From the Desert Fathers


It was said that there were three friends who were not afraid of hard work. The first chose to reconcile those who were fighting each other, as it is said, “Blessed are the peace-makers’ (Matt. 5). The second chose to visit the sick. The third went to live in prayer and stillness in the desert. Now in spite of all his labors, the first could not make peace in all mean’s quarrels; and in his sorrow he went to him who was serving the sick, and he found him also disheartened, for he could not fulfill that commandment either. So they went together to see him who was living in the stillness of prayer. They told him their difficulties and begged him to tell them what to do. After a short silence, he poured some water into a bowl and said to them, “Look at the water,” and it was disturbed. After a little while he said to them again, “Look how still the water is now,” and as they looked into the water, they saw their own faces reflected in it as in a mirror. Then he said to them, “It is the same for those who live among men; disturbances prevent them from seeing their faults. But when a man is still, especially in the desert, then he sees his failings.”

From The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, Sister Benedicta Ward

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





4 responses to “From the Desert Fathers”

  1. Robb Avatar

    So is the quote throwing out the idea that while we “live among men” we are not fully able to see our faults and thus cannot be peackemakers nor tend to the sick?

    I’m a bit perplexed with this statement: “But when a man is still, especially in the desert, then he sees his failings.” Or Does the quote go on to discuss how once we notice our faults we can reach out in love?

    just curious. 🙂

  2. Fr Stephen Avatar
    Fr Stephen

    The story is complete. The point, I think, is that even in the business of good works it is possible to be so caught up in things that we find ourselves still trapped by anger, frustration, bitterness, etc.

    It would thus (and this is very much in the Desert Tradition) not suggest that not care for our neighbor or make peace between others, but that in stillness and quiet we must also come to the truth of ourselves before God and be healed and changed.

    As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

  3. Tia Avatar

    “in stillness and quiet we must also come to the truth of ourselves before God and be healed and changed.”

    Never in my life have I found this to be more true than I have this year. An old song that keeps running through my head is one by Michael Card. The line goes, “In stillness and simplicity, I loose myself in finding thee.”

  4. Fr Stephen Avatar
    Fr Stephen

    I could be predictable and mention the verse from the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness (Hesychia in the Greek) is a very integral part of Orthodox teaching on the life of prayer. It is much more than not speaking (indeed, one can speak from Hesychia, though it is hard). People speak much about grace and its sufficiency, but then work as though there were no grace. Stillness is very much a state of grace.

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