Orthodox America

A Hidden Treasure  

     When someone says or does something mean to us, or hurts our feelings in some way, how do we react? Do we get angry and think up some way to pay the person back, to "get even"? Or do we use this as a chance to grow closer to God by obeying the Gospel commandment to "turn the other cheek," to forgive one another--even those whom we might consider to be our enemies? If we practice Christ's teaching, if we bravely endure the hurts we feel as a result of another' s actions or words, without developing hard feelings towards that person, we shall gradually acquire a great treasure in our hearts, as the following example illustrates. 

Force yourself w rejoice when you are insulted, blamed or scorned. For this ill treatment and dishonor conceals a great treasure, and if you willingly accept it you will soon become rich in spirit. --Bishop Theophan the Recluse in Unseen Warfare 

    Long ago, when monasticism was still quite young, there lived in the Egyptian desert a community of nuns. Now among them dwelt a certain sister who purposely made herself an object of ridicule and scorn as a means of training her soul and speeding her climb up the ladder of perfection. For, as one Desert Father wrote: "Perfection (if it is possible) is to regard dishonor as praise." (St. John of the Ladder, Step 8)

    On her head this nun wore an old ragged piece of cloth, while the other nuns had nicely made monastic veils. They looked down upon her and treated her like the lowest servant, not even allowing her to eat with them. They would yell at her and order her about as she waited on tables, and she became, as it were, the broom of the nunnery. But she never complained or got angry or answered back at their harsh words. Keeping her mind firmly set on her goal, she rejoiced when the other nuns made fun of her or insulted her, taking it as an opportunity to exercise herself in the Christian virtues of humility, patient endurance of wrongs, forgiveness and love for those who hurt you.

    At the same time there lived not far away a monk called Piteroum. He was wounded by the prideful thought that he was better than many because of his strict way of life. To cure him of his pride, the Lord sent Piteroum an angel who said to him: "Go to the nunnery in Tabenna. There you will find a woman wearing on her head a rough piece of cloth. She is far ahead of you on the ladder of perfection, for although she is busy serving the needs of others, her mind is constantly with God on high. As for you, you may spend hours in the solitude of your cell but your mind is off wandering in other countries."

     At once Piteroum went to Tabenna and asked to see the nuns. They knew him to be a holy man and all came to receive his blessing, all but the ill-treated sister, the servant of all. "Is there no other nun here?" he asked. "Master," came the reply, "we have one more, but she is quite worthless; she is in the refectory." Piteroum asked to see this nun, and when he saw thorough cloth on her head, he knew her to be the one described by the angel. He bowed down before her: "Bless me, Mother." And she fell down at his feet: “Bless me, Master.” The other nuns were astonished, but Piteroun revealed to them the treasure of virtues hidden in her soul. Hearing this from the blessed man, the nuns fell down at their sister's feet, begging forgiveness for the shameful waythey had mistreated her. And even after Piteroum had left they continued to repent before her and showered her with honor and praise. But the woman feared that all this attention would injure her soul by opening it to pride, and within a few days she departed from the community. Where she went and where she died 'no one knew.

(Based on chapter 33 of Palladius' Paradise of the Fathers, translated by Wallis Budge)