Avoiding Attachment to Material Things


One of the fathers related of Abba John the Persian that his great charity had brought him to a profound innocence. He dwelt in Arabia of Egypt.

One day he borrowed some money from a brother and bought some flax for his work. Then a brother came and asked him, “Abba, give me a little flax so that I can make myself a cloak.” He gave him some readily. Similarly, another brother came and asked him, “Give me a little flax, so that I can make some cloth.” So he gave him some too. Others came and asked him for things and he simply gave them cheerfully.

Later, the owner of the money came to reclaim it. The old man said to him, “I will go and get it for you.” Because he could not return it to him, he went to Abba James, who was a deacon, to ask him to give him some money so that he could return it to the brother. On the way, he found a coin on the ground but he did not touch it. He said a prayer and returned to his cell. But the brother came once more pestering him about the money, and the old man said to him, “I am very worried about it.” Once again he went, found the coin on the ground where it was lying and once again he said a prayer and returned to his cell.

But the brother came back to pester him as before. The old man said to him, “This time I will certainly bring it to you.” Once again he got up and went to the place where the coin lay on the ground. He said and prayer and went to tell Abba James, “Abba, as I was coming here, I found this coin on the road. Please make it known in the neighborhood, in case someone has lost it; and if its owner is found, give it to him.”

So the old man went and asked about it for three days, but no one who had lost a piece of money came. Then the old man said to Abba James, “Then if no one has lost it, give it to this brother, for I owe it him. As I was coming to ask you for alms in order to give him his due, I found it.”

The old man was astonished that, having a debt and finding that piece, he had not picked it up at once and given it to him. It was equally to his credit that when someone came to borrow something from Abba John, he did not give it him himself, but said to the brother, “Go and help yourself to whatever you need,” and when someone brought anything back to him, he would say, “Put it back where it belongs.” If the borrower did not return the thing he did not say anything to him.”

from “The Desert Christian,” by Sr. Benedicta Ward, (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975), pp. 107-108