From the manuscripts of Philotheou Monastery, Mount Athos
There once was a hermit who labored in the wilderness for seventy years, in fasting, vigils, and much watchfulness. In all of the years that he served God, he was not accounted worthy to see neither a vision nor any revelation from Him. For this reason he fell to thinking, “Perhaps for some reason of which I am not aware, God is not pleased with my labors? This must be why I have not seen any revelation or any mystery.”
Contemplating these things, the elder began to labor and to pray to God with more vehemence, saying, “Lord, if my labor is truly pleasing to You and if You receive my works, I the sinful and unworthy one beseech You to give me just a drop of Your spiritual gifts, so that through the vision of some mystery I will be informed that You have heard my prayer. Thus, I will be able to commit my ascetic life to You with more courage and trust.”
Praying in this manner, the elder heard a voice from God which said, “If you desire to see My glory, go deeper into the wilderness and there many mysteries will be revealed to you.” As soon as he heard the voice, the elder left his cell. After wandering for a while, he encountered a bandit who, as soon as he saw him, overtook him with all of his strength, desiring to kill him. After he caught the elder, the bandit said, “It is good that I met you, Abba, because now I will complete my work and be saved!”
“But how will you be saved if you kill me?” asked the astonished elder.
“We bandits have the following law and faith: the one who is able to kill one hundred people will go to Paradise. Therefore, having labored much until now, I have killed ninety-nine, and lacking one, I have striven much to fulfill the last and to be saved. That is why you have given me much joy, and I thank you because today through you I will indulge in Paradise!”
Having heard this, the bewildered elder trembled from the unexpected and desperate situation in which he found himself. Then, raising the eyes of his mind towards God, he said, “Is this Your glory, Master and Lord, which You have willed to show me, Your servant? Such counsel have You given me, the sinner, to leave from my cell in order to inform me with such a mystery? With such gifts have You rewarded my labors? Now I have known in truth, Lord, that all of my asceticism has been in vain and all of my prayers have been accounted before You as something worthy of loathing and disgust. Even so, I give thanks to You for Your love of man, that You have punished my unworthiness as is meet, for my innumerable sins, and that You have given me over into the hands of this bandit and murderer!”
Saying things such as these with pain, the elder began to thirst. Afterwards he said to the bandit, “My son, since the Lord for my sins has given me over into your hands in order for you to kill me and take me from this life, as the wicked man that I am — and behold, your wish has been fulfilled — I beseech you to also fulfill one small wish of mine. Give me a little water to drink, and then you can cut off my head.”
As soon as the bandit heard these words of the elder and desiring to fulfill his request, with much joy he put his sword back into the sheath, and bringing forth from his chest pocket a small vessel, he went down to the river nearby to fill it with water and bring it back to the elder to drink. Yet while he was there filling the vessel, he gave up his soul and died.
Time having passed and not seeing the bandit returning, the elder thought to himself, “Perhaps he became tired and fell asleep, and that is why he is delaying in returning? Maybe this is my chance to escape and return to my cell? But I am old and am afraid that I do not have the strength to run. Being weak, I will tire quickly, and he will catch me. Thus having enraged him all the more, he will torture me without mercy, cutting me up into many pieces. So I better not run but should rather go to the river to see what he is doing.”
Thinking upon this, the elder went down to the river and found the bandit dead, for which he wondered greatly. Raising his hands towards Heaven, he said, “Lord, Lover of men, if You do not reveal this mystery to me, I will not lower my hands. Let your compassion be upon this labor of mine and show it to me!”
With this prayer on his lips, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do you see, Abba, the one who lies dead before you? For your sake he received this sudden death, so that you could escape and not be killed. For this reason you should bury him as one saved. Since he did obedience to you and for the fact that he put his sword back into the sheath in order to bring water to quench your thirst, the rage of God was quenched, and He received him as a worker of obedience. Furthermore, his admission to killing ninety-nine people was accounted as a confession. Therefore bury him and commemorate him with those who have been saved. Through this you should know the abyss of love for men and the compassion of God. Now go back to your cell rejoicing, and be more zealous in your prayers. Do not say that you are sinful and unworthy of revelations. Behold the mystery which God has revealed to you. And you should also know this: all of your ascetic labors have been received by God, for there is never a labor which has been done for God which does not rise up before him.
Upon hearing these things, the elder buried the dead.