Abba Poemen and the Judge

“On this day also, the ascetic saint, abba Poemen, departed. He was born about the year 350 A.D., in one of the cities of Egypt. He had six brothers, John, Jacob, Job, Joseph, Sonosyos, and Abraham. They all agreed to become monks, and they dwelt in a remote place.”

— From the Coptic Synaxarium, the 4th of Elnasie/the small month.

We read more about Abba Poemen in Vitae Patrum Book 3:

 20.    (A longer version of V.viii.13) On this subject, others among the holy fathers made the following mention of the holy Poemen himself. “Once when the provincial judge arrived and heard of Poemen’s reputation for holiness, he tried to pay him a visit, and sent a messenger to ask if Poemen would be willing to receive him. Poemen was not very pleased. “‘If the nobility are going to start coming to see me and pay me, respect,’ he thought to himself, ‘all sorts of other people will also want to come, and that will mean that the hidden quality of my life will be destroyed, and by the workings of the malignant devil I shall lose the grace of humility that with so much labour I have striven to cultivate, with the help of the Lord, from my youth up.’ “After a long struggle with himself he decided to excuse himself and refuse to accept a visit from the judge. The judge was very disappointed at his refusal to see him. “‘I suppose it is because of my sins that I am not good enough to see the man of God,’ he said to his deputy. Nevertheless he still fervently desired to see the holy man by any means that he possibly could. So he thought up a plan which would provide an excuse for seeing him; he arrested the son of blessed Poemen’s sister and put him in prison, hoping that this would make Poemen willing to see him, or even to make him come and make a plea before the judge. “‘To save the old man any worry’, he said to his deputy, ‘tell him that he must make up his mind to come and see me. That is what is needed if we are to free the young man from prison. His case is such that we cannot pass over it unpunished.’ “When the young man’s mother, holy Poemen’s sister, heard of this she went out into the desert where Poemen was, stood at the door of his cell with much sobbing and weeping, begging him to go down to the judge and plead for her son. But the blessed Poemen not only said nothing to her, but he would not even open the door and go out to her. So she began to curse him. “‘You are wicked and hard-hearted,’ she said. ‘You’ve got guts of iron. Can’t my great grief fill you with pity? I only have the one son, who now stands in danger of death.’ “Poemen sent her a message by the brother who ministered to him. “‘Go and tell her that Poemen has no sons and so therefore it is no concern of his.’ “When the judge got to hear of all this, he spoke to his scribes, “‘Write him a letter to say that if only he will write to me with a request, I might be able to release the young man.’ “Faced with so many people urging him, the holy old man at last did write to the judge. “‘May your honour inquire diligently into his case and if he has done anything worthy of death, let him die, so that by paying the penalty for his sin in this present life he may be spared the eternal punishments of everlasting hell. But if he has done nothing worthy of death, do you decide what is right according to the law.'”


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


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