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No Praise for the Giver

Take the case of Melania the Elder (d. 411).  At age twenty-two, she was one of the wealthiest women in the Roman Empire - and a widow....

Melania wanted to see monks at close hand, in their native habitat.  She and her guide went to Nitria, a city of monks perched on the edge of the sprawling Libyan desert.  There she met one of its leaders, Abba Pambo.  Melania decided to give the residents of Nitria a taste of her munificence, donating a large coffer loaded with silver.  When she announced her donation, Pambo was weaving rope out of palm leaves.  He hardly looked up from his work but gave her a brief, perfunctory blessing and directed his assistant to distribute the silver throughout the monasteries of Egypt.  Melania was miffed.  In a world where patrons enjoyed effusive praise, she deserved more.  At the very least, he could have gotten up and seen how much she was giving. So she spoke up: "You should know, sir, how much there is.  There is three hundred pounds."  He did not even lift his head, but simply said, "My child, the one who measures mountains knows the amount of silver.  If you were giving to me, you spoke well.  But if you were giving it to God..., then be quiet."  That was not the way one spoke to an aristocratic benefactor.   But it was typical of one of the desert fathers.  As Melania told her biographer many years later, "Thus did the Lord show his power when I went to the mountain [of Nitria]."

- William Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford, 2004), pp. 3-4.