Within the opening pages of Andrea Sterk’s book Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop of Late Antiquity, lies a short story of a monk named Ammonius. Ammonius was well revered and beloved even as a monk living by himself. He was so appreciated that they wanted to make him bishop. Moving from the harsh desert to the accommodations of a bishop must have been a nice upgrade.
A group of men go to Ammonius to tell him the great news of his promotion.
Ammonius hears the news and polity rejects the invitation to the office of bishop. The group is a bit flummoxed, I mean who would not want to be bishop? They press upon him and it becomes clear that they are going to take him by force to the consecration services. With a quick thought, Ammonius grabs pruning shears and cuts off his left ear.
The men stood in shock looking at a severed ear on the ground and their would be bishop bleeding from his head. Ammonius reminds them that dismemberment disqualifies one to the office of bishop. Ammonius closes the door to his hut and the men leave.
It is not necessary to point out, but can we just pause to admire how much of a boss Ammonius is? There is a deep beauty in clarity of call and purpose, in divesting of power, to sacrifice for a greater Truth. Lord may we all have such courage, imagination and wisdom.
The church has a deep theology of sacrifice, but contemporary practice is to expect sacrifice from others. Ammonius, like Jesus, remind us that the call is not to sacrifice others but to self-sacrifice.
I want to be a part of a church that would cut off her own ear for the sake of refusing the temptations of power and prestige.