Saturday, June 14, 2003

from the desert: sometimes you just can't escape.....

from St John Cassian's Conferences

When Pinuphius was presiding as abba and priest over a large coenobium not very far from Panephysis (in Egypt), the whole province was making so much of him because of the glory of his virtues and his miracles that he seemed to himself to have already received the reward of his labors in the remuneration of human praise, and he feared in particular that the detestable vanity of popularity might deprive him of the fruit of an eternal reward. So he secretly fled his monastery and hastened to the remote retreat of the monks of Tabenna, where he chose not the solitude of the desert and the security of a life by himself --- which even some who are imperfect pursue, often with proud presumption, not enduring the labor of obedience in the cenobia --- but rather submission in a thronging coenobium.

And when he put on worldly clothing, lest he be noticed because of anything that he was wearing, and for many days lay weeping before the doors, as the custom is in that place, and embraced the knees of everyone after having experienced the protracted disdain of those who said, in order to test his desire, that he had been compelled by hunger in his old age and was not really seeking the holiness of that chosen orientation, he at last gained admission. There, having been assigned to help a certain young brother who was in charge of the garden, he not only carried out with marvelous holy humility everything that this same overseer would order and that the work imposed on him demanded, but he also took care of certain necessary chores that were avoided by the others through disgust. This he did stealthily and at night, so that when morning broke the whole community was astonished and did not know who was performing such useful tasks.

But when he had thus spent nearly three years there, rejoicing in the longed-for labors of his burdensome submission, it happened that a certain brother who was known to him arrived from those parts of Egypt that he himself had left. This person hesitated for a long time, because of the meanness of his clothing and of his work prevented immediate recognition, but, after looking him over closely, he embraced his knees and thereupon astonished all the brothers. Then, uttering his name, which was well known among them on account of the report of his extraordinary holiness, he made them feel compunction for having assigned a man of such worth, and a priest, to such burdensome tasks.

But after he was led back to his own monastery --- weeping copiously and imputing to diabolical envy what seemed to him a grave case of betrayal --- in the honorable custody of his brothers, and had stayed there a short while, he once again grew dismayed at the attention that was being paid to his fame and his high position. So, stealthily taking passage on a boat, he went off to the province of Palestine in Syria. There he was accepted as a beginner and a novice in a house of the monastery where we were staying, and he was ordered by the abba to live in our cell. But his virtue and his worth could not remain hidden there for long, to be sure, for by a similar betrayal he was discovered and brought back to his own monastery with considerable honor and praise.


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