The apostle James teaches, Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20). These words of the apostle mean that as great the misfortune of a person when he sins is, so great also the virtue of the one who turns him away from sin and puts him on the right path from the way of perdition shall be. If that virtue is great, then, of course, we must hold fast to it. In what way? The best way to do it, brothers, is through meekness, mercy, and love for a sinner. Listen to this brief story, and you will be assured of the truth of our words.
Saint Paphnutius was a great ascetic, and he made it his rule to never drink wine. As he walked through the desert, he came across a group of robbers who were drinking wine. The thug leader knew Paphnutius, as well as the fact that he never drank wine. When he saw the monk, he took a sword in one hand and a cup of wine in the other, and offered the cup to Paphnutius, saying: “Drink the wine or I’ll kill you!” The elder took the cup and drank the wine. Then the leader of the thieves said, “Father, forgive me for insulting you!” Paphnutius replied, “I believe, my son, that the Lord will give you mercy for this cup in this age and in the age to come.” With these words, the robber repented and cried out: ” I promise that I will not offend, rob, or murder anyone from now on; I shall go with you now, repent of my sins, and change my life.” Thus, the thief leader left his thugs, followed Paphnutius, and “saved his soul by living in repentance.” What do you think, then, brothers? Did Paphnutius act prudently or unwisely when he drunk the wine from the robber’s hands and said to him the words cited above? Indeed, it was prudent; for the thief changed from a wolf into a lamb, from a child of wrath and damnation into a child of holiness, love, and blessing, thanks to Paphnutius’s action and words.
Therefore, do the same to the sinners whom you meet, as Paphnutius did to the great sinner. Remember that meekness, love, and mercy are the best balm for the sinner’s wounds. Remember also that fire cannot be put out with fire, and that your rebuking and reprimanding a sinner can only make him angry with you. Amen.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds