Desert Wisdom


It was said concerning Abba Agathon, a desert father of the fourth century, that some monks came to find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him “Aren’t you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?” “Yes, it is very true,” he answered. They resumed, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?” “I am.” Again they said “Aren’t you Agathon the heretic?” But at that he replied “I am not a heretic.” So they asked him, “Tell us why you accepted everything we cast at you, but you repudiated this last insult.” He replied “The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.” At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified. 


A monk was slandered for prostitution. The monk not having the power to bear this unfairness left from his monastery and went to Abba Antonios. After a while, some monks came to Abba Antonios from the monastery in order to see the slandered monk and to take him back. Therefore they started   to criticize him and they insisted that he did the sin, while he insisted that he did not make such a sin. Coincidentally happened to be there Abba Pafnoutios the Kefalas and observing the quarrel he said this parable.

I saw -he said-  in the bank of a river, a person, whom had entered in the mud up to the knees and some people who had came to help him. Giving however their hands, to him, to pull him out, they sunk him even more in the mud, up to his neck. Hearing this parable Abba Antonios said to the others about Abba Pafnutios. Behold one genuine person that can help and save souls. Hearing these, the monks were touched and they apologized to the brother that was slandered. And after the abba’s requested them, the monks took him back to the commune.


Sometime Abba’s Arsenios narrated a story: An old monk was sitting in his hut and he heard a voice telling him “Come, to show you the deeds of the people». He stood up and came out. He took him therefore to a place and he showed him an Ethiopian who was cutting timber from which he had made a heavy load. He then was trying to raise the heavy load but he could not. Instead however to remove weight, he was cutting more timber and he was adding it onto the heavy load.

This he made constantly. Walking further he showed him another person whom was standing in a pit and he was removing the water, which afterwards he was transferring into a leaky reservoir from which the water was coming back to the pit. Come, it said to him –the voice- to show you also another person. Then he sees a Temple and two men whom where sitting in their horses and they kept each of them sideways a stick.

They wanted however to pass through the door of the Temple but they could not enter inside because of the sticks that they were holding sideways. From pride neither of them was putting his stick upside, so they both remained outside in the front of the Temple’s door. Those are –said the voice – those that pretend to be fair but have pride and they do not correct themselves so they can follow the humble street of Christ. So they remain outside kingdom of God.

The one that was cutting timber is the person that has a lot of sins and instead of repenting he adds more in the existing sins. As long as for the one that drew water, he is the person that makes good deeds but because of his deeds having also mischief, he loses them also. Should, therefore, each person, every work he does, to be with prudence , so that he does not work in vain.


A brother went to the Abba Makarios and said to him: Tell me Abba, what should I make in order to be saved? The Abba answered him: Go to the cemetery and speak insults to the dead. Indeed the brother went to the cemetery, he spoke insults to the dead, he threw them stones and then returned to the Abba and told him about it. Abba asked him, did the dead say anything to you and he answered. No. The Abba told him. Go again tomorrow to the cemetery and this time praise the dead.

The brother went back to the cemetery and said to the dead. You are apostles, saints and fair. After he made that he returned to Abba’ Makarios and he reported to him what he did. Abba then asked him: Did they answer anything? The brother said. No. Then Abba said to him. You see as much as you spoke insults to them they said nothing, and as much as you praised them again answered nothing to you. Thus you also, if you want to be saved, become dead. Do not consider the unfairness of the people neither their praises, like the dead and with this way you will be saved.


There was someone very pious, secular, whom went to Abba’ Pimena. The same time some other brothers went to the Abba, asking from him to hear spiritual guidance. Then the Abba said to the pious secular. Give the brothers some guidance. Him however was begging the Abba saying” Forgive me Abba; I came in order to learn”.

But after pressure from the Abba he said, “I am a secular person whom I resell herbs. The big bundles of herb that I take, I untie them and I make them smaller. With this way I buy in trade price and sell in retail. Thus I do not know to speak from the writings, I will say however parable. Some person said to his friend, “Because I have the wish to see the King, come with me”.

His friend answered to him, “I will come with you half the way”. After they went up half the way he said to another friend, “You come now to take me to the King” and he answered? “I will take you up to the palace of King”. Then he says to a third friend, “You come with me to the King”, and he answered? “I will come and I will take you to the palace, I will support you, I will speak for you and I will present you to the King”. They asked him therefore what is the meaning of the parable and he replied.

“The first friend is the exercise which leads up to the way, the second friend is the purity which reaches up to the sky and the third friend is the charity that brings you directly up to the King God. Thus, educated the brothers from the parable, left.


A monk was reciting about Abba Ioannis the Persis, that from the quantity of the grace that was surrounding him, he had reached in great akakia (choosing not to do wrong in anything). And he narrated this incident. He (Abba Ioannis) was living in Arabia of Egypt. One time he needed and took from a brother a coin and bought some linum to work. Then a brother came and asked him saying: grant me Abba some linum to construct a caldron. Abba Ioannis gave him linum with joy. Then another brother came and begged him like the previous one saying: give me some linum to construct a prosopsio. Abba Ioannis gave him linum with joy like the previous one. Like all the previous brothers more came and asked linum and Abba gave them with joy.

At some point came the person who had given the coin to Abba Ioannis and asked it back. Then the Abba told him: I am going to bring it to you, but because he didn’t have from where to give it to him, he started going to Abba Iakovos who was pastor, with the purpose of begging him to give him the coin, so he may return it to the brother he owed it to.

While he was going toward Abba Iakovos, he found a coin on the road but he didn’t touched it and after he did a metania (penance) he returned to his cell. Then the lender came back again to Abba Ioannis bothering him about the coin. The gerontas (respectful name, of wisdom, meaning old man) answered him: don’t be sad for the delay, I am taking care of it.

Then again went out of his cell to search for a coin and he found the coin again on the road in the same place he had found it the first place. He didn’t take it although but he did metania and went back to his cell. For the third time the brother who had lent him the coin came and was asking him for it. Then the gerontas told him: this time be sure, I am going to give it to you. He stood up for one more time and by going in the same road he found the coin on the road again.

Then after he did metania, he took it and gave it to Abba Iakovos by saying to him: Abba, while I was coming to you, I found this coin on the road. So please do agapi (meaning love) and speak about it in the parish because maybe someone has lost it, and if someone whom lost it is found, then give it to him. Indeed Abba Iakovos after he went to the parish he referred the subject of the coin in three meetings but none was found to claim it.

Then Abba Ioannis said to Abba Iakovos: since none has lost it, please give it to this brother (the lender) because I owe it to him, since when I was coming to you, for you to show your love so I may pay my debt, I found it on the road. Then Abba Iakovos admired, that since he was in debt and had found the coin he didn’t took instantly but he gave it to him.

And the even more admirable concerning Abba Ioannis is that if someone that was coming and needed something from him, he didn’t gave it him by himself but he was saying to the brother: go alone and take whatever you need, and when it was returned to him he was saying: put it back from where you took it from. If again the brother never brought it back he was never saying anything to him.


They were saying about Abba Ioannis, a pupil of Abba Pavlos, that he had great obedience. There was once a place with tombs and there was living a hyena. The gerontas Abba Pavlos show in there some bulbs and said to his hypotactic Abba Ioannis, to go there and bring him the bulbs. Abba Ioannis then told him: what am I going to do concerning the hyena. Gerontas then joking, told him: if she comes against you, tie her and bring her here (she=>hyena). So the brother went there.

Indeed, when Abba Ioannis arrived there the hyena attacked him and he according to the word of his gerontas tried to catch her. The hyena although run away, so the Abba Ioannis was running after her saying: stop, my Abba told me to tie you. At some point he caught the hyena and tied her up. The gerontas, who was waiting for him, was getting sad.

At some point Abba Ioannis came having the hyena tied up, a fact which when gerontas observed it had admired. Because he wanted to humble Ioannis, he hit him in the back saying: You fool a crazy dog you brought here? And then instantly gerontas untied the hyena and let her free.


Abba Ioannis of the cells recited once, saying. There was a prostitute at Egypt very beautiful and very wealthy, who was “visited” by the lords of the town. One day this prostitute happens to be in front of a church and decided to go inside. The sub deacon although, who was at the door of the church wasn’t allowing her the entrance by saying to her: you are not worthy to enter the house of the lord, because you are impure. So a fight was started between the sub deacon and the prostitute.

The noise that was happening at the door of the church was heard from the bishop and went there. Then the prostitute said to the bishop. He doesn’t allow me to enter the church. The bishop answered her: the entrance is not allowed to you, because you are impure. She then felt devoutness and said to the bishop: I will not do the act of prostitute again.

The bishop told her: you will guaranty me that you will not be a prostitute anymore, if you bring here your money. Instantly the prostitute left and came back with her money which she gave to the bishop. Then the bishop took the money and burned them. After that the prostitute entered the church with her heart being shattered and with tears of repentance and was saying: Alas! If in this world this happened to me, then what do I have to expect in the next world. So the prostitute repented and became a vessel of choice.


Once some gerontes (the plural of gerontas) were speaking with Abba Antonios and with him was Abba Josef. Abba Antonios wanted to test them, so he said a passage from the Holy Bible and started to ask questions from the youngest to the oldest, what was the meaning of the particular passage. Then, each of the fathers was answering according to their personal capability.

Abba Antonios was answering to each of them by saying: “you didn’t find it”. After all of them, he said to Abba Josef: “How do you explain this hagiographic passage”. Abba Josef then answered to him: “I don’t know”. Then, Abba Antonios told them: “Nevertheless, Abba Josef found the right one, because he said I don’t know”.


Abba Spiridonas, who was a shepherd, was distinguished from such a devoutness that was given the honour of being a shepherd of men, because he was chosen bishop for a town of Cyprus, named Trimythus. Because of his modesty in the same time with his duties as a bishop, he continued to shepherd sheep’s. One night came in his stockyard thieves and were trying to steal sheep’s.

God although who was taking care of the salvation of the shepherd took care of the sheep also. Because from some invisible force the thieves were tied up in the stockyard! After the sun came up also the shepherd came to the sheep, who when he saw the thieves tied up in the elbows understood what had happened.

Then he prayed and untied the thieves. After he preached them he advised them that it is better to take care of their lives with honest labours instead of unfairness, he let them free and gave them a ram saying in a joking way: take this (ram) so it will not be considered that you spent the night unjustly.