Reading The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, I came across at least two accounts of the Fathers lying to or deceiving people
10 . Once a provincial judge heard of Abba Moses and went to Scete to see him. They told the old man that he was on his way, and he rose up to flee into a marsh. The judge and his train met him, and asked: "Tell me, old man, where is the cell of Abba Moses?" And the old man said: "Why do you want to see him? He is a fool and a heretic."
The judge came to the church, and said to the clergy: "I heard of Abba Moses and came to see him- But an old man on his way to Egypt met me, and I asked him where was the cell of Abba Moses. And he said: 'Why are you looking for him? He is a fool and a heretic.* " And the clergy were distressed and said: "What sort of person was your old man who told you this about the holy man?" And they said: "He was an old man, tall and dark, wearing the oldest possible clothes.'* And the clergy said: "That was Abba Moses. And he told you this about him- self because he did not want you to see him." And the judge went away much edified.
17 . A magistrate came to see Abba Simon one day. When he heard of it, he put on his apron and went out to attend to a palm-tree. When the visitors arrived they called out to him, 'Old man, where is the anchorite?' He replied, 'There is no anchorite here.' Hearing these words, they went away again.
Source: THE SAYINGS OF THE FATHERS, PART VIII in "The Library Of Christian Classics Volume XII. Western Asceticism" by Owen Chadwick, 1958
Having read many other anecdotes about the Desert Fathers and knowing how much they valued eremitic lifestyle and detachment from the world I take the behavior of these two abbas as an attempt to avoid being bothered by unexpected and random visitors lest they disturb their seclusion and peace of mind.
Abba Moses (the protagonist of the first anecdote above) is recorded as saying
10 . "A man who avoids men is like a ripe grape. A man who companies with men is like a sour grape"
Source: ibid, Part II
Various sources, for example gotquestions.org, assert that lying is regarded as a sinful act.
So I would guess that by being deliberately untruthful these Fathers not only acted presumably unethically and sinfully, they also acted against the ethos of Jesus's teachings expressed in such saying as
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
In the quoted stories the visitors were going to ask for advice and borrow some wisdom, which they were denied under false pretenses,
although in the first case the visitor is said to have still derived benefit from witnessing the abba's humbleness, which nevertheless could have been a byproduct and not the original intent.
My question thus is whether and how these Fathers' deceptive behavior could be justified from the Christian doctrine point of view, either Catholic or Greek Orthodox denomination?
- Obviously the purpose of these anecdotes was and is to serve as examples of good Christian ascetic conduct and so recording these two particular ones their authors must've not viewed the conduct of the abbas as either deceitful or as a morally reproachable deceit (if deceit can be morally neutral or even positive) possibly knowing a good excuse for it.