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Saint and Sinner

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Anastasius was abbot of a monastery in Egypt. The monastery had a large collection of books, one among them being a rare volume, worth a fortune.

One day a visiting monk chanced upon the book and succumbing to temptation walked away with it. The theft was discovered the same day and it was not hard to guess who the culprit was but Anastasius refused to send anyone after the monk for fear that he might say he had not taken it and add the sin of perjury to that of theft.

The monk meanwhile was trying to sell the book and eventually found a buyer, a rich man who asked him to leave the book with him for a day so that he could get it evaluated.

When the monk had gone, the man hastened to the monastery and showed the book to Anastasius. The abbot recognized it instantly but did not say anything.

“A monk wants to sell it to me,” said his visitor. “He’s asking for a gold sovereign. You are knowledgeable about books. Is this book worth that much?”

“It’s worth much much more than a sovereign,” said the abbot. “It’s a valuable book.”

The man thanked the abbot and left. The next day when the monk came, he informed him that he would like to buy the book and was prepared to pay the price he had mentioned. The monk was overjoyed.

“Whom did you show it to?” he asked.

“Anastasius, the abbot.”

His visitor turned pale. “A-And what did he say?”

“He said the book was worth a sovereign.”

“And what else?”

“Nothing.”

The monk was both amazed and touched. He realized that the abbot had refused to reclaim his lost treasure so that he, the thief would not get into trouble. Nobody had ever shown him such love; nobody had ever behaved so nobly towards him.

“I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to sell it,” he said and took the book from the man.

“I’ll give you two sovereigns,” said the customer.

The monk walked away without answering. He went directly to the monastery and handed the book to the abbot, tears brimming in his eyes.

“Keep it,” said Anastasius. “When I learnt you had borrowed it I decided to give it to you.”

“Please take it back,” pleaded the monk, “but let me stay here and learn wisdom from you.”

His wish was granted. He spent the rest of his years in the monastery modelling his life after that of the saintly Anastasius.

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