Thursday, January 27, 2005

Abba Arsenius: "Don't go there!"

St. Arsenius

Saint Arsenios the Great was a highly educated man of his day (born in 354, in Rome), and a master of rhetoric, philosophy, and of both Latin and Greek, but he gave it all up to serve the Church. Despite this, the Emperor sought to have him instruct his children, because his learning was of such a high reputation. He was very reluctant to do so, but agreed to do it in obedience to Pope Damasus. He devoted all his energy to fullfilling this task, but was troubled because of the high esteem in which he was held. He yearned for the quite life, and sought God's guidance in prayer. He heard a voice telling him "Arsenius, flee from men, and you shall be saved." And then, removing his rich clothing and replacing it with old and tattered garments, he secretly left the palace, boarded a ship for Alexandria, and he made his way to Sketis, a monastery in the midst of the desert.

Many of his sayings are Preserved in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, and very often one gets a glimpse of how much he shunned fame, and desired solitude. On of my favorite sayings of his is as follows:

"Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius. He questioned the old man, to hear a word from him. After a short silence the old man answered him, "Will you put into practice what I say to you?" They promised him this. "If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there" (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 10)

Another great saying of his is:

"One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant" (Ibid., p. 10)