Bear with me for a minute, you’re no longer you. You’re a saint – no, seriously, you are. You’re a monk living in the fourth century in the desert of Scetis. By this time you’re a father of many younger monks and you’re not only responsible to lead them to salvation – you’re also responsible for your own life of prayer and maintaining seclusion. While you go about your normal day (weaving baskets and praying- ofcourse!), a few elders come up to you and exclaim that they need you to visit Paesia the Harlot.
Okay. Who the what when!? Let’s give a little backstory, because hearing that is a little jarring for a saintly man like you! Paesia lives in Alexandria (about a 4-day walk from where you are in Scetis). She lost her parents very early on and decided to make her house a hospice for the monks of Scetis to stay in when they visit Alexandria. This is no ordinary feat for an orphaned child, this is the making of a saint right here – right? Wrong. Well, sort of. She soon ran out of money, figures – she didn’t diversify her portfolio before she squandered her inheritance! Having no money and barely able to find food for herself to survive – little Paesia naturally stopped supporting the monks of the desert and regrettably turned to prostitution.
Now, this is where you come in. The elders of Scetis felt that since she gave all she could for charity, they ought to offer her charity and help her out of this problem she’s in. There’s a lesson there, friends! They didn’t go speak to her personally – they did recognize the need to reach out to her – but they also went to, arguably, the wisest elder in Scetis at the time – saint John the Short. That’s you.
Off to Alexandria
Alright. For the sake of time I’m not even going to discuss how awkward visiting a prostitute must be for a monk – and I’m not even going to address how dangerous it is either. Abba John went to Paesia’s place and asked to see her. Naturally, he was asked to leave by her doorman – saint John said he has a thing that might interest her. Having heard this, Paesia exclaimed that these desert monks tend to find pearls and various priceless artifacts – she let him in.
Paesia was in bed, ready to do what she usually does to make money. Saint John walked in quietly, sat beside her – keeping a safe distance, and looked her in eye. “What did Jesus ever do to you, for you to behave this way?” – Said John, then he immediately started weeping. The scarred scarlet woman was surely scared to open up – but seeing this act of compassion by Abba John helped her ease a little.
Shocked, Paesia asked John “Why are you crying, Father?”. “I see Satan controlling you, how could I not cry?” He replied. “Is there any hope for me, Father?” She asked, Abba John then said that there is hope, but not in that place of sin. She got up with him, making no arrangements for her possessions or wealth she got up and left with Abba John. When they stopped in the desert, he made her a pillow of sand and marked it with the sign of the cross – then walked down a bit and did the same for himself. A few hours into the night – Abba John looked up to see a shining pillar from where she slept to heaven – and angels bearing her soul. He threw himself on the ground – even after this glorious sight he wondered if she was saved – worried that she had no time to live a life of repentance.
The voice said “One hour of her repenting is more sufficient than days of insincere pleadings of many” (I paraphrased this because I didn’t like the original wording in my reference. It still captures the gist of it, just a little more clear, and it’s my blog I can do what I want :P)
Pearls in the desert
All joking and role playing aside (because you’re not saint John – and if you are call me I’d like to talk about an adaptation), this story is loaded with lessons and desert wisdom.
The Elders of Scetis
Let’s start with the one highlighted earlier, the elders of Scetis. I guess we can even take it a step further (further back?) by mentioning how they didn’t abandon her when she turned away from Christ. I mean these are monks, they’re programmed to run the opposite direction of any source of lust. They recognized that we are all the same body of Christ, and that one of the members needed attention. They also didn’t wear their superhero costumes and swoop to her rescue, so they acknowledged the danger of the situation and realized their weakness against the potential temptation. They went and fetched the wise Saint John the Little – a father of many monks and at the time a recognized elder in Scetis. So when one of our loved ones, friends or near-strangers stray away from the Church, we ought not to ignore that fact, not to take it upon ourselves to play the hero, but to bring it to our responsible priest’s attention and follow their guidance. (and totes pray about it – but that’s in our contract, right?)
Saint John the Little
The second lesson is a harder one to apply but a necessary one to acknowledge. Abba John’s reaction. Indeed he was short in stature but he was far from short on wisdom. First of all, he very persistently got into her place. That’s cool. Second, he went in and left space between them- staying vigilant against temptation. However, he was compassionate. This is what we ought to learn from our wise Abba John. He wept, and wept bitterly for her soul. It’s as if an immediate family member is slowly passing away to a self-inflicted disease. There were no words necessary, no complicated discourse – no interpretive dance and no PowerPoint presentation. He just reacted with compassion and she got it. Not only that, it’s also the work of the Spirit in her, Abba John knew that it wasn’t going to be him that will convince Paesia to turn away from sin – but Christ will call her Himself.
Lastly, we are to learn from the Saintly Paesia.
Paesia; The Harlot Turned Saint
Paesia wasn’t always far from Christ. Actually, she was doing better than most of us are. After losing her parents – she opened up her house to monks! and used her inheritance to feed them and take care of them to the last penny! Who does that?! We would undoubtedly be overtaken by grief and our focus would be our own well-being, reasonably so. Point is, she was super legit.
So she started off at a better point than most of us are – and fell. There’s a lesson there, and it has a lot to do with gravity. No matter how spiritually stable you think you are – expect temptation at all times. (Don’t believe me? Ask the great Abba Antony!)
Now, let’s fast-forward and get to the point where Saint John is attempting to get into her place. Do I really think she let him in because “monks come across pearls all the time” ? Personally, I don’t. I think she, even if she didn’t formally acknowledge it, was looking for repentance and rejoiced that someone is offering a helping hand. She let him in. Sometimes you may not be strong enough to help yourself up, but that’s why it’s important to let your loved ones in.
Lastly, we can learn from her repentance story. She is truly representing those of the eleventh hour. Even Saint John in all his wisdom was slightly worried that she had no time to act on her repentance. Our faith needs works, it needs an action that solidifies our repentance. But that’s what I’m arguing – that the second she let him in she was already going through a rigorous trial back to Christ.
It’s never too late for repentance, and Christ is always reaching out.
That’s the tale of the very saintly Paesia. Cool story, eh?