August 27, 2013

Homily One on Venerable Abba Poemen, the Shepherd of Souls (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Saint Poemen (Feast Day - August 27)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The venerable Poemen, who is celebrated by our Church today, belongs to the great chorus of Venerable Ones and Ascetics, who existed as followers of the Martyrs that were martyred during the period of persecution in the first centuries of Christianity. That is, when the persecutions ended, then the martyric "spirit" of Christianity continued with the Venerable Ones and Ascetics, who tried their entire lives to observe the commandments of Christ, even at the most perfect degree.

The venerable Poemen was born in Egypt around 340 AD and from his youth he lived ascetically. When he reached the age of fifteen he went to live in a Sacred Monastery of Libya. At first he seemed "hard" to his mother, who had gone to meet him at the Skete and he avoided her, but he did this in the context of asceticism, which was understood by his mother, and thus she withdrew with joy, even though she did not meet him. In turn, the venerable Poemen came to know the entire method of the Orthodox ascetic life, having been purified of his passions with many spiritual ascetic feats, and he acquired love for the entire world. The love of the venerable Poemen was proverbial, as shown from his sayings which have been preserved in the book known as Gerontikon.

I will mention some of them which he told his visitors, and reveal his spiritual maturity.

When a brother asked him what is the faith which purifies man of the passions, he answered: "Faith is for one to be led by humility and to do works of mercy." Of course, faith is the uncovered truth Christ gave to His Apostles and they to their successors who protected the Church with dogmas. But here is meant empirical faith, which is the experience of uncovered truth, which is humility and love towards others.

A certain brother had evil thoughts and wanted to get rid of them. He asked Abba Poemen about this and he led him out in the air and told him to reach out and catch the winds, because thoughts are like the winds. And when he responded that he could not do it, the venerable Poemen replied: "If you cannot catch the winds, neither could you stop thoughts from coming, but you could resist them," that is, do not do what they tell you. How much truth is hidden in this counsel of the venerable Poemen and how much it helps us who are tossed about by various thoughts!

Abba Poemen taught that people could be saved wherever they were and no matter with what work they were occupied. He said: "If three people are found together, and one is living in quietude well [that is he is living the hesychastic method, far from people and praying unceasingly], the other is ill and thanks God, and the third serves people with pure thoughts [without pride and ulterior motives], then all three are performing the same work." Thus, wherever one lives and in whatever situation they are in, they could be saved if they live with faith in God, love towards the brethren and pure thoughts.

In spiritual struggles there needs to be a measure, in order to prevent excesses. Abba Poemen, who was characterized by discernment, which is why he was known by the name "lamp of discernment", and this was the result of many years of struggles against the passions and the devil, said at one point: "Over-excess is always from the demons," that is, whatever is beyond measure is from the demons. With both sin and spiritual struggle the person must discern the measure, and not be occupied by either despair or pride. Extremes are always dangerous.

Abba Poemen gave great importance to the repentance of man. He knew the alteration of human nature and that man sins by influence from the devil and the captivity of his will, which is why he showed great love towards sinners and urged them towards repentance. To a certain brother who asked him what repentance from sin means, he responded: "Repentance signifies a firm resolution not to return to a sin. For this reason precisely the righteous are called blameless, for they have abandoned sin and have been proven righteous."

A characteristic feature of the great love of the venerable Poemen towards people is shown in the response given to certain brethren who asked if they should awaken the brothers who were sleepy during the assembly. He said: "If I see a particular brother who is sleepy, I will place his head on my knees for his repose."

Such was the empathetic heart of Abba Poemen for the entire world and this was the result of his internal purification, the transformation of his passions towards love for God and for the brethren. This is why the sacred hymnographer calls him "a citizen among Angels and their converser", "a dweller in the metropolis above", "a habitat of virtues", and "a professor of the desert".

May we have his prayers and intercessions before God.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο όσιος Ποιμήν", July 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.