A Good Question from the Desert Fathers


"Pambo said to Antony, ‘What shall I do?’ Antony said, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness. Do not go on sorrowing over a deed that is past. Keep your tongue and your belly under control.’”

I don’t know who Pambo was, but I envision some poor guy who makes a long, difficult journey out to the desert. He has a problem and can find no solution, but he knows who will be able to help. So he braves the heat, the snakes and the scorpions and sets out to find Antony. “What shall I do?”

Pambo’s question is, at best, ambiguous. It could mean, “Now that I’ve made such a mess of my life, what shall I do?” Perhaps he’s a young man hoping for advice on how to live his life to be happy and find peace and contentment, “What shall I do?” Or, he might be in search of advice on a career or vocation, the best way to earn a living, or perhaps joining Antony in a cave in the desert, “What shall I do?”

Antony doesn’t hesitate with his answer, nor does he seek clarification of the question. The true nature of the question seems almost irrelevant to Antony. His answer is almost as cryptic as Pambo’s question. What Antony does, in truth, is remarkable. He gives Pambo the answer to any possible question he may have. Antony’s answer provides guidance appropriate to solving any messy personal situation, choosing a career, or finding peace and contentment. In fact, his answer above all points the way to a life of peace and contentment.

Antony calls Pambo to a life of humility, built on the foundations of the virtues: faith, hope, charity. He is reminding Pambo of the truth of his situation: he does not have the power to save himself, or even bring himself peace, but must trust in God – have faith. He cannot escape past sinfulness but must conform his life in loving trust that God can, and has, forgiven him and wishes Pambo to enjoy His love forever – have hope. Finally, Antony reminds Pambo to put the good of others before his own, and to love God above any human comfort or satisfaction – have charity.

As with most of the sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find a great deal of wisdom packed into very few words. I think Pambo's trip was worth it.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on October 17, 2007 7:43 AM.

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