Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers

john_the_dwarf

24 Entries

A camel driver came one day to pick up some goods and take them elsewhere. Going inside to bring him what he had woven, Abba John forgot about it because his spirit was fixed in God. So once more the camel driver disturbed him by knocking on the door and once more Abba John went in and forgot. The camel driver knocked a third time and Abba John went in saying, "Weaving - camel; weaving - camel." He said this so that he would not forget again. The Desert Fathers



Abba John (the Dwarf) said, "Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Abba John (the Dwarf) said, "I think it best that a man should have a little bit of all the virtues. Therefore, get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God. Use great patience, with fear and long-suffering, in the love of God, with all the fervor of your soul and body. Exercise great humility, bear with interior distress; be vigilant and pray often with reverence and groaning, with purity of speech and control of your eyes. When you are despised do not get angry; be at peace, and do not render evil for evil. Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing you are less than every created thing. Renounce everything material and that which is of the flesh. Live by the cross, in warfare, in poverty of spirit, in voluntary spiritual asceticism, in fasting, penitence and tears, in discernment, in purity of soul, taking hold of that which is good. Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings. Shut yourself in a tomb as though you were already dead, so that at all times you will think death is near." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Abba John (the Dwarf) said, "Who sold Joseph" A brother replied saying, "It was his brethren." The old man said to him, "No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, "I am their brother" and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Abba John said to his brother, "Even if we are entirely despised in the eyes of men, let us rejoice that we are honored in the sight of God." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Abba John said, "I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Abba John the Dwarf said to a certain brother about the soul which wishes to be converted, "There was in a city a courtesan who had many lovers. One of the governors approached her, saying, "Promise me you will be good, and I will marry you." She promised this and he took her and brought her to his house. Her lovers, seeking her again, said to one another, "That lord has taken her with him to his house, so if we go to his house and he learns of it, he will condemn us. But let us go to the back, and whistle to her. Then, when she recognizes the sound of the whistle she will come down to us; as for us, we shall be unassailable." When she heard the whistle, the woman stopped her ears and withdrew to the inner chamber and shut the doors." The old man said that this courtesan is our soul, that her lovers are the passions and other men; that the lord is Christ; that the inner chamber is the eternal dwelling; those who whistle are the evil demons, but the soul always takes refuge in the Lord. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Abba John the Dwarf said, "A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top." They said to him, "What does this saying mean?" He said, "The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must win, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Abba John the Dwarf said, "If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh; if a man goes about fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: "I find myself in peace, without an enemy," he said. The old man said to him, "Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress." So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, "Lord, give me strength for the fight." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Abba Poemen said that Abba John said that the saints are like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but watered from the same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

An old man came to Abba John's cell and found him asleep, with an angel standing above him, fanning him. Seeing this, he withdrew. When Abba John got up, he said to his disciple, "Did anyone come in while I was asleep?" He said, "Yes, an old man." Then Abba John knew that this old man was his equal, and that he had seen the angel. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

It was said of Abba John (the Dwarf) that when he went to church at Scetis, he heard some brethren arguing, so he returned to his cell. He went round it three times and then went in. Some brethren who had seen him, wondered why he had done this, and they went to ask him. He said to them, "My ears were full of that argument, so I circled round in order to purify them, and thus I entered my cell with my mind at rest." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

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. 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." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his elder brother, "I should like to be free of all care, like the angels who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God." So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it, "Who are you?" He said, "I am John, your brother." But he replied, "John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer among men." Then the other begged him saying, "It is I." However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him, "You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat." Then John made a prostration before him, saying, "Forgive me." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

On day a brother came to Abba John's (the Dwarf) cell. It was late and he was in a hurry to leave. While they were speaking of the virtues, dawn came without their noticing it. Abba John came out with him to see him off, and they went on talking until the sixth hour. Then he made him go in again after they had eaten, he sent him away. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

One day a brother came to Abba John (the Dwarf) to take away some baskets. He came out and said to him, "What do you want, brother?" He said, "Baskets, Abba." Going inside to bring them to him, he forgot them, and sat down to weave. Again the brother knocked. When Abba John came out, the brother said, "Bring me the baskets, Abba." The old man went in once more and sat down to weave. Once more the brother knocked and, coming out, Abba John said, "What do you want brother?" He replied, "The baskets, Abba." Then, taking him by the hand, Abba John led him inside, saying, "If you want the baskets, take them and go away, because really, I have no time for such things." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

One day when Abba John was going up to Scetis with some other brothers, their guide lost his way for it was night time. So the brothers said to Abba John, "What shall we do, Abba, in order not to die wandering about, for the brother has lost the way?" The old man said to them, "If we speak to him, he will be filled with grief and shame. But look here, I will pretend to be ill and say I cannot walk any more; then we can stay here till the dawn." This he did. The others said, "We will not go on either, but we will stay with you." They sat there until the dawn, and in this way they did not upset the brother. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

One of the fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, "What is a monk?" He said, "He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95

Some brethren came one day to test him to see whether he would let his thoughts get dissipated and speak of the things of this world. They said to him, "We give thanks to God that this year there has been much rain and the palm trees have been able to drink, and their shoots have grown, and the brethren have found manual work." Abba John said to them, "So it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of men; they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the fear of God." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

Some old men were entertaining themselves at Scetis by having a meal together; amongst them was Abba John. A venerable priest got up to offer drink, but nobody accepted any from him, except John the Dwarf. They were surprised and said to him, "How is that you, the youngest, dared to let yourself be served by the priest?" Then he said to them, "When I get up to offer drink, I am glad when everyone accepts it, since I am receiving my reward; that is the reason, then, that I accepted it, so that he also might gain his reward and not be grieved by seeing that no one would accept anything from him." When they heard this, they were all filled with wonder and edification at his discretion. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

The brethren used to tell how the brethren were sitting one day at an agape and one brother at table began to laugh. When he saw that, Abba John began to weep, saying, "What does this brother have in his heart, that he should laugh, when he ought to weep, because he is eating at an agape?" Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89

The parents of a young girl died and she was left an orphan; she was called Paesia. She decided to make her house a hospice for the use of the fathers of Scetis. But in the course of time her resources were exhausted and she began to be in want. Some wicked men came to see her and turned her aside from her aim. She began to live an evil life to the point of becoming a prostitute.

The fathers, learning this, were deeply grieved and they called John the Dwarf and said to him, "We have learned that this sister is living an evil life. While she could she gave us charity, so now it is our turn to offer her charity and to go to her assistance. Go to see her then and according to the wisdom that God has given you, put things right for her."

So Abba John went to see her and said to the old doorkeeper, "Tell your mistress I am here." But she sent him away saying, "From the start you ate her goods and see how poor she is now." Abba John said, "Tell her I have something that will be very helpful to her." The doorkeeper's children mocked him saying, "What have you to give her that you want to meet her?" He replied, "How do you know what I am going to give her?"

The old woman went up and spoke to her mistress about him. Paesia said to her, "Those monks are always going about around the Red Sea and finding pearls." Then she got ready and said to the doorkeeper, "Please bring him to me." As he was coming up, she got ready for him and lay down on the bed. Abba John entered and sat beside her. Looking into her eyes, he said, "What have you got against Jesus that you behave like this?" When she heard this she became completely rigid. Then Abba John bent his head and began to weep copiously. She asked him, "Why are you crying, Father?" He raised his head, then lowered it again weeping and said to her, "I see Satan playing in your face, how should I not weep?"

Hearing this she said, "Father, is it possible to repent?" He replied, "Yes." She said, "Take me wherever you wish." "Let us go," he said and she got up and went with him.

Abba John noticed that she did not make any arrangements about her house; he said nothing but he was surprised. When they reached the desert the evening was drawing on. He made a little pillow in the sand and marked it with the sign of the cross, saying, "Sleep here." Then he did the same for himself a little further on, said his prayers and lay down.

Waking in the middle of the night, he saw a shining path reaching from heaven to her and he saw the angels of God bearing away her soul. When he saw that she was dead, he threw himself downward on the ground praying to God and he heard this: "One single hour of repentance has brought her more than the penances of many who continue without showing such fervor in repentance." Sr. Benedicta Ward, "Harlots of the Desert," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1987), pp. 77-78



There was an old man at Scetis, very austere of body, but not very clear in his thoughts. He went to see Abba John to ask him about forgetfulness. Having received a word from him, he returned to his cell and forgot what Abba John had said to him. He went off again to ask him and having heard the same word from him, he returned with it. As he got near his cell, he forgot it again. This he did many times; he went there, but while he was returning he was overcome by forgetfulness.

Later, meeting the old man he said to him, "Do you know, Abba, that I have forgotten again what you said to me? But I did not want to overburden you, so I did not come back." Abba John said to him, "Go and light a lamp." He lit it. He said to him, "Bring some more lamps, and light them from the first." He did so. Then Abba John said to the old man, "Has that lamp suffered any loss from the fact that other lamps have been lit from it?" He said, "No." The old man continued, "So it is with John; even if the whole of Scetis came to see me, they would not separate me from the love of Christ. Consequently, whenever you want to, come to me without hesitation."

So, thanks to the endurance of these two men, God took forgetfulness away from the old man. Such was the work of the monks of Scetis; they inspire fervor in those who are in the conflict and do violence to themselves to win others to do good. Sr. Benedicta Ward, "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 89-95







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