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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
St. John, after his return from Patmos to Ephesus, visited the churches of Asia Minor, to correct the abuses that might have crept in, and to give holy shepherds to those that had none. When he was in a city near Ephesus, he made a speech and noticed a young man with an engaging face among his listeners. He presented him to the bishop, saying, “I entrust this young man to you, in the presence of Jesus Christ and of this assembly.” The bishop promised to take charge of him, and to take the greatest care of him. The Apostle recommended him again, and returned to Ephesus. The bishop received the young man into his house, instructed him and trained him in the practice of Christian virtues, after which he administered baptism and confirmation. Believing that he had nothing more to fear from him, he watched over him with less accuracy, and ended up leaving him to his own devices. Young debauched men who noticed this gradually won him over and brought him into their society. Soon the young man forgot the maxims of Christianity, and by dint of accumulating crime after crime, stifled all remorse. He even became the leader of a gang of thieves, and proved to be the most determined and cruel of the group.
Some time later, St. John had occasion to return to the same city. When he had finished the matters which called him there, he said to the bishop, “Give me back the deposit which Jesus Christ and I have entrusted to you, in the presence of your church.” The astonished bishop did not know what this request meant; he imagined that the Apostle was speaking of a deposit of money. The Saint explained himself and told him that he was asking for the soul of his brother, which he had entrusted to him. Then the bishop replied, sighing and with tears in his eyes: “Alas, he is dead. – What kind of death? – He is dead to God, replied the bishop, he has become a thief; and instead of being in church with us, he has settled on a mountain with men as wicked as himself.”
At this speech the Saint tore his clothes; then, heaving a deep sigh, he said with tears, “Oh, what a guardian I have chosen to watch over my brother’s soul!” He asked for a horse with a guide, he went to the mountain. He was stopped by the sentries of the robbers; but instead of seeking to flee, or asking for his life: “It is for this, he cried, that I have come. Take me to your chief.” The latter seeing him coming, took up his sword to receive him; but when he recognized St. John, he was penetrated with fear and confusion and began to flee. The Apostle forgot his great age and weakness and ran after him, crying out, “My son, why do you flee from your father in this way? He is an unarmed old man, from whom you have nothing to fear. My son, have pity on me. You can repent; your salvation is not hopeless; I will answer for you to Jesus Christ; I am ready to give my life for you, as Jesus Christ gave His for all men, I will commit my soul for yours. Stop! Trust me, I am sent by Jesus Christ.” At these words, the young man stops, throws down his weapons trembling, and bursts into tears. He embraced the Apostle like a tender father, he asked his forgiveness; but he was concealing his right hand, which had been stained with so many crimes; he tried, by the liveliness of his compunction, to expiate his sins as much as he was able, and to find, according to the beautiful expression of St. Clement, a second baptism in his tears. The Saint fell at his feet, kissed his right hand, which he was keeping hidden, assured him that God would forgive his sins, and brought him back to the Church. He fasted and prayed for him, and with him, never ceased to quote the most touching passages of Scripture, to console and encourage him. He did not leave him until he had reconciled him to the Church by absolution and the reception of the sacraments.
(Saint Clement of Alexandria)