That We Should Be Merciful

RussianSchemamonkA brother who had committed a serious sin decided to confess it to another monk. Instead of openly stating what he had done, the brother asked, “If a thought like this came into someone’s mind, would he be saved?” The monk told him, “There is no hope for you.” Hearing this, the brother thought, “If I am going to perish, I might as well do it in the world.”

As he was abandoning the solitary life, the brother thought of Abba Silvanus and turned aside to visit him. Again, without reporting the nature of his sin, he asked the same oblique question. Silvanus quoted Scripture and said, “That judgment falls on everyone, whether or not they have sinned.” This moved the brother to confess his sin. Like a skilled physician, Silvanus applied an ointment of Scripture texts to the wounded one, observing that repentance is available for everyone who turns to God.

Years later, Silvanus encountered the monk who had discouraged the brother. “That brother, who was crushed by your response and was returning to the world, is now a bright star among us.”


  1. mary says

    i was christmated into the orthodox faith back in 06.i thought that i was forgiven every sin i did in the the old fleetwood mac song says,don’t you look back. but i’ve notice issues or sins coming to the surface even now.i go to my spiritual father with these things.i suppose if i don’t deal with these issues or sins now here on earth,i will have to deal with them when i st. paul said,work out your own salvation.Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner! mary

  2. Karen says

    Dear Father, bless! This just goes to show that who you choose to listen to is hugely important. Thank God the brother had enough faith to try and ask another Father (getting a second opinion in dire spiritual, not just medical, matters can be a prudent move). Hope is a powerful force, and God’s mercy gives abundant reason never to abandon it!

  3. leonard Nugent says

    Father Stephen, You said something a few weeks ago that has stuck with me and has helped me. So, sometimes I’ll remind myself and turn to God and say: God be merciful to me a im a hypocrit. I feel at those times our Lord smiles and says…at last I’m gettting some truth from this guy!

  4. says

    I love the desert Fathers because there are lots of stories like this in their sayings. There is always this tension, this contrast, between mercy and rigor. I am reminded by it sometimes of the same tension in rabbinical Judaism’s texts where the sayings and actions of Hillel are contrasted with those of Shammai. Hillel would respond to situations in the same way that Silvanus did, Shammai would often respond the way the first monk did. Mercy and rigor.

    The wonder is that at any time we may be called to show mercy or rigor, and with God’s help we sometimes do say or do the right thing.