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A certain brother committed an offense in Scete, the camp of the monks, and when a congregation was assembled on this matter, they sent after Abba Moses, but he refused to come; then they sent the priest of the church to him, saying, “Come, for all the people are expecting you,” and he rose up and came. He took a basket with a hole in it and filled it with sand, and carried it upon his shoulders, and those who went out to meet him said unto him, “What does this mean, O father?” And he said to them, “The sands are my sins which are running down behind me and I cannot see them, and, even, have come to this day to judge shortcomings which are not mine.” And when they heard this they set free that brother and said nothing further to him.
The desert became the place where men and women went to live out the gospel just as Christianity was becoming the religion of the empire. They went there, not to flee the world, not to disparage their humanity, but to fully embrace it. They went to the desert to wrestle with demons, to free themselves of the cultural trappings that so easily are mistaken for the truth about the world. They went there to step outside of the cultural systems that are hostile to the teaching of Christ.
The arrogance of our time is that we think we know better. Contemporary protestant Christians scoff at the desert fathers and mothers, deriding them, accusing them of taking the easy way out. All the while, unaware of just how culturally conditioned our Christianity really is, how the current debates splitting our churches, at the core, have little to do with teaching of Jesus, and much more to do with truths we have constructed for ourselves.
Once a command was given to the brothers who were in Scete, saying, “Fast this week and celebrate the Passover.” So some of the brothers came from Egypt to Abba Moses. While he was boiling a little food for them, his neighbors saw the smoke of his fire rising up and they said to the clergy, “Behold, Moses has broken the command and has boiled some food in his cell.” So they said to them, “Hold your peace, when he comes to us we will speak to him.” Now when the Sabbath arrived, the clergy, having regard to his great ascetic labors, said to him before the whole assembly, “O Moses, though you broke the command of me, you established that of God.”
Maybe the time has come for us to return to the desert, to hear the words of those who struggled with demons, and learn what it means to seek God above all else, and to follow the way of Jesus that calls us to love our neighbor. Maybe it’s time to realize our political and cultural forms of Christianity always lead to idolatry, division, and hatred. It’s time we realize the desert isn’t a physical place, it’s a posture; it’s the call of Jesus to take up our cross and follow. Let’s put down our dog whistles and virtue signals, letting go of our religiosity, our piety, and above all our ideology, so we might finally see the world and our neighbors as a gift.