The Monk and the Emperor

Another story on humility by abba Poemen:


19.  (A longer version of V.xv.66) The blessed senior monk Poemen told the brothers the following account of a monk who lived in Constantinople in the time of the Emperor Theodosius. “He had a little cell in the suburb called Septimum, just outside the city, where the Emperors used to come out from the city to relax. When the Emperor heard that there was a solitary monk living there who never went out of his cell, he took a walk over to the place where the monk lived, warning the eunuchs who were with him to prevent anyone following him to the monk’s cell. He went on alone and knocked on his door, and the monk got up and opened the door but did not recognize that his visitor was the Emperor, for he had taken off his crown to prevent recognition. After the prayer of welcome they sat down and the Emperor began to question him. “‘How do the holy fathers in Egypt spend their time?’ he asked. “‘They all pray for your salvation,’ he replied. “The Emperor looked around the cell and saw nothing except a few loaves of dry bread hanging up in baskets. “‘Give a blessing, father,’ he said, ‘and let us have something to eat.’ “‘The monk immediately brought water and salt, and a few little loaves and they ate together. He offered the Emperor water, and he drank. “‘Do you know who I am?’ the Emperor Theodosius then asked. “‘No sir, I don’t,’ the monk replied. “‘I am the Emperor Theodosius,’ he said, ‘but I have come here simply as a pilgrim.’ “At this the monk prostrated himself. “‘Blessed are you monks’ said the Emperor, ‘for you are free and safe from all the worries of the world and go through life in peace and quietness, concentrating on the salvation of your souls and how you may gain the heavenly reward of eternal life. I was born into royalty, and I live in royalty, and I tell you truly that I can never eat my food free from care.’ “The Emperor then showed him every mark of respect before taking his leave. That same night the servant of God began to turn things over in his mind. “‘I don’t think I ought to live here any longer, for there will be many not only from the common people but also from the palace and the senators who will want to follow the Emperor’s example and come to visit me, and honour me as some servant of God who deserves adulation. And although they will be doing this in the name of the Lord, I am fearful that the malignant devil will take advantage of this, I shall begin to enjoy welcoming them in, and my heart will be led astray by their praises and respect, and gradually I shall lose the virtue of humility, and I shall revel in their praises and respect.’ “Turning these things over in his mind, the man of God that same night fled to the holy fathers in the desert of Egypt. “So, my dear brothers, just think how much value that servant of God placed in the virtue of humility, by which he might be found worthy to receive from Christ the Lord eternal glory in the kingdom of heaven, because of the labours of a holy life, lived in the name of the Lord.” END

From: De Vitis Patrum, Book III by Rufinus of Aquileia, Presbyter

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