A well respected monk once traveled a great distance from his home monastery to visit Abba Poemen, having heard of Poemen’s spiritual life, eager to gain benefit from the Abba’s renowned wisdom. The visitor arrived at Poemen’s desert monastery where he met first with the monk who had originally told him about Poemen. This monk introduced the visitor to the Abba.
“Abba Poemen received him with gladness, and having saluted each other, they sat down. Then the stranger began to converse with Abba Poemen from the Scriptures concerning spiritual and heavenly things, but Abba Poemen turned away his face and returned no answer whatsoever. And when he saw that Abba Poemen would not speak with him, he was grieved and went outside, and said to the brother who had brought him to Poemen, ‘In my opinion I have toiled in vain in coming all this long journey to see the old man, for behold, he refuses to speak to me.’
Now when the brother went into the old man Poemen, he said to him, ‘Father, this great man, who is so greatly praised in his own country, came on your account. Why did you not speak with him?’
Poemen said, ‘He speaks about the things which are above and concerning heavenly matters, but I can only talk about things which are below and about the things of earth. Had he spoken to me about the passions of the soul I would have given him an answer, but since he talked about spiritual things, I know nothing about them.’
Then that brother went back to the visiting monk and said to him, ‘The old man is not one of those who wishes a man to talk to them from the Scriptures, but if you will converse with him about the passions of the soul he will engage in conversation with you.
Straightaway the monk repented and came to the old man and said to him, ‘Father, what shall I do so that I may bring into subjection the passions of the body?’
Then the old man looked upon him gladly and said to him, “Now you are welcome! ‘Open now your mouth on such matters as these, and I will fill it with good things‘ (Psalm 81:10).” And the monk having been greatly helped and having gained benefit, said, ‘In very truth this is the way of truth.’ He went back to his country, giving thanks to God that he had been held worthy of such conversation with the holy man.” (adapted fromTHE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS Vol II, pp 188-189)
Abba Poemen displays humility – despite being a great teacher, he knew some conversations are more edifying than others. It can be fun and exciting to talk about theology, about heaven, the eschaton, Revelation. But showing off how much you know isn’t the way to walk with others to the kingdom.
“‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)
As we enter into Great Lent there are many spiritual conversations we can have. One conversation which however is necessary is with our father confessor. It is talking about our own sins.