Monastic Tips for Self-isolation
Self-knowledge from Solitude
The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.
The enlightened St. Moses the Black has many lessons for us during these times. One of the best known Desert Fathers, his entire story is a model of transformation. Known in the stories of the desert as Abba Moses, he was a former gang leader, murderer, and thief, from sub-Saharan Africa. When he went to rob the skete, where St. Macarius and St. Isidore lived, they welcomed him as a brother and honored guest. As a result, he ended up becoming a monk, eventually a priest, and eventually was beheaded as a martyr (why he is showing his head in this icon). Let us reflect on just a couple of his sayings.
A brother in Scetis went to ask a word from Abba Moses and the elder said to him, “Go and sit in your cell [dwelling of monk] and your cell will teach you everything.”
Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, pp. 38, 64
When we are alone, especially in times of stress, things can emerge from within that we didn't realize were there. Some of the fathers and mothers used to say, "Know yourself so that you can know God." When we come face to face with ourselves, we realize without the grace of Christ we cannot change these deep-seated tendencies and struggles. We are often blinded to these things due to the brilliant distractions of our busy lives. That tension of self-awareness, contrasted with the loving God Who is with us, leads to deeper prayer.
For many, as in the following story of St. Moses, deeper insight comes as a result of temptations. But, if the temptations or pressures are too much, like St. Moses, we need to reach out to a safe guide or friend. St. Sofrony of Essex said, “Stand on the edge of the abyss [of looking within] and when you don’t have any more strength, rest a little and have a cup of tea.” That cup of tea can be reaching out to a person, sitting down, taking a walk, reading or listening to a helpful book, that is, some good thing that can ease the pressure a bit, but can then help you to keep on going.
It happened that Abba Moses was struggling with the temptation of fornication. Unable to stay any longer in the cell, he went and told Abba Isidore. The [elder] exhorted him to return to his cell but he refused, saying, 'Abba, I cannot.'
Then Abba Isidore took Abba Moses out onto the terrace and said to him, 'Look towards the West.' He looked and saw hordes of demons flying about and making a noise before launching an attack.
Then Abba Isidore said to him, 'Look towards the East.' He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory.
Abba Isidore said, 'See, these sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the West fight against them. Those that are us are more in number than they are.'
Then Abba Moses gave thanks to God, plucked up courage and returned to his cell.
Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p. 73
Holy Father Moses, pray to God for us!