Sunday, December 14, 2014

Zossima of Palestine, Hermit, and a Significant Rule

Image of St. Zosimas of Palestine

Have come upon another hermit.  St. Zossima--this particular Zossima--lived in the 6th century.  He lived many years in a monastery since being sent as a young child.  At a later point in his life, he felt he was not learning and growing spiritually.  

There was no other at the monastery to act as mentor as he had climbed there as far as he could, on the spiritual ladder.  It was not a matter of Zossima being conceited or deceived by his spiritual status.  He simply realized he had come to a plateau, or perhaps a ledge beyond the other monks.  At the time he realized this, he had a vision with locution telling him to go out farther into the desert where he would find another monastery.  There he would find spiritual guidance.

Zossima did indeed find the monastery with many elder monks, wise and proven in their holiness and closeness to God.  He noted their rule of life as significant.  The monks kept praise of God and prayer a constant factor, and they kept their hands busy.  But the key element of their rule was their not knowing anything about how their fellow monks were living their vocations.  

While the hermit monks would come into the monastery on Sunday to celebrate the sacred mysteries and join together in singing the Psalms, during the weekdays they would be out in the desert, praising, praying and working in solitude.  They were to remain solitary and not to notice nor consider nor inquire as to what their fellow monks were thinking or doing.

One day Zossima, having gone deeper into the desert and not having encountered another living being for some time, noticed what he thought a vision of someone in the distance.  As he drew closer, he realized it was not a vision but a woman, whose back was turned to him--but weathered and blackened from years in the desert sun.  There is much more to this segment of Zossima's life, but in short, she was Mary of Egypt from whom he learned much in spiritual friendship.

However, the point in this particular sharing Zossima's first segment of life in the monastery, is that of his coming to a spiritual plateau and recognizing that fact.  Not often do we read of holy persons who outright admit that they have evolved beyond what others in their immediate circle of influence and direction, can teach them.  Perhaps it seems prideful to speak it.  

Yet, obviously many have and do come to that point in their spiritual lives, for we know of saint after saint whose lives took a turn and in which a change was necessary for them to continue to grow and learn, to climb farther the stairway to heaven.  Most do not explain why, not as Zossima humbly admits in his straightforward way--an honesty which some then and today might misconstrue as being prideful. Who does he think he is--thinking he had learned beyond the others in the first monastery and had no one more advanced than him to guide and teach?  In truth, it was the reality and fact.

Perhaps the reality of Zossima's self-assessment and resultant leaving to go deeper into the desert, to find others who were beyond him in the spiritual life, and then later to go out yet farther where he encountered Mary of Egypt, is what each of us ought consider for ourselves at key points in our lives.

Perhaps that is why certain aspects no longer challenge us. Perhaps we are being led further, to seek more, and to find means by which His Real Presence is teaching us when previous conveyors of spiritual instruction are no longer as effective.  It does make sense, all this.  Would God (or man) have us remain in sixth-grade for years and years?  Would we be held in place while running a race, or held part-way through?  Would we train for something, never to attempt again to exceed or desire to excel?

Zossima's simple self-awareness and honest admission that he had learned all he could at the first monastery, brought the needed guidance from God.  Zossima was to cast out into the deep, to move on to where he would find those who were advanced in holiness beyond his current companions and way of life.  He learned from the next monks and plumbed yet more depths of the spiritual life.  Then he was led farther and to the discovery of one (Mary of Egypt) who challenged and taught and showed him even more of God.

Nothing Catholic hermit very much senses that His Real Presence leads it in this way.  The coinciding of learning about Zossima and how he recognized and admitted he had come to a spiritual growth plateau and this hermit's sensing similar, brings assurance to venture further, deeper.

The examples of this sensing, if written here, would be criticized as rude, prideful, and disrespectful of conventional ways and means.  Rather, it is simply this hermit's recognition, yet in a faithful sense, that His Real Presence moves the soul ever onward.  Still in one aspect of the spiritual life, is helpful in knowing why certain aspects in this nothing hermit's life no longer challenge or produce the growth it knows possible, and beckons it to cast out into the deep--yet deeper and deeper--not knowing quite where.  But not to go back and to not fear nor grieve the severing.  Does not Jesus teach us the good of pruning?

This hermit also takes it to heart what a significant aspect of a rule of life, to not be concerned with what others are doing and if and how much and when they are progressing in their ascent to God.  Would someone rappelling a sheer face of rock be looking over or down or up to see how and what other people are doing?

Another aspect that impacts this hermit, is noting how St. Zossima did not waiver in nor doubt the vision and locution telling him to leave where he was stagnating and go on to where he would find those more advanced who could teach him.  He was not told to humble himself and remain unchallenged.  Sometimes it takes more humility to let go of what no longer is helpful for any number of reasons, and in faith, cease the current status:  Cast out into the deep.

God bless His Real Presence in us!  Little children, let us love one another for God wills us to love!

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