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July 6, 2015

Saint Sisoes the Great as a Model for our Lives

St. Sisoes the Great (Feast Day - July 6)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Sisoes lived in the fourth century and came from Thebes, Egypt. He belonged to the first generation of great ascetics and was a disciple of Anthony the Great. Shining with spiritual wisdom, humility and brotherly love, he was interested in returning to the fold of Christ even one sinner. For the righteous and unrighteous, rich and poor, rulers and subjects, clergy and laity, and generally for the whole world, he would pray continuously. He showed himself to be a heavenly man and an earthly angel. When Christ came to collect his soul at the moment of his departure, He called him a "vessel of the desert".

"They would say of the venerable Sisoes that, when he was at the end of his long life of labors, as the fathers were gathered about him, his face began to shine as the sun, and he said, 'Behold, Abba Anthony is come;' then, 'Behold, the choir of the Prophets is come;' his face shone yet more bright, and he said, 'Behold, the choir of the Apostles is come.' The light of his countenance increased, and he seemed to be talking with someone. The fathers asked him of this; in his humility, he said he was asking the Angels for time to repent. The fathers told him, 'You have no need of repentance, Abba.' Abba Sisoes responded, 'I tell you the truth, I have not even made a beginning of it.' Thus they learned he was perfect. Again his face became as bright as the sun, so that the fathers were filled with fear. He said, 'Behold, the Lord is come, and He says, "Bring Me the vessel of the desert,"' and as he gave up his soul into the hands of God, there was as it were a flash of lightning, and the whole dwelling was filled with a sweet fragrance."

His departure was as glorious, as his humility was deep, and his life was magnificent. Besides, his entire earthly life was a philosophy of death. Tradition has preserved in iconography the visit of the Saint to the tomb of Alexander of the Great. "There he deeply realized the vanity of human glory and royal power and mourned for death, the common fate of humanity. Then he philosophized about death and life, the temporary and eternal."

Below we will quote part of his divinely inspired teachings, which is just as valid today and is able to build us up. They are answers to various requests made to him for reasons of salvation or to solve certain problems that concerned them.

- One of the Fathers asked Abba Sisoes, “If I am sitting in the desert and a barbarian comes to kill me and if I am stronger than he, shall I kill?” The old man said to him, “No, leave him to God. In fact, whatever the trial is which comes to a man, let him say, ‘This has happened to me because of my sins,’ and if something good comes, say, ‘It is through the grace of God.’”

- A brother asked Abba Sisoes, "I have fallen, Abba; what shall I do?" The old man said to him, "Get up again." The brother said, "I have gotten up again, but again have I fallen." The old man said, "Get up again and again." So the brother asked, "How many times?" The old man replied, "Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in that state in which he is found."

Many are hurt by the mistakes of others to the point that they feel within them boiling the fury of vengeance. They claim that they cannot forgive, because they feel hurt or betrayed. Of course, the question is: "Is their love hurt and betrayed or is it their ego?" For when someone truly loves it is impossible for them to not forgive, for no misconduct can defeat love. Therefore, the problem in human relations - in the family and in society in general - is the lack of love, which prevents grace and forgiveness. When one does not forgive, certainly they will suffer a fall in order to be humbled and recover. Whoever believes in the Triune God and has full confidence in His providence and love, takes no revenge on anyone, but they pray and entrust everything to God.

- A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, "My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself." The old man pleaded with him saying, "No, my child, leave vengeance to God." He said to him, "I shall not rest until I have avenged myself." The old man said, "Brother, let us pray." Then the old man stood up and said, "God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves." Hearing these words, the brother fell at the old man’s feet, saying, "I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me Abba."

Certainly it is important for one to have the continuous remembrance of God. Even more important, though, is to have humility, which is the foundation of all virtues, and the source of all good. Whoever is truly humble, considers himself inferior not only to all people, but even to irrational creation.

- A brother said to Abba Sisoes, "I am aware that the remembrance of God stays with me." The old man said to him, "It is no great thing to be with God in your thoughts, but it is a great thing to see yourself as inferior to all creatures. It is this, coupled with hard work, that leads to humility."

One's state of being in this temporary life sooner or later will become manifest. And it manifests itself mainly during the time of a persons repose. The repose of the saints is truly glorious, brilliant. It is a true celebration.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὅσιος Σισώης ὁ μέγας", June 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.