|Saint Poemen The Great|
|Part of |
Abba Poemen The Great (
Abba Poemen lived at a monastery in
Abba Poemen's personality was described as that of a wise shepherd more than a desert ascetic. He was known for his tolerance of the weakness of others. One apocryphal story recounts that some of the older monks approached Abba Poemen for his advice on how to treat monks who fell asleep during their prayers. They were inclined to wake the sleeping monk, while Abba Poemen took a more compassionate approach, advising, "For my part, when I have seen a brother who is dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest." Abba Poemen was typically opposed to giving harsh penances to those who slipped spiritually—when a monk came to him who had committed a "great sin", Abba Poemen reduced his penance from three years to three days.
Another story, though also used in support of Poemen's tendency to "refrain from judgement", may show a dragging underbelly of the early monastic movement. The story tells of a brother monk with a wife (Harmless cites a source claiming her to be a "mistress," but the Systematic Collection uses the Greek word for "woman"/"wife") who had a child—perhaps unclear who the father was. Abba Poemen sent him a bottle of wine as a gift, to celebrate, and the brother was so "conscious stricken...[that he] later dismissed the woman" and became a monk.
Abba Poemen was also described as a charismatic speaker who still taught more by example than by lecturing others. When a visiting monk asked him if he should assume a role of authority over the brothers he was living with, Abba Poemen responded by saying, "No, be their example, not their legislator." Judgment of others was also foreign to his nature. He once stated that, "A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling incessantly." Modern writers credit Abba Poemen's gift of memory for keeping alive many of the stories from the Apophthegmata Patrum. Many of those stories are recollections of Abba Poemen from his time with the monks in Scetis. A later Coptic writer, Zacharias of Sakha, believed that Abba Poemen was also a writer, leading to speculation that he might have been one of the authors of the Apophthegmata Patrum.
Some scholars consider the Abba Poemen of the