Posts Tagged two hermits

New Year’s Contemplations


We are once again standing at the threshold of a new year. This is a time when most people make resolutions and set goals. More often than not these resolutions and goals are broken, and we tend to then tell ourselves how bad, or weak we are. Upon our life journey’s we will often stumble and break our resolutions. If we fail, all we need to do is to pick ourselves up and keep on trying until we do succeed. Especially in tough times persistence is the key to success. There is a wonderful tale told by Vladimir Slovyov in his book “War, Progress and the End of History” that illustrates this beautifully

“Two hermits had gone out into theNitrian Desertto save their souls. Their caves were not far distant from each other, but they themselves never talked together, except that they occasionally sang psalms, so that they could hear each other. In this way they spent many years, and their fame began to spread in Egypt and the surrounding countries. It came to pass that one day the Devil managed to put into both their minds simultaneously one and the same desire, and without saying a word to each other they collected their baskets and mats made of palm leaves and branches, and went off toAlexandria. They sold their work there and then for three days and three nights they sought pleasure in the company of drunkards and sinners, after which they went back to their desert.

And one of them cried out in bitterness and agony of the soul:” I am lost eternally! Cursed am I! No prayers and penance can atone for such madness, such abominations! All my years of fasting and prayer gone for nothing! I am ruined, body and soul!” The other man, however, was walking by his side, singing psalms in a cheerful voice. “Brother,” said the repentant one, “have you gone mad?” “Why do you ask that?” “But why aren’t you grieving?” “What should I grieve about?” “Listen to him! Have you forgotten Alexandria?” ‘What about Alexandria? Glory to God who preserves that famous and God-fearing City!” “But we, what did we do in Alexandria?” “You know well enough yourself what we did; we sold our baskets, worshipped St. Mark, visited other churches, called on the pious governor of the city, conversed with the good prioress Leonilla who is always kind to monks…” “But didn’t we spend the night in a house of ill fame?” “God save us! No! We spent the evening and the night in the patriarch’s court.” “Holy martyrs! He has lost his mind…

Where then did we treat ourselves to wine?” “We partook of wine and food at the patriarch’s table on the occasion of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin.” “Poor, miserable creature! And who was it whom we kissed, not to mention worse things? Are you making a fool of me? Or has the Devil himself entered your soul as punishment for yesterday’s abominations? They were wretched libertines, you blackguard, that you kissed!” “Well, I don’t know which of us the Devil has entered; Whether he has entered me, who am rejoicing in the gifts of God and in the benevolence of the godly priests, and am praising my Creator-or whether he has entered you, who are now raving like a lunatic and calling the house of our blessed father and pastor a house of ill fame.” “Oh, you heretic! You offspring of Arian! Accursed mouth of Apollinarius!” At this the hermit who had been grieving over his lapse from virtue fell upon his comrade and began beating him. When the outburst was over they returned silently to their caves.

All night long the repentant one wore himself out with grief, filling the desert with his groans and cries, tearing out his hair, throwing himself on the ground and dashing his head against it, while the other quietly and happily sang his psalms. Next morning the repentant one was struck by a sudden thought: “By my many years of self-denial I had been granted a special blessing of the Holy Spirit which had already begun to reveal itself in miracles and apparitions. And if after this I gave myself up to the abominations of the flesh, I must have committed a sin against the Holy Spirit, which, according to the word of God, is for all eternity unpardonable. If, however, I am irrevocably doomed, what can I do in the desert?” And so he went to Alexandria and gave himself up to a wanton life.

It so happened that soon afterward he badly needed money, and, in company with other dissolute fellows like himself, murdered and robbed a wealthy merchant. The crime was discovered; he was tried by the city court, sentenced to death, and died an unrepentant sinner. At the same time his old friend, continuing his life of devotion, attained to the highest degree of saintliness and became famous for his great miracles. When finally the day of his death arrived, his decrepit and withered body suddenly became resplendent with the beauty of youth. A wondrous light surrounded it; from it proceeded the perfume of sweet spices. The pilgrims both committed every other crime, but only one met his doom – the one who became despondent.” 

The most important resolution you can make this year is to never give up on what is important to you.

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