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Detaching From Anothers Scorn or


A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, Abba, give me a word,
that I may be saved. So the old man said, Go to the cemetery and abuse [insult] the dead.
The brother went there, abused [insulted] them and threw stones at them; then he returned
and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, Didnt they say anything to you? He
replied, No. The old man said, Go back tomorrow and praise them. So the brother went
away and praised them, calling them Apostles, saints and righteous men. He returned to the
old man and said to him, I have complimented them. And the old man said to him, Did they
not answer you? The brother said no. The old man said to him, You know how you insulted
them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if
you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no
account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved. 1

The Abbas wisdom reminds us that our ultimate identity is neither enhanced by anothers
praise nor diminished by their scorn or insults. The dead in the story did not respond to the
brothers insults or praises. They neither sought his praises nor avoided his scorn. Their lives
and the value of their lives were to be found elsewhere, not in the brothers words and

Until we know and trust that we are not determined by anothers evaluation of us we will
continue seeking approval, recognition, and reassurance from others that we are enough and
we usually never get enough of being told we are enough. Part of our spiritual work then is to
detach from anothers praises and insults, seeking our life, identity, and value in God alone.
This detachment does not mean we tune out or ignore what others might say whether it be
praise or insult. Rather, it allows us the freedom to hear and consider what is said, to be with
others in a more transparent and authentic way, and to live a humble life, neither making
ourselves more nor less than we really are. And when we can do that we have a new
freedom to be with God.

For Consideration and Practice

Abba Macarius is pushing us to look deep within ourselves. He offers no concrete answers or
practices. Rather, the practice is awareness and the letting go that comes with each new
awareness. Consider the following:

There is nothing wrong with positive affirmation or constructive criticism.

We need both. The issue, as we heard from Abba Zosimos a couple of
weeks ago, is attachment. Through attachment to anothers words and
judgments of us we give that other person power over our lives and allow
her or him to create us in and by their image of us. We receive and take
their assessment of us as the final truth of who we are. If we give them the
power to make us we also give them power to unmake us. Take no
account of either the scorn of men or their praises, Abba Macarius tells
the brother, and you can be saved.
Do you wonder and worry about what others are saying about you? Do you
spend time thinking about what others are thinking of you? Do you replay
in your head their voices of praise or insult? Has their image of you taken
on more power and meaning than the image of God within you?
How do you respond when praised? Do you avoid it? Do you want more?
Do you believe it? Deny it? At a deeper level, what is going on behind your
response to anothers praise? The next time you are praised try this. Say
thank you and leave it at that or simply reflect back what is said to you. I
am glad you think my work is good. I am glad you really like my
singing. Acknowledge it but take no account of it.
How do you respond when insulted or criticized? With fear, anger,
resentment? Do you become defensive? Retaliate in some way? Do you
shrink and hide? Do you assume its correct? This will be difficult but the
next time you receive an insult or criticism dont enter it on the ledger.
Like the dead, take no account. When we dont keep score we give
ourselves the opportunity to hear the kernel of truth that might be in the
others words.
Heavenly Father, in his earthly life your Son heard praise and scorn from others and he took
no account. Let me take no account of the praises and insults I receive. Rather, let me die to
the opinions and judgments of others that I may be saved and raised to new life in your
image and likeness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.