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April 26, 2010

The Ascetic and the Thief

There was an ascetic elder and anchorite, who had been leading an ascetic life in a desert place for seventy years, in fasting, chastity and vigil. Although he labored for God for so many years, he was never accounted worthy to receive a vision or revelation from God. Thinking about this and bearing this in mind he said, "Perhaps my ascesis is not pleasing to God for some reason I do not know, and my work is unacceptable; and on account of this I am not able to receive a revelation or behold any mystery."

Contemplating these things the elder began to ask and supplicate God even more, praying and saying, "Lord, if my ascesis is pleasing to you and you accept my deeds, I - a sinner and unworthy one - ask of you, to grant even unto me a drop of your gifts, that I may learn from the appearance of a mystery that you have heard my prayer, so that emboldened and enlightened I may live out my ascetical life." As the holy elder was praying and asking these things, he heard the voice of God say to him, "If you desire to see My glory, go to the inner desert and mysteries will be revealed to you."

When the elder heard this, he went out of his cell and went far from there. A thief then came across him who, upon seeing the abba, violently rushed at him desiring to kill him. And when he caught him he said to him, "It's a good thing I ran into you, Elder, so that I can finish my job and be saved. For we thieves have this custom and law and belief: that he who commits one hundred murders will surely go to paradise. So I, having labored hard, have murdered ninety-nine, and lacking one more I have tried hard to finish my hundredth and be saved. So I really owe you and thank you, because today I will delight in paradise because of you."

And when the elder heard the thief say these things, he was beside himself and was afraid at this sudden and hopeless temptation. And turning the eyes of his mind towards God and reflecting on these things he said, "Is this Your glory, Lord and Master, which You promised to show me Your servant? What counsel is this You have given me, to leave my cell and be informed by this dreadful mystery? With such gifts you pay the recompense for the ascesis which I underwent for Your sake? Now I truly know, Lord, that all the labor of my ascesis was in vain; and every one of my prayers before You was considered as abhorrent and a desecration. However, I thank you for Your philanthropy, Lord, that, as You know best, You chastise my unworthiness, as is needed, because of my uncountable sins and you have given me over to the hands of a thief and murderer."

Saying these things the pitiful elder thirsted greatly and said to the thief, "My child, since I am a sinner God has given me over to you for you to kill me and for you to have your way, as you have desired, and I to be deprived of life, as the evil man that I am. For this I ask you to do me a favor - a slight wish - and give me a little water to drink, and then cut my head off." When the thief had listened to the elder, willing to fulfill the elder's wish he put his sword back into its sheath, as he had been holding it out. And he pulled out a flask from his bosom and went to a river that was close by so as to fill it up and take to the elder to drink. And there where he went to fill the flask, he gave up his soul and died. So, when a little time passed and the thief did not come, the elder pondered and said, "Perhaps he was sleepy and fell asleep and that is why he is slow in returning and I will be able flee to my cell. But seeing as I am old, I am afraid, since I do not have the strength to run, and as one weak I will become tired and he will catch up with me. Then I will anger him and he will want to torture me without pity, cutting me in many pieces while still alive. Better I do not leave, but go to the river to see what he is doing." So the elder went thinking about such things and found him dead, and when he saw him he marveled and was taken aback. And lifting his hands toward heaven, he said, "Lord Who loves mankind, if You do not reveal to me this mystery, I will not lower my hands. Therefore, pity my toil and reveal to me this thing."

As the elder prayed these things, an angel of the Lord came and said to him, "Do you see, Abba, this dead man who lies before you? For your sake he was taken by sudden death, so that you may escape and he not kill you. Therefore, bury him as one saved. For obeying you by returning his murderous sword to its sheath in order to bring you water to quench the flame of your thirst, he pacified the wrath of God and was accepted as a worker of obedience. And his divulgence of the ninety-nine murders was counted as confession. Therefore, bury him and consider him among the saved. And by this, know the expanse of God's philanthropy and compassion. And rejoicing, go to your cell and be avid in your prayers, and do not feel sorrow and say that you are a sinner and deprived of revelation. For behold, God has revealed a mystery to you. And know this too, that all the toil of your ascesis is acceptable before God; for there is no toil that is done for God's sake that does not come before Him." Having heard this the elder buried the dead man.

From a Gerontikon manuscript of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou

Source: Hagiorite Witness - a Trimonthly publication of the Holy Monastery of Xeropotamou. June - August 1989, volume 4