Monday, September 21, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 1


It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, 'Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.' Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, 'Take and eat the fruit of obedience.'

Some thoughts:

There are lots of Sayings of Abba John the Dwarf preserved in the collection. I have tried to find some biographical information but have not.

This is one of those extraordinary Sayings that is so hard to believe. From a practical standpoint, it seems impossible. Spend the entire night walking to and from the water source to water a piece of dry wood and to do this for 3 years? Where did the other monks get their water? If the monks were to pray in their cells all day, when would John have slept?

Such considerations lead me to believe this is a bit of hagiography. My feelings about hagiography is that it is metaphor and I have a suspicion it was understood to be metaphor back in the day. This Saying is a wonderful metaphor for obedience. The Desert Christians were big on obedience. Obedience is a great way to learn humility.


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