What I actually wanted to share with you today does not fall under the heading ‘Why I am not Orthodox.’ It is, rather, a little letter from Barsanuphius. Barsanuphius was a monk who lived near Gaza in the early 500s. He was both a solitary recluse and an abbot. He communicated with his community via letters, and is called ‘the Great Old Man.’ He had an assistant, John, ‘the Other Old Man,’ who basically ran the monastery for him.
Once, a brother got fed up with John and said that Barsanuphius did not exist, that he was imaginary, and that John was using this authority figure to manipulate them all. Barsanuphius heard this, broke through the mud brick wall behind which his cell was located, and, without a word, washed the brothers’ feet. Then he went back to his cell and bricked himself in again.
This is the sort of oddity you get used to when you study early monasticism. Unlike many of the world’s solitaries, however, Barsanuphius had an active ministry beyond his monastery’s walls. He wrote letters, as did John. There are over 800 of them that survive. These letters are to bishops, priests, and deacons, as well as to farmers and monks and aristocrats. Anyone could write, and many did.
So here’s my translation of Ep. 120. If you want more passages suitable for Pentecost, chiefly Patristic (but not exclusively), I recommend you review the past several days at Enlarging the Heart. Happy Pentecost!:
Question from the same to the Great Old Man: Master, as you know, since I am sickly in soul and body, I beg you to call upon God to supply power and strength to me for endurance so that I may gratefully bear the attacks.
Answer of Barsanuphius:
Brother Andrew, I wish that your charity would learn that all gifts are given through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and ‘of diverse kinds and in diverse ways’ (Heb. 1:1). For God gave the Spirit to the Apostles at one time to cast out demons, at another to accomplish healings, at another to foresee, at another to raise the dead, and in the end to release sins and liberate souls from darkness and lead them into the light. Thus, behold, I beg God that after the freedom of your soul He may give you the Holy Spirit for endurance and thanksgiving, and so that ‘the enemy might be dishonoured since he has no defence against us’ (Tit. 2:8) Assist, you as well, fighting to obtain it, and ‘God who is rich in mercy’ (Eph. 2:4) will give it to you. Pray for me, brother.