Sunday, May 1, 2011

Just another day at the monastery...

Excerpt from "From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East" by William Dalrymple

(This conversation takes place at the Monastery of St. Anthony (St. Antony) in Egypt.)

"See up there?" said Abuna Dioscuros as I was finishing my egg. He pointed to the space between the two towers of the abbey church. "In June 1987 in the middle of the night our father St. Antony appeared there hovering on a cloud of shining light."

"You saw this?" I asked.

"No," said Fr. Dioscuros. "I'm short-sighted."

He took off his spectacles to show me the thickness of the glass. "I can barely see the Abbot when I sit beside him at supper," he said. "But many other fathers saw the apparition. On one side of St. Antony stood St. Mark the Hermit and on the other side was Abuna Yustus."

"Abuna Yustus?"

"He is one of our fathers. He used to be the Sacristan."

"So what was he doing up there?"

"He had just departed this life."

"Oh," I said. "I see."

"Officially he's not a saint yet, but I'm sure he will be soon. His canonization is up for discussion at the next Coptic synod. His relics have been the cause of many miracles: blind children have been made to see, the lame have got up from their wheelchairs..."

"All the usual sort of stuff."

"Exactly. But you won't believe this" - here Fr. Dioscuros lowered his voice to a whisper. "You won't believe this but we had some visitors from Europe two years ago  - Christians, some sort of Protestants - who said that they didn't believe in the power of relics!"

The monk stroked his beard, wide-eyed with disbelief. "No," he continued. "I'm not joking. I had to take the Protestants aside and explain that we believe that St. Antony and all the fathers have not died, that they live with us, continually protecting us and looking after us. When they are needed - when we go to their graves and pray to their relics - they appear and sort out our problems."

"Can the monks see them?"

"Who? Protestants?"

"No. These deceased fathers."

"Abuna Yustus is always appearing," said Fr. Dioscuros matter-of-factly. "In fact one of the fathers had a half-hour conversation with him the day before yesterday. And of course St. Antony makes fairly regular appearances - although he is very busy these days answering prayers all over the world. but even when we cannot see the departed fathers we can always feel them. And besides, there are many other indications that they are with us."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "What sort of indications?"

"Well, take last week for instance. The Bedouin from the desert are always bringing their sick to us for healing. Normally it is something quite simple: we let them kiss a relic, give them an aspirin and send them on their way. But last week they brought in a small girl who was possessed by a devil. We took the girl into the church, and as it was the time for vespers one of the fathers went off to ring the bell for prayers. When he saw this the devil inside the girl began to cry: 'Don't ring the bell! Please don't ring the bell!' We asked him why not. 'Because," replied the devil, 'when you ring the bell it's not just the living monks who come into the church: all the holy souls of the fathers join with you too, as well as great multitudes of angels and archangels. How can I remain in the church when that happens? I'm not staying in a place like that.' At that moment the bell began to ring, the girl shrieked and the devil left her!" Fr. Dioscuros clicked his fingers: "Just like that. So you see," he said. "That proves it."

4 comments:

  1. I've always loved reading this... Fr. Stephen Freeman has quoted this section before...

    Thanks for the opportunity to read it again!

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  2. "Who? Protestants?"

    I love this, no matter how many times I read it.

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  3. I laugh every time too. I also laugh at the "me? No, I'm shortsighted," bit. This monk is so unpretentious.

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