Abba Arsenius the Great: Have You Learned the Desert Alphabet?

Feast of St Ephraim, Patriarch of Antioch

Arsenius_Square.jpgSOMEONE SAID to blessed Arsenius, “How is it that we, with all our education and our wide knowledge get nowhere, while these Egyptian peasants acquire so many virtues?” Abba Arsenius said to him, “We indeed get nothing from our secular education, but these Egyptian peasants acquire the virtues by hard work.”

One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, “Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?” He replied, “I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.”


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A brother questioned Abba Arsenius to hear a word of him and the old man said to him, “Strive with all your might to bring your interior activity into accord with God, and you will overcome exterior passions.”

He also said, “If we seek God, He will show Himself to us, and if we keep Him, He will remain close to us.”

A brother came to the cell of Abba Arsenius at Scetis. Waiting outside the door he saw the old man entirely like a flame. (The brother was worthy of this sight.) When he knocked, the old man came out and saw the brother marveling. He said to him, “Have you been knocking long? Did you see anything here?” The other answered, “No.” So then he talked with him and sent him away.

—Abba Arsenius the Great, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

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