Still a Pepper

Father Maximos tells a story related to the life of an elder known as Abba Isaiah, the spiritual guide to a group of monks:

“One of his disciples had difficulties relating to the other monks. He was irritable, constantly grumbling and angry. At the same time he recognized that he had a problem and wished to overcome it. One day he went to his elder and said: ‘I am convinced that if I go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I will be able to absorb the grace that emanates from the holy shrines. It will help me free myself from my anger and become a good monk.’ The elder urged him to stay put and carry on with his personal struggle and told him that there was no need to travel all the way to the Holy Land. The elder advised that conditions at the monastery were more conducive to helping him overcome his shortcomings. ‘If you genuinely struggle to overcome your problems,’ the elder said, ‘then I believe God will help you. What you need is not pilgrimages but to struggle against your passions.'”

“But that monk insisted on getting his elder’s blessing to go on this pilgrimage,” Father Maximos continued. “Finally the elder gave his permission. ‘Okay,’ he conceded. ‘Since you are so insistent then by all means go ahead.’ Exhuberant, the disciple began preparing for the long journey, which at that time was done on foot with pack animals and lasted for months. Before he left the monastery he went to his elder and, as was the custom, performed a prostration in front of him in order to receive his blessing. The elder then gave him a small tight bundle to take along on his journey. Inside he placed a head of garlic, and onion, and a piece of dried hot pepper. ‘Please,’ he told that disciple, ‘do me a favor. Everywhere you go, after making the sign of the cross, rub this bundle over all the holy shrines you visit. Then bring it back. I want to have it absorb as much grace as possible so that I can use it as a talisman. The monk was delighted. He thought he was doing his elder a great favor.”

“Several months later this monk returned from his pilgrimage feeling fully charged with divine grace. He appeared humble and peaceful. But this condition lasted for no more than two months. With the slightest provocation he regressed to his old ways and again created problems in the community. At a certain point the elder asked him to hand over the bundle and asked all the monks to gather. Then the elder opened it up. He raised the head of garlic and said, ‘You went garlic and came back garlic.’ He picked up the onion and said, ‘You went an onion and came back an onion.’ He pointed at the pepper and said, ‘You went as a pepper and came back as a pepper.’ Jerusalem had no effect on them . . .

Kyriacos C. Markides, Gifts of the Desert: (New York: Doubleday, 2005), pp. 53-54.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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