Abba Theodore of Pherme had acquired three good books. He came to Abba Macarius and said to him, "I have three excellent books from which I derive profit; the brethren also make use of them and derive profit from them. Tell me what I ought to do; keep them for my use and that of the brethren, or sell them and give the money to the poor?" The old man answered him in this way, "Your actions are good; but it is best of all to possess nothing. " Hearing that, he went and sold his books and gave the money for them to the poor.
Reading: Matthew 8:18-22
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
The Desert Fathers and Mothers understood that clinging to possessions, no matter how precious or beautiful, is a form of imprisonment. We are not free when we are burdened by the things, however lovely, we carry on our backs. The desert dwellers’ radical lifestyle later inspired Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, to take a firm stance against owning anything at all.
In his famous Rule, written in the sixth century, he has this to say about shedding possessions:
Above all, this evil practice must be uprooted and removed from the monastery. We mean that without an order from the abbot, no one may presume to give, receive, or retain anything on his own, nothing at all—not a book, writing tablets, or stylus—in short, not a single item, especially since monks may not have free disposal even of their own bodies and wills. … All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes to call anything his own (Acts 4:32).
As precious as things are to me they are, after all, only things.
Today, I’m going to try and give away something I am not using, and to give it to the person who could most benefit by its presence in his or her life.
May I know the freedom, Lord, of being liberated from the seduction of beautiful possessions.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers were hermits who lived mainly in the Egyptian desert beginning around the third century AD. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271. By the time he died in 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following his example – his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city. The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.
The desert dwellers used the image of a muddy pond or dirty mirror to describe a mind cluttered by distraction. They believed that what we cling to says a lot about the state of our souls. Their beliefs were rooted in Jesus’ injunctions to stay focused on the one true thing – the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field.