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.

Mt 5:41-42

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.
  • I'm not familiar with these stories, but reading the first one, it doesn't necessarily sound deceitful. Abba Moses may have actually had a guilty conscience and was telling the truth.
    – user32540
    Jan 20, 2018 at 3:36
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    Luke's first meeting with Yoda?
    – SLM
    Jan 20, 2018 at 6:20
  • @4castle yes, indeed it's a possibility, i've made allowance for that, but it remains a conjecture Jan 20, 2018 at 8:25
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    I have edited out your appeal to the mods. If you want to discuss why the question is or isn't on hold, please make a post in meta. I slightly edited your bottom line question to tighten the scop to only catholic and greek orthodox. As you had it asked, it was far too broad in scope. HOpefully, it will get a few reopen votes. Jan 20, 2018 at 17:22
  • @KorvinStarmast i appreciate it Jan 20, 2018 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


Truth is in the 'eye of the beholder'.

What the other people thought about Abba Moses may not necessarily have portrayed him correctly. An alternative explanation is that Abba Moses had low thoughts about himself, according to the old saying:

Mat 23:12 (NIV) "For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted".

The judge seems to have been taking it that way, anyway, which is reflected in the words of the storyteller: "the judge went away much edified".

  • Abba Moses must have wanted to know, like the Lord Himself had done, what the people thought of him. The attributes he used for himself, could be seen as projection of his sense of humor. On the other hand, the judge was not 2.0 earnest in the pursuit of the saintly man in that he was easily turned away by the saying of `an old man' ! Jan 23, 2018 at 9:02
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    The anecdote "truth is in the eye of the beholder" is about as anti-Christian a statement as you can get, except for a few modern & post-modern movements that have embraced relativism. Historically almost all branches of Christianity have revolved around affirmations of absolute truth.
    – Caleb
    Jan 23, 2018 at 9:48
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    Hmm, the last time I checked, an anti magic ray is what's in the eye of the Beholder. :) As Caleb noted, your first sentence could be deleted and not only not harm your answer, but actually improve it. :) Jan 23, 2018 at 14:27
  • "Truth is in the eye of the beholder", means that people see other people differently. Humans judge often according to appearances, but appearances can be deceptive (John 7:24). So, the saying: "Truth is in the eye of the beholder" is accurately portraying the common, but not perfect, norm. The judge in the story, was edified, but another person in the same situation could have read the encounter with Abba Moses differently. Jan 26, 2018 at 19:46
  • Thus, there is a clear difference between 'truth about life', which Jesus claims himself to be (John 14:6), and 'truth about people', who we are encouraged by Jesus to judge lightly, if at all (Mat 7:1) Jan 28, 2018 at 15:51

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