A drunk holy man


Searching for light through thorns. Photo by Andrei.

I once heard a story. I don’t know whether I remember its details correctly, but here is the gist of it: a man goes to a monastery and tells the monks there that he came because an angel told him that a holy man had died in the monastery, and he wanted to pay his respects. But the monks say, “this cannot be true; no holy man has died here.” But the man insisted. “No,” the monks say, “it really cannot be true; the only one who died here for a long time is a drunk; we accepted him in our community, but he could not be a saint; he was drunk almost all day long.”

But the monks, the story goes, did not know that indeed the drunk was a holy man. When he came to the monastery, he used to drink 40 glasses of wine per day, but he was always praying to God to help him with this problem, and by the time he died he was only drinking 20 glasses per day. God saw his effort and blessed him for it.

The story usually brings to surface the lack of understanding that is exhibited in the judgment of another. We do not know his or her battles, problems, or obstacles. But there is one other aspect of it: the drunk was probably seeing himself a sinner; he may have cried over this habit of which he could not escape; he may have asked God’s help in all the days of his life, at times with despair (why can’t I get rid of my drunkenness, o, Lord?), at times with hope (thank you, Lord, for helping me to refuse this glass that is in front of me). But I can’t imagine him feeling entitled, or feeling that he deserves to be called holy. I can’t imagine him considering that he has “progressed” on the way to sainthood. What he had before him was this particular glass of wine, one new battle. Or, as I heard someone say recently, one more occasion to say, “Lord, be with me even if I take this glass.” Or, “Emmanuel.”



About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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