We come to the conclusion of Conference 18, struck both by the beauty of the wisdom put forward and the fearfulness of its warning. The example of the perfect patience and long suffering of the young monk Paphnutius described at our last meeting is followed by an explication of the most dangerous of sins - spiritual envy. The poison of this serpent's bite knows no remedy - for the sting of the serpent goes unseen and unfelt and remains hidden by an otherwise virtuous life. "What would you do in the case of a person who is offended by the very fact that he sees that you are humbler and kinder . . . ?" The hatred of the good and the desire to destroy it can be hidden within the pursuit of holiness itself. No guidance from even the wisest of elders can draw out the poison. Only the action of God's grace can and in the fashion of the love and suffering of the cross. When the one offended suffers at the sight of the sin in the other, not in judgment but in compassion. Who sees the deep wounds, trembles and weeps and then offers his own life in reparation; absorbing the poison even at great costs (including death) not simply to contain the poison but to transform it through a Godly love.
A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the deep wounds the faithful have suffered at the hands of the shepherds and what can possibly bring healing to a flock that has been ravaged. Once again, the humble embrace of the mystery of the Cross stands before us in all its fearsome splendor.
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