I have frequently enjoyed and been edified by writings for and about the desert fathers. I will admit I do not like all of their stories, and find some unedifying. Their stories are written by, to and about monks in the desert and so sometimes their is a culture divide between my understanding of Christianity and theirs, and some of the stories really are not applicable to the daily life of one living in the world.
When I appreciate the stories, it is often because they are a good story. The message is sometimes hidden in the text, sometimes told with humor, frequently they confront my normal mode of thinking, and often told with an unexpected twist. The following story has that unexpected twist, with humor, at the end. It helps me to see how real their stories were and how they are applied to real life. Imitating the heroes in the stories, or following their teachings, cannot be done in a wooden manner of literally doing what they do, but requires us to translate the saying into our own life and thinking.
“An elder of great virtue visited us and we were reading the sayings of the holy fathers in the book called PARADISE, for that elder was always very fond of going through those sayings. He inhaled them, as it were, and from that seed he produced the fruit of every virtue. We came to the story of that elder to whom robbers came and said: ‘We have come to take everything in your cell.’ When he replied: ‘Take whatever you like, children’, they took everything and went their way. Buy they had overlooked a purse which was hanging in the cell. The story says that the elder took the purse and ran after the robbers, shouting and saying to them: ‘Children, take this from me which you overlooked in our cell’. The were so amazed at his forbearance that they gave back to the elder everything that have been in his cell. And they repented, saying to each other: ‘Truly, this is a man of God’.
When we read this, the elder said to me: ‘You know, abba, this saying has been very advantageous to me’. I asked him, ‘How so, father”? And he said: ‘I read this at a time when I was in the Jordan region, and I was filled with admiration for the elder. I said: ‘Lord, let me follow in his footsteps, you who have counted me worthy to embrace this way of life’. While this desire was still strong within me, two days later some robbers came by. When they knocked at the door I knew they were robbers. I said to myself: ‘Thanks be to God; the occasion has arisen for me to show the fruit of my desire’. I opened the door and welcomed them cheerfully. I lit a lamp and began showing them the things that were there, saying: ‘do not worry; before the Lord, I believe that nothing shall be hidden away from you’. They said to me: ‘Have you any gold?’ ‘Yes’, I replied: ‘I have three pieces of gold’. I opened the chest before them; they took the gold and went their way in peace.’
With a smile, I asked him if they had returned like the robbers in the saying.
He replied without hesitation: ‘No, God forbid! Nor did I want them to come back’.”
(John Moschos, THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW, pp 190-191)
While we can choose to imitate the saints as an act of godliness, those around us do not have to imitate anyone. We don’t imitate the saints in order to manipulate the behavior of people around us, nor to bring about miracles. We imitate the saints in order to live according to the Gospel commandments and to experience the Kingdom of God in our own lives