• Augustine of Hippo
  • Demiana
  • Mary of Egypt
  • John the Dwarf
  • The Latter-day Saints
  • Etheldreda

John the Dwarf

				John the Dwarf
Life 6
Humility 8
Works 4
Martyrdom 2
Influence 5

'A test of faith is brown and sticky'

Some time in the fourth century AD, a young man known as John Kolobos walked into the desert of Scetes in Egypt to join its many Christian monks and hermits. He was placed in the spiritual care of St Pambo. Handing John his walking stick, Pambo ordered him to plant it in the dusty ground and water it twice a day.

John carried out his duty without complaint for three years, though the nearest source of water lay far away. Then, one day, the stick suddenly sprouted into a tree and bore ripe fruit. 'Take,' said Pambo to his fellow monks, 'and eat from the fruit of obedience.'

John's reputation as a holy man grew. He was asked to secure the repentance of a young Egyptian woman called Paesia, who had fallen into disgrace. Visiting her house, he burst into tears at the thought of her sin, and eventually persuaded her to return to the desert with him. So complete was her repentance, however, that the Lord took her up to heaven before his very eyes.

Desert communities, such as the one to which John belonged, were usually founded on austere principles. Monks looked to fulfil their spiritual rather than their bodily needs. John the Dwarf set new standards of asceticism and unworldliness, and reputedly had to conquer a short temper and natural conceitedness in order to do so.

Some fragments of John's works have come down to us, including a hagiography of St Paisius.

The mode of John's death is not recorded, but it is known that he met it while in exile near Suez, after a Berber invasion drove him from his own monastery at Scetes. Asked by his followers for a final piece of wisdom, he replied 'I have never followed my own will; nor did I ever teach another what I had not practiced myself.'

John's story would prove influential as an example of a certain type of holy life, one of uncompromising asceticism. He is venerated both in the Catholic and especially the Orthodox traditions.