Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 8, 2012

From Aleksiev’s “The Meaning of Suffering”

The following tale is taken from a short book by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, “The Meaning of Suffering” and offers a short tale regarding St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony would no doubt be somewhat amused (and perhaps gratifyingly humbled) to know that his name was somehow adopted by a “literary” society of beer drinkers (my dad’s fraternity – St. Anthony Hall) at Yale and a number of other campuses, but in life, he was one of the great leaders of the group of Egyptian and Syriac Christians known as the Desert Fathers and revered to this day. Together with the original St. Nicholas, he is considered one of the great defenders of the faith who helped defeat the early heresy of Arianism. Anthony lived in the 3rd century, and the account of his holy way of life written by St. Athanasius is credited with starting the first hippie movement of young wealthy citizens into the beatnik-like world-renouncing communities of the day that became the great monasteries of the East.

When I read this the other night, I was struck by it’s parallels to my elderly parent’s circumstances and immediately read it aloud to my wife. As often oddly happens, reading aloud somehow makes things penetrate more deeply than silent reading will do, and so it moved me, and I found it harder than anticipated to finish. And while today we rarely speak of demons and may in fact find the notion somewhat stark or repellant, our failure to use this language actually encourages us in the practice of blaming the person rather than the sin or disease, and as it is the latter we intend, this is a useful (if now seemingly antique) manner of discourse. And yet the context is set firmly within traditional notions of a spiritual warfare in the battle to take the heavens by storm. I’ve included the author’s perspective at the end… just because it seems to clarify his intent. But I would add that it shouldn’t be lost on us that these folks are able to bear up under this weight because of their confidence in St. Anthony’s wisdom and guidance… wisdom that comes from a sense of the presence of God within that the two could feel and share. Suffering is not bearable because it is good, or moral or anything of the sort, but ultimately because can bring us closer to God… if we chose to experience it that way. Otherwise, I think it sadly wears us down. And it is a choice… a choice which I’m not as sure we can always freely make if we’re already in depression, mental darkness, or impeded by the misfunctionings or our brains due to genetics, age or self-abuse (drugs, alcohol, etc) of some sort. And there’s the rub. Nevertheless, I think it is a useful story to understanding what we are going through these days, and is more or less how I see it. See what you think.

 “A certain monk from Alexandria by the name of Eulogius was wondering which path of monastic exploit he should choose. He did not like the life in a monastery, and he could not resolve to live in seclusion. While he was thus deliberating, he saw an invalid – a man without arms and legs – lying abandoned in the market square. He only had a tongue so that he could beg from those who passed by. Eulogius stopped, observed the man for a while, and prayerfully made the following vow before God: “Lord, in Your name I will take this man with me, and I will care for him until he dies, so that I will receive salvation through him. Give me patience to serve him!” Then he approached the invalid and said: “Would you agree for me to take you with me and care for you?” The man answered: “I will come with pleasure.” Eulogius put the invalid on a donkey, took him to his humble home, and bestowed good care upon him. They lived like that for fifteen years.

One day the invalid fell ill. Eulogius did everything which the sick man needed: he washed him with his own hands and gave him the appropriate good food. But after those fifteen years, some demon had come into the invalid and made him so evil that he began to curse and revile Eulogius terribly: “Go away, you wicked scoundrel! You have stolen the money of other people, and  now you want to receive salvation through me. Take me back to the market square! I want to eat meat!” Eulogius gave him meat. Soon after that the invalid began to yell again: “I cannot stand this boring life any more. I want to see people. I want to be at the marketplace again. Why do you keep me here like a prisoner? Take me back to the place where you found me!” Sometimes the demon maddened him so much that he would have killed himself if he had had arms. Finally, Eulogius turned for advice to some monks and said: “What should I do? This man brings me to despair. Should I turn him out in the streets? I myself do not dare, because I have made a vow before God; but he makes my whole life bitter and confuses me greatly.”

They said to him: “The great one is still alive,” (that is how they referred to St. Anthony the Great). “Go to him. Take a boat and the invalid with you; go to the monastery, and wait for him [St. Anthony] to come from the desert. Ask his advice and do as he says, because God speaks through him.”

Eulogius did as they told him and sailed up the Nile to the monastery of St. Anthony. The latter was in the desert where he lived, but he soon came to the monastery. It was in the evening and many people were waiting for him. The Saint came out and, even though nobody had told him the names of the visitors, called out in the darkness, “Eulogius! Eulogius! Eulogius!” However, the monk from Alexandria kept silent, because he thought that St. Anthony was calling some other Eulogius who was known to the Saint.

Anthony repeated in a louder voice: “I am speaking to you, Eulogius of Alexandria!”

Eulogius was frightened and said: “Yes, what is your wish for me?”

Anthony said, “What brings you here?”

Eulogius replied: “The One Who revealed my name to you has revealed my request to you as well.”

Anthony answered: “I know why you came, but say it before all the brothers, so that they will know it, too!”

Eulogius said, “I found this invalid in the market square and made a vow before God that I would serve him in his misfortune, so that both of us would receive eternal salvation – I through him and he through me. Now, after so many years, he has begun to torment me in such an intolerable way that sometimes I think of throwing him out of my house. That is why I came to your holiness for advice on what to do.”

Anthony told him sternly: “So you want to throw him out? But the One Who has created him will not throw him out! Do you really want to do that? Then God will raise another man, better than you, who will defend him.” Eulogius was scared and kept quiet.

After that the Saint turned to the invalid and also rebuked him with stern words: “Wretched man, you are unfit for both the heavens and the earth! For how long will you resist God? Do you know that you are being served by Christ Himself? How do you dare to revile Christ? Did not Eulogius take on himself the obligation to serve you like a slave in the name of Jesus?”

In this way he reproved the invalid, too, and then he said to both of them: “Go in peace and do not leave each other!… God will soon take you to Himself. That is why the devil has tempted you: because you are close to the end of your lives, and you will soon receive your heavenly crowns. Do everything that you can, so that the angel of death will find you together!”

The two men went back home. Forty days later Eulogius died, and in less than three days after his death the invalid also passed away.”

What a good moral is contained in this example! Both men were sufferers in this life – the invalid suffered from an ugly deformity, and Eulogius suffered voluntarily by serving the invalid. Great reward was awaiting both of them in heaven for the patient endurance of their crosses, but the devil sought to destroy the labors of both by inciting them to grumble. That is why St. Anthony rebuked them so sternly, and then, revealing to them how close their end was, advised them to endure so that they would not lose their crowns through the devil’s instigations. Indeed, with their patience they were saved.

Not grumbling, but patience in suffering – this is what God wants from us.

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