Abba Agathon: Take the Knife
I think we are most God-like, when we are blissfully sharing ourselves or our stuff without much concern for ourselves or our stuff.
When the brothers were speaking of love, Abba Josephwould say:
"Do we know what love is?"
and he told this about Abba Agathon:
"He possessed a small knife; a brother came to him and spoke highly of it. Abba Agathon would not let him go out unless he took the knife."
The magic of desert wisdom, for me at least, is its intense practicality.
"Do we know what love is?" Abba Joseph asks the brothers. I like that he doesn't follow up his question with a definition.
Because if you define something, you have to formulate what it is and what its limits are.
And if there's anything that chafes against formula and limit, it's love.
Desert Christians knew that, and they also knew that the best way to teach about love is not to specify, but illustrate — for love takes a million forms.
Listening to this story of Agathon makes me want to become like him because I sense him giving out of a deeper place than I usually do. I don’t sense him giving his knife reluctantly, out of guilt, or as a helpful object lesson, or as a kind of special mortification. Rather, I sense him giving it from the root of his being, a rich inward center formed by decades of grace and discipline, a center that delights in sharing.
And this, I think, is when we will become most God-like, when we are blissfully sharing ourselves or our stuff without much concern for ourselves or our stuff.
That’s the kind of transformation I’m holding out for.
Until then, I'll give sacrificially. But I will be anticipating the day when my inner motivation changes, when love becomes my deepest depth.
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Abba Joseph was a renowned Desert Father from the 4th century. He was born in Egypt and is known for his influence on both Eastern and Western Christian monasticism. Abba Joseph lived most of his life as a hermit, dedicating himself to a life of prayer and asceticism in the deserts of Egypt. He was known for his wisdom and teaching, which was highly sought after by many monks. His spiritual legacy continues to be celebrated today and he remains a highly revered figure in the Christian faith.
Abba Agathon was an ancient monk and spiritual leader of the Egyptian Desert Mothers and Fathers, who lived in the 4th century CE. He was renowned for his wisdom, compassion and kindness, and was a major influence on the early Christian monastic movement. He is most famous for his saying “Anytime you are tempted to judge, remember this: nothing is outside the mercy of God.” This quote highlights Agathon's unique approach towards understanding and compassion; a concept that has been influential in spiritual and philosophical discourse throughout the ages.
Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers. United States: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2014.