Saturday, August 08, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Agathon 1


It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him 'Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it is very true,' he answered. They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?' 'I am." Again they said 'Aren't you Agathon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.' At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

Some thoughts:

Interesting, isn't it, that there is some link between discernment and losing one's temper? The reason Agathon gives for not losing his temper over most of the accusations is that was good for his soul. How contrary this is to our own choices. I know my first impulse when someone says something like this to me to defend myself. I don't like the way I feel when someone says such things to me and so I want to change their minds about me. Agathon's example, though, is to allow the things to be said. Not only that, my guess is that he also stopped to consider if the accusations were true. So rather than get hung up on his feelings, he took it as an occasion to discern his own sinfulness.

Not so with the accusation of heresy. It is hard for us in the western world, perhaps, to understand that at one time heresy was a matter of life and death. We tend to think that is an over-reaction. We are all entitled to our own opinion, we believe. We live in an age of tremendous religious syncretism. Agathon reminds us, however, that there is a consideration more important than a right to a personal opinion. Which is: what is the result of one's personal opinion? Where might that personal opinion lead?


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