, when I found the one I love. I held him and would not let him go. “
(Song of Songs 3:1-4)
These verses indicate that even though this human soul is being slothful, sinful, and lazily wasting time in bed rather than prayers, the love of the Lord is manifest nonetheless. Despite the distance, there is love. The many shortcomings, misdeeds, and faults do not extinguish this love. Love exists. This is a surety. As St. Paul the Apostle says, “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:8). So even though I may love the Lord from the depths of my heart, I may oftentimes commit sins because of my inherent weaknesses or addiction to certain habits, not because love is nonexistent.
O Lord there are obstacles that prevent me from coming closer to You. But You O Lord know that I love You. It is true that I am asleep, but I love You. It is true that I err and commit sins, yet I still love You. Even though I do not do the things that reflect this love to You, yet love exists.
Do you know to what we can liken this? It is similar to a deed that has in it all the various elements of life. However, in order for this seed to give forth fruit and blossom with life, certain conditions ought to exist. Life exists in this seed, albeit dormant. There is life but proper conditions must be present in order for life to spring forth.
I am similar to this weed. My love for you O Lord is dormant like a seed waiting for the right moment and the propitious circumstances; the fertile soul, the right nutrition, and a wise farmer for care for it. I will be able to bring forth fruit once You bestow Your grace upon me. Then I will bring forth leaves, branches, flowers, fruits and everything.
By night on my bed I sought the one I love. I sought Him in the dark of night. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, also sought God at night in bed, in sheer darkness. He did not resign his job to seek the Lord. Rather, he sought the Lord while he was still in the midst of darkness as a tax collector. The thief on the right also called Jesus at night and on his bed. St. Augustine also sought the Lord in the midst of the darkness of the night and on his bed. St. Moses the Black, St. Pellagia, St. Mary the Egyptian; all sought the Lord in the pitch dark of the night, in the midst of the darkness of sin.
These people sought the Lord and found Him. However, this virgin did not. There are those who lead a life of sin and still seek the Lord. They do not wait until they become pure and sanctified. On the contrary, they seek the Lord to become pure and sanctified. Rather than trying to become sanctified in order to seek the Lord, they seek the Lord in the condition in which they are in, in order for the Lord to help them become pure, holy, and sanctified. They do not wait until they have the spiritual zeal and are active in worship; rather they seek the Lord while they are still slothful and lazy so that the Lord may rid them of this laziness and grant them this sought-after spiritual zeal and fervour.
I am seeking the Lord while I am I’m bed, lazy and slothful. I seek You while I am lazy so that You may wake me up. I see You while I am in bed to help me get out of it. I seek You in the midst of my sins so that You may rid me of my sins; and I seek You now that I am distant and far so that You may draw me closer to You. There is a desire, a willingness, but the path is yet untrodden, novel and new. As of yet, I have not started the race. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.
Also the prodigal son sought the Lord while he was on his bed, in a far off country amongst the swine. What profound darkness! What an unfathomable pit! He said, “I will rise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). This is the condition in which the Lord wants you to come to Him: in dirt, in filth, just the way you are.
Some people may opt to wait until they can attain a pure state and then pray. However, we urge such people to start to pray while they are still lost, lacking in understanding, lukewarm and lacking in spiritual zeal. Even when your thoughts are uncontrollable, you should pray. We urge you to pray and God will grant you the means to purity and cleanliness. Pray while you are in the night and on your bed. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.
[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, “Have You Seen The One I Love”]