Two Tales from the Desert Fathers

A certain brother came to visit Abba Silvanus at Mount Sinai.  When he saw the brothers working hard there, he said to the Elder, ” It is said: Do not work for the food that perishes.  For Mary has chosen the good part.”

Then the Elder called his disciple, and said, “Zachary, give this brother a holy book and an empty cell.”  And as he instructed, so it was done.

Now, when it was three o’clock, the brother kept looking out his door, to see whether someone would call hin for the meal, but nobody came.  Finally, he got up and went to the Elder and asked, “Father, didn’t the brothers eat today?”

“Yes, of course we did.”

“But why didn’t you call me?”

The Elder replied, “You are a spiritual person and do not need that kind of food, but since we are earthly, we want to eat, and that’s why we work. Indeed, you have chosen the good part, reading holy scriptures all day long, and not wanting to eat earthly food.”

When the brother heard this, he repented and said, “Forgive me, Father.”

Then the Elder said to him, “Mary certainly needed Martha, and it is really by Martha’s help that Mary is praised.”

* * *

It was said of a certain Elder that he endured seventy weeks of fasting, eating only once a week.  Then, he asked God about certain words in the Holy Scriptures, but God did not answer him.  Finally, he said to himself, “Look, I have put in so much effort, but I see I haven’t made any progress.  So, I will go to see my brother and ask him.”

And when he had gone out, closed the door of his cell and started off, an angel of the Lord came to him and said, “Seventy weeks of fasting have not brought you near to God.  But now that you are humbled enough to go to your brother and ask for help, I have been sent to you to reveal the meaning of the words.”

Then the angel explained the meaning that the Elder was seeking, and went away.

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