The un-judging monk
Teach me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother — from the Lenten prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian
Following is a re-telling of a story that I came across years ago in some patristic source (the Philokalia?) which I now can’t recall. Perhaps a commenter will know the source of the story.
A monastery was once burdened with a very difficult monk. He did hardly any work. He rarely came to the services. He lied. He stole food. He drank in his cell. He was a constant trial to all the other brethren.
Eventually the monk died and, with some relief, the brethren buried him.
Not long afterward, the Abbot of the monastery had a dream in which he saw the departed monk in Paradise. The Abbot said to him, “You? How is it that you, of all monks, are now in Paradise?”
The monk answered, “As many as my sins were, throughout my life I never judged anyone. It is written, Judge not, lest ye be judged. Since I judged not, I have been spared judgment.”
The abbot awoke and told the brethren of his encounter. All were filled with compunction.
Update: I found a reference to this story in the Prologue of Ohrid by St Nikolai Velomirovich. It turns out that the un-judging monk is commemorated in the Menaion! In my telling above I hope I got the main point right, but I got many details wrong; so here is St Nikolai’s (much better) entry for him (commemorated March 30):
Commemoration of a Monk who died joyfully and never judged anyone in his life
This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all his life he did not judge anyone. When dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how it was that with so many sins he could die joyfully, he replied: “I now see angels who are showing me a page containing my numerous sins. I said to them, ‘Our Lord said: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged (Luke 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me.’” And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this the monks were astonished and learned from it.
At first reading, the story sounds like a short-cut to Paradise. But I think it would probably be much easier for most of us to practice many virtues and endure many ascetic disciplines that simply not to judge our brother.
Not judging is so hard. I do it almost automatically; I don’t even catch the half of it I’m sure. Not only judging negative things, I think it is just as dangerous to judge someone in a positive way. As I keep reminding myself, only God know the thoughts and intentions of the heart…
Did you ever find the source of this story? I remember reading it before too, but have been unable to find where when I tried to locate it later.
Fr John, I’m sorry that I still haven’t been able to find the source. Very frustrating. I thought it was in either the Philokalia or the Ladder but have been unable to find (re-find?) the story there. Yet I clearly remember reading it. If I’m able to find it, I’ll be sure to post a reply here.
— Rdr. JB
Fr John, please see the update to this post: I seem to have tracked the story to its lair.
— Rdr. JB
Thanks, this is helpful… but I remember reading a version of this story that was more like the way you recounted it.
Here is the version that is found in the Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, by St. Dimitri of Rostov:
“A certain monk wasted his whole life in heedlessness and idleness. Then he fell gravely ill and his end drew near, but he showed no fear of death. Instead, he was merry, and prepared for his departure from the body joyfully praising and thanking God. Gathering at his bedside, the abbot and the other monks said to him, “Brother, we are witness to your inattentive life. How is it that you are so calm and happy now, when the dread hour is at hand? May our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you, so that you can rise and explain this mystery, and we may glorify God’s greatness.” “Lifting himself up a little, the monk replied, “Reverend fathers, what you say is true. I have thoughtlessly squandered the days of my life, and a moment ago God’s angels appeared to me and read a list of all my evil deeds. “Do you admit to this?” they asked. “Everything is true,” I conceded, “but you must take into account that since I renounced the world and was tonsured, I have judged no one and held no grudges. Christ said, Judge not, that ye be not judged, and If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. I pray that these passages be applied in my case.” No sooner had I spoken these words than the angels tore to pieces the scroll on which my transgressions were recorded. Now you know why I am please be leaving this temporal realm.” With this, the brother peacefully surrendered his soul into the Lord’s hands” (The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, by St. Dimitri of Rostov, March, P. 435f).
The Evergetinos has a similar account in Volume III, p 20f.
Fr John, Thanks! I would guess that St Nikolai in the Prologue had St Dimitri’s work as his source.
— Rdr JB