Sayings & Stories of the Desert Fathers

On Doing Nothing For Show

Another brother questioned the same old man, the abbot Theodore, and began to discuss and inquire into labours which he had not yet performed. And the old man said to him, “Thou hast not yet found thy ship, nor put thy baggage in her, nor begun to sail, and art thou already in the city whither thou hast planned to come? When thou hast first labored in that whereof thou speakest, then speak from out the thing itself.”

At one time a provincial judge heard of the abbot Moses and set out into Scete to see him: but man heard of his coming and got up to flee into the marsh. And the judge with his following met him, and questioned him, saying, “Tell me old man, where is the cell of the abbot Moses?” And he said, “Why would you seek him out? The man is a fool and a heretic.” So the judge coming to the church said to the clergy, “I had heard of the abbot Moses and came to see him: but lo! We met an old man journeying into Egypt, and asked him where might be the cell of the abbot Moses, and he said, ‘Why do you seek him? He is a fool and a heretic.”’ The clergy, on hearing this, were perturbed and said, “What was this old man like, who spoke thus to you of the holy man?” And they said, “He was an old man wearing a very ancient garment, tall and black.” And they said, “It is the abbot himself: and because he did not wish to be seen by you, he told you these things about himself.” And mightily edified, the judge went away.

He also said, “The one who makes a show of his good works and publicizes them is like the one who threw seeds on the ground, ‘and the fowls of the air came and devoured them up’ [Matt 13:4]. But the one who conceals his way of life is as one who sows in a furrow in the ground and who will reap an abundant harvest.

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