From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers
The reason we do not make progress
An old man said, “The reason we do not make progress is because we do not know our own capacities and do not have patient endurance for the work we have undertaken. No, we want to acquire virtue painlessly.”
A sinner, a pillar of fire
It was said of Abba Mark of Egypt that he lived thirty years without leaving his cell: the priest would regularly come and celebrate Holy Communion for him. When the Devil saw the man’s virtuous endurance, he hatched a plot to tempt him and got a demoniac to go to the old man under the pretext of asking for his prayers. Before the old man could say anything, the possessed person accosted him, saying, “Your priest is a sinner; do not let him come see you!”
But Abba Mark said to him, “Child, it is written, Do not judge lest you be judged. (Matthew 7:1) Even if he is a sinner, the Lord forgives him nonetheless. Look, I’m a greater sinner than he is.” In addition to saying this, the old man offered a prayer, drove the demon out of the person, and made him well.
When the priest came according to custom, the old man received him with joy. Seeing the old man’s lack of malice, God showed him a certain wonder: when the priest was about to stand before the holy table, the old man himself related that “I saw an angel come down from Heaven and place his hand on the priest’s head and the priest, standing for the holy offering, became like a pillar of fire. (Exodus 13:21) I myself was filled with wonder at this sight and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Human, why are you marveling at this event? If an earthly emperor does not allow his nobles to stand before him with filthy clothing but only arrayed in glory, how much more will the divine power purify the ministers of the holy mysteries who stand before the heavenly glory?'”
Blessed Mark was deemed worthy of this grace because he had not condemned the priest.