That We Should Be Merciful

RussianSchemamonkA brother who had committed a serious sin decided to confess it to another monk. Instead of openly stating what he had done, the brother asked, “If a thought like this came into someone’s mind, would he be saved?” The monk told him, “There is no hope for you.” Hearing this, the brother thought, “If I am going to perish, I might as well do it in the world.”

As he was abandoning the solitary life, the brother thought of Abba Silvanus and turned aside to visit him. Again, without reporting the nature of his sin, he asked the same oblique question. Silvanus quoted Scripture and said, “That judgment falls on everyone, whether or not they have sinned.” This moved the brother to confess his sin. Like a skilled physician, Silvanus applied an ointment of Scripture texts to the wounded one, observing that repentance is available for everyone who turns to God.

Years later, Silvanus encountered the monk who had discouraged the brother. “That brother, who was crushed by your response and was returning to the world, is now a bright star among us.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





14 responses to “That We Should Be Merciful”

  1. mary Avatar

    i was christmated into the orthodox faith back in 06.i thought that i was forgiven every sin i did in the the old fleetwood mac song says,don’t you look back. but i’ve notice issues or sins coming to the surface even now.i go to my spiritual father with these things.i suppose if i don’t deal with these issues or sins now here on earth,i will have to deal with them when i st. paul said,work out your own salvation.Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner! mary

  2. mary Avatar

    i think i needed to say i need to forgive myself and be merciful to myself. mary

  3. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! This just goes to show that who you choose to listen to is hugely important. Thank God the brother had enough faith to try and ask another Father (getting a second opinion in dire spiritual, not just medical, matters can be a prudent move). Hope is a powerful force, and God’s mercy gives abundant reason never to abandon it!

  4. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father Stephen, You said something a few weeks ago that has stuck with me and has helped me. So, sometimes I’ll remind myself and turn to God and say: God be merciful to me a im a hypocrit. I feel at those times our Lord smiles and says…at last I’m gettting some truth from this guy!

  5. Romanós Avatar

    I love the desert Fathers because there are lots of stories like this in their sayings. There is always this tension, this contrast, between mercy and rigor. I am reminded by it sometimes of the same tension in rabbinical Judaism’s texts where the sayings and actions of Hillel are contrasted with those of Shammai. Hillel would respond to situations in the same way that Silvanus did, Shammai would often respond the way the first monk did. Mercy and rigor.

    The wonder is that at any time we may be called to show mercy or rigor, and with God’s help we sometimes do say or do the right thing.

  6. mike Avatar

    …..the picture for this post…a monk i presume…what an interesting face…..not sad not happy just serious…maybe too serious………………

  7. Joseph Avatar

    Mike you bought up a good point! Father and everyone what are your thoughts on being a serious person? Thanks

  8. Howard Avatar

    The monk appears to be … exhausted. After a long, hard day, I know I sometimes have no energy left to be “happy” or “sad”. But remember, joy is not a mere surface emotion like happiness.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    The monk is old. Also some Eastern cultures are not as “smilely” as America at anytime.

    I think what matters is character of the heart. But it will have a variety of cultural expressions.

    I think a discussion in this direction would be a distraction – with no posting to offer reflection. Sorry.

  10. clary Avatar

    This illustrates how careful we must be when we speak to others.

  11. Miha Avatar

    “Also some Eastern cultures are not as “smilely” as America at anytime.”

    Very true! I’m from Slovenia, Europe and the expression of the elder in the picture doesn’t strike me as serious, but more like serene, at peace. And I find his piercing gaze could easily see into the depths of my heart.

    In connection to the story, I believe sometimes it’s far more important how we deliver the fact than the fact itself. A counsellor of any kind should be conscious of a person he or she counsels, not only the problem at hand. It such a relationship exists, perhaps it’s easier to decide when to speak of mercy and when to be rigorous in your words.

  12. Dan Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I have very much enjoyed your blog since I stumbled on to it about a month or two ago. I am particularly thankful for your posting of the various stories of the Desert Fathers. Would you be able to recommend any particular compilation of these stories that would be available at major bookstores?

  13. fatherstephen Avatar


    A good collection is this one by Benedicta Ward.

  14. […] who was crushed by your response and was returning to the world, is now a bright star among us.” * This excerpt is from […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. As a total aside: Henry Adams practically invented Social History with his efforts almost 200 years ago. A magnificent book…

  2. Sorry for typos. Meant to say nothing pollutes more than warfare, etc , and don’t want to tread over the…

  3. Regarding “green” policies and the discussion here, I want to add that nothing polltes more han warfare, weapons, and to…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast