Of Insults and Discernment

It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him 'Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?' 'Yes, it is very true,' he answered. They resumed, 'Aren't you that Agothon who is always talking nonsense?' 'I am." Again they said 'Aren't you Agathon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.' So they asked him, 'Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.' At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

  • Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The bearing of insults and false accusations is anathema to our modern culture.  We self-righteously demand apologies, corrections, and pompously proclaim our innocence as if our reputation among other men must be zealously guarded.  How far we've come from the day of Abba Agathon and the Desert Fathers.  Abba Macarius urged that you should let slander become to you as praise.  But today we can't tolerate even the slightest criticism.  Compare that to this story of St. Anthony the Great:

The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, ‘You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.’

Does this seem unfair?  Shouldn't we be righteously indignant at being falsely accused?  Shouldn't we demand our vindication before our fellow man?  Why did Abba Agathon take these accusations to himself for the good of his soul?  Let us ask a simply question.  For every wrong we are falsely accused of, how many sins have we not been called to account for publicly?  How many grievous offenses against God to we hide, hoping to appear holy and righteous before our brothers?  If we truly were repentant and humble, we would accuse ourselves of our many sins, and knowing that we have sinned so many more times, not be troubled by a false accusation - for the truth alone would condemn us!

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