Sunday, August 18, 2019
. . .in Egyptian monasticism, enormous stress is laid on the virtue of humility. As Evagrius says, 'asceticism with humility is valuable, but asceticism without humility is extremely dangerous'. And another Father said, 'It is better to fail with humility that to succeed with pride.'
Above all else the Egyptian monks emphasised self-knowledge. The one practice which they harp on over and over again is 'paying attention to yourself', and going with this, they highlight the virtue of 'discernment', but which they mean an ability to diagnose exactly what is going on at any given moment.
This explains why sometimes the Desert Fathers seem to be rather casual about morality. Their concern is not that people should behave correctly according to the rules, but rather that people should be able to see their situation clearly for what it is. and so become free of the distorting perspective which underlies all our sins.
Thus we hear of a fornicating monk, who kept a woman in his cell so indiscreetly that word got around about it. The neighboring monks resolved to drive the monk away, and abba Ammonas, who happened to be visiting there was asked to go with them. The offending monk heard them coming and hid his woman in a large jar. Ammonas saw her at once, but 'hid the affair for the sake of God'. He sat down on the jar, and then told the other monks to search the cell. They, of course, found nothing and went away again abashed and apologetic. Ammonas then took the culprit's hand and simply said to him, 'Brother, pay attention to yourself,' and went out.
-Simon Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection: An Exploration of Christian Spirituality