Sayings & Stories of the Desert Fathers

On Love

Abba Anthony said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

One day when Abba John was going up to Scetis with some other brothers, their guide lost his way for it was night-time. So the brothers said to Abba John, ‘What shall we do, abba, in order not to die wandering about, for the brother has lost the way?’ The old man said to them, ‘If we speak to him, he will be filled with grief and shame. But look here, I will pretend to be ill and say I cannot walk anymore; then we can stay here till the dawn.’ This he did. The others said, ‘We will not go on either, but we will stay with you.’ They sat there until the dawn, and in this way they did not upset the brother.

He also said, “There is no greater love than this: that somebody lays down his life for his neighbor [see John 15:13]. For if somebody hears a distressing word and is capable of uttering something like it himself but struggles to bear the pain and says nothing, or when someone is being browbeaten in a situation and bears the violence with the result that he does not pay back the one who caused him distress—such a person is laying down his soul for his neighbor.”

They used to say of one brother that, having made some baskets, he was putting handles on them when he heard a brother who was his neighbor saying, “What am I to do, for market day is almost here, and I have no handles to put on my little baskets!” He went and detached the handles from his own baskets and brought them to the other brother, saying, “Look, I have these left over; take them and put them on your little baskets.” He enhanced the brother’s work to the detriment of his own.

An elder said, “I have never desired work that benefits me at my brother’s expense, in the hope that my brother’s work is a work that bears fruit.”

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