Still Water

In a piece called “Silence in Prayer: The Meaning of Hesychia”, Kallistos Ware, an Orthodox bishop, describes a story from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers about three friends who became monks:

As his ascetic labor the first adopts the task of peace-maker, seeking to reconcile those who go against the law against one another. The second cares for the sick, and the third goes into the desert to become a solitary. After a time the first two grow weary and discouraged. However hard they struggle they are physically and spiritually incapable of meeting all the demands placed on upon them. Close to despair, they go to the third monk, the hermit, and tell him about their troubles. At first he is silent. After a while he pours water into a bowl and says to the others, “Look.” The water is murky and turbulent. They wait for some minutes. The hermit says, “look again.” The sediment has now sunk to the bottom and the water is entirely clear; they see their own faces as in a mirror. “That is what happens,” says the hermit, “to someone who lives among men: because of the turbulence he does not see his own sins. But when he has learnt to be still,… he recognizes his own faults.”

We are not told what the first two monks did afterwards. If they returned to their original vocations, they may have interpreted the words of the third monk as “… social action by itself is not enough. Unless there is a still center in the middle of the storm, unless a man in the midst of all his activism preserves a secret room in his heart where he stands alone before God, then he will lose all sense of spiritual direction and be torn to pieces.”