Chronicles of the Desert Ep. 3: “A Stranger on the Earth”


From the deserts of Egypt and Syria to
the cells of Mount Athos and beyond to the vast forests of northern Russia
these are the Chronicles of the Desert. As Abba Bessarion wandered the desert
he came upon a monastery and perceived with the eye of his soul that the monks
there struggled with passions and worldly things and lacked divine grace.
So to show them the way he sat at the gate and began weeping until a young
monk came out: “Brother, why are you weeping? If you lack any good thing you
are welcome to come inside and share our table with us and give yourself some
rest.” “I cannot live under a roof,” said the
old man, “so long as I have not found again the riches of my house. For pirates
fell upon me at sea and then a storm and great waves wrecked my ship. Oh, I have
dishonored my rank. How can I not weep over the former glory and nobility from
which I have miserably fallen.” Astonished, the young man gave him a
morsel of bread and consoled the old man. “Take this father and rest well.
As for what you lost: home, honor, and riches, God can restore.” But the old man
continued to weep and lament, “I cannot say if I shall find again those
good things which I seek but in danger of death every day and without rest I
wander until I finish my course.” Having fully renounced the world and living as a stranger on this earth Abba Bessarion spoke not of material things as the
young monk assumed. Rather, he spoke of temptations which are like the storms
lashing our ships and demons who act like pirates and treacherous waves which
are the passions, all of which the Christian contends with while struggling
to purify his or her mind, the nous, — which is the helmsman of our ship — in
order to gain the riches and nobility of the heavenly inheritance lost since the
fall of Adam. Abba Bessarion gave up everything for this and sought only
God’s love and divine grace he wandered across the Egyptian desert for forty
years and lived free like a bird in the mountains amidst the rocks and in
desolate places. He cared not for a dwelling nor for clothing nor for any
abundance of material things but rather traversed the edge of the
desert like a vagabond carrying only the gospel in his hands and through austere
asceticism became a partaker of the divine nature here on earth. Like the one
day when he and his disciple walked by the seaside. “Abba, I am very thirsty,”
said his disciple. Abba Bessarion prayed and then said, “Drink from the sea.” The
disciple tasted the seawater and it tasted sweet. He then poured some into a leather bottle. “Why are you doing this,
ask Abba Bessarion. “Forgive me, Abba. It is from fear of being thirsty later on.”
Abba Bessarion: “God is here. God is everywhere!” He gave himself over to divine
providence in all matters. Like the day he walked through a village
and upon seeing a dead man covered him with his coat. Then he saw a poor man and gave him his cloak. Later, a soldier passed by the naked ascetic and said
“Abba, who took your clothes?” Abba Bessarion pointed at the gospel in his hands and said, “He did!” Abba Bessarion rested very little, once
standing amidst thorn bushes for fourteen days in order to ward off sleep. For fourteen years he didn’t lay down but only slept sitting or standing. Through such ascetic
feats and much prayer and fasting he gained freedom from the passions and
was granted great spiritual gifts like the one day when a man possessed with a demon came to Scetis but the Fathers could not cast it out. “What can we do,”
said the Fathers. “No one can cast this demon out except Abba Bessarion. But if
we call him he will not come out of humility.” But they knew that Abba Bessarion came
early to church and so they let the possessed man sleep in the area where he normally prayed. When Abba Bessarion arrived they kept to
their prayer but also pointed toward the sleeping man and said, “Abba, awaken this brother.” Abba Bessarion saw the sleeping man and said, “Rise up and go forth!”
Immediately, the demon departed and from that hour the man was healed
Abba Bessarion lived as a stranger on this earth, wandering across the desert
yet always journeying toward the kingdom of God. Let us, like him, put our trust in
God and seek out that which we lost from the beginning, caring not for the things
which perish but placing our hope in Christ and eternal life.

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