Abba Ammonas came one day to eat in a place where there was a monk of evil repute. Now it happened that a woman came and entered the cell of the brother of evil reputation. The dwellers in that place, having learnt this, were troubled and gathered together to chase the brother from his cell. Knowing that Bishop Ammonas was in the place, they asked him to join them. When the brother in question learnt this, he hid the woman in a large cask.
The crowd of monks came to the place. Now Abba Ammonas saw the position clearly but for the sake of God he kept the secret; he entered, seated himself on the cask and commanded the cell to be searched. Then when the monks had searched everywhere without finding the woman, Abba Ammonas said, 'What is this? May God forgive you!' After praying, he made everyone go out, then taking the brother by the hand he said, 'Brother, be on your guard.' With these words, he withdrew.
from 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers' ~ Benedicta Ward, SLG
I wrestled with this story when I read it this morning. I was right there with the monks wanting to denounce the 'evil monk', the behavior of Bishop Ammonas seemed at odds with the 'right thing' to do. I wanted the monk to have the woman brought into the light so he could be shamed, face his sin and find redemption.
As I sat more with it, I began to be aware of the things that I have stored away in casks, areas that could be the subject of a witch hunt, or a 'shame you into salvation' meeting. I don't know if Bishop Ammonas was 'right', but I do know that he was 'loving', and sometimes the two are not the same thing.
As I sat further I also asked the difficult question 'What are the activities that cause me to go looking through other people's cells for evidence of sin?' I was away on a silent retreat yesterday and as part of the preparation we were told to leave our cell phones in our cars. I found myself judging someone who didn't and placing myself higher in the mystical realms than them. We did three 20 minute sessions of Centering Prayer, again I found myself judging the people who left part of the way through for not being sufficiently 'Holy'.
'You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye so you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers' ~ Jesus
As I wrote that I could feel my old tapes of self-denigration starting to play. 'What a miserable christian I am........I'm such a failure'. somehow I think those thoughts are far more dangerous than anything else I could hide in my cask, sins of 'attitude' are far more deadly than sins of 'action'.
'As a man thinks in his heart, so is he' ~ Proverbs 23:7
I need the bishop's loving warning but I need his protection too.