Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Joy 3


When abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which all monks follow... He first lay prostrate on the ground, then got up and kissed us and having brought us in he prayed for us; then, after washing our feet with his own hands, he invited us to partake of some refreshment.

One could see his monks were filled with joy and a bodily contentment such as one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast.
If anyone did appear a little downcast, abba Apollo at once asked him the reason and told each one what was the secret recesses of his heart. He used to say, "Those who are going to inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be despondent about their salvation... we who have been considered worthy of so great a hope, how shall we not rejoice without ceasing, since the Apostle urges us always, "Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks"?"

Some thoughts:

The 1st thing I notice about this Saying is that it was recorded by a visitor to the monks. I have no idea who the visitor was or where the visit took place. Don't know about you, but I would love to be greeted with singing. The monks prostrated themselves on the ground because they greeted their guests as if they were Christ. At that time, it was common to lie full length on the ground or floor during prayer and worship. I can't help but note there is no inquiry into whether or not the guests deserved to be greeted as such. No litmus tests of their orthodoxy or their degree of sinfulness. Holy Hospitality ruled over all and what joy it brought to the guests to be greeted as such. But what freedom and joy must the monks have known to welcome others so completely.

Note also that there is some hint in this Saying that Christians seemed to feel they had reason to doubt their salvation. They didn't take it for granted as we do today. They didn't shrug off their sins as many of us are prone to do today. What is Abba Apollo's response to the monks' worries: they are praying without ceasing, they are doing what the Holy Spirit compels them to do and so there is no greater reassurance of the hope of heaven than that. Which I think is a pretty good source of joy.


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