Thursday, December 5, 2013

December 5 - Sabbas, Monk, Hermit, Uneducated Leader


Sabbas sat in silence in a sea of squabbling monks. Though they were talking about him he had little interest in their discussion--and it seemed that they had little interest in the fact that they were dissecting his strengths and weaknesses in front of him as if he wasn't present. He looked around bemusedly and shook his head in loving frustration. Most of these men--on both sides of the argument--had sought him out from miles away so that he might direct their spiritual paths. Indeed, some of them seemed to have taken the monastic path as a shortcut to power and influence--for these he prayed especially often--but others had taken Sabbas' path to find a life of prayer, peace, and service. Sabbas' mind drifted back to the years so long ago when he had lived the life of a hermit and he remembered them fondly. The conversation seemed to be becoming an argument about whether or not Sabbas was intelligent and educated enough to lead a group of monks. It had never been Sabbas' plan to be a leader or to be educated and so it didn't bother him that some accused him of being ignorant--what bothered him was the state of the hearts of those who judged him.

As this argument heated up, Sabbas' mind drifted back to the days when he would come into the monastery with an armload of willow baskets that he had woven. He'd silently drop them off and go and take his compensation. He had worked out a deal that he would weave ten willow baskets every week and give them to the monastery if the monastery would then give him a week's worth of food and enough willow branches to make ten more baskets. This deal worked for Sabbas and he had been doing it for some time. He had been a monk for many years and had eventually been granted the privilege of becoming a hermit and further devoting himself to prayer and service. Yet, this day he heard sad news: his own spiritual director had died in the week prior and there was debate as to who would replace him. Sabbas' mind was on his dear, departed friendbut this didn't keep the wheels of the monastic machine from running and soon a successor was selected and Sabbas knew that the time was coming for him to move on from the area. He moved to another cave farther away so that he might continue his life of prayer independent of the politics of the monastery.

Yet, when he moved others came after him because of his spiritual stature and maturity. Soon, the other caves and cells around him began to fill with people who were naming him as their spiritual director. Eventually, this new groupbecame disenchanted with their leader and began to demand a man with education and charisma. When this happened, Sabbas moved on to a different cave and, eventually, a new set of eager monks. This happened several times.

Now, it seemed it would happen again so Sabbas volunteered that he would leave and return to a private life of prayer and service in another cave far from here. He left but the Church was not keen to appoint another spiritual director immediately and insisted that Sabbas was their director. When Sabbas arrived at the cave, he was surprised to see a lion at the mouth of it. He suspected that this would be the last of him and that the lion would kill and eat him. Yet, the lion bowed its head and moved on--it ceded the cave to Sabbas as if directed to do so by divine mandate. When this story made its way back to the monks, some of them distorted and twisted it and took it to the patriarch. They pleaded with the patriarch to establish a new director because Sabbas had been killed by a lion. As they were finishing their arguments, though, they looked over and observed what had grabbed the patriarch's attention: Sabbas was sitting quietly and attentively listening to their description of his death. The patriarch ruled that there should be reconciliation and that the monks who disapproved of Sabbas because of his lack of education were in the wrong. Eventually, there was reconciliation--and in reconciliation are the seeds of redemption--for all of the monks and Sabbas.

Sabbas would go on to lead nonviolent protests against Imperial injustices. His protests gathered thousands of monks under one banner and behind one cause: their common Lord Jesus Christ and his furious love. Many years later--at the age of 93--Sabbas died peacefully among his fellow monks and friends.

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