Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 21 - Malchus, Captive Monk, Husband, Brother

The walls of a cave are greedy things that suck the warmth from your bones and offer no comfort or consolation. Malchus was getting stiff waiting in the mouth of the cave for his pursuers. They intended to kill him when they found him and that is understandable--he had run away from them in hopes of escaping slavery. He was an asset to them that had become a liability. He could resist the call of home no longer so he had seized some food and water and set out to flee with a companion. He had seen their camels approaching speedily and knew that he could not outrun a camel. Further, he and his companion were running out of food and water and needed to find some place to stop and rest. As he awaited his master and another slave who would kill him and his fellow slave where they hid, he reflected back upon how he had ended up in this place.

He had strongly desired to follow after Jesus by living the monastic life of prayer and service. His family had resisted this calling because they expected it would not be especially profitable--and it wasn't. In fact, Malchus had given up much to live a life of prayer and service but felt that he had gained much, too. He had crept out of his home in the middle of the night and was living among the monks by the time his family knew he was missing. He enjoyed the monastic life but wondered if there wasn't something more waiting for him--if maybe he was called to something else. He heard word that his parents had died and he was grief-stricken. Then, he heard that they had left him a sizable inheritance and he became apprehensive about material gain. Under his superior's direction, he returned home to receive the inheritance and visit the graves of his parents. However, that's not what happened.

The Bedouins had come over the hill and surprised him. He suspected that this would not go well. They seized him and the woman he was traveling with and enslaved them. They were torn from their plans and intentions and dehumanized as commodities to be traded and spent. For many years, Malchus served his new master without letting the poison of hatred seep into his heart. He was a good servant to the man and earned a reward for his consistent and dependable service. Malchus' master thought it would be a great reward to give the woman he had been traveling with to Malchus in marriage. He didn't understand that Malchus had two problems with this: (1) Malchus had taken a vow of celibacy, and (2) the woman was already married. Malchus could not do what was asked of him and prepared to take his own life so that he might not sin in this way. As he drew his blade he said, I must fear your death, my soul, more than the death of the body. Chastity preserved has its own martyrdom. Let the witness for Christ lie unburied in the desert; I will be at once the persecutor and the martyr." The woman stopped him and said: "Take me then as the partner of your chastity; and love me more in this union of the spirit than you could in that of the body only. Let our master believe that you are my husband. Christ knows you are my brother. We shall easily convince them we are married when they see us so loving." They had been "married" by their master but remained celibate and took care of each other in captivity.

Malchus looked ahead when he heard the men dismount their camels and approach the mouth of the cave. "This is it," Malchus thought, "this is where I die and where my bones will lie and be bleached by desert winds." Yet, as they approached and called out to Malchus--right before Malchus revealed and refused to defend himself--a lion leaped from the mouth of the cave and snarled menacingly at the two men. They rushed back to their camels but were unsuccessful in escaping and the lion killed both of Malchus' pursuers before slinking off away from Malchus. Malchus stood awestruck as he called his "wife" from the cave and to the untouched camels. There was food and water and plenty of supplies to get them out of the desert and back to Malchus' monastery. They had left so that they might return to their homes and found that God was providing for them in unpredictable ways.

When they returned, Malchus was excited to find that his monastery welcomed him back with open arms. But, his companion's husband had died in the time she had been a slave. She mourned his death but moved to a nearby convent where she could live a life of prayer and service like Malchus. They continued to take care of each other and perpetuate the bond that had brought them together in captivity. Their unorthodox union became one of mutual support and sustenance and preserved them until the day they died.

Jerome would distill their story, years later, by writing:
"Tell the story to them that come after, that they may realize that in the midst of swords, and wild beasts of the desert, virtue is never a captive, and that he who is devoted to the service of Christ may die, but cannot be conquered."

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