Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 7 - Bessarion of Egypt, Wonderworker, Monastic, Sinner

The priest was surprised to see a certain man in attendance at worship. Everybody knew that the man was a notorious sinner whose sins and brokenness were hidden from nobody. The man didn't make any effort either to change his ways or do as others did and cover over his sins with a thin facade of sweet words and superficial works. His presence made the priest nervous because he knew that other clerics would be prone to judge him if he didn't demonstrate a certain measure of discipline. He would be labeled lax and permissive if it wasn't evident that he cared about the sins of his flock enough to teach, guide, and discipline them. Added to that was the presence of Bessarion of Egypt in the congregation that day. The priest had heard the many fantastic stories about Bessarion and feared that Bessarion would be sorely disappointed in him if he didn't do something. After all, Bessarion was known to fast extensively and pray constantly. He was known to work wonders both in the wilderness and the cities of Egypt. He was a spiritual master that received but did not demand the admiration of the Christians--especially the clergy--in Egypt. So, the priest was anxious and knew he had to make a decision.

Bessarion had traveled to Jerusalem as a youth to see for himself the sights and wonders of the holy land. He learned the ways of the monastics from the monastics themselves and spent some time studying under Gerasimus. As a youth he was worried that he would be take the grace that God had given him for granted. So, he endeavored never to allow the memory of his baptism to slip far from his thoughts. He returned to Egypt and apprenticed himself to Isidore of Pelusium. To tame his tongue, he often went long stretches of time under a vow of silence. To teach himself to hunger and thirst for righteousness, he fasted regularly and, occasionally, for many days. To teach himself of his regular need for refreshment of soul that only came from God, he willingly went without sleep on more than one occasion. In other words, he was serious about his development into a disciple of Jesus Christ and strove to put his body and mind under submission to his Lord. Because of his great closeness to God, he was given many spiritual gifts to manifest God's glory. When asked, he would exorcise demons from those afflicted by spiritual oppression but would only do so in private because of his own desire to avoid taking any of the credit for the great thing God did through him.

Bessarion looked on with interest as the priest seemed so evidently anxious and distressed. Bessarion noticed that the priest's eyes kept returning to a man who sat nearby as the time of prayer and worship quickly approached. Knowing that there were other clergy in attendance, Bessarion deduced that this man's presence disturbed the officiating priest. Then, the priest did something surprising even to Bessarion. From before the congregation, the priest told the well known sinner that he should leave because his sin was unwelcome. The priest must have thought that this was a clear move that demonstrated holiness and exceptional standards but he must also have been surprised when Bessarion stood up and excused himself, as well. All eyes turned to watch Bessarion make his way toward the exit--even the eyes of the outcast man. The priest was surprised and asked Bessarion why he was leaving. Bessarion shrugged and responded, "You were asking sinners to leave. I'm a sinner, too." With those words, he opened the door and left the service to be with the outcast sinner and find both Jesus and the Church once again.

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