The monk who misunderstood holiness

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Among Eastern Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox), there's a compendium of spiritual texts known as the Philokalia. It's a sort of spiritual reader, collecting stories from early saints and other monastic spiritual guides throughout the centuries. What follows is one of my favorite stories from the collection:

Two monks were praying on the mountain when the first monk turned to the second and said: "I cannot understand why you enjoy such renown among the people for holiness."

"I fast every day, whereas you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays only," the first monk said. "I pray for six hours a day. You stop after three. I preach hard teachings to the people, for hours at a time, never compromising an iota of Christian orthodoxy. You limit your homilies to ten minutes - even on important feasts like Christmas and Easter."

"I confess my sins publicly once a day, you confess privately every second week."

"I perform severe penances to discipline the flesh and atone for my sins. You like to relax and partake of food, wine and conversation with the pilgrims who visit our monastery."

"I limit myself to three hours sleep a night, on hard ground with neither blanket nor pillow. You sleep for six, on a bed."

"I donate 75 percent of my stipends to the Church, while you keep 75 percent for yourself."

"I spend our leisure time during the day memorizing Sacred Scripture, while you go for a walk in the mountains and whistle with the birds."

"So what's your big secret?" the first monk asked. "Why do you enjoy a reputation among pilgrims for holiness, and not me?"

The second monk thought for a second, looked his companion in the eyes, and said: "There's no secret, my brother. I love Jesus."

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This page contains a single entry by Pete Vere published on April 3, 2010 9:34 AM.

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