St Paul the Apostle writes simply and succinctly about being satisfied with little, “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (1 Tim. 6-8). Also the Lord tells us about the rich fool who wanted to destroy his old granaries and build larger ones, because his land had produced abundantly. Contentment with little is a characteristic feature of monastic life from its very beginning to this day. I hope that this Athonite story will gladden the reader with the fact that this spiritual practice has not completely disappeared among the monks.
An old hermit once came to a monk’s kaliva in one of the sketes. He was holding an oil jar with a broken spout.
— Abba, give me some vegetable oil. It’s been a month since it ran out. Eating greens without oil is starting to upset my stomach.
The hermit was shivering with cold. His rundown clothes were not protecting his withered body from the strong wind often blowing during the winter months. The monk living at the skete had just received a woolen sweater in the mail. Bringing it to the hermit, he said,
— Here, take it. It’s new and knitted from sheep’s wool. Put it on or you’ll freeze.
The hermit put on the sweater, took the bottle of oil and left happy. But a few minutes later he came back with the sweater in his hand, saying, “Abba, I won’t need it. Better give it to someone who needs it more”.
About twenty days later, the hermit elder really moved to a place of eternal rest, where he no longer needed sweaters.
A person from Switzerland was once travelling around Athos and found himself in front of a kaliva, which was not much different from a cowshed. He knocked softly on the door, and a weak voice from within invited him to enter. Entering inside, he saw an old man sitting on a wooden bed and fingering a rosary. The visitor looked round the poor setting of the Kaliva and began to contemplate the old man, dressed in clothes made of coarse wool. The language barrier made it difficult for them to have a conversation, but it was clear without words that the elder lived in poverty and was disregarded by people. He did not mess with divine things trying to seem important to people, and for that reason remained unknown to anyone. The visitor took fifty dollars from his wallet to give to the elder.
— No, I won’t take it. Not so long ago, a man gave me twenty dollars; this should last me for a long time.
Winter came, and the foreigner remembered the hermit and mailed him a hundred dollars for firewood and food. Having received it, the elder immediately sent it back, because someone had already sent him money. The foreigner sent it again asking the hermit to distribute it among the poor brethren. The elder returned it again with a request, “Why don’t you do it yourself? It will not be good if I look merciful at your expense”.
In the summer, the Swiss man converted to Orthodoxy and was baptized. He learned from the elder that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” and tried not to take anything without need.
This story is like the clear water in a mountain spring, whose mere sight and purl refreshes a person.
Archimandrite Gregory (Zumis), abbot of the Dochiariou monastery. Excerpt from the book People of the Church that I Knew
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds