Monday, July 7, 2014
Acacius of Sinai was a novice at an Asian monastery of Christians. As a novice his daily routine varied remarkably little from day to day and afforded him many excellent opportunities to pray and consider what God's will might be in his life. Daily he was given a chance to struggle with the question of calling and whether or not he was one of the ones called to take vows before God. At any time, Acacius could have quit and walked away from the novitiate and any potential vows he may or may not feel called to make before his brothers and sisters as well as God. He attended both the regular prayer services of the monastery and the special classes given only to novices as they did their holy work of discernment. Furthermore, he labored as he was directed to do so by the elder in charge of his novitiate. It is the lot of novices to be obedient to their elder until either the day they take permanent vows of obedience to God and their leaders and resign their will or the day they withdraw from the novitiate and regain their own will as one not called to religious service and devotion in the ways of the monastery. But, Acacius was obedient to an elder who was especially good at making novices want to leave the monastery and abandon any pretenses of calling.
The elder would regularly impose fasts upon Acacius that went beyond those prescribed by the abbot and the other leaders of the Church. Acacius did as he was instructed to do because he understood the elder's work to be a holy one that was designed to drive Acacius closer to God. The elder would beat and punish Acacius for perceived wrongs and even the slightest of errors but Acacius would accept his punishment gladly and would thank the elder after the whipping and humiliation. With each wound he received at the hand of his elder, Acacius understood himself to be learning the humble path of devotion to the meek Lord he loved.The elder forced Acacius to work longer and harder in more challenging conditions than any other novice at the monastery even to the point of exhaustion and breakdown. But until he was physically unable to do as he was ordered, he continued to be obedient to his elder's instruction. Even after he had been broken down, he still tried to continue. Acacius felt called to a religious vocation but the elder prolonged his novitiate for many years. Because the elder spoke with the authority of the Church, Acacius obeyed as if it was Jesus himself who commanded him. After nine years of ruthless discipline and little food from the elder and furious and complete obedience on the part of Acacius, Acacius died of exhaustion and was buried in a nearby cemetery.
The elder told the tragedy to a friend and brother of his who was, also, a guide and teacher of novices and the second elder refused to believe that Acacius had died. He had been repeatedly impressed with the loyalty and obedience of Acacius whenever he visited and noticed again and again with surprise that Acacius had not yet taken his vows. So, the elder of Acacius took his friend to the grave of Acacius to confirm the tragic story he told. The friend was amazed but asked something laid upon his heart,"Brother Acacius, are you really dead?" The elder of Acacius must have thought his friend was out of his mind with grief to be talking to a dead man and so he contemplated what he might say to ease the man's grief at the death of the most obedient novice either had ever known. But,then, something amazing happened:
"No, father," the voice of dead Acacius began as it rose from the grave below their feet, "surely it is not possible that an obedient man could ever truly die." The two elders were shocked--one had not known what to expect in response to his question and the other had expected nothing and heard something amazing. The elder of Acacius fell to his knees in tears and begged Acacius to forgive him for his harsh treatment and ruthless punishments. The elders who had been given charge over instructing novices in the path that leads to God were instructed that day on the nature of eternal life and obedience by a novice who never professed vows before God and his brothers and sisters. Acacius had passed from this world but the faith he shared with the elders and his many brothers and sisters insisted that death could not claim the obedient and life was the inheritance of the humble.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM