The Monk Agathon of Egypt
Commemorated on March 2
The Monk Agathon
of Egypt, a contemporary of the Monk Makarios the Great (Comm. 19 January),
pursued asceticism in a skete monastery in Egypt. He was distinguished by an
especial meekness, accounting himself most sinful among men. One time monks
from afar came to the monk Agathon for spiritual talk and asked him: "Art
thou Father Agathon?" "Ye see before you a sinful servant of
God", – answered the monk. "It is rumoured, that thou art a man
proud and intemperate", – replied the monks. "Completely true",
agreed the saint. "We have heard also, that thou art a liar that loveth to
gossip about others". "This also is true", – assented Saint
Agathon. "They say moreover, that thou art an heretic?" – the monks
persisted, but immediately they met with an objection: "In vain, I am not
an heretic". When they asked the monk why, having accepted upon himself
other vices, that he refused this last one, the saint explained: "These
vices it is impossible not to ascribe to myself, since every man by his nature
falls into sin, and all of us, through the corruption of our nature, are
involuntarily captivated by vices; but heresy is apostacy from God, a
deliberate renunciation of the True God".
To the question about which ascetic deeds are more important for salvation, the external or the inner, the monk Agathon answered: "A man is like a tree; the outer or bodily concerns itself with leaves, whereas the inner soul grows fruit. But just as Holy Scripture asserts, that "every tree which does not bear good fruit, shalt be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Mt 3: 10), so then it is evident from this, that the greater attention ought to concern the fruit. But a tree also has need for its leaves, so as to sustain the life-bearing sap and by the shade of its leaves offer protection to the tree and its fruit from the desiccating heat".
The monk Agathon died in about the year 435. For three days before his end the monk sat in silence and concentration, as though disturbed about something. To the perplexed questioning of the monks he answered, that he saw himself at the Judgement in front of Christ. "How is it possible that thou, father, should fear judgement?" – they asked him. "I through my strength have kept the commandments of the Lord, but as a man how might I be certain, that my deeds have been pleasing to God?". "Dost thou not trust that thy good deeds which thou hast accomplished, are pleasing to God?" – asked the monks. "I have no hope until such time as I see God. Human judgement is one thing, but Divine judgement is another matter". Having said this, the saint expired to the Lord.
[Trans. Note: "Agathon" in Greek means "Good", just as also "Makarios" means "Blessed"; – there is a didactic thread woven into the fabric of many of the Saints vitae teaching this or that moral point or insight. Thus, whether or not Saint Agathon started monastically with such a name is less relevant than having finished with it. The opening dialogue with the monks from afar takes on a deeper dimension when set in perspective of: "Art thou Brother Good", – "Ye see before you a sinner" "guilty of all the sins ye allege and more" "but God forbid, no heretic!"].
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.