November 2010 - St. John - 'The Short'
Our Venerable Father
St. John ‘the Short’
Saint John, surnamed Kolobos, meaning ``the Short'' or “the Dwarf”, was among the most renowned saints ever to inhabit the Egyptian desert.
John was born about the year 339, into a pious Coptic Christian family in the region of Thebes in Upper Egypt. His desire for monastic life led him to remote places in Egypt where he trained for an austere life style. At the age of eighteen, he wandered into the wilderness of the Natron Valley or Scetes in the Nitrian Desert and became a disciple of the old hermit, Abba Pemouah. Abba Pemouah led John to perfect watchfulness, solitude, self-control, meekness, silence, humility, simplicity and obedience.
For his first lesson as a monk, Abba Pemouah, instructed John to plant his walking stick in the ground and to water it every day until it bore fruit. John did what he was asked without complaint, even though the river was a great distance from the stick. After three years of humbly observing his task the stick had taken root, pushed forth leaves and buds and produced fruit. The old hermit, gathered the fruit, carried it into the church, and gave it to the monks saying, ``Take, and eat the fruit of obedience''.
Abba Pemouah instructed John to live in a cave near his tree. Soon other monks settled in the area and John became their spiritual Father. A monastery was built around his tree during his own lifetime. For centuries, visitors were shown this tree which grew in the yard of the monastery and was always covered with shoots and green leaves.
As a teacher, Abba John stressed the importance of “a settled spirit” or ``quietness''; he says, ``the longer quietness prevails, the weaker temptations become, and the healthier the mind becomes until it reaches peace.'' For work, he wove grass baskets and mats to sell in the village market. He was so preoccupied with the awareness of God’s presence in all things that he often became very absent-minded. He sometimes wove without stopping and ended up with extra large misshaped baskets. One day a monk stopped by to collect John’s baskets and mats and take them into town. While gathering his things, John forgot what he was doing and returned to the door of his cell three times to ask the monk why he was there. He had to repeat to himself, ` The baskets, my brother, the camel. The baskets, my brother, the camel. The baskets, my brother, the camel.'' Finally, he sat down and continued his work, calling the brother to come in, and take them himself.
Some brothers wanted to know how to be perfect followers of Christ. Abba John said, 'a house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundation in order to reach the top’. They said to him, 'What does this saying mean?' He answered, 'The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must win, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.'
On his deathbed, he summoned the monks and instructed them to, "Pray earnestly with compunction and vigilance. Pay no attention to the faults of others. Do not measure yourself against other people, for you are lower than every creature." He reposed in peace at his monastery surrounded by his brothers at an advanced age.