Sayings & Stories of the Desert Fathers

On Obedience

They used to tell of John, who was disciple of the abbot Paul that he was of great obedience. There was in a certain place a memorial monument, and in it lived a most evil lioness. The old man, seeing her dung about the place, said to John, “Go and take away that dung.” And he said, “But what shall I do, Father, about the lioness?” And the old man smiling, said to him, “If she comes out at you, tie her up and bring her here.” So the brother set out that evening, and behold the lioness came out to jump upon him: but he, obeying the old man’s word, made a rush at her, to take her. The lioness fled, and he following after, saying, “Wait, for my abbot told me to tie you up”: and he held her and tied her. The old man meantime sat waiting, and the time grew long, and he began to be most uneasy about him; when behold, he saw him coming along slowly, and the lioness at the end of a rope behind him. The old man was astounded at the sight: but wishing to keep him humble, he struck him, saying, “Blockhead, have you brought me that foolish dog?” And straightaway the old man loosed her, and sent her home to her own place.

Four [monks] from Scete dressed in skins once came visiting the blessed Abba Pambo, and they each made known the virtue of another in his absence. The first one fasted a great deal; the second was indifferent to possessions; the third was very charitable. Of the fourth one, they told him that he had been under the authority of an elder for twenty-two years. “I tell you that obedience is greater than the virtue of you all,” Abba Pambo replied to them, “for each one of you has obtained whatever virtue he possesses by his own will, while he, suspending his own will, does the will of somebody else. Such persons are confessors if they hold fast to the end.

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