The monk was standing by the door of his cell trying to take in a deep breath of the northern blowing gentle breeze. He was heavyhearted with the recent unhappy events. He used to admire the limitless horizon before him but today he was no longer in that cheerful mood. He felt as if he was in solitary confinement, imprisoned by his sorrows and misery. He felt surrounded by demons pressuring on his chest, squeezing his heart until he could no longer breathe.
He tried his best to get over that frightening nightmare but in vain. What is wrong? He used to enjoy and ponder over God’s beautiful creation, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” But that day he could only see the red color of fire and blood.
He said to himself, “Why does the world seem to be on fire? Is that to vex me My Lord, or is it to blind me from seeing just a little bit of the good and beauty around?”
He lifted up his eyes as usual for help and comfort. Nevertheless, the sky was dark that day and so the stars were not bright before him.
It came to his mind what was written, “Heavens are like copper and the ground like iron.” He started to associate his feelings with his unparalleled sin. Indeed, he thought that he should not have peace because of his sins. “No peace for sinners, said the Lord,” as voiced by the prophet Isaiah. Indeed there should not be peace if one angers God. A loud voice echoed in his ears penetrating through the silence of ages and shouted in every ear, “Say to the ungodly … Evil and woe to those that drink iniquity like water.”
Taking a deep sigh the monk thought, “Is there no mercy, O Master? Where are Your fountains of love? Are they dried up? Why do You put all Your powers against a worm such as myself?”
He lifted up his sight towards God in resentment, crying, “Why have You left me to grow up and come to know the sins and lusts of the body? Why have You, with Your all-encompassing prior knowledge, left me to advance and get dirty and spoil myself with evil thoughts? Is that the freedom of choice You bestowed upon me? I’m badly in need for someone to push me hard towards perfection.”
But he went on, “Stop blaming the Lord for your faults. Do not affiliate God with iniquity. God is by far beyond reprimand or reproach. Job may have been right in reasoning with Him but God has been very kind to me, not getting me into difficulties as He firmly did with Job. That could be the reason behind Job’s bitterness and complaints. Even then Job thought it was not right, and he regretted and repented. Who am I? The imperfect monk to brag and blaspheme?”
He then came to his senses and uttered, “I’m not in blasphemy. I’m just putting my case before Him, speaking my mind, asking for interference and comfort.” Even then God would not like to respond. “Heavens are like copper and the ground like iron,” which came to his mind.
Yet he stopped for prayer with the psalm he loved and cherished, “Why do You stand far, O Lord? Why hide Yourself in times of trouble? By day I pray and You do not hear.”
That was a psalm he knew by heart. It was a cry from within a distressed soul. In such a manner, God hears, listens and has compassion but why not this time? No mercy! No response!
His abbot’s fierce voice and sharp tone rang out, cutting all the hope in him,
“You are not meant to be a monk. Why do you trouble yourself? Leave the monastery for the world. Find yourself a religious lady and get married. Have some kids, hug and raise them in the fear of God. Then, you will be rewarded, probably more than those in celibacy.”
The monk could not bear hearing anymore; he bowed and said,
“Father, Please give me just one more chance. With the Grace of God I can truly repent. Where to go if I had to quit? How can I survive?”
With a kind but firm look the abbot went on to say,
“Listen my son and be obedient.”
“I was not disobedient at all, but I can't leave.”
“Then go and find someone else, not me if you don’t want to obey.”
“I know how much you love and care for me Father. Why do you cast me out?”
“Listen my son. The matter is beyond reasoning. You were born with flaring instincts and wild imaginations. You were mistaken in your love for the destitute life of the desert. You’re better off in marriage; there’s nothing wrong with that. Go and live, as God wants you to live and not as you desire. Tomorrow, before sunrise leave the monastery and get married as soon as possible.”
The monk left in great despair, “Is that the way O God? You leave me. Can’t You guard and keep a desolate monk looking for help? Do You want to leave me to the lustful temptations? Are You not capable of helping a needy monk like myself? Or am I not among those chosen?”
He walked towards his cell and went in with tears filling his eyes, not knowing what to do. The lazy hours of the night passed as if years of darkness. Just before dawn, he could not think of anything but to go back to his abbot begging for a fresh chance to stay in, in the company of the saints thinking of his need for another opportunity, though it was not the first time.
Still, he was talking to himself,
“How many times have I vowed to be upright? How many times did I fast, staying up and meditating in the Holy books? But things keep going back quickly to evil, back to square one in weakness and infirmity, no stamina. It is very unbecoming for a monk to be tempted this way. Oh no, not in the church, the house of God.”
“Indeed I cried for help and the Lord did respond, but in a matter of a few days I went back flirting with my impure thoughts. I went on dreaming of having a nice home with nice kids and a pretty wife. Indeed I wasn’t meant to be a monk, not even a Christian layman. I’ve to quit from amongst the saintly monks and leave the monastery for the world.”
“Farewell my beloved and humble cell. Here my cries were heard. Here joys were enjoyed. Here I felt glory and feebleness. Who is going to dwell here from the saints? Farewell O Land of Saints. Farewell O Land of Angels, O Paradise of the Lord. Farewell all my fathers. I don’t deserve your love, your kindness and your prayers. I don’t even deserve to serve you. Farewell. Farewell.”
He couldn’t endure it anymore. He set off unnoticed, not able to take leave of neither his father nor his brothers, not bearing the look of his garment that reminded him of his vows. He took off to nowhere, like a ghost in the haunted darkness lest someone notice him or hear his heavy sighs. On his way, he came across the front door of the church. Without delay, he threw himself before it and he was about to burst out crying. Only his fear of being heard or discovered let him manage to control himself. He started to kiss the doorway and walked with difficulty towards the front entrance as his tears overshadowed his sight.
It never crossed his mind what the monks would say about him in the morning or what would be the reaction of his abbot Father. He was really in gulping despair; nothing was in his mind, just being a failing monk and a lustful Christian layman. He stumbled down, sometimes falling in a pitfall or heavily sighing, talking to himself as he was walking along the sands of the desert. Suddenly, he heard the voice of one of the hermits living in solitude outside the monastery approaching and calling him,
“Who is that walking in the dark of the night?”
“It’s the voice of that anchorite, the saint, the very experienced with revelations Fr. Marcos.”
“Who are you, son? Why are you out of your monastery at this hour of the night?”
The monk then realized that Fr. Marcos was aware of his case. Stopping, he replied bashfully, “O Father!”
“Where are you going, my son?”
“Forgive me Father and pray for me. I’m nothing but an impure evil man.”
“Talk to me my son. What is wrong? What is worrying you and has made you leave your cell and stopped you from praying?”
The monk could no longer keep on thinking but hurriedly, boldly and heartily opened himself to the hermit Father.
“O Father, I was taken in, eaten up and beaten by evil thoughts day in and day out, though I kept and upheld all the advice given to me by my Father but things continued to be worse.”
“You said that you followed his directions but that things went from bad to worse. How come?”
“Yes Father that was indeed the truth. I couldn’t bear it anymore. Darkness was all around me and nobody else to lead me.”
“How can you say this? Don’t you know that your God, your Savior, loves you and cares for you?”
“He left me for those lustful temptations, befalling only the wicked and you say He loves and cares for me!”
“Be sure my son of your Savior and of His caring love”
“No, no my Father. He forgot about me. He defeated me. Where is He?”
“Who told you so? He never forgets.”
“I believed in His powers. I had all the faith in Him to save me from my sins but that was sometime ago.”
The hermit then hugged him and put his arms around him and said, “Who said so? Who said that He doesn’t love you and takes care of you? Don’t you know my son that temptation is not falling down? Being tempted is altogether different from giving in.”
“How is it Father?”
“Our inner self serves God’s commandments whereas our old man stages war against us. That war is for us, not against us, in the name of Christ and for His sake. That kind of war is a good sign of vitality. You’re living in God. By God you’re striving, conquering and will be crowned.”
“But I haven’t conquered, Father.”
“Your detest and hatred for your lustful thoughts, your efforts against evil in praying, fasting, vigilance and not giving in are signs of victory.”
“But I’m still tempted.”
“Do you think, even for a moment, that you won’t be tempted while you’re a soldier for Christ?”
“My Father pointed to me that he has never been tempted this way all through his life. That sounded very unusual to me. O Father, I feel that I’m no good for Christianity, let alone monasticism. My elder Father recommended my going back to the world and getting married.”
“Tell me son, if you as a young man have to go back to get married because you’ve been tempted, what can I do while in this advanced age and being tempted more than you?”
“Tempted like me! How come, Father?”
“Yes, my son.”
“How did you go about it?”
“Let’s go back to the monastery asking for the blessing of the Fathers, hold fast to the faith, keep on struggling unto death and leave not our battle against evil.”
The monk took command of himself after a while and he peacefully followed the hermit Father who assured him of their togetherness in struggle for eternity.
The monk went in his cell, feeling reborn as though God had given him another opportunity. He started to think positively, “I’m good for nothing, but O God, fight my enemies. Take a shield and defend me.”
Instantly, he knelt for prayers with a heart full of hope.
“This is the day the God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Suddenly, he heard someone knocking on his door, though lightly but recognizable in the quietness of the night. He didn’t want to stop praying to open the door but continued to pray the 5th Psalm. “O Lord, save us … O Lord lead us along.” Again, he could hear the knocking on his door and his elder Father’s voice asking, “Open Father. This is I: Toma.”
“This is my Father’s voice. Probably he came to request my speedy departure. Maybe the abbot Father who convinced me to come back wasn’t able to talk to him as promised. Have they missed each other? O Father, What can I say?”
While in bewilderment, his elder Father begged in a feeble tone, “Open my son and do me an act of love.”
The monk hurriedly opened the door, bowing in lowliness, but was overwhelmed by the elder Father’s gesture of kneeling before him in humility and saying, “Forgive me my son. I’ve erred and gone wrong.”
“Please Father, don’t say this. Please pardon and absolve me. I’m your son.”
The monk took his Father’s hands and kissed them.
“Botros my son, thank God you’re still here. I know now that you’re by far better than me.”
The monk couldn’t take it anymore, went on bowing in humility before his Father, to which the elder Father quickly responded in bowing to the ground, taking the hands of his disciple in his own and gently patting his back.
“Son, forgive me. I was too harsh on you. I couldn’t imagine what you went through, until God revealed it to me. Indeed, I asked you to leave but that was my own rationale. Yet God made it known to me to follow His footsteps, be kind like Him and merciful to others. Woe to the world, where people judge others. Thank God! Judgment is only for the Son of God who loved His people to the end. We’re in God’s merciful hands. When I told you to leave before sunrise I thought I was giving you the best of counseling. In God’s eyes that was our rationale as humans, not His as I came to know of it. I suffered and cried for you. I was up all night for you though I didn’t give in when you pleaded, but asked you to be obedient and leave. I knew you are deep in trouble in your life. I was indeed in trouble for your sake lest you should be eaten up in despair and I was determined to stay up all night praying for your troubled soul to Jesus who died for you. Truly my son I felt that all the doors were closed before you, let alone those of heavens. But I kept on praying for your sake, though in the back of my mind you seemed to be hopeless. And the way you were tempted … a monk going through such unclean, filthy temptations that long. It came to my mind that you were not that open in your confessions. Sometimes I entertained the idea that you were either deceiving me or yourself or lying to me, or being reckless and careless and that you’re better off in the world. But all through I had a feeling inside me that all my reasoning had nothing to do with God.”
The elder Father went on recalling the events of that night, “Do you know what happened to me tonight my son? I feel ashamed of myself, yet I have to tell you everything. Forgive me son, I, in my seventies, started having those lustful unclean thoughts. I haven’t been tempted this way in a long time. I laid down on the ground kneeling, crying and praying for hours. Those thoughts never departed. On the contrary, things kept getting worse. Nevertheless, I went on crying for help, crying for the crucified Christ and crossing my face asking for forgiveness. I was in agony. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, even in my youth. I was like an adolescent. I was rolling around on the ground in pain. I decided to run away and leave the monastery, so my son, as a drunkard knowing not what is around, I left away only for few steps to find the hermit Fr. Marcos before me. I was frightened and scared to let him know what became of me but he gently said, “What led you out this time of the night, Father?”
“What is wrong with you? What worries you?”
The elder Father lost control of himself as he came to know that everything is in the open before the hermit Father.
“I confessed, and told him everything. I mean everything. Surprisingly enough, he comforted me and retold me what went on between you two.”
He mentioned of his deliberate coming to my cell to pray to God that I’ll be tempted likewise to taste the bitterness of the war and the agony you have been through. He reiterated,
“You did judge the young monk as being no good. Examine yourself and see whether you are good. God has tempted you instead of that young monk. See for yourself, a man in his late seventies going through the same ordeal as a youth, thinking that you realized your purity through personal stamina. You have to know that God saved you the trouble of going through such temptations, yet measurably allowing you others according to your endurance. Why then judge your brother so harshly?”
“I confessed my sins stating my ignorance in struggling. We prayed together and God lifted that burden from upon me. Then and there I came to realize that chastity is a gift from God. I was mistaken my son, quickly I had to come in lowliness, praying to find you still here. What would I have done if I didn’t find you in here? Thank God you’re still around. Forgive me my son and carry on struggling and fighting. Don’t give up and believe me, God surly will come to your help. Now I know why St. Paul stated,
“Not that I have achieved perfection, but I keep on trying, hoping to achieve what
Christ has achieved for me.”
As long as we’re here in this world we have to fight steadfastly, knowing that our Leader Jesus Christ will not leave us to stumble or fall. But if we think that we’ve attained perfection, despising others in their battle against evil, the divine grace will depart from us and we’ll be left on our own in weakness and submission.”
By sunrise, both the elder Father and his disciple were praying and chanting the psalm, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. O Lord Save us and lead us.”
Meanwhile, Fr. Marcos was wandering around meditating over that Biblical verse, “Accomplish your salvation in awe and fear.”
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