Christian Paradoxes

Many times behind the apparent illogicality of a paradox, there is a deep meaning. The early monks that lived in the deserts of Syria and Egypt in the third and fourth century are full of these paradoxes. Their lives still shine like bright stars in a dark night.

A brother went to see Abba Macarius and said: ‘Father, for thirty years I have not eaten meat and I would like to continue’. The old man said: ‘don’t tell me my child that you have spent thirty years without eating meat. This is not important. But tell me rather, how many days have you spent without speaking ill of your brother? Without judging your neighbor? Without letting useless words pass your lips? The brother bowed and said: ‘pray for me, Father, so I can begin again’.

The brothers went one day to visit an Abba and found outside his hermitage some children who were watching over the grazing animals and shouting offensive words. After the brothers had told him their thoughts and received his advice, they said to the Abba: ‘How can you put up with these children and do not demand that they shut up?’ And the Abba said to them: ‘Truly, brothers, there are days when I want to go out and give them such an order, but then I reproach myself, saying: if I can’t put up with such a small inconvenience, how am I going to cope with a really big temptation, if it should come along? That’s why I say nothing: so I’ll get used to putting up with whatever happens’. Real wisdom.

A brother was accused of sinning and the brothers asked Abba Moses what should be done. He remained silent and then got up and filled a tattered sack with sand. He put this on his back and meanwhile carried a small sachet of sand in his hands. The fathers asked what this meant and he said: ‘the big sack on my back is the stack of my sins – I carry this behind me so I can’t see it; the sand flows out unnoticed and is lost from sight. This little sachet is the sins of my brother. I hold it before me so I can see it and spend my time condemning them. Surely this is not the way to act. Should I not rather carry mine in front of me, keeping my sins always in sight and begging God’s pardon and the sin of others behind me so that I can forget them easily?’ Deep insight of one’s reality is a good foundation to start building our edifice of holiness.

Some of the old monks came to Abba Poemen and asked him: ‘In your opinion, when we see the brothers getting drowsy at the night prayers, should we shake them to keep them awake during the vigil?’ He said to them: ‘As for me, when I see a brother getting drowsy, I put his head on my knees and let him rest’. What tenderness!

Their vicinity to God gave them the possibility to pray thus, “Lord, your Beauty intrigues me. Draw me constantly nearer to you, Eternal Love. The contraptions of this world are too transitory to satisfy the deep-seated desires of my heart!”


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.