Once some thieves came to an old hermit and said, "We are taking everything in your cell." He answered, "Take whatever you need, my children." They took almost everything in the cell and left. But they missed a little bag of money that was hidden. The elder picked it up and went after them, crying, "Children! You forgot something!" The thieves were amazed. Not only did they not take the money, but they returned everything that they had taken. "Truly," they said, "this is a man of God."
This happened in the sixth century A.D. in Palestine. St. John Moschos recorded it, along with many other stories about Orthodox monks, which he heard firsthand. The old monk did not read sermons to his impolite guests. He did not rebuke them or threaten them, nor did he have a conversation with them. What then caused the thieves to change their mind and correct their deed? They had beheld in him a different sort of man: a man of God.
Only a man who is rich in God can be so free from attachment to possessions and to money, which have enslaved humanity. Only a man who is rooted in God can unfailing preserve peace and magnanimity when confronted with manifest evil.
But most of all, the thieves were touched by the love the elder showed them. Only a man who has become like God can demonstrate such love to outlaws who have come to rob him, such that he can sincerely place their interests above his own. This could not have happened if the monks faith had been confined to rituals, collections of rules, and pretty words about God, without real experience of life in Christ.
The thieves beheld a man in whom the word of the Gospels had become a reality. In the Orthodox Church, such men are called Holy Fathers. Over the course of two milennia, this ancient Church has striven to preserve precisely that truth received from the apostles, together with experience of living communion with God. Therefore the Orthodox Church has also been able to give birth to a multitude of saints, who have been bearers of this experience of heavenly life while still on earth.
May God grant us wisdom!