Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba Agathon 2


The old men said to Abba Agathon of Abba Elias, in Egypt, 'He is a good Abba.' The old man answered them, 'In comparison with his own generation, he is good.' They said to him, 'And what is he in comparison with the ancients?' He gave them this answer, 'I have said to you that in comparison with his generation he is good but as to that of the ancients, in Scetis I have seen a man who, like Joshua the son of Nun could make the sun stand still in the heavens.' At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God.

Some thoughts:

I have always wondered whom Abba Agathon means by the "ancients." Or if "ancients" is a word that has suffered in the translation. In the Sayings 'abba" is frequently translated as "old man" which might lead us to think of them to be in their nineties!!

As for this business of making the sun stand still in the heavens... Clearly they were impressed with this. Signs and wonders are impressive. I am reminded though of what Jesus said about people seeing signs and wonders and they still do not believe. Fortunately the mere report of a sign and wonder caused these monks to give glory. But sometimes I wonder if Abba Agathon meant this sarcastically. In a "Oh sure he is good, but I know this guy who..." Maybe the point is that we should not be busy comparing ourselves to others.

Medieval lives of the saints are full of staggering details such as levitation, flying about the Cathedral while so caught up in prayer. Before he wrote The Mountain of Silence about Mt Athos, Kyriacos C. Markides wrote an earlier book and I've forgotten the name of it. Kyriacos C. Markides was deeply into New Age stuff before he embraced Greek Orthodoxy. On his 1st visit to Mt Athos, all he could absorb were the signs and wonders. He saw them as evidence of mature spirituality. I am reminded of my own life when I first experienced the ecstasy of contemplative union and focused in on that and wanted that over and over again until my spiritual director pointed out to me that the Bridegroom had given me gifts as His bride but it was time to cease to seek the gifts and instead seek the Giver.

No doubt I am reading this Saying all wrong. But such is how it speaks to me.


Post a Comment

<< Home