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Since the start of the year, I’ve been on the road, having departed from a monastery in Greece, and now bound for Egypt, via Turkey, Syria, and Israel. Vicariously, unfortunately, through the travel diary of William Dalrymple, who himself is retracing the steps of the sixth-century pilgrim John Moschos. I’m just up to the part in his recount where he’s describing some of the Byzantine ascetics, who were renowned for their weird and wacky feats of self-denial.
Like Thalelaeus, a big man, who lived for more than ten years in a small cage, trying to make himself as uncomfortable as possible, on the premise that ‘if by these slight afflictions I lessen those awaited, great is the profit I shall derive therefrom’. Really? Is that how God wants us to live? To put aside all creature comforts in this life, in the hope of lessening one’s creature discomforts in the next?
How thankful I am for that Book of Truth that saves us from such fanaticism. In one of his letters, the apostle Paul speaks about certain ascetic practices that have the appearance of wisdom, but do nothing to advance holiness. And Thalelaeus would have done better to have read the Epistle, and to know the freedom offered in Christ, than to have invented some confused cage of consecration. And therefore my New Year’s resolution will remain the same as those of previous years: “Resolved to know nothing, and to preach nothing, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
DM 7th January 2023