January 24, 2015

Holy Abba Zosimas of Sidon

Holy Abba Zosimas of Sidon (Feast Day - January 24)


Who can express your long labors Zosimas?
And what crowns by your labors at your death?

Abba Zosimas lived during the final years of the fifth century and well into the sixth. His birthplace was the village of Sidon, close to Tyre of Phoenecia. Abba Zosimas began his ascetic life in a monastery of Tyre, and later moved to the Monastery of Saint Gerasimos beside the Jordan River. In his last years, he founded a monastery close to Caesarea of Palestine. The desert elder’s virtue reached such heights that he was indeed granted the grace of foreknowledge and prophecy. He predicted the earthquake which destroyed the city of Antioch on 29 November 528 although he was more than 400 miles away at the time. Beyond these sparse details little is known of Abba Zosimas’ life.

His well-known contemporary Abba Dorotheos wondered at his teaching and quotes him extensively in his own Discourses. Several manuscripts actually refer to Dorotheos as the scribe who recorded Zosimas’ teaching. The character and expressiveness of both elders’ words are quite similar, and may be considered in the tradition of “apothegmata”, or sayings of the desert fathers. He is not to be confused with the priest-monk Abba Zosimas (April 4) who discovered Saint Mary of Egypt living in the desert of Palestine during the sixth century.

The historian Evagrius records how Abba Zosimas one day was traveling with a donkey laden with his possessions. However, a lion came and devoured the donkey. When the lion completed its meal, Abba Zosimas complained to the lion that he had not the strength to bear the donkey's burden. The lion therefore let the holy man load the burden of the donkey onto its back. The lion thus carried the burden all the way to the gates of Caesarea.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite mentions that this Zosimas is distinguished primarily for the brilliant method that he applied for himself against the passion of anger, and he taught this to others. This method consisted in remaining in absolute silence when anger is inflamed. Thus rage fades with atrophy, and by this the flame of fury subsides easily, just as the sea calms down after an instance of wind passes through.

He also wrote: "The Word of God in taking flesh has acquired such grace for those who believe in Him that, through the desire of our will and the cooperation of grace, it is possible, for all those who so will, to regard the whole world as nothing."

Collecting together whatever he could find at hand, a wisp of straw, a rag and some other bits and pieces of things, he said: "Would not anyone who fought, argued, bore a grudge, or distressed himself over things like these have truly gone out of his mind? Well, a man of God who is on the path of spiritual progress would make no more ado about the entire world, had he wholly possessed it, than about this wisp of straw. In my view, it is not possessions in themselves which harm the soul but being attached to them."

The Beneficial Chapters of Abba Zosimas was first printed in 1683 by Peter Possino with the title Dialogues of Abba Zosimas. Thus it is found in the seventy-eighth volume of Migne’s Greek Patrology. This text is however incomplete, and was improved upon by the work of Augustine of Jordan printed in 1912-3. Augustine’s text and revisions are based on a tenth century codex (180) found in the library of Saint Savvas Monastery in Palestine, and another of the twelfth century (449) found in the Monastery of Saint Katherine in Mount Sinai. Three editions presently in circulation are based upon Augustine’s work, and are published with accompanying Modern Greek translations. The English translation is of the edition edited by Professor Panagiotis Christou of the University of Thessaloniki, and published in the series Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers, Vol. 12 (Thessaloniki).

Read the Beneficial Chapters here.