Friday, May 29, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Obedience 4

They said that abba Sylvanus had a disciple in Scetis, named Mark, who possessed in great measure the virtue of obedience. He was a copyist of old manuscripts, and the old man loved him for his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were aggrieved that he loved Mark more than them.

When the old men nearby heard that he loved Mark above the others, they took it ill. One day they visited him and abba Sylvanus took the visitors with him and, going out of his cell, began to knock on the door of each of his disciples, saying, "Brother, come out, I have work for you." And none came. The visiting old men said, "Where are the other brothers?", and went Sylvanus into Mark's cell and found the book in which he had been writing and he was making the letter O; and when he heard the old man's voice, he had not finished the line of the O. And the old men said, "Truly, abba, we also love the one whom you love; for God loves him, too."

A preliminary note: This story only makes sense when we stop to realize that Mark was writing in Greek. There are 2 letters for "o" in that language. Omnicrom is used for the sound we call a short O and is written as we write the letter O today in English. The letter used to designate what we call the long sound of the letter O is the Greek letter Omega. It resembles our modern w but instead of the sharp V points, in Greek it is more rounded and in making that shape is what is meant when it says Mark did not finish the line of the O.

Some thoughts:

Back in the day, I gave a lecture at my parish church on the Desert Christians and I used this story to illustrate a point about obedience. One of the attendees was a fellow student at the local seminary and he was incensed over this story. He had been in a cult where this sort of obedience was the norm and therefore the Desert Christians had nothing to teach him ever.

I'll not deny that there was extremism out there among the Desert Christians. I'll not deny that extremism is alive and well today. but it is my own personal choice to take the middle way, looking for what is good and right, noble and worthy and leave the rest aside.

For me, the power of this anecdote is that is a paradigm of how I wish to obey God. it is my prayer that I will learn to respond instantly to the voice of the Holy Spirit.


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