Friday, November 20, 2009

The Sponge of the Monastery

The holy bishop Basil told this story: In a certain monastery of nuns there was a girl who pretended she was mad and possessed by a devil. The others felt such contempt for her that they never ate with her, which pleased her very much.

She took herself to the kitchen and used to perform all the most menial tasks; she was, as the saying is, "the sponge of the monastery," but in fact she was fulfilling the Scriptures where it says, "If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise" (I Corinthians 3:18).

She wore a rag around her head, while all the others had their hair closely cropped and wore cowls, and she used to serve them dressed like that. Not one of the four hundred ever saw her chew in all the years of her life. She never sat down at table or ate a scrap of bread, but she wiped up with a sponge the crumbs from the tables and was satisfied with the scouring of pots.

She was never angry with anyone, nor did she grumble or chatter, either a little or much, although she was maltreated, insulted, cursed, and loathed.

Now an angel appeared to holy Piterion, the famous anchorite dwelling at Porphyrite and said to him, "Why do you think so much of yourself for being pious and dwelling in a place such as this? Do you want to see someone more pious than yourself, a woman? Go to the women's monastery at Tabennisi and there you will find one with a cloth on her head. She is better than you are. While being knocked about by many she has never let her attention turn from God. But you live here alone and let your attention wander about in cities."

So Piterion, who had never left his cell, asked those in charge to allow him to enter the monastery of women. They let him in, since he was well on in years and, moreover, had a great reputation. So he went in and insisted on seeing all of them. The woman he wanted to see did not appear.

Finally he said to them, "Bring them all to me, for the one I want to see is missing."

They said, "We have a sister in the kitchen who is touched in the head" (that is what they call the afflicted ones).

He told them, "Bring her to me. Let me see her."

They went to call her, but she did not answer, either because she had heard what was happening or because it had been revealed to her. They seized her forcibly and told her, "The holy Piterion wants to see you" (for he was famous).

When she came in he saw the rag on her head and, falling down at her feet, he said, "Bless me!"

She too fell down at his feet and said, "Bless me, my lord."

All the women were amazed at this and said, "Abba, do not let her insult you. She is touched."

Piterion then spoke to all the women, "You are the ones who are touched! This woman is an amma (which is what they call spiritual mothers) to both you and me and I pray that I may be counted as worthy as she on the Day of Judgment."

Hearing this, they fell at his feet, confessing various things, one saying how she had poured the leavings of her plate over her; another how she had beaten her with her fists; another how she had blistered her nose. So they confessed various and sundry outrages. After praying for them, he left.

After a few days she was unable to bear the praise and honor of the sisters, and all their apologizing was so burdensome to her that she left the monastery. Where she went and where she disappeared to, and how she died, nobody knows.

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