Eastern Orthodox texts preserved

Desert Fathers Part 2

 

Chapter XI
HELENUS (VIII.59)

There was another holy man called Helenus who had been serving the Lord since boyhood. Schooled in the ways of chastity and moderation in all things, he had become a very praiseworthy person. While he was still a boy in the monastery, if he needed to ask a neighbour for fire, he would carry burning coals away in pieces of cloth without their getting burnt. All the brothers admired him and tried to follow the example of his attitude of mind, and the good points of his way of life. Once when he was alone in the desert he felt a sudden craving for honey. Looking around, he saw a honeycomb fixed to a rock and immediately recognised it as a deception from the devil. Angrily he said within himself, "Depart from me you deceiver with your illicit desires. For it is written 'Walk in the spirit and do not fulfil the desires of the flesh'" (Galatians, 5.16). And from then on he left his own home and went to the desert, where he began to discipline himself with fasting in order to punish his fleshly desires. In the third week of his fast he saw several apples scattered about in the desert, but knowing the wiles of the enemy he said, "I won't eat them, I won't even touch them, lest I cause offence to my brother, that is, my soul. For it is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God'" (Deut. 8.3 & Matthew. 4.4). After he had fasted another week he had been asleep for a little while when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, "Get up, and what you find put ready for you, eat without fear."  He got up and found a gently flowing stream of water, with its banks teeming all around with tender and sweet-smelling fruits. He went up to them and picked and ate, and drank from the stream. He realised that never in his whole life had he tasted anything quite so sweet and delicious. In this same place he found a cave where he stayed for quite some time. And whenever his body needed refreshment he prayed to the Lord and by the grace of God he lacked nothing.
He was once making a rather difficult visit to some brothers, loaded up with various things for their bodily needs. As he journeyed his burden was getting heavier and heavier when he saw at a distance some wild asses going through the desert. He shouted out "In the name of Jesus Christ let one of you come and take my load!" And behold, just one out of all that herd came gently up to him, offering its services of its own free will. He loaded it up, sat on it himself, and was carried in no time to the cells of the brothers he wanted to visit.
On another occasion he visited a certain monastery on a Sunday and found that they were not observing the solemnity of the day. Upon asking why, he was told that the presbyter who lived on the other side of the river had not come. No one indeed was willing to cross the river for fear of the crocodiles. "If you like," he said, "I'll go across and get him." And he immediately made his way to riverbank. He called upon the name of the Lord, and suddenly a crocodile appeared, ready to stop being a terror to mankind and change into a ferry for the righteous. It offered him his back, which he accepted, all fear cast aside, and was carried to the opposite back. Helenus went straight up to the presbyter and begged him to come to the brothers. Now his clothing was quite mean and dishevelled, and the presbyter wondered wherever this person had come from and asked him what he wanted. But when he realised that he was indeed a man of God he began to follow him to the river. He mentioned that there was no boat to be found in which they could cross, but abba Helenus said to him, "Don't worry, father, I am now about to call up a ferry." And in a loud voice he commanded the beast to appear. It came as soon as it heard his voice, and peacefully offered his back. Helenus got on first and then invited the presbyter to do so. "Come on, don't be afraid," he said. But the presbyter was so frightened at the appearance of this monster that he took to his heels and fled.
Fear and amazement fell on all his companions when they say him being carried across the waters of the river by a crocodile. When got back, he led the beast up the bank with him and said, "Death would be a better thing for you than to be burdened with the guilt of so many assaults and homicides." And immediately the beast durst asunder and died.
The holy Helenus remained three days in this monastery, giving talks to the brothers on spiritual matters. As a result many of them brought out into the open the thoughts and secret workings of their hearts. One said that he was troubled by the spirit of fornication, another by the spirit of anger, another by the love of money, and several admitted to being deceived by boasting and spiritual pride. He drew attention to the gentleness of one, the justice of another and the patience of someone else. And so by underlining quite impartially the vices of some and virtues of others, he encouraged in a wonderful way the advancement of them all. Some of the sceptical among them were cut to the quick and changed their minds after certain things came to pass among them exactly as he had foretold. For as he was about to leave he said to them, "Prepare some food against the arrival of some more of the brothers." As they were making preparations some brothers did arrive on the instant and were gladly welcomed, while he went back to the desert.
One of the brothers asked if he might be allowed to live with him in the desert. He replied that it was a very serious matter, and very laborious, to withstand the temptations of the demons, but the young man urged it all the more vigorously, protesting that he would be able to put up with anything as long as Helenus would give him generous support. So he gave him permission and the young man followed him into the desert, where Helenus told him to live in a cave not far away from his own. That night the demons flocked around him, first of all stirring up sordid and filthy thoughts, and then violently threatening to rush in and kill him. But the young man rushed out and fled to the cell of the holy Helenus to tell him of the evils that were assailing him. Then the old man gave him a few words of comfort, advocating the virtues of faith and patience, before going back with him to the cave from which he had fled. There he traced a line in the sand before the cave with his finger, and in the name of the Lord he forbade the demons to dare trying to cross this boundary. And it was so, that by the power of his word the young man was safe from then on.
It was said of him that when he himself was a young man in the desert he often received food from heaven. Some brothers were visiting him when he had nothing to offer them, but a young man came bringing bread and other necessaries, and having put them down in front of the cave was no longer to be seen. "Let us bless the Lord," said Helenus, "who provides food for us in the desert."
All this and much more father Copres told us of the life and doings of the holy fathers, enlightening us with great kindness. After his very instructive talk he took us to his little garden and showed us the palms and other fruit trees which he had planted. "It was the faith of the local peasants" he said, "which encouraged me to plant these in the desert. For I saw what great faith they had when they took the sand that we had walked on and scattered it over their fields, thereby turning sterile soil into abundant fertility. It would have been a shame if we had been seen to be inferior to them in faith, when it was through us that God had granted faith to them."



Chapter XII
ELIAS (cf. VIII.51)

We saw another venerable old man called Elias in a remote part of the territory of Antinoe, a city of the Thebaid. He was said to be a hundred and ten years old, and the spirit of Elijah was said to rest upon him. Many marvellous things were told about him. They said that he had spent seventy years in the depths of this vast wilderness, a desert so fearful and inhospitable that no word was adequate to describe it. This old man had lived there all that time having no contact with any place of human habitation. The trackway which led to him was narrow and stony and very difficult for visitors to find. The place where he actually lived was a horrible cave, striking terror into the hearts of those who found it. He himself had trembled and shaken in all his limbs for all his adult life. But every day he was doing signs, for he loosed the bonds of all who came to him, whatever troubles they might have been burdened with. All the fathers agreed that no one could remember when it was that he had come to this hermitage. For food he took a little bit of bread and a few olives, even in his extreme old age. In his youth, however, he had frequently fasted the whole week through.

Chapter XIII
PITHYRION (VIII.59)

After this we returned to the Thebaid to see a rugged mountain, overhanging a river, a very menacing, rocky apparition, fearful to look at, and in this precipitous place there were caves which were terribly difficult to approach. Many monks dwelt here, the leader of whom was a father called Pithyrion. He had been a disciple of the blessed Antony, after whose death he had lived with the holy Ammon. When Ammon died he settled in this mountain. He was so abundantly virtuous, so greatly endowed with the grace of being able to give sound counsel, and with such power against the demons, that he seemed to have inherited a double portion, worth two of the greatest men all by himself. He encouraged many with his words of warning, and was the source of much sound teaching. In particular he taught us about the discernment of spirits, saying that there are certain demons who latch on to whatever definite vices people have. Anyone who seems to be passively subject to any vicious motions in the soul they turn to positive deeds of evil. So if there is anyone who is looking to be dominated by demons, be sure they are first of all dominated by their own passions and vices. But whatever vice with its appropriate passion you have been able to cut off in yourself, you will then have the power of expelling the demon of this vice from those possessed by it. He took food only twice a week, accepting a few little portions of gruel made from flour (pulticulas ex farina), nor would he ever eat meat, allowing no alteration to his customs because of his age.

 

 Book II (continued)

(Apellen & John, Paphutius, Isodore, Serapion, Apollonius all forther down this page

Chapter XIV

THE FATHER CALLED EULOGIUS (cf. VIII.75)

 

We saw another holy father called Eulogius, who had received from God the grace of being able to discern both the merits and the guilt of anyone who approached the altar of God, so that he would stop some of the monks coming to him for Communion saying, "How can you dare to approach the divine Sacraments when your mind and intentions are evil? In fact, last night you had thoughts of fornication, but you said to yourself, 'It makes no difference whether you come to the Sacrament as one of the sinful or one of the righteous.'"

And there was another who quibbled in his heart, saying; "Well, isn't Communion able to sanctify me anyway?"

He refused to give Communion to each one of these and said, "Go away for a while and do penance. Purify yourself by making satisfaction [for your sins] in tears. Then you may be fit to receive the Communion of Christ."

 

 

Chapter XV

THE PRESBYTER APELLES, AND JOHN (cf. III.51)

 

We saw another presbyter, a righteous man, in the neighbouring region called Apelles. He was a smith and made whatever utensils the brothers needed. Once when working at the forge in the silence of the night, the devil came to him in the shape of a beautiful woman, bringing some work for him to do. But he picked up a hot iron from the furnace with his bare hands and thrust it into its face. It fled, shouting and screaming, and all the brothers round about heard the screaming as it fled. And from that time onwards he was habitually able to pick up burning iron with his bare hands without taking any harm. When we visited him he gave us a most kindly welcome. We asked him if he would speak to us on the subject of the virtues, using either his own deeds as an example or the deeds of those whom he knew to be of conspicuous sanctity. He replied:

"In the nearby desert there is an elderly brother called John who excels everybody in his life, his customs, and his abstinence. When he first came to the desert he stood underneath a protruding rock face for three years continuously, always praying, never sitting or lying down. He took only what sleep he could standing up. He took food only on Sunday. For on that day a presbyter came and offered the Holy Sacrifice for him, and the Sacrament was his only food. One day Satan, wishing to undermine him, disguised himself as the presbyter who usually came to him, and arriving at an earlier hour than usual, pretended to have come to administer the Sacraments. But, ever vigilant, he recognised the devil's deceits and indignantly said to him, 'O, father of all grief and fraud, you enemy of all justice, not only do you never cease from seducing Christian souls but you even dare to penetrate into the terrible and sacrosanct mysteries.' He replied, 'I thought you were a prize I could win, for I deceived another of you people like this so that he blew his mind and fell senseless. When I left him he thought he was insane because of what I had done, and the prayers of a great number of the righteous were hardly able to restore him to his former state of sanity'. Having said this the demon left him.

"He persisted in the task which he had begun and persevered in prayer. From standing still so long his feet became ulcerated, with pus oozing out of them. When three years were up an angel of the Lord came to him and said, 'The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have heard your prayers. They bring healing to the wounds in your body and grant you an abundance of heavenly knowledge and speech.'  He touched his mouth and his feet, making him whole from his ulcers, and immune to the pangs of hunger. He ordered him to travel to another place and to visit the brothers in the desert nearby in order to instruct them in the words and teachings of the Lord. But on Sundays he always came back to his original spot to receive the Sacrament in the same way as before. On other days he worked with his hands, making harness for the draught animals, weaving palm leaves together as was the custom of that place.

"A lame man seeking a cure once decided to go and visit him. And it happened that the animal he was intending to ride had a girth which had been made by the man of God. He got on to the beast and as soon as his feet touched the girth he was healed. The man of God also sent blessed bread to whoever was ill, and as soon as they received it they were healed. The Lord did many other signs and healings through him.

"He excelled all the fathers and other people in one particular grace, that the way of life of all the brothers in the neighbouring monastery was revealed to him. He could write to their superiors and tell them that some person or other was lazy and did not rightly fear God, or that other people were making good progress in faith and virtue. But he also wrote to the brothers themselves, to some because they were lagging behind their brothers and showing little inclination for being patient, to others because they were constantly acting carefully, and were a great help to their brothers. He predicted the rewards due to this one because of his virtues and the punishment threatened by the Lord to that one because of his laziness. He even described the deeds, motives, merits or negligences of people in their absence, so that when they heard what he had said they were convicted by their own conscience and could not make any denials. He taught everyone that they should lift up their minds from visible and bodily things to things invisible and incorporeal. 'We have been given time,' he said, 'in order that we might transfer our attention to studies of that sort. We should not remain always as immature infants, but aspire now to the higher things of the spirit, take control of our senses and direct our intelligence towards perfection, so that virtues may shine in our souls."

This holy man of God, Apelles, commended to us most authentically many other things about this man, John, which if they were to be written down would be excessively long and so superhuman as to be scarcely credible to whoever might hear them.

 

Chapter XVI

PAPHNUTIUS (cf. VIII.62)

 

We also saw the monastery of the holy Paphnutius, the man of God, the most famous anchorite in those parts. He lived in the most distant part of the desert in the region of Heracleos, that splendid city of the Thebaid.

We learned about him from a very faithful account given to us by the fathers. When he was already living the angelic life he once prayed God to show him if there were any other holy people he could be compared with. An angel appeared and told him that there was a musician (symphoniacus) like him (cf. VIII.63) in a certain village, who made a living by practising his art. Astonished by this strange reply he made his way with all haste to the village and sought the man out. When he had found him he tried to lay bare everything that the man did and earnestly enquired of him why in the world he was performing holy and religious works. He replied that the fact of the matter was that he was a sinner, a man of a shameful kind of life. Not long since he had been a robber, but had turned from that disgraceful trade to what he was now seen to be doing. Paphnutius pressed him further to tell him whether if by chance he had done any good deeds in the course of his robberies. "I'm not in the least bit conscious of having done anything good," he said. "But I do know this - that when I was among the robbers we once captured a virgin consecrated to God. My fellow robbers wanted to rape her, but I stood up and objected. I rescued her from that degradation, and took her back to her village and her own home unharmed.

"Another time I found a respectable looking woman wandering about in the desert and I asked her what she was doing in that place. (cf.VIII.63) 'Don't ask me,' she said. 'I am a most unfortunate woman. Don't ask why - but if you want a servant take me wherever you like. I am unlucky enough to have a husband who because of his debts has been repeatedly hung up and beaten and punished by all sorts of tortures. He has been shut up in prison and is not let out except to be tortured again. We have three sons who have also been seized because of this debt. Since they started looking to punish me in my misery I have fled from place to place. I have no food, I am totally distressed, I have been wandering about without detection in this place for three days now without anything to eat.' Upon hearing this I took pity on her and led her to my cave, where I refreshed her spirits which were almost spent through hunger, and I gave her three hundred solidi, for the sake of which she and her husband and her three sons had become liable not only to slavery but to physical punishment. She went back to the city and freed them all with the money I had given her."

Then father Paphnutius said, "I have not done anything like that. I have been sent to you because the name of Paphnutius was fairly well known among monks. I am fairly well versed in being able to lead my life under monastic discipline. And it was for this reason that God revealed to me that you are just as worthy in the sight of God as I am. So, brother, don't neglect your soul, for you must see that you have a high place in God's eyes." And at once he put down the flute which he was holding and followed him to the desert. He turned his musical art into a spiritual harmony of heart and mind and for three whole years gave himself over to [a regime of] strict abstinence exercising himself day and night in prayers and psalms. Still pursuing his heavenly journey with all the power of his soul, he gave up his spirit at last into the choirs of the holy angels.

(cf. VIII.64) After Paphnutius had given up to the Lord this musician who had been blessed with the practice of every virtue, he himself worked even harder at his disciplines. And again he asked the Lord if there was anyone else like him upon the earth. And again the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, "Know that the headman of the next village is similar to you." On hearing this Paphnutius hurried to him without delay and knocked on his door. Now this man always welcomed guests, and he greeted Paphnutius, took him inside, washed his feet and set food before him, all in the most friendly manner. As he was eating Paphnutius began to question his host about his deeds, his disciplines, his rules of life. He replied in humility that he preferred to hide his good deeds rather than publish them, but Paphnutius insisted, saying that it had been revealed to him that he was equal in worth to any monk. This made him feel even more humble still. "I am not aware of anything particularly good in anything I do," he said. "But since the Word of God from whom nothing is hidden has come to you I cannot remain silent. So I will tell you of what I do in the midst of the many situations in which I am placed. No one knows that for the last thirty years my wife and I have agreed to be continent. She had given me three sons, they were the only reason for having sex with her, I have not been with anyone else, nor she either. I have always received guests, since no one before me seems to have been willing to give a welcome to visiting pilgrims. I have never let anyone go from my house without giving them food for their journey. I have never neglected the poor, but have contributed to their needs. When administering justice I have never practised any favouritism even to my own sons. The profits due to someone else's labour has never found its way into my house. Where I have seen strife I have spared no effort in trying to bring peace to the quarrelling parties. No one has ever been able to bring any reproach against my servants, my flocks have never caused any harm to my neighbour's produce, I have never stopped anyone from producing food in my district, I have never chosen the best bit of new ploughed land for myself leaving the less fertile to others, as far as I could I have never let the strong oppress the weak, I have tried throughout my life not to grieve anyone. If I have been involved in any lawsuit I have not condemned anyone out of hand, but have tried to bring adversaries to agreement. This, now, by the grace of God has been my way of life up to the present."

Listening to this the blessed Paphnutius kissed him and blessed him saying, "'May the Lord bless you out of Sion, and may you see the good things of Jerusalem' (Psalms 128.5). You have done all these things thoroughly and properly. One thing is lacking, the greatest good of all, that putting all else aside you seek that true wisdom of God, and search for those hidden treasures which you cannot arrive at in any other way than by denying yourself, and taking up your cross and following Christ" (Matthew.16.24). On hearing this he did not wait even to set things in order in his house, but followed the man of God to the desert.

When they came to the river there was no ferry to be found, but Paphnutius bade him walk into the water with him, even though it was quite deep at that place. They crossed over easily, the water coming scarcely up to their waist. When they arrived at the desert Paphnutius put him in a cell at a little distance from the monastery and gave him a spiritual rule to live by. He instructed him in the practice of striving after perfection, and initiated him into the more advanced levels of wisdom (scientiae secretiora). While giving him all this instruction he devoted himself anew to even greater efforts, because he judged that the works of this person who had been busied with the affairs of the world had been even more demanding. "For," he said, "if people living in the world can do such good works, how much more should we not endeavour to surpass them in works of abstinence, both in quantity and in quality."

After spending some time in this programme, Paphnutius had drawn him so far into the knowledge of wisdom (scientiae perfectionem) that he had already become perfect in what he was doing. And one day as Paphnutius sat in his cell he saw that man's soul taken up to heaven amidst choirs of angels singing "Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken. He shall dwell in thy tabernacles." (Psalms 65.5). Paphnutius then continued in fasting and prayer, giving himself up to even greater efforts towards perfection.

Once more he prayed to the Lord to show him someone like himself. And again a voice from heaven replied, "You are like a certain merchant (cf.VIII.65) whom you will see approaching. Get up quickly and run to meet him. He is a man who I judge to be like you." Paphnutius went out without delay and went to meet this merchant from Alexandria, who was coming back from the Thebaid with three ships and a profit of twenty thousand solidi. And because he was a religious man always trying to do good works he had loaded his sons up with three bags of vegetables to take to the monastery of the man of God. Hence his meeting with Paphnutius, who as soon as he came into view cried out, "What is that you have done, that you are most precious and worthy in the sight of God? What sort of work have you been doing on earth such that your lot and fellowship has risen into the realms of heaven? Relinquish all these things into the hands of those who are of the earth and whose thoughts are earthy, and become a merchant of the kingdom of God to which you are called. Follow the Saviour, to whose presence in a short while you must be taken up." And without any hesitation he instructed his sons to disburse any superfluous profits to the poor, even though he had already distributed a great deal himself. But he followed the holy Paphnutius to the desert, where he was installed in the same place as those who had earlier been taken to the Lord. He was instructed in the same way, and persevered in spiritual exercises, and in the study of divine wisdom. After a short while he too was taken up into the congregation of the righteous.

Paphnutius himself continued to develop his life to the highest degree of abstinence and spiritual labours, and not long after this an angel of the Lord came to him saying; "Come, O blessed one, and enter into those eternal tabernacles which are your just deserts. Behold the prophets, who take you up into their choirs. You have not been told about this before lest you become conceited and receive only damnation as a reward for your labours." He was given one more day in the flesh after this while certain presbyters came to visit him, to whom he made known all that the Lord had revealed to him. He told them that no one living in the world should be given up for lost, even if they had been robbers, or actors, or farmers, or married, or merchants seeking profits. For in every sphere of life there were souls pleasing to God, doing in secret works with which God was well pleased. Whence it was obvious that it was not an outward profession of life or the wearing of a habit which was pleasing to God so much as sincerity and integrity of mind, and honesty in all one's dealings. He expressed a few similar sentiments on each of these topics and gave up his spirit. And the presbyter and all the brethren present plainly saw him taken up by the angels singing hymns and praising God all together.

 

 

Chapter XVII

THE MONASTERY OF ABBA ISIDORE (cf. VIII.71)

 

In the Thebaid we also saw the monastery of Isidore, a large enclosed space surrounded by a wall, within which could be seen a large number of buildings in which the monks lived. Inside there were several wells, irrigated gardens and sufficient apple trees and trees of paradise to supply all needs, in fact more than enough. This ensured that none of the monks living there had any need to go outside to get anything that was needed. At the gate sat a senior, chosen out of the leading men for his gravity, whose task it was to acquaint newcomers with this rule that once they were in they would not be allowed to come out. This was an unbreakable law for those who decided to go in, but the wonderful thing was that it was not the obligation of law that kept them in but the blessedness and perfection of their lives. This old gatekeeper lived in a guest house of which he was in charge and where he gave hospitality to visitors and showed them every possible human kindness. So when we were received by him we were not allowed to go inside, though we did learn from him what kind of blessed life was lived there. He said that there were only two of the senior men who had liberty to go in and out, with the responsibility for selling articles which the men had made and for bringing in anything which was needed. All the others lived in peace and quietness giving themselves to prayers and religious exercises, and cultivating the virtues of the soul of which they all showed evidence. And the most wonderful sign of all was that none of them ever fell ill. Even when they approached the end of their lives they were completely aware of it beforehand. Each of them would warn the other brothers of his departure and wish everyone farewell, whereupon he would lie down and give up his spirit with joy.

 

Chapter XVIII

SERAPION THE PRESBYTER (cf. VIII.76)

 

In the region of Arsinoe we saw the presbyter Serapion who was the father of many monasteries. Many and diverse were the monasteries under his care, containing about ten thousand monks. They all worked together, especially in harvest time, to gather up the fruit of their manual labour, out of which they brought the greater share to the aforesaid father for distribution to the poor. This was the custom not only of them but of nearly all the Egyptian monks, that at harvest time they would hire out their labour to harvesting, as a result of which each one would collect eighty measures of grain, more or less, and give the greater part of it to the poor. This not only fed the poor of that region but ships laden with grain sailed to Alexandria in order to extend the benefit to those in prison, or pilgrims, or other needy people. For there were not enough poor people within Egypt to absorb the benefit and fruit of their almsgiving.

In the regions of Memphis and Babylon we saw great numbers of monks among whom we observed various gifts of grace and examples of virtue. There is a tradition that these places, which they call the treasures of Joseph, are where Joseph is said to have stored up the grain. Others say it is the Pyramids themselves in which it is thought that the grain was collected.

 

 

 

Chapter XIX

APOLLONIUS, MONK AND MARTYR (cf. VIII.66)

 

The elders among them related a tradition that at the time of the persecutions there had been a monk called Apollonius who as the culmination of a magnificent life among the brothers had been ordained deacon. During the persecutions he took it upon himself to go around the brothers and encourage them to martyrdom. He was eventually arrested himself and cast into prison where a great crowd of the gentiles came to mock him and cry out against him with many blasphemous and impious words.

A man called Philemon was one of them, a famous flute-player, greatly loved by the people. He piled insults upon Apollonius, calling him impious, wicked, deceiver of humanity, worthy of being held in abhorrence by all. After suffering all this and many other even worse insults, Apollonius replied, "May the Lord have mercy on you, my son, and impute to you as a sin nothing of what you have said." These words cut Philemon to the quick. In his own mind he felt the force of something that was more than human, so much so that he instantly declared himself to be a Christian. And immediately he rushed from there to the judge's seat and shouted out in the hearing of all the people, "You wicked judge. It is unjust to punish these religious men who are loved of God, for Christians neither do nor teach anything evil." At first the judge thought he was joking, seeing that he was a [well known] man of that place. But when he saw that he was persisting and carrying on without any let up he said, "You are mad, Philemon. You have had a sudden brainstorm."

He replied, "I am not mad. It is you who are unjust and crazy to persecute unjustly so many just men. For I am a Christian, a most noble sort of human being." The judge then in the presence of all the people began with many persuasive arguments to try and get him to recant from that which he saw he had become. But Philemon remained obdurate, so the judge threatened him with all kinds of tortures. He realised that this change had come about through the words of Apollonius, so he seized him and subjected him to very severe tortures, making a very big issue out of the crime of being a deceiver. Apollonius said, "I would to heaven that you, O judge, and all those present who hear what I am saying, would follow what you call this error of mine." The judge immediately ordered that he and Philemon should be thrown into the flames in the sight of all the people. From the midst of the fire the blessed Apollonius cried out to the Lord so that all could hear,  "'Deliver not up to the beasts, O Lord, the souls that confess thee' (Psalms 74. 19), 'but show us clearly thy salvation'." (Psalms 84.8.) When Apollonius had spoken to the Lord so that all the people and the judge could hear, a rain cloud suddenly surrounded them and put out the rising flames of fire. The judge and people were stupefied, and began to cry out with one voice, "Great is the one God of the Christians, he alone is immortal."

 

Chapter XIX  (continued) Apollonius, Book II

(Diuoscurus, the Monks of Nitria, the Cellia, Ammon, Didymus, Cronius, Origen, Evagrius

Macarius the Greater of Egypt,   Macarius the Lesser of Alexandria, all further down this page)

 

The news of this came to the ears of the prefect of Alexandria, and made him ferociously angry. He picked out some of the most cruel and savage members of his entourage, more like beasts than men, and sent them with orders to bring bound to Alexandria the judge who had believed as a result of the divine miracle and those through whom the power of God had been shown forth. But while they were all bound and being taken to Alexandria the grace of God appeared in what Apollonius said, for he began to teach faith in God to those who had bound them and were taking them. Believing in the mercy of God they wholeheartedly accepted faith in God, and appeared before the judge as professing Christians along with those whom they brought in bonds. When the prefect saw that they were steadfastly persisting in believing in God he ordered that they should all alike be cast into the sea, not knowing in his arrogance what he was doing. For them this was not a death but a Baptism.

But their bodies, doubtless by the providence of God, were washed up on the shore, whole and cleansed. People came to give them a decent funeral, recovered the bodies, and took them to be gathered together in one sepulchre as a final resting place. From that time to this they have performed many signs and wonders to the astonishment of all. For they take up the vows and prayers of all, and bring our petitions to fruition in the place where the Lord deigns to lead us and fulfil the vows and petitions of us all.

 

 

Chapter XX

DIOSCUROS THE PRESBYTER (cf. VIII.68)

 

We saw another venerable father in the Thebaid, a presbyter called Dioscuros, who had a monastery of about a hundred monks. We noted that when people came to the Sacrament he took particular care and diligence to ensure that no one who came should bring with him any stain on his conscience. He even warned about those things which happen to men when they are asleep, either because of fantasies about women appearing to them or because of the natural overflow of bodily fluids. "If such things happen without any accompanying fantasies about women," he said, "there is no sin in it. For once these fluids have been produced in the body and filled up their proper receptacle they have to be expelled by their own proper channels, and thus far it does not occasion sin. But accompanied by images of women and the pleasures of the flesh they are a sure sign that there is a desire in their souls to be taken up with such illicit thoughts. Monks therefore should drive all kinds of images like this from their minds, nor let their senses be aroused by these blandishments of the devil, otherwise there would not seem to be any difference between them and those who live in the world. But the monk should labour at taming and overcoming the natural man with much abstemious fasting and many prayers and reduce the stain of his [nocturnal] flux by even more prayer and fasting. Furthermore, if doctors recommend to those who live luxuriously that they should abstain, for the good of their bodily health, from all things harmful, why should not a monk do much more than that in seeking health of soul and spirit.

 

 

Chapter XXI

THE MONKS LIVING IN NITRIA (cf. VIII.69)

 

We arrived at Nitria, that most famous place among all the monasteries of Egypt, about forty miles from Alexandria. It takes its name from the nearby village where natron  [native sesquicarbonate of soda, or soap] is produced. The name of Nitria, by the foresight of divine providence, I believe, carries with it the idea that however sordid the sins of men they could be cleansed and washed away in this place as if by natron. Here, there are not much fewer than fifty dwellings near each other under the rule of a single father. Some have many occupants, some just a few, quite a lot only one, but although their dwellings are all separate, nevertheless they are all inseparably joined in faith and charity.

As we approached the place they sensed that pilgrim brothers were drawing near, and immediately like a swarm of bees they all rushed out of their cells and came to meet us, vying with each other in the happiness and hastiness of their approach. Several of them carried with them jugs of water and bread, for the prophet had rebuked some people saying; "You did not go out to meet the children of Israel in the way with bread and water" (2 Esdras.13). So, having greeted us, they first of all took us to the church, singing psalms, then washed our feet, with each one of them wiping our feet with the strips of linen which they use, ostensibly to lighten the labour of our journey, but in reality embodying the mystical tradition of bringing balm to the troubles of human life.

What can I say now about their humanity, their work, their charity, since all of them beckoned us towards their own cells, not only fulfilling the obligation of hospitality, but also showing us the humility and gentleness and other virtues of this sort which are learned by people thus separated from the world. Their gifts of grace were various, the doctrine [by which they lived] was one and the same for all. Nowhere else had we seen such charity flourishing, nowhere such acts of compassion and eager hospitality, nowhere else such knowledge and thoughts about the divine Scriptures, nowhere else so many methods of gaining knowledge of the divine (scientiae divinae tanta exercitia), that you might well believe that nearly every one of them was an expert in divine wisdom.

 

 

Chapter XXII

THE  PLACE CALLED CELLIA (cf. VIII.69)

 

There is another place about ten miles further on into the desert called Cellia, because of the number of cells scattered about in the wilderness. To this place, having first been taught in the Thebaid, fled those who wished to cast all care aside and live a more secluded life. In this empty desert there was so much space between each of the cells that none of them could either see or hear each other. Living one to a cell there is a great silence and quietness among them. Only on Saturdays and Sundays do they come together in church, where it seems to them as if they are restored to heaven. If anyone is missing they realise that he is prevented by some bodily ailment, and each one visits with something of his own which might be welcome to one who is sick - not all at once, but they all take turns. There is no other reason for anyone to dare break into the silence of his neighbour, unless it might be for someone to be able to give a word of instruction, and like athletes in the arena anoint each other with the oil of a consoling word.  Some of them come from three or four miles away from the church, so spaced out are their cells from each other. But so great is the charity among them, and so thoughtful are they for each other and for all the brothers, that they are held in admiration and as an example for all. As soon as they know that anyone else wants to come a live with them, each of them is quite willing to offer his own cell.

 

 

Chapter XXIII

AMMON (cf. VIII.12)

 

Among them we saw another venerable father called Ammon, upon whom God had conferred a great fulness of spiritual gifts. If you could see the grace of charity in him you would say that you had never seen anything like it anywhere. And if you were thinking about his humility you would have to say that he was more accomplished by a long way in this gift than anyone else. And again, if you considered how he excelled all others in each one of the virtues of patience, gentleness, kindness, you would not know how to find anyone better than him. God had conferred upon him such gifts of wisdom and knowledge that you would believe that no one out of all the fathers had penetrated so deeply into the realms of every kind of knowledge there is. Everybody who met him said that no one had been taken up so closely into the wisdom of God. He had two of his brothers with him, Eusebius and Euthymius. His older brother Dioscuros had been elevated to the episcopate. They were not only brothers according to the flesh, but brothers in their style of life and total nobility of soul. Like a nurse caring for her children, they were a source of strength to all the brothers living in that place, instructing each one of them, and striving to lead them to the highest peak of perfection.

We found that this man of God, Ammon, had a cell (monasterium) with a wall round it, which was very easy to construct out of rough building blocks in these parts. Inside it was everything he needed - he had even dug a well. There was once a brother who came to him seeking salvation and who asked him if there was an empty cell anywhere where he could live.

"I will find out", he said. "But until I do, stay here in this cell. I am going out now to see to what you want." And he left his cell and everything in it and found a tiny little cell quite some distance away and set himself up in it. The newly arrived brother did not even realise that Ammon had given him his own cell and everything in it.

But if several people arrived at once seeking salvation he would gather the brothers together and quickly give them instructions so that a new cell would be built on that very day. And when a sufficient number of cells had been built to cater for the needs of them all, he took those who would be living in them to the church as if to provide them with refreshment, but while they were in there each one of the brothers would bring necessary items from their own cells and put them in the new ones. As a result of this charitable exercise there was no lack of either tools or food, and it wasn't at all obvious who had given what. At vespers time, those for whom the cells had been prepared came back and found them fitted out with everything necessary for living in. The cells had been so built that there was nothing lacking.

 

 

Chapter XXIV

DIDYMUS

 

Among the seniors we also met a good man called Didymus in whom were many graces from God, as his face showed. This man got rid of insects which lie on the earth in wait for the feet, such as scorpions, horned caterpillars (? cerastas quos cornutas vocant) and snakes which flourish in these places because of the heat of the sun, so that no one was ever stung by them.

 

 

Chapter XXV

CRONIUS (cf. VIII. 25&89)

 

We also met among them another father of great age called Cronius, still going in spite of his marvellous age. His lifespan was about to be accomplished, for he was a hundred and ten years old. He was a survivor from the disciples of Antony and among the many other virtues of his soul we were aware of his great grace of humility.

 

 

Chapter XXVI

ORIGEN  (cf. VIII.10)

 

There was another of Antony's disciples called Origen, a magnificent man of great discretion, whose sermons and talks about the virtues of his great master, the man of God, edified all who heard. He stirred people up so powerfully that they could almost see the things he talked about before their naked eyes.

 

 

Chapter XXVII

EVAGRIUS (VIII.86)

 

We saw there this most wise man, wonderful in all sorts of ways, called Evagrius. Among the other virtues of his soul he had been given the grace of discernment of spirits (1 Cor.12.10) and the renewal of the mind (Ephesians 4.23) as the Apostle teaches. There was no other among the brothers who had attained to such a great and subtle spiritual knowledge. He had amassed an impressive store of learning through his experience in so many matters, and not least through the grace of God, but much of his learning had come to him through having been a disciple for a long time of the blessed Macarius, a most famous man by the grace of God, outstanding in signs and virtues, as everyone knows.

His abstinence was incredible, and he gave instruction to the brothers about it. If they were really serious about mortifying the body and driving away demonic phantasies he would encourage them to be very sparing in the amount of water they drank. "For," he said, " If you flood the body with a lot of water you generate even more phantasies, and offer a bigger space to the demons." He taught many other things about abstinence very insistently. For himself he used water very sparingly and hardly even ate much bread. The other brothers in that place were quite content with bread and salt. In all that great number of people you could hardly find anyone who even used a little oil. Many of them did not lie down to sleep, but sat and meditated, as I do believe, on the divine Word.

 

 

Chapter XXVIII

THE TWO MACARII. AND FIRST, MACARIUS THE GREATER, OF EGYPT (cf. VIII. 19 & 20)

 

Some of the fathers living there told us how the two Macarii had been shining lights of heaven in those parts. One of them had been a disciple of Antony and was known as "from Egypt", the other "from Alexandria". Their spiritual virtues and their magnificent graces from heaven were consistent with their names ["Macarios" (Greek) means "blessed"]. Both Macarii were equally distinguished in the practice of abstinence and in spiritual virtues, but the former was held to be superior only for having inherited the graces and virtues of the blessed Antony.

(The following incident not in Book VIII but appears in III.41) They said that once there had been a murder committed in a neighbouring village and a certain innocent person had been accused of it. The man thus falsely accused fled to Macarius' cell. His accusers followed after, saying that they would not be safe unless this murderer were arrested and handed over to the law. The accused however swore on the Sacrament that he was not guilty of that person's blood. The argument went back and forth for some time, until the holy Macarius asked where the murdered person was buried. When they had told him he hastened to the grave along with all the accusers, and with bent knee called on the name of Christ. "Let the Lord now show us, "he said to those present, "whether this man you accuse is guilty." And raising his voice, he called upon the dead man by name. There came an answer from the tomb, and Macarius said, "I conjure you, by the faith of Christ, that you testify whether you were killed by this man who is being accused of it." From the sepulchre came a clear voice saying, "I was not killed by him."

Stupefied, everyone threw themselves to the ground, prostrate at Macarius' feet. Then they began to ask him to enquire who the murderer was. "I will not ask that, " he replied. "Sufficient for me that the innocent is freed. It is not for me to produce the guilty one."

There was also a tale about another kind of miracle. (cf. VIII.19). It appeared to people that the daughter of a householder (paterfamilias) in a nearby town had been turned by the spells of a magician into a horse. They really thought she was a mare and not a little girl. They brought her to Macarius.

"What do you want?" he asked

"This mare that you see," said his parents, "is a little girl, our virgin daughter, but wicked men have turned her by magic arts into this animal which you see before you. We are asking you to pray to the Lord to change her back to what she was."

"All I can see is that it is a girl you are showing me," he said, "with nothing of the beast about her at all. What you are telling me is not in her body but in the eyes of those who are looking at her. Demonic phantasies, not true."

He took her and her parents into his cell and on bended knees began to pray to the Lord, and he asked the parents to pray to the Lord with him. After which he anointed her with oil in the name of the Lord, which resulted in all the false vision being destroyed, so that the girl was seen by all just as she used to be.

Another small girl was brought to him whose private parts (obscoena corporis) were diseased through and through. The flesh was so eaten away that the inside of her body was laid bare, with a great number of maggots spewing out from there. People could hardly bear to come near her because of the horrible smell. He took pity on this suffering virgin when she was brought to him by her parents and laid outside his door.

"Be of good cheer, my daughter," he said. The Lord intends this for your salvation not for your damnation. It was foreseen that your health would save you from danger." And after a session of prayer which lasted for seven days, he blessed some oil and anointed her members, and so restored her to health that she no longer had the appearance or the body of a woman, but took her place among the male sex, freed from the hindrance of being a woman or even of being suspected to be a woman. (absque feminieae suspicionis obstaculo)

They told us also how he was visited by a certain heretic of the Hieracitus persuasion, a class of heresy prevalent in Egypt. He was upsetting several of the brothers in the desert by his persistent arguments, and even dared to make known his false faith to Macarius himself. Macarius resisted him and contradicted him, but this man ridiculed Macarius' simple words with powerful arguments. The old man saw that the brothers' faith was in danger, so he said, "What is the use of bandying words about to the repulsion of our audience? Let us go to the graves of those who have gone before us in the Lord, and let each of us pray to the Lord to raise up the dead out of the tomb, so that all may know whose faith it is that is approved by God." The brothers all approved of this idea. They went to the graves and Macarius urged the Hieracitus heretic to call up the dead in the name of the Lord.

"No, you go first," he replied. "It was your idea in the first place."

Macarius prostrated himself in prayer before the Lord, and after he had prayed for some time he lifted up his eyes and said to the Lord, "Tell us, O Lord, which of us two holds the true faith by raising up this dead person." And he called upon the name of the person who had recently been buried there. A voice was heard coming from the mound of earth, and the brothers quickly came, removed the earth, and lifted the dead person out of the grave. They unloosed the grave garments tied around him and showed that he was really alive. Seeing this, the Hieracitan fled in terror. And the brothers drove him and all his followers out beyond the borders of that land.

Many other things are related about him too numerous to write down, but from these few examples some idea can be gained of his other deeds.

 

 

Chapter XXIX

MACARIUS THE LESSER, OF ALEXANDRIA (cf. VIII. 19 & 20)

 

The other holy Macarius also became magnificent in his virtues. Much has been written about him by others, which suffices to show how the greatness of his virtues should be cherished, so it would be better for us not to deal with those matters.

They say that above all others he was a great lover of the desert. In fact he penetrated so far into the most distant and inaccessible places of the desert that he came across a certain place which had been set up at the farthest boundaries where fruit bearing trees had been planted and which was replete with all kinds of good things. It is said that he found two brothers there, and he asked them if they would let him bring monks with him to settle there, since it was a pleasant place, with an abundance of everything necessary. They replied, "You can't bring a lot of people here, lest they be deceived by demons as they pass through the desert. For the desert holds many demons and monsters, and anyone not used to their cunning wiles would not be able to withstand them."

He went back to his own brothers and told them what a favourable place it was, so that many of them became quite eager to go there with him. But when the rest of the fathers realised that their minds were all agitated, they discouraged them with some very sound advice. "This place is supposed to have been set up by Jannes and Mambres (2 Tim 3.8 & Ex.7.11), and if that is true you need not believe anything other than that it has been prepared by the work of the devil for our deception. If it is indeed pleasant and abundant, as alleged, what can we hope for in the world to come if we are to enjoy sweet things here?" That, and other arguments of this sort, damped down the enthusiasm of the younger brothers.

 

 

Chapter XXIX  (continued). Macarius of Alexandria, Book II

The place where Macarius himself lived, however, is called Scythia, situated in a vast empty desert, a night and a day's journey from the monasteries of Nitria. There is no marked road to it, no landmarks or other earthly signs to be noted as pointing to it, you can only travel there by the stars in their courses. You find water only rarely, and when you do it has rather a bitter smell, somewhat bituminous, although safe to drink. There are men there who have been brought to a high stage of perfection (for those living there could not endure such a terrible place unless their way of life were perfect and they had great perseverance). They practise great charity among themselves and show the greatest consideration towards everyone who manages to visit them.
It is said that Macarius was once given a bunch of grapes, and "seeking not his own but that which is another's" (1 Cor.10.24), he gave them out of charity to another brother who he thought was somewhat infirm. This brother gave thanks to God for this brotherly kindness, and thinking no less of his neighbour than of himself gave them to someone else, and this person again to another, and thus the bunch of grapes was handed on throughout all the cells which were scattered at great distances from each other through the desert, with no one any the wiser about who had first sent them. In the end they came back to the sender, and Macarius gave great thanks that he had been a witness of such restraint and charity among the brothers, and increased in severity the practices of his own spiritual life.
The following story, which they had heard from his own mouth, further strengthened our belief in him. A demon beat on the door of his cell one night, saying, "Get up, Macarius, and let us go to the meeting (collecta) where the brothers are gathered together for vigils."
"Liar and enemy of truth!" said Macarius, who was too full of the grace of God to be deceived, and who knew the devil was lying. "What fellowship and companionship do you have with the meetings and gatherings of the saints?"
"Didn't you know, Macarius," he replied, "that no meeting or gathering of monks goes on without us? Come with me, and you will see what we do."
"The Lord rebuke thee (Jude 9), you unclean sprit," he said, and turning to prayer he begged the Lord to show him whether what the devil was boasting about was true.
He then went to the meeting where the brothers were celebrating vigils, and again in prayer he begged the Lord to show him the truth of the matter. And behold, throughout the whole church he saw little Ethiopian boys darting about hither and thither as if carried about on wings.
Now it is the custom in these services for all to sit while one person says a psalm, with the others listening, then joining together in a responsory. The little Ethiopian boys were tormenting those sitting down by pressing two fingers against their eyelids, whereupon they started dozing. By putting a finger in anyone's mouth they immediately made him yawn. When the brothers prostrated themselves for prayer after the psalm they did not cease running around each of them, appearing like a woman to one monk lying in prayer, like builders carrying things to another, or performing various other antics. And whatever shape the teasing demons took got mixed up with the thoughts in the hearts of those praying. Some of them however, when they started these tactics, were suddenly thrown backwards as if by some superior force, and hardly dared to stand upright or cross over to someone else. But others danced about on the necks and backs of the weaker brothers because they were not intent on their prayers. 
Macarius groaned deeply at this sight, and shed tears before the Lord. "'Look, O Lord,' he said, 'and do not keep silent nor show leniency, O God. (Psalms 83.1). Arise O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered and flee before your face' (Psalms 68.1), for our hearts are filled with illusion." After the prayers, in order to make the truth clear, he spoke to each one of the brothers before whose faces he had seen the demons dancing about in various guises and shapes. He asked them if they had been thinking during the prayers of building works, or going on a journey or any other of the diverse images which he had seen the demons presenting to each person. And each of them admitted that the thoughts of their hearts had been exactly as he said. And so he established that all the vain and unnecessary thoughts of each person during both the psalmody and the prayers had come about through the wiles of the demons, and that the disgusting Ethiopians had been driven back by those who kept custody of their hearts. The mind united to God will admit nothing unfitting or superfluous, especially if intent upon God during the time of prayer.
He saw something even more awesome when the brothers were receiving the Sacrament. As they held out their hands to receive, Ethiopians rushed in to put hot burning coals into the hands of some of them, while the Body which ostensibly was given by the hands of the priests returned to the altar. But the demons drew back and fled in great fear from some of the others, aided as they were by their superior merits. And he saw that an angel of the Lord assisted at the altar, and with his own hand overruled the hands of the priests. And this grace from God remained with him always, that he knew what stray thoughts the demons were putting into anyone's heart at the time of psalmody and prayer during vigils, nor was the unworthiness or the merits of those approaching the altar hidden from him.
On another occasion both Macarii, the men of God, together with some brothers were on a journey in order to visit someone. They took a ferry to cross the river, and in the ship with them were some tribunes, very rich and powerful men, who had with them several horses and grooms and many servants. One of the tribunes noticed the monks sitting in the lower part of the ship, in rough clothing and uncluttered by any possessions.
"Blessed are you," he said, "who despise this world and ask for nothing from it but the meanest clothing and a little food."
"What you say is true," said one of the Macarii. "Those who follow the Lord despise (illudunt) the world, and we are sorry for you, for on the contrary it is the world which deceives (illudit) you."
The Tribune was greatly moved by this reply, and as soon as he got home gave up everything he possessed, divided it up and gave it to the poor. He began to follow God and embraced the monastic life.
But there are many other marvellous things, as we have said, on the subject of the deeds of Macarius of Alexandria. Anyone looking for them will find many of them in the eleventh book of the Ecclesiastical History.



Chapter XXX
AMMON, THE FIRST MONK OF NITRIA
(cf. VIII. 8)

The first monastic dwellings in Nitria are attributed to a certain Ammon, whose soul the blessed Antony saw carried up out of the body to heaven, according to the book which describes Antony's life. (Book I, Vita Antonii, cap. 32). This Ammon was born of wealthy and generous parents, who arranged a marriage for him even though he did not want it. He was unable to defy his parent's will and accepted a virgin bride, but when they were left together in the marriage bedroom, he took advantage of the secret silence of the bedchamber to speak to the girl on the subject of chastity, and began to urge her to preserve her virginity.
"Corruption breeds corruption," he said, "but incorruption looks for incorruption. So therefore it would be much better for us to persevere in virginity, than for each of us to be corrupted by the other."
The girl agreed, and they kept secret the treasure of their incorruption. Content with the witness of God alone, they lived for a long time joined together more in spirit than in flesh and blood, until when the parents of both were dead he went off to a nearby desert place. She stayed in the house, where after a short time she gathered about her a great number of virgins, just as he gathered a congregation of monks.
While he was still hidden away in the desert a young man with rabies, because of having been bitten by a rabid dog, was brought to him bound in chains. His parents were with him beseeching Ammon to help.
"Why are you people bothering me?" he asked. "What you are asking is beyond what I am worthy of doing. But what I can tell you is that his health lies in your own hands. Give back the ox that you have stolen and your son will be restored to you whole." And it was forcibly brought home to them that their secret deeds were not hidden from the man of God. So they rejoiced that this means of healing was open to them and without delay they made good the theft. And the man of God prayed, and the young man was restored to full health.
On another occasion, some people came to him, whose intentions he wished to test. So he told them he needed a dolium (i.e. a large globular water jar) in which he could store water for visitors. They promised to bring one, but then one of them became quite worried that he would endanger his camel if he were to place such a heavy load on it.
"You take it, if you can or if you want to," he said. "I am thinking of my camel lest it die."
"But I haven't got a camel, as you know," said the other. "I've only got an ass. What makes you think an ass can carry what a camel can't?"
"Do what you like. It's your business." he replied. "But I am not going to put my camel at risk."
"Right," said the other. "I will put this heavy load on my ass which you say is too much for your camel, and may the merits of the man of God make possible that which is impossible."
So he loaded the dolium on to the ass and led it to the monastery of the man of God, with the ass not feeling as if he were carrying anything very heavy at all.
"You've done well to load the dolium on the ass," said Ammon when he saw him, "for your friend's camel has died."
And when he went back home he found that it was even as the servant of God had said.
And the Lord did many other signs through him. When he wanted to cross the river Nile, it is said that he was too embarrassed to take his clothes off, but that by the power of God he was suddenly translated to the other side. The blessed Antony greatly admired his way of life and commemorates his uprightness and the virtues of his soul.

Chapter XXXI
PAUL THE SIMPLE (cf. VIII. 28)

Among the disciples of the blessed Antony was one Paul, nicknamed the Simple. His first conversion happened like this:
With his own eyes he saw his wife committing adultery one day, so without saying anything to anyone he left home, overwhelmed with sadness in his heart, and fled to the desert. After wandering about there in distress, he came at last to Antony's monastery. He took comfort from this fortunate chance, because of what he had heard about the place. He met Antony and asked him how he could find a path to salvation. Antony sensed that he was a simple sort of man, and told him that if he would abide by the instructions that he would give him he would be saved. He replied that he would do whatever he was asked. To test this promise Antony said to him as he stood outside the door of his cell, "Wait here and pray until I come back again". He then went inside and stayed there for a day and a night, from time to time watching Paul secretly through the window.  He saw that Paul prayed without ceasing, never moving at all, just standing there in the heat of the day and the dew of the night, so intent on what he had been told that he did not move from the spot in the slightest degree.
When Antony came out the next day he took him in and began to teach him about each sort of manual work customary in solitude. Work with the hands took care of the needs of the body, while the thoughts of the heart and the intention of the mind made room for what came from God. He told him to take food in the evening, but warned him never to satisfy his hunger completely, and to be particularly sparing in what he drank, for mental phantasies were encouraged just as much by too much water as bodily heat by too much wine. And when he had fully instructed him how to conduct himself properly in all things he built a cell for him not far away, that is, at a distance of three miles, where he ordered him to carry on doing what he learned. He visited him from time to time, and was delighted to see that he was keeping a firm grasp on what he had been taught, persevering wholeheartedly in his solitude.
One day some senior brothers came to visit the holy Antony, men very advanced in spirituality, and Paul happened to be visiting at the same time. There was a long conversation on deep and mystical subjects, and much discussion about the Prophets and the Saviour.
"Did Christ come before the Prophets?" asked Paul out of the simplicity of his heart. Antony was rather embarrassed for him for asking such a stupid question.
"Get away with you, say no more," he said, in the indulgent sort of tone of voice reserved for idiots.
But Paul believed that everything Antony told him to do was as it were a command from God, and obeyed immediately. He went back to his cell and accepted this command and began to keep absolute silence, allowing not a word to pass his lips. When Antony realised this he wondered why he was behaving like this, for he was quite unaware that he had given Paul any command. He ordered him to speak, and tell him why he was keeping silent.
"You, father," said Paul, "told me to get away and say no more."
Antony was amazed that Paul was taking literally the words which he had quite carelessly said
"This man puts us all to shame," he said. "For we fail to hear what is spoken to us from heaven, whereas he observes whatever comes out of our mouth."
Antony was determined to teach him a great deal about obedience, and was accustomed to give orders which seemed quite unreasonable and purposeless, in order to train his mind in the habit of obedience. He told him once to draw water from the well and pour it out on the ground, he told him to unravel baskets and then weave them together again, to tear his garment apart then sew it up again, then take it apart again. In all such practices, Antony bears witness that he remained totally receptive. He learned not to contradict in any of those unreasonable things which he was commanded to do, and so he was brought on by all these things and soon arrived at a state of perfection.
Antony used him as an example. "If anyone wishes to come quickly to perfection," he taught, "he should not be his own master nor obey his own will even if he thought he was in the right. According to the command of the Saviour he should take note that above all else he should deny himself and renounce his own will (Matthew 16.24), for the Saviour himself said, 'I came not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.' (John 6.38) The will of Christ, of course, could not be in any way different from the will of the Father, for he who came to teach obedience would not have been obedient himself if he had merely been doing his own will. How much more, then, will we be judged disobedient if we do our own will? Therefore this Paul is an example for us, for by the merits of his simplicity and obedience he has attained to such a height of spiritual grace that the Lord has shown forth a great number of much more powerful virtues in him than in Antony."
Because of the abundance of his gifts, many people came from all parts to be cured by him. Antony feared that the attentions of such a large crowd would overwhelm him, so he sent him deeper into the desert where it was not so easy for anyone to get to him, and Antony would thus be more able to deal with visitors. But if Antony himself could not cure anyone he would then send them to Paul as being more abundantly supplied with healing gifts. And Paul cured them.
The simplicity of his faithfulness was great in the eyes of the Lord. They say that once someone suffering from rabies was biting like a dog everyone who was trying to come and see Paul. He was brought to Paul, who persisted in prayer that the demon troubling him should be put to flight. And after a while, when there did not seem to be anything happening, he is said to have cried out indignantly, like a small child, to the Lord, "If you don't cure him, I am not going to get anything to eat today!" And immediately God granted him his request, as if he were a favourite child. The rabies was instantly cured.



Chapter XXXII
PIAMMON THE PRESBYTER (cf. VIII. 72)


It would not seem to me to be right to pass over in silence those who live in the desert near the Parthian Sea, near the town called Diolcus. There we met a certain admirable presbyter called Piammon, a man of exceptional humility and benevolence, who had a gift of seeing. For once when he was offering the sacrifice to the Lord he saw an angel of the Lord standing by the altar writing down the names of the monks as they approached the altar, but there were some whose names he did not write down. Piammon took a careful note of those whose names were not written down, and after the mysteries were completed he called each one of them to him and demanded to know what secret sins they were guilty of. He found that each one of them was guilty of a mortal sin and urged them to do penance. Along with them he prostrated himself day and night before the Lord, as if he himself was guilty of their sins. He wept, and continued with them in penitence and tears, until once more he saw the angel standing there writing down the names of those going up to Communion. And after writing down all the names, he called out the names of the sinners, inviting them to be reconciled once more with the altar. Seeing this, Piammon knew that their penance had been accepted, and restored them to the altar with great joy.
They say also that once he was so beaten by the demons that he could not stand or move. So when Sunday came with the need to offer the sacrifice he told the brothers to carry him to the altar. While prostrate in prayer he saw the angel of the Lord standing in his usual place by the altar, who reached out his hands and lifted him up from the earth. And all his pain disappeared at once, and he was restored to his usual good health.


Chapter XXXIII
JOHN (cf. VIII. 73)

There was a holy man called John in that place, whose gifts of grace were overflowing. He had such a great gift of consolation that anyone whose soul was oppressed with sadness or weariness could be speedily and joyfully restored by a few words from him. Many gifts of healing were given him by the Lord.


EPILOGUE (cf. VIII. 151)
The dangers of journeying to the deserts

In many other parts of Egypt we came across holy men of God of great virtue doing marvellous things, totally filled with the grace of God. We have only mentioned a few of them. To describe them all would be beyond our powers.
We learned only by hearsay of those who are said to live in the upper Thebaid, that is around Syene, but they were held by almost everyone whom we did see to be even greater and more wonderful still. But we were unable to visit them because of the dangers of the journey. All parts of Egypt are infested with robbers, but beyond the city of Lycos you are in danger from barbarians as well. So none of us managed to visit there, though in truth even getting to see those whom we mention above was not without its perils.

We ran into danger seven times in this journey and even in the eighth we suffered no harm, as it is written (Job 5.19), the Lord always protecting us.

Once we wandered for five days and nights in the desert, suffering from thirst and near exhaustion.
Then we went through a valley which exuded a sort of salty liquid which the heat of sun turned into a salty deposit with sharp spikes just like winter hoarfrost turned to ice. The whole area was so rough that our feet were torn and scratched, as were the shoes we wore. Once we had got into this place we only managed to get out of it with great difficulty.
Thirdly, when we notwithstanding persevered onwards into the desert we came to a valley which again discharged a similar sort of liquid, but when we tried to cross through this place full of stones and stinking filth we sank up to our thighs. We were almost about to be covered in it when we cried to the Lord in the words of the psalm, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come in even unto my soul. I am stuck in the deep mire where there is no ground" (Psalms 69.1-2).
Fourthly, we suffered danger in the waters left behind after the flooding of the Nile, through which we struggled for three days, and were scarcely able to get through.
Fifthly, we were in danger from pirates when we were travelling by sea. They followed us for ten miles but failed to put us to the sword, but left us to flee almost dead [with fright].
Sixthly, we had an accident in crossing the Nile when we were almost drowned.
Seventhly, in the swamps named after Mary [Maræotis palus, just west of the Cells], a fierce wind cast us up on an island during a terrible storm in the middle of winter. It was during Epiphanytide.

 

 

Epilogue (continued), Book II  (Book III begins further down this page)

Eighthly, when we were on the way to the monasteries of Nitria we came to a place where the floodwaters of the Nile were still lying, making a sort of bog, in which were a lot of beasts, especially crocodiles. When the sun came out they lay on the shore, seeming dead to us in our ignorance. We went closer in order to see and admire the size of these beasts which we thought dead, but as soon as they heard the sound of our feet they woke up and began to rush towards us. With a great shout and groan we called upon the name of the Lord. who had mercy on us, and the beasts rushing towards us were driven back as if by an angel and cast immediately into the bog. And we continued quickly on our journey to the monastery, giving thanks to God who delivered up from such great perils and showed us such wonders. To him be glory and honour unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

End of Book II

 

 

 

De Vitis Patrum, Book III

by Rufinus of Aquileia, Presbyter

 


Prologue

Who can doubt but that the world is sustained by the merits of the Saints, that is, those whose lives shine out from this book, who spurned every mark of luxury with their whole mind, who left the world and penetrated the secret wastes of the desert, traversing dangerous cliffs, sleeping in fearsome caves but suffering neither hunger nor thirst for the right hand of the Lord sustained and fed them. You also are sustained by their merits, my Lord Fidosus, through their prayers you earn remission of your sins. Do not despise then my simple and uncultured words, for my purpose is not to weave eloquent and sophisticated expositions of divine scriptural doctrine, but to lead human minds into true faith and work. For were not even the faith and lives of the Fathers, that is, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Elias and John, written down not so much to glorify those whom God has already glorified and taken into his kingdom, but to provide the reader with true teaching and examples of salvation.
   

1.  When one of the older holy fathers was asked by some monks to explain abstinence, he said, "My children you must despise all the comforts which this world has to offer, whether bodily pleasures or culinary delights. We have no need for honour to be paid us by other human beings, for the Lord Jesus will give us heavenly honour, eternal rest and glorious happiness with his angels.

2.   The same old man said, "It is natural for human beings to feel hunger, but you must take food simply as something which is necessary to sustain the body, not in a disordered desire to fill the stomach to saturation point. Sleep is natural for human beings, but by not overdoing it we may be able to maintain bodily discipline and overcome the passions and vices of the flesh. Too much sleep makes the human mind and senses stupid and lazy. Vigils however make the mind and senses more subtle and pure. So said the holy fathers - holy vigils purify and illuminate the mind. It is also natural for human beings to feel anger, but don't be angry with passionate wrath. Be angry with yourself and your sins in order that you may cut them out and amend your life. And if we see other people doing wrong things contrary to the commandments of God we ought to be quite fierce against their vices and diligently plead with them, correct and warn them, that they may amend their lives and find salvation and come to eternal life".

3. There was an old man living in the inner desert who had spent many years in abstinence and every spiritual labour. Some brothers who admired his perseverance came to him and said, "How do you manage to put up with this arid and inhospitable place, father?"  "He replied, "All the labour of the whole time that I have spent here cannot measure up to a single hour of the torments of eternal fire. So therefore in the short time that we have at our disposal in this life we ought to work hard and put to death our bodily passions, so that in that eternal age which is to come we may find that perpetual rest from our labours which never will fail.

4.  (A longer version of V.iv.58) The holy seniors told us about a certain brother who was once so harassed by demons making him feel hungry and weak before the first hour of the day had passed that it seemed he would hardly be able to put up with it. But he said to himself, "However hungry I am I had better wait until at least the third hour and then I will eat something". When the third hour came he said to himself, "I must be strict and wait till the sixth hour." At the sixth hour he put some bread into soak in water, and said, "While this bread is soaking I need to wait till the ninth hour". When the ninth hour came he said all his customary prayers, and sang the psalms according to the rule, and only then took up the bread to eat it. He kept this up for many days. One day when he had carried on in this way from the first hour to the ninth and was sitting down to eat his bread he looked at the basket in which the bread was kept and saw a thick smoke coming from it and going out the window of the cell. From that day onwards he suffered neither from hunger or bodily weakness, but his heart was made so much stronger in faith and abstinence that he was quite happy to eat only every other day. So by the grace of God he was strengthened in his struggle and overcame through his patience the passion of gluttony, that is, greed and concupiscence.

5.   (A slightly longer version of V.x.97) Some brothers once left the monastery to go and visit the fathers in the desert. They arrived at the hermitage of a senior who welcomed them with great joy, and according to the custom offered them a little food. Then he saw how tired they were from their journey, so although it was well before the ninth hour he brought out whatever else he had in his cell, and put it before them so that they might eat and regain their strength.
At Vespers they said the usual prayers and psalms, and did the same at the night office. The hermit retired to rest in a separate place by himself, but heard the brothers talking among themselves,
"These hermits certainly eat more food, and better," one said, "than we who have joined a monastery." The hermit heard, but said nothing.
Next morning as the brothers prepared to continue their journey to another hermit who lived not far away, the old man said, "Give him my greetings, and tell him to take care not to water the vegetables." When they arrived at this other hermitage they gave the message as they had been asked. The hermit grasped what the message meant, and he took the brothers and gave them some work weaving baskets. He sat down with them and kept on working without ceasing. At the Lighting of the Lamps at Vespers he added on more psalms than usual, and when the prayers had been said,
"Today it is not our custom to eat," he said, "but seeing that you have arrived we will eat something," and he put before them some dry bread and salt.
"Because you are here, we should eat a little more", he said, and he brought out a little vinegar and a little oil, and when the meal was over he began to sing psalms again and continued till it was nearly dawn.
"Because you are here we won't sing the whole canon," he said, "so that you can rest for a while as you must be tired from your journey."
At the first hour of the day they made as if to go, but the old man would not let them.
""Please stay a few days with us," he said. "I can't let you go today. Let me in charity keep you for three more days."
When they heard him say this, they got up before dawn and quietly fled.

6.   (A longer version of V.iv.57) One of the holy seniors went out to visit another senior hermit, who greeted him joyfully and in honour of his visit prepared a cooked meal of lentils. They decided between them that they would complete the prayers and psalmody first and eat afterwards. So they went in and began the psalms and completed the whole psalter, after which, although they had no books, they recited two of the prophets as if they were reading them. A day passed, and a night, and a new day dawned as they were praying and psalmodising before they realised that the night had gone. But they carried on discussing the word of God and interpreting its meaning, until it got to be the ninth hour, at which point they embraced each other and the visitor went back to his own cell. They had forgotten to partake of the food which had been prepared for they had been refreshed by spiritual food, and at Vespers time the old man noticed the generous dish of food which had been prepared, and in great distress said, "Oh dear, However did we forget that lentil dish?"

7.    (A slightly longer version of V.iv.17) Abba Zenon told us how once when he was going to Palestine, getting very tired because of his journeying, he sat down to rest under a tree next to a field full of cucumbers. He began to think about getting up and going to steal some of the cucumbers to eat. "After all", he thought, "I won't have to pick very much". But his thoughts went on, "When thieves are taken by the judges they are subjected to torture. So let me find out whether I can bear the sort of torture that thieves are given." He got up immediately and stood in the sun for five days till his body was dehydrated and he said to himself, "I can't stand this torture, so therefore I had better not commit theft but rather busy myself in manual labour as usual and, as the Psalms say, be content with that. "You shall eat the labour of your hands and you will be blessed and happy" (Psalms 128.2), as we sing daily in the sight of the Lord.


8. A certain disciple of one of the holy seniors was having a battle with thoughts of sex but by the grace of God he was able to resist evil and unclean thoughts by means of fasts and prayers, and vigorous manual work. When his holy senior saw his labours he said to him, "If you like, my son, I will pray to the Lord to take this battle away from you."
"I find, father," he replied, " that as I undergo these labours I feel them bringing forth good fruit in me, for as a result of this battle I fast more and undertake more vigils and prayers. So please pray to the Lord to have mercy on me and give me strength that I may endure and strive with integrity."
"Now I know that you really do understand how through your patience this spiritual battle will help you towards the eternal salvation of your soul," the holy old man then said to him. "As the holy Apostle says, 'I have fought the fight, I have run the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is a crown of righteousness prepared for me, and not only for me but for all those who look for his coming.'" (2 Timothy 4.7).

9.   There was another brother fiercely attacked by a spirit of fornication who got up in the middle of the night in order to go and confess his temptations to a certain holy old man who had a reputation of great wisdom. When the old man had heard him he gave him some spiritual advice on the virtue of patience, quoting the words of Scripture 'Be strong and let your heart be comforted, all you who hope in the Lord' (Psalms 27.14). The brother went back to his cell where he was immediately attacked again, so he hurried off once more to the holy man. The old man again encouraged him to persevere faithfully and unweariedly, and said to him,
"Believe me, my son, the Lord Jesus Christ is able to send you all the help from heaven above in order for you to overcome this passion."
Encouraged by the old man's words he returned to his cell, where again the battle began to rage in his heart. He went back again to the old man and begged him to pray more fervently for him. The old man said to him,
"Don't be frightened or relax your efforts, and don't keep your thoughts to yourself. This is the way to confuse the unclean spirit and make him depart. For nothing weakens the power of the demons so much as revealing the hidden unclean thoughts to the blessed and holy fathers. Be strong, brother, let your heart be comforted, trust in the Lord. The harder the fight, the more glorious the crown. Moreover the holy prophet Isaiah said, 'Is the hand of the Lord unable to save you, or are his ears plugged that he cannot hear you?' (Isaiah 59.1). Remember, brother, that the Lord is watching over your struggle and is preparing for you an eternal crown even as you are resisting the devil. The Scripture warns us that it is only through many tribulations that we can enter eternal life" (Acts.14.22).
As the brother listened his heart was strengthened in the Lord, and he remained with the old man, deciding against returning to his cell

10.  (Also in V.xviii.12) The demon of fornication once waged such a fierce attack against the blessed abba Moyses, who lived in Petra, that he could not remain in his cell but went to see abba Isidore and told him how violent his battle was. Abba Isidore comforted him with words from the holy Scriptures and told him to go back to his cell. But Moyses was very unwilling to do so. Abba Isidore then took Moyses with him to the upper room of his cell.
"Look west," he said to Isidore. "What do you see?"
"I see a multitude of demons," he replied, "milling about ferociously, ready for battle, spoiling for a fight."
"Now look east," said Isidore. "What do you see?"
"I see a numberless multitude of holy Angels, more glorious and splendid than the light of the sun, an army of celestial power."
"What you saw in the west," said Isidore, "were those who fight against the saints of God. But what you saw in the east were those whom God sends to the aid of his saints. Know therefore that those who are for us are much greater in number, as Elias the prophet said. (2 Kings 6.16). St John also says, 'He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world'" (1 John 2.14).
Hearing these things the holy abba Moyses was strengthened in the Lord and returned to his cell giving thanks, and glorifying the suffering kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

11.  (Also in V.v.22) There was a certain brother in the desert of Scete who was keen and eager in the work of God and in the spiritual life. But the devil, the enemy of the human race, filled his thoughts with the memory of the beauty of a certain woman he used to know, leaving his mind in a turmoil. However in the providence of the Lord Jesus another brother came from Egypt to visit him in the charity of Christ. And as they were talking among themselves the brother from Egypt chanced to mention that that woman for whom the brother had been so much in love had died. A few days after hearing this he went to the place where the body of the dead woman had been laid, opened up the tomb, wrapped up some of her decaying matter in a linen cloth and returned to his cell. He put the rotten matter in a place where he could see it and said to his thoughts, "There you are, you have now got what it was you were wanting. Take your fill of it." And in this way he crucified himself by means of that fetid material until the sordid attacks died away.

12.   (Also in V.v.27) Two brothers went into the neighbouring city in order to sell what they had produced during the past year. One of them went on to do some necessary shopping, the other stayed in the guest house and at the urging of the devil fell into the sin of fornication. The other brother returned later.
"See," he said, "We've now got everything we need. Let us go back to our cell."
"I can't," the other brother said.
"What do you mean, you can't go back to your cell?"
"Because after you left me, I fell into the sin of fornication. So I can't go back."
"Well, I likewise fell into the sin of fornication," he said, in an attempt to win his brother over and heal him, "so let us both go back to our cell and do penance together. For with God all things are possible (Luke 1.37). He may grant us pardon through our penances, so that we will avoid being punished by the torments and agony of the everlasting fires in the lowest hell, where punishment does not end, and the fires and terrible tortures do not cease."
And so they went back to their cell. They prostrated themselves at the feet of the holy fathers, lamenting loudly with tears, and confessed to them the temptation which had led to their fall. The seniors told them what they must do in penance, and they carried out all their instructions. And the brother who had not sinned did all the same penances as his brother who had sinned, as if he had sinned himself. And he poured out an immense love towards his brother. The Lord saw his labour of love and after a short time revealed the reason behind it to the holy fathers, that the one who had not sinned was punishing himself on behalf of the brother who had sinned, so that the Lord would grant him pardon. Thus was the scripture fulfilled: 'For he laid down his life for the salvation of his brother' (1 John 3.16).

13. (Also in V.v.19) Another brother in the grip of sexual temptation went to a certain well-respected senior and spoke to him about it.
"Be kind, most blessed father," he said, "and pray for me, for the passion of fornication is grievously afflicting me."
Hearing this the senior prayed earnestly, night and day begging the Lord's mercy for him.
The brother came back a second time, and begged the senior to pray even harder for him. With renewed compassion the blessed senior prayed even harder. The senior began to be depressed as he witnessed the brother coming to him again and again asking for his prayers, while the Lord did not seem to be listening.
At last the Lord revealed to him in a dream that this same monk was imprisoned in negligence and laziness and pandered to his body as his heart desired. The holy senior had a vision of the monk sitting down with the spirit of fornication playing around him in the shape of various women, and he was really enjoying it. He also saw the angel of the Lord standing near seriously angry with the brother because he did not prostrate himself in prayer to God, but rather continued enjoying his own thoughts. This was the revelation given to the holy senior, and he knew then that the brother was to blame, and it was cause of his negligence that prayers were not being answered.
"It's your fault, brother," the senior said to him, "because you keep on enjoying your own thoughts. It is impossible for the unclean spirit of fornication to depart from you, however much others may pray and beg God for you, unless you yourself join in the labour, in fasting and prayer and many vigils, praying with deep groans that the Lord will have mercy on you and grant you the help of his grace in enabling you to resist your thoughts. However much doctors may devise and prepare medicines for the human body, and however much care and diligence they offer, there will be no cure unless the sick person is willing to forgo harmful foods or any other thing that is liable to make one sick. It is the same thing with diseases of the soul. However much the holy fathers, doctors of the spirit, beg with wholehearted will for the mercy of the Lord and Saviour on those who have asked for their prayers, the prayers of the saints will be of no use to those who are negligent and imprisoned and who take no thought for the salvation of their own soul, unless they themselves with a pure intention do what is pleasing to God in prayer and every kind of spiritual work."
Hearing this the brother was cut to the quick, and with great earnestness applying himself to fasting and prayer and vigils, as the senior had taught, he earned the mercy of the Lord, and the spirit of unclean passion departed from him.

14.  (Also in V.v.24) There was a certain monk who had been living in the desert for many years when a certain girl whom he had known where he used to live made inquiries about where the monk lived, and at the instigation of the devil came into the desert in search of him. When she found him she went into his cell, reminded him of her family and parentage, and stayed with him. And so he fell into sin with her.
Now there was another monk also living in the desert who when the time for food had come found that a vessel of drinking water which he had prepared had fallen over and the water had been spilt. This happened for several days when it came time for eating; the water was spilt on the ground and he had nothing to drink. He turned it over in his mind and decided to go and tell that other monk about how the jar had fallen over and the water had got spilt. Evening came on while he was journeying, so he bedded down in an old disused temple of idols, and he heard the demons boasting among themselves how they had enticed that monk into fornication, to which he listened in amazement.
When daylight came he journeyed on to that monk and found him very deeply depressed.
"What should I do, brother," he asked, " for when the time comes to eat, my jar of drinking water falls over and I have nothing to drink?"
"You've come to me asking me what to do because your jar of drinking water falls over? But what should I do, for I have fallen last night into fornication."
"Yes, I knew that," said the other.
"How could you possibly know?"
"While I was sleeping last night on my journey I heard demons talking among themselves and boasting about your lapse, and I was very sorry about it."
"Yes, I might just as well go back to the world."
"No, don't do that, brother. Much rather stay here patiently. Let's send the woman away, back to her own place. This is obviously all a trick of the devil. Much better that we should remain where we are, in affliction of body and soul for the rest of our life, in tears and mourning, casting ourselves on the kindness of our Lord and Saviour, if perchance we may find mercy in the great and terrible judgment day of God."

 

15.   There was a certain brother living in the Cells who was being grievously tormented by a demon of fornication. So he thought to himself, "Perhaps I should do more manual labour in order to extinguish these carnal thoughts." Now this brother was a potter, and he took some clay and moulded for himself a female figure and said to himself, "Now you have a wife so you will have to work harder that you used to". A few days later he took some clay and made as it were a daughter figure, and he said to himself, "Now look your wife has given birth to a daughter. You will need to work harder and harder in order to clothe and feed not only yourself but also your wife and daughter". And so by excessive labour he so weakened his body that he was not able to keep up with so much work any more. Then he said to himself, "Seeing that you cannot sustain this level of working it is obvious that to have a wife is not for you." And the Lord saw and accepted this mental struggle to preserve his chastity and took away from him the onslaughts of the demons. And he gave glory to God for his powerful grace.

 

16.  A brother asked blessed Abba Poemen, "What shall I do, for the passion of fornication is attacking me and I get carried away by passionate anger. And the holy old man replied, "Hear what David the prophet said, 'I smote the lion and strangled the bear' (1 Sam.17.36). By this you must understand that anger has to be cut off out of your mind, and that you must extinguish fornication by hard work."

 

17.    (A longer version of V.xv.31) The senior holy fathers told how a certain monk in the desert, who was also a senior, was actually a slave, and every year he would leave the desert and go down to Alexandria where his masters lived, in order to give them that due proportion of what he had earnt which slaves usually give to their masters. But his masters, who feared God, had a great reverence for him, and met him and welcomed him with great honour, and begged him to pray to the Lord for them. But he poured water into a bowl and hastened to wash the feet of these masters of his, wishing to show them all humility and respect. But they were unwilling to let him wash their feet.

"No, beloved father," they said. "That would seriously embarrass us."

"But I am your slave," he replied. "It is almighty God who has given you to be my masters, and I am grateful for your authority over me, for you have seen fit to let me serve the true and living God, the creator and master of heaven and earth. So naturally, I bring you the accustomed price of my servitude."

The masters remonstrated with him, unwilling to accept the money he had brought.

"If you are unwilling to accept the money," the slave replied, "I tell you I will not go back to the desert, but remain here and serve you."

Hearing this made the masters decide to accept the money, not only so as not to disappoint him, but also to make sure that he would go back to his own cell in the desert. And the money, which he forced upon them even though they did not want it, was no sooner in their possession than they gave it to the poor.

The other brothers questioned this same senior.

"Tell us, please, father," they said, "Why are you so keen on your slavery that you forced that money upon your masters, even though they were unwilling to accept it and resisted very strongly?"

"I am punctilious about paying every year the money that I owe my masters in respect of my slavery, so that whatever I can do with the help of the Lord by way of fasts and prayers, holy vigils, and every kind of spiritual labour, Christ being my helper, will be of benefit to me in the life to come and in the salvation of my soul. If I had neglected to pay that slavery money all that spiritual labour of mine might well have been credited to their account, for it was they who sent me to serve Christ the Lord, and change my life."

 

18.  (A longer version of V.xv.89) There were two brothers according to the flesh who lived the monastic life together, and the evil devil was doing his best to sow discord between them. One day the younger brother went as usual to light the lamp at vespers, and by the machinations of a demon he knocked the candlestick over and the light was extinguished. The evil devil used this occasion to sow strife between them, for the older brother began to scold his brother angrily. But the younger brother prostrated himself, and apologized to his brother.

"Forgive me, brother," he said. "I will go and light the lamp again."

Because the brother had not given an angry response, the evil spirit was confused and departed immediately, and he reported that same night to the prince of the demons.

"I have not been able to prevail against these two, because of the humility of this monk who prostrated himself on the ground before his brother. God saw his humility and poured out his grace upon him, and I am now tortured and tormented because I have not been able to split them up."

Now a pagan priest who lived nearby overheard this demonic conversation and he was pierced with the fear of God and love for Jesus Christ. Realising how the cult of idols seduced souls and led them to perdition, he left everything and hastened to the holy fathers in the monastery and told them everything that the malicious demons were talking about. The holy fathers instructed him in the wholesome doctrines of our Lord and Saviour, he was baptized and accepted the monastic holy rule of life. As he advanced with the help of the grace of God he became a most exemplary monk, excelling especially in the virtue of humility, so that he was greatly venerated, and everyone wondered at how great his humility was. He used to say that the practice of humility put to flight all the power of our adversaries the demons. The Lord Jesus Christ triumphed over the devil through his humility and brought all his power to naught. He added that he had often heard the demons talking among themselves, saying, "Whenever we arouse anger in a human heart, and someone suffers the injury patiently, preferring to try and make peace, saying, 'Sorry, I have sinned', we immediately feel all our power vanish at the approach of divine grace."

 

19.  (A longer version of V.xv.66) The blessed senior monk Poemen told the brothers the following account of a monk who lived in Constantinople in the time of the Emperor Theodosius.

"He had a little cell in the suburb called Septimum, just outside the city, where the Emperors used to come out from the city to relax. When the Emperor heard that there was a solitary monk living there who never went out of his cell, he took a walk over to the place where the monk lived, warning the eunuchs who were with him to prevent anyone following him to the monk's cell. He went on alone and knocked on his door, and the monk got up and opened the door but did not recognize that his visitor was the Emperor, for he had taken off his crown to prevent recognition. After the prayer of welcome they sat down and the Emperor began to question him.

"'How do the holy fathers in Egypt spend their time?' he asked.

"'They all pray for your salvation,' he replied.

"The Emperor looked around the cell and saw nothing except a few loaves of dry bread hanging up in baskets.

"'Give a blessing, father,' he said, 'and let us have something to eat.'

"'The monk immediately brought water and salt, and a few little loaves and they ate together. He offered the Emperor water, and he drank.

"'Do you know who I am?' the Emperor Theodosius then asked.

"'No sir, I don't,' the monk replied.

"'I am the Emperor Theodosius,' he said, 'but I have come here simply as a pilgrim.'

"At this the monk prostrated himself.

"'Blessed are you monks' said the Emperor, 'for you are free and safe from all the worries of the world and go through life in peace and quietness, concentrating on the salvation of your souls and how you may gain the heavenly reward of eternal life. I was born into royalty, and I live in royalty, and I tell you truly that I can never eat my food free from care.'

"The Emperor then showed him every mark of respect before taking his leave. That same night the servant of God began to turn things over in his mind.

"'I don't think I ought to live here any longer, for there will be many not only from the common people but also from the palace and the senators who will want to follow the Emperor's example and come to visit me, and honour me as some servant of God who deserves adulation. And although they will be doing this in the name of the Lord, I am fearful that the malignant devil will take advantage of this, I shall begin to enjoy welcoming them in, and my heart will be led astray by their praises and respect, and gradually I shall lose the virtue of humility, and I shall revel in their praises and respect.'

"Turning these things over in his mind, the man of God that same night fled to the holy fathers in the desert of Egypt.

"So, my dear brothers, just think how much value that servant of God placed in the virtue of humility, by which he might be found worthy to receive from Christ the Lord eternal glory in the kingdom of heaven, because of the labours of a holy life, lived in the name of the Lord."

20.    (A longer version of V.viii.13) On this subject, others among the holy fathers made the following mention of the holy Poemen himself.

"Once when the provincial judge arrived and heard of Poemen's reputation for holiness, he tried to pay him a visit, and sent a messenger to ask if Poemen would be willing to receive him. Poemen was not very pleased.

"'If the nobility are going to start coming to see me and pay me, respect,' he thought to himself, 'all sorts of other people will also want to come, and that will mean that the hidden quality of my life will be destroyed, and by the workings of the malignant devil I shall lose the grace of humility that with so much labour I have striven to cultivate, with the help of the Lord, from my youth up.'

"After a long struggle with himself he decided to excuse himself and refuse to accept a visit from the judge. The judge was very disappointed at his refusal to see him.

"'I suppose it is because of my sins that I am not good enough to see the man of God,' he said to his deputy. Nevertheless he still fervently desired to see the holy man by any means that he possibly could. So he thought up a plan which would provide an excuse for seeing him; he arrested the son of blessed Poemen's sister and put him in prison, hoping that this would make Poemen willing to see him, or even to make him come and make a plea before the judge.

"'To save the old man any worry', he said to his deputy, 'tell him that he must make up his mind to come and see me. That is what is needed if we are to free the young man from prison. His case is such that we cannot pass over it unpunished.'

"When the young man's mother, holy Poemen's sister, heard of this she went out into the desert where Poemen was, stood at the door of his cell with much sobbing and weeping, begging him to go down to the judge and plead for her son. But the blessed Poemen not only said nothing to her, but he would not even open the door and go out to her. So she began to curse him.

"'You are wicked and hard-hearted,' she said. 'You've got guts of iron. Can't my great grief fill you with pity? I only have the one son, who now stands in danger of death.'

"Poemen sent her a message by the brother who ministered to him.

"'Go and tell her that Poemen has no sons and so therefore it is no concern of his.'

"When the judge got to hear of all this, he spoke to his scribes,

"'Write him a letter to say that if only he will write to me with a request, I might be able to release the young man.'

"Faced with so many people urging him, the holy old man at last did write to the judge.

"'May your honour inquire diligently into his case and if he has done anything worthy of death, let him die, so that by paying the penalty for his sin in this present life he may be spared the eternal punishments of everlasting hell. But if he has done nothing worthy of death, do you decide what is right according to the law.'"

21.   (A longer version of V.x.10) Prominent among the great fathers was a man called Agathon, noted for his humility and patience. Some brothers once came to see him who had heard how very humble he was supposed to be and wanted to prove how humble and patient he really was.

"Many people are scandalized at you, father," they said, "because you are so proud, you despise others and count them nothing worth, and you never cease defaming your brothers. Many people say that you act like this because you are a fornicator, and lest you should seem to be the only one you are always accusing others of it as well."

"I know only too well," he replied, "that I have all these vices that you mention. I cannot deny my many wickednesses," and prostrating himself on the ground in front of the brothers, he continued, "I beg you, brothers, that you cease not to pray to Christ the Lord for the wretch that I am, loathsome as I am for my many sins. Pray that he will forgive me for my many great iniquities."

The brothers added a few more things

"And you can't deny," they said, "that many people are keen to accuse you of heresy."

"However hateful I may be for my many sins," he said in reply to this, "at least I am not a heretic. God keep my soul from that."

Then the brothers showed him respect by prostrating themselves on the ground in front of him.

"Please tell us, father," they said, "how it is that you were not angry when we accused you of so many vices and crimes, but you were visibly moved at the accusation of heresy and detested the idea, and could not even bear the thought of it?"

"I accepted the guilt of the sins you first mentioned in humility, so that you could believe that I really am a sinner. For we know that to preserve the virtue of humility is very wholesome for the soul. For when our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ suffered many insults and reproaches from the Jews he bore them all patiently, to give us an example of humility. They sent false witnesses against him and said many things about him falsely, and he bore with them all even unto death upon the cross. The apostle Peter bears witness to this, saying, 'Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his footsteps.' (1 Peter 2.21). So we also must bear patiently everything said against us. But I would not accept your accusation of heresy, which I detest, for heresy separates you from God. A heretic is cut off from the true and living God and joined with the devil and his angels. Alienated even from Christ, he no longer has God to whom he can pray for his sins, and so perishes utterly. But if he is converted to the true Catholic faith of the holy Church he is accepted by our good and loving Saviour Christ, the Son who is ever in the Father with the Holy Spirit. To him be the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen"

 

22.    (Also in VII.xxxiii.2) The seniors and all the monks living in the desert of Scete held a meeting and agreed that Abba Isaac should be ordained presbyter for them in the church of that desert, and when the day and hour had been agreed a large crowd of the monks who lived there gathered. When Abba Isaac heard about all this, however, he fled into Egypt and hid in a thickly wooded region because he considered himself to be unworthy of the presbyterate. Many of the monks followed after him to try and find him. Tired with their journey, late in the evening they loosed the baggage ass they had brought with them to let it feed. As the ass was feeding it came near to the place where Abba Isaac was hiding. When daylight came the monks went in search of the ass and so came to that place where the old man was hidden. Marvelling at the way God had guided them, they seized him and would have bound him in order to compel him to come with them, but he prevented them, saying "Perhaps it is God's will that although unworthy I should be ordained presbyter".

 

23.   There were two brothers living together in a cell whose patience and humility were universally praised by many of the holy fathers. Hearing about this a certain holy man decided to find out whether their humility was really perfect and went to visit them. They greeted him gladly and after the customary psalms and prayers he went out from the cell and saw a little garden where they had grown a few vegetables. He picked up a stick and fiercely attacked the vegetables, cutting them down and mutilating them so that hardly anything remained. When the brothers saw this they said nothing at all, nor did they look angry or sad. They all went back into the cell for the Vesper prayers, after which the brothers bowed to the visitor and said, "If it's all right with you, sir, we will now go and cook what is left of the vegetables, for it is time that we ate." The old man was amazed, and said, "I give God thanks that I have seen the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and I urge you, beloved brothers, to take heed that you guard these virtues of holy humility and patience, for in the kingdom of heaven it will make you appear great and sublime in the sight of God."

 

24.   There was a certain highly regarded old monk in the coenobium who fell seriously ill. A long period of extremely painful, burdensome and debilitating weakness followed, and the brothers were unable to find anything they could do to help him, since the monastery did not possess the necessary remedies for him. A certain devout virgin who heard about his illness asked the father of the monastery if she could take him to her own little cell to be nursed, where it would be easier to get the medicines for him in the nearby town. So the abbot gave instructions that the brothers should carry him to the woman's cell. She received the old man with great respect and nursed him in the name of the Lord, looking for reward only to the eternal life which she would receive from Christ our Saviour. She had looked after this servant of God for three years and more, when certain nasty-minded men in the lewdness of their own thoughts began to suspect that the intentions of the old man towards this woman who was nursing him were not above reproach. The old man heard about this and prayed to Christ, saying,

"O Lord our God who alone know all things and see the great pain and misery of my illness and are aware of the burden of such a great affliction which has been with me for such a long time that I haven't been able to do without the help of this servant of yours who nurses me in your name, grant her, O Lord, a fitting reward in the life to come such as you are accustomed in your goodness to promise to those who minister to the poor and needy in your name."

When the time came for him to die many of the holy senior brothers of the monastery gathered round him and he said to them, "I beg you, my lords, fathers and brothers, that when I am dead you take my staff and plant it over my grave, and if it roots and bears fruit then you will know that my conscience is clean as regards this servant of God who has been nursing me. If it doesn't grow you will know that I am not guiltless towards her. When the old man died the holy fathers planted the staff above his grave as he had asked, and it grew and in due time bore fruit, and all wondered, glorifying God. Many came from the regions round about and praised the grace of the Saviour for this miracle. We saw this little tree ourselves, and blessed the Lord who cares for all those who serve him in sincerity and truth.

 

25. (A longer version of V.xv.65) There were some people who brought to the blessed abba Apollonius someone grievously vexed and tormented by a demon. They tended to his needs for three days while constantly beseeching the old man to cure him by pouring out prayers to God in the name of Christ. At last the old man replied.

"I am not of sufficient merit to be able to command demons," he said.

But when they persisted, weeping and earnestly begging him, he finally agreed to speak to the demon.

"In the name of the Lord our Saviour," he cried, "depart, O unclean spirit, from this man created in the image of God."

"If commanded by the power of Christ," replied the demon, "I would depart. But I challenge the validity of what you have said to me by asking you what is the meaning of what is written in the Gospel, 'Who are the goats and who are the sheep?'" (Matthew 25.32)

"The goats are the wicked," replied the old man, "among whom am I, a sinner, guilty of many sins. God knows who are the sheep."

"Because of your humility I am powerless," cried the demon, and he straightway went out of the man whom he had possessed. When they saw this all those who were there gave glory to God.

 

26.  The holy seniors tell of how a certain monk of the desert of Scete came to visit the holy fathers in the Cellia where there were many monks living in separate cells. When it appeared that there wasn't a cell to put him in, one of the seniors who had a spare cell empty let him have it saying, "Stay in this cell for the meantime until you can find somewhere permanent". Many of the brothers came to speak to him, wanting to hear from him a word to help them find eternal salvation, for he had a great spiritual gift of being able to speak the word of God. When the senior who had lent him the cell became aware of this his heart was filled with envious spite, and he began to fume and complain, "Look how long I have been living in this place and now the brothers come to me only rarely, and that only on holy days, and yet lots of brothers are going to this impostor almost daily."

So he said to his disciple, "Go and tell him that he has to get out of that cell because I need it."

But when the disciple went to that brother what he said was, "My abba has a message for your holiness. He enquires through me how you are getting on, for he has heard that you are ill."

He replied, "Pray for me, father, for I have a nasty stomach upset." When the disciple got back he said to the abba, "He earnestly begs your holiness to give him two or three days grace so that he can find another cell."

After three days he sent the disciple again, saying, "Go and tell him that he must get out of my cell, and if he delays any more tell him I will come with a big stick and drive him out of my cell."

But when the disciple came to the brother, what he said was, "My abba is very concerned about your illness and he has sent me to ask if you are feeling better".


He replied, "I am most grateful, father, for your kindness in worrying about me. Truly I am feeling a lot better because of your prayers"
When the disciple got back he said to his abba, "He is now asking if you can wait till next Sunday and then he will go at once." 
And when Sunday came and he still had not gone the old man took a cane, burning with envy and anger, and got ready to hurry off to beat him and drive him from the cell. But the disciple came to him and said, "If you like, father, I will go on ahead to see whether there are any brothers visiting him, for if they were to see you like this they would be scandalised."
So the disciple went on, and said to the visiting brother, "Look, my abba is coming to see you so go out to meet him quickly, showing by your actions how grateful you are for his great kindness and consideration in coming to see you."
So he got up immediately and hurried out to meet him. When he came in sight he prostrated himself on the ground before he got very close, and showed his reverence for the old man by his grateful words, "May God pour out upon you an everlasting reward, beloved father, for lending me your cell in his name, and may Christ the Lord prepare for you a glorious and splendid dwelling place in the heavenly Jerusalem among his saints." 
When the old man heard this his conscience struck him, and throwing away his stick he embraced him and kissed him, and invited him back to his own cell to have a meal. Later he called his disciple to him and asked him whether he had conveyed his message exactly to the brother in the borrowed cell. Then the disciple confessed all, saying, "You are my teacher, and because of the respect that ought to be shown to you as father and teacher I did not dare to say anything to you when you sent me to that brother. But I did not tell him what you told me to tell him." 
When the old man heard this he prostrated himself at the disciple's feet and said, "From today you shall be the father and I the disciple. Through the way you have quickly and discreetly acted in the fear and love of God, Christ the Lord has delivered the souls of both me and that brother from the snares of sin." 
The thoughtfulness and good intentions of the disciple showed his faith and the perfect love he had in Christ for his abba. He had genuinely feared that through the vices of envy and anger his spiritual father might do something to cancel out all those holy labours at which he had persevered since beginning to serve Christ in the hope of everlasting rewards. And the Lord gave them grace to rejoice together in the peace of Christ.

27.  (A longer version of V.xiv.4) The holy fathers used to say of John, the disciple of Abba Paul, that he possessed the virtues of great humility and obedience to such extent that he would make no objection whatsoever no matter how difficult the tasks the abba set him, nor did he ever grumble. When a certain tool was needed for the monastery workshop the abbot told him to go to the nearest village to buy it and bring it back as quickly as possible. Now although there was a fierce lioness in that place, the disciple John got up to go immediately as the abba asked. As he went out he said to the abba, "Father, I have heard that many people say there is a fierce lioness in that place."
The abbot half jokingly said to him, "Well if it comes upon you catch it, tie it up, and bring it back here!"
When he got to the place that evening the lioness rushed out at him and he tried to catch it, but the lioness slipped out of his grasp and ran off. John ran after her, crying, "But my abba commanded me to tie you up and bring you back with me." The animal immediately stood still, and he secured it and led it back in the direction of the monastery. By this time it was getting late and the abba was getting worried about him, when suddenly John appeared leading the lioness after him. Seeing this the abba was astonished and gave thanks to our Lord and Saviour.
"See, father," John said, "I have brought back the lioness as you said."
The abba decided to humiliate him lest the disciple should think he had done something marvellous and said, "Since you are so stupid, go and take this stupid beast back. Let it go, say goodbye to it, and let it go to its own place."


28    (A longer version of VI.ii.17) One of the senior holy men sent his disciple to draw water from the well, which was quite a long distance from his cell. The disciple forgot to take a rope with him, and he was very annoyed about it when he arrived at the well, for it was a long way back to the cell. He did not know what to do, or which way to turn; it would not do to return to the cell without any water. Greatly agitated, he fell on his face in tears.
"'Lord have mercy upon me according to thy great goodness' (Psalms 51,1)," he prayed. "You have made heaven and earth and everything in them, you alone do great wonders. Have mercy on me for the sake of your servant who sent me here. "
And when he got up from his prayer he addressed the well directly.
"O Well, O Well," he cried, "It is the servant of Christ, my abba, who has sent me to draw water!"
And immediately the water level rose up to the mouth of the well, so that he could fill his jar with water. And as he departed, glorifying the power of our Lord and Saviour, the water in the well sank down again to its own place.


29 (A longer version of V.xv.86) There was a brother called Eulalius in a monastery, who was adorned with great graces of humility. If some of the more careless brothers committed faults it was their custom to lay the blame on him, for when he was questioned by the senior brothers he would make no denials but would prostrate himself before them and admit that he was a sinner and should be found guilty. This happened again and again, but when condemned by the rules of the monastery to a fast of two or three days he simply bore it patiently. The most senior brothers did not realize that he was putting up with all this through the virtue of humility, and at last went in a body to the father of the monastery.
"Father," they said, "What is to be done? How much longer must we put up with all the breakages and general negligence committed in the monastery by this brother Eulalius? Nearly all the vessels and utensils in the monastery have been damaged or fatally broken through his negligence. Why should we put up with this?"
"Let us just bear with this brother for a few more days," replied the father of the monastery, "and then I shall decide what is to be done about him." And so saying, he dismissed them. 
He went into his cell and prostrated himself in prayer, casting himself on the mercy of God that it might be revealed to him what should be said and done about this frequently accused brother. And the truth of the matter was then revealed to him.
He called all the brothers to a meeting.
"Believe me, brothers," he said, "I greatly prefer the mattula [probably a written list of monastic infringements] of brother Eulalius, with his humility and patience, to everything else that is done by those who, to tell you the truth, are nothing but grumblers as they go about their work in the monastery. And in order that the Lord may demonstrate how highly this brother is regarded in the eyes of God, I order that the mattulae of all the brothers be brought to me".
And when that was done he ordered that a fire should be lit and that they should all be cast into it. All were burnt except the mattula of brother Eulalius, which was found to be completely untouched by the fire. At this sight the brothers were very frightened and fell on their face on the floor, seeking pardon and forgiveness from Christ the Lord, at the same time commending with great admiration the patience and humility of brother Eulalius.
In the end they made such a fuss of him, singing his praises as one of the great fathers, that Eulalius found that he could not bear all this honour and praise.
"Woe is me," he cried. "I have been unlucky enough to have lost my humility, which for such a long time I have striven to acquire with the help and strength of Christ the Lord."
And he got up in the middle of the night, left the monastery, and fled to the desert where nobody knew him, and dwelt there in a cave. He had no desire for temporal human praise, but only for the celestial, eternal glory of our Saviour Christ in the world to come.

30.   (Also in V.xvi.1) We must take note of the praiseworthy humility and virtuous patience of the blessed abba Anastasius, so that in meditating upon his generosity and peacefulness of soul we may follow his example. Now this Anastasius possessed a codex written in the most beautiful pergamenic script, worth eighteen solidi, containing the whole of the old and new Testaments. A certain brother came to visit him and saw the book in his cell, coveted it, stole it, and departed. Abba Anastasius that same day wanted to read from the book, and when he could not find it, realised that the brother had stolen it. But he did not chase after the brother and accuse him of it, fearing lest he might add perjury to the sin of theft.
The brother went down to the nearest city to sell the book, and asked for sixteen solidi from a prospective buyer.
"Lend me the book," said the buyer, "so that I can have it valued to see if it is worth such a great price."
The brother gave it to him and the buyer went straight away to show it to the holy Anastasius.
""Have a look at this book, father," he said, "and tell me whether it is worth sixteen solidi, the high price which the seller is asking from me."
"It is a very fine book," said Anastasius, "and well worth the money."
He went back to the person who wanted to sell it.
"I will give you your price for it," he said, " for I have shown it to abba Anastasius, who said it was a very fine book and well worth the money."
"Didn't the blessed Anastasius say anything else?" he asked.
"Hardly anything else," he replied.
"I've changed my mind," said the brother. "I don't want to sell the book at all."
Conscience stricken he went back to abba Anastasius, fell on his face before him weeping tears of repentance, and begged him to take back his book.
But the abba would not agree.
"Go in peace, brother," he said, "I give you my permission to keep the book."
But he tearfully persisted.
"If you won't take the book back, father, my soul will never be at peace."
At this, Anastasius took the book back, and the brother remained with him in his cell to the last day of his life.

31.  (Also in VIII.lxxxvii & IV.iv.34) There was a certain hermit named Pior among the holy fathers who while still a young man had been initiated into monastic life by blessed Antony, but who lived with him for only a few years. For when he was twenty-five he went away to another secret part of the desert with Antony's full knowledge and permission. "Go, Pior," Antony had said, "and live where you will. But come back to me when God reveals to you that the time is right." Pior went to the region between Scete and Nitria and there dug a well, saying to himself, "Whatever the quality of the water here might be, with that I must be content." Doing this became the occasion of a great increase of merit in him, for the water proved to be so salty and bitter that anyone visiting him took care to take their own water with them in a flask. He stayed there for thirty years. The brothers used to say to him that he ought to go somewhere else because of the horrid taste of the water, but he said, "If in this life you seek rest and try to avoid the bitter labour of abstinence we shall not enjoy those truly beautiful and eternal good things after our departure from this world, nor enjoy the everlasting delights of that blessed paradise."
The brothers also used to say that he would eat no more than one small bread roll and five olives, and that while walking about outside.
Many of the holy fathers also testify that for more than thirty years after leaving his parents' home he never sought to visit or even enquire about his relations, not even when he heard that his parents were dead. When his sister was widowed and left with two youthful sons she sent them into the desert to seek out her brother Pior. After going the rounds of various monasteries they at last managed to find him and said to him, "We are your sister's sons. She greatly longs to see you before she dies."
But he would not agree to their request. So the youths went to the blessed man of God, Antony, and told him of their request. Antony sent for him and said, "Why have you not come to me for such a long time, brother?"
"Blessed father," he replied, "you told me to come to you when God revealed to me that the time was right, and God has not revealed anything of the sort to me from that time to this."
"Go and let your sister see you," blessed Antony said to him. So he took another monk with him and went to the place and house where his sister lived and stood outside with his eyes shut so that he wouldn't have to look at this sister. She came out and threw herself at his feet, overcome with joy.
"See now," Pior said to her, "I am your brother, Pior. Look at me since that was what you wanted to do," after which he immediately went back to his cell in the desert. He did this in order to put to shame any monk who thought himself to be at liberty to visit parents or relations, even when given permission.

32.   Abba John who lived in Mount Calamus also had a sister. She had been in a monastery from a very early age and had been instrumental in persuading this same Abba John to abandon the vanities of this world and enter a monastery. Once inside the monastery he did not leave it for twenty- four years, not even to visit his sister, although she greatly longed to see him and often wrote to him. She sent him a letter begging that he would come and see her before departing this life so that for the love of Christ she would be able to enjoy his actual company, but he made excuses, being unwilling to leave the monastery. This worthy servant of God, his sister, wrote again, saying, "If you won't come to me I must needs come to you, if only that after all this time I may be found worthy to be given your holy love."
On reading this Abba John was greatly disturbed and said to himself, "If I let my sister come to me it will be as good as giving permission for numerous other parents and relations to come visiting".
So he decided that it would be better for him to go and visit her, and he took with him two other brothers from the monastery. Arriving at the door of his sister's monastery he cried out, "Pray come out to us pilgrims and give us a blessing".
His sister and another servant of God came out and opened the door, and she did not recognise her brother at all, though he recognised her. He did not say anything, however, lest she recognise his voice. The monks with him said to her, "Reverend Mother, please may we have a drink of water, for we are very tired from our journey."
When they had been given a drink they offered a prayer, gave thanks to God and left to go back to their monastery. A few days later his sister wrote that she would come and see him before she died and offer a prayer in his monastery. He wrote back, sending the letter by a monk of his monastery, saying, "In the grace of Christ I did come to you and nobody recognised me. You came out and gave us a drink of water, which I took from your very hands. I drank, and gave thanks to God and returned to my monastery. Be satisfied with the fact that you have seen me and don't bother me any further, but pray for me always to our Lord Jesus Christ."


33.   (Also in V.iv.61) There was another monk who went to visit his sister in her monastery, having heard that she was ill. She was a servant of God well known for her holy manner of life, and she would not agree to receive her brother or see him, not wanting to be the occasion of his going inside a monastery of women. But she sent him a message,
"Go, brother, and pray for me. By the ever-present grace of our God and Saviour I shall see you in the world to come, in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ."

34. We must also mention Abba Theodore as an example of virtue. This Theodore was a disciple of Pachomius, a holy man among the holy fathers, the father of a great number of monks, and father to many monasteries in the region of the Thebaid. He was a shining example of all the holy virtues, and was rewarded by the gift of prophecy from the Lord who showed him many of the things to come. The sister of this Theodore once came to the monastery where he lived in order to set eyes on this brother whom she had not seen for a very long time. When he was told that his sister had arrived he immediately sent two of the monks who looked after the gatehouse to give his sister this message, "Look, my sister you have been told that I am alive. Believe it, and don't be sad that you won't be seeing me. Think rather of the transient vanity of this present world. Strive after living a holy life so that you may come to eternal life and the joys of heaven which the Lord has prepared for those that love him and keep his commandments. Think to yourself that the only true and firm hope lies in keeping the commandments of God and being found worthy of entering into the glorious and eternal promises of our Lord and Saviour Christ."
On hearing this she was conscience stricken and wept copiously in the sight of the Lord. Not long afterwards she entered a monastery of virgins, servants of God, which had been built in that same region, and as time went by she developed into a mature servant of God herself.
When their mother heard about all this she petitioned the bishops, who gave her a letter on the subject of her son which was addressed to the aforesaid Pachomius, father of the monasteries. She came and lodged at the monastery of virgins, from where she sent the letter to Pachomius, asking if she could see her son. The blessed Pachomius called Theodore to him and said, "I must tell you, my son, that your mother has come to see you, and we must comply with the letters which the bishops have sent me, so go and let your mother see you."  Theodore replied, "You have told me, sir, to see my mother. But if I go and see her against all the wisdom of the spirit I fear lest I shall be found guilty before God. Nevertheless I suppose I must practise strength of mind as an example to the other brothers."
When the mother heard that he did not want to see her she was unwilling to go back home because of the great love she had for her son, but remained in the monastery of virgins, thinking that she would see him sometimes as he went out from the monastery with the other brothers on monastery business. "I shall be able to have spiritual talks with him," she said, "and profit from what he can teach me and advise me. His spiritual direction will strengthen my soul and help me to that eternal rest which the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to them that love him."
Many and marvellous were the miracles that the Lord did through the holy Pachomius. He frequently cured in the name of Christ our Lord those who were possessed of demons. Through his prayers the Lord had mercy on many paralysed people and those suffering from various diseases.


35.   (cf Vita Pachomii ch 20).  Like a good athlete in the service of truth, the blessed Abba Pachomius, just like blessed Antony, often fought a good fight against the unclean attacks of the demons. Indeed, for a time he asked the Lord with urgent prayers that he might carry on without sleep for a while and keep vigil day and night in battle against his demon enemies, until at last he overcame them and threw them down, according as it says in the psalm, "I shall not turn till they are beaten" (Psalms.18.37). The Lord heard his prayers because of his persistence. How stupid and ineffective the demons are, for any one of us with unquestioning faith and a wholehearted burning desire is able to do battle with them, trusting in the help of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
It was the brothers who told us about this blessed father Pachomius, who as we have said was head of many monasteries in the Tabennisi region. They told us that he frequently used to say to the brothers, "As the Lord God is my witness I have often heard these filthy demons discussing among themselves the various tricks which they play against the servants of God and especially against monks. Some would say, 'I am having to fight against a terribly difficult person, for as often as I put evil thoughts into his head he gets up at once and prostrates himself in prayer, with many sighs begging for divine help. When he gets up after a short while all I can do is get out.'  Another would say, 'When I put thoughts into the heart of the one I am looking after he consents to them, makes them his own, and puts them into practice. So I often get him to explode in anger, get involved in quarrels, neglect his prayer, go to sleep during psalmody, and he doesn't resist me one scrap.'  Therefore, my beloved brothers, you must always keep watch over your feelings and your mind, calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in obedience to the commandments of God turn to prayer and psalms, as the Apostle says, 'Be instant in prayer and watchful.' (Romans 12.1). Our filthy enemies the demons will not be able to prevail against us if we keep constant watch over our hearts in fear and trembling."
So this blessed father Pachomius taught the brothers how to be always mindful of the words of God for the salvation of their souls, and the brothers departed each to his own cell, working with their hands and meditating on what they had learned from the sacred Scriptures. Idle words were out of the question among them, they discussed among themselves only what they had learned from the holy Scriptures, strengthening them in the fear of God and lighting up their souls.

36.   (A longer version of VI.i.3) There was a certain man among the holy seniors to whom Christ had given, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the great gift of being able to see what others did not see. The holy seniors bore witness to the fact that when a number of the brethren were sitting down together talking among themselves and discerning in the Holy Scriptures what was necessary to salvation, this holy senior saw a crowd of holy Angels around them, rejoicing with joyful countenances, taking delight in the wisdom of the Lord. But when they began to talk about something else the holy Angels were disappointed in them and immediately drew away, and miserable specimens of pigs appeared, full of diseases, cavorting about among them; for it was demons in the shape of pigs taking delight in the empty and unnecessary chatter.


When the blessed senior saw them he went away to his cell and wept with loud groans for the whole night in mourning for our wretchedness. So the holy fathers sent an urgent message of warning throughout the monasteries:
"Brothers, put a curb on your conversations, and ban unnecessary talk, through which openings for evil are made into our souls, without realising how hateful we become in the eyes of God and his holy Angels. The Scripture says: 'In many words you shall not escape sin' (Proverbs 10.19). For they make the mind and soul weak and worthless."

37.   There was a certain marvellous man, Arsenius by name, who had a position in the palace under the emperor Theodosius who when he was baptised adopted Arsenius' sons Arcadius and Honorius. Arsenius then, burning with desire for the love of God, left behind all the fleeting glory of the world and fled to the desert of Scete, having turned his back on a debilitating life of sensual luxury in order to live a secluded life among the holy fathers, free from the pressure of the world, devoting himself wholeheartedly to the Lord, the Saviour, in accordance with the Scripture 'My soul longs for you, your right hand has sustained me' (Psalms 63.8).
(From here on duplicated in V.xv.6) The holy fathers also said whereas in the world he had always worn the most costly clothes above anyone else, in the desert of Scete he afterwards took care to wear meaner and uglier garments than any of the other monks

38.   (A slightly longer version of V.xviii.2 and also in VII.xxxvi.3) Abba Daniel said that the holy Arsenius told the brothers the following story as if it were about someone else, although it was obvious that it was himself who had had this vision:
"One of the seniors," he said, "suddenly heard a voice in his cell, saying, 'Go outside and I will show you what human beings do.' So he got up and went out. He was taken to where a black Ethiopian was cutting wood with an axe and making a big bundle of it, and then trying to lift it up but was unable to do so because of its size. But he still went back and cut some more to add to the bundle. Again he was shown another man standing by a lake, drawing water from it and putting it into a jar, but there was a hole through which the water was escaping and running back into the lake.
"The voice said. 'Come with me and I will show you something else.' And he saw two men on horseback outside a temple, each of them carrying on their shoulders a long wooden pole, and trying to go into the temple but unable to get through the door because they were carrying the pole crossways. Nor were they giving way to each other, but were both trying to get in at the same time; neither of them was humble enough to give way to the other.
"And the visions were explained to him. Those carrying the long poles are those who bear the holy yoke of monastic life, but they justify themselves proudly in their own estimation, they don't give way to each other, and have no desire to walk humbly in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls' (Matthew 11.29). Because of the pride in their hearts they remain outside, excluded from the kingdom of Christ the King. He who was cutting wood and making his bundle even bigger is one who is burdened with many sins but keeps on adding more of them without repenting of what he has already done, preferring to pile sin upon sin. And he who was drawing water from the lake is one who does some good works, but his evil deeds are more numerous, so that even the good that he does is wiped out and perishes.
"It is absolutely necessary, therefore, as the Apostle says, to 'work out your salvation with fear and trembling'" (Philippians 2.12).
39.  (A longer version of V.iv.5.) Abba Daniel had a story about Abba Arsenius, that when he was making baskets out of palm leaves he would put water into a bowl to soak the palms in, and when the water became pungent and stinking he would not let anyone tip the water out, but he simply put fresh water into it, so that it remained just as stinking as before.
"Why is it, father," some of the brothers asked him, "that you would rather let the whole cell be filled with this terrible stink rather than let the water be changed?"
"Since in my secular life," the old man said, "I constantly enjoyed sweet smelling herbs and ointments and such like, it behoves me now to endure a stink like this instead of sweet perfumes, so that the Lord will save me from the unspeakable stink of hell, and my soul will not be condemned along with that rich man who in this world feasted splendidly" (Luke16.19)

40. One of the brothers said to the blessed Arsenius. "Look, blessed father, I meditate earnestly on what I learn from the holy Scriptures but I feel no compunction in my heart, so that I am not able to understand the power of the divine Scripture, and this is a great sadness to my soul."
"What you must do," said the blessed Arsenius, "is to meditate unceasingly on the words of the Lord, for I know what the blessed abba Poemen and many other holy fathers have said about soothsayers who use serpents in their incantations. They themselves do not understand the meaning of the words they use, but the serpents who hear understand the power of the word, and are tamed and subdued. Let us do the same. Even though we ourselves do not understand the power of the divine Scriptures, the listening demons are terrified by the power of the divine word and are scattered and put to flight, unable to bear the words of the holy Spirit spoken by his servants the apostles and prophets."

41. A murder was once committed near where Macarius lived and a certain innocent person was deemed to have been guilty of the crime. The victim of this calumny fled to the cell of the blessed Macarius. His accusers followed him and tied him up, saying that they themselves would be in danger unless this murderer were arrested and handed over to the law. But the accused person swore that he was not guilty of anyone's blood. They argued about it for some time until Macarius asked where the allegedly murdered person was buried. Having told him the place they all went off to the grave, where Macarius fell on his knees and calling upon the name of Christ said to those with him, "Now let the Lord show whether the accused person is guilty or not."
And he lifted up his voice and called upon the dead person by name. A voice came from the grave and the blessed Macarius asked, "In the faith of Jesus Christ I demand that you now tell us whether you have been killed by this man who stands accused before us."
From the grave came a loud voice saying; "I was not killed by this man."  Dumbfounded, they fell to the ground in a circle around his feet and began to ask him to question the dead man about who really had killed him, but the holy man said, "I won't ask him that. Let it suffice that the innocent is freed; it is not for me to bring the guilty to light. By now he might well have repented of the evil deed and done penance to the salvation of his soul."


42.  On another occasion a certain brother gave Macarius a bunch of grapes, who of his charity gave it to another brother whom he knew to be somewhat weaker in strength through sickness, thus putting another's good before his own. The sick man gave thanks to God for his brother's kindness, but nevertheless he too thought more of his brother than himself and gave the grapes to another sick brother, who gave it to another, and so on until that bunch of grapes had gone the rounds of all the cells scattered throughout the desert. Eventually, without anyone realising it, it came back to the original giver, and Macarius was delighted to see such abstinence in the brothers, such charity, that it inspired him to even greater levels of achievement in his own spiritual life.


43.   (Also in II.29) We were given further proof of his faith by those who heard of the following incident from his own mouth. One night a demon in the shape of a monk came and knocked at the door of his cell and said, "Get up, Abba Macarius, and come to the meeting where all the brothers are gathered together for the Vigil."
But filled as he was with the grace of God he could not be deceived. He recognised him as a lying demon and cried, "Liar! Enemy of the truth! What benefit or fellowship are you likely to get from the meeting of the saints when they gather together?"
The other replied, "You must realise, Macarius, that no meeting goes on without us, let alone a gathering of monks. Come along, and you will see for yourself what we are doing"
The holy Macarius said, "May the Lord strike you down, you unclean spirit!" And he turned to prayer, begging the Lord to show him the truth about this boast of the demon. He went down to the meeting where the brothers were celebrating the Vigil, and again begged the Lord to show him the truth. Suddenly he saw something like black little Ethiopian boys running about hither and thither through the whole church, almost as if they were flying. As these Ethiopian boys ran about they were sporting with each of the brothers as they prayed or sang psalms. If they pressed two fingers on to anyone's eyes he went to sleep, if they put a finger into anyone's mouth he yawned. After the psalm, when they prostrated themselves for the prayer they ran about among them and would turn themselves into the appearance of a woman near one as he lay there in prayer, near another into someone building or carrying something, while others performed various different antics. Whatever images the demons produced those at prayer took deep into their thoughts. But when they tried any of these tricks on some of the other brothers they were violently driven back and thrown to the ground, no longer able to stand in front of them or walk past them. On other brothers they danced about on their necks and backs. When holy Macarius saw this he sighed deeply and wept copiously before the Lord, saying, "Look down, O Lord, don't keep silent, don't condone, O God (Psalms 83.1), but arise and scatter your enemies, make them flee from before your face (Psalms 68.1), for our souls reject their deceits."
When the service was over, to satisfy himself of the truth, he approached each one of those whom the demons had been mocking with their various shapes and appearances and asked them whether in their prayers they had had any thoughts of building anything, or going on a journey or any other of the various phantasms which he had seen being given to each one by the demons. Each one admitted that he had thought these things just as he described them. Thus it became absolutely clear that all the evil, unnecessary and empty thoughts each one had had while singing psalms or praying or sleeping had all been instilled by the wiles and illusions of the demons, but those dark Ethiopians and the thoughts they peddled had been driven back by those who had kept custody of their hearts in the fear and love of God. For if the mind is fixed on God, especially at the time of prayer, nothing evil, nothing else can enter in.

44.   (Also in VII.i.1) A certain brother asked Abba Sisois how he ought to conduct himself in his own cell. And he replied, "Eat your bread with salt and water and you will have no need to cook anything, or to wander off to any great distance."

45.   (Also in V.x.44 but attributed to Abba Pastor) Abba Pastor was asked how one ought to fast.
"I would have monks eating a little every day," he replied, "but so as not to be satiated. Two-day or three-day fasts only serve to encourage vainglory. The holy fathers looked into all these matters and decided that it was good to fast daily by eating moderately, and still feeling a little hungry. They have mapped out for us this royal road, which is by no means burdensome."

46.   (Also in V.iv.40) Abba Silvanus and his disciple Zacharias arrived at a certain monastery, and before they continued their journey the monks gave them a little food to eat. After they had gone on a little way the disciple noticed a pool of water and would have drunk from it, but abba Silvanus said, "Zacharias, today is a fast day."
"Haven't we just eaten, father?" said Zacharias
"That was out of charity, " the old man said. "For us, let us keep to our fast."

47.   (Also in V.xiii.1, slightly different) Some of the brothers in Panephus came to abba Joseph and asked him about giving hospitality to visiting brothers.
"Is it right to welcome them confidently and joyfully?" they asked.
Now before they had asked him this he had spoken to his disciple telling him not to be surprised at what he was going to do that day.
He put out two chairs for the visitors, asking them to sit. He put one of them on his left and the other on his right, then went in to the cell and came back wearing some ragged old clothes that he had put on. Then he went back into the cell and came out again having put on the better clothes which he usually wore on feast days. He went in again and came out wearing his everyday clothing and sat down between them. They were mystified and astounded at what he had done.
"You see what I have been doing?" the old man asked. They nodded.
"Tell me," he said.
"You came out first of all wearing old ragged garments and then wearing better ones."
"Did I change into being a different person, between the mean clothes and the good ones?"
"No," they said.
"So then, I am still the same person wearing either this or that. The former do me no harm, and the latter don't make me any better. Let this be a model for meeting with brothers. When they are with us, let us welcome them with confidence and joy. When we are alone that is the time for abstinence and mourning."
What they were hearing was what had been in their own hearts before they had even asked him, and they happily went on their way glorifying God.

48   (Also in V.x.99 & VII.i.3) One of the fathers said: "There was one man who ate quite a lot, but even though he still felt hungry he restrained himself so as not be satiated. Another ate much less, but was fully satisfied. The man who ate a lot but disciplined himself while still feeling hungry earns a much greater reward than he who eats little and is satisfied."

49.   (Also in VII.i.4) A certain old man said, "Don't be choosy about what you eat. Eat what God sends you and give thanks without ceasing."

50.   (Also in V.iv.60) The brothers told a story of how a certain old man had a hankering after cucumbers, and when he got one he hung it up where he could see it, but did not touch it lest he should be conquered by his desires. In this way he did greater penance by punishing himself for what he had desired.

51.   (Also in V.iv.59) One of the seniors fell ill and was unable to take any food for many days.
"If you will let me, father," urged his disciple, "I will make you a few little cakes." The old man nodded, and the disciple did as promised. Now there were two little vessels, one containing honey and the other containing flax seed oil, which had become rancid. It was impossible to distinguish between them except in a good light. The brother was deceived and mixed the old man's food with oil, thinking it was honey. The old man tasted it, and said nothing, but went on to eat it without a word. But when he was offered it the third time he demurred.
"I can't eat it, my son," he said
"Come on, abba, it's good for you," said the disciple, trying to urge him on. "See, I'll eat some too."
But as soon as he had tasted it he realized what he had done, and he fell down on his face.
"Woe is me, abba," he cried, "I might have killed you! You have made me guilty of a great sin by not saying anything!"
"Don't worry about it, my son, " said the old man. "If God had wanted me to eat something tasty you would have put the honey in, and not what you did put in."

52. Abba Poemen said, "If Nabuzardan, that prince of cooks, had not entered Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord would not have been destroyed by fire. What this means is that if the urge to gluttony had not entered the soul the senses of mankind would not have been set aflame by the attacks of the devil."

53.   (Also in V.iv.26) Abba Macarius made a resolution that whenever the brothers in charity asked him to dine with them, for every cup of wine that he drank he would go a whole day without tasting any water. So when the brothers offered him wine he enjoyed it, but afterwards punished himself for it. When his disciple realized what was happening he revealed what the old man was doing and begged them not to offer him wine, showing them that it was punishments he was receiving more than cups of wine.

54.   (Also in V.viii.21) The monks were all gathered together in the church on a feast day, and when they were eating, one of the monks spoke to a servitor:
"I don't eat anything cooked. Please just bring me salted."
The servitor shouted out the order to another in the hearing of all, "This brother doesn't eat anything cooked. Bring him a little salted."
The blessed Theodorus then said, "It would have been better, brother, for you to have sat in your cell eating flesh than for all these brothers here to have heard what you said."

55.   (Also in V.x.69) A pilgrim brother visited Abba Silvanus in Mt Sinai and noticed that the brothers were doing manual work.
"Why labour for the food that perishes?" he asked. "Mary chose the better part."
The old man said to his disciple, Zacharias, "Give this brother a book to read and put him in an empty cell."
At the ninth hour the brother looked out to see whether the old man was going to invite him to eat. When the ninth hour had long passed he went to the old man, and said, "Are the brothers not eating today, father?"
The old man assured him that they were.
"How is that you did not call me?" he asked.
"You are a spiritual man and have no need of food. We however are quite carnal people and need to eat, so therefore we work. But you, of course, have chosen the better part. You spend all day reading and feel no need for food."
These words led him to repentance.
"Forgive me, father," he said.
"Mary has great need of Martha," said Silvanus,"for if it hadn't been for Martha, Mary would not have been praised."


56    (Also in V.x.27) Abba John said to his senior brother: "I would like to be as free from care as the Angels, who do nothing except continually praise God."
And he picked up his pallet and went off into the desert. He endured this for a week, but then came back to his brother and knocked on the door.
"Who is there?" said the brother, without opening the door.
"It's John," he said."
But he still would not open the door.
"It is me," he protested.
But he still would not open the door until dawn the next day, when he said,
"You are only human, and you need to work if you are going to eat."
John prostrated himself at the old man's feet.
"Forgive me, abba," he said.

57.   (Also in VII.i.5).   A certain brother attacked by a spirit of blasphemy was too much ashamed to be able to talk about it, and although he tried to obey the seniors by going to them in order to bring his thoughts into the open he found that once he got there he was too frightened to talk. After he had come several times to Abba Poemen the old man realised that he was having trouble with his thoughts and said, "Now look, you have come to me several times burdened by a whole lot of thoughts and you have gone away again, despondent, still carrying them with you. Tell me, my son, what is it all about?"
He replied, "There is a devil of blasphemy attacking me and I have been ashamed to speak about it." And as soon as he had opened up about it, the burden of his battle seemed lighter.
And the old man said, "Don't be too worried, my son. When these thoughts come to you say, 'I don't accept this. May this blasphemy be upon your own head, Satan, I want nothing to do with it.' For whatever your soul rejects will not find a permanent home. "The brother went home cured.

58.   (Also in VII.i.6) Abba Moyses said, "There are four things which give rise to the passions, over indulgence in food and drink, excessive sleep, idleness and jesting, and strutting about in fancy clothing."

59.   (Also in V.v.8) Abba Poemen said, "Just as the Emperor's armour-bearer always stands before him in full armour, so should the soul always be likewise prepared against the demon.

60.   An old man said "Just as there are stronger herbs and pigments to drive out the poison from beasts so do prayer and fasting drive out unclean thoughts."


61.   (Also in V.xviii.9 and VII.i.8) Abba Macarius was living by himself in an isolated part of the desert, although lower down it was full of many brothers. He was looking out along the pathway late one day when he saw a demon in the shape of a man coming along wearing a linen tunic with many pockets in it, and in each one there was little vessel.
"Where are you going, evil one?" asked Macarius.
"I'm going among your brothers lower down."
"And what are those little vessels for that you are carrying?"
"I cater for the brothers' tastes," he said. "I carry so many of them that if they don't like one I can offer them another, and it is impossible that there should not be at least one that they will like." And so saying he went on his way.


The old man kept a watch on the road for his return, and when he came into sight he greeted him and the demon replied,
"What would you say if everything had gone amiss with me and no one sampled my wares?"
"You didn't make any friends there then?"
"Well, I did get one to go along with me. Whenever he sees me he is soon dancing about hither and thither."
"What was his name?"
"Theopemptus."
After he had gone, Macarius immediately went down to the lower desert. When the brothers heard him coming they went out to meet him, each one ready in the hope that Macarius would come to him. But he asked to be shown the cell of Theopemptus, and went straight there. He was welcomed gladly and as soon as they were alone together the old man began to question him.
"How is it going with you, my son?"
"Thanks to your prayers, I'm fine."
"Your thoughts not bothering you at all then?"
"I'm fine, mostly," blushing as he said it.
"Just think how many years I have been in the desert, honoured by all, and even now in my old age my thoughts bother me."
"Oh, yes, father, they do bother me as well."
Then the old man went through all the thoughts which he pretended to be attacked by himself, until finally Theopemptus confessed all.
"How much do you fast?" the old man asked him next.
"Until the ninth hour."
"Fast then until vespers, and meditate constantly on something from the Gospel or the other Scriptures, and whenever any unclean thoughts occur don't look at them, but rise above them, and the Lord will come to your aid."
And abba Macarius then went back to his solitude.
Some time later, as he looked out, he saw the demon coming once more.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Down among the brothers as before," he replied.
When he came back he asked him how the brothers were getting on.
"Peasants, the lot of them," he said, "and what's worse, even the one obedient friend I did have has somehow or other been converted and is harder on me than all the others."
And he swore that it would be a long time before he ever went back there again, and having said that, he went on his way.

62    (Also in V.v.31) "What shall I do, father," a brother asked an old man, "for I don't know how to bear with my thoughts."
"I am never embattled in that area," the old man replied.
Scandalised, the brother went to another old man.
"Look at what that old man said to me. I am scandalised at him, for he boasts of something beyond the power of human nature."
"What that old man told you was not all that straightforward. Go and apologise to him so that he can tell you what was behind what he said."
So he went back to the first old man.
"Forgive me, father," he said, "I have acted foolishly in leaving you without even saying goodbye. But please tell me, explain to me how it is that you never feel embattled?"
"Ever since I became a monk I have never completely satisfied my desires for bread, for water or for sleep. And so I think so much about those things, that my thoughts do not allow me to enter into the battles that you have told me about."
And the brother went on his way greatly helped by him.

63.   (Also in V.v.9 & VII.i.9) Abba Poemen made this reply to another person asking about thoughts, "If a monk guards his stomach and his tongue and does not hanker after wandering about let him be quite certain that he will not die but live for ever."

64.   (Also in VII.i.10) Two brothers who were worried about their thoughts came to abba Elias, and when the old man saw that they were rather fat he spoke laughingly as if to his own disciple, "Truly brother I blush for you that you have nourished your body so, when you profess to be a monk - monks should be thin, pale and humble."

65.   (Also in V.ii.7) At the time when Arsenius was living in the plains, a certain woman came to Alexandria from Rome hoping that she might be found worthy of visiting him. She was a virgin, rich, godfearing, well aware of Arsenius' fame. She was hospitably received by Archbishop Theophilus of that city, whom she asked if it would be at all possible to persuade the blessed Arsenius to grant her an interview. So Theophilus went to Arsenius and said, "There is a certain excellent wealthy Roman woman, whose reputation excels all others, who would dearly love to see you and get your blessing. She has come such a long way, I hope you will grant her request."
When she realized that Arsenius had not agreed to meet her, she ordered her horses to be saddled, saying, "I trust in God's help that I will see him, and I will not be defrauded of this intention. I have not come to see a mere man. There are plenty of them in Rome. It is a prophet that I want to see." So she marched off to the blessed Arsenius' cell and happened to see him walking about outside. She prostrated herself face down at his feet.
Immediately he made her rise, saying, "If it's only my face you want to see, here it is, look at it." For she from sheer shamefastness had not dared to look up.
"If you had been aware of any of the things I have done," he said, "you would have done better to look at them. And why have you bothered to cross such a great ocean? Don't you realize that you are a woman, with whom it is not lawful for any of us to have any dealings? You have probably only come here so that you could go back to Rome and boast to all your women friends that you have seen Arsenius, and thus encourage a whole flock of women across the sea to visit me"
"May it be God's will that he allows no one to come," she replied. "But pray for me, I beg you, keep me in mind."
"I pray to God that he will wipe out the memory of you from my heart," Arsenius replied.
Once she had taken these words in, she returned to Alexandria, quite ill because of what she had suffered. The bishop came to visit her because of her illness and asked what the matter was. She told him what the old man had said about herself and his memory which had upset her so much that she felt she would like to die. But the bishop comforted her in this way, "Don't forget that you are a woman, and the devil uses women to attack men. That is why he said that he would wipe the memory of your face out of his heart. But he will nevertheless pray to the Lord for your soul."
By these words the woman was restored to her usual self.

66. Abba Moyses said, "If the Emperor wants to attack an enemy city he first of all cuts off their food and water supply, so that his enemies will suffer from hunger and want and surrender to his rule. In the same way, if you live in fasting and hunger, the carnal passions grow weak and bring no strength to bear against the soul. Who is so strong as a lion? And yet even he through hunger may hide in his den with all his power laid low."

67.   (Also in VII.ii.1) A certain young man kept on thinking he would renounce the world, but as often as he went out to do so, various considerations turned him back, involved as he was in business deals. He was, in fact, very rich. One day as he decided to go the demons stirred up a dust cloud around him. He immediately divested himself of everything he had, including his clothes, and fled naked to the monastery, where the Lord appeared to a certain old man telling him to "get up and go to meet my athlete". The old man went out to meet the naked man and upon learning his story gave him the monastic habit. The other brothers came to the old man and reminded him of the usual conditions, but he had an answer ready for them, and to those who thought they knew all about renunciation he said, "Ask this brother about that, for I have not yet arrived at his level of renunciation."

68.   (Also in V.vi.i) There was a brother who renounced the world, gave all his possessions to the poor except for a certain amount which he kept for himself, and then went to abba Antony. The old man soon understood what the situation was.
"If you will," he said, "please go into the village and buy meat. Dispose it all over your naked body and come back to me."
When he had done this, birds as well as dogs attacked his whole body to get at the meat, and tore him with beak and claw. On coming back he was asked by Antony if he had done what was asked of him.
"Just look at my torn flesh," he replied.
"Anyone who renounces the world," said Antony, "and keeps money back for himself, is torn as you are, but by demons."

69.   (Also in V.vi.22) A certain brother asked a question of one of the old men.
"Is it all right if I put two solidi by in case I get ill?"
The old man could see that the brother did want to save the money, so he told him to do so.
But when the brother returned to his cell he began to think things over.
"Have I really got the old man's blessing for this, or not?" he asked himself. And he got up and went back to the old man.
"In the name of God tell me the truth," he said. "I am really bothered in my mind about these two solidi."
"I could see that in your mind you wanted to keep them," said the old man, "so I agreed with you that you should. But it is not a good thing to hang on to anything more than what is strictly necessary for the body. If you have put your whole hope in these two solidi and then perhaps you lose them, won't God still keep on thinking of us? 'Cast all your care upon God, for he cares for us'" (1 Peter 5.7)

70.   (Also in V.vi.5) Serapion, one of the monks, who possessed a copy of the Gospels, sold it and gave the money to the poor, acting in obedience to a memorable text.
"For," he said, "I have sold that word which constantly tells me to sell what I have and give it to the poor." (Matthew 9.21)

71.   (Also in V.vi.17) Someone urged abba Agathon to accept some money for his own needs, but he refused.
"I don 't need it," he said, "for I feed myself by the work of my own hands."
"Perhaps you might accept it to give to the poor," persisted the man
"That could be doubly shameful," he replied, "for I should be accepting something I don't need, and then run the risk of vainglory by giving it to someone else."

72.   (Also in VII.ii.2) Abba Paul used to say, "If a monk wants to have things in his cell apart from what he needs to keep alive he often thinks of going out from his cell, and is in this way deceived by the demon."  This same Paul while making a mat one Lent found that he had only a small vessel of water left and very few rushes, so rather than go out for more he unravelled the mat and rewove it.

73.   (Also in V.xvi.6 and VII.iii.1) Abba Macarius in Egypt had occasion to go out of his cell one day, and when he returned he found there was someone in the process of stealing the contents of his cell. So as if he were a passing pilgrim he helped the robber load up his beast, with complete equanimity, and sent him on his way.
"We brought nothing into this world," (1 Tim.6.7), he said. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. As it pleases the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the Lord in all things"  (Job 1.21) .

74.     (Also in V.xvi.19 & VII.iii.2) A brother who used to visit the cell of a certain old man was in the habit of stealing his food. The old man realised what was happening and did not make a fuss, but took a wider view.
"Perhaps this brother is in need," he said, although he was suffering severe hardship, for lack of bread.
But when this old man was dying, with all the brothers gathered round him, his eye chanced upon the brother who used to steal his bread. He bade him come closer, took his hand and kissed it.
"I give thanks for these hands of yours, brother, for I believe they have helped me into the kingdom of heaven."
He was conscience-stricken by these words and repented. He became a most fervent monk as a result of the old man's actions, which he had witnessed.

75.   Abba Agathon kept a strict curb on himself and managed everything with great discretion, both in his manual work and in what he wore. His clothing was such that nobody noticed whether it was either over elaborate or over untidy.

76.  (Also in VII.vi.1) An old man said, "Anger arises in four different situations. Firstly through greed when either paying or receiving money, secondly through loving one's own opinion and defending it even when to anyone else it doesn't seem to be either very good or very bad, thirdly when wanting to be promoted to high honour, and lastly when wishing to be thought of as a teacher wiser than anyone else. Anger also causes confusion through four human attitudes, dislike of your neighbour, envy, contempt, character assassination. Likewise the remedy for this passion lies in four areas, firstly in the heart, then in the facial expression, thirdly in the tongue, fourthly in actions. For if you are able to suffer evil without letting it enter into the heart it won't show in your face. If however it shows in your face guard your tongue so that you say nothing. But if you do say something take care that you quickly apologise so that it does not develop into deeds. Human beings attacked by the passion of anger fall into three categories.  Anyone who is harmed or injured and forgives has the nature of Christ. Anyone who does nobody any harm and therefore suffers no harm has the nature of Adam. But whoever harms others or injures them or slanders them or seeks revenge has the nature of the devil.


77.   (A slightly longer version of V.xvi.10 and VII.vii.1) One of the brothers had suffered an injury from another brother, and came to abba Sisois to give him an account of his grievance, adding that he would really like to avenge the insult.
"You should leave judgment to God," the old man urged.
"I shan't give up," he said, "until I am avenged."
" Seeing that you have made up your mind about that," said the old man, "let us now say a prayer."
And he prayed thus:
"God, we do not need you any more to look after us, for as this brother says, we are quite able to avenge ourselves."
Hearing this made the brother fall down at his feet and beg forgiveness, and promise not to quarrel with the brother who had angered him.

78.  (Also in VII.vii.2) A certain brother when insulted by another came to an old man and told him all about it. The old man said, "Calm yourself down with the thought that it was not you he was getting at but your sins. In every trial which comes to you from another human being, don't argue, but say to yourself, 'It is because of my own sins that this is happening to me'"

79. Abba Poemen often used to say, "Never let yourself be overcome by malice. If someone does evil to you, give him back good, so that the good may overcome the evil.

80.   (Also in VII.vii.4 and V.xvi.12) There was a brother who always rejoiced the more when anyone harmed him or insulted him.
"They are giving me an opportunity to advance towards perfection", he would say. "Those who praise us up to the skies put our minds in a turmoil. The Scripture says, 'Those who flatter you are deceivers." (Isaiah.3.12)

81.   (Also in VII.vii.5) Another old man, if anyone slandered him, would go and visit the slanderer if he lived nearby and thank him personally. If he lived at a distance he would send him a gift.


82.  (Also in VII.viii.1) A certain brother asked Abba Sisois, "If robbers or barbarians attacked me and tried to kill me, should I kill them if I had the opportunity?"  He replied, "Not on any account, but commit yourself totally to God. Whatever the misfortune think that it comes because of your sins, ascribe it all to divine providence."

83.    (Also in VII.vii.2) There was a famous hermit in Mount Athlibeus who was attacked by robbers. He called for help so loudly that some brothers who lived nearby came rushing in and overpowered them. They were then taken to the city where a judge sent them to prison. Now the brothers began to be very upset because they had caused the robbers to be handed over to the judge, and they came to Abba Poemen and told him all about it. Poemen wrote to the hermit urging him to look carefully into where the mistake first originated, "for", he said, "if you had not first been deceived in your heart the second mistake would not have happened." The hermit was so conscience-stricken by this that, famous though he was for not having gone out for such a long time, he immediately got up and went to the city and got the robbers publicly exonerated and freed from the prison and the tormentors.

84.   (Also in VI.iv.12) The disciple of a certain wise man (philosophus) sinned and asked for pardon.
"I shan't forgive you," said the wise man," until you have spent the next three years carrying burdens for others."
After three years he came back, having made satisfaction for his sins, but the wise man said,
"I will not forgive you for your sins yet, not until you spend another three years earning money for those who insulted you and quarrelled with you."
When he had done all this his sins were forgiven.
"Come with me, now," said his master, "into the city of Athens, where you may learn some wisdom."
Now there was a very wise old man (senex sapientia studiosus) who sat at the gate, testing the mettle of all those who entered by offering them insults. When he gave the young man this treatment it provoked nothing but loud laughter.
"How is this, then?" asked the old man. "I insult you and all you do is laugh?"
"And wouldn't you expect me to laugh?" he replied, "I've spent three years having to make payment to those who insulted me, and shouldn't I suffer what you have given me today for free?"
"Go into the city," the old man said. "You are worthy of it."
Abba John used to tell this story, and would add,
"This is God's gateway, through which our fathers entered into the city of God by means of many tribulations and injuries."
85.   (Also in V.xv.83) A brother asked an old man if he could give him one guideline to keep and be saved.
"If you can suffer insults and injury in silence, this is a great thing above all the other commandments."

86.   (Also in V.xv.17) When some of the brothers asked abba Moyses for a word, Moyses bade his disciple Zacharias say something. Zacharais threw his mantle down on the ground and stamped on it.
"You can't be a monk unless you are willing to be trampled on," he said.

87.  Abba Macarius used to say, "A true monk is one who is in control of himself in all things. For if in arguing with anyone he is moved to anger he has been conquered by his own passions. Nor must he consent to imperilling his own salvation even though it were to save someone else."

88.  (Also in V.viii.2) A certain brother was being praised by other brothers in the presence of abba Antony, but when Antony examined him he found that he could not put up with insults.
"You are like a building beautifully ornamented in front, brother," he said, "but attacked by robbers through the back door."

89. A certain brother asked abba Isaac, "Abba, why are the demons frightened of you?"
"Ever since I became a monk I made up my mind that anger should never come out of my mouth. That is why the demons fear me."


90.  (Also in V.iv.9) One of the fathers visiting abba Achillas saw that he was spitting blood and asked him what was the matter.
"I was deeply saddened by something that one of the brothers said to me," he said, "and struggled hard not to say something in reply. So I prayed to the Lord to lift this burden from me, and he turned the brother's words into blood in my mouth. After I had spat it out, I was at peace, and no longer remembered either my sadness or what the brother had said."

91.  Some brothers came to a holy old man living in solitude and found there some children feeding the cattle, some of whom were using very bad language. After getting answers to some of the questions that the brothers asked the old man about their thoughts, they said to him, "How is it, father, that you can put up with the voices of those children without telling them not to speak like that?" 


And the old man said, "In actual fact, brothers, I have been thinking for some days that I should say something to them, but then I argue with myself that if I can't put up with this little matter how will I manage if I get some major trial to bear? So I say nothing to them, and thus get accustomed to putting up with things."
The same old man said, "If you can't hold your tongue when angry you won't be able to control yourself either when tempted by lust."

92.  (Also in V.xvi.3 where there is a shorter version) Abba John was one day sitting in the midst of the brothers who were asking him about their thoughts. He gave a reply to each one of them, whereupon another old man said out of envy, "This John is like a harlot dressing herself up in order to attract a whole lot of lovers."
John replied, "Well yes, you are quite right. God has revealed to you the truth."
The other old man continued, "Yes, and your vessel, John, is full of poison."
John replied, "It is just as you say, abba, and what you have said is because of what you have seen of my outside. How much more you might have said if you could only have seen what I am like inside!"
One of the brothers then said to him, "Aren't you upset inside, abba, by what this old man has said?"
He replied, "No. Inside I feel exactly as I outwardly appear."


93.   (Also in V.xvii.8) There was an old man in Egypt, who before abba Poemen came upon the scene was held in great regard by everyone. But when abba Poemen arrived from Scete many left the old man and went to Poemen, which made him envious and say derogatory things about him. When abba Poemen heard about this he was very sad.
"What shall we do?" he said to the brothers. "Why have people caused me such great distress by leaving that holy man and coming to me who am nothing? How shall we make peace with this great man? Let us make some small rolls and take them to him, and a little wine, and share them with him. Perhaps by this we shall be able to quieten his soul."
So they went and knocked on his door. His disciple asked who was there.
"Tell your abba that Poemen is here wanting to receive his blessing," they said.
When he had heard what the disciple had to say, he replied, "Go and tell them to go away. I'm not free at present."
They were very disappointed at this, but they still persisted.
"We shan't go from here," they said, "until we have been able to pay him our respects."
Seeing their humility and patience he was conscience-stricken, opened the door and embraced them. And they all ate together.
"Truly," the old man said, "what I have seen in you today is a hundred times greater than everything I have ever heard about you."
And they were close friends from that day onwards.

94.  (Also in VII.x.1) There was a time when Abba Muthues built a cell for himself in the place called Heracleona. But when he found the presence of so many other people irksome he went somewhere else and built himself a similar hut. By the wiles of the devil he came up against another brother there who enviously quarrelled with him, so he left and went back to his original neighbourhood where he built another cell, inside which he shut himself up. After a while the old men in the place that he had left gathered together and decided to go and ask him to come back, taking with them the brother who had quarrelled with him. When they got near to where he was they left that brother in charge of their cloaks and went themselves to knock on the old man's door. He saw them through the open window, and said, "Where are your cloaks?"
They replied, "They are nearby with that brother who quarrelled with you."
After the old man had heard this and recognised who they were he joyfully took an axe to break down his door behind which he had shut himself up and ran to where the brother was. He apologised first, and embraced him, and invited them all into his cell where he entertained them for three days, even though he had the reputation of never being in the habit of relaxing his fast. In the end he got up and went back with them.

95.  (Also in V.xvii.6) Abba Agathon used to say, "I have never gone to sleep holding a grudge against anyone, and as far as I have been able I have never allowed anyone having a grudge against me to go to sleep before making peace with me."

96.   (Also in V.xvii.11) There were two old men living in a cell together who had never had any kind of quarrel between them.
"Let's have a quarrel," one of them said to the other, "just like other people do."
"I don't know how to do that."
"Well, I put this brick in between us and say, 'this is mine', and then you say, 'it's not yours, it's mine', and this causes trouble and strife."
So they put the brick between them.
"This is mine," said the first one.
"No, I think it is mine," said the other.
"It's not yours, it's mine!"
"Well, if it's yours, take it, then" said the other, after which they found that they had nothing else to quarrel about.

97. (Also in VI.iii.17) As blessed abba Macarius was praying, a voice once came to him saying, "You have not yet arrived at the stature of two women who live together in the nearby city."
So he picked up his staff and went out to visit that city and seek them out. Having found the house he knocked at the door, and one of the women came out and welcomed him in with great pleasure. When the two of them were together with him he asked,
"I've gone to quite a lot of trouble coming to visit you from the distant desert, in order to learn about your way of doing things. I hope you will agree to tell me all about it."
"Oh, come, most holy father, we have both been in the beds of our husbands this last night. What could you possibly learn from our way of going on?"
But the old man persisted in praying that they should tell him their rule of life.
"We are not related to each other, " they said, persuaded at last by his pleas, "but it so happened that we married two brothers, and for the last fifteen years we have lived together in this house and never said an angry word to each other. We have never quarrelled, but lived in peace with each other right up until now. And we agreed between us that if our husbands both were willing we would join a community of religious virgins. But our husbands have not allowed us to do that, in spite of all our pleas, so we made a vow between us and God that we would not indulge in any worldly chatter until the day of our death."
Having listened to all this the blessed Macarius said, "In truth, it is not important whether you are virgin, married, monk or secular; all God wants is a firm intention, and he gives his life-giving Spirit to all."

98.  (Also in V.vii.33) There was a brother living in a coenobium who was often subject to angry moods.
"If only I had no one to quarrel with," he said to himself, "perhaps I would get some respite from this passion. I'll go and live in the desert."
But one day after having gone to live alone in a cave, he filled a jar with water, put it down, and suddenly it tipped over. He filled it up three times and the same thing happened. He flew into a temper and picked up the jar and smashed it. He had a few things to think about when he came to himself.
"I have been deceived about the spirit of anger," he said. "Here am I, all alone, and I am still overcome by anger. I'll go back to the coenobium, where you need patience in the battle, but where also there is help from God. "
And he got up and went back to his former place.

99.  Also in V.xv.25) Blessed Macarius told this story about himself:
When I was a young man living in a cell, they took me and made me the cleric for the village. But I did not want this and fled to another place, where a certain devout secular ministered to me by selling my work for me. It so happened that a local girl had lustfully become pregnant, and when the parents forced her to say who was responsible, she said, "It's that anchorite of yours who has done this wicked deed".
The girl's parents seized me, hung earthen jars around my neck and dragged me through all the village streets, beating me unmercifully, and shouting, "This monk has forced our daughter!"
They had almost beaten me to death when one of the seniors intervened.
"Why are you beating this pilgrim monk so unmercifully? He has always dealt with me with manifest modesty, which calls into question the severe treatment you are giving him. What has he done that you make these accusations?"
"We will not release him," said his parents. "Not unless someone is willing to come forward as surety for our daughter's maintenance."
He said he would take me into his service, to which I agreed, upon which he gave his word on my behalf. We got back to my cell, where we agreed on how many baskets I could contribute, and who they would be sold to, and he would buy the food for 'my wife'.
I said to myself, "Macarius, you have found a wife for yourself. You will have to work very hard in order to support her." And I did work day and night that she could have her daily ration of food.
When it came time for her to give birth, she was in agony for several days with no result.
"What have you done" she was asked.
"It's because my accusation of that anchorite was false," she admitted. "It was the boy next door who did it."
The man who was looking after me was overjoyed when he heard this
"That wretched girl," he said when he came to see me, "has said that it's because she had falsely blackened your reputation that she was unable to give birth, and all the neighbours are coming to ask your forgiveness."
When I learnt this, I hastily fled, lest these people should do me any more harm. And so I came to this place. So there you have the reason for my coming here.

100. (Also in V.ix.8 & VII.xxxix.2) A brother asked abba Poemen how to overcome his depression.
"Don't decide anyone is worthless, don't condemn anyone, don't slander anyone, and God will give you rest."

101. (Also in VII.xi.3) Abba Poemen used to say that Abba Isidore was the only one who truly knew himself. Whenever his thoughts told him how great he was he replied, "Do you compare with Antony, or Abba Pambo or the rest of the fathers who were all pleasing to God?" These thoughts quietened him down. When a demon worried him with thoughts of despair and punishment, saying, "After all this you will have to go to the place of torment", he replied, "Even if I am sent into torment, at least I shall find that you are lower down than I."

102. (Also in VII.xi.4) Demons often appeared to Abba Moses and cursed him, saying, "You have beaten us, Moses, and we can't do anything to you, for as often as we try to humiliate you into the depths of despair you are uplifted, and as often as you are uplifted you humiliate yourself in such a way that none of us can get near you."

103. (Also in VII.xi.5) A certain brother frequently used to come to Abba Sisois saying, "I have fallen. What shall I do, father?" To which he replied, "Get up again."
"But I have got up again, and also fallen again."
"Just go on getting up."
The brother kept on confessing his fallings and risings and the old man kept on telling him not to fail to get up again, until at last the brother said, "Explain to me, father, how long it is possible to go on getting up."
And the old man said, "Until you die - caught either in the midst of a good deed or a bad one. For in whatever kind of deed you are taken, by that you will be judged."

104  (Also in V.vii.42) There was an old man who was grievously troubled by his thoughts for the space of ten years until driven to despair.
"My soul is lost," he said, "So seeing that I am to perish anyway, I might as well return to the world."
But as he went on his way he heard a voice.
"Those ten years of struggle are your crowning glory. Go back to your own place and I will set you free."
So he went back and took up his labours again.
It is not a good thing for anyone to fall into despair because of his thoughts. They provide us with a greater crown if we tread them under, no matter how much they bother us.


105  (Also in V.vii.1) When abba Antony was living in the desert, he was greatly troubled by dryness of spirit. Tied in knots by the multiplicity of his thoughts he cried out to God.
"Lord, I earnestly desire to be on the path of salvation but my chaotic thoughts don't allow me. What shall I do in this tribulation, or how may I become worthy of salvation, please tell me!"
A little later, as he looked out, he saw someone like himself, sitting down weaving ropes, then getting up from his work to pray. It was an Angel sent to help Antony.
"If you do likewise, Antony, you will be saved," he heard the Angel say. He was overcome with the greatest feeling of joy, and with renewed confidence was reassured.

106. (Also in V.vii.34) A brother had a question to ask an old man:
"What shall I do, father, for I don't conform to all the things a monk is supposed to do. I am sunk in negligence about my food and drink, and in my hours of sleep, and from hour to hour I flit about from thoughts of this to thoughts of that, and it saddens me that I fail."
"Sit in your cell," the old man said, "and do peacefully whatever you can, and put your trust in God. Anyone who sits in his cell for God's sake will find himself in the same place as abba Antony."

107. (Also in V.vii.28) Another brother had a question to ask abba Achillas:
"Why do I suffer from dryness of spirit as I sit in my cell?"
"Because you have not yet understood, brother, either the eternal rest that we hope for, or the torments that we should be frightened of," said the old man. "If you were to address these matters carefully, even to imagining the cell being full of serpents up to your neck, you would have no difficulty in staying in your cell without boredom."

108. (Also in V.i.1) A brother had a question for abba Antony:
"What should I do to please God?"
"Listen carefully to what I am telling you," said the old man."Always keep God before your eyes, and whatever you are doing, look in the divine Scriptures for your examples, and wherever you are living, don't be in too much of a hurry to move somewhere else, but patiently endure in the same place. If you observe these three things, you will be safe."
109. (Also in V.ii.1, attributed to Antony) When a brother asked abba Moyses for some instruction, the old man said:
"Go and sit in your cell, for your cell will teach you everything, as long as you stay there. For just as a fish dies when taken out of the water, so does a monk perish if he lingers long outside his cell."

110. (Also in VII.xii.2) A certain brother asked Abba Poemen whether it was better to live by yourself or with others, and the old man said, "If people are critical of themselves they will persevere anywhere, but if they exaggerate their own importance they will never endure. People should not boast about any good they might have done, for it might well be perishable."

111.  (Also in VII.xii.4) On one occasion a certain brother from Egypt visiting Abba Zeno in Syria began to accuse himself of his own thoughts in the old man's presence. And the old man marvelled, saying, "These Egyptians conceal the virtues which they do have and display vices that they don't have, whereas Syrians and Greeks preach about virtues which they don't possess and keep hidden the vices which they do possess."

112. An old man said: "Anyone freely praised by people is in not a little danger to his soul. But anyone not held in honour among people will finally be given glory from God."

113. The same man said: "Seed will not germinate among weeds, and it is impossible for those who get praise and glory from the world to enjoy the harvest of heaven.

114. The same man said: "If you flaunt your riches, you are in danger of being robbed. Similarly, if you boast about your virtues, they will perish. Just as wax melts in the fire, so does a soul softened by praise fall from its first integrity."

115. The same man said: "When you are assaulted by thoughts of vainglory or pride, examine yourself whether you have obeyed all God's commandments, loved your enemies, rejoiced in the success of your enemy and been saddened at his fall. If you constantly realise that you are an unprofitable servant and a greater sinner than all others, you will never then think highly of yourself however much good you may do, for you will remember that any boastful thought undoes all the good."

116. One old man said to another, "I am dead to this world."
"Don't be too sure of yourself," said the other, "until it is time for you to depart from out of your body. However much you may say that you are dead, the devil is not dead, and his wiles are without number."

117. There was one old man who after living fifty years in the desert, living sparingly on bread and water, said that he had overcome vainglory and avarice. When abba Abraham heard about this he went to visit him.
"Is it true that that is what you said?" he asked.
"Yes it is."
"See now, if you are walking along the road and you see a lump of gold among the stones and broken bricks, do your thoughts tell you that each one is the same as the other?"
"No, but on the other hand I do battle with my thoughts. Avarice is still there, but controlled."
"Suppose one man likes you and praises you, another detests you and slanders you, do you have the same regard for one as you do for the other, if they come to see you?"
"No, but again I do battle with my thoughts and serve diligently the one I don't like."
"So then the passions do still live in you, but controlled by holy thoughts, which seem to be permanently part of you because of your way of life."
118. There was an old man living in the inner desert who stayed quietly in his cave, ministered to by a devout secular man. It so happened that the son of this man fell ill, and with many prayers he begged the old man to come to his house and pray for the child. The old man got up and was walking back with him when the man ran on ahead to his house and went in crying, "Come out to meet the anchorite." When the old man saw them from afar, carrying torches, he realised that they were coming to meet him, so he stripped off his clothes and plunged them into the river, and began to wash them as he stood there naked.
When his friend saw it he blushed, and cried to his companions, "Go back, for the old man has lost his wits."
And going up to the old man he asked him what he was doing, for everyone who saw him had said "The old man has a demon!"
"And that is exactly what I wanted to hear," he said.

119. When abba Moyses heard that a certain provincial judge desired to come and venerate him, he fled from his cell, but happened to meet the judge on the road.
"Can you tell me where abba Moyses' cell is?" he asked.
"What do you want to go and see that person for?" he asked. "He's not only stupid but a heretic."
The judge went back to the church and consulted the clergy.
"Having heard quite a lot about abba Moyses I thought I would go and get his blessing, but a monk who met me on the road told me he was a heretic."
The clergy were very sad to hear this and questioned him about the monk who had said that to him. 
"Well he was black, and very tall, wearing the most ancient of garments."
"Why that was Moyses himself," they said, and when he realised this he went on his way in astonishment.

120. When abba Sisois was living on the same mountain where Antony had hidden himself, a man was hurrying to him with his small son to ask for a blessing, when it so happened that the child died on the way. The father with a completely untroubled mind carried him to the old man in faith, went into his cell and prostrated himself and the child on the ground, as is the custom for those seeking a blessing. At the conclusion of the prayer the father got up and left the cell leaving the body of his son at the abba's feet. The old man thought that he was just lying there to pray.
"Get up, my son, and go," he said, not realising that he was dead. And the boy immediately got up and went out. When his father saw him he was astounded, and went back into the cell to venerate the old man, and faithfully explained to him first how the son had been ill and then that he had been mourning his death. The old man was very worried, for he did not want such tales as this to be noised abroad about him. And through his disciple he told the man never to reveal to anyone what had happened until after he was dead.

121. A secular man came to the church suffering from an unclean spirit. They all prayed for him but the unclean spirit would in no way depart.

"How can we deal with this spirit?" the brothers asked among themselves. "No one except Besarion can drive this one out. But if we tell him that, he will refuse to come to the church. But he is accustomed to coming to church with us, so let's get this poor sufferer to sit here, and later we will say to Besarion, 'Abba, wake up this sleeper.'" So that is what they did. Abba Besarion came to church, they all stood for prayer, and then they said, 'Abba, wake up this sleeper.'

"Wake up, and go outside," said Besarion, shaking him. And immediately the spirit went out of him, and the man was healed from that same hour.

 

122. A man in Egypt who had a paralysed son carried him to the cell of the blessed Besarion and left him at the cell door weeping, while he went off some distance. At the sound of his weeping the old man looked out through the window and said,

"Who has left you there, my son?"

"My father put me here, and then went away."

"Well, get up and go and join him," said the old man, and the boy was immediately healed and went to join his father.

 

123. Abba Muthues said, "The closer anyone comes to God, the greater sinner he realises himself to be. When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord he called himself an unclean wretch (Isaiah 6.5). Let us not be unmindful of this. For the Scripture says, 'Let him who stands take heed lest he fall' (1 Cor.10.12). We navigate through uncertain waters in this world, though we monks are seen as navigating through a calm sea, whereas seculars face great dangers. We walk in the daylight, lit up by the sun of righteousness, they in ignorance, as if in darkness. But it often happens that seculars sailing through the darkness of the night, by keeping watch and shouting warnings are able to save the ship, whereas we are often negligent through the security of sailing through calm waters, and we perish because we have relinquished our hold upon the tiller of humility. Just as it is impossible to keep the ship safe without a rudder, so it is impossible for people to be saved without humility."

 

124. Macarius was once returning to his cell at daybreak carrying a bundle of palm leaves, when the devil met him carrying a sharp reaping hook. He tried to strike him down but failed.

"I suffer a great deal from you, Macarius," he said, "for every time I want to harm you I am unable to do so. For whatever work you do I am forced to do even greater. You fast sometimes, I am never able to partake of any food; you frequently keep vigil, but I can never allow sleep to overcome me; I declare that there is one thing in which you always come out the winner."

"And what may that be?" inquired Macarius.

"Your humility alone it is that beats me."

As the devil said this, the blessed Macarius lifted up his hands in prayer, and the unclean spirit vanished into thin air.

 

125. One of the old men was a hermit monk. Someone frothing at the mouth, because possessed by an evil spirit, struck the hermit hard on the cheek. The old man however offered the other cheek to be struck, and the devil immediately fled, unable to endure the fire of his humility.

 

126. One of the fathers said, "Everything a monk labours at is worth nothing without humility. Humility goes before love just as John Baptist went before Christ, drawing all people to him. Humility draws you towards love, that is, to none but God, since God is love."

 

127.  Once when Abba Macarius was going up to Mount Nitria, he told his disciple to go on before him a little way. After he had gone on a little distance he met a pagan priest hurrying along towards him carrying a heavy piece of timber.

"Where are you running off to, you devil" the disciple shouted. The priest felt so insulted by this that he beat Macarius' disciple again and again, and went on his way leaving him almost half dead. After a little while he came upon Abba Macarius.

"I wish you well, struggling with that heavy load, I wish you well," said Macarius in greeting.

Astonished, he replied, "What do you see in me that you should wish me well?"

"I saw you were struggling, and also that you were running you know not where."

"I must say that I am greatly moved by your greeting and I can see that you are a great servant of God. Some other miserable nobody of a monk insulted me when he met me, but I gave him back blows for his words."

Then grasping Macarius' feet he cried; "I won't let go until you make me a monk."

They went on together till they came to where the injured brother was lying. He was unable to walk so they lifted him up and carried him between them until they came in to the church. When the brothers saw that priest in company with Macarius, they were astonished, and ended up by gladly accepting him as a monk. Many pagans became Christian because of him. As Abba Macarius said, proud and spiteful words can even make good men behave badly, whereas kind and gentle words can induce even evil men to behave well.

 

128. The blessed Antony often used to say, "If the miller does not blindfold the eyes of his animal it will consume the fruits of his labour. In the same way, by the dispensation of God, we put a blanket over our good deeds so as not to pay any attention to them, lest we beatify ourselves, and become puffed up, and lose our due reward. And when we are assailed by evil thoughts it is necessary that we should always condemn ourselves and our attitudes, lest the evil things in us should obscure what little good we have done. Even if people have good intentions, they cannot be really good unless God dwells in them, for no one is good save God. We must therefore always accuse ourselves honestly. Anyone who rebukes himself will not lose his reward."

 

129. Again, he said that he had seen the snares of the enemy spread out over the whole world, and he sighed and said, "Who can possibly find a way through them?"

And a voice came to him saying, "Humility alone can walk here, Antony. Here the proud can in no way prevail.

 

130. Once when blessed Antony was praying in his cell he heard a voice saying, "Antony you are not yet equal to the leather worker in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man got up next morning and taking his staff hastened off to Alexandria where he sought out the leather worker, who was absolutely astonished to be visited by such a great man. The old man said,

"Tell me what it is you do, for I have left the desert in order to come here and see you."

"I don't know that I have done anything special. In fact when I get out of bed in the morning, before I settle down to work, I reflect that everyone in this city from greatest to least will enter the kingdom of heaven because of their goodness. I alone for my sins will suffer eternal punishment. And before I go to bed I truthfully repeat these words from the bottom of my heart."

When he heard this, the blessed Antony replied, "Truly, my son, like a good workman sitting peacefully at home, you have arrived at the kingdom of God. But I who have spent my time badly in solitude have not arrived at equality with you."

 

131. A certain brother asked Abba Poemen, "What does the Apostle mean, father, when he says, 'To the pure all things are pure'?" (Titus.1.15)

And he replied, "To succeed in being able to understand this you must first see yourself as the least of all creatures."

"How could I possibly see myself as less than a murderer, say?"

"If you want to understand this saying of the Apostle, and you see someone who has killed someone else, you should say to yourself, 'This person has committed just this one sin, but I commit homicide every moment, for I am killing myself by reason of my sins.'"

And when the brother queried this he replied, "A person is righteous only when he blames himself. He is righteous because he condemns his own sins."

 

132.  Some of the brothers were sitting with Abba Poemen when one of them praised one of the brothers, saying, "He's a good man, that brother, for he hates what is evil".

"What does it mean, to hate evil?" the old man asked.

Not being quite sure how to answer that the brother said, "You tell me, abba, what hating evil means."

"He who hates evil", said the old man, "hates his own sins and lovingly blesses all his brothers."

 

133. A brother asked Abba Poemen how it was possible to avoid speaking evil of one's neighbour, and he replied, "My neighbour and I each have an image. If I look at my own image and condemn it, the image of my brother seems to be praiseworthy by comparison. But when I praise myself the image of my brother seems contemptible. So therefore I can never disparage my brother as long as I always blame myself."

 

134. Abba Hyperichius said, "Better to eat flesh and drink wine than devour the life of your brother by slandering him. Just as the hiss of the serpent drove Eve from paradise, so anyone who slanders his brother not only loses his own soul but the soul of anyone listening to him."

 

135. Abba John used to say, "To condemn ourselves is a small sacrifice to make, but to justify ourselves and condemn others is to choose a heavy burden to carry."

 

136. Once there was a meeting in Scete when the fathers were discussing many things, including the way many of them were living their lives. Abba Pior, however, said nothing. After a while he went out and filled up a bag with sand, which he dragged behind him, and put some more sand in a small basket, which he carried in front of him.

"What is that supposed to mean?" asked the other brothers when they saw what he was doing.

"This bag which contains a great quantity of sand represents my sins, and see, I have pushed them away behind my back, because I don't want to look at them or grieve or weep for them. And see, these few sins of my brother I put in front of my eyes and I go to a great deal of trouble to condemn him. But this way of judgment is not right. I should put the greater quantity of sins before my eyes, and think about them, and ask God to have mercy."

When the fathers heard this, they said, "Truly this is the way of salvation."

 

137. Abba Isaac once visited the coenobium and was angry because one of the brothers was negligent. He ordered that he should be expelled. When he went back to his cell an angel of the Lord came and stood before the doorway.

"I do not allow you to enter," the angel said.

"Why, what have I done wrong?"

"God has sent me to ask you where we should send that brother who has sinned."

At once he was sorry and prostrated himself'

"I have sinned; Lord, forgive me," he said.

"Rise. God has forgiven you. But do not again condemn anyone before God has judged him. 'Men take it upon themselves to judge, and don't allow me to do so,' says the Lord."

This was said so that if a mature monk happened to transgress in some small matter he should not be frightened of it being revealed.

 

138.  It so happened that a certain brother in the coenobium committed a crime, and when he was condemned by the brothers he fled to Abba Antony. Some brothers who wanted to reform him went after him, and began to make out a case against him because of his crime, even though he denied having done anything wrong. Among those present was Abba Paphnutius, nicknamed the Chief (Cephalas), who told the assembled brothers a parable they had not heard before.

"I saw," he said, "a man on the banks of the river up to his knees in mud. Some people came with outstretched hands trying to get him out but only succeeded in burying him further up to his neck."

Then blessed Antony said this about Abba Paphnutius, "Now there is a man who can heal souls by speaking the truth."

The brothers were conscience-stricken by this saying and apologised, and took back into the coenobium the brother who had departed.

 

139. One of the seniors said, "If you see someone sinning don't put the blame on him but on the one who caused him to sin. Say, 'Woe is me! That person all unwillingly has been overcome, just like me.' And weep, seeking refuge in God, for we are all subject to deception."

 

140. A certain anchorite called Timothy heard about a brother who had been negligent, and when asked by the abbot what should be done about it replied that the brother should be expelled from the monastery. After he had been expelled Timothy himself was beset by temptation. He wept in the sight of God and cried, "Have mercy on me", and he heard a voice saying, "Timothy, you are in the midst of this crisis because you despised your brother in the time of his temptation."

 

141. One of the fathers in ecstasy saw four ranks of people standing before God. The first was made up of those who were not very strong but who constantly gave thanks to God, the second was of those who were given to hospitality and were constantly serving in this way, the third was of those who lived in solitude apart from the sight of mankind, the fourth was of those who sought to be obedient and who were subject to the fathers. This rank of people who were obedient was higher up than the others. They wore golden neckbands, and were more glorious than the others.

"This fourth rank, why were they more glorious than the others?" asked the person to whom this was being told.

"All the others find their fulfilment in exercising their own will," he replied, "albeit in doing good works. But the obedient depend upon the will of the father who instructs them. Therefore their glory is greater than that of the others".

 

142. An old man said, "If someone asks his brother to do something with humility and the fear of God, his request will seem to be as if coming from God and will persuade the brother to comply and do what he has been asked. But if someone gives orders in a desire to exert his own authority and willpower, and not in the fear of God, God who knows the secrets of the heart will not help the brother to understand what he is being told or help him to carry it out. It is obvious that what is done for God's sake is the work of God; just as it is obvious when a person's commands spring from arrogance. Whatever is of God is grounded in humility; tyranny, anger and turmoil are of the enemy.

 

143. Abba Silvanus had a disciple called Mark, whom he especially loved because of his great obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were disgruntled because he was the favourite. Some of the other old men were sad when they heard about this and came to Silvanus to clarify with him why his disciples were disgruntled. But before they could say anything, he took them to the cell of each one of his disciples in turn, and called each one of them by name asking him to come out because he had some work for him to do. None of them was willing to come out, until he came to Mark's cell and knocked on his door, and called him by name. Mark came out as soon as he heard his name called. Abba Silvanus went in to Mark's cell, and found that Mark, who was a scribe, had left a letter unfinished in the manuscript he was copying, the moment he had heard his name called. His obedience was such that, hearing the old man's voice, he would not complete the letter that he had already begun.

"Indeed," said the other old men, "He whom you love we love also, for God himself loves him for his obedience."

 

144. An old solitary used to use the services of someone in the neighbouring village to bring him food and materials for his work. When this man was a few days late and he was running short of food and materials he was worried and asked his disciple to go into the village. In obedience he said he would, though he was fearful about it lest he commit some offence.

"I trust in the God of our fathers," said the old man, "to keep you safe from all temptation." And having said a prayer, he sent him on his way.

The brother arrived in the village, enquired where the supplier lived, found the house and knocked at the door. He found no one at home except the man's daughter. When she opened the door the brother was about to enquire why her father was so many days late, but she asked him to come in and took him by the arm. When he demurred, she showed her strength and dragged him in. He could see that he was being led into sin and his thoughts were in a turmoil and he groaned.

"Lord," he cried out to God, "by the prayers of him who sent me here save me in this hour!"

And as soon as he had said it, he suddenly found himself by the river near the monastery and went back to his father unstained.

 

145. Two brothers according to the flesh joined a monastery. One of them kept religiously to the rules, the other had a great capacity for obedience. When the abbot said "Do this" he did it; "Do that" and he did it. And he was very highly regarded in the monastery because of his obedience. His "religious" brother was envious and promised himself that he would put his obedience to the test. He went to the abbot and asked that he and his brother could be sent to a certain place where he was needed, and the abbot agreed. As they went out together they came to a river in which there were many crocodiles.

"Go into the river and cross over," he said, wanting to test him. He went in and the crocodiles came and began to lick his body but did him no harm.

"Come out of the river and let's go on," he said when he saw what was happening. And as they went they came across a dead body lying in the road.

"If we had some kind of cloak we should lay it over him," said the religious one.

"Let us pray," said the other. "Perhaps God will revive him." And as they stood in prayer the dead man arose, and the religious one took all the credit to himself.

"It is because I observe the rules strictly," he said, "that this dead man has been raised up."

Now God revealed all this to the abbot in the monastery, both how he had tested his brother with the crocodiles and how the dead man had been raised.

"Why did you do this to your brother?" he asked when they returned to the monastery. Let me tell you, it was because of your brother's obedience that the dead man was raised."

 

146.  One of the old men of Scete sent his disciple into Egypt to bring back a camel so that all the baskets he had made could be carried back into Egypt. As he was bringing back the camel he met another old man who said to him, "If I had known you were going into Egypt, brother, I would have asked you to bring back a camel for me too." He told this to his abba, who with great kindness said, "Go and take this camel to him, brother, and say that we are not yet ready to use it, load it up with his goods, and take it down to Egypt. Then bring it back again to carry our load." The brother did so and said to the old man, "Abba Pambo says we are not ready yet and for you to load it up with your goods." So the old man loaded up the camel and the brother took it down to Egypt. Once he had unloaded it he brought it back again and prepared to leave the old man, who asked him where he was going. "I'm going back to Scete again," he said, "in order to bring our own baskets here." When the old man heard this he was conscience-stricken and apologised in tears, saying, "Forgive me, my dear friend, for presuming on your charity to carry my goods."

 

147. There was another old man who had finished his baskets and put handles on them all, when he heard his neighbour saying,

"What shall I do, for it is nearly market time and I have not got any handles to put on my baskets?"

So he went in and took all the handles off his own baskets and took them to this brother.

"I've got too many of these," he said, "use them for your own baskets."

So of his great charity he made sure that his brother's work was completed, leaving his own unfinished.

 

148.  Abba John, thanks to his great charity, was completely free of guile. He once borrowed a solidus from one of the brothers in order to buy some linen to work with, some of which he quite cheerfully gave to another brother who came to him begging a bit of linen to make a bag with. He gave some more to another brother who asked him for some, and to several more as well to whom he gave quite freely. Later the lender of the solidus came seeking repayment. And he said, "I'm going away, but I'll bring it to you".

Not having the wherewithal to repay him he set out for Abba Jacob to ask him to lend him enough to pay what he owed, but on the way he saw a solidus lying on the ground, which he did not touch, but said a prayer and went back to his cell. A second time the brother repeated his request, to which he replied, "I won't keep you waiting much longer." He went out again and saw the solidus still lying in the same place, but he said a prayer and returned home. The brother came for a third time badgering him about the solid. At last the old man said, "I'm going now and I'll bring it to you." He went out and found the solidus still lying in the same place, but this time he said a prayer, picked it up, and took it to Abba Jacob. "As I was coming to you, abba, " he said, "I found this solidus in the way. Could you do me a favour and publicise it in town so that if the person who has lost it can be found you can give it back to him." The old man went out and made announcements about it for three days, but could find nobody who had lost the solidus. Only then did John say to Abba Jacob; "If no one has lost it I will give it to that brother I am in debt to. For I was coming to you, either to borrow or ask you to give me enough to pay my debt, when I found this solidus."

And the old man marvelled that John, even though he was in debt when he had found this solidus, did not pick it up immediately in order to repay his debt, but turned back from it twice, and the third time made his find public.

Another wonderful thing about him was that if anyone wanted to borrow anything from him he would not pick it up to give them with his own hands, but would just say, "Go in and take what you need." And when they brought it back again, he would just say, "Go and put it back in the place where you found it." But if they did not bring anything back he just said nothing.

 

149.   Abba Poemen said, "Don't feel you always have to get your own way, but rather humble yourself to do what your neighbour wants."

When this same Abba Poemen was bidden to the common meal he wept, but would still go lest he offended his brothers by disobedience.

He sacrificed his own will and humbled himself to follow the will of another.

 

150. An anchorite living in a cell near the coenobium practised many virtuous acts. When some monks from the coenobium visited him, he was obliged to eat outside his usual fixed time.

"Were you not upset, abba, because today you have not kept to your usual rule," the monks asked him.

"The only time I am upset is when I follow my own self-willed inclinations," he replied.

 

151. Abba Paphnutius did not drink wine. As he was on a journey one day he came across a group of robbers who were drinking wine as they went along. The leader recognised him, knew that he did not drink wine, but seeing that he was tired from the effort of his journey, he filled a large cup with wine and offered it to him, standing there with a sword in his right hand.

"If you don't drink this wine, I will kill you," he said.

The old man knew that the robber chief really wanted to keep the commandments of God, so in order to win him over he took the wine and drank it.

"Forgive me, father," said the robber, "I'm afraid I have abused you."

"I trust in God," he replied, "that by means of this one cup of wine he will have mercy on you both now and in the world to come. "

"And I trust in God," said the robber, "that from now on I will not molest anybody."

So the old man won over the whole band of robbers.

 

152. There were two brothers, the elder of whom said to the younger. "I would like us to live together."

"You could not live with me," said the younger, "I'm such a sinner."

"We could do it," he said.

Now the older man was very pure and rejected any idea that a monk could entertain any depraved thoughts.

"Let me think about this for a week," said the younger, "and then we can talk again."

At the end of the week the elder came back to him and the younger, wanting to test him, said,

"I have succumbed to a great temptation during this week, abba. I had occasion to go into the village, and while there I sinned."

"Do you want to do penance for it?" he asked.

"I do," he said.

"I will carry with you a share in the punishment for your sin," the elder said.

"If that is the case, we would be able to remain together," he said. And they remained together until the time that one of them died.

 

153. An old man said,

"Any act which a man holds in abhorrence he is not likely to do to anyone else. Would you hate it if someone robbed you? Don't rob anyone else. Would you hate it if someone slandered you, or despised you? Don't you do likewise in any of these things to anyone else. Keeping this rule suffices to keep you in the way of salvation.

 

154.  After abba Poemen and abba Nuph came into the desert, their mother longed to see them and often came to their cell, but they would not allow her to see them. She took advantage of the time when they would be going to church and went to meet them, but when they saw her coming they went back and shut the door of their cell, leaving her outside calling to them with many tears.

"Whatever shall we do about this mother of ours," abba Nuph said to abba Poemen, "crying away outside the door?"

Abba Poemen went to the door without opening it, listening to how loudly she was crying.

"For an old woman you are making a lot of noise. Why are you crying so much?"

She recognised the voice of her son and cried out all the more.

"Because I long to see you, my son." she said. Why won't you see me? Did I not give you birth? Did I not feed you at my breasts? I am tired of the way you keep on putting me off, and now that I have heard your voice my whole being is churned up with longing."

"Would you rather see us now, or in the world to come?" said Poemen.

"What makes you think that if I don't see you now, I will be sure to in the world to come?"

"If only you could contain your desire to see us now, without doubt you will see us there for ever. "

She went away quite happy, saying, "As long as I shall assuredly see you there I do not need to see you now."

 

155.  John the Less of Thebaeus, the disciple of abba Ammon, looked after the old man in his illness for twelve years, and although the old man could see that it was hard work for him he never gave him a kind word of praise. But on his deathbed, with the other old men sitting round, he took John 's hand and said three times, "You will be saved, you will be saved, you will be saved."

And he commended him to the old men, saying,

"This is not a human being, he is an Angel, for he has looked after me for such a long time in my illness without ever hearing a word of praise from me."

 

156.  Once when Abba Agathon went into the town to sell his goods he found a pilgrim lying sick in an alleyway with no one to care for him. The old man stayed with him, renting a room where he could work with his hands and minister to the sick man. He stayed four months till the sick man was well again before returning to his own cell.

 

157. A certain great old man said to his sick disciple, "Don't be depressed, my son, because of bodily sores or illness, for it is especially devout to be able to give thanks to God even in illness. If you are made of iron, the fire will burn off your rust. If you are made of gold, you will progress from great things to greater. Therefore, don't be anxious, brother. What may become of you if you bear it ill? Endure it therefore and ask God to give you whatever it is that he wills."

 

158. There was an old man who was frequently ill and weak in body, but for the whole of one year he had no illness at all.

He took this badly and wept freely.

"You have abandoned me, Lord," he said, "you have not visited me for this present year."

 

159. When some brothers were standing around the bed of an old man dying in Scete, bidding him farewell and weeping, he opened his eyes and laughed. A second time he opened his eyes and laughed, and a third time he did the same thing.

"Tell us, abba," they said, "why are you laughing when we are weeping?"

"The first time, I laughed because you are all frightened of death. The second time because you are not prepared for it. The third time because I am passing from labour to rest."

 

160. Abba Pammon on his deathbed said to the other holy men standing round,

"From the time that I first came to this desert place, my brothers, and built my little cell," he said, "I do not recollect that I have ever eaten bread that I did not earn with my own hands, nor had to repent of any word that came out of my mouth, and yet now that I go to God it is as if I have not begun to serve him at all."

 

161. When abba Agathon was dying he lay for three days with his eyes open and without moving. The brothers touched him and said, "Where are you now, abba?"

"I am in sight of the judgment of God," he replied.

""Are you not afraid?" they asked.

"In this life I have always studied how to keep the commandments of God as far as it lay in my power. But it is only as a human being that I think what I have done is pleasing to God.

"You don't trust that what you have done has been according to God's will?"

"In the presence of God I have no such trust," he said. "Human judgment is one thing, the judgment of God is another."

162. When the time of his departing came upon abba Sisois, many of the old men gathered round him and saw his face shining with a sort of radiance.

"Abba Antony is coming to us," he said.

And a little later, "Look, the company of the prophets."

And his face shone with an even brighter light as he said, "The blessed apostles are here."

He seemed to be talking to someone and the brothers asked him whom he was talking to.

"The Angels have come to take my soul," he said, "and I have been begging them to wait a little to give me more time for doing penance."

"You have no need to do penance any more, abba," said the fathers.

"I tell you truly," he said, "I think I have not yet even begun to do penance."

They understood from this saying that he had arrived at perfection. Then, his face shining with the splendour of the sun, he cried, "See, see, the Lord is coming!"

And with this word he gave up his spirit and the whole place was filled with a sweet scent.

 

163. When the time came for the blessed Arsenius to depart from this world, he said to his disciples, "Let no offerings be made for me except one single service. It would look as if I had caused them to be performed."

His disciples were worried that his time was approaching.

""My hour has not yet come," he said to them. "When it does, I will tell you. But you will stand with me in the divine judgment before the tribunal of Christ, if you give to anyone else any part of my miserable body as if it were a relic."

"How shall we go on then, father," they asked, "for we do not know how a body should be buried."

"Wouldn't you know how to tie a rope about my feet and drag me up into the mountain?"

His eyelashes had all fallen out because of his constant weeping. All his life through, when sitting at his work he kept a basin in his lap to catch his tears.

When he was dying, he began to weep.

"Why are you weeping, father?" they asked him. "Surely you are not afraid?"

"Indeed I am afraid," he replied, "and this fear has been with me ever since I became a monk."

When abba Poemen saw that he was on the point of going, he said,

"Blessed are you, abba Arsenius, for having wept so much in this life. Anyone who does not weep in this life will weep for ever in the next. Human beings must needs weep, either in this life of their own free will, or in the next because of the torments."

 

164. The blessed bishop Athanasius once asked abba Pammon to come down to Alexandria. And when he saw some secular people as he was going down with his brothers, he said, "Come and greet the monks and get their blessing. For they are ever speaking with God, and their voice is holy."

And when he saw a woman of the theatre he wept, and the bystanders asked him why.

"Two things make me weep. First, that this woman is a lost soul. Second, that I have never put as much effort into pleasing God as this woman has into pleasing sinful men."

 

165. It was said that for one old man his thoughts were always saying to him, "Don't bother today, repent tomorrow," to which he always replied, "Not so, today we must repent, and let the will of God be done in us tomorrow."

 

166. One of the fathers related how a certain bishop had heard that two men of his flock were disgraceful adulterers, and he asked God to show him if this were true. So after the consecration of the offering, when they both came up for Communion, he looked carefully at the faces of each one. The faces of sinners always appeared to him as black as charcoal, with bloodshot eyes, others always appeared with clear faces dressed in white garments. And after receiving the body of the Lord, the features of some seemed to be lit up, the others in flames.

In order to find out which of them had committed the crime he gave them Communion, and saw that the face of one of them was fair and honest, the other's black and ugly. And as the grace of the divine mysteries began to take effect he saw a beam of light illumine the face of one, while flames burnt all over the other. The bishop prayed that he might know the meaning of what he had been shown about each one. And an Angel of the Lord came and stood beside him.

"Everything that you have heard about them is true," he said. "But one of them persists in his disgrace and is determined to go on sinning. That is why you saw his face was black and all in flames. The other has also done exactly as you have heard, but you saw his face illumined with a clear light because it is recorded that he has renounced those evil deeds which he formerly committed. With tears and groans he has begged pardon from God, promising that if his sins might be forgiven he would not commit them again. So his former sins have been wiped out and he has come into that state of grace which you have seen."

"I marvel," said the bishop, "that the grace of God has not only rescued this man from the torments due to such a disgraceful life but that it has rewarded him with such honour."

"You do well to marvel," said the Angel, "for you are only human, but your God and ours is naturally good, and kind to those who cease from their sins. Those who come to him in confession, he not only forgives, but crowns with honour. For God so loved mankind that he gave his only begotten son for sinners, and for sinners he gave him up to death (John 3.16). While we were yet sinners he chose to die for us (Romans 5.8), so how much more must he love us when we have become his own! Know therefore, that there is no human sin which can extinguish the love of God, if only each one can wipe out his past evils by penitence. For the Lord is merciful, and knows how strong the passions are, and how strong and malicious is the devil. He cares for his children when they fall into sin, and offers them amendment of life, he has compassion on those who are slow to repent, but when he has loosed them from their sins he bestows upon them the rewards of the righteous."

Hearing this the bishop marvelled and glorified God.

 

167. Abba Paul the Simple had this gift that as he looked at the faces of those going in to the church he could tell whether their thoughts were good or bad. As they came to church the old man saw them going in with bright faces and cheerful minds and their Angels joyfully going in with them. But he saw that one person was very black, the shape of his body shrouded in mist, with demons dragging him this way and that by a rope through his nose, and his holy Angel standing sadly a long way off. As he sat in front of the church the blessed Paul began to weep bitterly and beat his breast at such a sight. All the other old men who saw him weeping begged him to tell them if he had seen anything amiss in them, and to come with them into the church. He would not go in, however, but continued to weep for the man he had seen.

A little later, when the congregation had been dismissed he again looked at people's faces to see whether they were the same as they had been when they went in. And the man whom he had formerly seen as black and shrouded in mist he now saw with a bright face and gleaming body, the demons a long way off from him and his Angel right beside him, happy and greatly rejoicing. Paul then rose up and joyfully blessed the Lord.

"How great is the mercy and kindness of God!" he said. "How great is his compassion!"

And going up to higher ground he shouted out, "Come and see the works of the Lord (Psalms 46.9), come and see how he wills all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Timothy 2.4), come let us adore him saying, "You alone can forgive our sins."

When all had gathered near him Paul described to them what the man was like that he had seen before church and what he was like afterwards. And he asked the brother whom he had seen to declare what his thoughts and deeds had been, and how God had granted him such a great change of heart.

"I am a sinful man," he began to say, "and have often committed fornication. But as I came into the church today I heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, or rather the voice of God speaking through him, 'Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, cast out from your hearts the evil in the sight of my eyes. Learn to do good, seek judgment. And though your sins be as scarlet yet shall they be washed white as snow. And if you will be willing and obedient you shall partake of the good things of the land' (Isaiah 1.16-19). And I, a miserable fornicator, was conscience-stricken by this word of the Prophet, and I looked into my heart and said to God, 'Lord, you are he who came to save sinners. So what you have today promised through the Prophet, fulfil in me an unworthy sinner. Look, I make a promise to you, and confess from the bottom of my heart, that I will no longer do evil, but renounce all my wickednesses, and serve you from now on with a clear conscience. Now, O Lord, from this moment accept my penitence, as I adore you and renounce all my sins. I have sworn in my heart that I will keep all your commandments' (Psalms 119.145). With this vow I came out of church determined never to go back to my former sins."

Then all the old men shouted with a loud voice, "How great are your works, O Lord! You have done all things in wisdom" (Psalms104.24).

 

168. When abba Joseph and some other old men came to a meeting with abba Poemen, the parent of abba Poemen brought along a child with a deformed face and sat with him outside the monastery, weeping. One of the old men heard the sound of weeping and went outside to ask why.

"I am abba Poemen's parent," said the man, "and I have come here so that he could see this child, afflicted by such a sore trial. I have hesitated about bringing him here up till now, because I thought he might not want to see me, and if he knew that I were here now, he might well try to drive me away. But seeing that all you fathers are here, I decided to come. Please, abba, have pity on me and take this child inside with you, so that Poemen may pray for him."

The old man took him inside and devised a clever plan. He did not take the child straight to Poemen, but went first to the younger brothers, asking them to sign the child with the cross and pray for him, and after that to the seniors with the same request. Last of all he took the child to abba Poemen, who at first did not want to have anything to do with it. But when he was asked to do as everyone else had done and pray for the child, he gave in, and groaned and prayed.

"O God, make your servant whole, and free him from the domination of the devil." He signed the child with the cross, and he was immediately returned to his father, cured.

 

169.  Someone asked one of the fathers, "Is it a good thing to live in need?" And he replied, "Penury is a great thing. For although he who embraces it willingly may well suffer in the flesh, he will nevertheless find peace in his soul."

 

170. A brother asked an old man whether he should seek for repayment if a brother owed him some money. The old man said, "You could gently remind him, but only once."

"What should I do if I ask him once and he gives me nothing?" he asked

"Don't ask him again," the old man said.

"But what shall I do if I can't stop thinking about it unless I bother him again?"

"Just let your thoughts rattle on, only don't upset your brother. Remember you are a monk."

 

171. A brother asked an old man how the soul could acquire humility, and he replied, "By thinking only of your own sins and not other people's."

He also said, "Humility is the mark of a perfected person. The more a person humbles himself, the greater his honour. Pride exalted to the heavens is cast down to hell, but to descend into the depths is to be exalted to the heavens."

 

172. When Macarius was walking in the desert he came upon a man's head lying on the ground. He touched it with his staff and a voice seemed to come from it.

 

"Who are you?" the old man asked.
"I used to be the leader of the pagan priests in this place," he said. "You are abba Macarius, full of the divine spirit. Whenever you have pity on those in torment and pray for them, they gain a little comfort."
"What sort of comfort do you get? And what is your punishment?"
"As far as the heavens are from the earth," he said with a deep groan, "so deep is the fire in the middle of which we are immersed from head to foot, nor can we see each other's faces, for they are turned back to front. But when you pray for us we are enabled to see each other's faces, and that gives us comfort."
"Woe to the day in which human beings transgress the commandments of God!" cried Macarius, pouring forth tears as he heard these words. "Can there be any greater punishment than this?"
"There are others much lower down than us."
"Who would those be?"
"We who did know God are granted a little relief. Those who knew him and denied him are tormented with much more severe and unspeakable punishments lower down."
Having heard this, Macarius buried the head deeper in the earth and went on his way.


173. A brother asked an old man why monks were more severely attacked by the devil.
"Because we throw our weapons at him," he replied, "patience, humility, gentleness and obedience."


174. A brother asked a question of abba Sisois.
"Do you think, father, that the devil persecutes us more than he did the ancients?"
"Much more," he said, "for he knows that the time of his punishment is approaching and he is worried. And he does not bother to seek out the weaker brethren, for he knows how to get them whenever he wants. It is the strong and great that he attacks."


175. Some brothers asked abba Silvanus how he had acquired such great prudence.
"I have never allowed evil thoughts, which provoke God to such anger, to dwell in my heart," he replied.


176.  Blessed Antony used to say that a monk ought to tell the seniors how far he travels, or how many cups of water he drinks in his cell and not deviate from this.


177.  Abba Poemen said that the enemy delights in nothing so much as the person who is unwilling to be open about his thoughts.


178. A certain brother said to an old man,
"Look, father, I often ask the senior fathers to give me some instruction for the good of my soul, but I can never remember what they have said."
Now the old man had two empty vessels
"Take one of these vessels," he said, " put water in it, wash it, pour out the water and put the vessel back in its place when cleaned."
The brother did this not once, but twice.
"Now bring me both vessels together," said the old man. And he did so. "Now which of these is the cleaner?"
"The one I washed with water," he said.
"So it is with the soul, my son. He who frequently hears the word of God, even though he can't remember the things he was asking about, is always cleaner than someone who never asks."


179. One of the old men said that when a monk is striving to do good things the devil comes, and finding no foothold in him departs. If however he is doing evil the Holy Spirit often comes and seeing his evil ways doesn't enter into him but departs. But if from his whole heart he seeks the Spirit once more he will speedily return.


180. One of the old men said, "A monk ought to work hard at possessing Christ, but once he has possessed him he labours no more. But the Lord does allow his chosen ones to labour at keeping the trials of those labours in mind. They take care that they don't forget these labours. Even so God led the children of Israel through the desert for forty years, so that remembering their tribulations they would not want to go back there again."


181. A certain brother had a question for an old man.
"Tell me, father, how is it that we who labour today in the monastic way of life are not given the grace that was given to the fathers of old?"
"In those days their charity was so great," he replied, "that each one drew his neighbour upwards. Today our charity has grown cold, and the whole world is in the power of the devil, and each person drags his neighbour downwards. That is why we are not given so much grace."


182.  A certain brother said to an old man, "Do you think, abba, that holy men are always aware when they have been filled with grace?"
"They aren't, always," he said. "There was a disciple of one great old man who transgressed in some way or other, and the old man got angry and shouted at him 'Go away and die'. And immediately he did fall down dead. When the old man saw that he was dead he was filled with a great fear, and in great humility prayed to God, saying, 'Lord Jesus Christ, bring him back to life again, and I won't ever speak to him again like that so sharply.' As he was speaking the disciple revived."


183. Abba Poemen said, "A man who teaches others and who does not practice what he preaches, is like a deep well which provides water for washing and the quenching of thirst, but which has mud and filth at the bottom of it."
He also said, "Teach your soul to observe what your tongue teaches to others."


184. A certain anchorite came to visit abba Poemen who greeted him with joy. And when they had embraced each other the anchorite began to speak about the holy Scriptures, and the things of heaven. The old man turned his face in the direction of another brother and replied to the anchorite not a word. The anchorite realised that he was not going to say anything, and sadly went outside.
"What a waste of time to have made this long journey," he said to Poemen's disciple, "only to meet with someone who would not even bother to speak with me!"
The disciple went back into abba Poemen.
"This abba came to see you," he said, "a great man with a high reputation in his own country, and you wouldn't speak with him?"
"That man is a very exalted being," said the old man, "and is able to speak about heavenly things. I am much lower down the scale, and am barely able to speak about earthly things. If he had spoken to me about the passions which monks suffer, perhaps I might have been able to say something, but when he talked about heavenly things, I have to confess that I am very ignorant."
The disciple went out and spoke to the anchorite.
"Our old man would not talk about things which are too high for him," he said, "but if you were to speak to him about the passions he would answer."
Conscience-stricken at these words, he went back in to the old man.
"What should I do, abba," he asked, "about the passions which dominate my heart?"
The old man now looked on the anchorite more favourably.
"Now you are being sensible, father," he said. "Now I will open my mouth and fill it with good things for you."
And from Poemen's instruction the anchorite was greatly helped.
"Truly, this is a great and true road on which you are travelling," he said, and giving thanks he went back to his own place.


185. One of the old men said, "If anyone speaks about Scripture, or anything at all, agree with him if he speaks accurately, but if not, just say, "I'm sure you know what you are talking about." In this way you will act in humility and avoid hostility. If you argue and persist in defending your own opinions you will start a quarrel. Whatever the circumstances if you have not steered clear of contention you will in no way be able to find peace."


186. A brother asked an old man how long he had been observing silence.
"Right up until the time you have asked me about it," he replied. "Wherever you are, if you keep silent you will be at peace."


187. One of the old men used to say, "Just as the bee gathers honey wherever it goes, so should a monk build up a beautiful series of good deeds as long he is concerned to do God's work wherever he goes."


188. Abba Muthues came with his disciple from the place called Ragitham in the Gebalon district. When the bishop of that place knew, he took him and ordained him presbyter against his will.
"Forgive me abba," said the bishop, "I know you did not want this to happen, but I presumed to do it because I longed to receive your blessing."
"My thoughts were a little against it," said he in great humility. "What exercises me is that it makes a division between me and the brother who is with me. I shan't be able to do all the prayers by myself."
"If you think he is worthy I will ordain him as well," said the bishop.
"I don't know whether he is worthy," said abba Muthues. "What I do know is that he is better than I am."
The bishop ordained the disciple as well, and they remained with each other to the end, but neither of them ever presided at the offering [of the Eucharist].
"I put my trust in God," said Muthues, "though I am not sure about this ordination, which is why I have not presumed to make the offering. Ordination is for those who are blameless, just, and spotless. I know myself too well."


189.  A brother asked Abba Macarius for a word whereby he might walk safely and the old man said, "Flee from human beings, sit in your cell and weep for your sins. Most important virtue of all - put constraints on both your tongue and your stomach."
190. While abba Arsenius was still living as a secular in the Emperor's palace he prayed to the Lord,
"Lord, show me the path of salvation." and he heard a voice,
"Arsenius, flee from humankind and you will be saved."
After he went into solitude he made the same prayer and again heard a voice saying,
"Fuge, tace, et quiesce (Flee, be silent, be at peace). These three things are the beginning of salvation."

 


191. Archbishop Theophilus came to visit Arsenius in order to profit from what he might say, and Arsenius said to all who were there,
"If I make a suggestion, will you carry it out?"
They freely promised, and he went on to say,
"Wherever place you hear that Arsenius might be in, stay well away from it."
On another occasion the Archbishop wanted to see him but sent first to find out whether he would open the door to him. Arsenius sent back a message, "If you come alone I will see you, but if you come with a lot of other people, Arsenius is not going to stay here any longer." When he heard this, the Archbishop broke off his journey lest he should be the cause of this hermit leaving the district.


192. Some brothers wanting to go to the Thebaid in order to buy linen thought that this would give them a chance to see the blessed Arsenius. When Arsenius was told by his disciple Daniel that they had arrived, he told him to ask them why they had come. When they replied that they had come to buy linen, Arsenius replied,
"Well I won't see them then. They came here because of their work, not for my sake. Go and give them some hospitality, make my apologies and send them on their way, telling them that the old man can't come out to see them."

 

193.  When one of the brothers came to visit the blessed Arsenius and knocked on his door, Abba Arsenius opened up thinking it was his disciple. When he saw it was someone else he threw himself face downwards on the ground. The brother begged him to get up, but Arsenius said, "I'll not get up till you go away." The brother begged him for several hours, but he would not get up till he was gone.


194. Abba Besarion when travelling through the desert with his disciple came to a cave and went in, where they found a brother sitting in the process of weaving a rope. He neither looked at them nor greeted them, but said nothing.
"Let us go," abba Besarion said to his disciple," this brother evidently does not want to speak to us." And they went on to abba John.
On the way back they arrived at the same cave.
"Let us go in to this brother again," said abba Besarion to his disciple. "Perhaps God will persuade him to speak to us."
Buy when they went they found that the brother had died.
"Come, brother," said Besarion with a sigh, "let us lay him out for burial. The Lord has brought us here for that very purpose."
As they were carrying out the funeral rites they found that it was a woman, and they marvelled.
"Women as well can strive and conquer the devil!"
And they went on their way praising and glorifying God, the protector of all.


195. Two youths came once to abba Macarius. One of them had been fairly well instructed, the other was a beginner. They fell at his feet and asked if they could stay with him. Looking at their rather delicate bodies he wondered whether they would be able to survive in the desert.
"No, brothers, you can't stay here," he said.
"If we can't stay with you, father, what should we do?"
"If I send them away," Macarius said to himself, "they will come to some harm. So I will say to them, 'Come then and build yourselves a cell, if you can.'
They asked him where they should build it, so he took them and showed them the rock from which they could carve out a cell and brought rushes from the swamp for a covering. Macarius thought that faced with all this work they would quickly depart.
But they next asked him what work they should do. So he gave them some leaves and showed them how to weave ropes, which they were to sell in order to buy food, and so left them to it.
And with the greatest patience, whatever they were asked to do, they did it. The old man could see that they were developing daily, and were often to be seen in silent prayer in the church, and he wanted to know more about how they went about their work. He fasted for seven days and prayed to the Lord that he would reveal to him their inner motivations. Then he went and knocked on the door of their cell. They welcomed him in with great reverence and said the customary prayer. The elder then nodded to the younger who went out, while the elder sat weaving ropes without saying anything.
At the ninth hour the younger brother knocked at the door and came in with some food for their meal. At a nod from the elder he laid a little table with three small loaves and silently stood. When they had eaten they asked Macarius whether he wished to stay longer or not.  He said he wished to stay. They laid out a mat for him in one corner opposite their work, and stretched out as if for sleep in the other corner. Macarius again asked the Lord to show him more of what they did, and as if the roof had been pierced a brilliant light filled the cell as if it were broad daylight, although the two brothers did not seem to be aware of it. When they thought that Macarius was asleep they arose and gave themselves to prayer, lifting up their hands to the heavens, which Macarius was able to see, though they could not see him. As he watched intently he saw crowds of demons like flies trying to rest on the mouth and eyes of the younger man but the Angel of the Lord with a fiery sword surrounded them and defended them and drove the demons back outside, so that they were not able to get anywhere near the elder of the two. When it was nearly dawn they lay down again.
Then Macarius got up as if he had just awoken, and the two brothers rose too as if from a deep sleep.
"Do you want us to say the twelve psalms, father?" the elder brother asked.
As they were singing the psalms, a fiery dart went up to heaven from the mouth of the younger every other verse, and when the elder was singing it was as if a column of fire was likewise ascending out of his mouth to the heavens. When the office was finished Macarius begged them to pray for him, but they said nothing except to fall at his feet and commend themselves to his prayers.
So Macarius discovered that the elder was perfected in the fear of God, although the younger was still being attacked by demons. A few days later the elder rested in peace, followed in three days time by the younger.


196. Abba Moyses instructed his brothers that there were four main things that a monk ought to observe: silence, keeping the commandments of God, humbling of self and strict poverty. A monk ought always to mourn, ever mindful of his sins, and keep the hour of his death always before his eyes.


197. The holy fathers, especially one called Squirion, were gathered together and were prophesying about the final generation [of people on earth].
"We indeed have kept the commandments of God up till now," said Squirion.
"What about those who come after us?" some of the fathers asked.
"They will seek God and keep the commandments of God but only half as fervently,"
"And those who come after them, what will they do?"
"The people of that generation will not keep the commandments of God and will forget the precepts of God. Iniquity will then flourish, and the charity of many will grow cold (Matthew 24.12). A time of testing will come upon them and those who endure that testing will be better, and more blessed, and more commendable than us and all our fathers."


198. A brother asked abba Agathon a question.
"Father I would like to go into a community of brothers. Tell me how I should conduct my life among them."
"Observe this above all," he said. "From the day you enter among them until your very last day, act always with humility."


199. When the Mazices invaded Scete and killed many of the fathers, abba Poemen and another senior abba called Nub, together with five others fled to Therenuthum, where they came upon a deserted temple. They stayed there for seven days until they could decide whereabouts in Egypt each one of them would settle.
"Let each one of us," said abba Nub, "keep to himself for seven days, without speaking to each other."
Now there were some statues of idols in the temple, and every morning Nub would batter one of them, and in the evening would go up to it and say "Forgive me. I have sinned". And he did this for the whole seven days.
"Why," said abba Poemen to him on the Saturday when they met together, "did you, a man of the faith, ask pardon from a statue for the whole seven days?"
"I did this for your sakes," he said. "Tell me, when I was striking this idol, did it say anything? Was it angry? Or again when I asked its pardon did it get conceited? Did it think itself better than it should be?"
"No, it didn't," said abba Poemen.
"Look, brothers," said the old man, "there are seven of us. If you decide that we should stay together, we should follow the example of this idol. Let us not be angry if we have a grievance, and if anyone asks our pardon, let us not be conceited or boastful. But if we are not capable of this let each of us go our separate ways."
And they prostrated themselves, saying that they would keep to this plan, and so they remained together for many years in humility and patience. During the night they slept four hours, psalmodised for four hours and worked with their hands for four hours. During the day they worked till the sixth hour, read till the ninth hour, and after that prepared their food, collecting herbs from the earth.


200.  There were seven men of great integrity who lived in the desert near the Saracens. Their cells were some way apart but they were united in bands of love. One was called Peter, another Stephen, a third John, a fourth George, a fifth Theophilus, a sixth Felix, the seventh Laurus. Their desert was bare and vast, scarcely capable of sustaining human life. They met together once a week, for on Saturday at about the ninth hour they came each one from his own place to an agreed location, bringing with them whatever [food] they could. One brought nuts, another lactorones, another dactyls, another figs, another herbs such as lapsanum, pastinicas, caricas and petrofelinum. This was their principal diet; they had no bread or oil or wine. They ate only the herbs and fruits mentioned above; palm trees provided them with clothing. Water in this place was in short supply. In fact their only drink was the dew which fell abundantly. Each morning they would go out and gather it from the various plants and drink it only at that time.When they met together (as we have said) they gave thanks to God and took food. After the meal they sat till Vespers meditating on the holy Scriptures. There were no worldly tales exchanged, no worldly cares, no talk of what was going on in the world around them, but only spiritual conferences concerned with the longed for kingdom of heaven, future bliss, the glory of the righteous, the punishment of sinners and the peace of the saints. As they talked they sighed from the bottom of their hearts and wept copiously. They kept vigil the whole night through, proclaiming the praises of God, until at about the ninth hour on Sunday they brought their conference to an end. Each one then returned to his own cell where, alone with God alone, they served him day and night.

The Saracens found them engrossed in such occupations when they were racing everywhere through the desert. They rushed in on them and dragged them out of their hermitages, tied them up and hung them up by their feet. Tortured to the very limit with many beatings, they at last had a fire of bitter herbs lit under them, the acrid smoke from which destroyed their eyesight. They were at last released after many torments and driven off half dead. We knew one of them who lived for quite a long time afterwards in a certain place. But we hardly know anything about where the others went.

 

201. A brother had a question for abba Poemen.

"What does it mean when the Lord in the Gospel says. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends' (John 15.13). How do you do that?"

"If you are insulted by your neighbour," said the old man, "and are tempted to reply in kind, but take the force of it in your heart while working hard at forcing yourself not to return the insult and upset him, that is when you are laying down your life for your friend."

 

202. An old man said, "If what you do is not in

agreement with how you pray, you labour in vain in your prayers. It is only when you renounce your desire to sin and walk in the fear of God, that God will then accept you with joy."

 

203. A brother asked an old man what he should do in all the temptations which came upon him and in all the thoughts which came from the enemy. He replied, "You should always weep in the presence of the goodness of God. Run to him and he will help you. It is written, 'The Lord is my helper, therefore I pour contempt upon my enemies'" (Psalms 118.7)

204. A certain old man said, "A fly will not go near a pot when it is on the fire, but once it has cooled the fly will alight on it and produce maggots. Likewise the demons flee from the monk on fire with the love of God, but if he cools down they buzz into him and lead him astray."

205. Once when abba Silvanus was sitting in his cell he fell flat on his face in a trance. And after a few hours he got up and wept violently.

"What is the matter, father?" asked his disciple standing nearby.

He said nothing but continued to weep. His disciple urged him to tell him why he was weeping.

"I was caught up to the seat of judgment," he said at last, " and I saw many in our monastic habit condemned to punishment, but many of the laity going into heaven."

And as he said this he wept even more.

 

206. A certain old man said to a brother, "Think every day that your death is not far away. Don't worry about anything in this world, as if you are already enclosed in the tomb. Let the fear of God be clearly before you at every moment. Consider yourself to be of less importance than anyone else. Don't slander anyone, for God knows all things. Be at peace with everybody and God will always give you peace."

 

207. Some of the brothers asked the blessed Macarius how they should pray.

"You don't need a lot of words," he said. "We should just lift up our hands to heaven and say, 'Lord, as you will, and how you will, let your will be done.' And if beset by temptation or battle, just say 'Lord help us'. He knows what is best for us."

 

208.  Abba John used to say, "A monk ought to be like someone sitting under a tree who sees various wild beasts and serpents coming towards him, and because he is not able to resist them he climbs up into the tree and escapes. So should the monk sit in his cell, and when he sees unhealthy thoughts coming at him which he is not able to fight against let him flee to the Lord by prayer and he will be safe."

 

209.  He also used to say, "A monk ought to be like someone who has a fire on his right hand side and water on his left. When the fire burns up too fiercely he takes water and puts it out. So this is what a monk should always do, when unhealthy thoughts are kindled by the enemy pour the water of prayer over them and put them out."

 

210. When abba Zenon was in Scete he went out of his cell one night to go for a walk in the desert, and he walked quite a distance and wandered for three days and nights before he fell exhausted and nearly dead. And suddenly he saw in front of him a child with bread in his hand.

"Rise and eat, said the child.

Fearing that this was a phantom, he got up and began to pray.

"You do well to pray," said the child. "But now, come and eat."

Abba Zenon would not accept his invitation but prayed a second time and then a third. The child praised him again for praying, and finally he accepted and ate.

"You have wandered a long way," the child said next, "but come, follow me." And immediately he found himself outside his cell.

"Come in to the cell with me and pray," he said to the child. But as he went in himself, the child disappeared.

 

211. Abba Daniel affirmed that the blessed Arsenius at vespers on Saturday used to turn his back on the setting sun, and lifting up his hands to heaven persevered in prayer till the rising sun came into view.

He would keep vigil on other nights, but near dawn, when the weakness of his human nature demanded that he sleep a little, he would say, "Come on then, you unprofitable servant," and shutting his eyes would take a little sleep sitting down before getting up again.

When sitting down to work he always had a little basin on his lap to catch the tears which continually flowed from his eyes because of the longing he had for the life eternal.

 

212. Abba Lucius asked some brothers who came to him about the way they worked with their hands.

"We don't work with our hands," they said, "but do as the Apostle says: 'Pray without ceasing' (1 Thessalonians 5.17).

"Don't you eat?" said the old man

"Well, yes, we eat," they said.

"Who prays for you while you are eating?" And they could find nothing to say in reply.

"Don't you sleep?" he asked.

"Yes, we sleep," they said.

"Who prays for you when you are asleep?" And they could not find anything to say.

"I'm sorry," said the old man, "but you are not practising what you preach. Now let me tell you how I pray without ceasing while working with my hands. In the morning I sit for a fixed time soaking a few palm leaves and weaving ropes from them, and pray continually saying, 'Have mercy on me O God after your great goodness, and according to the multitude of your mercies blot out my sins' (Psalms 51.1). And when I have worked long enough to have completed baskets or ropes to the value of ten coins, I sell them, keep eight coins for myself and give two coins to the poor. They satisfy my obligation of perpetual prayer when I am eating or sleeping."

 

213. Once when abba Macarius was carrying out of Scete the baskets he had made, his journeying made him very tired and he sat down

"God, you know I can't walk any further," he said. And immediately he found himself by the river bank which before had been a long way away.

 

214. Abba Ammon came to a certain oasis for a drink and came face to face with a basilisk. He fell on his face and prayed to the Lord, "Lord unless this monster dies I shall die." By the power of God the basilisk immediately shrivelled up.

 

215. Dulas, abba Besarion's disciple was walking with him once along the seashore, and he began to feel thirsty.

"I am perished with thirst, father," he said.

The blessed Besarion prayed, then told him to take some water from the sea and drink it. Which he did, and found it beautifully sweet, and so he filled up a little flask that he had with him.

"Why are you filing that flask with water, my son," asked the old man when he realised what he was doing.

"Let me do so, father," he said. "I am frightened that I might be thirsty again later on."

"May the Lord forgive you, my son," he said. "God is everywhere, and can always provide sweet water."

 

216. There was a brother who wanted to go into the desert but his mother would not let him.

"Please let me, mother, "he would say. "I want to save my soul."

At last his mother realised that she would not be able to hold him back and let him go. So he went into the desert, but through negligence began to waste his whole life.

Now it so happened that his mother died. And a little later he became ill and fell into a trance and saw his mother among those being judged.

"What's this, my son?" she said. "Have you also been brought here to be judged? And what about those words of yours about wanting to save your soul?"

He blushed at these words, and stood there, not able to reply. And there came a voice calling him back here, as if it should have been someone else from the coenobium instead of him who had been summoned to pass over. When he came to, he related to all those near him what he had heard and learned. To confirm what he said, he asked one of those near him to go to the coenobium to find out whether someone there of the same name as himself had passed over. And he found that it was so.

When he was restored to health he became a recluse, and began to take his salvation seriously, doing penance, and weeping over those things which he had previously done through negligence. So great was his compunction that many people asked him to ease up a little lest he should do himself harm by his incessant weeping, but he refused.

"If I cannot bear in mind the reproaches of my mother," he said, "when the day of judgement comes in the presence of Christ and all his angels, how shall I then bear reproaches and torment?"

217. There was a brother in Egypt noted for his great humility, who had a sister working as a prostitute in the city, leading many souls to perdition. The old men frequently urged the brother to go to her and perhaps persuade her by his admonitions that it was possible for her to give up the sins she was committing.

When he came near to her place someone who knew him ran on before him and announced his arrival.

"Look, your brother is coming to see you from the desert" he called.

When she heard this she joyfully left her clients and ran out to meet him with her head uncovered. And when she saw him she ran to embrace him.

"Dearest sister," he said to her, "Spare a thought for your soul, and for the many you are leading to perdition. Think of the torments prepared for you unless you hasten to repent."

"Do you think, brother," she asked, trembling, "that there is still hope of salvation for me?"

"If you really want it," he said, "salvation is still there for you."

She threw herself at his feet and begged him to take her with him into the desert.

"Put something on your head, then," he said, "and come with me."

"No, let's go at once," she said. "I would rather appear among people improperly dressed than have to go back into that house of shame."

As they walked along he gave her some instruction on how to do penance, until they saw some brothers coming towards them.

"Not everyone knows that you are my sister," he said, "so move away from the road for a while until they have gone past."

After they had gone he called out to her.

"Come sister, let's be on our way."

There was no reply. He went off in search of her and found her dead. Her footprints were all full of blood for she had not been wearing shoes. Weeping and crying he went back to the seniors and told them everything that had happened, and they began to wonder about her salvation. And God revealed to one of the old men that because she had taken no thought for her bodily needs if only her own wounds might be healed, because she had abandoned everything she had, mourned deeply and repented of her sins, therefore God had accepted her repentance.

 

218. At the time when blessed Antony was persuaded by Saint Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, to go into the city to combat heresy, a certain learned man called Didymus visited him who was blind. They talked about many things from the Holy Scriptures and other passages which they had gleaned from holy books. Antony was impressed by his intelligence and quick thinking, and asked him, "Are you not sad that you lack eyes?"

He shamefacedly made no answer, until Antony had asked him three times, whereupon he did admit quite simply to being bitter.

"I'm surprised," Antony said, "that such a wise person could lament the loss of something which ants and flies and midges have, rather than rejoicing in something which he shares with saints and apostles. It is much better to see with the spirit than with ordinary eyes, and better to have eyes into which the dust of sin cannot enter, than those which simply by what they see can lead people through concupiscence into the lowest hell."

 

219. A certain brother in Nitria died and left behind him a hundred solidi which he had got together and hidden wrapped up in some linen. He had been miserly rather than greedy, and forgetful of the thirty pieces of silver which betrayed the Lord Jesus. The monks began to discuss what should be done about the money (there were in that place about five thousand monks living in scattered cells). Some thought it should be given to the poor, some to the church, others to their families. But Macarius, Pambo and Isodore, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said that it should be buried with its owner, saying, 'Your money perish with you' (Acts 8.20). But don't let anyone think that this was a heartless thing to do, for there was as much horror and consternation among the monks if even one solidus only had been misused.

 

220. A certain Greek youth entered a coenobium in Egypt but was unable to extinguish the flames of lust no matter how much he fasted or punished himself. He revealed the extent of his temptations to the superior of the monastery, who embarked on a plan to save him. He instructed a respected and very strict monk to belabour the young man with all sorts of insults and reproaches, and after the first accusation to continue in his complaints. When these commands had been carried out he called others to testify against him, heaping further reproaches upon the young man. All these falsehoods made him weep; day by day he groaned and shed tears, for he was filled with bitterness, until at last deprived of all other help he cast himself at the feet of Jesus. What more needs to be said? At the end of a year when asked about his former thoughts and whether they still bothered him he replied, "Father, I'm not even fit to live, so why should I be free to fornicate?" So by the actions of his spiritual father his lusts were overcome and he was put on the path of salvation.

 

End of Book III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De Vitis Patrum, Book IV

By Severus Sulpitius and John Cassian

 

Excerpts from Dialogue 1 of Severus Sulpitius

and from the Institutes and Conferences of John Cassian



Prologue

 

(Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.1)

 

 Since I returned from overseas, my brothers, you have often begged me to give an account of my journeying: how the faith of Christ flourished in the East, whether the rulers preserved the peace, whether the saints lived undisturbed, what was the state of the monasteries, what sort of way of life the hermits were leading, whether indeed it was lawful for Christians to live in the desert, what were the signs and virtues Christ was working in his servants, whether indeed I had found my journey profitable, and where my journeys had taken me. Supported by your prayers, therefore, I shall do so, seeing that is what you want, and I hope you will be pleased to hear what I have got to say.

Chapter 1 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.2)

The solitary monk living in a small hut in the region of Cyrenia

 

We left here three years ago, taking ship from Narbona, and God smiled so favourably on our journey that we entered port in Africa on the fifth day. I had particularly wanted to go to Carthage in order to visit the shrines of the saints, especially the tomb of the martyr Cyprian.
On the fifteenth day we returned to port and set sail for Alexandria, but the southerly wind failed us and we would have been driven on to the sandbanks of Syrtis if the careful watch of the sailors had not noticed in time for them to lower the anchors and heave the ship to. We came ashore in the ship's boats, the continent lying open before our eyes, empty of any human habitation as far as we could see. But I wanted to explore the place more closely, and moving further inland I caught sight of a small hut about three miles from the shore among the sandhills. The roof of this hut looked like the upturned keel of a ship, constructed of fairly stout planks coming right down to the ground, not for protection against rainstorms, for rain is hardly ever heard of in these parts, but because the force of the wind is such that when any breeze begins to blow, even on the most beautiful day, the danger of shipwreck is greater than in any sea. Nothing germinates there, there is no seedtime. The ground is unstable because the parched sand moves about with every movement of the wind. Only where headlands reaching back from the sea give a little protection from the wind and provide ground a little more solid do rough grasses find some foothold, sufficient to feed a few sheep. The natives live on their milk. The more skilful among them, or I should say, richer, make a sort of rough barley bread. This is their only crop. It grows quickly because the effect of the sun and air is to prevent it being damaged by the force of the wind. It matures within thirty days of being sown. That people should live there makes no sense apart from the fact that they pay no taxes, for this farthest edge of Cyrenia is next to the desert between Egypt and Africa, through which Cato once led his army as he fled from Caesar.
We hastened towards a hut which we had perceived from a distance, where I found an old man dressed in skins, turning a hand mill. He greeted us and welcomed us kindly. We told him that we had disembarked upon these shores perforce, unable to continue our journey till the weather should improve. Human curiosity had brought us inland eager to learn what the place was like and how the inhabitants lived. We were Christians and would especially like to know if there were any Christians in these solitudes, upon which he wept for joy, embraced our knees, and kissed us over and over again before asking us to pray with him. Then he spread out some skins of wild beasts on the ground, bade us sit, and brought out quite a generous meal, half a loaf of barley bread. There were four of us, he made a fifth. He added a small bundle of herbs whose name escapes me but was rather like mint, its leaves giving off a smell rather like honey. We satisfied our hunger and were delighted by this act of gentle kindness. We stayed seven days with him, until on the last day some of the other desert dwellers began to gather there, and we realized that our host was in fact a presbyter, something which he had concealed from us. Then we went to the church, about two miles off, which we had not previously been able to see because of an intervening hill. It was built of rough branches woven together, hardly more ambitious than the hut of our host, in which you would not be able to stand except in a stooping position.
Upon enquiring about the way of life of these people we learned, amazingly, that they neither bought nor sold anything, fraud and theft was unknown among them, they possessed neither gold nor silver nor any desire for it. For when I offered that presbyter ten golden pieces he refused them. When we saw he would not accept them we pressed some of our clothes upon him. These he accepted gratefully, and so we departed from him, the sailors summoning us back to the ship.

 

Chapter 2 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.3)

The heretical opinions of Origen

 

Favourable winds brought us to Alexandria on the seventh day, where an unseemly controversy was raging among the bishop and the monks. The basic reason for this was that the clerics had got together and in various synods had frequently decreed that no one ought to read or possess Origen's books. Origen was a most learned translator of the Holy Scriptures, but the bishops pointed to several really outrageous passages in his books. Origen's supporters did not presume to defend these things but claimed that they had been maliciously inserted by heretics, and that the body of his works should not be condemned simply because some parts of them were rightly to be deplored; the faithful had sufficient discrimination in their reading to avoid following what was false and would not accept anything which was contrary to the Catholic faith.
It was not in the least surprising that in some of the new avant-garde writings there should be some heretical deceit involved, even daring to impugn the truth of the Gospel in some places. The bishops firmly set their faces against such writings and used their power to condemn all the wholesome parts as well as the bad, and their author with them, for there were quite enough books already which were acceptable to the church, whereas those writings were to be thoroughly condemned which might be harmful to the simple even if profitable to the learned. For myself, as I teased out the meanings of his books, I found it rather strange that there were so many things which were quite admirable together with other things which were not acceptable.
There was no doubt that he held to some of the opinions which his advocates claimed had been falsely inserted. I myself was amazed that one and the same person could hold ideas so much at odds with each other. In the wholesome parts there was none since the apostles to equal him, but in the parts which were to be condemned there was no one who had gone more sadly astray. The bishops quoted many things out of his books which they agreed were contrary to the Catholic faith, but the extract which provoked the most anger was the claim that whereas the Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh for the redemption of humanity, suffered on the cross for human salvation and died to gain for humanity eternal life, the same power of the passion could win redemption even for the devil. He maintained that just as Christ had reformed lost humanity, so it would be compatible with his goodness and piety to restore a fallen angel.
When the bishops pointed this out, and other things of similar nature, great controversy arose among those who studied his works. The authority of the priesthood was powerless to stamp it out. The governor of the city was called in, and he used such severe measures in order to impose discipline upon the church, that the brethren were scattered in terror of their lives, and the monks fled abroad, but were unable to find a secure haven anywhere because of the edicts which had been decreed. It weighed very heavily with me that whereas Jerome, a thorough Catholic deeply versed in doctrine, had at first been reckoned among the followers of Origen, he now condemned him and everything he had written. I did not dare presume to judge these matters, seeing that many most learned and outstanding people were on different sides. But whether his writings were simply mistaken, as I take them to be, or heretical, as they were accused of being, it is certain that the condemnations of the priests stood no chance whatever of suppressing them, nor would his fame have spread so far and wide had it not been fed by their very opposition.
Alexandria was agog with all this turmoil when I arrived there, but the bishop of that city received me very kindly, better than I expected, in fact, and even tried to keep me there. But I had no mind to stay long in a place where victimization had so recently caused such havoc among the brethren.

 

Chapter 3 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.4)

The lifestyle of Jerome in Jerusalem

 

I set out therefore on a sixteen-day journey to Bethlehem, which is six miles from Jerusalem. The church there is a parish of the bishop of Jerusalem and is in charge of the presbyter Jerome. On a previous journey I had soon discovered that there could be no one whom it would be more enjoyable to meet. He is a man who deserves praise for his faith and his many gifts of virtue and his skill in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Nobody can be compared to him in all branches of learning. I had already spent six months with him, and his never-ending opposition towards evil people involved him in perpetual strife, which brought down upon him the hatred of the ungodly. To tell you the truth, I could see how in various little treatises he pointed out the vices of so many people, how he seized upon them, exposed their falsity and tore them to shreds. He was especially fierce on avarice no less than vanity; he discussed the many aspects of pride and superstition. And is there anyone who has more truthfully and boldly laid bare the familiarities which have taken place between monks and virgins, and even among clerics? No wonder that some people do not love him, or that he is hated by clerics whose vices and crimes he has brought out into the open.
Anyone who calls him a heretic is mad. Let me make it quite clear, the learning of the man is always Catholic, his doctrines are completely sound. He is always involved in some study, he gives himself to his books with his whole heart, he is forever either reading or writing something. If I had not already decided, and indeed made a promise to God, that I would visit the desert, I would not have wanted for an instant to be separated from this man.
My family, much against my will, had embarrassed me by following me here, but I was able to hand them over, together with everything I had, to his care, and freed in a way from a great burden I was able to return to Alexandria. I renewed acquaintance with the brothers there and set out for the Thebaid, the most distant parts of Egypt. There, the vast open spaces of the desert are said to contain a great number of monks. It would take a very long time to tell you everything that I saw there. I will confine myself to just a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.5)

How the abbot provides for the food of those brothers who with the abbot's permission go to live in solitude

 

Next to the Nile and not far from the desert there are many monasteries, usually of about a hundred monks. The chief point of their rule is that they live in obedience to an abbot. They do nothing of their own will, but depend on his authority. If any of them wish to seek a higher path of virtue, they move on to a solitary life in the desert, but not unless the abbot gives his permission, for obedience to the will of another is for them the primary virtue. Once the abbot has approved of their moving on to the desert, he provides them with bread and any other food they need.

 

Chapter 5 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.5)

A brother in the desert has bread from heaven

 

It so happened that during the time when I was there the abbot had told two boys to take bread to a solitary who had only recently left the monastery to build his cell about six miles away. The older boy was fifteen, the younger twelve. As they were coming back they came upon a very large asp, but they were not in the least bit frightened of it. Before it came near to their feet it stretched out its blue-green neck as if charmed by some incantation. The younger of the boys picked it and put it in a fold of his garment, and came back to the monastery very pleased with himself. He went into the gathering of the monks, shook out the fold of his garment and put the captive beast down, with a visible air of pride. There were some who praised the boy's faith and virtue, but the abbot took a wider view and subjected them both to punishment lest at their tender age they should think too much of themselves. He blamed them for making a public spectacle of what the Lord had done through them, for it was not their own faith that had done it, but the power of God; they must learn rather to serve God in humility than boast about signs and wonders; to know your own weakness is much better than taking pride in your own power.
When the solitary heard that the boys had been put in danger by meeting a serpent, and also that their victory over it had earned them a beating, he begged the abbot not to send bread or any other food any more. After a space of eight days the man of Christ found that he was very hungry. His limbs were wasting because of his fast, though his thoughts were continually fixed on heaven. His body may have been fatigued by lack of nourishment, but his faith never wavered. Meanwhile the abbot was warned by the Spirit to visit his disciple. He had a genuine concern for him, and wanted to ask him what kind of life-giving force was sustaining this faithful man who did not want to be given human bread.
So off he went, and when the solitary saw him coming while still some way off, he ran to meet him, gave thanks, and led him back to the cell. As they were going in together they noticed a basket of palm leaves, full of warm bread, hanging from the doorpost. It smelt and felt as if it had just come out of the oven, but it did not look in the least bit like Egyptian bread. They were both overwhelmed with amazement, recognizing this as a gift straight from heaven. The solitary asserted that it was occasioned by the abbot's arrival, but the abbot ascribed it to the faith and virtue of the solitary. And with great joy they broke the heavenly bread together. When the abbot got back to the monastery he told the brothers all about it, and they began to rival each other in burning desire to hasten themselves to the desert and sacred solitude.
In this monastery I saw two old men who I was told had been there for forty years without going out at all. If I were to say anything else about them, it would simply be to relate what every body by common consent said about their virtues, including the abbot himself, that one of them had never been known to overeat, the other had never been seen to be angry. Now that you have been told the virtue of one of these hermits I must tell you something about many others.

 

Chapter 6 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.7)

A lioness accepts food from an old man as if it were tame.

 

In entering the nearest part of the desert I had as guide one of the brothers who knew the area well. We came to an old monk, living at the foot of a mountain, who had a well, a most rare thing in these parts. He had an ox whose sole task was to turn a wheel which drew the water up. The well was reputed to be a thousand feet deep or more. There was a garden with many vegetables of various different kinds, contrary to what one would expect in a desert where the soil is dry, burned up by the heat of the sun, incapable of sustaining the smallest seed or root. By the ingenuity of this holy man and the labour of both him and his ox, they were able to irrigate the sand regularly, providing sufficient fertility for the vegetables that we could see growing and coming to maturity so wonderfully in that garden. The ox and his master both lived off them, and the holy man was able to provide us with a meal from his plentiful store.
After the meal, as it drew towards evening, he took us to a palm tree about two miles away the fruits of which he often gathered. This is the only sort of tree which grows in the desert, albeit rarely. Whether wise people of old planted them, or whether the soil produces them naturally, I know not, unless God in his providence prepared them for his servants against the time when the desert should be inhabited. For those who settle in these lonely places live off the fruit of these trees for the most part, since nothing else will grow there.
As we approached the tree towards which our host was leading us we suddenly came upon a lion. My guide and I were terrified, but the holy man went up to it quite casually. We followed, though still frightened. At his command the beast stopped and sat down, while he picked some of the fruit within easy reach on the lower branches. When his hands were full the beast came up to him and accepted fruit from him as easily as any domestic animal, and having eaten, departed. As we watched, still trembling, we were not quite sure which was the greater, the virtue of faith in this man, or our own weakness.

 

Chapter 7 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.8)

A she-wolf is fed by an old man, and begs pardon for her sin of theft.

 

We found another remarkable old man living in a small hut with room for only one person. A wolf had the habit of coming to him for food, and it was rare that she failed to turn up for her meal at a regular hour. She used to wait outside for him to give her what bread he had to spare out of his store, then lick his hand before departing as if to show her respect for the kindness offered her. But one day it so happened that a brother had been visiting him and that holy man had walked back with the brother for such a distance that it was nighttime before he returned home. Meanwhile the animal had come to the empty cell at the usual time to be fed, and when she saw no sign of her familiar benefactor, went inside, curious to discover where he was. Now there happened to be a basket of palm leaves hanging up containing five small loaves. She took one and devoured it, then, the crime committed, went away.
When the hermit came back he saw the basket had been disturbed and contained fewer loaves than there should have been. His house had been despoiled, and he noticed fragments of the stolen bread on the threshold. He had a pretty good idea of who had been responsible for the theft. But the next few days the animal did not come at the usual time; no doubt ashamed to come near the person to whom she had done harm, and the hermit missed greatly the pleasure of her company. He prayed earnestly for her return, until at last on the seventh day she appeared outside at the usual time to be fed. But you can always easily tell when someone feels guilty, and the wolf herself did not dare to approach very close, but stood there shamefacedly with her eyes cast down to the ground, as if to make it clear that she was asking pardon for her fault. The hermit took pity on her embarrassment, called her closer and gently stroked her sorrowful head. He restored their relationship by giving her a double ration of bread, and thus by his forgiveness was able to dispel all sadness and reinstate their usual custom.
Just think, I beg you, of the power of Christ in this affair. To him everything brutish is made wise, everything savage becomes gentle. A wolf is aware of her duty, a beast acknowledges the crime of theft, a wolf is thrown into confusion by a sense of shame, she comes when called, she bows her head, and is as much aware of having her sins forgiven as of shame at what she had done. Yours is the power, O Christ, yours are these miracles! Even though it is your servants who do these things they do them in your name; the wonder is yours. And it saddens us that wild beasts can know the power of your majesty while human beings show you no respect. And if all this seems unbelievable I shall show you even greater things. As God is my witness I am not making these things up, but simply telling you what I have seen.

 

Chapter 8 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.9)

An anchorite restores the sight of

five blind lion cubs

 

There are numbers of people called anchorites living in the desert with no roof over their heads. They live on roots, far from the haunts of human beings, and are not confined to any one particular spot. Two monks from Nitria heard of the virtues of one particular person whom they had formerly liked and respected in the life of the monastery, and went on a journey through this extensive region to try and find him, now that he was living in this kind of way. It was a long search, but at last after seven months they found him in a most distant part of the desert not far from Memphis. He was said to have been living in these solitary places for the previous twelve years. Now although he had fled from human intercourse, he did not run away when he recognized the brothers, but welcomed them for the next three days.

On the fourth day he had escorted them a little way on their return journey when they saw an extremely large lioness coming towards them. The beast had no doubts about which one she was looking for, even though there were three of them, for she went straight to the feet of the anchorite. Then she went off a little way, and stopped and looked back, clearly giving them to understand that she wanted the anchorite to follow her. So they did all follow her as she set off. What more can I say? They arrived at the beast's cave, where the unfortunate mother had been caring for five fully grown cubs, whose eyes had naturally been closed on coming forth from their mother's womb but which had never opened. One by one she brought them forth from the cliff and laid them at the anchorite's feet. The holy man realized what she was asking, and calling upon the name of Christ he touched the cubs' eyes. At once their blindness was healed, and with open eyes they enjoyed the light so long denied them.
And so the brothers, having fulfilled their desired visit to the anchorite, were able to return to the monastery bearing a great reward for their trouble, for they were able to tell of the faith of that holy man, and the glory of Christ which they had seen in him.

 

Chapter 9 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.10)

A brother learns from the example of an ibex what plants to eat and what to avoid.

 

There was another anchorite in that region, living in the part of the desert known as Syene. When he first went to the desert he had intended to live on the sweet and tasty plants and their roots, which the desert sometimes brings forth, but he did not know how to choose between these plants, and often picked those which were harmful. It was not easy to discern the effect of any particular root for they all seemed to be equally palatable, though they often contained a hidden poison. After he had eaten them they tortured his insides, all his vital organs shivered in extreme pain, he frequently vomited in great agony, threatening the very basis of his life. His stomach completely exhausted, he was like to die. Terrified of eating anything at all, he didn't dare pick anything to eat.
After fasting for seven days with his strength gradually failing, an animal called an ibex appeared, who came and stood near a heap of plants which the hermit had picked the previous day but had thrown away, not daring to taste them. The wild beast cast aside the poisonous ones with his mouth and chose the ones which were harmless. The holy man learned from this example what to eat and what to avoid, and so escaped the danger of hunger by avoiding the plants which were poisonous.

 

Chapter 10 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.11)

A brother who had been in Mt Sinai for fifty years is annoyed by the arrival of some other brothers.

 

It would be a long task to tell of what I learnt about all the hermits in the desert. I spent a whole year and almost seven months in these solitudes, more often than not with the old man who had the well with the ox. I visited two of the monasteries of the blessed Antony, which today are kept up by his disciples, and I got to the place where the most blessed Paul the first hermit lived. I saw the heights of Mt Sinai whose peak almost touches the heavens, too steep to be climbed.
An anchorite was said to be hidden away in this mountain, whom I did not manage to see, although I searched very hard for him for quite a long time. He had lived apart from human intercourse for almost fifty years, wearing no clothes, bristling hair the only covering to his body. Whenever any religious people came near him he quickly took to the trackless ways to avoid meeting other humans. It is said that he did allow a meeting with one person about five years ago, and I believe it was granted to that man by the power of his faith. When he was asked, among many other things, why he so vigorously fled from human beings, he is reported as saying, "The company of human beings prevents you from being visited by Angels." Not surprisingly in the opinion of many people, his reputation for being visited by Angels was widely spread abroad.
Leaving Mt Sinai, I came back to the river Nile, whose banks are thronged with many monasteries. I wandered about among them all. As I have already said, I found that the monks generally lived in groups of a hundred. It is well known that there are two or three thousand living in these little townships. And don't imagine for a minute that the virtue of those living in these various monasteries is any less than those who, as you know, live cut off from human company. As I have already said, their first and greatest virtue is obedience. Nobody seeking to be accepted into a monastery could expect anything else than to be tested and proved, and never to refuse anything the abbot ordered, however difficult, arduous and even humiliating it might be.

 

Chapter 11 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.12)

The incredibly great miracles of obedience.

 

I must tell you about two incredibly great miracles of obedience. There was a brother who renounced the ways of the world and sought admittance to a monastery with a very strict rule. The abbot warned him what hard work it was to live under their discipline, what heavy demands it made, such that nobody found it easy to endure with patience. Better to go to another monastery where the rule was not so severe, than to attempt to take on something which he would not be able to fulfil. Undeterred by these terrors, he began to promise such obedience that even if the abbot should order him to walk through a fire he would do so. The abbot lost no time in putting this claim to the test, and told him to go into a furnace which was being prepared to cook bread. He did not hesitate about obeying, but without delay jumped into the middle of the flames. Conquered by such bold faith, the flames died down and the fire went out, as it had done for the Hebrew children of old (Daniel 3. 24-25). He who jumped in had expected to burn, but was amazed to find that he was drenched in a cold dew. But what great wonder is it, O Christ, that the fire did no harm to your young novice (tiro), that the abbot had no cause to regret having given such hard commands, nor that the disciple had cause to regret his obedience! It shows how much God values obedience. He who came that day as a weak person to be tested was found by his ready obedience to be perfect, deservedly blessed, deservedly glorified by the test of obedience, glorified by suffering.

 

Chapter 12 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.13)

Another miracle of obedience

 

(cf. V.xiv.3) Another young man came to the same monastery to be received by the abbot. When this most important law of obedience was outlined to him, he promised to obey everything, even the most extreme, with unfailing patience. It so happened that the abbot was holding a withered rod of storax in his hand. He planted it in the ground and told this newcomer to keep on watering this dry stick until it began to take root in the desert soil. Quite contrary to nature, of course! But the brother gave himself to this impossible command, and daily carried water on his own shoulders from the Nile almost two miles away.
A year went by while he persisted in this work. There was no hope of his work bearing any fruit, but the virtue of obedience sustained him in his labours. Another year went by; mockery was the only result of the brother's useless labour. At last, as the third year was coming to its close, with the brother never ceasing to water night and day, the rod began to throw forth a shoot. I myself saw the little tree which that rod grew into. It remains today in the forecourt of the monastery, spreading its branches in testimony to the merits of obedience and the power of faith.

 

Chapter 13 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.14)

One casting out demons is possessed himself by a demon. He is restored, but not without agony

 

One of the holy fathers performed many miracles with his incredible powers of casting out demons from the bodies of the possessed. He could cure possessed bodies not only when present but also when absent, by a word, or even by sending them a letter or some threads from his garment. As his fame spread among the people, crowds came to him from many different places. Prefects, courtiers, judges of various ranks, without mentioning the many people of humbler origin, all came to lie at his doors. He hardly ever had anything to drink, and for food he was contented with seven dry figs.
But in time his virtue was undermined by the respect in which he was held, and respect grew into vanity. When he first felt this evil growing in him, he tried hard for a long time to dispel it, but was completely unable to do so, for the demons were spreading his fame about everywhere. He did not have the strength to drive away the people who flowed towards him. A hidden poison festered in his breast. He was able by a word to put to flight the demons in other people, but could not liberate himself from his own hidden thoughts of vanity. So he prayed with all his heart to the Lord, begging that the power of the devil might be so directed against him, that he should become like those whom he had cured.
What more can I say? This pre-eminent man, famed throughout the East for his signs and wonders, around whose doors the people had been in the habit of crowding, was himself snatched up by the devil, and was kept locked up in chains. It was only after having suffered all the trials that those possessed have to endure, that at length, after five months, he was freed not only from the demon, but of that which was even more beneficial and desirable, his vanity.

 

Chapter 14 (Sev.Sulp., Dial.1, chap.15)

The punishment of a hermit who went back to the world

 

There was a very rich young man belonging to a leading family, with a wife and small son of his own, who as a tribune in Egypt fought numerous campaigns against the Blembi, in the course of which he came into contact with various parts of the desert. Having seen many of the dwellings of the holy hermits, he embraced the word of salvation given him by the blessed John, turning his back on his profitless military service with its empty honour. Once into the desert he very soon developed every kind of virtue. He fasted severely, he was conspicuously humble, his faith was unshakeable. In his zeal for virtue he was the equal of the monks of old time. But then the devil insinuated a thought into his head that it would be more honourable to go back to his native land and preach salvation to his wife and child and his whole household, rather than continue to renounce the world all by himself and neglect their salvation. Overcome after four years by the pressure of this false notion of what was right, he abandoned the work of the desert.
He arrived at a nearby monastery where there were many brothers, and in reply to their questions he told them why he had left the desert and where he was going. In spite of the urgings of them all and especially of the abbot of that place, his fixed determination could not be eradicated from his mind. His unfortunate obstinacy drove him forth, and he left, to the distress of all the brothers. Hardly was he out of sight when he was attacked by a demon. He began to froth at the mouth and spit blood and bite himself most cruelly.
The brothers carried him back to the monastery on their shoulders. Finding that they could not prevail against the demon, they restrained him of necessity with iron chains, hand and foot, a well deserved punishment for a fugitive. It took two years for him to be delivered by the prayers of the brothers from the evil spirit, after which he returned to the desert he had left, fully cured. He served as a warning to others in the future, that once anyone has begun something, he should not vainly and lightly abandon it in a fit of inconstancy, using a spurious righteousness as an excuse

 

 

Chapter 15 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.1, chap.4)

The habit, or clothing, worn by the monks of Egypt

 

The characteristic Egyptian habit is designed not so much for bodily protection as being a statement about their way of life. They constantly wear very small hoods by day and by night, to remind them that by wearing the clothing of little children they should constantly imitate their innocence and simplicity.
Their tunics are of linen, hardly reaching to the elbows, leaving their hands bare. By cutting off the sleeves they are reminded that they have cut themselves off from all the deeds and values of the world.
They cover their necks and shoulders with a little cape, which in our language as well as theirs is known as a mafors. It is quite inexpensive, and the wearing of it emphasises their lowly status.
The last item of all is the goatskin, or melotes in their language. The wearing of a goatskin signifies that by the mortification of their members from all the impulses of the carnal passions they ought to clothe themselves with the highest degree of virtue.

Although the precepts of the Gospel forbid shoes (Matthew 10.10, Luke 10.4), the frailty of the body demands that they put something on their feet against the morning cold of winter and the fierce midday heat. So they quite rightly use sandals, as permitted by the Lord's command (Mark 6.9, Acts 12.8), except when celebrating or being present at the holy mysteries, for they think that what was said to Moses and Joshua the son of Nun should be taken literally: 'Undo the buckles on your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground' (Exodus 3.5 & Joshua 5.15)

 

Chapter 16 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.2, chap.3)

The canonical observance of prayer, and the complete renunciation of the world.

 

Throughout the whole of Egypt and the Thebaid, wherever there are monasteries, a uniform rule of prayer is adhered to when they come together for vespers or for the vigils of the night. No one is permitted to become part of this community of brothers unless he has put all his previous life and possessions behind him, and on entering he must know that, as the Lord said, he must become as a little child (Matthew 18.3), and be obedient to everyone else. He must not expect to be given any special consideration on account of his age or the number of years he has spent in the world. Rather he should consider them as having been unprofitable and lost. He must consider himself a beginner, a new apprentice, and learn how to conduct himself as a soldier of Christ.
As we have said, throughout Egypt the number of psalms at vespers and at the night vigils is fixed at twelve, and after the psalms there should be space for two lessons, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. It has been done like this from of old, and has survived unchanged for such a long time because it was not set up by human invention but handed down from heaven to the ancient fathers by the ministry of angels.

Chapter 17 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.2, chap.5)

How an Angel was seen to be singing the twelve psalms in the gathering of the seniors.

 

In the very earliest days of the faith, there were some men, few in number but very highly respected, who are reckoned to be known as monks, and who learned their way of living from the successors of the apostles. They went apart into secluded places on the outskirts of the cities, practising a life of such rigorous abstinence that everyone was amazed at how they could voluntarily give themselves to an arduous life of this sort. These venerable fathers took considerable thought for the welfare of those who should come after them, and wanted to come to a decision about how the daily worship should be conducted among the whole body of the brotherhood. They gathered together, therefore, in a convenient place, with the intention of being able to hand on to their successors a heritage of peace and piety free from any suspicion of controversy. They feared lest any differences and disagreements which might arise among people in the daily conduct of their worship might later result in the growth of dangerous errors.
They discussed the way in which each of them had different customs in deciding the number of the psalms, some fifty, some sixty, and even some not content with that number who thought there should be even more. So they got into such a holy argument for the glory of their religion that the time for the solemnity of the most sacred vespers was upon them before they had come to a decision. Suddenly one of their number got up in the midst of them and began to sing psalms to the Lord. He sang eleven psalms, interspersed with prayer after each one, with equal emphasis given to each succeeding verse, but when he got to the twelfth psalm he finished it with a response of Alleluia and suddenly disappeared from sight, putting an end to both the worship and the arguments.
The seniors present understood from this that by the message of an angel it was the Lord who had decided upon the universal rule for the communities of brothers, and issued a decree that they should keep to this number both for vespers and night vigils.
The prayers that we mentioned above are begun and ended in this way: When the psalm is finished, followed by a Gloria, they are in no hurry to bend the knee but pray for a little standing up, in which position they spend the greater part of the time. There is then a brief pause before they prostrate themselves on the ground, to show they are begging for the divine mercy, then they rise again fairly quickly. With hands outstretched, they pray standing in the same way as before, concentrating upon the words of their prayer. For they maintain that a monk who prostrates himself for a long time, as if earnestly striving in his prayer, is liable to be attacked not only by wandering thoughts but also by sleep. We have learnt this from experience, that many people drag out their prostrations not so much for the sake of prayer but for the sake of having a rest!

 

Chapter 18 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.2, chap.10)

Decency and due order to be observed in prayer.

 

When gathered together to celebrate these solemnities, which they call synaxes, silence is enjoined upon all, so that with such a large number of brothers gathered together, no voice is to be heard except that of the cantor. At the time of prayer, no one may spit, clear the throat, or yawn sleepily at great length; no voice except that of the presiding priest is heard. No one presumes to have prostrated themselves before he does, nor does anyone get up before he gets up from the ground to say the collect. The prayers are then brought to a swift conclusion, lest by lingering too long over them any residual sputum or phlegm disrupt the end of the service. And so the fervour of prayer is quickly snatched away from the jaws of the enemy - for although he is hostile towards us at all times, he is never so hostile as when he sees us offering prayers to the Lord against him.
For this reason they think it is better for the prayers to be short, and said in quick succession. They say that it is better for ten verses of a psalm to be sung with contrition of heart and careful attention than to pour out a complete psalm with the mind in a state of confusion.

 

 

Chapter 19 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.2, chap.11)

A psalm is not said with the response Alleluia unless it is so indicated in the title.

 

They also observe carefully the rule that no psalm is said with the response Alleluia unless it is so indicated in the title.

They do not allow any time to pass in idleness. During the hours of daylight they give themselves continuously to manual work, nor do they allow the densest hours of darkness to prevent them doing the kind of work which requires mental activity. They believe that by directing the mind aright they will be finding a greater depth of spiritual contemplation, the longer they are intent upon developing their work and labour.

We should also note that from vespers on Saturday to the lighting of the lamps on Sunday they do not bend the knee, nor during the time from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.

 

Chapter 20 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.3, chap.2)

Manual work, and the offices of the third, sixth and ninth hours.

 

They keep to their manual work privately in their cells without ceasing, but not so as to neglect their study of the psalms or other parts of Scripture. They meditate on them constantly all day, spreading over the whole day what we are accustomed to observe at definite fixed times.

But they do mark the third, sixth and ninth hours with three psalms apiece. We know that the prophet Daniel poured forth prayers to God at these same three hours in his chamber with the windows open (Daniel 6.10). There are good reasons why these times of day have been specially set aside for religious observances. For at these hours the promises were fulfilled and the great matters of our salvation were accomplished. At the third hour the holy Spirit descended upon the apostles as the prophets had foretold, giving them the knowledge of tongues (Acts 2.4). At the sixth hour the spotless victim, Jesus Christ our Lord, was offered up to the Father, mounting the cross for the salvation of the world to wipe out the sins of the human race. At this same hour, Peter's vocation to the gentiles was revealed to him as he stood in ecstasy, for he witnessed the gospel vessel coming down from heaven, and the cleansing of all the living creatures in it, as he heard the divine voice saying to him, 'Rise, Peter, kill and eat' (Acts 10.9). The fact that the vessel was let down by the four corners signifies nothing other than the four Gospels. At the ninth hour Christ went down to the lower regions and extinguished the impenetrable darkness of Tartarus by his own shining splendour, bursting open the gates of bronze and breaking the iron bars, taking back with him to heaven the captive band of saints, and by the removal of the fiery sword (Genesis 3.24) restoring to paradise its original inhabitant. At this same hour Cornelius the centurion stood in prayer and knew by the message of an Angel that his alms and prayers had been accepted by God (Acts 10.3). It is clear then from these examples that just as these holy men and apostles devoted these hours to religious observances so should we do likewise. If we had no rule binding us at the very least to some definite times for these devout duties, we would spend all day wrapped up in forgetfulness, idleness and useless pastimes.

 

Chapter 21 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.3)

The discretion and caution necessary in receiving into the monastery anyone renouncing the world.

 

Anyone who wants to renounce the business of the world and be admitted into the monastery must first spend ten days or even more outside the monastery gates, to give evidence of his perseverance no less than his humility and patience. He must lie prostrate at the feet of all the brothers who pass by; they all spurn and despise him as if it were not any religious sense which draws him but simple need; he gets many insults thrown at him, to find out whether by putting up with this verbal abuse he will be able to survive the tests of the future. When at last he is accepted he is carefully searched lest he has kept for himself even a single coin of his previous possessions. They know that under the daily discipline of the monastery he will not learn humility or obedience so long as he has hidden from sight even the smallest amount of money.

When he is received, therefore, he is stripped of everything which he used to own. He is not even allowed to keep any longer the clothing he is wearing, but is led into the middle of the assembled brothers, stripped of his own garments and clothed at the hands of the abbot in the garments of the monastery. This is to signify that he is despoiled not only of every thing that he used to own, but of all pride in worldly reputation. He must realise that he has to humble himself into the poverty and helplessness of Christ.

His discarded clothing is kept in the monastery until they are quite sure of how firmly he is progressing in this way of life and how bravely he is able to bear it. If they decide that he will persevere, his old clothing is given to the poor. But if they detect any grumbling or disobedience in him, they strip him of the monastic clothing which he is wearing and expel him from the community wearing his former clothes, which have been kept for him.

So then, when he has given proof of sufficient perseverance to be accepted, stripped of his own garments and clad in the monastic habit, he is not allowed to mix immediately with the brothers, but is given into the care of a senior who lodges apart near the gatehouse of the monastery and looks after the needs of strangers and newcomers. Here he assists in welcoming them kindly and diligently. When he has lived like a servant in this way for a year without any upset, he will have learned the first rudiments of humility and may be admitted to the congregation of the brothers.

Now at last he is taught to conquer first of all his own desires, and bends all his attention on controlling any conflicts which are discerned in him. For they maintain that no monk can possibly battle against anger, depression, or the spirit of fornication unless he first learns to mortify his own will through obedience; nor can he continue in true humility of heart, nor keep up good relations with his brothers, nor even remain long in the monastery, unless he learns how to overcome his own desires.

 

Chapter 22 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.10)

Nobody in the monastery may presume to do anything without the sanction of the seniors

 

Next, the rule of obedience is kept with such strictness that the juniors do not even see to their own natural needs without the knowledge and permission of the superior, and they hasten to obey such commands as the abbot might give them as if they came from God in heaven. If they are ordered to do anything which seems impossible they accept the order with faith and devotion, and do their best to carry it out with all their power.

So then, they sit in their cells giving equal attention to both work and meditation, but when they hear the signal calling them either to prayer or some kind of work, they leave their cells immediately. Even if anyone is in the midst of writing something, he would not dare to finish any letter which he had begun to form, but jumps up hastily the moment the sound of bell strikes his ears. He would not allow even so much of a delay as might allow him to finish it off.

We are aware of another great virtue among their other practices: they are not allowed to possess so much as a box or even a small woven basket or anything else at all. Nobody would dare to claim anything as his own personal property.

 

Chapter 23 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.20)

Three small lentil grains lost through carelessness

 

While one of the brothers was doing his week's duty in the kitchen, the prior noticed three grains of lentil on the floor, which had slipped out of the brother's hands while washing them ready for cooking. He immediately reported this to the abbot, who adjudged him to be a pilferer and careless of their common property. He was excluded from the common prayers, and was not forgiven for his crime of negligence until he had done public penance.

 

Chapter 24 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.21)

Two monks who were short of firewood during their week's duty.

 

I heard of two monks who ran out of firewood during their week's duty and so were unable to cook food for the brothers as usual. The abbot ordered that until more wood could be gathered and fetched they should be content with dried food. Everyone accepted that they could not expect any cooked food, but the two cooks were upset that they would not in their turn be able to prepare food for the brothers as usual, fearing that they would be deprived of the reward due to them for their labour and service. So they took upon themselves the labour of scouring the dry and sterile places where there was no wood to be found unless it were to be cut from the fruit trees (for they have no wild shrubs in that area). They wandered off through the desert into the trackless ways near the Dead Sea, and collected thin twigs and thorn branches which the wind had scattered about, and so were able by their spontaneous service to prepare food for the brothers as usual. It was their faith which enabled them to provide this gift for their brothers, for even though the shortage of wood and the abbot's command provided them with a perfectly good excuse, they chose not to avail themselves of this freedom, for the sake of their due profit and reward.

 

Chapter 25 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.23)

Blessed John who lived near the town of Lycus.

 

I must make mention in this work of the blessed John who lived near Lycus, which is a town of the Thebaid. By virtue of his obedience the grace of prophecy was granted him. His fame spread everywhere, and deservedly came even to the ears of the rulers of the world. For even when John was living in the remotest parts of the Thebaid, as I have said, the Emperor Theodosius would not dream of going off on a war against the most powerful of tyrants without the support of his advice and opinions, which he accepted as if handed down to him from heaven, and gave him such confidence that he never failed to bring back the spoils of war from his enemies, even in the most desperate of battles.

 

Chapter 26 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.24)

The obedience of this same John

 

This blessed John subjected himself to a senior from his youth up until as an adult he approached perfection. For as long as this senior lived in this world John deferred to him with such humility that his obedience filled the senior with the greatest admiration. The old man wanted to explore more deeply whether John's virtue sprang from a true faith in the depths of his heart, so he would often give him unnecessary and even impossible tasks to perform, of which I will mention but a few.

He took a twig from his woodpile, previously prepared  as fuel for the fire, and stuck it in the ground, telling John to fetch water and sprinkle it daily. Without taking any thought for the impossibility of this command, the young man accepted it with his usual respect, and daily brought water from about two miles away, never once omitting to water the twig. He kept this up for a year, never allowing anything to interfere with this task of obedience, neither sickness or anything else. The old man secretly observed his diligence day after day without saying anything. He could see that he was fulfilling this command in simplicity of heart as if it were a command from God and took pity on him for persevering so long in this laborious task. He went to look at the dried stick

"John, my son," he said, "is it putting forth roots or not?"

"I don't know," he said

The old man felt underneath it to see whether there were any roots, pulled the stick out of the ground and threw it away.

"You don't need to water it any more," he said.

 

Chapter 27 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.25)

The large stone

which John obediently tried to fetch

 

The fame of his obedience began to spread throughout all the monasteries, and some of the brothers came to test it and be edified by it. The old man summoned his disciple.

"John," he said, "run and fetch me that large stone as quickly as you can."

Straightaway he applied his shoulder to this immense stone, then his chest, striving with all his strength and undivided attention to make it move, with the sweat pouring off him so that not only were all his clothes drenched in sweat, but the rock as well. In doing this he had taken no account of the impossibility of either the command or the deed, but out of respect for his senior, and in a spirit of sincere and simple compliance, he trusted with an untroubled faith that he would not be told to do anything useless unless there were some reason for it.

These few things out of the many deeds of abba John will suffice. We turn now to the memorable deed of abba Mutius.

 

Chapter 28 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.27)

The marvellous patience of abba Mutius.

 

Desiring to renounce the world, abba Mutius sought out a monastery, bringing with him his small son of about eight years of age. They lay out side the gates for a long time before they were granted permission to enter. And when they were received they were immediately separated from each other, so that the sight of his son would not constantly remind the father how much he had given up, and how rich he used to be, and even make him forget that he was a father at all.

In order to test still further whether he placed obedience higher than the bonds of family, his son was neglected, dressed in rags rather than proper clothes, subjected to slaps and blows from various people, often before the father's very eyes. The father could see that the innocent child did not deserve these blows, and he never saw the child's cheeks without them being stained with the dirty traces of his tears. Day by day he saw the child treated thus, but he endured it all for the love of Christ and in the virtue of obedience, with a stiff and unbending heart. He no longer thought of him as his son, for he had offered him to Christ along with himself, nor did he concern himself about his present injuries, but rather rejoiced that the child did not distract him from his own mental determination and fixed purpose.

Aware of this, the abbot decided to test his constancy still further. He saw the child weeping one day and pretending to be angry he ordered the father to pick him up and throw him in the river. As if commanded by the Lord he quickly picked the child up and straightaway carried him to the river to throw him in. In the fervour of his faith and obedience this would have been carried out completely, if it had not been for the abbot having ordered some of the brothers to patrol the riverbank carefully in order to rescue the boy. No sooner had the boy been thrown in than they pulled him out of the streambed, thus saving the boy from the effect of the deed which the father had performed at the abbot's command.

His faith, obedience and devotion were instantly accepted by God, as was at once verified by a testimony from God. For it was revealed to the senior almost immediately that what he had done was to fulfil the obedience of Abraham (Genesis 28.) Some time later the abbot passed away from this world, praising Mutius before all the brothers because of his obedience, and leaving him as his successor and abbot of the monastery.

 

 

 

Chapter 29 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.29)

A monk, the son of an aristocrat, ordered to carry baskets through the streets.

 

We learned of a brother who came from a very high ranking family in the world, for his father was not only an aristocrat but very rich. He left his parents and joined a monastery, where, to test his humility, the superior ordered him to carry ten large baskets from his shoulders and hawk them through the streets, although at that time the sale of the baskets was not strictly necessary. He added a condition that if anyone offered to buy the lot he was not to agree, but had to sell them all to separate buyers. He carried out these conditions with complete faithfulness, overcoming all trace of embarrassment by his desire for Christ, and putting the baskets on his shoulders and carrying them through the streets, he sold them at the proper price and brought the money back to the monastery.

 

 

Chapter 30 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.30)

Abba Pinuphius in the search for humility flees from the monastery and settles a long way off

 

We saw abba Pinuphius who used to be presbyter of a very large coenobium not far from the city of Panephysus in Egypt. He was held in great respect for his age, his life and his priesthood, and was honoured by all. But he saw that because of all that he was unable to preserve his humility, so he fled, alone, from the coenobium into the furthest reaches of the Thebaid. There he took off his monastic clothes and put on secular garments, before seeking out the monastery of Tabennisi, which he knew to be the strictest of all the monasteries, and which he thought would be far enough away for him not to be recognised. He stayed for a long time outside prostrating himself before the brothers, begging each one with many prayers that he might be admitted. When he was at last admitted, not without some scorn for being an old man who would not be suitable for many tasks, he was ordered to work diligently in the garden. A brother who was quite a junior was put over him who believed he should take charge of him completely. This brother not only instructed him in everything to do with the management of the garden but in all the tasks which were universally regarded as hard and humiliating. He carried them all out conscientiously every day, and many of them at night, for he got up quietly so that no one would see him, and no one would be able to guess who had been doing them.

Three years went by, and he was being sought throughout Egypt by the brothers, when at last he was seen by a brother who was visiting from Egypt. He could hardly recognise him because of the coarseness of his clothing and the menial work he was doing. He was bent forwards over a hoe, preparing the ground for vegetables, then carrying dung on his shoulders to be laid around their roots. The brother hesitated as he watched, and delayed making himself known to him for quite some time, but at last he moved closer, and recognising his voice as well as his face he at once cast himself at Pinuphius' feet.

The brothers were astounded.

"Why," they asked, "are you doing this to him? He has only recently joined us from the world, and is the lowest in rank of all of us."

The visitor justified what he had done by telling them Pinuphius' name and they were even more astounded by this marvel than before, for the name of Pinuphius was already well known among them. They all begged his pardon for their ignorance, and for keeping him all this time in the ranks of the juniors and children. But he wept and grieved greatly because by the envy of the devil he had been discovered and would not any longer be able to carry on in humility and lowliness. The brothers took him back weeping and reluctant to his own monastery, keeping a very careful eye on him lest he slip away and flee in the same way as before.


After a little while the desire for lowliness arose in him once more, and in the silence of the night he fled not just to a neighbouring province but to lands completely unknown to him. He took ship intending to settle here in Palestine, believing that he would be more securely hidden if he went to places where even his name had never been heard of. When he got here he came to our monastery, quite near the cave in which our Lord was born of the Virgin. He was able to conceal himself here for a while, but like 'a city set on a hill', in the Lord's words (Matthew 5.14), he could not stay hidden for long, for there were always brothers coming from Egypt to pray at the holy places. He was recognised, and with many prayers they brought him back unwillingly to his own coenobium again.

 

Chapter 31 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.4, chap.32)

A valuable exhortation to a novice monk

 

Mindful of the friendly association we had had with this man in our own monastery we sought him out in Egypt later on. It so happened that while we were there he received a brother into the monastery, and we heard him give a marvellous exhortation, which I have a mind to include in this little work. This is what he said:
You know, my son, how many days you lay outside before being received inside today. First of all you must understand why you have been put to all that difficulty. For it may teach you a great deal about this life that you wish to enter upon, if, knowing the reason for it, you give yourself to the service of Christ as you ought.
Now just as there is an inestimable glory in the future promised to the servants of God who follow together the requirements of this rule, so also there is terrible punishment prepared for those who observe it but tepidly or negligently. By failing to bring forth the fruits of holiness they have not lived up to what they have promised, or to what people believed them to be. 'Better never to have vowed at all than vow and not fulfil it' (Ecclesiastes 5.5), and ' Cursed be he who carries out the work of God carelessly' (Jeremiah 48.10). This is why we refused you for such a long time. It is not that we do not desire your salvation, and that of all people, to be embraced with a whole heart. But we would not wish to receive you without due consideration, lest we should be found guilty of levity in God's eyes. And you would be liable to an even greater condemnation, if having been once accepted without being made aware of the great responsibility of your profession, you subsequently were to abandon it, or even just live it half-heartedly.
Know then as from today, you are dead to the world and all its deeds. As the Apostle says, 'you are crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to you (Galatians 6.14). How can a living person be crucified? Take this brief explanation to heart.
Our cross is the fear of God. Anyone on the cross is unable by an act of will to move or turn his limbs; we also ought to govern our own wills and desires in such a way that they are bound by the precepts of the Lord, and not by what takes our fancy in the present moment. Someone fixed to the gibbet of the cross is no longer concerned with the present, nor does he worry about what he might like or not like. He is no longer agitated by worry about material possessions, for even though there is still breath in his body he knows himself to be dead to all earthly things. Likewise, in the fear of the Lord we should be crucified to all the vices of the flesh and keep the eyes of our mind firmly fixed on the destination whither we expect to travel at any moment.
We must always beware lest we take back for ourselves anything which we have formerly renounced. It is not in the beginning of anything that salvation lies, but in the persevering right to the end.
The wily devil is forever observing our footsteps, hoping to worm his way into our dying moments - another reason for a good beginning being of no value unless it is carried through to the end.
So then, in accordance with Scripture, once you have begun to serve the Lord, stand in the fear of the Lord, and prepare your soul not for rest, nor for delights, but for temptations and narrow ways (Ecclesiasticus 2.1). It is through great tribulations that we must enter into the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14.22), for narrow is the way and strait the gate that leads to life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7.14)
The beginning of our salvation is the fear of the Lord, by means of which from the outset of our conversion we begin to cultivate the virtues. Once the fear of the Lord has penetrated the human mind it gives birth to contempt for all things, and generates revulsion from the world. By being deprived of all possessions and holding them as worthless, true humility is acquired. Humility is recognised as being present by the following signs:
Firstly, if a monk has put to death all his own self-will.
Secondly, if he does not conceal his deeds or thoughts from his senior.
Thirdly, if he puts his trust not in his own discretion, but in the judgment of his superior.
Fourthly, if he accepts every command with untroubled obedience and unwearying patience.
Fifthly, if he does no harm to anyone but patiently bears all injuries to himself.
Sixthly, if he never does anything contrary to the provisions of the rule.
Seventhly, if in all the tasks he is given he judges himself as a bad and unprofitable servant.
Eighthly, if he reckons himself to be inferior to all.
Ninthly, if he guards his tongue, and does not speak loudly.
Tenthly, if he is not easily moved to laughter.
By these signs, true humility may be discerned.
Another thing which must be observed in the congregation is that as the Psalmist said, you must 'be deaf and do not hear, be dumb and open not your mouth' (Psalms 38.13), and do not quibble or be judgmental about anything you are told to do.
Don't think you have acquired the virtue of patience because other people are virtuous, imagining that you have gained it simply because nobody irritates you.
The beginning of salvation is the fear of the Lord (as we have said). From the fear of the Lord is born a saving compunction, from compunction of heart proceeds nakedness and contempt for possessions, from nakedness proceeds humility, from humility comes mortification of the will, by mortification of the will all vices are eradicated, when vices are expelled virtues bear fruit and increase, in the growth of virtue purity of heart is acquired, in purity of heart the perfection of apostolic charity may be possessed.

 

Chapter 32 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.24)

The monk who offered refreshment to pilgrims

before the proper hour

 

When we came out of the land of Syria into the province of Egypt, there was a trustworthy old monk who welcomed us gladly and prepared food for us before the time of fasting was completed.
"Why are you offering us food before the canonical meal time?" we asked.
"I can always fast, brothers," he replied, "but I am about to see you on your way, and I can't keep you with me until the canonical mealtime. If I am welcoming Christ in you, then I must offer you refreshment. And when I have seen you on your way I can make up for it by a stricter fast. 'The children of the bridegroom cannot fast while the bridegroom is still with them' (Luke 5.34). 'When he is gone, then you may fast' (Matthew 9.15).

 

Chapter 33 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.26)

A monk whose custom was never to eat alone


We saw another solitary who never ate when alone. Even if none of the brothers came to his cell for up to five days he put off eating, preferring to fast until the offering of the congregation in church on the Saturday and Sunday, when he would find some stranger and take him back to his cell, and together they would take food. 

 

Chapter 34 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.29)

The monk Machetes

 

We saw another solitary, Machetes by name, who had been given this gift from the Lord: that he never dozed off during a spiritual conference, even if it went on all night and all day. But if anyone began to speak spitefully or frivolously, then he would go to sleep.
This same man once had a big bundle of letters delivered to him, some from his father and mother, others from his many friends in the province of Pontus. He pondered about them for some time.
"What thoughts," he said at last, "will go through my mind in reading these? They will either send me into transports of joy, or fruitless sadness. How much longer will these letter writers try to draw my heart away from the contemplation which I have set myself to achieve?"
And turning these thoughts over in his heart he decided not to break the seal of the letters, not even to open the bundle, lest he should be distracted from what he had set his heart on by bringing to mind the names of those who had written to him or imagining what they looked like. So with the packaging unbroken just as he had received it he threw it into the fire.
"Get you gone!" he cried. "Burn in the fire, all you thoughts of my native land, lest you try to call me back to what it is that I have fled from!"

 

Chapter 35 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.33)

Abba Theodore


We also saw abba Theodore, famous for his sanctity and his learning, not only in respect of his actual way of life but also for his knowledge of Scripture, which he had gained not so much by studious reading as simply from his purity of heart. For when he was seeking the answer to some obscure question he persisted seven days and nights in untiring prayer, until he was assured that the Lord had revealed to him the solution to the problem he was addressing.
This same Theodore once came unexpectedly and privately to my cell at the dead of night, seeking out with paternal curiosity how I might be getting on, new to the hermit life as I then was. I had just finished saying vespers, and was preparing to refresh my weary body by taking it to bed, when he fetched a sigh from the bottom of his heart and addressed me by name.
"John," he said, "How many people are conversing with God and enfolding him into themselves, and you are depriving yourself of this chance of illumination, wrapped in senseless sleep?"
Thus encouraged, I was inspired from that time on to give myself to vigils for the salvation of my soul.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 36 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.36)

The anchorites living in the empty spaces

of the desert

 

After leaving the monasteries of Palestine we visited a town in Egypt called Diolcos, where we saw a great number of men subject to the discipline of the coenobium, and also another group, the anchorites, who are held to be of a higher degree. Everybody spoke so highly of them that our hearts were burning in our haste to visit them. They had all been trained first of all under the discipline of a rule in the monasteries, before going out to the secret depths of the desert to join the most severe sort of battle with the demons. We found that those who were living this sort of life had the river Nile on one side, and the vast expanses of ocean on the other, making a sort of island. No other people except monks seeking hiddenness would want to go there, as the land is most unsuitable for cultivation because the soil is so salty and the sands are sterile. We eagerly hurried towards them, and were astonished above measure at the hard work they put up with in these solitudes. Their water supplies are so restricted that the effort they put into obtaining it could not be equalled even by someone making the most precious of wines. For they have to carry it from the river Nile three miles away for all their needs. And that is doubly difficult because of the mountains in between.

 

 

Chapter 37 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.37)

The monk Archebius

 

As we looked at them, filled with a burning desire to imitate them, one of the very experienced hermits, Archebius by name, hospitably invited us to his cell. When he was given to understand that we wished to stay there, he pretended that he was wanting to leave that particular spot and offered us his cell as if he were on the point of going elsewhere anyway. He said that he had been going to do that even if we had not come. So we took possession of his cell and all its contents. He went away for a few days to gather materials for making a new cell. When he returned he laboriously built himself another cell. And not long afterwards with the greatest charity he handed this one over, with everything that was in it, to some other brothers who had arrived. His tireless devotion to the work of charity led to his building a third cell to live in.

 

Chapter 38 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.5, chap.40)

Two youths who die on a journey to take figs

to a sick man

 

There was a brother who sent some figs from Mareotis to abba John in the desert of Scete. He promptly asked two of the young men to take them on to a certain old man who was suffering from ill health in the inner desert. This solitary lived eighteen miles from the church. The young men took the fruit, and as they were on the way to the old man they were suddenly enveloped in a thick fog and lost sight of the right path. They wandered about all day and all night in the trackless desert but could not find the sick man 's cell. Wearied by the journey and overcome with hunger and thirst they fell to the ground on their knees, and as they were praying they gave up their spirit to God. Footprints in these sandy places remain visible as if impressed in snow, until such time as even the lightest of breezes covers them over with a thin coating of sand. Nevertheless after a long search following their footprints, they were found kneeling as if in prayer still carrying, untouched, the figs which they had been given. They had chosen to lose their lives rather than betray the faith which had been placed in them, for they would not presume to touch any food without the sanction of the abbot. They preferred to leave this mortal life rather than disobey the superior's orders.

 

Chapter 39 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.10, chap.22)

The burden of work among the Egyptian monks

 

Throughout the whole of Egypt, the monks are not allowed to be idle, but they earn their bread by manual work. Their labour provides food not only for pilgrims and visiting brothers but also in several places in Libya suffering from famine. They also take substantial supplies to those in prison or in chains in various cities, believing that by such an offering of the fruit of their hands they offer themselves as an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord.
There is a saying that a monk who works is plagued by one demon, but the lazy monk is destroyed by demons without number.

 

Chapter 40 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.10, chap.24)

Abba Paulus


Abba Paulus, one of the most respected fathers, lived in the vast Porphyrium desert, where he lived on dates and the produce of a small garden. There were no opportunities for him to earn a living from any other type of manual work, for he lived more than seven days' journey into the desert from any human habitation. But he did not want the movement of time to slip idly by, so he regularly collected each day the amount of palm leaves he would need if his livelihood depended on it. At the end of a year his cave would be full of the work he had done. But there was no one who would be able to take it away, nor did he wish to be idle, so he made a bonfire of it each year, demonstrating dramatically that without manual work a monk cannot survive anywhere, nor can he come anywhere near to the peak of perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 41 (Cassian, Institutes, Bk.12, chap.20)

The blasphemous brother who burned with an unbearable fire of lust

 

I knew another brother who went to a most respected old man to confess that he was being gravely tempted to sins of the flesh and was burning with an unbearable fire of lust. The old man, like the spiritual doctor he was, immediately saw the origin and inner cause of this sickness.
"The Lord," he said, sighing deeply, "would by no means have delivered you into the hands of such a wicked spirit unless in some way you had blasphemed against him."
Hearing this, the brother was awe-struck, fell at the old man's feet and confessed that indeed he had wickedly blasphemed in thought against the Son of God. Whence it is clear that anyone who is an habitual blasphemer is insulting the Lord, and is therefore deprived of the possibility of becoming perfect, for he cannot deserve the sanctifying grace to become chaste.

 

Chapter 42 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.2)

A number of seniors gather round the holy

Antony for mutual encouragement

 

On one occasion a number of the seniors went to the blessed Antony in the Thebaid to confer together in the search for perfection. They continued talking from vespers until daylight, the question of discretion taking up the greater part of the night. The question which they discussed at such length among themselves was: Which virtue or monastic observance could keep a monk unharmed from the attacks of the devil, and surely carry him by assured means on the right path to God? Each one gave his own opinion as to what he thought best. Some said the practice of fasting and vigils, others nakedness and contempt of worldly possessions, others a withdrawn life into the hidden parts of the desert, quite a few put the quest for charity first, which they defined as service to humanity consisting of the pious practice of giving hospitality to brothers and strangers. After spending the greater part of the night in devout discussion of this nature, the blessed Antony at last replied to them all.

"All the things you have mentioned are useful and necessary for anyone thirsting after God. But the countless circumstances and experiences of so many brothers do not allow of us giving precedence to any single one of these virtues. I have often seen brothers who observe certain practices becoming deceived in the end, because they did not observe discretion in the good thing which they had undertaken. The chief cause of their fall has been that far from being governed by their superiors, they failed to grasp the necessity for discretion, which is able to teach a monk a royal road that prevents them from overdoing ascetic practices on the one hand, while safeguarding them from falling into vice on the other. In everything that we do, discretion must come first. We must be quite clear about this: no virtue can be perfectly begun and continued without the grace of discretion."
After what Antony had said, they all agreed that discretion was the way to lead a monk fearlessly to God step by step, for it ensured that none of the virtues they had talked about could ever become harmful. Discretion is the mother and guardian and governor of every virtue.

 

Chapter 43 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.5)

Heron

 

Some definite examples may help to reinforce this, so I remind you of a certain old man called Heron, who by paying no attention to discretion brought to nothing all his earlier labours and, what is more, came to a miserable end. A few days ago by the tricks of the devil he was cast down from the heights to the very depths. For he had spent fifty years in the desert, maintaining an extremely strict way of life, preserving the hiddenness of solitude more than anyone else. He worked so very hard, and yet he has been deceived by the deceiver, coming to disaster by such a grievous fall that he has plunged all the desert-dwellers into the deepest grief. He would have run much less risk of falling if he had only practised the wisdom of discretion. Instead, he always practised fasting with such a rigorous spirit and kept so immutably to the hidden solitude of his cell that he would not even relax his strict abstinence on Easter Day. For such a great feast as Easter, all the hermits would come together in church, all except him alone, lest he should be seen to have relaxed his rule simply by taking a little extra food.
Such presumption led him into mistaking the angel of Satan for an Angel of light, whom he welcomed with the deepest veneration. He obeyed the angel's commands and cast himself headlong into a very deep well, thinking that he was about to demonstrate how greatly his virtues were going to be rewarded by coming out of the well unharmed. The brothers with great difficulty managed to get him out of the well half dead, but he died three days afterwards. And what was even worse, he persisted obstinately in his delusions, and no one could convince him that he had been led astray by the devil.

 

Chapter 44 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.6)

Two monks travelling through the desert who decided that they would not partake of any food unless God himself brought it to them.

 

What can I say about those two brothers who lived in the distant desert where Antony used to live, and who, casting discretion to the winds, went for a long journey through the desert having decided that on no account would they take any food unless it were given them by God himself? As they were wandering through the desert, half dead with hunger they saw in the distance some Mazices, a race of people more savage and cruel than any other. They shed blood not only in pursuit of plunder, but simply because of their ferocious nature.
But contrary to their reputation for ferocity, they came forward offering the two brothers bread. One of the brothers, guided by discretion, accepted it thankfully as if from the hand of God. He reckoned that the food was divinely provided, for it must have been by an act of God that these bloodthirsty people were now offering fainting people the means of sustaining life. But the other one refused the food because it had been offered to him by human beings. Weakened by lack of food, he died.
However blameworthy their original decision may have been, one of them, guided by discretion, can be seen to have put right what he started foolishly. The other persisted in his stubborn presumption, and brought upon himself the death which the Lord had wanted to save him from.

 

Chapter 45 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.7)

The monk who was deceived by the devil and wanted to sacrifice his own son

 

What also should I say about another monk, whose name I shall not mention, seeing that he is still alive? Over quite a long period he had been visited by a demon of angelic brightness, and was often led astray by his revelations, believing him to be a messenger of righteousness. For every night the devil caused a light to shine in his cell without the agency of any lantern. At last he ordered him to show his devotion to God by offering up in sacrifice his own son, who was with him in the monastery. This sacrifice would make him equal in merit to the patriarch Abraham. He was instantly led astray by these words, and would have carried out the deed without delay, had not the son slipped through his hands and fled from the cell at full speed.

 

Chapter 46 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.8)

The monk to whom the devil showed the armies of the Christians and the armies of the Jews.

 

There was another monk who fasted very severely, shut up alone in his cell for many years. Hardly anybody was able to rival his abstinence. After many years of virtuous labour, in which he exceeded all other monks, he was in the end so deceived by the revelations of the devil that he regrettably converted to Judaism and the circumcision of the flesh. For the devil, posing as a messenger of truth in dreams and in other false displays, had often showed him an army of Christian monks, dark and loathsome, deformed and emaciated, and on the other hand the Jewish people dancing for joy, and shining with brilliant light. The devil warned him that if he wished to share in their blessedness he should get himself circumcised as quickly as possible.
From the examples of these men that we have mentioned it can easily be seen that none of them would have been so easily deceived had they laboured to acquire the virtue of discretion. The downfall of so many in what they tried to do shows how dangerous it is to be without the grace of discretion.

 

Chapter 47 (Cassian, Conference 2, chap.11)

Abba Serapion

 

Abba Serapion in giving instructions to the junior brothers, often used to draw on his own experience:
When I was young (he would say) and living with abba Theonas, after eating with the old man at the ninth hour, the devil got me into the habit of taking a bread roll and hiding it under my habit so that I could eat it later without the old man knowing. I committed this theft daily, but as soon as this greedy deception had been brought to a conclusion, the torture of knowing that I was a thief was much keener than the pleasure that the food had given me. But I had a compulsion every day to commit this dreadful deed, even though it made me feel bad, nor could I bring myself to tell the old man about these secret thefts.
But by the providence of God certain brothers came eagerly to the old man's cell for instruction one day, and after the meal was over they all began to take part in a spiritual conference. They were asking him about the vice of gluttony and hidden thoughts, and he replied to their questions, finishing up by saying:
"Nothing is more harmful to the monk and more pleasing to the demons than to conceal his thoughts from his spiritual father."
Conscience-stricken, I thought that the old man must have already read the secrets of my heart. I sighed inwardly; then, as compunction grew in my heart, I burst forth openly into sobs and tears. I wept bitterly, and suddenly pulled out of my habit the bread roll which I had been secretly prepared to devour according to my depraved custom. I showed it to everyone, confessing that I had been involved in eating one in secret every day. I threw myself down on the floor to ask pardon, and pouring forth copious tears, I begged for their prayers that God might forgive me.
"You can be quite sure," the old man said, "that your confession has freed you from this thing which has had such a hold over you. Today you are victorious, you have triumphed over your adversary. You have come out stronger now by making your confession than you were when your silence had allowed him to cast you down to the depths. Your openness will result in this evil spirit no longer having dominion over you. The foul serpent from now on will no longer be able to take possession of you secretly, for he has been driven out of the darkness of your heart."
He had hardly finished speaking when, like a lamp suddenly bursting into flame, the cell was filled with such a terrible smell coming from my clothing that we could hardly bear to stay there.
"See," the old man said, "the Lord has given his approval to what I have been saying. With the eye of faith you can see that the devil who made the Lord's passion necessary has been driven out of your heart by your life-saving confession. Now you can be quite sure that he has been obviously expelled. It is manifestly clear that the enemy will no longer find a resting place in you."
And, as the old man said, the mastery of the devil over me was crushed by the power of my confession, since when the enemy has never attempted to arouse in me a single thought of being greedy.

 

Chapter 48 (Cassian, Conference 6, chap.1)

Monks killed by Saracens

 

In the region of Palestine near Tekoa, which rejoices in being the birthplace of the prophet Amos (Amos 1.1), there is a vast desert stretching far and wide as far as Arabia and the Dead Sea, into which the river Jordan flows and is swallowed up. Here also are the ashes of Sodom. For a long time there were some monks of the greatest sanctity living here, until without warning they were murdered by invading Saracens. Their bodies were held in such reverence by the people of that region, as well as by the whole Arab race, that crowds of people gathered together from all sides, quarrelling violently over their remains, piously endeavouring to seize them, disputing as to who was more entitled to bury them and possess them as relics. Some claimed because they lived nearby, others because they were near the place of their birth.

 

 

 

Chapter 49 (Cassian, Conference 4, chap.1)

Abba Daniel

 

Among the other hermits we also knew Daniel, the equal of everybody in all the virtues, but especially famed for the grace of humility. Because of the purity and gentleness of his life he was chosen for the office of deacon by Paphnutius, a presbyter in the same desert. The blessed Paphnutius rejoiced in Daniel's virtues, and recognising him as his equal in the grace and merit of his life, sought for his ordination as presbyter, making him the same rank as himself. It was because he wanted to have a worthy successor already in existence that he had him ordained as presbyter. But, humble as ever, as long as Paphnutius was present, Daniel never claimed for himself the privilege of belonging to the higher order, but always acted in his previous role of deacon whenever abba Paphnutius was making the spiritual offering. In the end, however, Paphnutius was frustrated in his hope of choosing a successor, even though he was a great man such that in many things he had the gift of seeing the future. For, not long afterwards, this man who he was hoping would be his successor went to the Lord before him.

 

Chapter 50 (Cassian, Conference 7, chap.1)

Abba Serenus


We had a greater admiration for abba Serenus than for anyone else. He was a mirror of his own name because of his great sanctity and continence. His virtues shone forth not only in his deeds and his whole way of life, but even, by the grace of God, in his face. More than anything else he had been blessed with a special gift of chastity, in that he was never troubled by natural urges, not even in sleep. That would seem to be beyond the powers of human nature, so I think I must try and explain how he arrived at such bodily purity.
This blessed Serenus, then, begged day and night, by means of prayers, fasts and vigils, for inward chastity of heart and body. He realised that his prayers had been answered when he felt that all the heats of concupiscence in his heart had been extinguished. He felt as if set on fire with this most sweet awareness of purity, and in the zeal of his chastity he burned with an even greater desire. By even more intense fasts and prayers he began to beg that the mortification of his passions which had been given to his inner spirit solely by the grace of God might also be extended as far as the outer man also. By this he desired that he would no longer be troubled by any of the simple and natural movements of the flesh which even children and small infants are subject to. He persevered untiringly in these prayers with copious tears, until an Angel came to him in a vision of the night. It seemed as if the Angel opened his belly, and drew out from his entrails a sort of fiery fleshly tumour and threw it away. He then put all his intestines back as they were before.
"See," said the Angel, "all your fleshly urges have been cut out. You know now that you have obtained this day perpetual purity of body, which is what you have been faithfully asking for."
Let this be a brief but sufficient indication of the special grace of God attributed to this memorable man.
But we also came to see him in Lent and asked him a number of questions. Especially we wanted to know about the attacks of the demons. With his usual serene expression he replied:
"The demons have no power to harm anybody, as the example of Job manifestly shows, for he cannot tempt anyone more than is allowed him by the dispensation of God" (Job. 2, 1-6).

 

Chapter 51 (Cassian, Conference 7, chap.23)

The demons do not have the same power against monks nowadays as they did in former times.

 

It is quite obvious, not only from our own experience but from what the seniors tell us, that the demons nowadays do not have the same power over monks as they used to do in the time of the first anchorites, when there were very few monks dwelling in the desert. Their ferocity in those days was such that it was almost impossible to live in the desert at all. In coenobia of ten or twelve people, therefore, they approached so viciously with attacks that were almost visible, that the monks did not dare to go to sleep all together but took it in turns to stay awake while the others kept vigil with psalms and prayers and readings. When the demands of nature at last bade them sleep, they awoke the others and handed over to them the task of keeping vigil while they themselves retired to bed.
The present state of affairs is undoubtedly due to one of two things: either the power of the cross has permeated the desert and with its shining grace has blunted the devil's weapons, or our own negligence means that they do not have to fight so hard as they formerly did against those most valiant soldiers of Christ.
But we know that even the most saintly men have been handed over into the power of Satan and to great afflictions for even the slightest faults, so that the divine mercy may find no sin or stain in them on the day of judgment. Like gold purified in the fire they will be taken into the perpetual glory without any need for purifying punishment, in accordance with the saying, 'The just man is purified in the furnace of humiliation' (Eclesiasticus 27.5) and 'Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every child who comes to him' (Proverbs 3.12 & Hebrews 12.6).
And in our own times abba Paul and abba Moyses have provided clear and indisputable proof of this when they lived in that part of the desert called Calamus. Now Paul had been living near the city of Panephysis, in the desert which we know had been created by being flooded with salt water. And whenever the north wind blew the water was driven from the marshes and poured out over the land next to it, so that it covered the face of the whole region. All the ancient villages had long since been deserted for this very reason, making them look like little islands.

Chapter 52 (Cassian, Conference 7, chap.26)

Abba Paulus

 

This abba Paulus had arrived at such a degree of purity of heart in the silence of his desert that he could not bear the sight of a woman's clothing, let alone a woman's face. He was on his way to the cell of another senior one day when he happened to meet a woman coming towards him. When he saw her he cut short his journey and fled back to his own monastery faster than he would flee from any lion or dragon.
Now although he acted like this because of his ardent zeal for chastity and purity, it was because he was attached to a rigid discipline; it was not true spiritual knowledge that governed his actions. As a result, his excesses were given a buffeting lest he be overcome with self-conceit, for he was forthwith struck by an illness which left his whole body paralysed. He lost control over every part of his body, not just his arms and legs. He was unable to use his tongue, and his ears lost their ability to hear. Indeed there was no longer anything human about him; he was simply like an immoveable statue. He was reduced to such a state that the men were no longer able to cope with his infirmity, and only the tender care of women would be able to help. So they carried him to a monastery of holy virgins, who not only brought him his food and drink, but ministered to his every natural need. They did this for four years, right up until the end of his life.
And yet, although his members were so affected that there was no lively movement in any of his joints, the grace of God worked so powerfully in him that when other sick people were anointed with oil that had touched his body they were restored to health immediately. And thus it became clear that the debility of his body was all within the providence of the love of God, and the grace of healings had been prepared by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to his merits and make them manifest.

 

Chapter 53 (Cassian, Conference 7, chap.27)

Abba Moyses

 

Moyses was the other man we have mentioned as living in this desert. He was an exceptional person second to none, and yet he was punished by a very wicked demon for having uttered a casual word of severe criticism against abba Macarius. The demon filled his mouth with human excrement. This purging chastisement was brought upon by divine dispensation, so that no stain of even the most momentary sin might remain in him, as is shown by the speed with which he was cured. For abba Macarius had immediately prostrated himself in prayer, and the evil spirit departed, put to flight by his command.
It must be clearly understood by all these happenings that we should not loathe or despise anyone who we can see are in the power of various temptations and evil spirits. There are two things which we must firmly hold fast to: firstly that nothing at all ever happens without the permission of God, secondly that everything God sends us comes from a loving and merciful doctor, and is intended for our benefit.

 

Chapter 54 (Cassian, Conference 8, chap.16)

The monk who in the solitude of the night saw

a great crowd of demons

 

A brother was once on a journey through the desert and at eventide found a cave to shelter in. By the time he had sung the usual psalms it was past midnight. His vigil finished, he was about to rest his weary body when he suddenly sat up again as he saw great crowds of demons flowing in from all sides, bunched up together, some in front of their leader, others behind him. Their leader was of a more imposing presence than them all, and more terrifying in appearance. When he had sat down on a lofty throne, he began to question each one of them in a searching cross-examination. Some confessed that they had not yet been able to prevail over their opponents, and them the leader castigated with fearful fury for the time and effort they had uselessly wasted. He condemned them as utterly worthless and drove them out of his sight. Others claimed that they had deceived the human beings assigned to them, and them he sent on their way as examples to them all, lavishing praise on them as the most brave of warriors, to the rejoicing and pleasure of them all.

One of the wickedest spirits of all came forward to announce exultantly a major triumph, for he mentioned by name a well-known monk whom he had been besieging constantly for the last five years, announcing that this very night this monk had fallen into the sin of fornication. This report was greeted by an immense shout of joy from all. The leader could not have praised him more highly, so that he departed crowned with the highest of honours.

Dawn came, and the crowd of demons vanished from view. The brother had his doubts about what the unclean spirit had said, mindful of the gospel saying that he is not rooted in truth, that the truth is not in him, and that when he speaks lies he speaks according to his nature (John 8.44). So he went to Pelusium, where he knew that the monk lived whom the evil spirit said that he had deceived. There was another brother there whom he knew, who told him in answer to his queries that on the very night when the evil spirit had reported to his leader, the monk in question had indeed left the monastery early in the evening, gone down to the village and fallen disgracefully into fornication.

Sighing and weeping, the brother returned to his own place.

 

Chapter 55 (Cassian, Conference 8, chap.18)

Two philosophers who visited Antony

 

Two philosophers who had heard of Antony's fame once came to visit him. After a discussion on several subjects they despised Antony as ignorant and illiterate and returned home. Not content with insulting him thus, they plotted to drive him from his cell by magic charms and demonic assistance. Driven by envy and spite, they set in motion an army of demons, such that every day many people began coming to Antony as to a servant of God. For some he traced the sign of the cross on their breast and forehead, for others he lay prostrate in prayer. Even the strongest demons were unable to come near, and they went back to those who had sent them, having achieved nothing. They sent some more powerful demons against him, who returned exhausted. They sent the most powerful and violent demons possible against the soldier of Christ, but they could not prevail against Antony's strong resistance. None of their wiles succeeded, their magic arts and necromancy were all in vain, and the evidence forced them to concede that there was great power in the Christian profession, since their shadowy demons had not been able to do Antony any harm, nor been able to drive him from his dwelling.

Overawed and astonished, the philosophers came back forthwith to the holy Antony and after confessing to him how their spite and malice had been behind the great battle they had brought against him, they asked to become Christians. Antony asked them the date when they had begun their battle, and when they told him he said that he had been attacked by the most bitter and stinging thoughts on that day.

We know that this same blessed Antony frequently prayed at such length that he was often taken up into ecstasy. We have heard him saying at sunrise, "Why are you dragging me back, O rising sun, from the brilliance of the one true light!"

 

 

 

 

De Vitis Patrum Book V

translated into Latin by Pelagius the Deacon

 

Libellus 1: Rules of the Fathers


V.i.1. When abba Antony was asked, "What rule should I keep in order to please God?"  the old man replied, "Follow this rule which I give you. Wherever you go, keep God continually before your eyes and apply the yardstick of Holy Scripture to everything you do. Wherever you happen to be don't try to move on too quickly. Do these three things and you will live."


V.i.2.   "What should I do?" Abba Pambo asked abba Antony,
The old man replied, "Don't put your trust in your own righteousness, don't go back on any promises, and be temperate in speech and appetite."

V.i.3.   Holy Gregory said, "God asks these three things of everyone who tries to live up to his Baptism, an unwavering faith with all his soul and strength, temperate speech and bodily chastity.."

V.i.4.   Abba Evagrius said, "Certain of the fathers used to say that a moderate and balanced diet together with charity will readily lead a monk into the way of passionlessness."

V.i.5.    And again he said, "A certain monk when told of the death of his father replied to the one who brought him the news, 'Don't be blasphemous. My father has immortal life.'"

V.i.6.  Abba Macarius said to abba Zacharias, "Tell me, what is the work of a monk?"
"Do you mean to say that you are asking me, father?" he replied. 
"Yes, you, Zacharias, my son. Something compels me to ask you."
"For my part, father, I think that whoever trains himself to submit to necessity is a true monk."

V.i.7.    It was said of abba Theodore (that is, Theodore of Pherme) that he was ruled by three things above all else, poverty, abstinence, and seclusion.

V.i.8.  Abba John The Dwarf said, "I would have everyone get a grip on all the virtues. Get up early in the morning every day, and make a start with them all. Patiently keep the commandments of God with fear and generosity and in the love of God, alert in body and mind and with great humility, in patience, in tribulation of heart, with circumspection, with many heartfelt prayers and intercessions, in purity and cleanliness of tongue with custody of the eyes, bearing injuries without anger, seeking peace without returning evil for evil, rejoicing not in other people's sins neither being conceited. Be self-effacing and humble before all other creatures, renouncing material gain, avoiding those who walk according to the flesh, striving always to follow the cross in humility of spirit with a strong will and spiritual discretion, with fasting, patience and tears in times of testing, with balanced judgment, chastity of soul, seeking the good in silence and manual labour, in nightly vigils, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in labour, reckoning yourself to be as one already dead in the sepulchre, so that death may be a present reality to you every day."

V.i.9.   Abba Joseph Thebaeus said, "There are three courses of action pleasing in the sight of God. The first is when temptations assail you in your weakness and you overcome them with the help of grace. The second is when you do everything for God and not for any human consideration. The third is when you submit to the counsels of your spiritual father and renounce your own will."

V.i.10.  Abba Cassian told a story about a certain abba John, head of his congregation, a great man in his manner of life. When he was on his death bed, ready to depart with joy, his mind fixed firmly on God, his brethren who were standing by asked him to leave them by way of a legacy some wholesome plan by which they might rise up to the perfection of Christ.
"I have never followed my own inclinations," he replied with a groan, "nor have I ever enjoined on anyone else anything which I have not first done myself."

V.i.11.   A brother asked an old man," What manner of life is so beneficial that if I walk in it I shall live?"
"God alone knows what is good," the old man said, "but I have heard that when one of the fathers questioned abba Nistero the great, the companion of abba Antony, he replied, 'Not all works people do are the same. Scripture tells us that Abraham was given to charity, and God was with him; Elijah sought silence and God was with him; David was humbled, and God was with him.' Whatever therefore you perceive in your heart to be a following of God, that do, and preserve your heart in peace."

V.i.12.  Abba Pastor said, "There are three operations of the soul, to be watchful, to reflect maturely, and to exercise discretion."

V.i.13.  A certain brother asked him, "In what way should a person live?" 
"Look at Daniel, who could be accused of nothing except the worship which he paid to God." The old man replied.

V.i.14.  Again he said, "Poverty, tribulation and discretion, these are the works of the solitary life. These are described as if they were three men, Noah, Job and Daniel. Noah personifies poverty, Job tribulation, and Daniel discernment. If anyone practises these three activities, God takes up his dwelling with him."

V.i.15.  Abba Pastor said, "If a man hates two things, he can become free from the world."  "What are those two things?" a brother asked.  "Vainglory and pandering to the body." was the reply

V.i.16 It is told of abba Pambo that as he was on his deathbed he said to the holy men standing around him, "Since the time that I came into this place of solitude, and built my cell and lived my life, I do not recollect ever having eaten bread that I have not worked for with my own hands, nor am I ashamed of any word which has come forth from my mouth right up to this moment. Yet now as I go to the Lord I have not even begun to serve God."

V.i.17.  Abba Sisois said, "If you humble yourself and thrust your desires behind you will be securely free from worldly care and you will find rest."

V.i.18.  Abba Chame said to his sons on his deathbed, "Have no dealings with heretics, neither fall foul of the law. Let not your hands be directed to piling up possessions but rather let them be stretched out to give."


V.i.19.   A brother asked an old man, "How does the fear of God come to anyone?" 
"If you have humility and poverty and don't judge others the fear of God will enter in." the old man said.


V.i.20. An old man said, "May fear, humility, abstemiousness and weeping make their dwelling in you."


V.i.21. Certain old men used to say, "Do not do to others what you yourself find repugnant. If you hate it when people insult you, don't insult anyone yourself. If you hate it when people say things falsely about you don't speak falsely about others. If you hate being tempted to return calumny for calumny, or suffering injury, or having your possessions stolen, or anything of that sort, do not do such things to others. He who can keep this saying is on the way to salvation."


V.i.22.  An old man said, "The life of a monk is labour, obedience, meditation, refraining from condemning and despising others and grumbling.  For it is written, 'You who love the Lord flee from evil' (Psalms 96.10). This is the life of a monk, to bear with injustice, to keep his eyes from evil and vain imaginings, not to be forever seeking novelties and hearing strange tales, to keep his hands from stealing but rather open them to give, not to be proud of heart or evil in thought, neither to be gluttonous, but to manage all things with discernment. In these things a monk lives."


V.i.23.  An old man said, "Beg God to shed light and humility into your heart, keep your sins always in mind and pass no judgment on others. Be subject to all, but have no familiarity with women, boys or heretics. Root out presumption, keep guard over your tongue and your stomach and abstain from wine. If someone picks a quarrel with you don't argue with him. If he speaks sensibly agree with him, but if maliciously, say, 'Well, I expect you know what you are talking about'. Don't argue with what he says and your mind will then remain in peace."

Libellus 2: Inner stillness

V.ii.1.  Abba Antony said, "Just as fish die if kept on dry land so monks are drawn away from their original intentions if they linger outside their cells or spend too much time with worldly people. Therefore just as the fish must needs return to the sea so should we hasten to our cells, lest through lingering abroad we lose our inner watchfulness."


V.ii.2. Again he said, "He who remains quietly in solitude is saved from three areas of conflict, that is, hearing, speech and sight. He only has one area of conflict, the battle in the heart."
V.ii.3. Abba Arsenius while still at the imperial court prayed to God, saying, "Lord, how can I be saved ?"  And he heard a voice saying, "Arsenius, fly from human beings and you will be on the path of salvation."  And after he had departed to follow the monastic life he prayed again in the same words. And he heard a voice saying, "Fuge, tace, quiete, (fly, say nothing, be at peace). From these three things sinlessness will grow."


V.ii.4. Archbishop Theophilus of blessed memory once visited Arsenius in the company of a certain magistrate, and begged the old man for his counsel. He remained silent for a moment.
"If I give you counsel, will you keep to it?" he asked. 
And they promised to do so.
"Wherever you hear Arsenius is near at hand go in the opposite direction," the old man said,
On another occasion when the Archbishop wished to see him he sent a message beforehand asking whether he would see him. And he replied, "If you come I will see you, but once I have seen you I would have to go on and see everyone and then I would stay here no longer." When the Archbishop heard this he said, "If I am really serious about following his example I won't intrude upon this holy man."


V.ii.5.  Arsenius once paid a visit to a certain place where there was a bed of reeds blown about by the wind.
"What is that rustling noise?" he said to the brothers.
"It is the reeds," they replied.
"Really, if someone sitting quietly heard so much as the song of a bird," the old man said, "he would no longer have quietness in his heart. How much more the sound of these reeds!"


V.ii.6. They say other people ministered to his needs, because his cell was thirty-two miles into the desert and he was never in a hurry to go out. But he did go out weeping when that part of the desert known as Scete was invaded.
"Just as the world has lost Rome, so the monks have lost Scete," he said


V.ii.7. Once when Arsenius was in Canopus a certain very rich but god-fearing matron came from Rome in search of him. She went first to Archbishop Theophilus and asked him if he would use his influence with the old man to allow her to visit him. So Theophilus went to visit Arsenius.
"There is a woman come from Rome who wants to see you," he said. But the old man would not agree that she should visit him. When she was told about this refusal, she ordered her horses to be saddled.
"I believe in God. I shall see him," she said. "There are men enough in Rome, but I have come in order to see a prophet."
And when she arrived near the old man's cell, by the providence of God he happened to be outside it. When she saw him she prostrated herself at his feet. He indignantly made her get up and glared at her.
"Well, if you must see my face, here it is. Stare at it," he said.
But she modestly would not meet his eye. "You've heard of my deeds, haven't you?" the old man said to her. "Well then, you really must look at me. What possessed you to undertake such a long journey? Don't you realise that you are a woman, and you ought not to go wandering about? And won't you go back to Rome and boast to the other women that you have seen Arsenius and thus make the sea into a high road for women to come and see me?"
"If only God will allow me to get back to Rome," she replied, "I won't let anyone else come here. But pray for me and remember me always."
"I pray to God that he will wipe out the memory of you from my heart." he replied.
Greatly upset she went away, and when she got back to the city she became quite ill in her distress. The Archbishop was told that she was ill and came to console her. He asked her what the matter was,
"How I wish that I had never come here!" she replied. "I asked the old man to remember me and he replied, 'I pray to God that he will wipe out the memory of you from my heart,' and now I am just dying from distress."
"Don't you realise that you are a woman," the Archbishop said to her, "and the devil uses women in his attack upon the holy men? That is why the old man said what he did, but he does pray always for your soul." Her mind was soothed, and she went home happy.


V.ii.8. Abba Evagrius said, "Stop hankering after a whole lot of things lest your mind gets into a turmoil and you lose your quiet way of life."


V.ii.9.  A brother once went to abba Moses in Scete asking for a word, and the old man said to him, "Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you all things."

V.ii.10. Abba Moses said, "The man who avoids other people is like a ripe grape, but the person who mixes a lot with others is like a grape that is sour."

V.ii.11. Abba Nilus said, "Any one who loves quiet is safe from the arrows of the enemy, but the person who mixes with the multitude suffers many wounds."

V.ii.12. Abba Pastor said, "The beginning of evil is to let your mind be distracted."  He also said "It is good to take no thought for bodily needs. For when a person is embroiled in a physical battle he is like a man standing next to a deep lake, and the moment an enemy sees him he is easily thrust in. If however he detaches himself from bodily things he is like a man a long way off from the well, so that while the enemy is trying to drag him in, God has time to send him help while he is being violently dragged towards it."

V.ii.13 Abraham the disciple of abba Sisoe once said, "Father, you are getting old. Let us return to the world for a while." 
"Alright," Abba Sisoe replied, "if we can go somewhere where there aren't any women." 
"And where is the place without any women, except in solitude?" his disciple asked
"So keep me in solitude," the old man said,

V.ii.14.   Amma Matrona said, "Many in the desert who seek for popularity will perish. However it is better to mingle with the multitude while at the same time longing for the solitary life than it is to live in solitude and long to be with the multitude."

V.ii.15. An old man said, "A monk ought always to seek after inner stillness, regretting even the physical loss of it."

V.ii.16. The story is told of three students who became monks. One of them chose to bring reconciliation to those engaged in lawsuits, in obedience to the Scripture, 'Blessed are the peacemakers' (Matthew 5.9).  The second took to nursing the sick, and the third sought inner stillness in solitude. The first one found that in his efforts to settle quarrels he couldn't always succeed. Totally discouraged he went to see the second one who was nursing the sick and found him similarly depressed and unable to fulfil what he had set out to do. So the two of them agreed to go and see the one in the desert. They told him their troubles and asked him if he had managed any differently from them. He didn't answer for a while, then poured some water into a bowl and told them to look into it while the water was still disturbed. And after a while when the water had become still he asked them to look again. And when they looked they saw their own faces as in a mirror. Then he said to them, "Thus it is with anyone living in the midst of people; there is so much agitation that you can't see your own shortcomings. But when you find inner stillness, especially in solitude then you can see your own sins."

Libellus 3: Compunction

V.iii.1.  It was said of abba Arsenius that throughout his life when he sat down to do his weaving he would hold a basin in his lap to catch the tears which flowed freely from his eyes.

V.iii.2.  A brother asked abba Ammo for a word.
"Go and model your thinking on those in prison," the old man said, "for they are wondering where is the judge and when will he come and they weep in expectation of punishment. Likewise the monk should hold himself in distrust and chide himself inwardly saying; 'Woe is me that I must stand before the judgment seat of Christ - for how shall I give an account of my deeds?'  If you therefore always think along these lines you will be safe."

V.iii.3.  Abba Evagrius said, "When you sit in your cell, retire into yourself and think of the day of your death. You will then realise how the body will decay. Think of its dissolution and mourn.  Conceive a repulsion for the vanities of the world. Be self-effacing and take thought as to how you might always remain in this state of quiet, and you will be all right. Think of all those who are in hell. Picture to yourself the state of their souls, their bitter silence, their heart rending groans, their fearful struggles, their grief and longing, their unending tears without relief. Consider also what confusion engulfs the sinners, suffering as they do in the sight of Christ and in the presence of Angels and Archangels, and Powers and all mankind. Think of all their punishments, the eternal fire, the deathless worm, the darkness of Tartarus, and above all, the gnashing of teeth, the fears and the torments.
"Contrast that with the good things laid up for the righteous, confidence before God the Father and Christ his Son, in the presence of the Angels and Archangels and Powers, in the presence of the whole company of the kingdom of heaven, with its gifts of joy and peace.
"Keep the memory of both these alternatives with you, and groan over the judgment pronounced upon sinners. Weep, imagine how they grieve, and fear lest you fall into the same condemnation. But over the good things laid up for you, rejoice, exult, and be glad. Hasten to enjoy them, but keep the other place far from you.  Never forget these things whether you are in your cell or elsewhere. Let the image of these things remain ever in your mind, for by this means you will at least rid your mind of evil and harmful thoughts."

V.iii.4. Abba Elias said, "I fear three things, first, the hour of my death, secondly having to stand before God, thirdly the sentence which will be pronounced upon me."

V.iii.5. When holy Theophilus the Archbishop was on his deathbed he cried, "Blessed art thou, Arsenius, for you always kept this hour in your mind."

V.iii.6.  Some brothers related how one of them had broken into laughter at the table when they were all eating peaceably together. When abba John noticed this he wept and said, "What do you think this brother has in his mind that he should laugh, when rather he ought to weep because he has disturbed their brotherly peace?"

V.iii.7.  Abba Jacob said, "Just as a lantern brings light into a dark room so does the fear of God as it comes into the heart illuminate it and teach it all virtue and the commandments of God."

V.iii.8.  Certain of the fathers asked abba Macarius of Egypt why his body remained so lean whether he ate or whether he fasted.
"If you use a piece of wood over and over again to poke the fire with," the old man replied, "the piece of wood itself gets burnt up in the end. So it is that if anyone keeps on immersing his mind in the fear of God, then the fear of God will burn up his bones."

V.iii.9.  Once the old men of Mount Nitria sent to abba Macarius in Scete asking him to visit them and telling him that a large crowd was about to visit him if he did not come to them, for they longed to see him before he departed to the Lord. So he came to the mountain and met a large gathering of all the brothers who asked him to give them a word. He however shed tears and said, "Let us weep, my brothers, let our eyes shed tears before we depart hence, that tears may waste away our flesh."  And they all wept and fell on their faces saying, "Father, pray for us."

V.iii.10. As abba Pastor was travelling in Egypt he saw a woman sitting by a gravestone weeping so bitterly that he said, "All the pleasures in the whole world would not be able to outweigh this poor soul's grief. So ought the monk always to let compunction dwell in his heart."

V.iii.11. On another occasion he was travelling with abba Anub in the land of Diolcus and passing by a cemetery they saw a woman beating her breast and weeping. They stood and looked at her before going on a little way where they met someone whom they asked what the woman's trouble was, that she wept so bitterly.
"Her husband, son and brother are all dead," was the reply.
  And abba Anub records that abba Pastor said, "I tell you, unless you put to death all the desires of the flesh and learn how to grieve like this woman you will never be a monk. For the whole heart and soul of this woman are in her weeping."

V.iii.12. Abba Pastor said, "There are two tasks in grieving, getting it and keeping it."

V.iii.13.  A brother asked him, "What should I do?" 
"When Abraham got to the promised land," he said, "he arranged for a burial place for himself, and thus by means of a sepulchre secured the land to his seed for ever." 

"What does 'sepulchre' mean?" the brother asked.
"A place of weeping and mourning." he said.

V.iii.14. Athanasius of pious memory asked abba Pambo to come down to Alexandria from the desert. And when he arrived he saw a woman of the theatre and wept. Asked by his companions why he wept he said, "Two things move me. First that this woman is lost, and secondly that I myself have not tried to please God half as much as this woman has tried to satisfy the desires of men."


V.iii.15. As abba Silvanus was sitting once with his companions he fell flat on his face into a trance. When he recovered after quite a long time he was weeping. And when his brothers asked him what was the matter he said nothing but continued to weep. After repeated urging he said, "I was caught up to the Judgment Seat and saw a crowd of people wearing the habit going into torment, and many seculars entering the kingdom."  And he continued to lament, from then on reluctant to leave his cell. But if necessity forced him to, he covered his face with his hood, saying, "What need to gaze upon this earthly scene in which there is no profit?"


V.iii.16. Syncletica of holy memory said, "There is immense labour and strife for the sinner who turns to God, but afterwards unspeakable joy. If you are trying to light a fire, before you succeed you get smothered in smoke, which irritates and brings tears to the eyes. Just so, it is written that our God is a consuming fire, and it is fitting that the divine fire should be lit in ourselves with tears and hard work."


V.iii.17 Abba Hyperichus said, "The monk labours night and day in watchfulness, praying unceasingly and as he is stirred in his inmost self he brings forth tears which draw down more readily the mercy of God."

V.iii.18. Some brothers who had some secular visitors came to abba Felix to ask him if he would give them a word. The old man however said nothing. But after they had pressed him for some time he said to them, "Do you really want a word?"
"Yes, indeed, father," they replied.
"A word is worth almost nothing." the old man then said. "At one time when the seniors were questioned the brothers acted on the advice given to them, and thus God acted through what was said. Now, however, since people ask and don't act on what they hear, God withdraws his grace from the seniors. They don't know what to say since their words bring no results."

V.iii.19. It is told of abbas Hor and Theodore that they took a goatskin into their cell and then said to each other, "If God should suddenly visit us what should we do?"  And they wept, left the place to itself and returned to their separate cells.

V.iii.20 An old man told how a certain brother wanted to become a monk but was put off by his mother. He persisted in his desire, however, saying, "I want to save my soul."  She continued to do all she could to prevent him, but when she realised that she couldn't prevail she agreed. He went away and became a monk but then wasted his time in idleness. It happened that his mother died and shortly afterwards he fell ill with a very serious disease. In his delirium he was snatched up to the Judgment Seat and found that his mother was among those condemned. When she saw him she was astonished.
"What's this, my son?" she said. "Have you also been condemned and sent here? What's happened to what you said about wanting to save your soul?"
Put to shame by these words and struck dumb by sorrow he stood there unable to reply to his mother. After this vision, by the merciful dispensation of God he began to get better and recovered from his illness. Realising that this vision could only have been sent by divine intervention he took it to heart and sat down to think about his own salvation, lamenting and repenting of those things in which he had failed because of his former negligence. He concentrated on this so intensely that many begged him to spare himself a little lest he harm himself because of all the tears which beyond measure he was shedding. But he refused to be comforted, saying, "If I didn't take to heart the reproaches of my mother how would I stand up against the accusation to be made against me by Christ and the holy Angels in the Day of Judgement?"


V.iii.21. An old man said, "If it were at all possible for human souls to die of fright at the coming of the Lord after the Resurrection, then the whole world would perish from dread and terror. For what must it be like to see the heavens opened and God appearing in anger and wrath with innumerable hosts of Angels before the whole race of humankind? For this reason we ought to live as those who must give an account of all our deeds before God."


V.iii.22. A brother asked an old man, "Why is it, father that my heart remains hardened and I have no fear of God?" 
"I think if you keep on goading your heart you will possess the fear of God," the old man said to him.   
"What do you mean by 'goading'?" the brother asked.
"In everything you do," the old man replied, "goad on your heart, saying, 'Remember you must appear before God'. Also say this, 'What need I fear from human judgment?'  And I reckon that if you persevere in this, the fear of God will grow."


V.iii.23. An old man saw a certain person acting the fool and said to him, "We have to give an account of our whole life before God, and you play the fool?"

V.iii.24 An old man said, "Just as we carry our shadows with us wherever we go so we ought always to know tears and compunction wherever we are."

V.iii.25. A brother asked an old man, "Father, give me a word." 
"When God struck the Egyptians there was not a household escaped mourning," the old man said.

V.iii.26. A brother asked another old man, "What should I do?" 
"We ought always to weep," the old man said. "It so happened that a certain old man gave up the ghost but after a while returned to life again. We asked him what he had seen and with tears he replied, 'I heard a voice there lamenting and repeating incessantly, "Woe is me."' We likewise should always weep."

V.iii.27. A brother asked a certain old man why it was that he longed in his heart to be able to weep, for he heard the seniors weeping but tears would not come and that troubled his soul.  And the old man said, "It was forty years before the children of Israel entered the promised land. The gift of tears is like the promised land; if you get there you no longer fear the battle. God wills that the soul be troubled so that it might constantly desire to enter into that land."


Libellus 4: Self Control

V.iv.1.  Certain brothers from Scete, wishing to visit abba Antony, took ship in order to make that journey. They met on board a certain old man who also was going to visit Antony, although they did not realise this.  As they sat in the ship they talked about the sayings of the fathers, the Scriptures, and the way in which they themselves worked, but the old man remained silent through it all. It wasn't until they got to the harbour that they realised that he too was on his way to Antony. When they had arrived abba Antony said, "You've had good company on your journey in this old man." And to the old man, "You've brought some good brothers with you." 
"Good, indeed," said the old man, "except that their dwelling place has no gateway. Anyone who wants to can go into the stable and let loose the ass." 
He said this because each one of them had been saying whatever first came into his head.

V.iv.2.  Abba Daniel said that abba Arsenius used to keep vigil all through the night, and when towards morning he decided as a concession to nature to have some sleep he would say, "Come on then, sleep, you wicked servant", and he would snatch some sleep sitting down before getting up again soon after.

V.iv.3.  Abba Arsenius used to say, "If a monk is any sort of a warrior at all one hour's sleep should be sufficient."

V.iv.4.  Abba Daniel said of him, "During all the years that he was with us we gave him a small share of the harvest for him to live on during the year, and whenever we went to see him he fed us as well out of that."

V.iv.5. He also said that he kept on topping up the water in which he soaked his palm leaves and changed it only once a year. He used to make mats out of these palms and worked at them up to the sixth hour. Some of the seniors asked him why he didn't change the water, as it stank.
"In the world I used to make use of sweet smelling lotions and herbs," he replied, "so it is fitting that now I endure this stink."

V.iv.6.  Again he told how when Arsenius heard that all the different kinds of apple had ripened he asked for some. And he took one tiny taste only of each sort, giving thanks to God.

V.iv.7. It was said of abba Agathon that for three years he kept a stone in his mouth to help him learn how to keep silent.

V.iv.8.  Abba Agathon was once going on a journey with some of his disciples when one of them found a small packet of green bracelets on the way and said to the old man, "Father, should I pick these up?" 
The old man looked at them and admired them greatly.
"Did you put them there?" he asked.
"No, father." the brother replied.
And the old man said, "What is it makes you want to pick up what you haven't put down?"

V.iv.9. One of the old men once came to abba Achilles and found him spitting blood out of his mouth.
"What's this, father?" he said.
And the old man said, "A certain brother has said something to me which plunged me into gloom, and I tried very hard not to let it affect me. So I prayed to the Lord that it might be taken away and he has made those words as blood in my mouth which I have spat out, since when I have found peace and forgotten all my grief."

V.iv.10 Abba Achilles once went to visit abba Isaiah in his cell in Scete and when he went in he found Isaiah partaking of some refreshment. (He had put some salt and water into a bowl). When he saw that Isaiah hid the bowl under some palm mats he asked what it was that he had been eating.
"Forgive me, father," he replied. "I was splitting palm leaves and got very hot so I dipped a little bit of (bucella) in salt and put it in my mouth for my throat was all dried up. But I could not swallow it, so I was driven to pour a little water on to the salt to try and help me swallow - but forgive me."   
And abba Achilles said, "Come and see the sort of broth Isaiah eats in Scete. If you want real broth, go to Egypt."

V.iv.11 It was said of abba Ammoy that he fell ill and was confined to bed for several years, but never expressed any curiosity about getting up to see what he possessed inside his cell; for because of his illness he had been receiving many gifts. When his disciple John came in and went out he shut his eyes lest he should see what he was doing. What he did know was that he was being faithful to his monastic calling.

V.iv.12. Abba Benjamin, the presbyter in the Cells, said that when he went to a certain old man in Scete, with the intention of giving him a little bottle of oil, the old man said to him, "Look at this little bottle of oil which you brought me three years ago. There it still is in the place where you put it down."
Hearing this we marvelled at his attitude.

V.iv.13. It was said of abba Dioscurus of Namisia that he ate only barley bread and crushed lentils, and that for a year at a time he kept one or other of the following rules, either to visit no one, or to keep absolute silence, or to eat nothing cooked, or to refrain from fruit or olives.  And he kept to this whatever he did. Having done one of these things for a year he then switched to another, and kept to that, year after year.


V.iv.14. Abba Evagrius told of an old man who said that he avoided anything that pandered to his senses in order to cut off all occasions of discontent, for he was aware that his discontent increased always in proportion to sensual satisfaction, and stirred him up emotionally and made him unreasonable.


V.iv.15. Epiphanius, the bishop of Cyprus once sent to abba Hilarion saying, "Come, let's meet before we die."  And when they met and sat down to eat there was brought to them a portion of poultry which the bishop picked up and offered to Hilarion.
"Forgive me, father", he said, "but since taking the habit I have never eaten anything killed."
"And since I have taken the habit," Epiphanius replied, "I have never let anyone go to bed still bearing a grudge against me, nor have I slept still holding a grudge against anyone else." 
"Forgive me, father," the old man said. "Your deeds are better than mine."


V.iv.16. It was said of abba Elladius that for twenty years in his cell he never lifted up his eyes to look at the ceiling.


V.iv.17. Once when abba Zeno was travelling in Palestine he sat down after work by a cucumber patch to eat his meal. A thought arose in his mind, "Pick a cucumber and eat it. It wouldn't matter much, would it." 
To this thought he replied, "Thieves are condemned to torment. Find out first whether you would be able to bear such torment." 
So he got up and stood in the sun for five days, becoming thoroughly dehydrated, until he said to himself, "I can't bear this torment." His better judgment then said to him, "If you can't bear torment then you had better not steal in order to eat."


V.iv.18. Abba Theodore said, "Fasting keeps the body under control." But another senior said, "Vigils are more effective."


V.iv.19. Abba John the Dwarf said, "If a king wishes to annex an enemy state he first of all cuts off their water and food supply, until perishing with hunger they submit to him. It's the same with the demands of our stomach. If you accustom yourself to fasting and hunger, the enemy seeking to overcome your soul is weakened."


V.iv.20. He also said, "Once when I was going up on the road to Scete with my palm mats I fell in with a camel driver whose conversation aroused me to furious anger. So I dropped what I was carrying and fled."


V.iv.21. Abba Isaac the presbyter of the Cells once said, "I know of a brother who when reaping in the fields felt like having an ear of wheat. So he asked the owner, 'Would you mind if I had an ear of wheat?'  The owner was astonished at hearing this and said, 'You are in charge of the field, father, and you are asking me?' Such was the scrupulous honesty of this noteworthy monk."

V.iv.22. One of the brothers asked abba Isidore, one of the old men of Scete, "How is it that the demons are so afraid of you?" 
"Ever since I became a monk," the old man said, "I have never allowed anger to rise as far as my throat."

V.iv.23. He also said, "For the last forty years I have felt the temptations of sin in my heart, but I have never consented either to concupiscence or to anger."

V.iv.24 Abba Cassian had this to say about abba John who lived near abba Esaius for forty years in the farthest depths of the desert: "He had a great atmosphere of charity about him, and I questioned him about his fidelity to charity, saying, 'You've been on your own for so long that you haven't been likely to have suffered injury from anyone, so tell me, how have you managed this?'  And he said, 'Since becoming a solitary I have broken my fast only after sunset. Nor have I ever let the sun go down upon my wrath.'"


V.iv.25. He also narrated how abba Serapion had told abba Moses, "When I was young, I lived and ate with Theonas, my abbot, and when leaving the refectory I succumbed to the wiles of the devil and picked up a slice of bread to eat in secrecy without my abbot knowing. After having done this several times I began to be thoroughly addicted to this vice and couldn't give it up, but consulted no one about it except my own conscience, being too embarrassed to discuss it with the old man. However in a dispensation of God's mercy some of the brethren met together with him for spiritual direction and questioned him about private thoughts. The old man said in reply that there was nothing which harmed monks and pleased the devil so much as concealing private thoughts from your spiritual father. He spoke also about self-control. As he was saying all this I suddenly found myself crying, thinking that God must have told him about me, and plucking from out of my sleeve the bread which my bad habits had led me to steal I fell down before him, begging forgiveness for my past sins and prayer for future amendment. And then the old man said, 'Your confession, my son, has of itself freed you from captivity, without any need for me to say anything. By your self-accusation you have put to flight the demon who was able to darken your soul because of your silence, and who up to now had been allowed to dominate you without contradiction or rebuke. Now that you have driven him out into the open there is no longer any room for him in your heart.' He had hardly finished speaking when something happened which bore out what he had said, for a flash of fire came out of my sleeves and the whole house was filled with such a horrible smell that those who were there thought that there must have been a quantity of sulphur being burned. And the old man said, 'See, my son, the Lord has shown by this token that he has confirmed both my words and your deliverance.'"


V.iv.26. It was said of abba Macarius that when relaxing in the company of the brothers he made a rule for himself that if wine were offered him he would drink it, but that for every cup of wine he would afterwards go for a whole day without water. But as all the brothers wanted was for him to have some relaxation they did offer him wine, and the old man gladly drank it but afterwards punished himself for it. But a disciple who had found out about this said to the brothers, "For Heaven's sake don't give it to him, for afterwards he compensates for it by punishing himself."  When the brothers realised this they stopped offering it to him.


V.iv.27. Abba Macarius the great in Scete said to the brothers, "After Mass in the church, brothers, flee." 
"Where can we flee to in this solitude, father?" one of the brothers asked.
And he put his finger on his lips, saying, "This is what you must flee from", and going in to his cell he shut the door and stayed by himself.


V.iv.28. Again abba Macarius said, "If you are moved to anger when you decide to rebuke someone, keep your passion within bounds. Don't jeopardise your own salvation in order to save your brother."
V.iv.29. Abba Pastor said, "If Nabuzaradan the captain of the guard had not invaded, the temple of the Lord would not have burnt by fire (2 Kings. 25). In the same way, if bodily indulgence had not invaded your heart, the mind would not have broken down in its fight against the enemy."

V.iv.30. It was said of abba Pastor that when he was bidden to the common meal he wept, but would still go there lest he offended his brothers by disobedience.

V.iv.31. When abba Pastor was told of a certain monk who wouldn't drink wine he replied, "A monk should have nothing to do with wine."

V.iv.32.  Again, abba Pastor said, "Just as bees are driven out by smoke so that the sweetness of honey can be removed, so bodily indulgence drives the fear of God out of your heart so that all your good works are brought to naught."

V.iv.33. One of the old men told how the mother of abba Pastor and his brothers wanted to visit them in Egypt and was not allowed. So one day she watched closely and when they went to church she came to meet them. But when they saw her they turned back into their cell and shut the door in her face. She stood at the door shouting and weeping in great grief. Abba Anub heard her and going over to abba Pastor asked, "What shall we do about this old woman, weeping in front of your door?" 
Abba Pastor then got up, went to the door and still standing inside listened to her weeping very sadly and said, "Why are you crying, old woman?" 
Hearing his voice she cried and shouted all the more, saying, "You are my children. I just want to see you. Why shouldn't I see you? Am I not your mother? Have I not suckled you? Are we not totally of one flesh? It is very moving to hear your voice."
"Do you really want to see us now, in this world?" the old man said to her. 
"Well, if I don't see you here, my children," she replied, "shall I see you in the world to come?" 
"If you can bear it not to see us here," he replied, "you shall certainly see us in the world to come."
And the mother departed rejoicing, saying, "If I am really going to see you in the world to come, I don't need to see you here."


V.iv.34. It was said of abba Pior that he used to eat while walking about. And when someone asked him why he ate in this way he replied that he wanted to show that food was not as it were something he really needed but rather something superfluous. And to another who questioned him he said that it was so that he shouldn't dwell on the pleasant taste of the food.


V.iv.35. Abba Peter, surnamed Pyonius, who lived in the Cells was said never to drink wine. When he got old, however, they begged him to take just a little. When he wouldn't agree they warmed a little water and offered it to him, and he said, "Believe me, my sons, I will accept this as if it were medicine." And he professed himself to be quite content with warm water.

 

V.iv.36. Once when there had been a celebration of Mass in abba Antony's mountain, there was a little wine left over which one of the seniors poured into a small cup and took to abba Sisoe, who when he was offered it drank it. A second time he accepted and drank, but on being offered it a third time he refused, saying, "Easy, brother, don't you know where Satan is?"

 

V.iv.37 A certain brother asked abba Sisoe what he should do because certain of the brothers out of kindness frequently asked him to stay for a meal after church.

"That's burdensome", the old man said.

And his disciple, Abraham, said, "If a brother goes to church on the Saturday and Sunday and drinks three cups of wine afterwards, would that be too much?"

"That wouldn't be too much, if it weren't for Satan," the old man said.

 

V.iv.38 Often when abba Sisoe's disciple said to him, "Come on, father, it's time to eat", he would reply, "Are you sure we haven't eaten already, my son?" And when the disciple assured him they hadn't the old man would say, "Well, if we haven't eaten, bring the food and let's eat."

 

V.iv.39. Abba Sisoe once confidently asserted that for thirty years he had not prayed to God about his sins without saying, 'Lord, Jesus, protect me from my own tongue.'

"And even now," he said, "day after day I fail and transgress because of it."

 

V.iv.40. Abba Silvanus and his disciple Zacharias once came to a certain monastery where they gave them some refreshment before they went on. And as they travelled on the disciple came upon a pool and desired to drink. But abba Silvanus said to him, "Zacharias, today is a fast day,"

"Haven't we just been eating to day, father?" he replied.

And the old man said, "The food which we have just taken was out of charity. As for us, my son, let us keep to our fast."

 

V.iv.41 Holy Syncletica said, "The precept which above all we ought to hold fast is to maintain our chastity. Even among worldly people chastity may be kept, but it can be totally unprofitable if they sin in all their other senses, by inordinately leering and laughing indecently."

 

V.iv.42 Again she said, "Just as strong medicine can drive out bodily poisons, so fasting and prayer can drive out squalid thoughts from the soul."

 

V.iv.43 Again she said, "Don't be led astray by the delicacies of this world which rich people use, however beneficial they might be in themselves. For they tickle their palates by seasoning their food with all manner of clever spices. But as for you, avoid a superfluity of such delights by means of fasting and disinterest in food. Neither be stuffed full of bread or hanker after wine."

 

V.iv.44. Abba Sisoe said, "The main point of our pilgrimage is that we should learn to guard our tongue."

 

V.iv.45. Abba Hyperichius said, "Just as a terrible lion can be put to the test by wild asses, so can a monk by thoughts of self-satisfaction."

 

V.iv.46. Again he said, "Fasting serves the monk as a bridle against sin. If you put off fasting, you become like a stallion, overcome by sexual desire."

 

V.iv.47. Again he said, "The monk's body is dried up by fasting, but his soul is drawn upwards from the depths. The fasting of the monk dries up the springs of desire."

 

V.iv.48. Again he said, "A chaste monk is honoured on earth, and in heaven is honoured by the Most High with a crown."

 

V.iv.49 The same man said, "The monk who can't hold his tongue when angry won't be able to restrain his bodily desires either."

V.iv.50 Again he said, "Let not your mouth bring forth evil words any more than a vine might bring forth thorns."

 

V.iv.51 Again he said, "Eating flesh and drinking wine is no better than devouring the life of your brother by slandering him."

 

V.iv.52. Again he said, "The serpent whispering to Eve drove her from Paradise. Similarly, if you speak evil of your neighbour you imperil your own soul no less than the soul of anyone who listens to you."

 

V.iv.53 Once on a feast day in Scete an old man was offered a cup of wine which he thrust away from him, saying, "Take this death-dealing stuff away." When the other people at table saw this they refrained from drinking also.

V.iv.54.  On another occasion a small vessel of newly made wine was brought in to be poured into the brothers' cups. And a certain brother coming in saw that they had accepted the wine and ran off into the cellar just as it collapsed on him. Hearing the noise the brothers ran in and found him lying there half dead and began to revile him, saying, "Serves you right for trying to make out you are somebody."

But the Abbot stood up for him, saying, "Leave the brother alone. He's done a good work. And as the Lord lives, this cellar will not be rebuilt during my time so that the world may know that all because of a cup of wine a cellar collapsed in Scete."

 

V.iv.55 The presbyter of Scete once went to Alexandria to see the bishop. And on his return to Scete the brethren asked him, "How was it in the city?"

"Believe me, brothers," he replied, "I looked on the face of no one but the bishop."

Hearing this they were puzzled and asked, "What about all those crowds of people?"

As a reminder and encouragement to the forgetful, the presbyter replied, "I disciplined my curiosity and refrained from looking at them."

The brothers took the point of this story and renewed the custody of their eyes.

 

V.iv.56 One old man was once visiting another, who then said to his disciple, "Prepare a little lentil soup."

And he did so.

"And soak a little bread in it for us."

And he soaked it.

And while they went on talking of spiritual matters the food stayed there until the sixth hour of the next day, when the old man once more said to his disciple, "Prepare a little lentil soup, my son."

"I've already done that yesterday," he replied.

Only then did they rise and take some food.

 

V.iv.57. Another old man visited a certain father who cooked a little lentil soup and then said, "Let us do the work of God first and then eat."

So one of them recited the complete psalter, and the other recited two of the major prophets off by heart. When morning was come the visitor departed, both of them having forgotten completely about the food.

 

V.iv.58. A certain brother felt hungry one morning but refused to allow himself to eat until the third hour. And when the third hour was come he forced himself to fast until the sixth hour, when he soaked some bread and sat down ready to eat. But then he got up again, saying, "No, I'll wait till the ninth hour."

At the ninth hour as he said the prayers he saw the power of the devil rising up from him like a puff of smoke, and the pangs of his hunger immediately ceased.

 

V.iv.59. A certain old man fell ill and could eat nothing for quite some time, so that his disciple begged him to be allowed to make something for him to eat. And he went away to make some rolls out of a little flour (de farinula lenticulam et zippulas). There was a vessel hanging there with some honey in it, and also another one containing rancid oil (raphanaleum), which was the only one, he could see in the dim light. In mistake the brother put the rancid oil in his mixture instead of the honey. When the old man had tasted it he ate in silence and the disciple urged him to eat some more. He forced himself to do so and the disciple urged him a third time. Unable to manage any more he said, "Truly, I can't, my son."

The disciple kept on urging him, saying, "It's good for you, father. Look I'll eat some with you."

But when he had tasted it and realised what he had done he fell on his face and said, "Woe is me, father. I might have killed you. And because you didn't say anything I might have had a terrible sin on my shoulders."

But the old man said, "Don't worry, my son. If God had wanted me to eat honey it would have been honey that you put in those little rolls."

 

V.iv.60 It was told of a certain old man that he once had a hankering after cucumbers. And when he had got one he first of all hung it up where he could see it, to show that he was not the slave of his appetite. So he conquered himself, and did penance for having been overcome by desire in the first place.

 

V.iv.61. A brother once went to visit his sick sister in her monastery. She was one who was utterly steadfast, and had no desire to see any man, or give occasion to her brother to find himself in the midst of a lot of women for her sake, so she sent him a message, "Go, brother, and pray for me, for by the grace of Christ I shall see you in the kingdom of heaven."

 

V.iv.62. A monk once met some nuns as he went on a journey, and when he saw them he made a detour out of way. And the Abbess said to him, "If you had been a perfect monk you wouldn't have looked at us so closely as even to notice whether we were women or not."

 

V.iv.63. Some brothers once went into Alexandria at the invitation of Archbishop Theophilus, who made a speech to his guests about destroying pagan temples. And when they dined with the Archbishop they were served with a dish containing pieces of veal, which they were unwittingly eating until the Archbishop picked up a morsel of the meat and offered it to the old man sitting next to him saying, "Here's a really choice piece of meat for you to eat, father."

But they all replied, "Up to now we thought we were eating olives. But if it really is meat we can't eat it."

And all refused to eat any more.

 

V.iv.64. A certain brother had some fresh loaves of bread in his cell and invited some of the seniors to eat with him. And when they had each eaten a slice they stopped. The brother, aware of how severe their fasting usually was, began very humbly to urge them for the love of God to eat that day till they were satisfied. And they ate another ten slices. See, then, how true monks, single-minded ascetics, could for the love of God eat more than was their custom.

 

V.iv.65. An old man was sick of a very serious disease such that he was coughing up blood. And a certain brother brought him some dried fruit and made it into a dish which he offered him, saying, "Try it. It will do you good."

The old man looked at him for a long time and said, "To be quite honest I would rather that the Lord would let me remain in this illness for another thirty years."

And there was no way that the old man in his illness would agree to eat even a little of such food, so that the brother had to take back what he had brought and return to his own cell.

 

V.iv.66. A brother happened to visit another old man who had been a hermit for a very long time, and found him ill. So he bathed his face and made a tasty dish out of some food which he had brought with him. When the old man saw this he said, "Truly, brother, I had forgotten that human beings could turn to food for consolation." And when offered a cup of wine he wept saying, "I had thought to live out my days without drinking wine."

 

V.iv.67. An old man decided to go without water for forty days. And when it got to be very hot he rinsed out a water jar, filled it with water and hung it up where he could see it. When his brothers asked why, he replied, "Looking at what I desire and not taking it, I am able to put up with the greatest heat and thus earn a greater reward from the Lord."

 

V.iv.68. A certain brother going on a journey with his already aged mother came to a river which the old woman couldn't face wading through. So her son wrapped his hands up in his cloak lest he should make any contact with his mother's body and carried her across the river. His mother asked him why he had done that to his hands

"Because a woman's body is like a fire," he replied. "In the very act of touching you I would have found phantasies of other women coming into my mind."

 

V.iv.69. One of the fathers told how there was a certain brother who having fasted all Holy Week came to the liturgy on the Saturday, but left after receiving communion so that he wouldn't have to eat with his brethren in the church. And afterwards when alone, he ate only a few vegetables sprinkled with salt and no bread.

 

V.iv.70 Some brothers gathered once in Scete eating dates and one of them who was ill with much fasting coughed up some phlegm which accidentally landed on another brother who was tempted to complain about having been spat upon. But in order to overcome his thoughts he picked up the spittle, put it in his mouth and swallowed it, saying to himself, "Lest you say something to your brother which might upset him, consume this unappetising thing."

 

 

Libellus 5:  Sexual Temptation

 

V.v.1. Abbot Antony said, "I reckon that the body is permeated by a natural power of movement, which does not operate except as the mind directs it, and whose significance in the body is only that of a movement which is not governed by outside influences. But there is another power of movement which comes from the body being nourished and aroused by food and drink which heat the blood and excite the body in its actions. Wherefore the Apostle says, 'Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess' (Eph.5.18). And again in the Gospel the Lord commands his disciples, 'But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness' (Luke 21.34). There is yet a third power of movement for those who are struggling to order their lives which comes from the wiles and treachery of the demons. So you need to know that there are three kinds of bodily movement, one natural, one from eating too much, and one from the demons."

 

V.v.2. Abba Gerontius Petrensis said, "There are many who, being tempted by the thoughts of bodily pleasure, do not allow the body to be affected but who nevertheless sin in their minds. They maintain virginity in their bodies but think thoughts of sex (secundum animum fornicantur). It is a good thing, therefore, beloved brethren, to do as it is written, 'Keep thy heart with all diligence'"(Proverbs 4.23).

 

V.v.3. Abba Cassian told of how abba Moses said, "It is a good thing not to conceal your thoughts but to reveal them to an old man of spirituality and discretion, not merely to someone who is old in years. There are many who trusted and confided simply in someone who was old but who had no experience. Instead of getting consolation they were driven to final despair."

 

V.v.4.  There was a certain brother who was most zealous in ordering his life. And when he was grievously troubled by the demon of sex he went to a certain old man and told him his thoughts. When this expert heard, he was indignant and called the brother a miserable wretch unworthy of the monk's habit to entertain such thoughts. The brother, hearing this, despaired of himself, left his cell and began to go back to the world. But by the mercy of God, abba Apollo met him, and seeing that he was upset and unhappy he asked him, "Brother, why so sad?"

In great confusion of mind he was at first unwilling to answer, but in the face of much questioning by the old man as to what the matter was he at last confessed, saying, "I am bothered by thoughts of sex, and I confessed to that old man and according to him there is no hope of salvation for me, so in despair I'm going back to the world."

When father Apollo heard this he talked and reasoned with him like a wise physician, saying, "Don't be too dumbfounded, or despairing of yourself. Even at my age and state of life I can be greatly troubled by thoughts such as these. Don't collapse in this time of testing; it can be cured not so much by human advice as by the mercy of God. But just for today grant me one request: go back to your cell."

This the brother did. Abba Apollo however hastened to the cell of that old man who had sown despair and standing outside prayed the Lord, "Lord, who allows us to be tempted for our good, turn the battle which this brother has suffered against this old man, that in his old age he may learn from experience what he didn't learn long since, that you must have compassion on those who are troubled by this sort of temptation."

Having completed his prayer he saw an Ethiopian standing by the cell casting arrows against this old man, who, severely wounded, began to stagger about here and there as if drunk with wine. Unable to bear it any longer he rushed out of the cell and began to return to the world by the same road as the young brother had taken. But abba Apollo, knowing what was happening, met him, and running up to him asked, "Where are you going? And what is the reason for the agitated state you are in?"

But he, sensing that the holy man knew all about what was happening, could say nothing for very shame.

"Go back to your cell," said abba Apollo, "and acknowledge your own weakness, recognise it as part of yourself. For either you have been overlooked by the devil up till now, or else despised as being so lacking in virtue as to be unworthy of striving against him. Did I say 'strife'?  You weren't even able to put up with his attacks for a single day! But all this happened to you because when that young man was attacked by our common adversary, instead of giving him helpful advice against the devil as you ought, you drove him into despair, forgetful of that wise precept by which we are bidden to save those on a pathway towards death and neglect not to redeem the condemned (Proverbs 14). Nor have you heeded the sayings of our Saviour, 'A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoking flax he shall not quench' (Matthew 12.20). No one can withstand the attacks of the enemy, or quench and contain the fire of rebellious nature, unless the grace of God comes to the aid of our natural infirmity, which in all our prayer we beg God in his mercy to heal in us, and that he may turn away from us the attacks launched against us, for it is of him that we are cast down and again restored to the way of salvation, it is he who strikes and then heals us with his hands, he humbles and exalts, he kills and makes alive, he leads us down to the depths and raises us up again" (1 Kings 2).

Having said this he prayed, and at once the old man was freed from that battle. And abba Apollo urged him to seek from the Lord a tongue of discretion, so that he might know when the time was right for giving a sermon.

 

V.v.5. Syrus Alexandrinus, when asked about sexual thoughts replied thus, "If you didn't have thoughts you would be a hopeless case, since those who are freed from thoughts are those who have moved into deeds, that is, those who have sinned in the body are the ones who have not fought against thoughts of sin, or turned them down. The one who sins in the body has gone beyond being troubled by thoughts."

 

V.v.6. An old man questioned a brother, saying, "Are you in the habit of talking with a woman?"

"No," the brother replied. "In my thoughts are phantasies both old and new, and some memories, which disturb me with images of women."

The old man replied, "Fear not the dead past, but fly from the living present, that is, consenting to and committing sin - and cast your prayer net wider."

 

V.v.7. Abba Matthois told of a certain brother who came to him and said that a scandalmonger was worse than a fornicator, to which he replied, "That's a difficult one."

The brother asked, "How would you see it, then?"

The old man said, "Scandal-mongering is indeed an evil, but can be quickly cured if the offender does penance and repents, confessing that he has spoken evil. Sexual sin however brings instant death."

 

V.v.8. Abba Pastor said, "Just as a prince's armour bearer (spatharius) stands before him always in full armour, so ought the soul always to stand ready against the demon of sexual sin."

 

V.v.9. A brother once came to abba Pastor and said, "What shall I do, father? For I am troubled by sexual temptation. And I went to abba Hybistio who said, 'You ought not to let such things dwell with you any longer.'"

Abba Pastor said, "The deeds of abba Hybistio are lifted up to the Angels in heaven and have taken him out of sight. You and I however are still struggling. But if a monk guards his stomach and his tongue and stays in solitude he will be saved from death."

 

V.v.10.  It was told of Amma Sara that for thirteen years she was severely attacked by the demon of sexual temptation but she never prayed to be released from this battle; she only kept on saying, "Lord give me strength."

 

V.v.11. It was also told about her that she was attacked by an even more hostile and threatening demon of sexual temptation filling her head with worldly deceptions. But abating nothing of her fear of God and her profession of chastity she went to pray in her inner chamber and saw the demon of fornication in bodily form, who said to her, "You have conquered me, Sara."

But she replied, "Not I but Christ my Lord."

 

V.v.12.  A certain brother goaded by sexual temptation felt that it was like having a burning fire in his heart night and day, but he went on battling, giving no assent or concession to his thoughts, until after many days the thoughts subsided, unable to prevail over the brother's perseverance. And at once it was as if a great light was lit in his heart.

 

V.v.13. Another brother goaded by sexual thoughts got up in the middle of the night and ran to an old man to confess and receive counsel. Helped and strengthened he returned to his cell. And behold the devil tempted him again, so that again he ran to the old man. This happened several times. The old man by no means discouraged him, but gave him appropriate advice, "Don't give in to the devil, don't relax your mind, but as often as the devil is troublesome, come to me so that he may be rebuked and put to flight, for nothing wearies the devil so much as having his attacks brought out into the open, and nothing rejoices him so much as thoughts being concealed."

Eleven times the brother came to him to reveal his thoughts, and at last he cried, "Mercy on me, father. Give me a word."

And the old man said, "Believe, my son, that God has allowed thoughts which have goaded my own mind to be transferred to you, but don't carry them away with you, cast them down in front of you straight away."

As the old man said this, because of his great humility, the murmur of temptation was stilled in the brother's heart.

 

V.v.14. Another one, goaded by sexual temptation kept on battling and underwent ever more severe fasts for forty years, guarding his thoughts and refusing consent to them. At last he came in to the church and made known to everybody what he had been going through. And everyone was enjoined to do penance for him for a week, joining together in prayer to the Lord, and behold his temptation ceased.

 

V.v.15. On the subject of sexual temptation an old man said, "You lazy hermits, do you really want to walk on the path of salvation? Get going, work hard, take pains, seek and you will find, wake up, knock and it will be opened unto you. Think of the gladiators of this world, who when seen to have stood up bravely against all manner of attacks, receive the crown. See how much strength can be built up by physical exercise. So do you stand, and be strong, and the Lord will fight against the enemy for you."

 

V.v.16. Another old man spoke thus about these same sexual thoughts, "Be like somebody going along the street or into a shop who can smell cooking or some other such pleasant smell. If he wants to he can stop and eat, but if not, all he gets is the smell before he passes by. So you may leave the smell behind you, rise up and pray, 'Lord. Son of God, help me'. And do this to counteract all sorts of other thoughts. For we don't aim at eradicating thoughts but at fighting against them."

 

V.v.17. Another old man said, "We suffer these things because of our negligence. If we really trusted that God dwelt within us, we would not allow any other superfluous baggage inside. For the Lord Christ dwelling in us and with us, sees every aspect of our lives. Bearing him with us as we do, and gazing upon him, we ought not to be negligent but become holy as he is holy. Let us stand on this rock and let the enemy dash himself against it in vain. Fear not, and he cannot do you harm. Sing with vigour the psalm, 'They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as the Mount Sion. He who lives in Jerusalem shall stand fast for ever'" (Psalms.125.1)

 

V.v.18. A brother questioned an old man, saying, "If a monk falls into sin he is grieved that in his search for perfection he has fallen dangerously short, and has to work hard at the task of renewal. But someone making a beginning after renouncing the world seems to prosper with ease."

And the old man replied, "A monk succumbing to temptation is like someone with a building which has collapsed. If he plans prudently he will rebuild the ruins, gathering together all the useful building materials, possessing already the foundations which have been laid, and stones and sand and other things necessary for building. And so he can quickly begin to get on with the restoration. But someone who has not excavated or laid down footings, and has none of the requisite materials simply launches forth in hope that somehow, some time, all will come to fruition. Similarly, a monk who has succumbed to temptation and turned back to the Lord has a lot of resources to fall back on - meditation on the divine law, psalmody, manual work, prayer, etc. - all these are fundamental. But someone newly converted remains in the lowest rank until he has learnt these things."

 

V.v.19. A certain brother in the grip of sexual temptation went to a certain respected old man and said, "Of your charity please pray for me, as I am very troubled by sexual thoughts."

So the old man prayed to the Lord. Later he came again to the old man with the same request, and the old man again prayed to the Lord, saying, "Lord, show me how the devil is working in this brother. And why is it that even though I have already prayed to you he has not found any relief?"

And the Lord showed him what was happening with this brother. For he saw him sitting down, a devil with him, and as it were sporting with him, and an angel sent to help him from the Lord standing nearby, very angry with this brother for not turning to the Lord but really enjoying his own thoughts and giving his whole attention to them. So the old man realised that the cause lay rather at the brother's own door, and told him that it was because he was consenting inwardly to these thoughts. He showed him how to deny entrance to such thoughts, and as the brother began to come to life again through the old man's prayer and teaching, so he began to gain respite from his temptations.

 

V.v.20. When a certain respected old man saw that his disciple was grievously troubled with sexual thoughts he asked him, "Do you wish that I should ask the Lord to take this burden from you?"

But he replied, "I can see, father, that if I work at it, even though the burden of such work is very heavy, there will be fruition in due course. But pray for me to the Lord to give me strength to bear it."

And the old man said, "Now I know that you are far advanced along the way and have outstripped me."

 

V.v.21. It was told of a certain old man who had gone into Scete that his disciple had been with him since the time when milk was his only food, and having been brought up in a monastery he had no idea of what women were. But when he grew up, to the old man's astonishment, he described how the devil showed him women's clothing in dreams. For when he went up to Egypt with him for the first time and saw women he said to him, "Father those people are like what I saw in my dreams in Scete."

And the old man said, "These are the monks of the world, my son. They wear a habit rather different from ours, and live in different hermitages."

And as they went back to their cell, the old man marvelled that the demons had showed him images of women in Scete.

 

V.v.22. A certain brother in Scete was being severely tried by the devil, who kept on putting into his mind memories of a certain beautiful woman, and this grievously disturbed him. And in the mercy of God it so happened that another brother came down from Egypt and joined him in Scete. In the course of conversation he mentioned that the wife of a certain person was dead, who happened to be that same woman who had been throwing him off balance. Hearing this he put on his cloak that night and went up to the place where he had been told she was buried. He dug down till he was able to take out some of the decaying remains and wrap them in his cloak, which he then kept in his cell after his return. And when it had got really putrid, he would put it in front of him and scold his own thoughts thus, "See the object of your desires - posses it, enjoy it!"

And so by the use of this putrescence he rebuked himself until his craving died.

 

V.v.23. A certain man once came to Scete to be a monk and brought his newly weaned son with him, who when grown to adolescence began to be attacked and provoked by demons. He said to his father, "I am going back to the world. I can't resist these bodily desires."

His father however tried to calm him down, but the young man said, "I really can't bear it, father. Let me go back to the world."

His father said, "Hear me just this once, my son. Take forty loaves and enough palm leaves for forty days work and go into the inner desert, and stay there for forty days, and let God's will be done." Obedient to his father, he went into the inner desert, staying there at his work of making mats out of the dried palm leaves and eating dry bread. After twenty days without incident there appeared to him a devilish apparition in the shape of an Ethiopian woman sitting in front of him, stinking and foul of face, such that unable to endure it he turned violently away from her. And she said to him, "In the hearts of men I am able to appear beautiful, but because of your obedience and the labour you have persevered in, God has not allowed me to lead you astray, but made me show you how foul I am."

He immediately got up and giving thanks to God ran to his father, and said to him, "I no longer want to go back to the world, father, for I have seen the work of the devil and his foulness."

His father had realised this would happen, and said to him, "If only you had stayed the full forty days as I had said, you would have seen even greater things than these."

 

V.v.24. A certain old man who lived in a very distant part of the desert had a mother who after many years wanted to see him again and having enquired where he lived, set out to take the road to the desert. Meeting up with a camel train she joined them and travelled into the desert with them. But she was led astray by the devil, for when she had arrived at the old man's door, she established her identity by certain signs and stayed with him saying, "I am your mother."

Now another monk living in a lower part of the desert who was in the habit of filling a bowl with water at the time for his meal, suddenly found that the bowl was tipped over and the water poured out on the ground. Inspired by God he said to himself, "I will go into the inner desert to tell the seniors about the incident of the spilt water."

So he got up and went on his journey and when it got to be late at night he went to sleep in a temple of idols by the side of the road. In the middle of the night he heard the demons saying, "This night we have led that monk into sexual sin."

He was sad when he heard this and coming to the old man whom he found to be in a similar sad state he said, "What shall I do, father? For I filled my bowl with water but at the hour for my meal it was all poured out."

And the old man said to him, "You are coming to consult me because your bowl of water has tipped over? But what shall I do, for this night I have fallen into sexual sin."

"I know", was the reply.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I was sleeping in the temple", he said, "and I heard the demons talking about you."

"I think I'd better go back to the world," he said, but the other begged him, saying, "Don't, father. Stay here in your place and send this woman away. This has all happened because of the attacks of the enemy."

At these words the old man took heart, intensifying and developing his way of life until he had returned to his former state.

 

V.v.25 An old man said, "Silence, hidden meditation, and an untroubled mind give rise to chastity."

 

V.v.26. A certain brother asked an old man, "If someone succumbs to temptation, what should be done for those who are scandalised by him?"

The old man told him a story: A certain man was appointed to be the deacon in a monastery in Egypt, and to this monastery there came with all his family a certain civil servant suffering judicial banishment. In a very evil deed the deacon lay with this man's wife, and all the brothers were very upset. He however went to a certain old man and confessed all. This old man had a secret inner chamber and when the deacon saw it he said, "Bury me alive in here and don't tell anyone."

And he went into hiding in this cell and truly did penance. It happened quite some time after that the waters of the Nile did not flood. And when everyone had offered many prayers it was revealed to one of the holy men that the waters would not flood until the deacon hidden with such and such a monk should come forth. They were astonished to hear this and went to drag him out of the place where he was. He offered up prayers, and the waters flooded. So those who had been scandalised by him were in due course edified by his penitence, and they glorified God.

 

V.v.27. Two brothers went into the town to sell what they had made, and when they had parted from each other in the city, one of them succumbed to sexual temptation. Meeting him later, the other brother said, "Come, let's go back to our cell."

But the other said he wasn't coming.

"Why not, brother?" he asked.

"Because after you left me I was tempted and fell into sexual sin."

But he, wanting to win his brother back, said, "The same thing happened to me. After I left you, I too fell into sexual sin.  But let's go and do penance together however difficult that may be, and God will forgive us our sins."

When they got back to their cell they told the old men what had happened and they told them what they must do by way of doing penance, one of them not for himself but for the other brother as if it had been he himself who had sinned. Seeing his labour and his charity, God revealed after a while to one of the old men what this brother who had not sinned had taken upon himself out of the depth of his charity on behalf of the one who had.

"Truly, this is what it means to lay down your life for your brother," he said

V.v.28. A brother once came to one of the old men and said, "My brother has cast me off and dashes off hither and thither so that I am very upset by it."

And the old man advised him thus, "Bear with him calmly, brother, and God seeing your labour and patience will call him back to you. It is not possible for anyone to be easily turned aside by harshness or severity once he has made his mind up, for devils aren't driven out by devils; rather win him back to you by kindness, for God himself calls people by persuasion."

And he told him this story: There were two brothers in the Thebaid and one of them fell into sexual sin, and said to his brother, "I'm going back to the world."

The other wept and said, "I can't let you go, brother. If you go you lose your purity and the fruits of your labour."

But he wouldn't listen, saying, "I'm not staying, I'm going. Either come with me and I'll go back in your company, or else let me go and I shall stay in the world for good."

The brother went and told all this to a senior of some repute who said to him, "Go with him, and God, because of your labour, will not let him be destroyed."

So he rose up and went with him back to the world. When they had arrived at a town, God looked on the labour of love which he felt compelled to exercise by following his brother, and took away the brother's cravings, so that he said, "Let's go back to the desert, brother. I've already sinned with a woman in my thoughts and what has that benefited me?"

And they returned joyfully to their cell.

 

V.v.29. A brother tempted by a demon went to a senior and said, "Those two brothers there are both of them evil livers."

The old man knew that he was being deceived by the devil, but sent and called the two brothers to him. After vespers he put out a carpet for those two brothers and enveloped them in a single cloak, saying, "Great and holy are the sons of God."

But to his disciple he said, "Shut that other brother up in his cell by himself. For he himself is a victim of the passions of which he accused the others."

 

V.v.30 A brother said to one of the old men, "What shall I do, for these unclean thoughts are killing me?"

And the old man said, "A woman when she wants to wean her child puts something bitter-tasting on her breast, so that when the child comes to suck as usual, he tastes the bitterness and rejects it. Therefore put some bitterness in your thoughts."

"What is this bitterness which I have to put there?" the brother asked.

The old man replied, "Think of death and the torments laid up thereafter for sinners."

 

V.v.31 A certain brother questioned an old man about this kind of thought. And the old man said, "I'm never bothered by such things."

The brother was shocked by this and ran to another old man telling him what the other had said and how he had been shocked by that because it was abnormal. And the old man said, "That man of God didn't mean to say that there was nothing to it. Go back to him and apologise in the hope that he will show you the mastery lying beneath his words."

So the brother went back to the old man and apologised, saying, "Forgive me, father. It was stupid of me to rush off without so much as a farewell word, but I pray you, explain to me how it is that you are never worried by sexual temptation."

And the old man said, "Since the time I became a monk I have never fully appeased my desire for bread, water, sleep or any of those things which give pleasure. I have crucified myself, never allowing myself to feel sexual urgings."

And the brother departed, greatly edified by what the old man had said.

 

V.v.32 A certain brother asked one of the old men, "What shall I do? For my thoughts constantly turn towards sex and don't leave me alone for one hour at a time, and my mind is in a turmoil because of it."

And he replied, "When the demons scatter these thoughts into your mind and you become aware of it, don't hold a conversation with them. The natural task of the demon is to suggest them, and however much he keeps on sending them in, the demons themselves will not be driven out. It rests with you as to whether you accept or reject them."

"But how shall I do this?" the brother asked. "For in my weakness my passions overcome me."

"Listen to this example", he said. "You know what the Midianites did? They dressed up their daughters and made them attractive in the eyes of the Israelites, and did not prevent anyone from coming to them and lying with them. Whoever wanted to went in to them but others angrily condemned them, and killed those who had rashly gone in to them (Numbers 25). Do likewise against sexual thoughts. At the first sign of any suggestion from them in your thoughts, don't answer, but get up, pray, and do penance with the words, 'Son of God have mercy on me'."

"But I do try to direct my mind like that, father," said the brother, "though there is no compunction in my heart, and there seems to be no power in my words."

"Keep up with those mental exercises," the old man said, "for I have heard that abba Pastor used to say, and several other fathers too, that even though the snake-charmer may not fully understand the force of the words he uses, the snake who hears them recognises their power and is subdued and humiliated thereby. Similarly for us, though we may not fully understand the force of the words we use, the demons hear them and depart in terror."

 

V.v.33.  An old man said, "Thoughts of sexual temptation are really as fragile as a sheet of paper. If it is pushed towards us and we don't want it, it is easily crumpled up and thrown away. Therefore we do need discernment in our minds, recognising that there is no hope of safety for those who consent to such thoughts, but that a crown of glory is laid up for those who resist."

 

V.v.34 Two brothers attacked by sexual temptation left and took wives. After a while they said to each other, "How much good has it done us, leaving the sort of life the angels live for this tarnished existence - and then the fire of everlasting torment? Let's go back to the desert and do penance for what we have done."

When they got to the desert they asked the fathers to receive them as penitents, confessing their sins. And the fathers shut them up for a whole year, allotting each the same weight of bread and quantity of water, as they appeared to be of similar constitution. When they had completed their time of penance they came out. The fathers saw that one of them was pallid and sad, the other robust and cheerful, and they wondered why, seeing that their rations had been exactly the same. And they asked the sad and sorry one what sort of mental discipline he had used in the cell. He replied, "I turned over in my mind the evil I had done and the punishment of the world to come, and for very fear my bones stuck to my flesh" (Psalms 102.5)

Then they asked the other one about his thoughts in the cell and he replied, "I gave thanks to God who had saved me from the iniquity of this world and the punishment of the world to come, and I rejoiced in a continuous remembrance of God."

And the old men said, "Both kinds of penitence are equal in the sight of God."

 

V.v.35. An old man living in Scete fell ill and his brothers looked after him. And when the old man saw how much hard work it entailed he said, "I'll go down into Egypt lest my brothers are worn out."

But abba Moses said to him, "Don't go, lest you fall into sexual sin."

"You can say that to me," he replied, "and my body more than half dead?" And he got up and went into Egypt. When people living nearby heard of his arrival they gave him a great deal of help, among whom was a certain faithful virgin (virgo fidelis) offering her services to the sick old man. After a little while when he was getting better from the illness he had, he lay with her and she conceived. When questioned by her neighbours about who had got her pregnant, she told them it was the old man, but they wouldn't believe her. But the old man confessed that it was he, and begged them that they would care for the baby she was carrying. (A monk should not possess anything, further down page)

In due course she gave birth to a boy and when it was weaned the old man put it on his shoulders and travelled to Scete on a day when there was a feast, entering into the church where there was a great gathering of the brothers. When they saw him they wept, and he said to them, "You see this child? He is the son of my disobedience. Take heed to yourselves, then brothers, for even at an advanced age I was capable of this - and pray for me." And going back to his cell he began again as if at the very beginning of his ascetical life.

V.v.36. A certain brother was grievously tempted by demons in the shape of beautiful women enticing him to intercourse. For forty days he persevered vigorously in battle against them, with hardly any defeat and that much against his will. When God saw the strength of his struggle he granted him the gift of being able to suffer these temptations without any sexual arousal whatsoever.

V.v.37. There was a certain solitary living in lower Egypt, very well known because he was the only one in the church in that desert place. Inspired by the devil a certain woman of loose morals said to some of her young friends, "What will you give me if I can seduce that solitary of yours?"
And they agreed on a price. That evening she wandered up to his cell as if she were lost and knocked on his door. When he came out he saw that she appeared to be very distressed and asked her how she had got there. Putting on a few tears she said she had got lost. Moved by compassion he let her come into the porch of his cell while he himself went inside and shut the door. But she went on crying miserably, saying, "Abba, the wild beasts will get me here."
He again was distressed by this, but yet feared the judgment of God. However, muttering "Why should this happen to me?"  he opened the door and let her in. But then the devil began to stir up desire for her in his heart as if with sharp arrows, and realising that this was of the devil he lit a lamp, saying, "'The way of the ungodly is in darkness, but the child of God walks in the light'" (Psalm 35.6).
Inflamed with desire he said, "'They who do such things are destined for torment' (Gal.5.21). Test yourself, then, whether you are capable of bearing the fire which is eternal."
And he thrust a finger into the flame, burning it, though he felt no pain such was the heat of his sexual fire. And he kept on doing this till morning, burning all his fingers. When the unhappy woman saw what he was doing she was overcome with fear and fell in a dead faint. In the morning her friends arrived and asked whether a woman hadn't visited him the night before.
"She did", he said. "Look at her asleep there."
And going in they found her to be dead. "She's dead, abba", they cried.
He shook back the cloak which he wore and stretched out his hands to them saying, "See what this devil's daughter has done to me. She's made me lose all my fingers."
And after telling them what had happened he went on to say, "It is written that you shouldn't return evil for evil" (1 Thess 5.15), so he prayed and raised her up. Completely converted, she lived the rest of her life in chastity.

V.v.38.  There was a certain brother troubled with sexual thoughts who happened to see the daughter of a pagan priest as he was going into an Egyptian village. He fell in love with her and asked her father to give her to him for a wife. "I can't do that," he replied, "without asking my god." So he went to the demon whose cult he served and said, "Look, this monk has come to me, wanting to have my daughter. Shall I give her to him?"
The demon answered, "Ask him if he will renounce God and his Baptism and his monastic way of life." Going back to the monk he said, "Deny your God and your Baptism, and your monastic way of life, and I will give you my daughter," to which he agreed.
And immediately the priest saw a dove come out of his mouth and fly up to heaven. He went back to the demon and said, "See now, he's promised those three things"
But the devil replied, "You still can't give him your daughter because God has not abandoned him. He helps him still." 
The priest went back to the monk and said, "I still can't give her to you for your God still helps you and has not departed from you." 
When the brother heard this he said to himself, "If God has shown me such grace, when I have ungratefully denied him and my Baptism and my monastic way of life, if he in his goodness has even now come to my help in my wickedness, why am I departing from him?" 
And he turned himself around and came to his senses, and went back to the desert to a certain respected old man to whom he confessed all. And the old man said, "Sit with me in the cave and fast with me for three weeks and I will pray to God for you." 
And the old man agonised for his brother and prayed God, saying, "O Lord, I pray you, grant me this soul, and accept his penance." 
And God heard his prayer. At the end of the first week the old man went to the brother and asked him whether he had seen anything, and the brother replied that he had seen a dove hovering high up in the heavens above his head. And the old man said, "Don't relax, keep on praying earnestly to God." 
At the end of the second week, the old man came to him again and asked him if he had seen anything, and the brother replied that he had seen the dove coming down towards his head. 
The old man replied, "Keep your mind alert and pray." 
At the end of the third week the old man came to him again and asked whether he had seen anything more. He replied, "I saw the dove come and stand right over my head, and as I reached out my hand to take it, it flew right into my mouth.
And the old man gave thanks to God, saying, "See, the Lord has accepted your penitence. Now you must watch over yourself and be vigilant." 


The brother replied, "I shall stay with you till I die."
V.v.39. One of the old men of the Thebaid told of the son of a pagan priest, who as a little boy often sat in the temple watching his father go in to sacrifice to the idols. Once he went in by himself and saw Satan seated there, with all his army standing around, when in came one of his officers who fell down and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" Satan asked. "I have been in such a province," he replied, " and have come to report that I have stirred up wars and disturbances with much shedding of blood."  "How long did this take you?" the devil asked.  "Thirty days" was the reply. And the devil ordered him to be flogged, saying, "All that time, just to do that." Then another one came and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" he asked.  "I have been at sea," he replied, "and have come to report that I have caused storms and shipwrecks with much loss of life."  "How long did this take you?" the devil asked.  "Twenty days" was the reply.  And the devil ordered him to be likewise flogged, saying, "So many days - and this is all you have done?" A third came and worshipped him.  "From whence have you come?" the devil asked.  "I was in such a city," he replied, "and I have come to report that I stirred up strife at a wedding, occasioning much bloodshed and even the death of the bridegroom himself."  "How many days did this take you?" he asked. "Ten", was the reply.  He too was ordered to be flogged because it had taken him such a long time. Another came and worshipped him.  "From whence have you come?" the devil asked.  "I have been in the desert," was the reply, "and for forty years I have been battling with a certain monk until this very night, when I persuaded him to fall into sexual sin." When the devil heard this he got up and embraced him, took his own crown from off his head and put it on the other's head, and made him sit down with him on the throne, saying, "You have valiantly accomplished a great work."  When I heard and saw all this I said to myself; "Great indeed is the order of monks."


V.v. 40. It was told of a certain father that he had been converted after living for some time in the world, and was frequently assailed by desire for his wife, which he confessed to the seniors. They saw that he was a willing workman who would perform even more than he was asked, and gave him a certain regime to keep to whereby his body would be weakened to prevent its rebellion. By the mercy of God, however, a certain father came down to live in Scete, and approached this monk's cell, noticing that the door was open, and passed by wondering why no one had come out to meet him. He turned back, thinking that perhaps the brother inside was ill, knocked on the door, went in and found the brother very weak indeed. "What's the matter, father?" he asked. So he told him the story, "I have lived a life in the world, and the enemy troubles me greatly with memories of my wife. When I told the seniors about this they prescribed various ascetic regimes for me to carry out. But when I obediently tried to fulfil them I fell ill, but even so my desires increased."  When the old man heard this he was sad, and said, "I'm sure these important fathers who gave you these penances from which you fell ill had the best of intentions, but just listen to me for a bit, and abandon those practices. Take a little food in due season and regain your strength, do a little of the work of God, and cast all your thoughts on the Lord, for you won't be able to win simply by means of your own labours. Our bodies are like clothing. If you treat them properly they will wear well, if you neglect them, they go rotten."  He listened and followed his advice, and within a few days the sexual urge grew less.

V.v.41. Some well-known monks told us about a certain solitary monk of old time, well advanced in his way of life, living in the mountains near Antinoe. Many people profited from his words and his deeds, so that the devil became envious of him, as he does of all men of virtue, and he began to put certain thoughts into his mind:
"Living in the way you do, you ought not to be served by others, still less to expect to be served. Rather, you should be serving others. Or if you don't serve others, at least you should be your own servant. So take your own baskets to market that you have made, and buy what you need, and come back home again, and don't be a burden to anybody."
The devil suggested all this to him in envy of his silence, and his fruitful waiting on the Lord, which was of benefit to so many people. He hoped by this to hunt him down and capture him. But the monk saw only that there was something good about these thoughts, and he went out from his monastery. At the time of his departure he was the admiration of all, never known to have any temptations of an insidious nature, well known and easily recognised by all who saw him. But he met up with a woman and it was such a long time since he had seen one that he fell victim to his own recklessness and had intercourse with her.
And he went back to the desert with the devil dogging his footsteps and sat down beside the river. He thought of how the devil must be rejoicing over his fall, and he fell into despair because of the grief he had caused to the Spirit of God, and the holy Angels, and the venerable fathers, many of whom had conquered the devil even though they lived in cities. He could not think of any of them who were like him, and so the thought never occurred to him that God attributes virtue to those who devoutly turn to him. In his state of blindness he could not see the cure for his sin and felt like throwing himself into the river, which would, of course, have completed the devil's joy. This spiritual grief left him feeling physically ill, and if the mercy of God had not come to his aid he certainly would have remained in that state without doing penance, to the enemy's great joy.
In the end, however, he came to his senses and thought of how he might burden himself with severe penances, and seek pardon from God with weeping and mourning. He returned to his monastery, and blocked up the door of his cell in the way that is usually done for the dead. There he wept in prayer to God. He fasted and kept vigil, so that his body wasted away with worry, but he could find no relief to his soul no matter how much penance he did. Whenever the brothers who ministered to him came and knocked on his door , he replied that he could not open up because he had bound himself with an oath to spend a whole year in penance, and he begged them to pray for him. He was unable to give them the reason for this, lest they be scandalised at hearing such things from someone who was honoured among them as an outstanding monk. And so he spent the whole year fasting severely, and devoutly doing penance.
On the night of the Resurrection of our Lord he took a new piece of candlewick and put it in a new holder. He shielded it from view by putting a dark cover round it, and late at night rose up to pray:
"O most merciful and compassionate Lord," he said, "who wish to save even the barbarians and bring them to a knowledge of the truth, I fly to you as the Saviour of the faithful. Have mercy on me who have grievously offended you and given joy to the enemy. By obeying him I am dead. But you, O Lord, who have mercy on the ungodly and the merciless, and who forgive in advance those who come to you, have pity on me your humble servant. For nothing is impossible with you, otherwise my soul would have been scattered into hell like dust. Have mercy on your servant, in accordance as you will raise the bodies of the dead on the day of resurrection. Hear me, O Lord, for my spirit faints and my soul is in misery. My body which I have defiled is wasting away. I am no longer worthy of living, because of my lack of faith. By my penitence forgive my sin, a twofold sin because I despaired. Bring life to me in my contrition, and as a sign, set fire to this lamp. I accept your faithful mercy and forgiveness, and I shall keep your commandments for the rest of the life left to me, and I shall not cease from fearing you, but devote myself to you ever more deeply than before."
And having said all that with many tears in this night of the resurrection, he went to see whether the lamp had been lit. He removed the cover and found that it had not been lit. He fell on his face once more, beseeching the Lord:
"I know, O Lord, that I have not stayed upright in the contest for the crown, choosing rather the delights of the flesh and selling myself to the torments of the ungodly. Spare me, O Lord. See, I acknowledge once more my betrayal of your goodness in the presence of your Angels and the company of the righteous, and I would confess it before the whole human race if it were not that they would be scandalised. Lord have mercy on me that others may be edified; Lord bring me life."
And having prayed thus three times, he was heard, for as he got up he found the lamp was burning brightly. He rejoiced in the hope which now filled his heart with joy, wondering at God's grace, who had thus forgiven his sins, answered his prayers and given peace to his soul.
"Thanks be to you, O Lord, " he prayed, "who have had mercy even on my unworthy existence in this world. You have given me this great new sign of your faithfulness. You are merciful and spare the souls that you have created."
As he prayed thus, the day dawned. And he carried on praising God, quite forgetful of earthly nourishment. And he tended that light for the rest of his life, pouring in more oil than was strictly necessary, to ensure that the light would not go out. And the divine Spirit dwelt in him once more, and he was famed among all for the humility he had shown in his confession and joyful thanksgiving to God. And a few days before his death, the Lord revealed to him the time when he would pass away.

Libellus 6: A monk should not possess anything

V.vi.1. A certain brother renounced the world and gave his possessions to the poor, but kept a few things for himself before going to abba Antony.  When the old man realised this he said to him, "If you want to be a monk go down to the village, buy some pieces of meat, fasten them to your bare body and then come here."  As soon as he had done this the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. He came back to the old man who asked him if he had done what he said. When he showed him his lacerated body, St Antony said, "Anyone renouncing the world and yet wanting to hang on to his money will be thus tormented and lacerated by demons."

V.vi.2.   Abba Daniel told how a certain legal official once came to abba Arsenius with his father's will. He had been a senator and left him a large sum of money. Arsenius took the document and made as if to tear it up, but the officer fell at his feet and implored him, "Please don't. It would be more than my life is worth." And abba Arsenius said to him, "I died to the world long before him. How then at his death can he make me his heir?"  And he gave the will back to him, accepting nothing,


V.vi.3.   This same memorable abba Arsenius once fell ill in Scete and lacked the money for a herbal remedy which he needed. But when he found someone who had some he accepted it as a gift and said, "I thank you, Lord, that you have found me worthy to have arrived at such a pass that I need to beg for alms."


V.vi.4. The story is told of abba Agathon that he spent a long time making a cell for himself and his disciples. Once they had built it and begun to live in it he found within a week that it was ill-suited for their purposes. So as the Lord said to the apostles he said to his disciples, "Arise, let us go hence."  This greatly upset his disciples, who complained, "If your mind is completely made up to leave this place what was the point of spending all that time and labour building this cell? People will begin to talk about us, saying, 'Look, they're off again. They can't settle anywhere.'"  When he saw how small-minded they had become, he said, "Even though some might be scandalised yet there are others who might find it edifying and say, 'Blessed are those who for the Lord's sake move on, despising their all that they leave behind'. I tell you, if you want to come, come. Meanwhile, I'm going." They fell down on the ground before him, begging to be allowed to go with him.


V.vi.5. Abba Evagrius told the story of a certain brother who possessed nothing except a copy of the Gospels, and he even sold that to provide food for the poor. "I have sold", he said, "that very word which bade us sell everything and give to the poor."


V.vi.6. Abba Theodore of Pherme possessed three very fine manuscripts (codices), and in the course of a visit to abba Macarius he mentioned these three manuscripts and how much he profited from reading them. Not only that but other brothers asked to read them and they profited also. "Tell me", he said, "what should I do about it?"  And the old man replied, "What you are doing is good, but it is better still to possess nothing, "Hearing this he went away and sold these notable manuscripts and gave the proceeds to the poor.


V.vi.7. One of the fathers told the story of John Persa, who among his many virtues had arrived at a state of deep simplicity and innocence. He lived in the part of Arabia near Egypt. Once he borrowed a shilling (solidus) from a brother in order to buy linen and make it up. And another brother came to him and asked, "Give me some linen, father, so that I can make some clothing for my own use." And he cheerfully gave it. Likewise another brother came and asked him to give him some linen to make a cloak, and he gave it. And to a number of others asking the same he also gave with simplicity and joy. Some time later the person from whom he had borrowed the shilling came asking to be reimbursed. And the old man said, "Yes, I'll bring it to you." And seeing that he didn't have the wherewithal to pay he decided to go to abba Jacob the treasurer and ask him to provide the shilling.
On the way there he found a shilling lying on the ground, but didn't touch it; instead he said some prayers and returned to his own cell. And the brother came again and began to press him for the shilling. Again he said, "Yes, I will pay you."  He went off again and found the shilling still in the same place on the ground, but he just said his prayers and returned home. And when the brother began once more to press him he said, "Bear with me once more and I will bring you your shilling."  He got up and went back to the same place where he found the shilling and having made his prayer he picked it up and took it to abba Jacob and said, "Father, as I was coming to see you I found this shilling in the way. Pray be so kind as to announce it lest someone here has lost it."  So he announced it but there was no one found who had lost it. Then indeed he said to abba Jacob, "Well if no one has lost it I will give it to the brother to whom I owe a shilling. I was coming to you to ask you for a shilling to pay my debts when I found this shilling in the way."  And abba Jacob marvelled that even when in debt he had not taken for himself what he had found. And so the brother had his shilling back.  This was another marvellous thing about him, that if anyone came to borrow anything from him he wouldn't get it ready for them himself, but would simply say to the borrower, "Just help yourself to what you need."  When they brought back what they had borrowed he would say to them, "Just put it back where you got it from." If however they never brought back what they had borrowed the old man said nothing at all.

V.vi.8.  Some of the fathers described how a brother had once entered the circle of cells around abba Isaac wearing ordinary dress. The old man looked at him and said, "This is a dwelling place for monks. You are a secular and can't come in here."

V.vi.9. Moreover, abba Isaac said to the brothers, "Abba Pambo and other fathers used to wear old garments with many patches, but nowadays you wear costly garments. You might as well go, for you have already departed from the spirit of this place." And once when they had got ready for harvesting he said to them, "I won't give you any instructions for if I do, you won't observe them."

V.vi.10. Abba Cassian said, "There was a certain Syncleticus who renounced the world and divided his possessions among the poor but kept back a certain amount for his own use, being unwilling to accept the humiliation of giving up everything and submitting to the rule of the common life among monks. Basil of holy memory said this to him, 'You may have given up being a senator, you haven't yet become a monk'."


V.vi. 11.  A certain brother said to abba Pisteramon, "What shall I do, for I hate having to sell the things that I have made?" And he replied, "Abba Sisoe and others all sold the fruits of their labours and it didn't worry them. But when you are selling, first of all state your price for what you are displaying, but if you want to relax the price a little, do so, and don't worry about it."  Again the brother asked him, "If my needs are provided for in other ways do you think that I needn't bother with manual work?"  The old man replied, "However much you possess, never neglect your work, do whatever you can, but without any mental agitation."


V.vi.12.  A brother asked abba Serapion for a word, and the old man said, "What I have to say to you is that you have stolen what belongs to the widows and orphans and put it in your window." For he had noticed that the window was full of books.

 
V.vi.13. Syncletica of blessed memory was asked whether owning nothing was the highest perfection. She replied, "It is indeed a very good thing for those who can. For if you are able to put up with it, you may experience bodily discomfort but you will have peace of mind. Just as clothing of good quality is laundered and restored to whiteness by being trampled on and turned over and over again underfoot, so is a strong person made stronger by voluntary poverty."


V.vi.14 Abba Hyperichus said, "Voluntary poverty is the treasure of the monk. Lay up treasure for yourself in heaven then, brother, for therein is peace, world without end."


V.vi.15. There was a holy man named Philagrius who lived in Jerusalem and worked busily to provide himself with bread. While he was standing in the market place selling his wares it so happened that someone dropped a bag containing a thousand shillings. The old man found it but stayed where he was, saying to himself that the person who lost it must soon come back, which indeed he did in great distress. He stopped him and gave him back his bag, whereupon the owner begged him to accept a reward, which the old man would in no wise do. This made the owner cry out, saying, "Come and see what this man of God has done." But the old man fled from view and left the town, lest he should be recognised and honoured for what he had done.


V.vi.16. When an old man was asked by a brother what he should do to be on the path of salvation, he took off his habit, ungirded his loins and stretched out his hands, saying, "In like manner a monk should strip himself of all worldly property and nail all temptation and worldly cares to the cross."


V.vi.17. Someone once asked a certain old man to accept some money for his future needs, but he refused since the work of his hands supplied all his needs. On being pressed repeatedly that at least he might accept something in order to give to the poor, he replied, "There are two reasons why I can't agree. Firstly I would be taking something I did not need, and secondly if I were to give it away it would only make me conceited."


V.vi.18. Some Greeks once came to the city of Ostracines wanting to give alms. So they approached the church treasurers to find out who was most in need. They were taken first to a certain leper to whom they offered an alms. But he refused, saying, "I have a few palms with which I weave mats which suffice to provide me with bread."  They were taken then to the dwelling of a widow where she lived with her little daughters. When they knocked on the door it was answered by one of the daughters completely naked. Her mother had gone off to her work as a laundrymaid. They offered the daughter some clothing and money but she would not accept it, saying that her mother had come to her and said that, "Have faith. God willing I will find some work today to keep us going."  And when the mother arrived they asked her whether she would accept something, and she refused, saying, "I have the Lord for my helper, and would you take him away from me today?"  And they, seeing her faith, glorified God.
V.vi.19. An affluent stranger once came to the presbyter in the Scythian desert bringing some money which he asked to be distributed among the brothers. The presbyter said, "They don't have any need of it." He vigorously insisted, but the presbyter still refused, so he put the gold into a wicker basket by the church door, saying, "Anyone who needs some can take it."  But nobody touched it, some didn't even notice it. And the old man said, "The Lord accepts your offering. Go and give it to the poor."  And he departed, greatly edified.

V.vi.20.  A certain man brought some money to an old man, saying, "Take this to defray the expenses of your old age and your illness", for he was a leper. But he replied, "You come here after sixty years to deprive me of my mainstay? Look, during the whole time that I have been ill I have lacked nothing, for the Lord has cared for me and fed me." And he would not accept the gift.

V.vi.21. The old men told of a certain gardener who gave away all the profit from his labours in alms, keeping back for himself only sufficient for his own needs. Then the devil whispered in his heart saying, "Set some money by for your needs when you get old or when you fall ill."  So he began to save, and filled up a large jar with coins. Now it so happened that he fell ill, and his foot became badly infected, so he spent the money he had collected on doctors, but nothing did him any good. Finally there came a specialist doctor who said to him, "Unless I lance your foot it will go completely rotten." And they agreed on a time for his foot to be lanced. Returning home that night, however, he was sorry for what he had done, exclaiming with tears and groaning, "Be mindful, O Lord, of what I used to do when I laboured in my garden and ministered to the poor."  As he said this, an angel of the Lord appeared and said to him, "Where is the money you saved? And where is the hope in which you used to live?"  Coming to his senses, he cried, "I have sinned, O Lord, forgive me. I will no longer carry on in this way."  The angel then touched his foot and he was instantaneously healed, and getting up in the morning he went out in the fields to work. Presently the doctor arrived with his instruments, as agreed, and he was told that his patient had been working in the field all morning. In astonishment the doctor ran out to the field where he was working and when he saw him digging he glorified God who had given him back his health.


V.vi.22. A brother asked a certain old man whether he could be allowed to put by a few shillings in case of illness. The old man could see that his heart was set on it and said, "Alright." The brother went back to his cell and began to commune with himself, saying, "Do you think the old man was telling me the truth or not?"  He got up and went back to the old man in penitence and said, "For the Lord's sake tell me the truth, for my thoughts give me no peace over these few shillings." And the old man said, "When I saw that you really wanted to keep them, I told you to keep them, although really it is not a good thing to keep more than is sufficient for your immediate bodily needs. If you had kept those few shillings that would be where your hope rested. And once they had gone why should you expect God to care for you? Therefore let us cast all our care upon the Lord for he cares for us" (1 Peter 5.7).

Libellus 7: Patience and Fortitude

V.vii.1 Once when holy abba Antony was sitting in his cell, afflicted with weariness and confusion of thought, he complained to the Lord, "Lord I crave for peace and my thoughts won't allow it. What can I do in this confusion in order to gain peace?" And getting up he began to go outside, when he saw someone who looked like himself sitting and working, then getting up from his work to pray, then sitting again weaving mats from palm leaves, and once again rising to pray. This was really an angel of the Lord sent to rebuke and chasten Antony. And he heard the voice of the angel saying to him, "This do and you will find peace."  He took great comfort and steadfastness from this, and as he persevered, he found the peace which he sought.

V.vii.2.  A certain brother consulted abba Agathon, saying, "A certain commandment has been laid on me, and I am undergoing very severe strife in the battle area. I dearly wish to move beyond that commandment to the point where I can put paid to the strife." The old man said, "Agathon used to be like this. What I did was to fulfil the commandment and thus win the battle."


V.vii.3. Abba Ammon said that he had spent forty years in Scythia praying God day and night that he might have the grace to overcome anger.


V.vii.4. Abba Besarion said that he had remained standing forty nights among thorn bushes without sleep.


V.vii.5.  A certain brother living alone was restless and upset, so he went to abba Theodore of Therme and told him about his restlessness. The old man said, "Go, humble your pride, and force yourself to live in community." So he went away into the desert and lived with others. Later he came back to the old man and said, "I can't find any peace living with others, either."  And the old man said, "If you can't find peace either living with others or living alone, what made you want to be a monk? Wasn't it simply in order to endure tribulation? Tell me, how many years have you been wearing the habit?"  "Eight", he said.  And the old man said, "Believe me, I've been wearing the habit for seventy years and never for one day have I found respite from the battle. And you think you should find peace in eight?"


V.vii.6.  On another occasion a certain brother asked him, "If there were some sudden ear-splitting disaster, father, wouldn't you be afraid?"  And the old man said, "Even though the heavens should fall to earth Theodore would have no fear."  For in his prayers to God, he had begged to be delivered from all fear, which is why the brother had questioned him.


V.vii.7. It was said of abba Theodore and abba Lucius of Alexandria that for fifty years they had encouraged each other by saying, "Once the winter is over let us depart hence."  But when the summer came they would say, "Let us go once this hot spell is finished."  And this is how they always carried on, as the fathers remember.

V.vii.8. Abba Pastor told of how abba John the Dwarf (Lit. 'of short stature') had prayed the Lord to take away all passions from him, and having become self-confident he came to a certain old man and said, "Behold a man at peace, with no internal battles." And the old man said, "Go and pray the Lord that strife may be stirred up in you, for strife nourishes the soul." And when the battlefield began again in his heart he no longer prayed to be delivered from it, but that the Lord might give him the strength to bear it.

V.vii.9. Abba Macarius the great visited Antony in the mountain, and after knocking at the door Antony came out and asked, "Who are you?"  "Macarius," he replied. Antony sent him away, shut the door and went inside, but later, when he saw him patiently waiting, he opened up and welcomed him with the words, "I have heard of you and have wanted to meet you for a long time." And he offered him hospitality and refreshment, tired as he was from the exertion of his journey. When Vespers had been said Antony took a few palms and put them to soak. Macarius said, "Give me some too that I may soak them and work."  "This is all I have", said Antony, and made a larger bundle to soak. So sitting together late into the night, discoursing of the things of the spirit, they wove away at their mats, till they stretched right out through the window into the cellar. And when Antony went out in the morning and saw the mats of abba Macarius he marvelled, kissed his hands and said, "These hands are hands of great power."


V.vii.10. This same Macarius once went on a journey to a place called Terenuthin, where he found an ancient tomb to sleep in where many pagans had been buried, and he laid one of the bodies under his head for a pillow. But the demons seeing his fearlessness were furious, and wishing to frighten him, they began to call out as if beguiling a woman, "What about coming to the bathhouse with us, lady." And another demon replied as if from those very dead bodies underneath him, "I can't, because of this traveller lying on top of me."  But the old man was not afraid. With perfect composure he gave the corpse a hard punch saying, "Get up and go, if you can."  When the demons heard this, they cried with a loud voice, "You've beaten us", and they fled in confusion.

 


V.vii.11 Abba Mathois said, "I would rather have reasonably easy work all the time than a difficult task soon ended.


V.vii.12. The story is told of abba Milido that once when he was living in the Persian borders with his two disciples two sons of the Emperor went hunting as was their custom, and set nets over a distance of forty miles, in order to kill whatever it was they might find trapped in them. What they found in the nets, however, was the old man and his two disciples. Gazing on his shaggy and unprepossessing appearance, they were astonished and asked him whether he was a man or a devil. "I am a sinner", he replied, "and I have come out here to do penance for my sins, and I worship the Son of the living God."  The hunters replied, "The only gods are the Sun, and Fire and Water. Worship and sacrifice to them."  "You are wrong - they are only creatures," he answered. "I beg you, be converted, and accept the true God who has created them and everything else. "But they laughed at him and said, "You call a condemned and crucified man the true God?"  "Yes, indeed," he said. "What I am saying is that the true God is he who destroyed death by nailing it to the cross." But they put him to the torturers, together with his two disciples, demanding that they sacrifice. After a great deal of torture they beheaded the two brothers, but the old man they kept on tormenting for a long time. Finally they set him up in a certain place and used him as a target for archery practice, one from in front and one from behind. The old man said, "Because you have agreed together to shed innocent blood, tomorrow at this very moment of the day your mother will be left without sons, and will no longer enjoy your devotion. Your blood will be shed by each other's arrows."  They greeted his words with mocking laughter, but the next day it happened that when they went out hunting, a stag escaped from their net, so that they mounted their horses and pursued it. Shooting arrows at it, they transfixed each other in the heart, so that they died as the old man had prophesied.


V.vii.13. Abba Pastor said, "It is in temptations that the character of the monk is made manifest."


V.vii.14. He also told how Isidore, the presbyter of Scythia, once spoke to a gathering of the brothers, saying, "Brothers, was it not to engage in manual work that we came here? And now I observe that there is no work left. I shall therefore gather my mantle about me and depart to where work can be found. There I shall find peace."


V.vii.15. Holy Syncletica said, "If you fall out with someone in the monastery, don't go and live elsewhere. If you do that you only harm yourself. If a hen fails to keep her eggs warm they will go bad without producing chickens. Just so will monks or nuns grow cold and die if they persist in gadding about from place to place."


V.vii.16.  Syncletica said, "When the devil fails to subvert us through the rigours of poverty, he uses riches in his endeavours to seduce us. And if he can't prevail through insults and indignities he makes use of honour and glory. But if he can't seduce us by means of pleasures and bodily satisfactions he tries to gain possession of the soul by unlooked for vexations. He can devise all kinds of burdens to be cast on to one whom he wishes to tempt, by means of which he reduces monks to a state of fear and upsets the charity which they ought to have towards God. But even though the body be chastened and afflicted with severe fevers or even intolerable thirst, remember that you are a sinner who suffers these things, and compare them with the punishments and everlasting flames of eternity, the torments which justice demands, and then you will not be overwhelmed by your present troubles but will rather rejoice that God has visited you. Let this pre-eminent saying be upon your lips, 'The Lord has chastened and corrected me, but he has not given my soul over to death' (Psalm 118.18). If you are like iron, by being put through the fire you will lose the rust. If you undergo all these things with integrity you will go from strength to strength. You will be like gold which is purified by fire. A messenger of Satan has been given to you to buffet your flesh. Rejoice therefore at the thought of who it is to whom you are being likened, for St Paul himself was found worthy of a similar visitation (2 Cor.12.7). If you are afflicted by illnesses or by excessive cold remember that when Scripture says, 'We went through fire and water', what follows is that 'we were brought out into a wealthy place' (Psalm 66.11). While you are in the middle of the one, hope confidently for the other, using what strength is given you. Shout aloud the words of the prophet, 'I am poor and in heaviness' (Psalm 89.30). It is through tribulations of this sort that you will be made perfect, as it is written, 'Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble' (Psalm 4.1). It is in these practices above all that he tries our spirits, for then we have our adversary always before us.


V.vii.17.  She also said, "If you should become seriously ill, don't worry because you are no longer able to stand for prayers or chant the psalms aloud because of weakness and bodily infirmity. For all these things are necessary to dispel the lusts of the flesh in the same way as fasting and labour act against unlawful desires. So when sickness is working towards that end all those other observances are no longer necessary. For just as illness can be cured by strong and efficacious medicine, so vice is cut off by that very illness. It is a great virtue to be patient in the face of illness and give thanks to God. Don't be overly depressed if you lose your sight - you may have lost one means of praising God, but you can still contemplate with your interior eye. Have you gone deaf? Be thankful that you can no longer hear things that are unseemly. Is your sword-arm weakened by some sort of wasting sickness? You can still carry on the inner fight against the temptations of the enemy. Is your whole body diseased? Your inner man can nevertheless grow in holiness."

Libellus 8: Do nothing for show

V.viii.1. Abbot Antony once heard of a young monk who performed a spectacular miracle on the public highway in that when he saw certain old men struggling to walk along on their journey he ordered some wild asses to come and carry them to him. When these old men told abba Antony of this he said, "This young monk seems to me to be like a merchant ship laden with precious gifts, but who knows whether it will ever reach port?" And shortly after, he suddenly began to weep and tear his hair out in great distress. "What is the matter, father?" asked his disciples when they saw this. "A great pillar of the church has just fallen" the old man said. He was of course referring to that young monk, and added that they should go to him and see what had happened. So they went and found the young monk sitting on his mat weeping for his sins. When he saw the old man's disciples he said to them, "Ask the old man to pray to God to give me just ten days of grace in which I hope I may make satisfaction." And within five days he was dead.

V.viii.2. When Antony heard the monks talking favourably of a certain brother, he took the opportunity of a visit from this same brother to find out whether he was able to put up with being insulted. When he found out that he couldn't, he said, "He is like a house which outwardly is beautifully decorated but inwardly has been despoiled by robbers."


V.viii.3. It was said of both abba Arsenius and abba Theodore of Pherme that they despised having a good reputation more than anything else. Abba Arsenius would hardly ever meet anybody. Abba Theodore would meet people but as if carrying a sword.


V.viii.4. There was a certain presbyter-disciple of Archbishop John called Eulogius, whom people held in high esteem because of his abstinence and fasting, going for two days at a time, or even sometimes for a whole week, eating nothing but bread and salt. Once he went to visit abba Joseph in Panephus, expecting to find in him someone given to an even stricter regime. The old man gave him a friendly welcome and gladly prepared for him what food he had. Eulogius' companions said that Eulogius ate nothing but bread and salt, but abba Joseph went on eating without comment. At the end of three days they had heard no psalmody or prayer for this was a work which abba Joseph kept hidden, and they went away with no feeling of uplift whatsoever. In the mercy of God, however, they were enveloped by a dust cloud and losing their way found themselves back with the old man. As they were about to knock on his door they heard the sound of psalmody, and waited to listen to it for quite some time before they knocked. The old man again gave them a friendly welcome. Because of the heat those with Eulogius picked up a waterpot and gave it to him to drink, but he could not because it turned out to be a mixture of sea and river water.
Turning this over in his mind he began to question the old man about the way he lived, saying, "How is it father that at first you were doing no psalmody but began to do so after we had left, and why was the water I wanted to drink salty?"  "It was one of the brothers", the old man said. "He must have mixed sea water in by mistake." But Eulogius kept on asking what was the real truth of the matter. And the old man said, "I keep a little cup of wine for hospitality's sake, but this large water pot is what the brothers are happy to drink from." 
In these words he showed him how to maintain discipline over his thoughts and to prevent his mind being motivated by what others might think. As a result he stopped trying to be different from others and began to eat whatever it was that was set before him. So he learned to keep his good deeds hidden, and said to the old man, "The way you work is true charity indeed."

V.viii.5. Abba Zenon, the disciple of abba Silvanus, said, "Don't stay in fashionable places, or with famous people. And don't put down foundations when you build your cell."

V.viii.6. A brother once came to abba Theodore of Pherme and spent three days pestering him for advice. But he got no reply and went away disappointed. Theodore's disciple then asked him, "Father why didn't you speak to him, for look, he's gone away disappointed?"  "Believe me," the old man said, "The reason I said nothing was that this man is like a wholesale dealer. He makes himself out to be somebody by peddling other people's words around."


V.viii.7. Another brother asked this same abba Theodore whether he should go without bread on some days, to which the old man replied, "Fine. I do the same myself." And the brother said, "I would nevertheless like to take some chickpeas to the mill to be ground into flour."  "If you are going to the mill," replied abba Theodore, "you might just as well make some bread as well. It's not much of an extra, is it."


V.viii.8. Another brother in conversation with this same abba Theodore, began to speak and speculate about matters of which he had not yet had any experience, and the old man said, "You haven't even found a ship yet in which to stow your baggage, let alone begin to navigate it, and would you then think you have already arrived in the regions you are disposing of so freely? When you have experienced those things you were talking about, then you can talk from experience.

 

V.viii.9. Abba Cassian told how a certain brother came to abba Serapion, who asked him to say the prayers according to custom, but he wouldn't, saying that he was a sinner and unworthy to be called a monk. When abba Serapion offered to wash his feet he likewise demurred using the same words. But the old man gave him something to eat and began to admonish him quite kindly, saying, "My son, if you wish to progress, go and stay in your cell, and look to yourself and your manual work. It will be more profitable for you to stay put rather than go out." Abba Serapion could see from the young man's face that he was very displeased at these words, so he went on to say, "You've just been saying that you were a sinner and almost unfit to live, so should you really get so upset because I give you some charitable advice? If you would be really humble, learn to carry out cheerfully the tasks laid upon you by others without squandering yourself in shabby verbiage." At this the brother begged the old man's pardon and departed greatly edified.

 

V.viii.10. The provincial governor once heard of abba Moses and journeyed into Scete in order to visit him. When someone warned the old man he was coming he got up and fled to the marshes, but the governor and his entourage met him and asked where the cell of the abba Moses was. "What do you want to see him for?" he said. "He is a daft old man, heretical even." The governor went to the church and told the clergy there that he had heard of abba Moses and wanted to see him but that when they had asked an old man from Egypt where his cell was he had replied, "What do you want to see him for? He is a daft old man, heretical even." Hearing this the clerics were rather shocked, and asked who this old man was who had spoken like this about a very holy man. "A tall, dark man, wearing a very ancient habit," he replied. "That was abba Moses himself," they said. "He said this about himself because he didn't want to be a spectacle for you." And the governor departed, greatly edified.

 

V.viii.11.  A brother asked abba Mathoës, "If I should go away and live somewhere else how should I order my life?" And the old man said, "Wherever you live don't try and make a name for yourself in any way by saying; 'I don't mix with the other brethren' or 'I don't eat this that or the other'. These things may give you a sort of futile reputation, but will prove a burden in the long run, for when people get to hear about you they will all flock round to see you."

 

V.viii.12.  Abba Nistoron the Greater was walking in the desert with a brother when they saw a large snake and fled. The brother said to him, "And you were afraid, too, father?"  "I wasn't afraid, my son," he replied. "But it was a good thing to flee from the sight of the snake since I now have no need to flee from a spirit of vainglory."

 

V.viii.13. The governor of the province once wanted to see abba Pastor but he wouldn't agree. The governor then had abba Pastor's nephew arrested as a criminal and cast into prison, saying, "If the old man will come and plead for him I will let him go." So the boy's mother came to her brother, abba Pastor, and began to weep at his doorway, but he would not give her any reply. Overcome with grief she implored him, saying, "You may have a heart of iron unable to be moved by compassion, but at least you should have pity on your own flesh and blood." But he was adamant, saying, "Pastor has not fathered anybody."  And she departed. When the governor heard of this he sent a message to the effect that he only needed to say a word and the boy would be freed. But the old man urged in reply, "Examine his case according to the law. If he is worthy of death, let him die. But if not, you know what you should do."

 

V.viii.14. Again, abba Pastor said, "Teach your heart to observe what your tongue teaches others." And again, "People often want to appear to be perfect because of what they say, but their deeds don't always match their words."

 

V.viii.15. Abba Adelphius, the bishop of Nilopolis, once came to abba Sisoe in the mountain, and when they were about to depart again he gave them something to eat early in the morning even though it was a fast day. As he was putting the food on the table some brothers knocked on the door, and the old man said to his disciple, "Give them a few beans which are due to them because of their work." And abba Adelphius added, "Send them away in the meantime lest they should spread it around that abba Sisoe is eating food so early in the morning."  But the old man heard him and said to the brother, "Go on, give it to them."  When they were given the food they asked; "You've got guests with you, haven't you?  And I suppose the old man is eating with you all?"  "Yes", the brother replied. At this they looked very troubled and said, "God forgive you for letting the old man eat at this hour, for don't you know that he will now fast for several days instead?" When the bishop heard this, he began to apologise to the old man, saying, "Forgive me, father, for I was thinking the thoughts of sinful humanity, but what you were doing was of God."  And Abbot Sisoe said to him, "Unless God gives the glory, the glory of any human being is of no account."

 

V.viii.16.  Abba Ammonas of Raythum once said to abba Sisoe, "When I read the Scriptures I am forever making a sermon out of them in my mind, so that I shall be ready to explain them to whoever asks me about them." And the old man said, "There's no need of that. Rather look to simplicity of mind in order to be sure of being able to give an answer."

 

V.viii.17. The governor of the province once came to see abba Simon, who took off the belt he was wearing and climbed up a palm tree as if to trim it. When the travellers arrived they asked where the old man was who lived in this solitude. He replied, "There is no solitary here." And the governor departed.

 

V.viii.18.  On another occasion a different governor came looking for him and some clerics came before him and warned him, saying, "Father, get yourself ready, for a governor who has heard of you is coming to see you to receive your blessing."  "Right. I'll get ready then," he replied, and going to his larder he got out some bread and cheese and sat down to eat it in the doorway of his cell. The judge arrived with his staff, and when he saw the old man he was disillusioned, saying, "So this is the solitary monk of whom so many tales are told!"  And he turned round and went home.

 

V.viii.19.  Holy Syncletica said, "Just as treasure is soon spent when brought out into the open, so does virtue quickly perish when publicly taken notice of. Just as wax soon melts when brought to the fire, so the soul is weakened by overmuch praise and loses its former strength.!

 

V.viii.20.  She also said, "Just as it is impossible to be both seed and full-grown plant all at the same time, so it is impossible for anyone basking in worldly glory to gather heavenly fruit."

 

V.viii.21. On a feast day once in the Cells the brothers were eating together in the church. One of the brothers said to the steward, "I don't eat anything cooked, only salted." And the steward called to another brother through the crowd, "This brother doesn't eat cooked food. Bring him some salted."  And one of the old men got to his feet and said, "It would have been better for you to have sat in your cell eating flesh today rather than have this shouted out among so many brothers."

 

V.viii.22.  Somebody very abstemious in food who ate no bread visited a certain old man who happened to be entertaining some pilgrims and had prepared a little lentil dish for them. When they all sat down to eat, this abstemious brother soaked a little dried chickpea and ate that. After they had got up from the table, the old man took him aside and said, "Brother, if you are going to visit anyone, don't make a show of your way of life. If you must keep to your rigorous rule stay in your cell and don't go out." He accepted what the old man said, and from then on shared in whatever he found among the brothers.

 

V.viii.23.  Taking care for the morrow in a human manner impoverishes people and dries them up.

 

V.viii.24.  An old man said, "Whether you avoid other human beings, or whether you scorn the world and the people in it, become as a fool yourself in the eyes of many."

 

Libellus 9: Judge no one

 

V.ix.1. It happened once that a brother of the congregation of abba Elias, having fallen into temptation, was expelled and went to abba Antony in the mountain. After spending some time with him, he was sent back to his congregation. But when they saw him they drove him out again, and again he went to abba Antony, saying, "They won't have me back, father."  So the old man sent a message to them, "A ship has suffered shipwreck in the open sea, lost all the goods it was carrying and although empty has with great difficulty arrived in port. Would you then sink a ship which has escaped into port?" They realised that abba Antony was talking about the man he had sent back to them, and reinstated him at once.

 

V.ix.2.  A certain brother who had sinned was ordered by the presbyter to leave the church. Besarion got up and left with him, saying, "I too am a sinner."

 

V.ix.3  Abba Isaac of the Thebaid visited the congregation of brethren and finding one of them guilty of crimes passed judgment upon him, and went back to the desert. But an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, forbidding him to enter. "Why not?" he asked. "God has sent me," the angel replied, "to ask you where do you wish he should send the guilty brother whom you have sentenced?"  Abba Isaac immediately apologised, saying, "Forgive me, I've done wrong."  And the angel said, "Don't worry, God has forgiven you, but take care in future not to judge anybody before God has judged him."

 

V.ix.4.  When a brother in Scete was found guilty, the seniors called a meeting and sent a message to abba Moses, asking him to attend, but he would not. The presbyter also sent a message to him begging him to come for the whole body of the brothers wanted him to. So he came. He arrived dragging behind him a battered old wicker basket filled with sand, and those who went out to meet him asked, "What is this all about, father?"  And the old man said, "My own sins follow me about, although I can't always see them, and should I come today to judge the sins of somebody else?" Hearing this they said nothing to the brother but pardoned him.

 

V.ix.5. Abba Joseph asked abba Pastor how to become a true monk and the old man replied, "If you would find peace now and in the world to come say to yourself in every crisis, "What am I?" and pass judgment on nobody.

 

V.ix.6. A certain brother also asked him, "If I see my brother committing a fault is it a good thing to conceal it?"  And the old man said, "Whenever we overlook a brother's fault God overlooks our own. And whenever we proclaim our brother's faults God likewise proclaims ours."

 

V.ix.7. When a certain brother had transgressed the Abbot went to a certain nearby solitary who had long since stopped going out and told him about the offending brother. And the solitary said, "Expel him."  So the brother was expelled from the congregation and went to hide in the marshlands, where he wept copiously. It happened however that some of the brothers who were on the way to visit abba Pastor heard him weeping in the marshlands and turning aside to him found him overwhelmed with grief. They suggested to him that he should go to that same old solitary, but he would not, saying, "Let me die here where I am." When the brothers got to abba Pastor they told him about it. And he asked them to go and tell the brother that abba Pastor would like to see him. When they told him this, he came, and when the old man saw how downcast he was he embraced him and comforted him and begged him to take some food. Abba Pastor then sent one of the brothers to that solitary with this message, "For many years I have been hearing about you and wanted to see you but have never managed it, because of our mutual neglect. Now, however, by God's will, there does seem to be a pressing reason for it. So I hope it won't be too much trouble for you that we should meet." He did not, however, leave his own cell. But when the solitary got the message he said to himself, "Unless God had inspired the old man he would not have sent to me." So he went. And they greeted each other with joy, and sat down to talk. And abba Pastor said, "There were two people living near each other and both of them had suffered bereavement. And one of the two left his own dead body and went over to weep for the dead body of the other."  The old man's conscience was pricked by these words, and realising what he had done he said, "Pastor has already risen up to heaven, while I am still earthbound."

 

V.ix.8  A brother asked abba Pastor, "What shall I do, for I become faint-hearted when I sit still by myself?"  And the old man said, "Despise no one, condemn no one, disparage no one, and the Lord will give you peace, and your time of meditation will pass smoothly."

 

V.ix.9.  A meeting was held in Scete where the fathers discussed the guilt of a certain brother. Abba Prior, however, said nothing and afterwards went out and filled a large bag with sand and lifted it up on his shoulders, while putting a small amount of sand in a little wicker basket which he carried in front of him. When the fathers asked him what he meant by that he replied, "This bag with a lot of sand represents my sins, and since there are so many of them I have put them behind me where I can't see them and grieve or weep for them. This little lot in front of me represents the sins of this brother, upon whom I am busy trying to pronounce judgement. This is quite wrong. I should rather keep my own sins before me and be thinking of them and asking God to pardon me." Hearing this the fathers said, "This is the true path of salvation."

 

V.ix.10. An old man said, "Although you may be chaste don't condemn the unchaste, for that is to make a mockery of the law. Didn't he who said, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' also say, 'Judge not'?"

V.ix.11 A presbyter from the basilica was in the habit of going to a certain solitary to consecrate the oblation (i.e. bread and wine) for his Communion. But somebody came to this solitary and blackened the name of this same presbyter, so that when he came the next time as usual to consecrate the oblation the scandalised solitary would not open the door to him, and the presbyter went away. And behold, a voice came to the solitary saying, "Human beings are taking my judgements upon themselves." And he was rapt up in a trance and saw as it were a golden well with a golden bucket and a golden rope and beautiful pure water. There was a leper, however, drawing water and pouring it out into a container, and although he was thirsty he couldn't bring himself to drink because of the leper drawing the water. And a voice came to him a second time, saying, "Why aren't you drinking this water? Does it matter who draws it? All he is doing is drawing it and pouring it into a container."  The solitary came to himself and thought hard about the meaning of the vision, then called the presbyter and asked him to come and consecrate the oblation as usual.

 

V.ix.12. There were two brothers greatly respected by the congregation who had each been given the gift of being able to see the grace of God in the other. It happened that one of them once went out among the congregation one Saturday morning and saw someone eating and said to him, "What? Eating, at this time, on a Saturday?"  The next day Mass was celebrated as usual and the other brother noticed to his sorrow that the grace of God had departed from his brother. When they got back to their cell, he said, "What have you done, brother, for I can't see the grace of God in you as I used to?" And the other said, "I'm not aware of having done anything wrong in thought or deed." "You haven't scolded anyone, by any chance?" he asked. Suddenly remembering, "Oh yes," he said. "Yesterday morning I saw someone eating and said to him, 'What? Eating at this time on a Saturday?' That was wrong of me. But do penance with me for a fortnight and let us ask God's forgiveness." They did so and at the end of a fortnight he saw the grace of God once more returning upon his brother, and they were greatly comforted, giving thanks to God who alone is good.

 

Libellus 10: Discretion

 

V.x.1. Abba Antony said, "There are many who chastise their bodies by their abstinence, but because they lack discretion in it they are far from God."

 

V.x.2. Some brothers came to abba Antony to tell him of certain showings they had had and to ask whether they were true or whether they were deceptions of the devil. They had started out on an ass which had died on the way and when they got to the old man he forestalled them by asking them how it was that their ass had died on the way.

"How did you know that?" they asked.  "The demons showed it me," he said.

"Well, we were coming to ask you about that," they said, "for we have had some showings and they are generally true, unless we are much mistaken."

And so by the example of the ass, the old man was able to satisfy them that these things came from the devil. It happened that a hunter chanced upon them as he was seeking wild game in those remote parts, and seeing abba Antony laughing with his brothers he held them in contempt. But the old man wished to show him how necessary it was to relax sometimes with the brothers, and said to him, "Put an arrow in your bow and draw it", which he did.

"Draw it again", he said, and he did.

"Further" and he did, at which point the hunter said, "If you keep on drawing it too far the bow will break."

And abba Antony said, "It's the same in the work of God. If you stretch the brothers too far they will fall apart. You need to relax the rules from time to time."

At this the hunter was contrite and departed greatly edified by what the old man had said, and the brothers, refreshed, went home.

 

V.x.3.  A brother asked abba Antony to pray for him and he replied, "Neither God nor I can do anything for you unless you yourself take care to cast yourself on his mercy."

V.x.4.  Again, abba Antony said, "God doesn't allow this generation to get involved in many battles for he knows that they are not able to endure them."

 

V.x.5. Abba Evagrius once asked abba Arsenius why it was that although they worked hard at gaining knowledge and learning they did not seem to possess the virtues that the Egyptian peasants had. Abba Arsenius replied, "Being intent upon the discipline of worldly learning we gain nothing. But these Egyptian peasants gain virtue from the way they work."

 

V.x.6.  Abba Arsenius of blessed memory said, "A monk following a life of pilgrimage in other places should not make himself out to be of central importance in anything. In this way he will be free from strife."

 

V.x.7. Abba Marcus, in talking with abba Arsenius, said, "It is a good thing not to have any sort of luxury in the cell. I knew a brother who had a few kitchen greens in his cell and he threw them out."

"Yes, that's fine," said Arsenius. "Nevertheless each person must act in accordance with the way in which he is being led.  Even if at first he is not capable of that kind of valiant act, at a later date he might well be able to encourage it to grow."

 

V.x.8.   Abba Peter, a disciple of abba Lot, told how once he was in the cell of abba Agathon when a brother came in and said, "I would like to go and live in community, but tell me how I should order my life among them."

And the old man said, "From the first day that you go in among them, keep quiet about the details of your pilgrimage all the days of your life, and don't be full of your own importance."

"What are the effects of self-importance?" asked abba Macarius.

"It's like a heat-wave which when in full flow causes everyone to flee. It will even destroy the fruit on the tree."

"And self- importance is like that?" asked Macarius.

"There is no other passion worse," said abba Agathon. "It is the generator of all other passions, and a monk had better not take self-importance upon himself, or let him sit alone in his cell."

 

V.x.9.   Abba Daniel said, "When abba Arsenius was about to die, he charged us not to have a funeral service (agape) for him, "for", he said, "I think it would seem that I had ordered it to be done for my own benefit."

 

V.x. 10.  It was said of abba Agathon that some people visited him having heard that he was a man of great discretion. In an attempt to find out whether he could lose his temper they said to him, "So you are Agathon. We have heard that you are a very self-opinionated person, given to sexual sins."

 

And he said, "Yes, that's true." "You are also that Agathon who spreads scandal and has a lot to say for himself?" they said.

"I am indeed," he said.

"You are also Agathon the heretic?" they continued.

"Not a heretic," he said.

And they asked him how it was that he had borne all the insults patiently, but denied it when accused of being a heretic. "All those insults at the beginning I put up with", he said, "for they were good for my soul. But I wouldn't agree when you called me a heretic, for that would mean separation from God, and I have no desire to be separated from God." His hearers were greatly impressed by his discretion, and departed greatly edified

 

V.x.11. This same abba Agathon was asked, "Which is the more important, manual labour or interior watchfulness?"  The abba said, "A human being is like a tree. Manual labour is like the leaves, interior watchfulness is like the fruit. Therefore, as Scripture says, 'Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.' (Matt 3.10)  So we ought to take every possible care of the good fruit in ourselves, that is, watchfulness of the mind. But we do need our outward leafy covering, that is, our manual work"

Abba Agathon was a wise and thoughtful person, a diligent workman, thorough in all he did, keen and reliable in his manual work, sparing in food and clothing.

V.x.12. This same abba Agathon, when there had been a meeting in Scete to judge a certain case, came to them after judgement had been delivered and said, "You haven't judged this case very well."

"Who are you to say?" they asked.

"I am merely one of the sons of men," he said. "As it is written, 'Are your minds set upon righteousness, O ye congregation? And do ye judge the thing that is right, O ye sons of men?'" (Psalm 58.1)

 

V.x.13. Abba Agathon said, "Even if in your anger you could raise the dead, it would not be pleasing to God, simply because of your anger."

 

V.x.14.  Three old men once came to abba Achilles, and one of them had rather a bad reputation. One of these old men said, "Father, would you make me a fish-hook?"

"Oh no" he said.

And the next one said; "Please do, so that we shall have something in our monastery to remember you by."

But he replied that he really didn't have time.

And the third, he of the bad reputation, also said, "Make me a hook, father, so that I may have a kind of blessing from your hands."

And to him he said, "Yes, I will."

The first two whom he had refused asked him in private why it was that he had refused their request but agreed to the other's. The old man replied, "In giving you the answer that I didn't have time I knew that you wouldn't be upset, but if I hadn't answered him the way I did, he would have said that it was because I had heard of his bad reputation and for that reason wouldn't make him a fish hook. So I threw him out a lifeline to save him from mental distress and depression."

 

V.x.15. The story is told of an old man who had spent fifty years without eating bread and drinking very little water, and who said, "I am no longer tempted by sex, avarice or vanity." When abba Abraham heard about this boast he came to him and asked whether this was what he really had said.

"Yes", he replied.

"If you went into your cell," abba Abraham said, "and found a woman lying on your blanket, would you be able to think of her as not being a woman at all?"

"No", he said, "but I would control my thoughts and not attempt to molest her."

"It's not that you have destroyed all thoughts of sex," said abba Abraham, "but rather that you have controlled them. Again, if you were walking along and among the stones and broken bricks you saw some gold, would you reckon that to be merely a sort of stone?"

"No," he said, "but I would resist the temptation to pick it up."

"The desire is still there, you see," said abba Abraham, "even though you have controlled it. Again if you heard of two brothers, one of whom liked you and spoke well of you while the other disliked you and slandered you, would you feel the same towards both of them if they came to you?"

"No," he said, "but I would try to help the one who disliked me in exactly the same way as I would the one who liked me."

And abba Abraham said, "The passions never die. It is just that in holy people they are kept under control."

 

V.x.16. One of the fathers told a story of an old man who worked diligently in his cell wearing only a blanket. He went on a visit to abba Ammonas, who when he saw him wearing only a blanket said, "This sort of practice isn't really a very useful one." But the old man said to him, "I've got three thoughts that bother me, one, that I should go and live somewhere else in the desert, two, that I should go on pilgrimage where no one would know me, and three, that I should shut myself up in my cell and see nobody and eat only every second day."

"There's no need to do any of these three things," said abba Ammonas. "Simply sit in your cell and eat a little every day, and bear in mind the words of the publican in the Gospel (Luke 18.13. 'God be merciful to me a sinner'). This will keep you in the way of salvation."

 

V.x.17.  Abba Daniel said, "The more you build up the body the less fruitful your mind becomes, but the more the body shrivels the fresher the mind. The more heated the body, the more tenuous the mind, and the thinner the body the more lively the mind."

V.x.18.  Abba Daniel told how when abba Arsenius was in Scete there was a monk stealing the old men's belongings. Abba Arsenius wanted both to win him over and also to satisfy the old men, so he invited the monk into his cell and said to him, "I'll give you anything you want, as long as you don't steal", and he gave him some gold and some coins, and some other little things - whatever he had that was useful. But the monk kept on stealing. When the old men saw that he had not reformed his ways they expelled him, saying, "If this brother had had some kind of bodily infirmity we would have looked after him, but he is a thief, he's been warned, and has not mended his ways, so expel him, since he is not doing his own soul any good and he is causing a great deal of upset to everyone living here."

 

V.x.19.  At the beginning of his monastic life (conversatio), abba Evagrius went to an old man and asked, "Father, give me a word whereby I may live."

And the old man said, "If you would be on the way of salvation, wherever you go don't go on talking about anything unless you've been asked."

Evagrius was made to feel very guilty by this word, and apologised, admitting his own faults in this respect, saying, "Believe me, I've read many books but I've never come across wisdom like that." And he went away having profited greatly.

 

 

V.x.20.  Abba Evagrius said, "A twisted or wandering mind can be straightened out by reading, vigils and prayer, disordered desires by fasting, labour and mental effort, disruptive anger by psalmody, longsuffering and mercifulness, but make use of all these things seasonably and in due measure, for anything else may serve in the short term, but in the long term may do more harm than good."

 

V.x.21.  Once when abba Ephrem was on a journey, a prostitute was sent by someone to lead him astray and try to get him to have sex with her, or at the very least to get him to commit the sin of anger (for no one had ever seen him angry or quarrelsome).

"Follow me," he said to her. When they got to the middle of a crowd of people he said, "Come here and have sex with me now, if you like"

"You can't do that, with all these people around," she said, quite taken aback.

"If human beings can make you feel ashamed," he said, "how much more should God, who brings to light the hidden things of darkness!" (1 Cor.4.5).

Confused and rebuked she departed, her desires unfulfilled.

 

V.x.22.  Some brothers once came to abba Zeno and asked him the meaning of what is written in Job.15.15, 'Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.'

And the old man replied, "Human beings have abandoned their sins and are searching the heavens. But this is the interpretation of the text you asked about; 'Since God alone is without stain, therefore the heavens are said to be not clean in his sight'"

 

V.x.23.  Abba Theodore of Pherme said, "If it should so happen that a friend of yours falls into sexual temptation, hold out your hand to him and draw him back again if you can. But if he falls into heresy and won't listen to you draw back and break off your friendship lest by staying with him you also get dragged down to the depths."

 

V.x.24. The well-known abba Theodore once came to abba John the Eunuch and in the course of conversation he remarked, "When I was in Scete, discipline of the mind was our chief work, and we regarded manual labour as something which was transitory. But now that we have worked at discipline of the mind we realise that that too is a transitory thing."

 

V.x.25. One of the fathers once came to abba Theodore and said, "One of our brothers has gone back to the world."

And abba Theodore said, "Don't be excited by that. But if you should hear that someone has succeeded in escaping from the attacks of the enemy, that would be something to get excited about."

 

V.x.26. That famous abba Theodore said, "There are many who live at peace with the world who nevertheless have not been shown the peace of God."

 

V.x.27. The story is told of John the Dwarf that he once said to his senior brother, "I want to be as free from care as the angels who do nothing but serve God without ceasing," and taking off his habit he went into the desert. He lasted there a week and then came back and knocked at his brother's door.

Without opening the door his brother called, "Who is there?"

"It's John", he replied.

"No," he said. "John's gone off to be an angel and no longer lives among men."

But he kept on knocking and crying, "It is me."

The brother wouldn't open up to him however, leaving John crestfallen. When at last he did open the door he said, "If you are a human being there is work to be done in order to live. But if you are an angel why are you trying to get back into the cell?"

Seeing the error of his ways he apologised, saying, "Forgive me, brother. I was wrong."

 

V.x.28.  Some old men once came to Scete, among them abba John the Dwarf, and as they were eating, a certain eminent presbyter got up and offered each one water to drink from a small jug, but no one accepted any except John the Dwarf. The others were surprised and asked him why he, the least important of all, had presumed to accept the ministrations of such a pre-eminent man. He replied, "Well, when I get up to offer water I am delighted when every one has some, and I find it very rewarding, so I accepted in order that he too might have that rewarding experience and not be disappointed because no one drank."

Hearing this they were all very impressed by his discretion.

 

V.x.29.  Abba Pastor once asked abba Joseph, "What do you advise I should do when assailed by temptation? Should I reject them, or let them in?"

And the old man said, "Let them in but fight against them."

When he had settled back again in Scete it so happened that a visitor to Scete from the Thebaid told how he had asked abba Joseph the same question, and he had said, ""Don't allow entrance to any temptation, but cut it off immediately."  When abba Pastor heard that abba Joseph had given this advice to the visitor from the Thebaid he visited abba Joseph in Panephus again and said, "Father, when I shared my thoughts with you, you gave me a completely different answer from the answer you gave to that visitor from the Thebaid."

And the old man said, "You don't question my respect for you?"

"No, of course not," he replied.

"Wouldn't you have told me," abba Joseph said, "to give you the same sort of advice as I would give myself? Therefore, if you are open and accepting towards temptations when they come, you test yourself to the limit. I say this to you as I would to myself, but there are others who cannot safely withstand the onset of the passions, and ought to cut them off immediately."

 

V.x.30. Again, abba Pastor said, "Once I came to abba Joseph in Lower Heracleus, and in his monastery there was a very nice fruit tree, and one morning he told me to go and pick some fruit and eat it. This was on a Saturday. I wouldn't eat because it was a fast day, and said to him, 'Tell me, for the Lord's sake, why you told me to go and eat, for I haven't done so because of the fast, and yet I feel guilty for not having done what you said. For I suppose you wouldn't have asked me to do this unless you had some reason.'

"And he replied, 'The seniors at the beginning don't always give instructions according to the book, but sometimes a bit off-centre. Once they know that they will be obeyed in dubious matters, they will be sure of being always obeyed when giving them instructions about the things that matter.'"

 

V.x.31. A brother asked abba Joseph what to do, since he wasn't being persecuted, he had no work to do and therefore couldn't give alms.

And the old man said, "If you are prevented from doing any of these things keep your conscience free from any harm towards your neighbour and you will be on the way of salvation. God seeks a soul free from sin."

V.x.32. Abba Isaac of the Thebaid said, "Don't allow any young boys in, for because of young boys four churches in Scete were ruined."

 

V.x.33. Abba Longinus said to abba Lucius, "There are three thoughts which bother me. The first is that I should go on pilgrimage."

And the old man replied, "If you can't keep guard over your tongue wherever you go, don't go on pilgrimage. But if you can guard your tongue, go."

"The next thought," said abba Longinus, "is that I should only eat every other day."

Abba Lucius replied, "The prophet Isaiah says, 'Even though you bind a yoke about your neck, yet is your fasting not acceptable to me. Rather keep your mind from evil thinking.' (Isaiah 58. 5-6)

"The third thought," said abba Longinus, "is that I should shut myself away from human contact."

And abba Lucius replied, "Unless you have first amended your way of life by living with others you won't be able to amend by living alone."

 

V.x.34.  Abba Macarius said, "If we harbour resentment for the evils done to us by other people, we destroy the ability to maintain the remembrance of God in our minds. But if we are ever mindful of the evils which can come upon us from the demons, we are protected from attack."

 

V.x.35.  Abba Mathoes said, "Satan is never really sure which passion is capable of leading anyone astray, so he sows a whole lot of seeds at random not knowing which will provide a harvest, now a seed of sexual temptation, now a seed of slander and many other similar passions. Then concentrates on whatever one it is that finds a response. And once he knows what it is that the soul finds attractive, he doesn't scatter any other kinds of seed about."

 

V.x.36.  It is told of abba Nathyra, who was a disciple of abba Silvanus, that when he lived in his cell in Mount Sinai he was quite moderate as regards bodily necessities in the way in which he governed his life. But when he was made bishop of Pharan he disciplined himself with quite severe ascetic practices. His disciple said to him, "Father, when we were in the desert you didn't crucify yourself like this."

And the old man said, "My son, there we had solitude and silence and poverty, and I looked after my body in such a way that I ran no risk of falling ill and finding I was in need of things which were unobtainable. Now, however, we are in the midst of the world, where it is very easy to be over-indulgent, and if I fall ill here there are plenty of people who will be able to come and help me - as long as I don't betray my monastic vocation."

 

V.x.37. A brother consulted abba Pastor saying, "I am very unsettled and would like to leave this place."

And the old man asked him why.

"Because I have heard some very unedifying things about one of the brothers," he replied.

The old man asked, "Are the things you have heard true?"

"Yes, they're true, father," he said. "The brother who told me about them is very trustworthy."  

"He can't be very trustworthy if he told you these things," said the old man, "for if he were really trustworthy he would not have mentioned such things at all. God himself when he heard tales of the Sodomites would not believe it before he had gone down and seen with his own eyes" (Genesis 18.20)

"I have seen with my own eyes," he said.

Hearing this the old man looked down at the ground and saw a small splinter which he picked up and said, "What is this?"

"A splinter," he replied.

He then looked up towards the roof and said "What is that?"

"A beam supporting the roof," he replied.

And the old man said, "Engrave it upon your heart that your own sins are like this beam, but that those of the brother you are talking about are like this small splinter."

When abba Sisois heard about this advice he exclaimed, "How best shall I extol you, abba Pastor? Truly you are like a precious jewel and your words are full of grace and glory."

 

V.x.38. Some presbyters of that district were visiting in the nearby monasteries where abba Pastor dwelt, and abba Anub came to abba Pastor and said, "Let us ask these presbyters if in their kindness they will today offer up here the gifts of God (i.e. bread and wine)."

But abba Pastor just stood there and would give no answer, so that abba Anub went away disappointed.

"Why didn't you answer him?" asked some who were nearby.

And abba Pastor said, "I don't apologise. I am as it were dead to the world, and the dead don't speak. So don't think of me as if I am really with you."

 

V.x.39.  A certain brother from the monastery of abba Pastor went on pilgrimage and stayed with a certain solitary who was held in high esteem by all and received many visitors. The brother told him a few things about abba Pastor's nobility of soul, which made him want to go and visit him. This brother went back to Egypt and a short time afterwards, the solitary made a pilgrimage to Egypt to visit this same brother who had previously visited him, for he had told him where he lived. He was surprised to see him and highly delighted. The solitary then said to him, "Do you think you could possibly be so kind as to take me to abba Pastor?"

So he took him to abba Pastor and introduced him, saying, "This is a lovely person of great warmth, held in high esteem in his own district, who would very much like to see you."

The old man received him very graciously, and after their greetings sat down to talk. The pilgrim brother began to talk about the Holy Scriptures, and about all sorts of other spiritual and heavenly things, but abba Pastor turned his face away and said nothing. The brother left, disappointed that abba Pastor had nothing to say, and said to his guide, "My journey to this old man has been a complete waste of time, as he hasn't condescended to say a single word to me."

So the brother went to abba Pastor and asked him why he had not conversed with this splendid person, held in high esteem in his own district, who had come especially to see him. And the old man replied, "He lives in the heavenly realm and talks of heavenly things. I am down-to earth and can only speak of earthly things. If he had spoken about human passions I would have known how to reply to him, but I'm no use in talking about spiritualities."

The brother went back to his visitor and said, "The old man does not talk readily about the Scriptures, but he will reply to anyone who talks about the human passions."

Stung by this, he went back to the old man and said, "What should I do, father, about the passions which rule in my soul?"

Giving him a happy look the old man said, "I'm glad you have come back, for now I can speak about these things and perhaps say something useful."

Greatly edified, he realised that here was a path of true charity, and he went back home giving thanks to God that he had been found worthy to see such a holy old man.

 

V.x.40.  A brother consulted abba Pastor, saying, "I have committed a grievous sin, and think I ought to do penance for three years."

"Too much," said abba Pastor.

"One year, would you think?" asked the brother.

"Too much," was the reply.

Those standing nearby said, "How about forty days?"

"Still too much," said the old man, adding, "I reckon that for anyone who truly repents from the bottom of his heart and is determined not to repeat his offence, the Lord will even accept a mere three days."

 

V.x.41. Abba Ammon consulted him about the unclean thoughts and vain desires which the human heart brings forth. And abba Pastor replied, "'Does the axe claim more credit that the man who wields it?' (Isaiah 10.15)  If you weren't striving against them, you wouldn't have any work to do."

 

V.x.42.  Abba Isaiah consulted him on the same question and abba Pastor said, "If you have a cupboard full of clothes and you leave them shut up for a long period, eventually they will rot. In the same way, if you prevent your thoughts breaking out into bodily actions eventually they will rot and disappear."

 

V.x.43. When abba Joseph also consulted him about this, abba Pastor said, "If a snake or a scorpion is put into a bottle and tightly shut up, in the course of time it will certainly die. So with evil thoughts which fester by the devices of the demons - they gradually decrease according to the measure of patience shown by the one to whom they are sent."

 

V.x.44. Abba Joseph asked abba Pastor, "What is the best way of fasting?"

And abba Pastor replied, "I think you should eat every day but regularly take a little less than you feel like eating."

"But when you were young," said abba Joseph, "didn't you go without food for two days at a time?"

"Quite right," the old man said. "And sometimes three days, or even a week. This was a practice approved by the influential seniors. But they found that it was better to eat daily, and on alternate days a little less, thus showing us a royal road which was not so arduous and easier to practice."

 

V.x.45.  Abba Pastor said, "Don't live where there are others urging extravagant practices on you which you don't find profitable."

V.x.46.  A brother visiting abba Pastor told him that he cultivated a field and gave the crops away. The old man told him that he was doing a good work and the brother went away encouraged in what he was doing. Abba Anub overheard this and said to abba Pastor, "Where's your fear of God that you should have spoken to the brother like that?"
But the old man said nothing. After two days abba Pastor asked the brother to come and see him and said, "What was it you were asking me about the other day? I think my mind must have been wandering at the time." 
And the brother said, "I told you that I cultivated my field and reaped it and gave it away." And abba Pastor said, "Oh, I thought you must have been speaking of your brother who is not a monk, for this is not really monk's work."
He was downhearted to hear this and said, "I don't know how to do any other sort of work except this so why shouldn't I cultivate my field!"
After he had gone, abba Anub apologised to abba Pastor, and abba Pastor said, "I always knew of course that this was not monastic work, but I spoke to his condition (lit, "according to his mind") and encouraged him in his charitable aims. Now of course he's gone away sad, but he will still do the same work."

V.x.47. A brother asked abba Pastor, "What is the meaning of that Scripture where it talks about being angry with your brother without a cause? "(Matt 5.22.) 
"No matter what your brother may have done to offend you, if you get angry with him even to the extent that you would need to pluck out your right eye and cast it from you, then you are angry without a cause. But if anyone tries to separate you from God, then you can get angry."


V.x.48.  Abba Pastor said, "If someone has done wrong and says, 'I've done wrong' without prevarication, don't scold him lest you destroy his good intentions. If however you say to him, 'Never mind, brother, but don't do it again' you will help him to be sorry."

V.x.49.  Again he said, "It is a good thing to experiment. People become stronger through experiment."

V.x.50.  Again he said, "A teacher who does not do what he teaches is like someone who is quite happy to clean up the mess of all who come to him but can't clean up his own mess and is full of all kinds of uncleanness and filth."

V.x.51.  Again he said, "It is human not to know yourself."
And he added, "One person may seem to live in silence but in his heart he is constantly condemning others. In reality he never stops talking. But another who may talk from morning to night in reality has the gift of silence, because he never speaks except to profit his hearers."

V.x.52. Again he said, "Suppose there were three people together, and one of them sought to be silent, one was ill but nevertheless gave thanks to God, and a third ministered to them both with sincere goodwill, then these three are as much alike as if they were all doing the same work."

V.x.53. Again he said, "Evil can in no way drive out evil. If anyone does evil to you do good to him, for your good deed will destroy his evil ones."

V.x.54.  Again he said, "A grumbler is not a monk. Someone who returns evil for evil is not a monk. An angry person is not a monk."

V.x.55.  A brother came to abba Pastor and said, "There are many dangerous thoughts which come into my mind." 
Abba Pastor took him out into the open air and said, "Spread out your cloak and catch me some wind." 
"It's not possible," he replied. 
"Neither is it," said the old man. "Neither is it possible to prevent all kinds of thoughts coming in to your mind. What you can do is resist them."

V.x.56. A brother came to him saying, "What should I do with a legacy which I have had?" 
And abba Pastor said, "Give me three days to think about it." 
He came back as bidden and the old man said to him, "What shall I say to you, brother? If I were to say, 'Give it to the church' the clergy would give you no peace. If I were to say 'Give it to your parents' there's no merit in that. But if I were to say, 'Give it to the poor' at least that would free your mind from worry. Whatever you decide, go and do it. I have no axe to grind."


V.x.57. Again abba Pastor said, "If you think about some material need and you do nothing about it, and the thought comes again and you still do nothing about it, and if it comes a third time and you don't really pay much attention to it, it was probably superfluous in the first place."


V.x.58. A brother said to abba Pastor, "If I come to an understanding of something should I talk about it?" 
And the old man said, "Scripture says, 'It is foolish and blameworthy to speak before you listen' (Ecclus.11.8.) So speak only if you are asked to. Otherwise stay silent."


V.x.59. Again abba Pastor said that according to abba Ammon there are some people who go through life carrying an axe without the faintest idea of how to cut down a tree, but there are others who have one and know how to use it and can cut down a tree in a few strokes."  He was likening an axe to discretion.

V.x.60. Again he said, "The human will is like a high wall full of sharp stones between the self and God. In order to overcome it say, 'With the help of my God I will leap over the wall. The way of God is an undefiled way.' (Psalm 18.29f.) It is hard work for a human being to train his will in righteousness."


V.x.61. A brother consulted abba Pastor, saying, "My soul is in danger if I stay with my present abbot. What do you think? Should I stay with him?"
Now abba Pastor knew that this abbot was not a good influence on this brother, and was surprised that he should have come to get advice as to whether he should stay with him. And he said, "If you think it right, stay." 
And the brother went back and stayed. Later on he came again and said, "He's really doing me harm."
But abba Pastor still didn't advise him to leave. He came back a third time and said, "This time I really am leaving him"
And abba Pastor said, "Now you have found the right path. Go, and don't look back." And he added, "If someone sees that his soul is in danger he shouldn't need to seek advice. For truly, anyone might ask about hidden thoughts and get advice from the seniors, but if it is a case of open wrongdoing there is no need to consult anybody - it should just be dealt with immediately."

V.x.62. Abba Abraham, the disciple of abba Agathon, asked abba Pastor, "Why are the demons attacking me?" 
And abba Pastor said, "Demons attacking you?  It is not demons fighting with us when we are following our own devices and desires; our own devices and desires have become demons, driving us to fulfil our own desires. But if you would like to know the sort of people with whom the demons do fight, look at Moses and people like him."


V.x.63. Abba Pastor said that abba Moses was approached by a brother who asked, "How should  someone set about mortification? By means of one's neighbour?"
And he replied, "You won't get anywhere near the meaning of this word unless you have spent about three years imprinting on your heart that you are already in the grave."


V.x.64. A brother asked abba Pastor, "How should a monk conduct himself in his cell?" 
And the old man said, "Sitting in the cell doing the obvious things comprises manual labour, eating, keeping silence, meditating. Making progress in the hidden things requires that people should not worry if they are despised wherever they go, but should make good use of every minute and not neglect their own inner development. When it is time to finish their manual work, let them say the divine office, and bring it to a conclusion with an untroubled mind. The end of all these things is that they should be numbered among the fellowship of the just, having renounced the fellowship of the unjust."


V.x.65. Two brothers came to abba Pambo and the first one asked, "Father, I fast every second day and then eat two loaves. Am I on the right path, or am I being deceived?" 
And the other said, "When I have earned out of my manual work two days supply of beans I keep one lot for my own food and give the other lot away. Am I right in doing this, or am I being deceived?" 
They asked him a lot of things like this but he gave no definite answers. After four days they were about to depart, when some of the clergy spoke to them, saying, "Don't be disappointed, brothers, you will have your reward from God, but this old man has the habit of never saying anything unless it is given him by God." 
So they went back to the old man and said, "Father, pray for us." 
And he said to them, "Oh, are you going, then?" 
"Yes, we are," they said. Then he gazed on them, and wrote upon the ground, pretending to take their way of life upon himself , "Pambo fasts every other day and then eats two loaves. Is this what makes a monk? No. And Pambo produces two lots of beans every day and gives one lot in alms. Is that what makes a monk? Not at all."
  Then after a pause he said, "It is a good work you are doing, but as long as you maintain a good conscience towards your neighbour you will be on the path of salvation."  The brothers found this a great help, and went away happy.

V.x.66. A brother once asked abba Pambo, "Why is it that I hear certain voices telling me not to do good to my neighbour?" 
And the old man said, "Don't say such things. You are making God out to be a liar. Say rather, 'It is I who have no desire to be merciful.'  God has forestalled you with the words, 'I have given you power to tread down scorpions and serpents and the whole strength of the enemy' (Luke 10.19). Why then don't you crush this unclean spirit?"


V.x.67. Abba Palladius said, "It behoves someone trying to live according to the mind of Christ to teach openly what he knows and to keep honestly quiet about what he doesn't know. And if he won't do either when he is capable of doing so, he is suffering from a very unhealthy disease. The first step in departing from God is a scorn for sound doctrine, and a loss of desire for what the true lover of God longs for."


V.x.68. A brother asked abba Sisois why he couldn't get rid of his passions, and the old man said, "The whole package of passions is within you, but if you pay the price for them, they will depart."


V.x.69. A certain brother came to abba Silvanus in Mount Sinai, and seeing the brothers at work he said to the old man, "'Labour not for the meat that perisheth' (John 6.27), and  'Mary has chosen the better part' (Luke 10.41)."
And the old man said to his disciple, "Call Zacharias, and put this brother in an empty cell by himself." 
And at the ninth hour he waited at the door for them to come and invite him to the meal, but when nobody came he got up and went to the old man and asked, "Are the brothers not eating today, father?" 
And the old man said, "Yes they're eating at this moment." 
"And I'm not invited?" said the brother. 
And the old man replied, "You are a spiritual person and don't need that kind of food, but we are very earthy, and because we need to eat we therefore work with our hands. But you have chosen that better part, spending all day reading, without any need for carnal food." 
When he heard this he knelt and apologised, saying, "Forgive me, father." And the old man said, "It seems to me that Mary couldn't do without Martha. Without Martha, Mary could not have been praised."

V.x.70. Holy Syncletica said, "There are those who through hard work amass worldly goods however great the perils of the sea. And when they get rich they want even more, reckoning nothing to what they already have, but bending all their mind to getting what they don't yet have. And yet we are lacking in those things which really ought to be sought after, and lack the will to strive after those things which are necessary for the fear of God."


V.x.71. She also said, "There is a sort of heavy-heartedness (tristitia) which is profitable and another sort which is destructive. The profitable sort is when you mourn for your sins and for the blindness of your neighbours, or when you fear lest you fall away from your first good intention of striving after perfection. These constitute a sound sort of heavy-heartedness. But there is a down-side which comes from our enemy. For he can induce an irrational kind of heavy-heartedness. It's called depression (taedium). You need much prayer and psalmody to drive that sort away."

V.x.72. She said again, "The devil can induce a kind of hard and long drawn out abstinence which his followers go in for. But how do you distinguish a divine and royal abstinence from a diabolical and tyrannous one? It is obvious that as you progress along your path of life you should have a rule of fasting. Then gradually you get to fasting for four or five days at a time, followed by eating too much. Do you think that will help you increase in virtue? That simply gladdens the devil's heart. It is always the unbalanced actions which are the most debilitating. Don't bring out all at once every weapon you have, lest you find yourself in the midst of battle with no weapons left. The body is our armoury, the mind is the soldier. Treat each of them judiciously so that you can be ready for anything."

V.x.73. Two old men once came to Amma Sara and said to each other on the way, "Let's keep this old woman in her place." So they said to her, "Don't get ideas about yourself, and boast about these two solitaries who came to see you even though you are only a woman." And Amma Sara said, "I may be a woman in body, but not in spirit."

V.x.74. She also said, "If I were to ask God that everyone should be edified by my example, I would soon find myself at each one's door having to ask their pardon. Rather I should pray that my heart becomes pure in the sight of all people."

V.x.75. Abba Hyperichus said, "The truly wise man is he who teaches others by his deeds, not his words."

V.x.76. There was once a monk who had lived in a vast mansion in Rome, but in Scete lived near the church with a servant to look after him. The presbyter of the church realised his weakness in that he had been used to all kinds of luxury, and shared with him all that the Lord sent him and all that was given to the church. After living for twenty-five years in Scete, he had become well known as a contemplative of discernment. Hearing of his reputation, one of the foremost Egyptian monks came to see him, expecting to find that his way of life was physically fairly arduous. After their greetings they said the prayers and sat down together. The Egyptian was shocked to notice that his companion was clothed in fine raiment, that his bedding was of finely woven reeds over a layer of tanned leather, that he had a little scarf of soft material round his neck, and that he was wearing sandals on his clean feet. Such a way of living was not customary in that place; severe abstinence was rather the usual rule. Seeing that he had the gift of prayer and discernment, the old Roman realised that his companion was shocked and said to his servant, "Let's do things well today for the sake of this abba who has visited us." 
And he cooked a few vegetables which he had, and sat down for the meal as soon as they were ready. They also drank some of the wine which he kept for his infirmity. And when Vespers was done they said the twelve psalms, went to bed and slept all night. When they got up in the morning the Egyptian said, "Pray for me" and departed, totally disillusioned in him.
He hadn't gone far before the Roman sent after him and called him back, because he wanted to clear up the misunderstanding. After welcoming him gladly he asked, "What nationality are you?"
"I am an Egyptian," he replied. 
"And from what city?" he asked.
"I wasn't born in a city and have never lived in one," was the answer.
"Before you became a monk, what did you do? Where did you live?" he asked.
"I was a farm worker," he said.
"You had a bed to sleep in?" he asked.
"As a farm worker should I have been so lucky as to have a bed to sleep in?" he replied.
"Where did you sleep then?" he asked.
"On the bare ground," he replied. 
"What did you eat in your field, and what sort of wine did you drink?" he asked. 
"What sort of food and wine do you think you are likely to get as a farmworker?" he replied.
"Well, tell me how you lived," he said.
"I ate dry bread and perhaps a little salted fish if I could get it, and my only drink was water," he replied.
"A hard life" the old man said, and went on, "You had no bath to wash in?" 
"No, I washed in the river when I could," he replied.
When the old man had learned from these replies everything about his former life and work he told him about his own previous life before becoming a monk, hoping to open his eyes a bit.
"This poor sinner that you see before you came from the mighty city of Rome," he said. "I had an important position under the Roman Emperor."
At these words the Egyptian was taken aback and began to listen carefully to what was being said.
"I left Rome and came here to solitude. "I used to have an enormous house and plenty of money, but I counted them as nothing and came to live in this tiny cell. I used to have couches decorated with gold and covered with expensive drapes, in place of which the Lord has given me this bedding of reeds and leather. My clothing was of the highest and most expensive quality, instead of which I now wear this simple garment. I used to spend a great deal of money on food, instead of which God gives me a few vegetables and a small cup of wine. I used to have countless numbers of servants to look after me, and the Lord has spared me this one servant only to look after me. Instead of my bath I do wash my feet a little and wear sandals in my weakness. Instead of lyre and pipe and other kinds of music which I used to enjoy as I feasted, I now say my twelve psalms by day and twelve by night. And for the sins which I formerly committed I now find peace in offering my poor and unworthy service to God. So you see, father, you need not be scandalised because of my weakness." 
Having listened to all this, the Egyptian had a complete change of heart, and said, "Woe is me! For I came into the monastic way from a background of great deprivation and hard work, and I now possess such a lot of things which I did not possess before. You however chose to come from a life of great luxury into a life of deprivation, from great distinction and riches into humility and poverty." Greatly edified, he departed, but became a great friend of his and often came back because he found it so profitable. For he was indeed a man of discernment, filled with the life-giving breath of the holy Spirit.

V.x.77. An old man said, "There is no need for a lot of words. Human beings have plenty to say for themselves in these days, but it is deeds you want. This is what God wants, not mere words which bear no fruit."

V.x.78. A brother asked some of the fathers if you could be polluted by unclean thoughts coming into the mind. In reply to this question some said; "Yes, you are polluted", but others said, "No, because if we were polluted we simple people would be beyond salvation. The important thing about salvation is that we don't do evil things even if we think them." 
The brother was not satisfied with these conflicting answers, and went to an old man of rather greater reputation and asked him about the same thing. And the old man replied, "From each person according to his ability."
The brother asked him for the love of God to explain this saying.
And the old man said, "Suppose that there were a valuable object lying here, and two brothers came in, one of whom was highly developed in his way of life and the other not. The first one of great virtue might see the object and think to himself, "I would like to have that", but if he doesn't dwell on the thought and cuts it out of his mind immediately, he is not polluted. The second one who is not yet highly practised in virtue might also see the object and desire it and might have to go through a long struggle in his mind against that desire, but as long as he finishes up by not taking it. he also is without sin."


V.x.79. An old man said, "Whatever your situation, if you don't take advantage of what it has to offer you, the place itself will drive you out because you haven't used it profitably."


V.x.80. An old man said, "If anyone in sheer ignorance follows his own will without thought for the will of God, later there may be an opportunity of returning to the way of the Lord. But someone who follows his own will and not the will of God and won't listen to anyone else, but thinks he knows it all, will find it very difficult to come back to the way of the Lord."


V.x.81. An old man was asked the meaning of the words, "strait and narrow way." (Matt 7.14).
And the old man replied, "The strait and narrow way is that you should do violence to your own thoughts, and renounce your self-will for the sake of the Lord. This is what the Scripture means when it says that the Apostles 'left all and followed him'" (Matt.19.27).

 

V.x.82. An old man said, "Just as the monastic order is more to be held in honour than the secular way, so should the pilgrim monk be in all respects as a mirror for those he comes among."

 

V.x.83. One of the fathers said, "If a diligent person lives with those who are not, he does not make any progress, for the whole point of being diligent is to prevent yourself by means of your work from becoming second rate. But if a lazy person lives with those who are diligent, he does make progress, or if he doesn't, at least he cannot get any worse."

 

V.x.84. An old man said, "One who has plenty of words but no deeds is like a tree with leaves but no fruit. Just as a tree with plenty of fruit is sure to be one with plenty of leaves, so good words follow on from good deeds."

V.x.85. An old man told how a certain monk who had fallen into serious sin and repented went to consult one of the old men. However, he didn't actually say in so many words what he had done, but put it in the form of a question, "If someone had fallen victim to such and such a thought could he find salvation?"

The old man was one with no discernment and replied, "You've lost your soul."

At this the brother said, "Well if I am perishing anyway I might as well go back to the world."

He didn't give up however but decided to go and consult abba Silvanus, a man of great discretion. When he got there, he again did not actually say what he had done, but put in the form of the same question which he had put to the former old man, "If someone had fallen victim to such and such a thought could he find salvation?"

Abba Silvanus opened his mouth and began to speak to him from the Scriptures, "Judgment on thoughts is not always the same as on sins."

When the brother heard this he took to heart what was being said and with renewed hope he confessed his actual sins. Having heard what he had done, abba Silvanus like a good doctor applied a bandage to his soul from the Scriptures, by saying that there is always repentance for those who from genuine love turn to God (Ezekiel 18.27).

A few years later it so happened that this distinguished father visited the old man who had nearly driven the brother to despair and after telling him what had happened went on to say, "See now, this brother who would have despaired and gone back to the world because of what you said is now like a shining star in the midst of his brothers."

This story is told so that we may realise that it is dangerous to consult someone with no discernment about either sinful thoughts or sinful deeds.

 

V.x.86. An old man said, "We shall not be condemned because our thoughts are evil, but only if we make evil use of them. Through our thoughts we can either suffer shipwreck or be crowned with glory."

 

V.x.87. An old man said, "Don't have commerce with worldly men, don't be familiar with women, and don’t put excessive trust in boys."

 

V.x.88. A brother asked an old man what he should do about the multitude of thoughts which bothered him for he didn't know how to fight them.

The old man said, "Don't fight against all of them, but only against one. All the thoughts that a monk might have stem from one principal source. You need to decide which one it is and what it is like, and concentrate on that. The others will then also be beaten down."

 

V.x.89. An old man spoke against evil thoughts thus, "I beg you, brothers, just as you repress evil acts so also repress evil thoughts."

V.x.90. An old man said, "The one who lives in the desert should be a teacher rather than one who needs to be taught, lest he come to harm."

 

V.x.91. An old man was asked by a brother how to find God, by fasting, by work, by vigils or by compassion.

And he replied, "By all those things which you mention, plus discretion. I tell you, there are many who afflict their flesh, but because they do it indiscreetly they end up empty, profiting nothing. Our mouths may be dried up through fasting, we may have studied the Scriptures and learned the psalms by heart and yet lack what God requires, humility."

 

V.x.92. A brother asked an old man, "Father, what is the point of asking the seniors and getting good spiritual advice from them if I don't remember anything of what they say? Why ask seeing I don't profit by it? I feel as if I'm totally unclean."

There were two empty bowls near at hand, and the old man said, "Take one of those bowls, pour some oil into it, burn some flax in it, pour the oil back and put the bowl back in its place."

And he did so.

"Do it again," said the old man.

And he did so.

After this had been done several times, the old man said, "Now pick up the other bowl and tell me which is the cleaner."

"The one I put the oil in," he said.

"It's the same with the enquiring mind," said the old man. "Although you can't remember what you have been told, nevertheless you become cleaner than those who never ask any questions at all."

 

V.x.93. A brother sitting silently in his cell was being pestered by demons disguised as angels who appeared to him in a bright light attempting to seduce him into going back to communal living. He went to a certain old man and said, "Father, angels have appeared to me in a bright light, telling me to go back to communal living."

"Don't listen to them," said the old man, "for they are demons. When they come to tempt you say, 'I'll go when I decide, not at your bidding.'"

He listened to the old man's advice and went back to his cell. The next night the demons came as usual, pestering him, but he as he had been advised answered them, "I'll go when I decide, not at your bidding."

But they said to him, "That evil old man is a liar and has deceived you. We know this because one of the brothers went to him wanting to borrow some money, and although he had some he lied, saying that he didn't have any, and gave him nothing."

At daybreak the brother went to the old man and told him about this. And the old man said, "It is quite true that I had some money and wouldn't give any to the brother who wanted to borrow some, because I knew that if I were to give it to him it would only do harm to his soul. I judged that there was one commandment which took precedence over a bit of prevarication in all ten."

 

V.x.94. Three brothers once came to an old man in Scete, and one of them said, "Father, I have committed the old and new Testaments to memory."

And the old man replied, "You have made a cloud of words around yourself." (lit. 'you have filled up the air with words')

And the second one said, "I have copied out the old and new Testaments all by myself"

And the old man replied, "You have blocked up the windows (sc. 'of your mind'?) with books."

And the third said, "The grass is growing in my fireplace."

And the old man said, "You have saved yourself from having to receive guests." (lit. 'You have driven out hospitality from you')

 

V.x.95. One of the fathers told of how a certain highly respected old man would say very forcefully to anyone who came to ask him for advice, "See now, I take the nature of God upon myself and sit in the seat of judgment, and what would you that I do for you? If you say, 'Have mercy on me', God says, 'If you want me to have mercy on you have mercy yourself on your brothers, and then I will have mercy on you'. If you want me to forgive you, forgive your neighbours. Is God to be held responsible in this? Not at all. It is within ourselves that the will to walk in the path of salvation lies."

 

V.x.96. It was said of a certain very industrious old man in the Cells that when he was reciting his prayers in his cell it so happened that another holy old man passing by heard him arguing with his thoughts and saying, "How is it that I should have forgotten everything except one single word?"

The man standing outside thought that he was arguing with someone else and knocked on the door so that he could go in and make peace between them. But when he had gone in and seen that there was no one there with the old man, he took it upon himself to ask, "Who were you arguing with, father?"

"With my thoughts," he replied. "For although I have committed fourteen books to memory, when I came to say my office today I found that I could remember nothing except one word which I had heard outside, and therefore I was arguing with my own thoughts."

 

V.x.97. Some brothers from the monastery came to the desert and stayed with a hermit who gave them a friendly welcome. And as is the custom among hermits, when he saw that his guests were tiring in their manual work he gave them a chance to rest by having the meal earlier than usual, sharing with them what he had in his cell. They said twelve psalms when evening was come and likewise twelve at night. But when the old man was keeping vigil, he overheard them saying, "These hermits rest a lot longer than we do in the monastery."

In the morning, when they were about to depart to another hermit nearby, he said to them, "Give him my greetings and tell him not to water the vegetables."

This other hermit knew what that meant, and so he kept the brothers working hard till the evening without any food. At evening time he first of all said a very long office and then said, "For your sake we'll stop there, because you are tired after your hard work. We don't usually eat today, but for your sake we'll eat a little."

And he gave them some dry bread and salt, and added, "Seeing you are here we will make a feast day", and he added a little vinegar to the meal, after which they got up and continued singing psalms till morning, when he said, "Seeing you are with us we won't fulfil our usual rule but we'll pause a little here, seeing you are pilgrims."

The brothers decided it was time to get away, but he urged them to stay a little longer.

"Stay three days with us as is usual among hermits, if for no other reason than to observe the custom." But when they saw that he was not going to give them any relaxation they slipped away while he wasn't looking.

 

V.x.98. A brother said to an old man, "If I happen to sleep in past the hour for saying the office I feel inhibited from saying it at all for very shame."

And the old man said, "If you happen to sleep in, get up when you do awake, shut the doors and windows, and say your office, for it is written, 'The day is thine and the night is thine' (Psalm 74.17). At all times therefore God is glorified."

 

V.x.99. An old man said, "One person might eat a lot and still feel hungry, whereas another might eat very little but be satisfied with it. The one who eats and still stays hungry has greater merit than the one who eats little and is satisfied."

 

V.x.100. An old man said, "If you and your brother get involved in a rather peevish conversation and he says, 'That's not what I said', don't argue with him and say, 'Yes, you did', for he will only get irritated and say, 'I did not.'"

 

V.x.101. A brother asked an old man, "I have a sister who is very poor. If I give her some money does that count as giving alms to the poor?"

"No", the old man said.

"Why not, father?" asked the brother.

And the old man said, "Because you are being swayed by your own flesh and blood."

 

V.x.102. An old man said, "A monk ought not to disparage others, nor listen to those who disparage, nor be easily shocked."

 

V.x.103. An old man said, "Don't be satisfied with all you hear or agree with everything that is said. Be careful about what you believe, but be eager to tell the truth."

 

V.x.104. An old man said, "Sometimes a saying comes into the mind of a brother as he sits in his cell, and he can't get at the meaning of it, however much he turns it over in his mind. If he has not been drawn in this direction by God, the demons will put any sort of meaning they want into this saying."

 

V.x.105. An old man said, "Once when we used to meet together we talked of things which were to our mutual benefit and were lifted heavenwards thereby. Nowadays when we meet we get caught up in scandalous gossip and drag each other down to the depths."

 

V.x.106. Another old man said, "If a person maintains an inner discipline, he can also control his actions. But if this is not the case, how can we possibly guard our tongues?"

 

V.x.107. The same person also added, "Spiritual work is necessary if we are to arrive at that state. For it is an impossible task to speak of anything which has not been arrived at by actual experience."

 

V.x.108. Another of the fathers said, "It is important that one should have work in the cell at which to labour. As long as one is occupied in the work of God, the devil may come day after day and will not find room in which to lodge. But if the devil does overcome and leads someone into captivity, the Spirit of God will often return, though if he finds no room in us because of our own malignity, he departs."

 

V.x.109. Some Egyptian monks went down to Scete to visit the seniors of that place and were scandalised to find them so undone by hunger that they were impatient to get at their food after a long fast. The presbyter [of Scete] realised this and with the intention of teaching them something before sending them away, he preached to the people in the church encouraging them to fast and cultivate abstinence. For the monks from Egypt had wanted to go but he kept them there. And when he had made them fast for two days they were shattered. The dwellers in Scete, however, had fasted for a week before they and the Egyptians sat down to a meal on the Sabbath. The Egyptians then rushed madly to get at the food and one of the old men restrained their hands and said, "Eat properly as a monk should."

One of the Egyptians shook his hand off saying, "Let me go for I am dying. I haven't eaten any cooked food for a week."

And the old man said, "If you are reduced to such straits after fasting for only two days, why are you so dismayed by these brothers who habitually consider abstinence to be of such importance that they fast for a week." This shamed them, and edified by their abstinence they went away in a happier frame of mind.

V.x.110. A certain brother who had renounced the world and taken the monastic habit, almost immediately shut himself up saying, "I want to be a solitary."

When the nearby seniors heard of this, they went and dragged him out and made him go round the cells of all the brethren doing penance at each one, saying, "Pardon me, for I am not a solitary, since I am only at the beginning of my monastic life."

 

V.x.111. The old men had a saying, "If you see one of the young men going up to heaven by his own efforts, grab his heel and bring him down to earth, for it is not fitting."

 

V.x.112. A brother said to a highly respected old man, "Father I would like to find an old man of my own choice and stay with him."  And the old man said, "A noble desire, sir."

He didn't understand the old man's sarcasm, and continued to say that was what he wanted.

When the old man saw that the young man thought he was approving his wishes he said, "And if you found such an old man of your own choice, would you really stay with him?"

And he replied, "Yes, indeed, if I could find someone of my own choice."

And the old man said, "Not so that you could follow the will of the old man, but that he could do what you want - and that would give you peace."  The brother suddenly realised what was being said and prostrated himself in penitence, saying, "Forgive me, I was being vainglorious, and thought I was speaking on the right lines, when there was no real good in it at all."

 

V.x.113. Two brothers according to the flesh both left the world, but it was the younger of them who first began his monastic life. One of the fathers came to visit them and they brought out a basin (to wash his feet), and the younger in age came to wash the old man's feet, but he reached out his hand and prevented him, giving that privilege to the elder, although it was usually the one who had entered the monastery first who did this. Some bystanders said, "Father, the younger one is the senior in monastic terms." And the old man replied, "And I take away the primacy of the younger and give it to the elder."

 

V.x.114. An old man said, "The prophets wrote books, our fathers who came after them carried out many of their precepts, and their successors committed them to memory. But this present generation has copied them out onto paper and parchment and leave them idly on their window sills."

 

V.x.115. An old man used to say, "The cowl that we wear is the sign of innocence, the garment that we wear round our shoulders and on our necks is the sign of the cross, the belt we are girded with is the sign of fortitude. Let us live then according to what our habit signifies; if we bend our desires to all these things we shall not be overcome."

 

Libellus 11: Living soberly.

 

V.xi. 1. A Brother came to abba Arsenius for advice and the old man said, "To the best of your ability try to live an interior life according to God's will and conquer your outward passions." He added, "If we seek God, he will appear to us, and if we grasp him, he will stay with us."

 

V.xi. 2. Abba Agathon said, "A monk should not allow his conscience to accuse him in everything indiscriminately." When he was at the point of death this illustrious abba Agathon remained motionless for three days with his eyes open, and the brothers shook him and said, "Where are you, father?"  "I am standing before the judgment seat of God," he replied.  "Are you afraid?" they asked.  "I have worked to the best of my ability at keeping the commandments of God," he replied, "but I am only human and I know not whether what I have done is pleasing in the sight of God." "You have no trust in what you have done, even though you have been following God?" they asked. And the old man said, "I would not presume so much, not before appearing before God, for the judgments of God are different from human judgments." They very much wanted to ask him more questions, but he said to them, "Please, don't talk any more for I am very busy." As soon as he had said this he cheerfully gave up his spirit, as they watched him assume the expression of one about to greet some dear friends. He had always been very disciplined in all things and used to say, "Without discipline it is not humanly possible to grow in virtue."

 

V.xi. 3. It was told of abba Ammoys that when he went to church he didn't allow his disciple to walk with him but to follow at some distance behind. If the disciple came closer to ask something he would answer him very briefly and then tell him to go back, saying, "Although we may be talking about something of spiritual benefit, it is just possible that we may get on to something which is totally irrelevant, so that is why I don't allow you to stay close."

 

V.xi. 4. When abba Ammoys first met abba Arsenius he asked, "In what light do you see me now?" And he replied, "Like an angel, father." At a later date he asked him again, "How do you see me now?"  And he replied, "Like Satan, for even when you speak good words to me they pierce me like a sword."

 

V.xi. 5. Abba Allois said, "Unless you say, 'God and I are alone in the world' you will never find peace."

 

V.xi. 6. Again he said, "If you really wanted to, you could arrive at the measure of divinity (find union with God?) in the course of only one day before Vespers."

 

V.xi. 7. Abba Bessarion on his deathbed said, "A monk should be all eye, like the Cherubim and Seraphim."

 

V.xi. 8. Abba Daniel and abba Ammoys were going on a journey when abba Ammoys said, "Do you think we shall be sitting in our cell before long, father?" Abba Daniel replied, "Who shall separate us from God? God is now with us on our journey, and he will be with us again in the cell."

 

V.xi. 9. Abba Evagrius said, "It is a great thing to pray without distraction, and greater still to sing psalms without distraction."

 

V.xi. 10. He also said, "Remember you must die and forget not eternal judgment, and your soul will not slip."

 

V.xi. 11. Abba Theodore of Ennato said, "If God can accuse us of slackness in our times of prayer and distractions when we are singing psalms, we are not on the path of salvation."

 

V.xi. 12. Abba Theonas said, "We are taken away captive by earthly passions because of mental blockages which withdraw us from the contemplation of God."

 

V.xi. 13. Some brothers once put John the Dwarf to the test because he had the reputation of never allowing his mind to be distracted by worldly affairs, nor did he argue over worldly controversies. "Thanks be to God," they said. "The rainfall has been good this year and the well-watered palm trees are putting forth fresh branches providing plenty of work for the brothers who work with their hands." "It's like what happens when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of his saints," abba

John replied. "They are renewed in strength and become clothed in the fear of God."

 

V.xi. 14. It is also told of abba John that he once made enough plaits to weave two baskets but used them all up on one basket and didn't realise it until his weaving touched the wall, his mind was so taken up with the contemplation of God.

 

V.xi. 15. There was an old man in Scete who had great physical stamina, but was not very good at remembering anything. He went to abba John the Dwarf and asked him about forgetfulness, listened to what he had to say, went back to his cell and couldn't remember a thing of what abba John had said. He went back and asked again, listened and likewise returned, and still couldn't remember a thing once he had got back to his cell. He did this several times, but still could not master his forgetfulness. At last he came again and said, "Do you know, father, I have forgotten again what it was you said to me. I don't want to be a nuisance to you. I won't come again." Abba John replied, "Come, light this lantern (or 'candle') for me."  And he did so. "Bring another lantern," he said, "and light it from this one."  And he did so. "Is the light of the first lantern any the less," he asked, "because you have lit another lantern from it?"  "No", was the reply.  "Nor is John any the less," said John, "even if all of Scete came to me. Nor could that separate me from the love of God. So come whenever you like, don't hesitate." And so by their mutual forbearance, God did take away the old man's forgetfulness. But this was the way they carried on in Scete, encouraging those who were beset by any kind of passion whatsoever and making demands on each other to their mutual advantage.

 

V.xi. 16. A brother asked abba John, "What shall I do? There is a certain brother who is always coming and asking me to help him in his work, but I'm afraid I'm not really strong enough for it and it's wearing me out. How do I fulfil the commandments of God?"  The old man replied, "Caleb the son of Jephunneh said to Joshua the son of Nun, 'I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me with you to this land and I am now eighty, and I am just as strong and fit for warlike comings and goings now as I was then.' (Joshua 14.7, 10-11) But you, do what you can. If you are able to go out and come back, do. But if you can't, sit in your cell and weep for your sins. And then if he comes and finds you weeping he won't compel you to go."

 

V.xi. 17. Abba Isodore the presbyter of Scete said, "When I was young and sat in my cell I used to keep no count of how many psalms I said in serving God, for I just kept on saying them night and day."

V.xi. 18. Abba Cassian told of an old man living in the desert who begged God to grant that he might remain attentive when spiritual matters were being discussed, but that he might go to sleep if there were any slander or bad language, so that his ears might not be filled with such poison. He said that the devil was the enemy of all spiritual doctrine, and eager to incite people to bad language (or, 'harmful language' otiosa verba). As an example of this he offered the following, "Once when I was talking to certain brothers for the good of their souls they fell into such lethargy that they couldn't keep their eyelids apart. So in order to teach them what the work of the devil was like, I introduced an account of some very shameful things, upon which they woke up and became very interested. Then I groaned, and said, 'Up to now we have been talking of spiritual things and your eyes have been weighed down by irresistible sleep. But as soon as I start talking about anything shameful you all promptly begin to listen. I beg you therefore, brethren, be aware of the wiles of the devil, and pay attention and stay awake whenever you are doing or listening to anything spiritual.'"

 

V.xi. 19. When abba Pastor was young, he went to an old man to seek advice on three matters. But when he got there he couldn't remember one of the three, so he went back to his cell. As he was reaching out his hand to open the door he remembered what it was that he had forgotten before and drawing back his hand he went back to the old man, who said, "You are soon back, brother." So he explained how, as he was about to open the door, he remembered his query and came straight back without going in. And it was a very long way that he had had to travel. And the old man said, "You are a real Pastor of the flock, and your name will be renowned throughout the whole land of Egypt."

 

V.xi. 20. Abba Ammon came to abba Pastor and said, "If I go to my neighbour's cell, or he comes to me about anything, we show consideration for each other by taking care not to allow any unsuitable stories or anything else contrary to a monastic profession." And the old man said, "Well done. When you are young you need to take great care." "How do the older men go on, then?" asked abba Ammon. "The older men, who are skilled and proven, take no thought for anything other than their pilgrimage, and they talk about that," he replied. Abba Ammon asked, "So if you have to talk with your neighbour do you think it is better to talk with him about Scripture or the sayings of the fathers?" And the old man said, "If you can't keep silence it is better to talk about the sayings of the fathers than about Scripture. There is not a little danger there."

 

V.xi. 21.When asked about impurity abba Pastor said, "Once we have established the conduct of our life in the fear of God and in sobriety (or 'steadfastness') there will be no room for impurity in us."

 

V.xi. 22. It is said of abba Pastor that before he went out to take part in the work of God he would first sit as if in harness for an hour, meditating on the meaning of the texts.

 

V.xi. 23. Abba Pastor told how someone asked abba Paysion what he should do about his inner feelings, for he had become benumbed and did not fear God. And the old man said, "Go and join yourself to someone who does fear God, and by cleaving to him you will learn to fear God."

 

V.xi. 24. Again he said, "The fear of the Lord is the be-all and end-all. For it is written, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom' (Psalm 111.10) and again when Abraham had finished building an altar the Lord said to him, 'Now I know that you fear God'" (Genesis 22.12).

 

V.xi. 25. Again he said, "Have nothing to do with anyone who never stops talking contentiously (or 'who is always stirring up strife')."

 

V.xi. 26. Again he said, "I once consulted abba Peter, the disciple of abba Lot, about how my mind would be in a turmoil if another brother visited me and told me the gossip about all the others, whereas my soul would be at peace while sitting alone in my cell. And abba Peter replied that abba Lot had a saying 'It is you who have the key to my door'. 'What was the meaning behind that?' I asked. And he replied; 'If someone visits you and you ask him how he is, where he comes from, what's going on with this brother or that brother, whether you get on with them or not, then you open a door for your brother, and you hear things you would rather not.' And I said, 'Yes, that's quite true. How then should one behave when visited by another brother?' And he said, 'All sound doctrine is learned through serious thought (= 'luctus',  lit. 'mourning', 'lamentation'). Where there is no serious thought it is impossible to have a calm mind.'  And I said to him, 'I do have serious thoughts when I am in my cell, but when anyone comes to see me, or when I go out, they vanish.'  And the old man said, 'You haven't yet got control of them, but are only able to make use of them temporarily.'  'How do you mean?' I asked.  'Whatever you work at, once you have mastered it, you can make use of it whenever you need.'"

 

V.xi. 27. (Also in VII.xxxii.2) A brother said to abba Sisois, "I would love to be able to keep guard over my heart (custodire cor meum). And the old man said, "How can we keep guard over our heart if our mouth is like an open door?"

 

V.xi. 28. The disciple of abba Silvanus of Mount Sinai once asked the old man to draw some water to water the garden while he went about another task of his. As the old man went to draw the water he wrapped his cowl closely about his face, looking only at his feet. Somebody else then coming along saw him from a distance and observed what he was doing. When he got near he asked, "Tell me father, why do you water the garden with your cowl so closely wrapped about you face?"  And the old man said, "So that I can't see the trees, and in looking at them be distracted from what I am doing."

 

V.xi. 29. Abba Moses asked abba Silvanus, "Is it possible for anyone to begin a new way of life every day?" "Anyone who is a genuine workman," replied abba Silvanus, "can begin a new way of life not only every day but every hour."

 

V.xi. 30. Once abba Silvanus was asked, "How have you lived your life that you have acquired such sagacity?" (prudentia)  And he replied, "I have never harboured disturbing thoughts in my heart."

 

V.xi. 31. Abba Serapion said, "The soldiers of the Emperor stand before him looking neither to the right or the left. Even so should the monk stand in the sight of God, intent upon him, fearing him. None of the devil's wiles can then make him afraid."

 

V.xi. 32. Holy Syncletica said, "Let us live soberly. It is through our bodily senses that we can be despoiled if we are not careful. How can the house possibly not become darkened if we let smoke in from outside through an open window?"

V.xi. 33. She also said, "We must maintain everywhere an armed defence against the demons, for they attack us from outside and stir us up inside, according to our experience. Just as a ship is sometimes buffeted from the outside by the force of the waves, and sometimes sunk because of a build-up of bilge water inside, so we are sometimes lost because of the evil of the deeds we do outwardly, and sometimes betrayed by the maliciousness of our inner thoughts. We must therefore not only watch out for the external attacks of evil spirits, but also expel the uncleanness of our inner thoughts."

 

V.xi. 34. Again she said, "We have no security in this world. As the Apostle says, 'Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.' (1 Cor.10.12) We are sailing indeed in uncertain waters, like the psalmist who likens our life to the sea (Psalm 104). There are regions of the sea which are full of danger and others which are safe; we seem to travel in the safe areas of the sea, it is people in the world who seem to be in the areas of danger. We travel in the light, led by the sun of righteousness, they are tossed about in a night of ignorance. It often happens however that people in the world who travel in tempest and darkness are able to save their ship when afraid of danger by crying to the Lord and by renewed vigilance. We in our places of calm can be sunk by very complacency, having loosed our hold on the rudder of righteousness."

V.xi. 35. Abba Hyperichus said, "Let you thoughts be always of the kingdom of heaven, and you will soon receive it as your inheritance."

 

V.xi. 36. Again he said, "Let a monk live in imitation of the angels, burning and destroying all sin."

 

V.xi. 37. Abba Orsisius said, "Unless a man keeps guard over his heart, he will forget and neglect all that he hears and sees, and the enemy will gain a foothold there and eventually take control. A lamp supplied with oil (and 'lychino') will give forth light; but if through neglect it has not been given oil it will soon go out and darkness will prevail. If a mouse should come looking for food before it has completely gone out he will be put off by its heat, but once he is certain that it no longer gives off either light or heat he will knock the lamp on to the floor in his efforts to get at the contents. If it is made of pottery it will break, but if bronze its owner will pick it up again. In the same way, if the soul gets careless the Holy Spirit will begin to depart until finally its heat will be totally extinguished, and then the enemy will grasp and devour the resolution of the heart and exterminate and render useless the sinful body. If however one basically has a good intention towards God, and has simply been trapped unawares into negligence, the merciful God will prick his conscience with the thought of the punishment which is prepared for sinners in the world to come, and he will study to live more soberly, and govern himself in all things with great circumspection until the time of his visitation.

 

V.xi. 38. When two old men were having a conversation one of them said, "I am dead to this world." The other said, "Don't be too sure. It's all very well saying you are dead to the world, but Satan is not."

 

V.xi. 39. An old man said, "A monk should be thinking early and late about what he has done according to God's will and what things he has left undone. In this way a monk should be directing his whole life towards doing penance. This is the way that abba Arsenius lived."

 

V.xi. 40. An old man said, "If you lose silver or gold it is possible to find it again (but not salvation).

 

V.xi. 41. An old man said, "Soldiers and hunters going about the tasks set before them take no thought about whether they will be wounded or whether anyone else will be safe from harm. Each one strives on his own behalf alone, and so it ought to be for the monk."

 

V.xi. 42. An old man said, "No one is able to cause harm to somebody who stays close to the Emperor; similarly Satan cannot harm us if our soul is rooted in God. For it is written, 'Return to me and I will return to you' (Zacharaiah 1.3) It is because we are often drawn away from him that the enemy is easily able to lead our miserable souls captive to shameful passions."

 

V.xi. 43. A brother said to an old man, "I don't have any conflicts in my heart." And the old man said, "You are like someone with forty different doorways and anyone from anywhere can go in and out as they please and you have not the least idea what's happening. If you had only one doorway, firmly shut, and forbade entry to evil thoughts, you would then be aware of them outside you, striving against you."

 

V.xi. 44. It was said of a certain old man that when his thoughts said to him, "Never mind today. Repent tomorrow," he gainsaid them, saying, "No, I will repent today and tomorrow let God's will be done."

 

V.xi. 45. An old man said, "If you can't conduct yourself properly in your outward behaviour, you certainly won't be able to govern yourself inwardly."

 

V.xi. 46. An old man said, "Satan has three weapons which are deployed before we get to committing any sin whatsoever. The first is forgetfulness, the second negligence, the third disordered desire. For forgetfulness breeds negligence and negligence breeds disordered desire from which human ruin proceeds. But if you maintain your mind in sobriety, casting out forgetfulness, you will not become negligent, and so your desires will not be disordered, and so with the help of the grace of Christ you will not fall."

 

V.xi. 47. An old man said, "Cultivate silence and think no vain thoughts. Whether sitting still or moving about govern your thoughts ( or 'turn to meditation') always in the fear of God. If you do this you will not fear the attacks of the enemy."

 

V.xi. 48. An old man said to a brother, "The devil is the enemy and you are like a house. The devil ceases not to assail you with whatever kind of murky thoughts he can find, pouring out all kinds of uncleanness into you. What you have to do is to take care to throw outside whatever he throws at you, and if you neglect this your house will be so filled with rubbish that you will strive to enter in vain. Right from the start, throw out the things he throws at you and by the grace of Christ your house will stay clean."

 

V.xi. 49. An old man said, "If a beast is blindfolded he will more readily go round and round at the mill. The blindfold is taken off when he is not at the mill. Similarly the devil tries to blind us in order to subject us to all kinds of sin, but if our eyes are open we can more easily fly from him."

 

V.xi. 50. The old men told of how there were seven monks in abba Antony's mountain at the time of the fig harvest, one of whom had to drive the birds away from them. There was one of those old men who when it was his turn to guard the dactyls used to cry, "Be off you birds, and fly away all evil thoughts."

 

V.xi. 51. A brother in the Cells soaked his palms and sat down to make plaits, when his thoughts suggested to him that he should go and visit a certain old man. And he decided that he would go in a few days time. And his thoughts said to him, "What if he should die in the meantime? Go and see him now. It's summertime."  But again he said, "It's not the right time."  His thoughts again said, "But when you have cut the rushes up it will be the right time." And he replied, "I will spread these palms out and then I will go." Again his thoughts said, "It's such a fine day today." And he left his palms soaking, put on his sheepskin and went out. His neighbour however was an old man with discernment and when he saw him striding off so vigorously he shouted out, "Prisoner, prisoner, where are you off to? Come here to me." And when he had approached, the neighbour said, "Go back to your cell." And the brother having told him about the internal conflict he had had went back to his cell and entering in prostrated himself and did penance. When he had done this, the demons suddenly shouted with a loud voice; "You have conquered us, monk, you have conquered us." And his bedding looked as if it had been singed with fire, but the demons vanished like a smoke. Thus the brother learned something of their wiles.

V.xi. 52. A certain old man in Scete was dying and his brothers stood around his bed and covered him with a garment and began to weep. He however, opened his eyes and laughed, and laughed again, and then a third time. When they saw this, the brothers said, "Tell us, father, why do you laugh while we are weeping?" And he said to them, "I laughed the first time because you are frightened of death, the second time because you are not prepared for it, and the third time because after my labours I am now going to my rest, and you are weeping." Having said this he straitway closed his eyes in death.

 

V.xi. 53. A brother once came to one of the fathers and said that he was troubled by his thoughts. And the old man said, "You have cast away a stout staff tipped with iron, that is the fear of God, and have picked up a flimsy reed, that is evil thoughts. Take some fire, then, which is the fear of God, and then when evil thoughts like flimsy reeds come near you they will be burned in the fire of the fear of God, for the evil one will not prevail against those who have the fear of God."

 

V.xi. 54.  One of the fathers said, "You can't love unless you first of all hate. For unless you hate sin you can't love righteousness, as it is written, 'Flee from evil and do the thing that is good.' (Psalm 37.27) Truly in everything and everywhere this commandment is required of your soul. Adam in paradise disobeyed the commandment of God; Job sitting in ashes obeyed. It follows therefore that God requires us to cleave to his commandments at all times.

 

Libellus 12: Prayer without ceasing

 

V.xii. 1. It was said of abba Arsenius that at sunset after the lighting of lamps at Saturday Vespers, he would stretch out his hands to heaven in prayer until the sun rising on Sunday morning lit up his face. And then he would sit.

 

V.xii. 2. The brothers asked abba Agathon, "Father, What is the most important work in our way of life?"  And he replied, "May I be allowed to say that there is no work like the work of prayer to God. When anyone decides to pray to God, the demons always rush in to try and break up that prayer, knowing that nothing is a greater obstacle for them than prayer poured out to God. In every other sort of work which a religious person takes on, however important and lengthy it is, there does come a time to enjoy a rest from it, but the work of prayer must needs be a great battle until your very last breath."

 

V.xii. 3. Abba Dulas the disciple of abba Besarion said, "Once I went into his cell and found him standing at prayer with his hands stretched out to heaven, and he remained steadfastly in this position for fourteen days. After this, he called me and said 'Follow me,' and led me out into the desert. When I told him I had got thirsty he took off his sheepskin and went off about a stone's throw and prayed. He came back with his sheepskin full of water. When we arrived at the city of Lyco we visited abba John, and after greeting each other we prayed. Then we sat down and they began to speak of the visions they had seen. Abba Besarion said, 'A command went out from the Lord that the temples should be destroyed, and it was done; they were destroyed.'"

 

V.xii. 4. Abba Evagrius said, "If you start to weaken in resolve, pray. But pray with fear and trembling, work at it seriously and vigilantly. You must pray like this because the hostile and invisible enemy is wickedly tempting us to evil, and above all tries to hinder our prayer."

 

V.xii. 5. Again he said, "When contrary thoughts come into your head, don't seek in prayer to drive them out by other thoughts. Wield the sword of tears against the one who is attacking you."

 

V.xii. 6. Epiphanius the bishop of Cyprus was urged by the abbot of his monastery in Palestine not to neglect the rule of observing carefully the third, sixth, ninth and evening hours of prayer. But he rebuked the abbot and said, "You may have decided not to pray during the other hours, but a true monk ought never to cease from prayer, or to sing psalms in his heart."

V.xii. 7. Abba Isaias said, "When the presbyter at Pelusium was celebrating an agape and the brothers were eating and talking among themselves, he rebuked them saying, 'Hush, brothers, for I perceive that the prayer of one of the brothers eating with you is rising up in the sight of God like fire.'"

 

V.xii. 8. Abba Lot came to abba Joseph and said, "Father, to the best of my ability I keep my little rule, and fast a little and pray and think and sit still, and to the best of my ability I try to purge my thoughts. What else should I do?" The old man rose and stretched out his hands to heaven and his fingers became like ten flames of fire. And he said, "If you will, you can become like fire all through."

 

V.xii. 9. Abba Luke was visited once by some monks known as "euchitae", that is "pray-ers", and he asked them, "What manual work do you do?" And they replied, "We don't have anything to do with manual work, but pray without ceasing as the Apostle said." (1 Thess.5.17). "You don't eat then?" the old man asked.  "Of course we eat", they said.  "Who prays for you when you are eating, then?" he asked. "And don't you sleep at all?"  "Yes, we do sleep," was the reply.  "And who prays for you while you are asleep?" he asked.  And they didn't know what to say in answer. "I'm sorry, brothers, but your deeds don't match your words. Now let me show you how to pray without ceasing while doing manual work. With God's help I sit here soaking palm leaves to make plaits and I say, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.' (Psalm 51.1) Is that prayer or not?"  "Well, yes, it is," they said.  "After I have stayed here all day," he said, "praying either silently or aloud, I have earned about sixteen coins. Two of them I place outside the door, and the rest I keep to buy food. Whoever takes those two coins prays for me while I am eating or sleeping, and thus by the grace of God I fulfil what is written, 'Pray without ceasing'"

 

V.xii. 10. Abba Macarius was asked how we ought to pray and the old man said, "There is no need for many words in our prayer. Just stretch out your hands from time to time and say, 'Lord as you will and as you know, have mercy upon me.' And if conflict arises in your heart say, 'Help'. And because he knows your needs, he will have mercy upon you."

 

Prayer without Ceasing (continued) Book V
(Hospitality begins further down page, and Obedience further down still)

V.xii. 11.  It was said of abba Sisois that if he did lower his hands fairly quickly when standing to pray his mind would get caught up into higher realms. If another brother happened to be praying with him he hurried even more quickly to lower his hands lest his mind get caught up and he die.
V.xii. 12. An old man said, "Earnest prayer heals the mind."


V.xii. 13. One of the fathers said, "Just as you can't see your own face in water which is disturbed, so is it impossible to contemplate and pray to God if the mind is full of strange thoughts."


V.xii. 14. An old man visiting in Mount Sinai was about to leave when he met another brother who said to him in some distress, "We are in dire trouble, father, because of this drought; there is no rain at all." And the old man said, "Why don't you pray and beseech God?" "We have done that", he said, "and begged God earnestly, but it still hasn't rained."  And the old man said, "I don't believe you have prayed earnestly enough. Would you like to know why? Come, stand here and pray with me." And lifting up his hands to heaven he prayed, and it began to rain. When the brother saw this he was greatly afraid, and fell down to worship him, but the old man fled.


V.xii. 15. Some brothers told of how they once went to visit some old men and after the customary greetings and prayers they sat down to talk. And when they were about to depart after their talk they asked if there could be some further prayers. One of the old men then asked them, "What? Haven't you already said some prayers?"  "Yes," they replied, "but the prayers were said when we arrived. Since then we have been talking right up to this minute." And the old man said, "I'm sorry, brothers, but there is one who has been sitting and talking here who has said a hundred and three prayers." Having said that he did say a prayer and let them go.

Libellus 13 Hospitality

V.xiii. 1. Some fathers once came to abba Joseph to ask him how you should receive visiting brethren and whether you should relax your usual rule of abstinence and rejoice with them. Before they had had a chance to ask him he had already said to his disciple; "Mark well what I am doing today and concentrate on it." And he placed two chairs made of rushes bound into small strands, one on the left and one on the right and said, "Please sit down."  He then went into the cell and put on some old clothes, came out to them, and then went back and put on the clothes he was previously wearing before coming back to them again. Astonished at what he was doing they asked him what it was all about, and he said, "You've seen what I have been doing."  "Yes, indeed," they said. "Was I a different person, wearing the old clothes?" he asked. "No, of course not," they said. "And was I any the worse for wearing better clothes?" he asked.  "No," they said.  "So I was the same person in both cases, and just as I wasn't different wearing the old clothes or any the worse for wearing better clothes so should we be in receiving visiting brethren. It says in the gospel, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's (Matt 22.21); so when brothers are with you, you ought to rejoice, time enough to mourn when you are alone."  They were very impressed with what he had said, since he knew what they had had in mind even before they had asked him anything at all, and they glorified God.

V.xiii. 2. Abba Cassian said, "After we had left Egypt we visited a certain old man in Palestine, who overwhelmed us by his hospitality, and we asked how it was that when he received visitors he did not observe the rule of fasting as was customary in Egypt. And he replied, 'I can fast any time, but you I only have for a while. Fasting, of course, is useful and even necessary, but it depends on our own will. It is the law of God, however, which enjoins the fulness of charity. Receiving you as we would Christ we are bound to take every care to fulfil every thing that charity demands. After you have gone then I can resume my rule of fasting. "Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is still with them?  When the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast. "(Matthew 9.15)'" 

V.xiii. 3. Again he said, "We visited one old man who gave us a meal and after we had eaten enough he still kept on urging us to have some more. And when I said, 'I really couldn't eat another thing' he said, "I have entertained various brothers six times recently, and pressed food on all of them, and eaten myself at the same time, but I still have a good appetite. So why should you not be able to eat any more when you have only been feasted once?'"

V.xiii. 4. The rule was once made in Scete that they should fast for the whole week before celebrating Easter. It happened, however, that some brothers came from Egypt that week to visit abba Moses, who cooked a little pulse for them. When the neighbours saw the smoke of his fire they reported him to the clergy of the local church, saying, "Look, Moses has broken the rules and is cooking pulse." "We'll speak to him about it when he comes," the clerics said. On the Sunday, when they realised what hospitality Moses had been offering they said to him in the presence of all the people, "Moses, you have broken a man-made rule but you have committed yourself totally to the Law of God."

V.xiii. 5. A brother came to abba Pastor in the second week of Lent to seek some advice about what was going on in his mind, and when he had had a satisfactory answer he said, "I wasn't quite sure whether to come to you today or not." "Why not?" the old man said.  "I was afraid that seeing it was Lent you wouldn't open your door to me," he replied. And abba Pastor said, "I don't know anything about shutting a door of wood. It is the door of the tongue that we need to keep shut."

V.xiii. 6. A brother said to abba Pastor, "Whenever I give my brother a piece of bread or anything, the demons always spoil it for me, making out that I am only doing it for the sake of human praise." And the old man said, "Even though such acts do seem to be like that, nevertheless it is always right to supply your brother with what he lacks." And he went on to tell this parable, "There were two farmers living in the same area, and one of them sowed seed but reaped a harvest which was meagre and of poor quality. The other one, however, sowed no seed at all, and consequently reaped nothing. If there had been a famine which of them would have been able to get by?" "The one who had gathered a harvest," said the brother, "even though it was small and deficient." And the old man said, "Well then, let us just sow a few little things, even if flawed, lest we die in the time of famine."

V.xiii. 7. A brother visited a certain solitary and when it came time to leave he said, "Forgive me, father, I've hindered you in your rule of life." "My rule," he said, "is to welcome you hospitably and send you on your way in peace."

V.xiii. 8. There was a solitary fairly near a monastery who observed a number of strict rules. It so happened that some people visiting at the monastery went out to visit the solitary as well, with whom they had a meal even though it was not the regular mealtime. Afterwards the brothers said to him, "Wasn't that a great grief to you, father?"  And he replied, "The only grief I ever have is to be self-willed."

 


V.xiii. 9. It was said of an old man who lived near the road to the desert that he took upon himself the task of eagerly offering hospitality, no matter what time it was, to any monk as he came out. He offered one such solitary a meal on one occasion, but he refused, saying that he was fasting. The old man was disappointed and said, "I wouldn't want you to neglect what is important to you, but on the other hand please don't ignore me entirely. Come, let's pray together, and as you will see, this tree here will imitate anyone who bends the knee and bows in prayer." So the solitary knelt in prayer, but the tree did not move. The old man then knelt and immediately the tree bent forward with him. When they saw this they were delighted and gave thanks to God for this great miracle.


V.xiii. 10. Two brothers visited an old man who did not usually eat every day. But when he saw them coming he welcomed them and said, "Fasting has its own reward, but anyone who eats for charity's sake fulfils two commandments, for he both abandons his own will and also obeys the  commandment to give refreshment to the brethren."


V.xiii. 11. There was an old man in Egypt who lived in a remote place quite a long way away from a man called Manichaeus, who was one of those who called themselves presbyters but weren't really. Manichaeus was on a journey to someone else of the same misguided persuasion when night overtook him near the dwelling of this other holy and orthodox old man. Rather worried, he felt like knocking on the old man's door to ask if he could stay the night but hesitated because he knew that he would be recognised as Manichaeus and refused entry, but necessity at last overruled him and he knocked. The old man opened the door, recognised him, welcomed him perfectly happily, prayed with him, gave him food and showed him where to sleep for the night. Manichaeus thought about this during the night and was quite astonished, wondering how it was that this old man had not treated him with suspicion. "This is truly a man of God," he said to himself. When he got up in the morning he fell at the old man's feet, saying, "As from today I return to orthodoxy, and would like to remain with you." And so he did from that time forth.


V.xiii. 12. There was a monk of the Thebaid whose gift from God was to minister to the poor according to their need. It so happened once that when doing an agape somewhere a woman came in dressed in very shabby old clothes. Seeing her dressed so poorly impelled him to put his hand in his pocket and give her a considerable sum, but when he opened his hand it contained almost nothing. There was another woman there very well dressed and her clothing made him want to give her very little, but when he opened his hand it contained a large sum. After making enquiries about both the women he learned that the well dressed one was an honest woman who had fallen on very hard times and had been given the good clothing because of her family's reputation, whereas the other one had deliberately worn shabby clothing in the hope of being given more.


V.xiii. 13. A story the point of which is that if seculars give alms to monks the monks will bless them and the secular work of the almsgiver will prosper accordingly.

 

V.xiii. 14. An old man told a story of how a certain person who gave alms frequently could be afflicted by the devil with so much scrupulosity in small things that he lose the reward due to him from all the others. It concerned a presbyter whom he was visiting in Oxyrinchus, who gave many free handouts. A widow came to him asking for a little wheat, and he told her to bring a standard measure back to him and he would fill it up. When she brought the measure however he complained to her that it was oversize, which made the widow feel very ashamed. After the widow had gone, the old man asked the presbyter, "Were you lending the widow that wheat, or what?" "No, it was a gift," he replied. And the old man said, "Well, if it was a totally free gift what was the point of your scruples about a trifling amount extra. All you achieved was to make her feel ashamed."


V.xiii. 15. There was a very kindhearted old man who lived a common life with one other brother. It happened that there was a famine and people began to come to him in the hope of receiving charity (agape), and the old man did indeed share his bread with all who came. When the brother saw what was happening he said to the old man, "Let me have my share of the bread, and you can do what you like with yours." So the old man did indeed divide the bread up and continued to give some of it away as usual out of his share. Lots of people began to come, having heard that he was giving to everyone, and the Lord seeing how his mind was set blessed the bread. But the brother who had taken his share and was giving to no one soon ate it all and said to the old man, "Father, there is only a little bit left of my share of the bread. Can you take me back into a common life again?" "Just as you like," said the old man. And they began to live their common life again. Another shortage of food occurred and the needy came once more to beg alms (agape). And it happened one day that the brother went in and found that the bread supply was almost gone when a poor person came begging alms. The old man said to the brother, "Give him some bread," and the brother replied, "There isn't any, father."  And the old man said, "Go in and make sure."  The brother went in and looked, and found the place where the bread was kept full of bread. When he saw this he was dumbfounded and gave some bread to the poor person, and suddenly realised the faith and goodness of the old man, and he glorified God.   


Libellus 14 Obedience


V.xiv. 1. Abba Arsenius of blessed memory once said to abba Alexander, "When you have used up all your palm leaves come to me and we shall have some food, but if any pilgrims turn up eat with them." Abba Alexander however was but a rather slow and indifferent worker and when the usual time for a meal came he still had some palms left. Wishing to fulfil what abba Arsenius had said, he kept on working in order to use his palms up. When abba Arsenius realised he hadn't turned up, he began the meal without him, thinking that perhaps some pilgrims had arrived and that he was eating with them. He didn't come back to abba Arsenius until Vespers were over and abba Arsenius said, "You had some pilgrims then?"  "No," he said. "Why didn't you come then?" he asked. And he replied, "Because you said not to come until I had used up all my palms. So I kept in mind what you had said and didn't come because I was only half way through." The old man was very impressed by how exactly he had obeyed, and said, "You can stop your work now, and sing some psalms, and refresh yourself with some water lest your body suffers."


V.xiv. 2. While abba Abraham was visiting abba Arem and they were sitting down together, a brother came and said to abba Arem, "Tell me what I should do to be walking on the path of salvation."  And the old man said, "Go and spend a year waiting till after Vespers before eating your bread and salt, and then come back and I will talk to you," which he conscientiously did. After a year he came back to abba Arem and it so happened that abba Abraham was again with him at the time. Abba Arem said to the brother, "Go and fast for another year, eating only every other day." After he had gone abba Abraham said to abba Arem, "Why do you impose only light regimes on all the other brothers except this one whom you load up so heavily?" And the old man said, "Other brothers come and go, but this one is really searching for the word of God and works diligently. Whatever I tell him he carries out with the utmost care. So therefore I speak to him the word of God."


V.xiv. 3. It is said of abba John the Dwarf that he went to an old man of Thebes who at that time was living in the desert of Scete. This old man took a dry stick and planted it in the ground, saying, "Pour a jug of water around it each day until it bears fruit." The water was such a long way off that when he went to get it at a late hour he wouldn't get back till morning, but after three years the stick thrived and bore fruit. The old man took some of the fruit to the church and said to the brethren, "Have some of this and eat the fruit of obedience."

V.xiv. 4. John, the disciple of abba Paul was said to be of remarkable obedience. There were some tombs in a certain place frequented by a fierce lioness, and when abba Paul saw some of her droppings in that place he said to John, "Go and bring those droppings back here."  "And what if I should see the lioness, father?" he asked. And the old man just smiled and said, "If it comes at you tie it up and bring it here." John went out that evening and there was the lioness coming towards him, but mindful of what the old man had said he rushed towards it trying to grab it. The lioness fled and he rushed after it, crying, "Wait! My abba has told me that I have to tie you up" And catch her and tie her up he did. The old man had been waiting for him for a long time and was beginning to get worried, when at last he came back, leading the lioness after him. The old man was amazed, but wishing to give him a lesson in humility he struck him a blow, and said, "Stupid! Why have you brought back this ridiculous dog to me?" And he loosed the lioness and let her go back to her own place.

V.xiv. 5. It was said of abba Silvanus that he had a disciple in Scete called Mark who copied ancient writings, and whose obedience was exemplary. Silvanus loved him for his obedience. He had eleven other disciples who were however jealous because he loved Mark more than he loved them. When the neighbouring seniors heard about this they were annoyed that he should love one more than the others, so one day they went to visit Silvanus who came out of his cell and beckoning them to follow went and knocked on the door of each of his disciples in turn, saying, "Brother, can you come please? I need your help." And there wasn't one who came out immediately. He then knocked on Mark's door, and called him, "Mark!" And as soon as he heard the old man's voice he came out ready to do whatever job he was asked. So abba Silvanus said to the old men, "See now, where are the other brothers?" And going into Mark's cell he found a manuscript which he had just begun and had got only as far as a letter O. When he had heard the old man's voice he hadn't formed it completely, the pen had not been turned around the whole way in order to finish off the letter which he had started. And the old men said, "Truly, father, the one you love we must love too since it is obvious that he is beloved of God"


V.xiv. 6. The mother of this Mark, together with several companions, once came to visit him. Abba Silvanus went out to meet her and she asked him to ask Mark to come out so that she could see him. Silvanus went in and said to Mark, "Go out. Your mother wants to see you." So he put on an old sack, torn and patched, and put ashes and soot from the fire on his head and face, before fulfilling his obedience to his abba by going out. He greeted his mother and those with him with his eyes all screwed up and just said, "I hope you are well."  No one, not even his mother, recognised him, so she went again to the old man and said, "Father, send my son out so that I can see him." Abba Silvanus said to Mark, "Didn't I tell you to go out and see your mother?" to which Mark replied, "But it was me who went out just now as you told me to, father, only please don't ask me to go out again lest I should seem to be disobedient to you." The old man went out again and said to the mother, "It was your son who came out to you just now and greeted you with the words; "I hope you are well." With that she had to be satisfied, and so she made her departure.


V.xiv. 7. Four brothers dressed in skins once came from Scete to abba Pambo, and each of them spoke of the others' strong points while they were out of earshot. One of them fasted a lot, another had no possessions, another was brimming over with charity, but the fourth was said to have lived for twenty years in continuous obedience to the seniors. Abba Pambo said, "I tell you that this last one is greater than all the others, for each of the strong points of the others is exercised without any denial of self will. This last, however, has mortified his self will (or 'ceased to follow his own bent'?) and has made himself subject to the will of another. Such men are to be rated as 'confessors', if only they can persevere in this path till the end."


V.xiv. 8. Someone wanting to be a monk came to abba Sisois in Thebes, and Sisois asked him if he had any worldly responsibilities. "I have a son," he replied.  "Go and throw him in the river, "said the old man, "and then you can become a monk." As he went away intending to do this, the old man sent one of the brothers to prevent him doing so. The brother stopped him as he was on the point of throwing him in and said, "Wait! What do you think you are doing?" "The abba told me to throw him in," he replied. "Well, the abba has sent me to tell you not to." said the brother. So he left his son and went back to the abba, and became an exemplary monk because of his obedience.


V.xiv. 9. Holy Syncletica said, "We who live in community can prove to anybody that obedience is an even greater virtue than continence. For continence is always in danger of breeding arrogance, but obedience always brings humility in its train."


V.xiv. 10. Again she said, "We who live in community should discipline ourselves not to be always seeking to serve our own interests, or bend everything to our own will. Rather, living as exiles, we should have handed ourselves over to a single fatherland of faith, distancing ourselves from any worldly ways. Having left the world we should not feel the need for anything further from it. There we might have achieved fame. There we had luxury living. Here there is but a meagre supply of bread."


V.xiv. 11. Abba Hyperichius said, "Obedience is the chief work of the monk, for he who has it hears what is demanded of him and with complete trust adheres to the cross. The Lord himself endured the cross, having become obedient unto death."

 


V.xiv. 12. An old man said, "If you trust someone and give yourself to him in obedience, you need not concentrate on keeping the commandments of God, because as long as you commit yourself wholeheartedly to your spiritual father and obey him in everything, you are sure to be free from sin in God's eyes." 

 

V.xiv. 13. An old man said, "What God requires of Christians is that they obey (or 'live by'?) the divine Scriptures wherein they may find a model of how to speak and act, and to consent to the teachings of the orthodox fathers."


V.xiv. 14. A brother in Scete was on the way out at harvest time when he approached an eminent old man and asked him, "Tell me father what shall I be doing in the harvesting?" And the old man said, "If I tell you will you do as I say?"  "Yes, I will follow your instructions," replied the brother. And the old man said, "If you are willing to listen to me, don't go out to the harvesting but come with me and I will tell you what to do." So the brother turned back from going to harvest and went with the old man. And the old man said, "Go into your cell and spend fifty days without a break eating bread and salt once a day. Then come back and I will tell you what to do next." This he did, and so came back to the old man, who, knowing that this brother was a diligent workman, then told him how to conduct himself in his cell. The brother went to his cell and stretched himself out on the floor for three days and three nights, weeping in the sight of God, after which his thoughts said to him, "How greatly exalted you have now become," but he countered the wickedness of such thoughts by humbly calling to mind his frailty, saying; "And what about all the sins which I have committed?" And if the thought of how he had neglected the commandments of God threatened to overwhelm him he said, "Nevertheless I will do what little I can to serve God and I believe he will have mercy on me." In this way, he conquered the demons of his evil thoughts, until they visibly appeared to him, saying, "You have put us to confusion. When we praised you up to the heights you ran back to humility, and when we brought you down low you rose up on high."

 

V.xiv. 15. The old men used to say, "God requires nothing from beginners except the labour of obedience.

V.xiv. 16. There was a certain solitary who was provided for by certain estates which he owned, and it so happened once that he began to run short of supplies because the steward of those estates hadn't turned up. When some time had passed and the steward still hadn't arrived, and both his food and the things he needed for his manual work had almost completely gone, he said to his disciple, "Would you mind if I asked you to go to my estates and tell my steward to bring our usual supplies?" And the disciple replied, "Of course, I'll do whatever you say." But the old man put it off for a while, being not really willing to send him. But after worrying and agonising about the steward's non-arrival for a while he said to his disciple, "Would you really be willing to go to my estates and bring the steward back here?" "I'll do whatever you want." he said, even though he was rather perturbed at the idea of going to the estate for fear that he might be shocked by people. But he agreed to go for the sake of being obedient to the wishes of his spiritual father. So the old man said, "Go then, and trust in the God of your fathers who will protect you in all temptations." And they prayed together and off he went. When the brother arrived at the estate he enquired where the steward lived and found the house, where it so happened that the steward and everyone else had gone out except one of his daughters, who opened the door in answer to his knock. He asked to see her father, and she invited him to come inside, even putting her hand on his arm to draw him in. He did not really want to go in but her insistence at last prevailed and she began to touch him and invite him into bed. But he, confused in thought and seeing himself about to be enticed by lust groaned and cried out to God, saying, "Lord, by the prayers of my spiritual father set me free in this hour of need." As soon as he had said this he suddenly found himself by the river on the way to the monastery, and was reunited safely with his abba.

V.xiv. 17. Two brothers according to the flesh came to live in a monastery, one of whom excelled in abstinence, the other in obedience. The abbot would say to him, "Do this" and he would do it, "Do that" and he would do it, "Eat tomorrow" and he would. Because of this obedience of his he was held in high regard in the monastery. His abstemious brother however was pierced with the dagger of jealousy and said, "I'll test him, to see how obedient he really is." So he went to the abbot and asked him to let his brother be with him so that they could go out somewhere. And the abbot let them go. Going along with his abstemious brother he set about testing him. They came to a river infested with crocodiles and he said, "Go into the river and swim across."  He went in immediately, and the crocodiles came and licked his body without doing him any harm. Seeing this, his brother cried, "Alright, get out again."  Going on a bit further they came to a human body lying on the pathway, and the abstemious brother said, "If we had some sort of cloak we could have covered him over with it." And the obedient brother said; "Better still, let us pray and perhaps he will be all right." So they prayed earnestly and the dead came back to life. The abstemious brother seeing this praised God and said, "It's because of my abstinence that the dead has come back to life." It was all revealed by God to the abbot of their monastery how he had tested his brother by the crocodiles and how the dead was raised to life, and when they got back to the monastery he said to the abstemious one, "Why did you treat your brother like that? See now, it was obedience which brought the dead to life."


V.xiv. 18. Another man living in the world with three sons joined the monastery, leaving his sons behind. And after he had been there three years, thoughts of his sons frequently began to fill his mind, making him feel very sad. Now he had not told the abbot that he had three sons, but when the abbot noticing his sadness asked him what the matter was he told him that he had these three sons and that he would like to bring them to the monastery with him, and the abbot granted his request. When he got back home he found that two of the sons had died and there was only one left whom he took back to the monastery with him. Asking for the abbot and not finding him he was told that he had gone to the pounding-mill, so taking his son with him he likewise went to the pounding-mill. The abbot saw him coming, and greeted him, taking the child and giving him a hug. "No doubt you love him?" said the abbot to the father. "Indeed, yes," he replied. "Are you really very fond of him?" the abbot asked. "Yes, I am," his father said. "Then if you love him take him and throw him in this oven," the abbot then said. Now the oven was very hot. And the father took his son and threw him into the oven, and the oven immediately became as cool as the refreshing dew. So they became glorious in their own lifetime, in the same manner as the patriarch Abraham.

V.xiv. 19. An old man said that the brother who gave his whole mind to being obedient to his spiritual father was worthy of a greater reward than one who lived alone in the desert. "One of the fathers," he said, "had discerned four orders in heaven, of which the first consisted of people who were not very strong but who constantly gave thanks to God, the second those who were given to hospitality and unremitting service, the third those who maintained their solitude apart from the rest of humanity, the fourth those who for God's sake gave themselves in obedience to their spiritual fathers. Those in this order of obedience wore a golden crown and neckband and excelled the others in glory. So I asked the father who had said these things, 'Why should this last order which is small in numbers excel the others in glory?' And he replied, 'Those who are given to hospitality follow their own will. Likewise those in the desert have separated themselves off from humanity by an act of their own will. But those who give themselves to obedience have denied their own will and depend solely on God and the directions of their spiritual father. Therefore, they are given the greater glory. For all these reasons, my son, obedience entered into for God's sake is good. Take note therefore, all of you, of all the various aspects of this virtue. Obedience is the salvation of all the faithful. Obedience is the root of all virtues. Obedience brings the kingdom of heaven into sight. Obedience opens the heavens and lifts human beings up from the earth. Obedience lives with the angels. Obedience is the food of all the saints. On this they were nursed and by this they arrived at perfection.


Libellus 15 Humility

V.xv. 1. Abba Antony, failing to understand the judgments of God, asked, "Lord, why is it that some die young, and others live to a ripe old age, and why are some incompetent while others abound in all manner of skills, and why are some people unjustly rich while others live in the extremes of poverty?" And a voice came to him saying, "Antony, mind your own business. It is not for you to understand all the judgments of God."


V.xv. 2. Abba Antony said to abba Pastor, "It is an enormous human task to arrive at acknowledging your guilt before God, and to accept that you will be tempted up to the last moment of life."


V.xv. 3. Again abba Antony said, "I saw all the snares of the ungodly set in place throughout the world, and I groaned and said, 'Who shall be able to pass through these?' And I heard a voice saying, 'Humility.'


V.xv. 4. Some old men once came to abba Antony, among them abba Joseph. Wishing to test them abba Antony quoted some texts of Holy Scripture and began to ask the younger among them what they meant. And each one had something to say. But he replied to them all, "You're not quite there yet." Then he turned to abba Joseph and said, "What about you? How do you interpret this text?" And abba Joseph said, "I don't really know." And abba Antony replied, "Truly, abba Joseph is on the right path because he knows that he does not know."


V.xv. 5. The demons once came to abba Arsenius as he sat in his cell and greatly troubled him. When the brothers who usually ministered to him came and stood outside his cell they heard him crying out to God and saying, "Lord, do not abandon me for being of no worth in your sight,  but of your great mercy at least show me how to make a beginning of a useful life."


V.xv. 6. It was said of Arsenius that when he lived in the Emperor's palace no one dressed more fashionably than he, and after he had been a monk for a while nobody dressed more meanly.


V.xv. 7. Abba Arsenius was once seeking advice about his thoughts from an elderly Egyptian, and someone listening to this said, "Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with your vast scholarship in both Greek and Latin are seeking advice about your thoughts from this rustic?"  And he replied, "I may have gathered a great deal of erudition in Greek and Latin according to a worldly view, but as for this rustic I haven't even begun yet to learn his ABC."


V.xv. 8. The old men told of how someone once gave a few figs to the brothers in Scete, but because they were so small they did not send any to abba Arsenius lest he should be insulted. But when he heard about this he absented himself from his usual attendance at the offering of the Opus Dei, saying, "You have excommunicated me by not sharing with me the gifts which the Lord has sent to the brethren and which I wasn't worthy to receive." They were all impressed by his humility, and the presbyter gladly took him some of the figs and welcomed him back into the congregation.


V.xv. 9. It was said of Arsenius that people found it difficult to grasp his way of life. Once when he was settled in the lower parts of Egypt he was greatly troubled by the unruliness of those about him, and was seen to abandon his cell. He said to his disciples Alexander and Zoilus, "Alexander, take a ship out of here, and Zoilus come with me to the river and find a ship for me going to Alexandria and then go along with your brother." Zoilus was very upset by this but had no answer to it, and so they all parted from each other. Arsenius departed to a place near Alexandria, where he fell seriously ill. In the meantime, his disciples began to wonder whether he had left them because of something they had done to upset him, but they could not find in themselves any ingratitude or disobedience towards him. When Arsenius had recovered from his illness he said to himself, "I will go back to my native land", and he came to a place called Petra where his two disciples were. But near the river, an Ethiopian woman grasped his cloak and he shook her off angrily. "If you are a monk, go back to the mountain," she said. Smitten by these words he too said to himself, "Arsenius, if you are a monk, go back to the mountain." At this point Alexander and Zoilus chanced upon him, and when they fell at his feet Arsenius also threw himself on the ground and they all wept together. "Had you heard that I had been ill?" asked Arsenius. "Yes, we had heard," they replied. "Why didn't you come and seek me out, then?" he asked. "Because we were angry that you had left us," they answered, "though many disappointed people were beginning to say that you wouldn't have left us if we hadn't been disobedient to you." And the old man said, "Yes, I thought people would say that. But in future they will be able to say, 'The dove, finding no rest for her feet flew back to Noah in the ark' (Genesis 8.9). By these words the minds of his disciples were healed, and they remained with him to the end of his life.
When he was dying they were very distressed. But he said, "I'm not dead yet - I will tell you when the time has come. And I will hold you responsible before the judgment seat of Christ if you allow anyone to have anything to do with my body." "What should we do, then?" they asked. "For we don't know anything about laying out the dead and burying them." "Surely you would know how to tie a rope around my feet and drag me up the mountain?" he said.  When he was at the point of giving up his spirit they saw him weeping and said, "Surely you are not frightened of death, father?" they asked. "I am indeed afraid," he said, "because the flaws that made me want to become a monk are still in me." And saying this, he peacefully fell asleep. One of his favourite sayings was, "Why have you come? I have often had to repent of what I have said, but never of keeping silent." When abba Pastor heard that Arsenius had departed this life he wept and said, "Blessed art thou, Arsenius, for you grieved in this present world. Anyone who grieves not in this world will assuredly weep in the next. We cannot avoid grief, either willingly in this world or goaded by torment in the next."

V.xv. 10. Abba Daniel said of abba Arsenius that he was never very willing to talk about Scripture, though he could do so magnificently when he wanted to, nor was he prompt in writing letters to anyone. When he came back into the assembly after a considerable absence he would sit behind a column, so that no one could see him and he would not need to see them. His was angelic of expression, like Jacob, a handsome creature, elegant of body though spare and lean. He had a long beard reaching down to his waist, his eyelashes were all worn away from much weeping, he was tall though very bent in old age, and he died at the age of ninety-five. He spent forty years in the palace of the Emperor Theodore of blessed memory, the father of Arcadius and Honorius, forty years in Scete, ten years in a place called Trohen near Babylon by the city of Memphis, three years in Canopus near Alexandria before returning again to Trohen, completing his course of life in peace and the fear of God. He was a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
V.xv. 11. Abba John described how abba Anub and abba Pastor, together with his brothers according to the flesh, were monks in Scete when the Mazici invaded and laid the place waste, whereupon they left and went to a place called Therenuthum until they could decide where they were going to live. And they stayed for a while in an old temple. Abba Anub said to abba Pastor, "Let us each live our own lives this week, you and your brothers too, if you would kindly agree to that, but let us all come together again in a week's time." Abba Pastor said, "Let's do as you wish," and so they did. Now there was a stone statue in that place and every morning when Anub got up he threw stones at it and every evening he begged the statue's forgiveness. He did this for the whole week until on the Saturday they all met together. And abba Pastor said to abba Anub, "I have watched you, abba, throwing stones at the face of that statue all week and then begging the statue's forgiveness. Why is a man of the faith doing that?" And the old man replied, "When you saw me throwing stones at the face of that statue, did it speak to me, or get angry at all?" "No, it didn't" said abba Pastor. "And again when I begged forgiveness from it did it rant at me and refuse forgiveness?" "No." "Well then if we seven brothers wish to stay together we ought to be like that statue which took no offence when ill treated. But if we don't want that, well, there are four doors to this temple. Anyone who wishes to go has got a choice as to which one he uses." When they heard this they threw themselves at abba Anub's feet and said, "Whatever you wish, father, so be it. We will do whatever you say." In later life abba Pastor reflected on this saying, "We remained together for the rest of our life working and living according to the old man's directions. One of us was made cellarer, and we ate whatever it was he gave us. None of us could say, "Bring me something different" or "I don't want to eat that." And so we passed out time in peace and quietness.


V.xv. 12. The story is told of abba Ammon that two women came to him asking him to judge between them, but the old man hid. And one of them said to the other standing next to her, "This old man is just a waste of time." He overheard her, however, and coming out to her said, "How much toil do you think I have undergone in various solitary places in order to acquire this wastefulness, and because of you today I have lost it."


V.xv. 13. The story is told of Affy, the bishop of Oxyrinchus that as a monk he had lived a very austere life. He tried to continue with this straitened existence in the city just as he had done previously in the desert, but found it impossible. So he prostrated himself in the sight of God and said, "O Lord, now that I am a bishop have you withdrawn your grace from me?" And it was revealed to him, "Not at all, but when you were in solitude with no human company God was your only support; now that you are back in the world, your help is mediated to you by other human beings."


V.xv. 14. Abba Daniel told a story about a distinguished citizen of Babylon whose daughter was possessed of a devil. A friend of his who was a monk told him that no one could cure his daughter except some solitaries that he knew, but that if asked they would refuse out of humility. "But what we could do," he said, "is to say you wanted to buy some of their goods when next they bring them here to sell. When they come into the house to get the money then ask them to pray and I am sure your daughter will be healed." Going out into the market place they found a disciple of one of the old men sitting in front of the baskets he was selling, and they asked him back to the house as if to receive the money for some baskets. As soon as they went inside the devil-possessed daughter gave the monk a box on the ear. His response was to offer her the other cheek, according to the divine command, and the devil, conquered, began to shout, "Oh! Murder! the commands of Jesus Christ have driven me out!" And the daughter was healed in that self-same hour. When the disciple got back he told his abba everything that had happened, and they glorified God, saying, "The pride of the devil can always be conquered by the humility of the commands of Jesus Christ


V.xv. 15. Abba Evagrius said, "The beginning of salvation is to distrust your own arguments."


V.xv. 16. Abba Serapion said, "I have performed many more feats of abstinence (lit. 'bodily labours') than my son Zacharias, but I haven't got anywhere near him in humility and silence."


V.xv. 17. Abba Moses said to Brother Zacharias, "You should really be giving me some instructions." At these words Zacharias threw himself on the ground before him and said, "You're asking me, father?" And the old man said, "Believe me, my son, I have seen the Holy Spirit coming down on you, and because of that I am led to ask you for advice." Zacharias took the cowl from off his head, threw it down and trampled on it, saying, "Unless you are trampled on like this you cannot be a monk."


V.xv. 18. Abba Pastor said that when Brother Zacharias was dying abba Moses asked him, "Can you see anything?" "Nothing better than to keep silence father," the brother replied.  "How true, my son," said Moses. "Say nothing."  Abba Isidore was with him when he died, and he looked up to heaven and said, "Rejoice, my son Zacharias, for I have seen the doors of the kingdom of heaven open up to you."


V.xv. 19. Theophilus of blessed memory, bishop of Alexandria, once went to Mount Nitria where he was met by the Abbot (or, 'an abba' ), to whom he said, "What have you found to be the most important thing in this sort of life, father?" And the old man replied, "To blame and berate myself unceasingly."  And the bishop said, "There can't be a better path to follow than that."


V.xv. 20.  When abba Theodore ate with the brethren, they drank wine (lit. accepted the chalices) in silence and with reverence, and without the usual apology (lit. nor did anyone say Pardon, according to the custom.) 


V.xv. 21. They said of this same abba Theodore that when he was chosen to be the Deacon in Scete he ran about from place to place, trying to escape from this ministry. But the old men summoned him and said, "Don't turn your back on this ministry." Abba Theodore said, "Well, let me go and pray to God about it, and if I am shown that it is my duty to take this on I will do it."  And he prayed to God, saying, "Show me, O Lord, if it is your will that this ministry is for me." And he was shown a column of fire reaching from earth up to heaven, and he heard a voice, saying, "If you can be like this column of fire, go, minister." At these words he immediately decided that he couldn't possibly be a minister. But when he came back to the church they told him that they would be very upset if he wouldn't be ordained to administer the chalice. He wouldn't agree however, and said, "If you don't stop worrying me about it I shall have to leave this place." And so they left him alone.


V.xv. 22. Abba John the Dwarf said, "The gateway to God is humility. Our fathers lived through many humiliations and have entered with joy into the city of God. Humility and the fear of God are greater than all the other virtues."


V.xv. 23. Abba John of Thebes said, "Above all the monk should be humble, for the first of the Saviour's charges is, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matt.5.3)


V.xv. 24. Once when some brothers in Scete were meeting together without having thought to ask abba Copres they began to argue about the priesthood of Melchisedec. Eventually they did invite abba Copres to give his opinion on this question, and he tapped his mouth with his finger three times and said, "Woe to you Copres, for you have often left undone what God requires of you, and now you presume to scrutinise what God does not require of you." At this the brothers fled each one to his cell.


V.xv.25. Abba Macarius told this tale about himself, "When I was a young man in my cell in Egypt, they took me and made me the cleric for the village. But I didn't want that and fled to another neighbourhood. There I was joined by a devout secular who shared with me the labour of the manual work I was doing and helped me in everything. Now it so happened that a young woman in that place being tempted by the devil was corrupted and fell. And when her pregnancy became obvious she was asked who the father was and she replied, 'It was that solitary who slept with me.'  They rushed out of the town, seized me, dragged me back to the town, hung bags of excrement around my neck, and made me go right through the town, beating me as I went, and crying, 'This is the monk who corrupted our daughter. Get rid of him! Get rid of him!' (tollite)  And they beat me nearly to death, until one of the older men intervened saying, 'How much longer are you going to go on beating this pilgrim monk?' Now the man who lived with me had followed on behind me in some distress, for people had turned on him too, shouting, 'You supported this solitary monk and look what he has done!' And when the parents of the girl said, 'We can't let him go till he can produce someone who will guarantee the girl's support', this man stepped forward as my guarantor and swore an oath on my behalf. We went back to the cell, where I gave him all the baskets I had and told him to sell them and give the money to 'my wife'. For I had already said to myself, 'Macarius, seeing you seem to have got yourself a wife, you will have to work twice as hard in order to feed her.' And I worked night and day for her support. When the time came for her to give birth she spent several days in labour with no result. 'What is the reason for this?' they wondered. 'I know why I am suffering thus,' she said. Her parents asked her why and she replied, 'It's because I laid the blame for this on that monk and falsely accused him when it wasn't his fault at all.' And she named the youth who was really responsible. When my companion heard about this he came to me with great joy and said, 'That girl was unable to give birth until she had confessed that you were not to blame in the matter, and that she had lied about you. And all the inhabitants of the town have decided to come out to you here, to give thanks to God and to make amends to you.' When I heard this I immediately got up and fled here to Scete, for fear that I should be once again importuned by people, and that is the main reason why I began to live here."

 

V.xv. 26. Once when abba Macarius was walking back from the marsh with some palm leaves, the devil met him armed with a reaping hook with which he tried to cut him down but failed. "I suffer great injury because of you, Macarius," he said, "for I am never able to prevail against you. I tell you, whatever you do I am forced to do also. For when you fast, I get no bread, when you keep vigil I can't sleep. And it is one single thing of yours which beats me." "Oh? And what's that?" said Macarius. "Your humility," said the devil. "That's where I lose."

 

V.xv. 27. Abba Mathois of Raythum once visited Gebalon with his brother, and the bishop of that place came to this famous man and ordained him presbyter. And while they were eating together the bishop said, "I'm sorry, father. I know you didn't really want me to do this, but I ventured to do so as I wanted your blessing." The old man humbly said, "It's something I hardly expected, and the worst thing about it is that I shall be compelled to part from my brother, and I'm sure I shan't be able to say by myself all the prayers which we usually say together." Well, I'll ordain him too," said the bishop, "if you think he is worthy of it." "Whether he is worthy of it I know not," said abba Mathois. "All I do know is that he is better than I am." So the bishop ordained him as well, but they distanced themselves from the honour of that kind of life and never actually approached the altar to offer the holy sacrifice. For the old man said, "I trust that God won't judge me harshly for not daring to fulfil my ordination by consecrating the oblations. That task is for those who live without reproach."

 

V.xv. 28. Abba Matthois said, "When people come close to God all they can see is their own sin. When Isaiah the prophet saw God all he could say was, 'Woe is me, for I am a person of unclean lips'" (Isaiah 6.5)

 

V.xv. 29. It was said of abba Moyses that when he was ordained and they vested him with the superhumeral, the Archbishop said to him, "See, abba Moyses, you've been made white." "Inside or outside, do you think?" said Moyses. Wishing to test him, the Archbishop said to the other clerics, "When Moyses tries to go to the altar, drive him out, but follow him and listen to what he has got to say about it." So they began to drive him out saying, "Get out of here, you Ethiopian." As he went he said to himself, "You are only being given what you deserve, you creature of earth and filth.You are scarcely human yourself, so how can you dare to intrude yourself among people?"

 

V.xv. 30. When abba Pastor was in the monastery, he asked the Abbot if he could see abba Nestoro, of whom he had heard a great deal. But the Abbot was unwilling to send him there alone and would not allow it. After a few days however, the cellarer of the monastery asked if he could go and see abba Nestoro for spiritual advice and the Abbot gave permission saying, "Take this other brother with you who also asked to see abba Nestoro. I refused him before because I didn't want to send him alone. When the cellarer was with abba Nestoro he opened his mind to him and the abba helped him greatly in what he replied. Then abba Pastor spoke to the old man, saying, "Abba Nestoro, how did you find the strength to suffer a great deal of trial and tribulation once in the monastery without complaint or discouragement?" It took a lot of persuasion, but at length the old man said, "Forgive me (if you think I am boasting), father, but when I joined the monastery I said to myself, "You and the ass are one. Just as an ass is beaten and says nothing, suffers all sorts of indignities and does not retaliate, so should you be like that, as it is written in the psalms, 'I am become as it were a beast before thee, nevertheless I am always by thee' (Psalm 73.22).

 

V.xv. 31. It was said of abba Olympius in Scete that he was a slave and took what he had earned each year to his masters in Athens. They would meet him and greet him, but the old man poured water into a basin to wash their feet. But they would say, "No, father, you embarrass us." And he would reply, "But I declare that being your slave I am so thankful that you have released me to serve God. So I wash your feet, and bring you my earnings." But they wouldn't have it. In reply to their refusal he said, "If you won't accept my earnings there would be nothing for it but to remain here and continue as your slave."  So then they respected his wishes and said, "All right, have it your own way." And in their turn they treated him as an honoured guest, and provided him with what was necessary for him to do an agape with them. For this he became famous throughout Scete.

 

V.xv. 32. Abba Pastor said, "You should constantly breathe an atmosphere of humility and the fear of God, like the air which you breathe in and out."

 

V.xv. 33. Abba Pastor was asked by a brother, "How should I conduct myself in the place where I live?" And the old man replied, "Take care to be like a pilgrim, and don't imagine that what you say is of any importance where you live, and be content."

 

V.xv. 34. Again he said, "To humble yourself in the eyes of God, not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, and to thrust away your own will from you - these are the tools by which the soul operates."

 

V.xv. 35. Again he said, "Don't measure yourself by your own standards, but by someone who is known to live a good life."

 

V.xv. 36. Again he said that a brother asked abba Alonius how he understood the word 'contempt'. And he answered, "Put yourself on a lower level than the irrational beasts while realising that they cannot be adjudged blameworthy."

 

V.xv. 37. Again he said, "Humility is the ground on which the Lord demands that sacrifices be made."

 

V.xv. 38. Again he said, "If you know your own place you will not be upset.

 

V.xv. 39. Again he said, "Abba Alonius was the server at table once for the seniors, and they praised the way he did it. But he made no reply. Afterwards somebody asked him why he had not replied and he said, "If I had replied to them it would have seemed that I was taking pleasure in their praises."

 

V.xv. 40. Abba Joseph said, "Once when we sitting with abba Pastor he referred to Agathon as an abba, and we said, 'He is only a youngster. What are you calling him an abba for?' And abba Pastor said, 'it is what comes out of his mouth that earns him the title Abba.'"

 

V.xv. 41. It was said of abba Pastor that he never spoke while any other old man was speaking, but always appreciated what anyone else said.

 

V.xv. 42. Once when Theophilus of blessed memory, bishop of Alexandria, visited Scete, the gathered brethren said to abba Pambo, "Say something to him so that he will be impressed by us here." And the old man replied, "If he is not impressed by my silence he is not likely to be impressed by what I might say."

 

V.xv. 43. Abba Pystus told of how he and six other solitary brothers went to visit abba Sisois in the Isle of Clysmatus, asking him to give them some spiritual counsel. Sisois begged to be excused on the grounds that he was not sufficiently learned, but told them how he had once visited abba Hor and abba Athre. Abba Hor had at that time reached an infirm old age of eighty-eight. When he asked them to give him some counsel abba Hor said, "I doubt whether I have anything worth saying to you. But watch what we do, if you want an example to follow." Now abba Athre was famed for his obedience, abba Hor for his humility, and Sisois spent some days with them to watch these virtues in practice. He saw abba Athre do something quite remarkable. Someone had brought them one small fish, and abba Athre wanted to prepare it for abba Hor. He had picked up the knife and began to cut it open when abba Hor called him, "Athre! Athre!"  He left the knife inside the fish immediately without finishing the task, and ran to abba Hor. I was astonished at his obedience. He hadn't even said, 'Wait until I have finished cutting this fish up.' Sisois said to abba Athre, "Where do you get this obedience from?" to which he replied, "He's the obedient one, not me."

And he beckoned me and said, "Come with me, and you will see how obedient he is." So he deliberately burnt some of the fish in the cooking of it, and gave it to abba Hor, who ate it saying nothing. "Is it all right, old man?" asked Athre. "Yes, very nice." said Hor. Then he took him another little piece, very well cooked indeed, and said, "Look, I've spoiled this, old man. I burnt it." and he replied; "Yes, it has turned out rather badly." Abba Athre turned to Sisois and said, "Now do you see how obedient this old man is?" After leaving them Sisois tried himself to follow what they did to the best of his ability. When abba Sisois had finished telling the seven brothers this story one of then said, "Be kind to us and give us a word of your own." And he said, "There is no end to what you must learn if you are to fulfil all the Scriptures." Another one of them said, "How do you define pilgrimage, father?"  And he replied; "Silence - And wherever you go, say to yourself, 'I am of no importance here.' That's what pilgrimage is.'"

 

V.xv. 44. A brother came to abba Sisois in abba Antony's mountain and in the course of conversation he asked, "Do you think you have now arrived where abba Antony got to, father?" And he replied, "If even one of my thoughts were like those of abba Antony I would by now have become like fire all through. But I do know a man who after immense labour has learned to discipline his thoughts."

 

V.xv. 45. The same brother asked him, "Do you think that the devil persecutes us in the same way as he did the ancients?" "Much more," said Sisois. "For he knows that the end is approaching and he is worried."

 

V.xv. 46. To some others who came to him asking for a word he said nothing but; "No. I'm sorry" over and over again. Seeing some baskets there, they asked Abraham his disciple how they disposed of them, and he replied, "We send them out sometimes locally, sometimes elsewhere." Sisois overheard this and said, "And I gather in sometimes locally, sometimes from elsewhere." Hearing this they were greatly edified by his humility and went away satisfied.

 

V.xv. 47. A brother said to abba Sisois, "It seems to me that my memory is totally fixed on God." And the old man said, "To have your mind fixed on God is not such a great things as to see yourself below every other creature. It is physical work which encourages this and leads you to humility."

 

V.xv. 48. Amma Syncletica of blessed memory said, "Just as you can't build a ship without nails, so it is impossible for human beings to be saved without humility."

 

V.xv. 49. Abba Hyperichius said, "The Tree of Life is in the heavens, and the humility of the monk reaches up to it."

 

V.xv. 50. He also said, "Imitate the publican lest you be condemned like the Pharisee. And cultivate the gentleness of Moyses, purging the pride in your heart and turning to the fountains of living waters."

 

V.xv. 51. Abba Orsisius said, "If you put a broken bit of unbaked tile into your foundations near a river it won't last a single day, but once it is baked it becomes like stone. Someone with any amount of worldly knowledge is like this until baked in the fire of temptation, and it is a good thing for anyone who knows his limitations, and at first sinks under the weight of them, to stand steadfast in the faith, like Joseph, as the word of God explains. Joseph was greatly tempted in the midst of the people where he lived, and if you want to praise him think of how he was an alien, greatly tempted, in a distant land where there were no visible signs of the worship of God. But the god of his fathers was with him, who brought him through all his troubles, and is now with his fathers in the kingdom of heaven. We too, aware of our limitations, can be quite sure that we can never flee from the righteousness of God."

 

V.xv. 52. There was a solitary old man living in the desert with no obligations to anyone, who thought within himself that he had developed his virtues to near perfection. And he prayed to God, "Show what to do in order to prove my virtues, and I will do it." Wishing to humiliate him in his thinking, God said to him, "Go to the archimandrite and do whatever he tells you." In the meantime, before he got there, God warned the archimandrite, saying, "See, there is this solitary coming to you. Tell him to take a stick and go and feed the pigs." The old man went to the archimandrite, knocked at his door and went in. After their greetings, they sat down and the old man said, "Tell me what I must do in order to continue on the path of salvation." "Will you do whatever I tell you?" said the archimandrite. "Yes, I will," he replied. "Take a stick and go and feed the pigs," said the archimandrite. People who knew him or had heard of him saw him feeding the pigs and said, "Have you seen this famous solitary we have heard so much about? He's gone off his head, tormented by demons, feeding the pigs." And God saw his humility and how patiently he bore people's insults, and allowed him to go back to his own place.

 

V.xv. 53. A certain old solitary monk was struck on the cheek by someone possessed of a demon and foaming at the mouth. But he immediately turned the other cheek, and the demon, unable to bear his humility, departed from him.

 

V.xv. 54. And old man said, "When thoughts of pride and exaltation come into your mind, examine your conscience as to whether you have kept the commandments, loved your enemies, rejoiced when your enemy succeeds, mourned when he is brought low, accepted yourself as an unprofitable servant and worse than all other sinners. If you have accepted these things about yourself, then you have made amends for everything else, knowing that thoughts of this kind are a universal remedy."

 

V.xv. 55. An old man said, "Do not set yourself up against your brother, claiming that you are more abstinent or reliable or intelligent than he. Be subject to the grace of God in the spirit of poverty and unfeigned charity, lest puffed up by the spirit of pride you lose all the fruit of your previous labours. Stay in Christ, preserved in spiritual salt."

 

V.xv. 56. An old man said, "Anyone who is praised or honoured above what he is worth runs a greater risk of being brought low, but he who has no reputation at all among men will in the end be lifted up."

 

V.xv. 57. A brother asked an old man, "Is it a good thing to be eager to do penance?"  And the old man said, "We have been told that it was when Joshua the son of Nun was prostrate on his face that God appeared to him."

 

V.xv. 58. An old man was asked why it is that we are plagued with demons and he replied that it is because we have thrown away our armour of accepting insults with humility and poverty and patience.

 

V.xv. 59. A brother asked an old man, "If a brother from outside comes to me wanting to tell me his thoughts, should I tell him not to do so?" "Yes," said the old man, "for you are not your brother's keeper, and furthermore if you were to tell him not to do something, you never know but what you might find yourself falling into the same fault. It should be sufficient for him that you wish to preserve your silence.

 

V.xv. 60. An old man was asked to define humility and he said it consisted in forgiving your brother from your heart, even before he had apologised.

 

V.xv. 61. And old man said, "In every trial don't blame your brother but only yourself, saying, 'It is because of my own sins that this trial has come upon us.'"

 

V.xv. 62. An old man said, "I have never been ambitious to seek a higher place, nor have I been upset if I have been put down. I have set my whole mind on praying to God that he would kill the old man in me."

V.xv. 63. A brother asked an old man, "How do you define humility?" and the old man replied, "Blessing those who persecute you." "But what if you can't rise to those heights?" the brother asked. "Just walk away and choose to say nothing," he replied.

 

V.xv. 64. A brother asked an old man how a pilgrim should behave, and the old man said, "I know a pilgrim brother who went into a church where it so happened that they were having an agape and he sat down at a table to eat with the brothers. Some of those present said, 'Who invited you in? Get up and get out.' So he got up and went. Others were angry because he was sent out, and they went out after him and called him back. Later on he was asked how he had felt when first of all he was driven out and then called back in again, and he replied, 'I simply thought of myself to a pet dog who goes out when it is told and comes back when it is told.'"

 

V.xv. 65. Some people once came to an old man in Thebes, bringing with them someone possessed by a devil for the old man to cure. The old man wrestled with the demon for some time, and then said, "Depart as God commands." I will go," said the demon, "but first give me the answer to this question. Who are the sheep and who are the goats?" And the old man said, "The goats are people like me, but as to who the sheep are, only God knows that." Hearing this, the demon cried with a loud voice, "It's your humility which drives me out."  And he departed in the self-same hour.

 

V.xv. 66. There was a certain monk from Egypt who was staying in the outskirts of Constantinople, when the emperor Theodosius the younger came by that way, and he left all those in his retinue and went and knocked on the monk's door. The monk opened the door, didn't recognise him as the Emperor, but asked him in thinking that he was an army officer. They prayed together and sat down. The Emperor then began to ask him about the monks in Egypt, and the old man said, "They all pray for your wellbeing." Looking about the cell to see what was in it, the Emperor could see nothing but a small basket of bread and a jug of water. But the monk said to him, "Come, let us have some refreshment." And he put out some bread with some oil and salt for him to eat and some water to drink. The Emperor then said to him, "Do you know who I am?" and the old man said; " No, but the Lord does." "I am the Emperor Theodosius," he said. At once the old man humbly bowed before him, and the Emperor said, "Blessed are you, for your life is secure, and you have no dealings with the world. I tell you truly, born though I am to the imperial throne, I have never enjoyed food and drink as much as I have this day. I have had enough and more than enough." And he tried after that to bestow some honour on the old man, but he went back to Egypt.

 

V.xv. 67. The old men used to say, "The more we are tempted, the more we are humiliated, but God seeing our weakness protect us. If we get conceited, however, he takes away his protection from us and we perish."

 

V.xv. 68. The devil once appeared to a brother in the guise of an angel of light and said to him, "I am the angel Gabriel and I have been sent to you." But he said, "Just check whether it isn't somebody else that you have been sent to, for I am not worthy to have an angel sent

to me." And the devil immediately disappeared.

 

V.xv. 69. And they also said, "If it really is an angel who appears to you, don't believe it too readily, but humble yourself and say, "Because of my sins I am not worthy see angels."

 

V.xv. 70. It was said of another old man that being tempted of demons while sitting in his cell, they openly appeared to him, but he spurned them. When the devil saw that he had been beaten he appeared again saying, "I am Christ."  When the old man saw him he shut his eyes. "I am Christ, so why do you shut your eyes?" the devil said. And the old man replied, "It is in the next life that I hope to see Christ, not this." And hearing this the devil disappeared.

 

V.xv. 71. The demons said to another old man they wanted to lead astray, "Would you like to see Christ?"  But he said, "To hell with you and what you say. For I believe what Christ has already said, 'If anyone should say to you, Lo here is Christ, or Lo there, believe him not (Matthew 24.23).'"  And the devil immediately disappeared.

 

V.xv. 72. It was said of another old man that he fasted for seventy weeks, eating only once a week, asking God to reveal to him the meaning of a certain section of the Holy Scriptures, but when God revealed nothing to him he said to himself, "I have taken all this labour upon myself and gained nothing. I'll go to my brother and ask him about it." As soon as he had gone out and shut the door behind him an angel was sent to him who said, "The seventy weeks you have fasted have not brought you a scrap nearer God. But now that you have humbled yourself to go off and ask your brother I have been sent to tell you the meaning." And having explained to him what he was asking about, he disappeared.

 

V.xv. 73.  An old man said, "If with humility and in the fear of God you enjoin your brother to do anything it will be as a word coming from God and will make your brother willing to do what you have asked. But if you think you can order your brother about, not in the fear of God but on your own authority, wishing to exercise power, God who sees the secrets of every heart will not help the brother to hear what is asked of him or to do it. It is easy to tell what is enjoined according to the will of God and what springs merely from self-will or the exercise of power. For what comes from God is asked in humility and with prayer; what comes from the exercise of power comes with anger and turmoil, as is natural when it comes from the devil.

 

V.xv. 74. I would rather be conquered in a spirit of humility than to prevail in a spirit of pride.

 

V.xv. 75. An old man said, "Don't look down on your companion, for you don't really know who it is who has the Spirit, he or you. By 'companion' I mean your 'servant'."

 

V.xv. 76. A brother asked an old man whether it would be right to say anything if he found that the behaviour of some of the brothers among whom he lived was unacceptable. And the old man said, "If they are older than you, or of the same age, you will find that silence will bring you greater peace, in that by making yourself smaller than they you will be on firmer ground." "But I am very upset inside, father," said the brother. "So what should I do?" "If you feel you must do something about it," said the old man, "offer a humble rebuke once. But if they won't listen, hand the matter over into the hand of God; he will bring you consolation. In doing this, God's workman is brought closer to God through the denial of his own will. But take care that your concern is really in accordance with the will of God. And in any case as far as I can see, it is always good to keep silence. Silence brings you humility."

V.xv. 77. A brother asked an old man what was the way for a person to make progress. And the old man replied, "You can only make progress through humility. The more you bend down in humility, the more you are raised up in progress."

 

V.xv. 78. And old man said, "Whenever anyone humbles himself and apologises, the devil of temptation burn."

 

V.xv. 79. If you have the gift of silence you won't take credit for possessing any of the virtues even if you do have them, for you will say, 'I am not qualified to speak about that!'

 

V.xv. 80. An old man said, "If the miller does not blindfold the animal turning his millstone round, the animal will turn and eat all the fruits of his labours. Similarly we should not contemplate all the good things we have done by the dispensation of God, lest we think we are saints and lose our reward. When we observe such thoughts we should condemn ourselves as we justly deserve, and it is that thought which will serve as a blindfold in respect of our few good works. When you accuse yourself you are in no danger of losing your reward."

V.xv. 81. An old man said, "I would rather be taught than teach. Don't teach before you are ready, otherwise the whole tenor of your life will be diminished intellectually."


V.xv. 82. One old man when asked about humility said that this great and godlike work consisted in undertaking bodily labour, remembering that you are a sinner, and considering yourself to be the least of people, in that you pay no attention to the sins of others, but be aware of your own and pray to God without ceasing."


V.xv. 83. A brother asked an old man if he could be given one precept which he could keep and live by. And the old man said, "It is a great thing above all if you can put up with suffering insults."


V.xv. 84. An old man said, "He who can put up with contempt and insults and condemnation is on the way to salvation."


V.xv. 85. An old man said, "Don't draw the abbot's attention to yourself, or have too much to do with him, lest you get presumptuous and begin wishing that you held that position.


V.xv. 86. There was a certain brother in the community who took upon himself all the burdens which threatened the well being of the others, even going so far as to accuse himself of sexual sins. Unaware of why he did this the other brothers began to murmur about him, saying, "Look at all the things he does wrong and doesn't seem to do anything about it." The abbot however understood what was going on and said to the brothers, "I would rather have one wretch who is humble than all the rest who are proud." And in order to demonstrate by a judgment of God what this brother was like he took some of each one's work, together with the mat of the one they were complaining about, and threw them all in the fire. The works of the others were consumed but the brother's mat came through unharmed. When they saw this, the brothers were awed, and apologised, and from then onwards held him in the same esteem as the abbot.


V.xv. 87. An old man was asked how it was that some people could say that they gazed at the faces of the angels, and the old man said that it was better to look at your own sins.


V.xv. 88. A certain brother who heard that another brother was angry with him went to see him to try and explain, but he found the brother's door was closed to him. So he went to one of the old men, who said to him, "You should realise that however justified your complaint may be, in blaming him and condemning him you are thereby justifying yourself, and because of that his heart is not moved by God to open his door to you. What I am telling you is true, that even if he has sinned against you, bear in mind that you may have sinned against him. Make excuses for him, and then perhaps God will put it into his heart to be friendly to you." And by way of an example he told them this story - (Here follows a long story about three monks who "castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" but were condemned by their Archbishop for so doing. So they went to three other bishops to try and get them on their side, including the "highest Archbishop, the Patriarch of the city of Rome" who also condemned them. Concluding that they were all simply just "sticking together" they decided to go to a solitary who had a reputation for prophecy, who also condemned them. He was able to convince them they were wrong, and so they went back to their Bishop and confessed their sins, who then received them back into communion.) Hearing this, he went back and knocked at his brother's door again, who opened up as soon as he heard him, before he had even had time to apologise, and they embraced each other whole-heartedly, and made a lasting peace with each other.


V.xv. 89. There were two monks living together who were brothers according to the flesh, and the devil wanted to separate them. Once when the younger of the two lit the lamp and put it on the lampstand, a demon intervened and knocked it over. The elder brother was angry and struck him, but he apologised and said, "I'm sorry, brother. I'll light it again." And the presence of God came down among them and tormented that demon till morning. When the demon reported to his master what had happened he was overheard by a pagan priest who immediately went out and became a monk. And from the beginning of his conversion he grasped hold of humility, saying, "Humility overcomes all the power of the devil, for I have overheard them saying, 'When we stir up strife among monks and one of them apologises all our power is as naught.'"

Libellus 16 Patience

V.xvi. 1. The brothers told how abba Gelasius possessed a parchment codex worth eighteen shillings (solidi) containing the complete Old and New Testaments, which he put in the church so that any of the brothers who wanted to could read it. Gelasius was visited by a certain pilgrim brother who saw the codex, coveted it, stole it, and hastily departed. But the old man did not chase after him to get it back even though he knew what had happened. The thief went into the city and after a bit of a search he found a prospective purchaser from whom he asked sixteen shillings. The purchaser wished to compare it with others and asked if he could borrow it first in order to show it to somebody else before giving the price asked for. So the thief gave him the codex, which he then took to abba Gelasius to find out whether it was a good codex and worth the price which was being asked for it. He told the abba the price, and the old man replied; "Buy it. It's a good book and worth the price." So he went back to the vendor and told him a different story from what he had heard from the old man, saying, "I showed this to abba Gelasius and he said you were too dear. It's not worth what you are asking." "Didn't he say anything else to you except that?" asked the thief. "Nothing at all," was the reply. Somewhat shaken, the thief said, "I don't think I want to sell it now", and he went back to Gelasius in a very penitent frame of mind, begging him to take the codex back. The old man demurred, however, so the brother said, "I simply can't feel at ease unless you do take it back." The old man said, "Well if it makes you feel happy I will take it back." And the brother stayed with him for the rest of his life, profiting greatly from the old man's patience (long-suffering).


V.xvi. 2. Abba Evagrius once made a speech at a meeting in the Cells, after which the presbyter of the monastery said to him, "If you were in your native land, abba Evagrius, we are quite sure you would be made a bishop, a leader of many people, but here you are among us as a pilgrim." Rather embarrassed, but quite calm, Evagrius bowed his head, looked at the ground and wrote with his finger, saying, "For all that I made a speech, yet there was nothing in it which added anything to the plain truth of Scripture."


V.xvi. 3. Once when abba John the Dwarf was sitting outside the church surrounded by brothers asking him about their thoughts, one of the old men moved by jealousy said to him, "That's a lot of strange potions you are brewing up out of your storehouse, abba John."  "How right you are, father." said abba John. "And you've said that having seen only my outer veneer. Whatever would you have said if you had been able to see inside me!"


V.xvi. 4. It was said of John the Lesser of the Thebaid, the disciple of abba Ammon, that he ministered to the old man for twelve years, caring for him in his illness, and finally not leaving his bedside. The old man felt he was a burden, but however much John had to do, he never once urged him to live a more free and healthy life, until finally on his deathbed, with the other old men of the place standing round, he took John by the hand and said, "Live well, live well, live well." And he confided him to the care of the old men, saying, "He is not human, this man, he's an angel."


V.xvi. 5. It was said of abba Isodore, the presbyter in Scete, that if there were a brother who was weak, or smallminded, or troublesome whom they wished to expel, he would say, "Bring him to me." And taking him under his wing he would bring healing to that brother's mind by his very patience.


V.xvi. 6. When abba Macarius was in Egypt, there was a man who came with a pack-horse to steal his goods, and Macarius acting as if he were some passer-by helped the thief to load the beast up, and let him go with a completely undisturbed mind, saying, "We brought nothing into this world. The Lord gives. As he wills so is it done. Blessed in all things be the name of the Lord."


V.xvi. 7. Once when there was a meeting of the brothers in Scete, some of the old men decided to test abba Moyses and teased him saying, "What does this Ethiopian think he is doing, coming in to our meeting?"  He heard, but said nothing. At the end of the meeting those who had insulted him asked, "Weren't you upset?" And he said, "I was upset, but I said nothing."


V.xvi. 8. Abba Pastor's brother Paysius became friendly with a monk from another cell much against abba Pastor's will. Abba Pastor went to abba Ammoun and said, "My brother Paysius has become friendly with someone, and I find that difficult to put up with." Abba Ammon said to him, "Abba Pastor, are you still alive? Go back to your cell and think that in a year you may be in the grave."


V.xvi. 9. Abba Pastor said, "Whatever troubles you may have, they can all be overcome by silence."


V.xvi. 10. A certain brother with a grievance against another said to abba Sisois of Thebes, "This brother has really done me a great deal of harm and I am determined to get my own back on him." The old man begged him not to think like that and leave vengeance to the Lord, but he said, "I won't get any peace till I have paid him back." "Let's pray, brother," said the old man. And rising up he said, "O God we don't need you to think about us any more, since we are now doing all the retaliation ourselves." At this, the brother fell at the old man's feet and said, "Pray for me, please. I won't strive with my brother any more."


V.xvi. 11. Someone who saw a devout person carrying a corpse in a stretcher said, "Carrying the dead are you? You should rather be carrying the living." [VII.ix.1 adds: For the peacemakers shall be called the sons of God]


V.xvi. 12. It was said of a certain monk that the more anyone annoyed him and attacked him with insults, the more he sought his company. For he said, "People like that form a most useful corrective for anyone trying to live a converted life. It is the ones who praise you who lead you astray. As Scripture says, 'Those who call you blessed cause you to err.'" (Isaiah 3.12)


V.xvi. 13. Some robbers came to the cell of an old man and said, "We are going to take everything you've got in your cell." And he replied, "You're welcome, my sons, to what you can see." So they packed up all they could find in his cell and departed. But they had overlooked a little sacred object which had been hidden in the cell, and he picked it up and ran after them shouting out and saying, "Take this also, my sons. You overlooked it in the cell." They were overwhelmed by the old man's patience, and restored everything into his cell with deepest penitence, saying to each other, "Truly, this is a man of God."


V.xvi. 14. Some brothers came to a holy old man in the desert and outside the monastery they met up with a servant feeding the cattle and using some very unbecoming language. After they had seen the old man and opened their hearts to him and been helped by his replies, they asked him how he could put up with having such servants around him and not teach them not to swear. And he replied, "Believe me, brothers, there was a time when I would have done so but I thought to myself, 'If you can't put up with a little thing like that how will you be able to bear any really severe test which the Lord might permit you to undergo?' So I said nothing to them, to get me used to whatever might come."


V.xvi. 15. The story was told of an old man who had a young boy as a disciple in his cell, and when he was misbehaving on one occasion, the old man rebuked him once with the words; "Don't do that." But the boy was not obedient to him. When he saw that, the old man stopped taking pains with him and left him to his own devices. Then for three days, the boy locked the door of the cell where the bread was and left the old man fasting. But he said not so much as, "Where are you and what are you doing outside?" He had a neighbour, however, who when he saw that the boy had been absent for such a long time, cooked a few lentils and offered them to him over the wall, and said, "How is it that your boy is so long in coming back?" And the old man said, "He'll come back when he is ready."


V.xvi. 16. It was said that some philosophers once wanted to put the monks to the test. They saw a monk passing by who was very well dressed and they called to him, "Hey, you, come here." The monk took exception, replied rudely, and went on his way. Another monk came along who was obviously a peasant and they said to him, "Hey, you miserable old monk, come here." And he came. And they began to give him a few blows, and he turned the other cheek, until at last the philosophers changed their tune and gave him due respect, saying, "This is indeed a true monk." They sat him down in the midst of them, and began to question him. "What do you do in your solitude that we don't do? You fast, so do we.You keep your body in subjection, so do we. Whatever you do, we do exactly the same. So how does sitting in the desert make you more diligent than us?"  The old man said, "We trust in the grace of God, and keep guard over our thoughts." "Now that is something we don't know how to do," they said. And they left him, greatly edified.


V.xvi. 17. An old man who had a well tried and experienced disciple once got angry with him and drove him out. But the disciple patiently sat outside waiting. When the old man opened the door and found him there he was smitten with contrition, and said, "You are a father to me, for your patience and humility have overcome my own mean-mindedness. Come back in and from now on you be my father and senior, I will be the youth and the disciple, since by what you have done you have superseded the authority due to me because of my age."


V.xvi. 18. Some of the elders used to say that they had heard of holy men who had claimed that young men could sometimes give a lead to their elders in this life, and they told the following story. There was once an old man who was an alcoholic, and having made a mat in one day would go to the neighbouring village and spend the price of it on wine. After some time a disciple came and stayed with him who also made a mat a day and the old man spent the price of both mats on wine, while giving to his disciple only a meagre ration of bread. He bore this for three years but made no complaint, until at last he said to himself, "My clothes are threadbare, I am forever hungry, I will get up and leave this place." But again he answered himself, "Where have I to go to? I'll stay here. After all it is for God's sake that I persevere in this common life." And at once an angel of God appeared to him, saying, "Don't go away from here. Tomorrow we shall be coming for you." And that same day, the brother begged the old man not to go out anywhere for the angels were coming to take him. But when the time came at which the old man was accustomed to go to the village, he said to the brother, "They won't come today, brother. It's already getting quite late." The brother insisted that at all events they would come, and as he was speaking he peacefully fell asleep. The old man wept. "Alas, my son," he said, "these many years I have living in neglect of my salvation because of wine. You have found salvation in a short time because of your patience." And from that day on he was sober and serious (probatus).

V.xvi. 19. It was said of a certain brother who lived near to a greatly respected old man that he would go in to the old man's cell and steal whatever was there. The old man saw him and nursed no resentment against him but pushed himself to work harder than usual, saying, "I expect that brother needed what he took." Forcing himself to produce more than usual, he yet curbed his appetite and ate hardly any food. When he came to be on his death bed, with the brothers standing around, he looked at the thief and said to him, "Come close to me here." And he took his hands and kissed them, saying, "I give thanks for these hands of yours, brother, for because of them I am about to enter the kingdom of heaven." Cut to the quick and deeply repentant that brother became an exemplary monk, his life changed because of what that old man had done.


 

 

 

 

 

Libellus 17 Charity


V.xvii. 1. Abba Antony said, "I no longer fear God, I love him, for love has driven out fear."


V.xvii. 2. He also said, "Your life and death come to you from your neighbour. For if you win the respect of your neighbour you win the respect of God, and if you scandalise your neighbour you scandalise God.


V.xvii. 3. Abba Ammon from Nitria came to abba Antony and asked, "It seems to me that I work harder than you do, so why do you have a greater reputation among people than I have?" And abba Antony said to him, "Perhaps I love God more than you do."


V.xvii. 4. Abba Hilarion once came from Palestine to Antony in his mountain, and abba Antony greeted him, "Welcome! You are like the sun bringing light every morning." And abba Hilarion said, "Peace be with you! You are like a pillar of fire giving strength to the world."


V.xvii. 5. Abba Marcus said to abba Arsenius, "Why do you shun us?" And abba Arsenius said, "God knows I love you, but I can't be both with God and with people. Thousands upon thousands of the heavenly hosts are all driven by one single purpose, among people there are multifarious purposes. No, I can't leave God to be among people."
V.xvii. 6. Abba Agathon said, "I've never willingly gone to sleep bearing a grudge against anyone, nor allowed anyone else to go to sleep holding anything against me."


V.xvii. 7. Once when abba John was going up from Scete with some brothers, the leader of the party lost his way, and night began to come on. And the brothers said to abba John, "What shall we do, father? Now that this brother has lost us we are liable to die wandering about." And the old man said, "If we say anything to him, he will be ashamed. So, look, I'll say that I am tired and can't walk any further and want to stay here till morning." Which is what they did, for the others said, "We won't go on either but we'll stay here with you." So they stopped until morning, all to avoid upsetting the brother.


V.xvii. 8. There was an old man in Egypt long before abba Pastor went there, a man of great reputation and held in high esteem among people. When abba Pastor arrived with his company, people began to leave the old man and go to abba Pastor. The old man was jealous and took to speaking evil of abba Pastor. When abba Pastor got to hear of this he was sorry and said to his brothers, "What shall we do about this fine old man? All those people leaving him and coming to me, a mere nothing, are causing me a great deal of worry. What can we do to make it up to him?" And they said to him, "Let's get together something to eat and some wine and go to him and have a meal together. Perhaps that will suffice to propitiate him." So they prepared food and went to visit him, and when they knocked at his door his disciple came out asking who they were, to whom they said, "Tell your abba that it is Pastor and he wants your blessing." When the disciple told him this he replied, "Tell them to go. I haven't got time." But they persevered outside in the heat, saying, "We won't go till we have earned a blessing from the old man." The old man was at last conquered by their perseverance and humility, and they went in and ate with him. While they were eating the old man said, "Truly I haven't heard the half of what you are like. You are a hundred times greater from what I can see." Thus he was a friend from that day on.


V.xvii. 9. Abba Pastor said, "Try as far as you are able to do no evil to anybody, and keep your heart single in the sight of all people. (lit. preserve your heart chaste for every human)


V.xvii. 10. Again he said, "'Greater love hath no one than to lay down his life for his friend' (John 15.13). If you are subjected to harsh words and as far as you can, you struggle to bear with them, without being harsh in return, or even if you suffer injury in any matter and bear it patiently, without seeking retribution from those who humiliate you or injure you, then in this way you are laying down your life for your friend."

 


V.xvii. 11. It happened once that abba Pambo went on a journey into Egypt with some brothers, and on the way they met up with some seculars sitting down, to whom he said, "Get up and greet us, and embrace these monks that you may be blessed. For they speak often with God and their mouths are holy."


V.xvii. 12.  It was said of abba Paphnutius that he did not readily drink wine. Once as he was walking on a journey he came upon a band of robbers, drinking. The leader recognised him and knew that he did not drink wine, but seeing that he was tired after a long walk he filled a cup with wine and offered it to him with a drawn sword in his other hand. He said to the old man, "Drink, or I'll kill you." The old man knew that the robber really wanted to follow God, so wishing to win him over he accepted the wine and drank. The robber then felt ashamed, and said, "I'm sorry, abba, I've put you out." And the old man said, "I do believe that by this cup God will have mercy on you now in this life and in the world to come." And the robber leader replied, "I too believe in God, and from now on I will do no harm to anyone." And the old man won over the whole band of robbers, simply because for God's sake he had abandoned his own will.


V.xvii. 13. Abba Hyperichius said, "Rescue your brother from his sins, as far as you prudently can, for God does not reject those who turn to him. And don't harbour evil and malicious thoughts in your heart against your brother, that you may be able to say, 'Forgive us our sins a we forgive those who sin against us.'"


V.xvii. 14. There were two brothers in the Cells, and the elder of the two said to the younger, "I hope we can always stay together, brother."  And the younger said, "I'm such a sinner, I don't know whether I can, father."  "Yes, we can," the old man begged him. Now the old man was pure in heart and did not want to hear that a monk could have thoughts of fornication. So the brother said to him, "Leave it for a week and we'll talk about it again." When the old man came back, the brother, wishing to put him to the test, said, "I have fallen into great temptation during this week, for when I had to go in to the village on some errand I went with a woman."  And the old man said, "Do you repent of that?" "Yes, I do," said the brother. And the old man said, "I carry the burden of that sin with you." Then said the brother, "Now I know that we can live together," and they stayed together till death.


V.xvii. 15. One of the fathers said, "If someone asks a favour of you and you feel indignant about it, turn your mind towards giving, as it is written, 'If someone compels you to go one mile, go with him two.' What this means is that when anyone asks anything of you, give it with all your heart and soul."


V.xvii. 16. The story is told of a brother who had made some baskets and put handles on them when he heard his neighbour monk saying, "What shall I do? It's nearly time for the market and I have run out of handles to put on my baskets." So the brother who heard this undid the handles which he had put on his baskets and gave them to his brother next door, saying, "Look, I've got these to spare. Use them for your baskets." Thus he supplied what was necessary for his brother to complete his work, while leaving his own work unfinished.

V.xvii. 17. The story is told of an old man in Scete who fell ill, and longed to have some fresh bread to eat. Hearing this one of the more experienced brothers put some dry bread into his cloak and went to Egypt where he changed it for some fresh bread and brought it to the old man. When the other brothers saw the fresh bread they were surprised, but the old man was unwilling to eat it, "for," he said, "it represents my brother's life blood." But the old men begged him for God's sake to eat, "lest," they said, "your brother's sacrifice is all in vain." When it was put like this, he ate.


V.xvii. 18. A brother questioned an old man, saying, "There were two brothers. One of them stayed in his cell fasting for six days and undergoing many labours, the other went out to tend the sick. Which is the more acceptable work in God's sight?" And the old man replied, "Even if that brother fasting for six days were to hang himself up by the nose he could not equal that brother going out to tend the sick."


V.xvii. 19. Someone asked one of the old men, "How is it that those who walk in this way of life today are not as full of grace as they were of old?"  And the old man said, "In those days there was love, and each one reckoned his brother to be the greater. Nowadays love has grown cold, and each one drags his neighbour down. It is because of this that we do not deserve to receive grace."


V.xvii. 20. There were three brothers who once went harvesting and agreed to reap sixty measures of corn. On the first day, however, one of them fell ill and went back to his cell. One of the two that remained said to the other, "Now that our brother has gone off sick let us each concentrate our minds and believe in God that with the help of our brother's prayers we shall be able to reap not only our own share but his as well." When they had finished the reaping of the whole area to which they had agreed they went to get paid and said to the other brother, "Brother, come and get your pay."  But he said, "How can I be paid when I haven't reaped?" And they replied, "It's only because of your prayers that the reaping got done. Come on, take your pay." And there arose a great contention among them, the one brother saying he couldn't accept and the others insisting that he had his share, until they decided to submit the matter to the judgment of one of the seniors. (The brothers repeat the story to the old man)  And the old man when he heard the story marvelled and said to one of his monks, "Sound a clapper outside these brothers' cell to summon all the brethren together." When they had all gathered he said to them, "Come brothers and hear today a just judgment." After laying the whole matter before them, he gave judgment that the brother ought to accept his pay to do with as he willed. And that brother went away weeping in great distress as if the judgment had gone against him.


V.xvii. 21. An old man said that the fathers' custom was to visit the cells of new brothers wanting to become solitaries, to make sure that none of them should suffer mental damage (lit. be injured in their cogitations) because of the temptation of demons. Anyone who was in trouble they would take to the church and filling a basin with water they would pray for him. All the brethren would wash their hands in the basin and then pour the water over the brother who was being tempted. In this way the brother was immediately delivered (purgabatur).


V.xvii. 22. There were two old men who had lived together for many years without quarrelling. And one of them said to the other, "You know, we really ought to have a quarrel, such as other men have." And the other replied, "I don't know how to have a quarrel." The first one said, "Look, I put a brick in between us and say, 'This is mine,' and then you say, 'No it isn't, it's mine,' and that's how you start a quarrel." So they put a bit of broken tile in between them and the first one said, 'This is mine,' and the other one said, 'No it isn't, it's mine,' and the first one said, "Oh, all right, it's yours. Keep it, quick!" And they went their ways, totally unable to be at odds with each other.


V.xvii. 23. A brother said to an old man, "If I should know about a brother who had a bad reputation, I couldn't bring myself to have him in to my cell, but I would gladly have a good one."  And the old man said, "If you wish to benefit a brother who is already a good man do it sparingly, but give a double measure to the other for he is the one who is sick."


V.xvii. 24. An old man said, "I have never wanted to do anything which while profiting me would be to my brother's loss, for I cling to the hope that my brother's gain is a source of blessing (or 'will bear fruit') for me."

V.xvii. 25. There was a brother who was ministering to an old man who had sores on his body which exuded foul-smelling pus. His thoughts began to say to him, "Why don't you stop doing this? How can you put up with the stink of this stuff?" But this brother, in order to counteract these thoughts, took a basin and washed the old man's sores, saved the water in the basin and used it for drinking water. His thoughts again began to bother him, saying, "If you don't choose to leave, at least stop drinking the stuff." But he kept on with this work, putting up with it freely, and drinking the water in which he washed the old man's sores. And by means of this unseen medicine, the old man gradually got better.

Libellus 18 Second Sight (Praevidentia) or Contemplation

V.xviii. 1. A brother went to the cell of abba Arsenius in Scete and looking through the window saw the old man as if he were totally enveloped in flame. The brother was the sort of person who was well qualified to see such things. When he knocked at the door the old man came out and seeing the look of astonishment on the brother's face he said, "How long have you been here? Did you see anything?" "No, nothing," he replied. And after some conversation they parted.

V.xviii. 2. Abba Daniel, the disciple of abba Arsenius, described how Arsenius told the following story as if it had happened to somebody else, though Daniel was convinced Arsenius was actually talking of himself. A certain old man was sitting in his cell when a voice came to him, saying, "Come with me and I will show you the things people do." And he got up and was led to a place where he was shown an Ethiopian cutting wood, and making a big pile of it, and trying to carry it away but being unable to. And instead of taking some wood out of the pile, he kept on cutting more and making the pile even bigger. And he went on doing this for a long time. Going on a little further he was shown a man standing by a lake, filling a jug with water and pouring it into a leaky cistern from which the water flowed back into the lake. "Come, I will show you something else," said the voice, and suddenly he saw a temple with two men on horseback outside it, each carrying one end of a long piece of timber. They were trying to get through the door of the temple but they couldn't because they were carrying the timber crosswise, instead of going one behind the other so that the timber would go lengthways, and thus they remained outside the door of that temple. Asking who these men were, he was told that they were those who carried burdens such as pride or unfair dealings and because they were unwilling to humble themselves and amend their ways by walking humbly in the way of Christ, they remained outside the kingdom of God. The one cutting the wood was someone who had committed many sins and instead of repenting and lessening the burden went on adding iniquity to iniquity. The one filling the cistern with water was someone who although he did some good things always had a lot of evil things mixed in with it, and so lost the benefit of even the good things which he did. Wherefore it behoves all people to think seriously about the way they act, lest they be seen to labour in vain.


V.xviii. 3. Again abba Daniel passed on to us a story which our father abba Arsenius told, about a certain old man of simple faith who had a great reputation because of his way of life, but who in his simplicity had strayed from the truth by saying that the bread which we took was not the natural body of Christ but only a sign of it. There were two old men who heard he had said this, but knowing the quality of his life they realised that he had said it in all innocence and simplicity, so they came to him and said, "Abba, we have heard that some infidel has been saying that the bread which we take is not the natural body of Christ but only a sign of it." And the old man said, "I'm the one who said that." And they begged him not to hold to that view, but to embrace the teaching of the Catholic Church. "For we believe," they said, "that the bread is the true body of Christ and the chalice the true blood of Christ, and not just a sign of it. In the beginning he took the dust of the earth and fashioned it into a human being 'after his own image', so although we can't understand how this can be, nevertheless we can't deny that this is the image of God. In the same way, we believe that the bread over which he said, 'This is my body,' really is the body of Christ." And he replied, "Unless I can see this thing for myself, I can't really be satisfied with what you say." So they said to him, "Let's all pray to God about this mystery for the rest of the week, believing that God will show us the truth." The old man gladly accepted this suggestion and prayed to God saying, "Lord, you know there is no malice in my being dubious about this matter. If I am wrong through simple ignorance, please enlighten me, O Lord Jesus Christ, you who are Truth itself." 
The old men went back to their cells and also prayed, saying; "O Lord Jesus Christ, reveal the mystery to this old man, that he may believe and not lose the reward of his labours." God heard the prayers of them all, and at the end of the week the three of them went to church on the Lord's Day and sat on their seats of rushes tied into bundles, the old man in the middle. And the intellectual eyes (oculi intellectuales) of them all were opened and when the bread was put on the altar it seemed to all three of them that there was a small child lying there. When the presbyter stretched out his hands to break the bread an angel of the Lord came down from heaven with a knife in his hand and having pierced the small child poured his blood into the chalice. As the presbyter broke the bread into small pieces so the angel cut the child's limbs into several parts. When the old man went up to receive Communion he alone was given flesh stained with blood. Seeing this he was afraid, and cried out saying, "I do believe, Lord, that the bread placed on the altar is your body and the chalice is your blood." And at once the portion put into his hand turned to bread again, according to the mystery, which he put in his mouth giving thanks to God. The other old men said to him, "God knows that it is not in human nature to eat raw flesh, therefore he changes his body into bread and his blood into wine for those who take it in faith." And they gave thanks to God for this old man, for God had not allowed him to lose the fruit of his labours, and they went back to their cells with joy.


V.xviii. 4. Again, abba Daniel told a story of another renowned old man in Lower Egypt who in his simplicity had said that Melchisedech was the son of God. This was brought to the notice of Cyril of holy memory, archbishop of Alexandria, who sent for him. He knew that this old man was a man of signs and wonders, and that whatever he prayed to God about was revealed to him, and that what he said was merely due to his simplicity, so he spoke to him in the following way, "Abba, I am seeking your advice because in my thoughts sometimes it seems to me that Melchisedech was the son of God,  and at others it seems that he wasn't that but just a human being and a priest of God most high. Wondering about this I have sent for you that you might pray to God about it, so that he might reveal to you which is true." Confident in his own way of life, the old man said with assurance, "Give me three days grace, and I will pray to God and come to you again to tell you what has been revealed." He went to his cell and prayed to God about what the archbishop had said and after three days came back to Cyril of blessed memory and said, "Melchisedech was human." "How did you come to that conclusion, abba?" asked the archbishop. "God showed me all the patriarchs," he said, "each one of them passing before me from Adam down to Melchisedech, and the angel with me said, 'See, this is Melchisedech.' So, Archbishop, you can be quite sure that this is the way it is." The old man went away and of his own accord preached that Melchisedech was human. And Cyril of blessed memory rejoiced greatly.

V.xviii. 5. While Ephraem of blessed memory was still a boy, he had a dream or revelation in which he saw a vine growing out of his mouth, and it increased till it filled the whole earth, bearing a great deal of fruit, and all the flying creatures in the heavens came to feed on the fruit, and the more they ate the more it bore.


V.xviii. 6. One of the holy people saw in a dream the whole angelic order descending from heaven in obedience to God's command, having a book in their hands written within and without, and they said one to another, "Who is worthy to be entrusted with this book?" And some said one person and others another, but they all agreed in saying, "Though these you mention may be holy and righteous, yet the book cannot be entrusted to them." Many other names of holy people they mentioned, till at last they said, "Nobody can be entrusted with this book but Ephraem." And the old man saw in his dream that Ephraem was given that book. Next morning he arose and heard Ephraem preaching and it was like a fountain of living water coming out of his mouth. And the old man who had dreamed knew that what came from the mouth of Ephraem was the work of the Holy Spirit.


V.xviii. 7. The story is told of abba Zenonis that when he was living in Scete he got up one night to answer a call of nature (lit. go to the marsh, pond or bog) and for three days and nights he kept on walking until he fell down half dead with his exertions, when suddenly there was a young person standing before him with bread and a jug of water who said to him, "Arise and eat."  Fearful lest this might be a ghost he began to pray, whereat the young person said, "Well done."  He prayed again, a second and third time, and again came the answer, "Well done." Only then did he arise and take and eat. The young person then said, "All the time that you have been walking you have got further and further away from your cell, but come, follow me." And immediately he found himself back at his cell, and he said to the young person, "Come inside, and say prayers for us."

But when he got inside the other suddenly disappeared.

V.xviii. 8. Abba John said, "An old man once saw in a trance (in excessu mentis) three monks standing by the sea side and a voice came from the other shore saying, 'Take wings of fire and come to me.' Two of them did take wings and flew across to where the voice was coming from. The third one stayed where he was, shouting and weeping loudly. He later got wings for himself, but they lacked fire. They were unsteady and fragile, and it was with great difficulty that he crossed over, constantly falling into the water and making a great effort to struggle out again. So it is with this generation - If they get wings at all they are not of the fiery sort. Unsteady and fragile ones are all they can manage.


V.xviii. 9. Abba Macarius lived in a very deserted place; he was alone in his solitude. There was another lonely place lower down where several of the brothers lived, and one day Macarius looked out and saw Satan in human shape passing by along the road, wearing an old linen tunic with many gashes, and from every gash hung a small bottle. "Hey, my friend, where are you off to?" asked Macarius. "I'm going to meet ('commemorare', lit. call to mind, remember) the brothers," he replied. "What are all those little bottles for?" asked the old man. "Little samples for the brothers to taste," he said. "You seem to have tastes of everything there is," said the old man. "You're absolutely right," he said. "If someone doesn't like one I offer him another, and if that's no good I offer a third, and so on through them all until if he hasn't taken the whole lot at least there will be one that takes his fancy." And having said that he passed on. The old man kept an eye on the road until he reappeared, and when he saw him coming he said, "I hope all has gone well with you." "What do I know about 'well?'" he said "Oh, how's that?" he asked. "Because they've all got so holy that no one would listen to me," he said. "So you've got no friends at all down there, then?" he asked. "I got only one of the brothers," he said. "He was the only one to listen, though I must say that he came rushing towards me like the wind as soon as he saw me." "What was his name, I wonder," asked the old man. "Theoctitus," he said as he went on his way. Abba Macarius straight away got up and went off to the lower desert, and when they saw him coming, the brothers got palm branches and ran to meet him, and each one tidied up his cell in case Macarius should choose to stay there. But the old man asked which one among them in that place was called Theoctitus, and when he had found out, it was his cell he went to. Theoctitus welcomed him joyfully. Once they were able to converse privately abba Macarius asked him, "How's things with you, brother?"  And he replied, "Oh, fine, thanks to your prayers." And the old man said, "You don't have any troublesome thoughts?" "No, I'm fine at present," he said. But he blushed as he said it, and the old man said, "Well I don't know how many years I've spent in this sort of life here, and everyone respects me, and yet even in my old age I still get bothered by sexual temptations." And Theoctitus replied, "Can you believe it, father, so do I."  And the old man pretended to be the victim of lots of other evil thoughts, in order to get him to confess. Finally he said, "How long do you fast today?" "Until the ninth hour," he replied. "Fast until later," said the old man, "and be abstinent, read the Scriptures, learn them by heart, let the furthest recesses of your mind meditate on the Scriptures, and if any evil thought comes to your mind, don't lie down under it but rise above it, and God will come immediately to your aid."  Having given this help to the brother he went back to his solitude. Once more he saw the devil and asked him where he was going, and the devil replied that he was going to the brothers. And when he came back, the old man asked, "How are the brothers getting on, then?"  "Terrible", said the devil. "How's that?" asked the old man. "They have all become totally holy," he replied, "and what's worse that one friend I had who would listen to me has also been subverted, I don't know how. It's not just that he won't listen to me; he's now become holier than all the others. So I've sworn not to wear out my shoe leather again for a very long time." He left the old man and went on his way, while the saintly old man himself went into his cell worshipping and giving thanks to God his Saviour.


V.xviii. 10. In order to strengthen the brothers abba Macarius told them how a woman once came there with her son who was vexed by a demon. The son said to his mother. "Let's get out of here." But she said, "I can't. My feet won't let me." "Well, I'll carry you, then," replied the son. And Macarius was astonished at the sharpness of the devil in wanting to get away from that place.


V.xviii. 11. On the subject of the desolation of Scete he said, "When you see a  a cell being built next to the pond, know that the desolation of Scete is not far off, when you see trees it is already at the door. When you see young boys gather your cloak about you and go."


V.xviii. 12. Abba Moyses was once fiercely attacked by sexual temptations when living in Petra, and when he found it quite impossible to stay in his cell any longer he went to abba Isidore and told him all about it. The old man begged him to return to his cell but he protested that he couldn't. So he took him in and gave him what comfort he could. "Look to the west," he said. And as he looked he saw a great multitude of demons in a confused mass, milling around in battle array. Abba Isidore then said, "Look to the east." And he saw a countless company of angels in glory. "Just look at all those who are sent to help us," said abba Isidore. "Those in the west are those who fight against us. But those who are for us are more than those who are against us."  And giving thanks to God, abba Moyses took courage and went back to his cell.


V.xviii. 13. Abba Moyses said in Scete, "If we observe the commandments of our fathers I promise you, trusting in God, that the barbarians will not come here. But if we don't, this place will be despoiled.


V.xviii. 14. With his brothers sitting around him abba Moyses said, "You see now the barbarians are invading Scete. You should get up and flee."  But they said to him, "Are you not going to flee, abba?" To which he replied, "I have been expecting this day for years, in fulfilment of what our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'All those who live by the sword will die by the sword.'" (Matthew 26.52)  "We are not going to run away," they said. "We will die with you." Moyses said, "It is not for me to argue that one way or the other. Each one of you must look to his own position." There were seven brothers with him and they said to him, "The barbarians even now are at the door." And when the barbarians came they killed them all, except one who, petrified with base fear, (timore carnali) ran and hid under some palm leaves, where he had a vision of seven crowns descending on the heads of Moyses and the six brothers who were killed with him.


V.xviii. 15. It was said of abba Silvanus that when he had made up his mind to go to Syria, his disciple Mark said to him, "Father, don't go. I can't let you go yet, abba. Wait here for three days more." The abba waited, and on the third day Mark his disciple peacefully fell asleep.


V.xviii. 16. Abba John who was exiled under Marcian said that when he and his companions went from Syria to abba Pastor, they wanted to ask his opinion about hardness of heart. Pastor however knew no Greek, nor was there an interpreter available, but when he saw their difficulty, he immediately began to speak in Greek. He said that water was by nature soft, but stone was hard. But if you hang a container of water over a stone in such a way that the water falls drop by drop it will wear the stone away. So also the word of God is gentle, our hearts are hard. But when anyone frequently hears the divine word, the heart is opened to the fear of God.

V.xviii. 17. Abba Pastor said, "'Like as the hart desireth the water brooks even so my soul longeth after thee, O God.' (Psalm 42.1) Harts in the wilderness gorge themselves on serpents, and when they burn with the poison they long to find the water brooks. In the same way monks in solitude burn with the poison of evil demons and therefore on the Lord's day they long to come to the fountains of water, that is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they may be cleansed of all the bitterness of the evil demons.


V.xviii. 18. Someone asked abba Pastor how he interpreted the Scripture "Return not evil for evil."  (1 Thess.5.15)  Abba Pastor said, "The passion of evil has four stages, first in the heart, second in facial expression, third in speech, finally in the act of returning evil for evil. If you can purge your heart, evil won't show in your face. Guard your speech, but if perchance you have spoken act quickly to prevent yourself actually doing any evil."

 

V.xviii. 19. Holy Bishop Basil told the story of a virgin living in a monastery who pretended to be an idiot possessed of a demon, and was considered by everybody to be so misguided that no-one would even eat with her. Her chosen way of life was to be found always in the kitchen, where she carried out all the duties of a servant. She was everybody's doormat, as the saying goes. By her actions she fulfilled in herself what we read in Scripture, "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." (Cor.5.18)  She wore a piece of old rag on her head, performing all her duties dressed like this, whereas the other virgins shaved their heads and wore cowls. None of the forty virgins ever saw her eating; never in her whole life did she sit down at table with them. Nobody gave her anything except a small portion of bread, but she picked up the crumbs from the tables and cleaned out the leavings in the food jars, and with this pittance she lived content. She harmed no one, no one ever heard her grumbling, she never had either too much or too little to say to anybody. She was lower than anyone else, she lived despised by everyone, she was the butt of all their hard words. Then one day the angel of the Lord appeared to a desert dweller called Pyoterius, known to all as a holy and respected man, living in a place called Porphyrites, and the angel said, "Why should you think you are somebody, a holy person, living here? Would you like to see a woman holier than you are? Go to the monastery of women in Tabennisi and you will find one there wearing a crown; know that she is greater than you. She alone battles day and night against many foes, her heart never departing from God, whereas you, even though you stay in one place, are constantly wandering in mind and spirit through all the cities of the world." He straightway went to the aforesaid monastery, and asked the master of the brothers if he might visit the women's quarters. It wasn't long before he was confidently introduced there as not only a man of exemplary life but also of respected years. When he went in, he asked to see all the sisters, but he could not see among them the one on whose account he had come. To the last one he saw, he said, "Bring them all; there is still someone lacking." "There is only one more, the half-wit in the kitchen," they said. "She is known as being one of those who are vexed with demons." "Bring her to me as well for me to see," he said. So they began to call her. She was very unwilling to listen, sensing that something was up, or perhaps knowing by divine revelation. But they said to her, "Holy Pyoterius wants to see you," for he was someone well known and of a great reputation. When she came in and he saw her with the old piece of rag on her head he threw himself on the floor before her and said, "Give me your blessing." But she then fell at his feet and said, "No, you bless me, father." All the sisters were shocked at this and said, "Don't let her treat you like this, father. She's stupid, as you can see." And holy Pyoterius said to them all, "You are the stupid ones. She is my Amma and yours." (For so they called spiritual women.) "I pray God that in the day of judgment I may be found as worthy as her." At this, they too all fell at her feet and began to confess all the sins they had committed against her. One said she had poured the dirty washing up water over her, another remembered that she had often given her a box on the ear, another that she had tweaked her nose, others spoke of various kinds of injuries they had done her. The holy man poured out prayers to God for all these things and departed. The idiot, finding that she could not bear all this glory, and unwilling to be weighed down by the honour given to her by the sisters, but rather feeling that she was being hardly done by since all were asking her forgiveness, after a few days fled from the monastery secretly, and where she went, where she settled down, or how she died, nobody has ever been able to find out.

V.xviii. 20. Paul the Simple of blessed memory told the following story to the fathers: He once went to a monastery as a visitor in order to teach the brothers, and after they had mutually encouraged each other, they went as usual to church for Mass. As Blessed Paul looked at each person going in to the church, he was able to see what they were like inside, for God had given him the gift of being able to read souls as clearly as we can read each others' faces. He was also able to see the guardian angel of each one. Among those who were going in with open faces and shining eyes he saw one who was all black and disfigured in his whole body, with demons holding him and dragging him towards them by means of halters they had put through his nose, and a very sad looking holy angel following him a long way off. Paul sat down in front of the church weeping and beating his breast, in deep mourning for the one who appeared to him like that. Those who saw his weeping and crying, and how suddenly this change had come on, implored him to tell them what he could see, fearing that some blame must attach to them all to make him act like this. They begged him to go in to Mass with them but he would not. He turned his back on them and stayed prone outside weeping constantly for him whom he had seen. Later when they came out of church, Paul again watched them comparing how they looked now as against how they looked when they went in, and the one whom he had seen all black and disfigured in his whole body he now saw coming out of church with an open face and a purified body. The demons who earlier held him now followed afar off, and the holy angel was walking beside him, joyful and eager, giving great thanks for him. Paul began to jump for joy, and blessed God, shouting, "O the ineffable mercy and goodness of God! O divine acts of pity and countless blessings!" He ran up to the top step and cried with a loud voice, "Come and see him who wishes all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim.2.4). Come let us worship and fall down before him saying, 'You alone can take away our sin.'" Every one came in answer to his cry, eager to hear what he had to say, and when all were gathered together Paul told them what he had seen as they were all going in to church and what he had seen after. And he begged the person concerned to tell what had happened that God should have given him caused such a transformation. When Paul had pointed him out, he began quite openly to tell his story in the presence of all who were standing around. "I am a sinner," he said, "And up till now I have been committing sexual sins, but in the holy church of God I have just now heard the words of Isaiah the prophet being read, or rather the voice of God speaking through him, where he says, 'Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your thoughts before my eyes, learn to do well...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as while as snow...if ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat of the good of the land.' (Isaiah 1.16-19) I, a sinner, was cut to the quick by these words, and groaning inwardly I said to God, 'You came into the world to save sinners, O God. Fulfil in word and deed what you have promised through these readings from the prophet, even in me an unworthy sinner. From now on I promise you, I give my word, I confess in my heart, that I will cease to do evil. I will renounce all wrong-doing, and from now on I will serve you with a clean heart. Today, O Lord, at this very hour, accept my sorrow as I call upon you and renounce all sin.' Having made these promises I came out of church determined in my mind to do no more evil in the sight of the Lord." Having heard this, they all cried to God with a loud voice, saying, "O Lord how marvellous are thy works. In wisdom hast thou made them all." (Psalm 104.24) Wherefore Christians who learn from the holy Scriptures and divine revelation how great is the good that God wills for those who turn to him and amend their former sins by penitence, not only do not have to suffer punishment for those sins done aforetime, but also enjoy the promised rewards. Let us then never despair of our salvation, for as it is promised us in Isaiah the prophet, let whoever is bound by sin be washed clean and be white as wool or snow, and enjoy the heaven of the just which is Jerusalem the heavenly city, as Ezechiel also promises, "As I live says the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live."

 

 

End of Book V

 

 

 

De Vitis Patrum, Book VI

 

Libellus 1, Second Sight (Praevidentia) or Contemplation
(Old men who did signs near bottom of this page)


VI.i.1. Once when Zacharias visited his abbot Silvanus he found him in a trance with his hands stretched out towards heaven. Seeing him like this he went out, shutting the door behind him. At the sixth hour and the ninth hour he went back again, only to find him in the same state, until at last at about the tenth hour he went in to find him in a normal state of mind.
"How have you been today, father?" he asked.
"Somewhat out of action, my son," he replied.
Zacharias then seized his feet and said, "I shan't let you go till you tell me what you have seen."
The old man replied, "I have been caught up into the heavens, where I saw the glory of God, and there I have stayed right up to this minute when I have been sent back here."


VI.i.2. Holy Syncletica said, "Let us be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves in order to understand the snares of the devil. For we are told to be wise as serpents that we might not underestimate the devil and all his tricks. Moreover, like is overcome by like, and therefore the harmlessness of the dove is needed."

 

VI.i.3. One of the fathers said, "Once when some of the seniors were gathered together and talking about serious matters, one of them who was a seer was aware of angels stretching out their hands to anoint them. But when the talk went on to aimless worldly matters the angels departed and foul-smelling swine cavorted about polluting them. When the talk returned again to wholesome subjects the angels returned and anointed them.


VI.i.4. An old man said, "It is written in Scripture 'From two transgressions of Tyre or from three I shall avert my gaze, but the fourth I will not overlook'. (Amos 1.9) To have an evil thought, to consent to it and even to speak it are the three, but the fourth is to carry the evil thought into action, and from this the anger of the Lord will not be turned away".


VI.i.5. It was said of a certain great old man in Scete that whenever the brothers were building a new cell he would go out with great joy, help with the foundations and stay until it was finished. But on one occasion when he went out to build a cell he looked very troubled.
The brothers asked him, "What are you so sad about, abba?"
And he replied, "This place will be laid waste. For I saw as it were a fire lit in Scete which the brothers extinguished with cut branches of palm, and again the fire was lit and again the brothers extinguished it with cut branches of palm, but it was lit a third time engulfing the whole of Scete and could not be put out. No wonder I am sad and troubled."


VI.i.6. A certain old man said, "It is written in Scripture 'the righteous shall flourish as the palm tree' (Psalms 92.12). This saying refers to the high justice and beauty of good deeds. In the palm tree, there is a single core which governs its whole clean growth. It is the same with the righteous; his heart is single and pure, looking always towards God, shining bright, lit up by faith; everything he does comes from the heart. The goal which spurs him on is to be a bulwark against the devil."


VI.i.7. Another old man once said, "The Shunamite woman could welcome Elisha because of her detachment from any man (2 Kings 4.10). The Shunamite is said to represent the soul and Elisha the Holy Spirit. So it is that whenever the soul withdraws from the confusion and worry of the world, the Holy Spirit will come and make her sterility fruitful."


VI.i.8. Another of the fathers said, "The eyes of the pig are so placed that of necessity they always look down, and can never look up into heaven. So it is with the soul that delights in sweet pleasures - once it has fallen into luxurious eating habits it can no longer see God or savour the things of God."



VI.i.9. A certain well known visionary said that he saw the same glory shining around the clothing of a monk receiving the habit as he had seen shining over Baptism.


VI.i.10. A certain old man to whom had been given the gift of discernment said that he saw a brother meditating in his cell and a demon who had approached was standing outside. As long as the brother was meditating the demon was not able to enter, but as soon as the brother stopped meditating, the demon got in.


VI.i.11. It is said of a certain old man that he prayed to God to let him see the demons. And the answer came, "You have no need to see them." But he asked again, saying "You, Lord will protect me from them by your grace." And the Lord did indeed open his eyes and he saw them swarming around people buzzing like bees. But the angels of the Lord were likewise arrayed against them.


VI.i.12. An old man said, "There were two brothers who were neighbours, one went on pilgrimage but the other stayed at home. The pilgrim brother was not very strict in his way of life, but the other was very strict indeed. Now it so happened that the pilgrim died, and a neighbour who was a visionary saw a host of angels carrying away his soul. When he got to the gate of heaven and sought to enter, enquiry was made about him and a voice came from above saying, "He was obviously not very strict, but because of his pilgrimage let him come in." 
After a time the stay-at-home brother died and all his family came to meet him. The visionary neighbour was astonished that the angels did not come for him, and falling on his face before God he said, "Why was that rather lax pilgrim taken into glory while the strict one merited nothing of the sort?"
And a voice came from heaven saying, "After this strict one died, he opened his eyes and saw his weeping parents, and he was consoled. But the pilgrim, although he was somewhat lax, saw none of his family. And he wept, and was consoled by God."


VI.i.13. Another of the fathers told of a solitary in the desert near Nilopolis, who was cared for by a certain citizen, one of the faithful. And there was in that city a certain rich man of quite ungodly life, who when he died was carried to the grave by the whole city, led by a bishop with torches. And when the citizen who cared for the solitary went out as usual to take him bread he found that he had been eaten by wild beasts. And he fell on his face before the Lord and said, "I shall not move from here till you have show me what this means. For that ungodly man was buried with great pomp and ceremony, but this man who served you night and day was given nothing like that at all." 
And an angel of the Lord came to him and said, "That ungodly man did few good works in this life and for reward has found little rest in the next. But this solitary, a man adorned with every virtue and guilty of hardly any fault, has for his reward that he is found to be pure in the sight of God." And he was consoled by these words and went on his way glorifying God who is true in all his judgments.


VI.i.14. Some of the holy fathers of Scete while making predictions about future generations began by asking, "What exactly have we done?"
Someone called Cyrion, a man of great repute, replied, "We have not kept the commandments of God." 
The others asked, "What about those who shall come after us? How shall they do?"
And he replied, "They shall only achieve half of what we have done."
They asked, "What about those who will come after them? How shall they do?" 
He replied, "That last generation shall do nothing of what we have done. But I foresee great temptations for them, and those who are able to persevere in that time will be much greater than either us or our fathers."


VI.i.15. An old man told the story of a virgin well advanced in age who had walked in the fear of God. He had asked her what had prompted her to follow this way of life, and she sighed and said, "When I was a little girl, my friend, I had a father who was gentle and kind but who suffered from very poor health. He was always so busy with his own affairs that he was hardly ever seen by the people among whom he lived. He busied himself on his own land - that was his whole life. For so long as he was in good health he brought home the fruits of his own labour, but more often than not he was confined to bed in a state of great weakness. He had so little to say for himself that if you didn't know him, you would have thought he was dumb. But my mother, by way of contrast, was meddlesome above measure, with a worse reputation than anyone else in the neighbourhood. Her tongue constantly clacked away on every possible subject so that you might have thought that her body was all one large tongue, always picking quarrels with someone, often drunk, keeping company with all kinds of disreputable men. My father had entrusted the care of the household to her but she managed it worse than the most dissolute whore, she indulged herself so disgracefully that there were few people in the neighbourhood who were untouched by her excesses. But she never had a day's illness, never felt a moment's unease, but from birth up to her very last day enjoyed full possession of all her faculties.
"While she was still living, it happened that my father died, weakened by a long spell of sickness. For three days and nights he lay on his bed, for we were unable to bury him because of unceasing storms with rain and thunder and lightning. People in the neighbourhood shook their heads and muttered that he must have been covering up all sorts of wickednesses because if the earth was unwilling to receive him he must have been an enemy of God. But it was getting to the point where his body was decaying so badly that we would not have been able to live in the house for much longer, so although the rain and storm were still raging we made shift to bury him somehow. From then on, my mother became more and more uninhibited, indulging herself in every possible pleasure. She turned our house into a brothel, and her life into one riotous party. I was still a girl when she died, seemingly without showing any remorse, but although our wealth was greatly diminished, she was given a splendid funeral, even the weather smiled upon the proceedings. 
"After her death, as I emerged from girlhood and began to feel the urges of puberty, I began as usual one evening to think and worry about whose example it was that I should follow. Should it be my father, with his kind and gentle, sober life? I thought of how nothing good had ever happened to him in his lifetime, he had always been borne down by trouble and illness, and at the end of his life even the earth did not want to accept him. If this kind of life was so good in the eyes of God, why was it that my father who had chosen to live like this had been so dogged by ill fortune? It would be better, I thought, to live like my mother and indulge every pleasurable whim and fancy of my body. Nothing evil ever happened to her. She spent her life safely and happily in an alcoholic haze right up to the end. What then? It would be best to live like my mother. Better to put your trust in things which you can see with your own eyes and try everything.
"By the time I had decided to throw myself into this miserable sort of life it was night time, and I fell into a deep sleep. Arising out of my thoughts there came before me an enormous figure of horrible appearance who quite terrified me by the way he looked at me. He began to interrogate me with an angry expression and a harsh voice.
"Tell me' he said 'what you have been thinking.' 
"But I was so petrified by his appearance and manner that I didn't even dare to look up at him. In a louder voice still, he again demanded that I should tell him my decisions. Paralysed with fear, my mind a complete blank, I said there was nothing important. He told me I lied, and reminded me of all the things that I had been thinking of. I had to admit he was correct, and began to ask for pardon, explaining why it was that I had been thinking like this.
"He said to me, 'Come and see them both, your father and your mother, and then choose what sort of life you want to live.'
"And he took my hand and led me off to a vast plain, containing many gardens, all kinds of fruit and a variety of trees, all of unspeakable beauty. He took me into the midst of it, and my father came to meet me, embracing and kissing me, recognising me as his daughter. I gave him a hug and asked if I could stay with him.
"'No,' he said, 'you can't stay here. But if you wish to follow in my footsteps, you will come here. It won't be all that long.'
"While I was still asking to be allowed to stay, my guide pulled me away again as he said, 'Come and I will show you your mother as well, tormented by fire, so that you can learn which of them to model your life after.'
"He put me into the middle of a dark and gloomy place, full of noise and turbulence, and showed me a furnace burning fiercely with flaming pitch, and some horrible looking creatures standing on top of the furnace. And as I looked down I saw my mother immersed in the furnace up to her neck, gnashing her teeth, burning in the fire and tormented by a multitude of worms. When she saw me she recognised me as her daughter and cried out with loud shrieks, 'Alas, my daughter, you see how I am suffering through my own fault. Everything to do with sobriety I judged to be madness; pornography and adultery I found to be very pleasant, drunkenness and lustfulness were no hardship, and see how I now suffer the pains of hell in exchange for all those trifling pleasures. Look at my torments now in exchange for all those delicate delights, see what reward I reap for being contemptuous of God. Every irrevocable evil has finally caught up with me. And now I need help, my daughter. Remember how I have provided for you, now is the time to pay back whatever good I have done you. Have pity on me as I burn in this consuming fire, have pity! I'm totally exhausted by this excruciating punishment, have pity, my daughter, and reach out your hand to drag me out of this place.' 
"But I couldn't do this because of those standing in front of her, and she cried and shouted again, 'Help me, my daughter, don't despise the tears of your own mother. Remember how I suffered for you in the day of your birth, don't abandon me now as I perish in the flames of hell.'
"Moved to tears by her crying, I was overcome by compassion and began to weep and cry out in sympathy with her, so that those with me in the house were awoken and brought lamps, asking me why I was moaning so piteously. I told them what I had seen. And so it was that I decided on one thing, to follow in the footsteps of my father. By the unbelievable mercy of God I had been convinced of what punishments are laid up in store for those who live an evil life."
So this woman happily learned from her vision what reward would be given to good works, and set her face against the terrible punishments which would follow the evil acts of a vicious life. We were blessed by the profit we gained from her good counsel.


VI.i.16. In order to strengthen our faithfulness and encourage us to be diligent in our path towards salvation the same old man told us this story about a certain bishop. This bishop used to live among us, and according to what he himself told us, some people reported to him that there were two women in the congregation whose lives were not above reproach. Moved by the people who told him these things, and suspecting that there might be others like that, he earnestly begged God to show him clearly their true state.
After this solemn and terrifying request, he was able to see in the faces of those who came to the holy mysteries the state of their souls and the sins which had control over each one of them. The faces of those men who were sinful appeared to be black, some of them appearing as if burned out by fire, their eyes red and bloodshot, others were fair of face, clothed in white. When they received the body of the Lord some seemed to become enveloped in destroying fire, for others it was as if a light was lit in them which entered their mouth and illuminated their whole body. Among them were some who lived a solitary life and some who were married, but all were laid open in this way.
When he turned to the women and began to communicate them, he learned what the state of their souls was like also. For some of their faces too were black, some red and bloodshot, some white. Among them came those two women who had been denounced to the bishop, and because of whom he had been given this visionary state of prayer. As they approached the sacred mysteries, he saw them as if clothed in white garments, their faces pure and innocent. After receiving the mystery of Christ they shone with a brilliant light.
The bishop later in solitary prayer begged to be shown the meaning of the revelations which he had been given. An angel of the Lord appeared to him whom he began to question in detail. The holy bishop first enquired whether the accusation against these women was true or false. The angel said that everything that had been said about them was true. He then asked the angel how it was that in the presence of the body of Christ their faces were so wonderful, their garments so white, with such a brilliant light shining from them. The angel replied, "In so far as they have repented of their sins, turning away from them with tears and sighs, and have given alms to the poor, they have become worthy by their confessions of being numbered among the righteous, for they have also promised never to walk in those sinful ways again as a condition of being found worthy to receive pardon for their past sins. This is why their lives have been changed by God. Cleansed from their sins they have since then lived soberly, devoutly and properly".
The bishop however was surprised not so much by the change in their lives (for that, after all, happens to many) but by the generosity of God who had not merely delivered them from punishment but had endowed them with grace in such overflowing measure.
The angel said to him, "You are astonished because you are human, but the Lord, your God and mine, is in his nature good and merciful to those who depart from their evil ways and turn to him in confession. Not only does he save them from hell, but he turns away his wrath from them and counts them worthy of honour, for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for them. While we were yet sinners he chose to die for us. Should he not therefore absolve from sin and welcome into his household those who repent of what they have done? He offers good things to be enjoyed by those whom he has prepared like this. You must realise that no human sin is greater than the mercy of God, as long as penitence results in good acts to wash away those evil acts of the past. Such is the mercy of God that he knows our infirmity and the strength of our passions and the cunning and power of the devil, so that when we fall into sin he humours us as children, patiently looking to us for amendment. On those who turn and cast themselves on his mercy he has compassion as on those who are ill. He looses them from their torments and gives them the good things prepared for the just."
The bishop then said to the angel, "May I ask you to enlighten me as to how the particular sin of each person was shown in the differing appearance of their faces, so that I may be conversant with these and ignorant no longer?"
The Angel replied, "Those with shining happy faces are those who live in sobriety, chastity and justice and who are humble, compassionate and merciful. Those with the black faces are given to fornication, unbridled lusts and all other crimes and sins of omission. Those who are red and bloodstained live in bitterness and injustice, scandalmongers, blasphemers, deceivers and murderers."
Again the angel said to him, "If you wish for them to be saved you must help them. It is for this reason that your questions have been answered, so that by what you have seen you may learn about the sins of your disciples. Through your prayers and warnings their repentance will make them more acceptable to him who died and rose again for them: Jesus Christ our Lord. Use whatever power and zeal you have, and love for the Lord Christ, to watch over them that they may be converted to God from their sins, plainly teaching them not to despair of their salvation whatever the sins they may have been dominated by. For those who repent and turn to God, there will be salvation and the future reward of a sumptuous banquet. But the greatest reward will be yours, for imitating the Lord who came down from heaven and dwelt on earth for the salvation of humankind."


VI.i.17. One of the fathers declared that there are three worthwhile aims for monks to pursue with fear and trembling and spiritual joy, sharing in the holy Sacraments, breaking bread with the brethren, and washing the brethren's feet. He told the following story as an illustration:
There was a certain old man who was a seer, and it happened that he was sharing a meal with some of the brothers. And as they were eating, this old man saw in the spirit that some of those at the table were eating honey, others bread, and others filth. And he marvelled  and prayed to God, saying, "Lord, reveal this mystery to me, that whereas the same food is put before all of them on the table, yet as they eat it seems to be changed, and one eats honey, another bread, and yet another filth." 
And a voice from above came to him, saying, "Those eating honey are those who eat at the table with fear and trembling and thanksgiving, and pray without ceasing. And their prayer rises up before God as the incense. And so they eat honey. Those who eat bread are those who simply perceive the gifts of God and give thanks for them. But those eating filth are those who pick and choose, saying 'This is all right but I don't like that'. They ought not to think like that but rather glorify God and offer him praise, so that there may be fulfilled in us that which is written, 'Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whatever you may be doing, do all things to the glory of God.'"

 

Libellus 2: Old men who did signs

VI.ii.1. Abba Dulas, the disciple of Abba Besarion, told this story: We were walking one day by the seashore when I said to Abba Besarion that I was very thirsty. The old man prayed and then said, "Drink from the sea".
So I drank and the water was perfectly sweet. I put some of the water into a bottle lest I should feel thirsty later on, but when he saw it he said, "Why are you filling that bottle with water?" 
I said, "Well, I'm sorry, but I might be thirsty again later on." 
And the old man said, "God will still be here then, just as he is now."


VI.ii.2. On another occasion, when he needed to, he walked across the river Chrysoroan. I was amazed, and said, "Forgive me for asking, but what did your feet feel like when you walked across the water?"
And the old man said, "It felt like water around my toenails, but the rest was solid under my feet."

VI ii.3. Another time when we were going to visit another old man it was drawing towards sunset. And the old man prayed, "I pray you Lord that the sun may stand still till we reach your servant." And so it happened.


VI ii.4. Once a brother infested by a demon in Scete came along and prayers were said for him in church, but the demon persisted and would not go out of him. The clergy of that place said to each other, "What shall we do about this demon? Nobody will be able to cast it out except Abba Besarion, but if we go and ask him about it he will be sure to stay away from church. So then let's do this: Tomorrow he will be in church with everyone else. Let's put the brother with the demon in Besarion's place, and when he comes in, we will stand up to pray and say to him, 'Stir that brother up, abba.'"
And that is what they did. When the old man came in next morning they stood up to pray and said to him, "Stir that brother up, abba." And the old man said to the afflicted brother, "Get up, go out." And immediately the demon came out of him and he was made whole from that hour.


VI.ii.5. The old men once in conversation with Abba Elias said that Abba Agathon was a good man.
And the old man said, "Yes, according to today's standards he is a good man."
"And what about the standards of old, then?" they asked.
And he replied, "I told you he was a good man by today's standards, but in comparison with the standards of old, I don't mind telling you, I have seen a man in Scete who could make the sun stand still in the sky, like Joshua the son of Nun" (Joshua 10.13)


And his audience was silenced and gave glory to God.
VI.ii.6. The story is told of Abba Macarius the Greater that as he was coming up out of Scete carrying his wicker baskets he sat down overcome with exhaustion and prayed, "Lord, as you can see, I can't go on." And straight away he was lifted up and found himself on the other side of the river.


VI.ii.7. A certain man in Egypt had a paralysed son whom he took to the cell of blessed Abba Macarius. Ignoring his tears he put him down outside the door, and departed. When the old man looked out and saw him weeping he said, "Who brought you here?" 
He replied, "My father carried me here and then went away."
The old man said, "Get up and go after him." And he was healed immediately and went after his father and returned to his own home.


VI.ii.8. Abbot Sisois said, "When I was in Scete with Abba Macarius we went out together reaping. And there was a widow woman picking up the ears after us who never stopped weeping, so the old man called to the owner of the field and asked what was the matter with that old woman who never stopped weeping. He replied that the woman's husband had died without telling her where a certain sum of money was hidden, and the person to whom the money was owed wanted to bring her and her children into slavery. And the old man told him to tell the woman to come and see him during siesta. And when she had come, the old man asked her why she was weeping. She replied that her husband had died without telling her where he had put some money which he had been given to look after.
"The old man said, 'Come and show me where your husband is buried'. And taking some brothers with him he went with her to that place. 'You go back inside your house,' he said, and as the brothers offered up prayers he cried out to the dead man, 'Where have you hidden that pledged money?'
"And there came the reply, 'It is hidden in my house under the foot of the bed.'
"And the old man said, 'Sleep now in peace until the day of Resurrection.'
"When the brothers saw this, they fell down at his feet, but he said to them, 'This has not happened because of me - I am nothing. But God has done this for the sake of this widow and her children. This is the great thing, that God wills everyone to be without sin, and if anyone asks for this, he will receive it.' Then he came and told the widow where the money was hidden, which she took and gave to the creditor and so saved her children from slavery."
And all who heard this story were amazed.

VI.ii.9. Abba Emilis was once passing through a certain place where a monk was being held in custody accused of murder. The old man went and questioned him, and having found out who had accused him, he said to the guards, "Where is the dead body?"
They showed him where, and the old man went up to it, asking all those around to start praying. As he lifted up his hands to God in prayer, the dead man came to life.
In the presence of all he asked, "Tell us, who was it that killed you?"
He replied, "I went in to the church to ask the priest to look after some money of mine. He it was who got up and killed me, and then carried me off and threw me into the cell of this abba. I beg you, please get the money from him and give it to my children."
The old man said to him, "Go, sleep in peace, till the Lord brings resurrection." And once more he fell asleep.

VI.ii.10. Abba Pastor was being visited by a number of the brothers when a kinsman of his approached, bringing with him his son who had been facially disfigured by the action of the devil. When he saw that crowd of monks he picked up his son and sat down outside weeping. "I am a relative of Abba Pastor, and I have with me this son of mine, disfigured as you can see. I wanted to bring him to the old man to ask him to cure him, but I am afraid he won't want to see me. If he knows I am here, he will not be pleased and will drive me away. But seeing your gathering here, I have made bold to come. Take pity on me, abba, and do what you can to bring my son inside and pray for him."
The old man took the boy inside with him and prudently did not take him to Abba Pastor straight away, but went first of all to the most junior of the brothers, asking him to sign the boy with the cross. He got all the brothers in order of seniority to do the same till at last he brought him to Abba Pastor. Abba Pastor, however did not want to touch him, but they all protested saying, "We have all done it, father, so why not you?"
The old man groaned aloud, but he got up and prayed, "God have mercy on this man moulded in your image and let the enemy no longer have dominion over him."
He signed him with the cross, and he was cured, and was given back to his father.

VI.ii.11. One of the fathers spoke of a certain Abba Paul, who lived near the Thebaid in the lower parts of Egypt. This Paul was able to pick up so-called horned asps, serpents and scorpions, and tear them apart with his bare hands. Seeing this, the brothers asked him what he had done to be granted this grace, and he replied, "Forgive me, brothers, but if anyone is completely pure, everything is subject to him, as it was to Adam in Paradise, before he disobeyed the commandment of God."


VI.ii.12. When Julian the Apostate was invading Persia, he sent a demon back westwards to report on what was happening there. But when it arrived at a certain spot where there was a hermit, it stopped short for ten days and was unable to go any further because of the ceaseless prayer which the hermit was offering. It returned to its sender having achieved nothing. Julian asked it why it had stopped and it replied that it had had to stop and turn back having done nothing because it had waited ten days for the monk Publius to stop praying and let him pass.
"He didn't stop," he continued, "and so I couldn't pass and I turned back with nothing done."
In a dreadful rage, Julian cried that he would exact vengeance on him when he returned. But in the providence of God he was slain a few days after, whereupon one of the army commanders with him turned back immediately, sold all that he had, gave it to the poor, and joined that old man to become a monk, and so found his peace in God.


VI.ii.13. A man was journeying once with his son to Abba Sisois in Abba Antony's mountain when the son died on the way. The father did not grieve, however, but with great faith carried his son onwards until they both lay face down in front of the old man to ask his blessing. The father got up and left his son at the foot of the old man and went outside the cell. The old man thought that the son must have been doing an extra penance, lying there still at his feet, and said to him, "Get up, you can go now."
He did not know that the son was actually dead. The son got up immediately and went out, and when his father saw him he was awestruck, went in to the old man and fell down and worshipped him, explaining what had happened. The old man was upset at hearing this, for it had not come about of his own will. The old man's disciple told the father not to mention this to anyone until after the old man had died.


VI.ii.14. Abraham, the disciple of this same Abba Sisois, was once being tempted by a demon, and when the old man saw how he was being battered, he got up and stretched out his hands towards God, saying, "O God, whether you will or no, I shall not lower my hands until you cure him." And that brother was forthwith cured.


VI.ii.15. An aged solitary near the River Jordan, went into a cave to shelter from the heat and found a lion inside, who began to roar and show his teeth. But the old man said to him, "Why are you trying to crowd me out? There is plenty of room enough for both you and me. But if you don't want that, well, go then." The lion was unable to endure this treatment and went.


VI.ii.16. When a certain old man stopped for a rest as he was on the way to Terenuthin from Scete, some people saw how thirsty he was and brought him some wine. Others who had heard of his reputation brought a man possessed by a demon to him. The demon began to revile him, saying, "You're bringing me to this wine-bibber?" The old man in his humility was unwilling to exorcise him, but nevertheless because of the demon's aggressiveness he cried, "I believe in Christ that before I have finished drinking this wine you shall have gone out of him." As he began to drink the demon cried out, "You are burning me!" and before he had finished drinking, by the grace of Christ the demon fled.

VI.ii.17. One of the fathers sent his disciple to draw water from a well some way off from their cell, but he forgot to take a rope with him. When that brother got near the well and realised that he had forgotten the rope, he said a prayer and then cried, "O well, O well, my abba has told me to fill this vessel with water." And the water began to rise up to the top of the well so that the brother was able to fill his vessel before the water fell back again to its own level.

Libellus 3: The superlative observances of some holy people.


VI.iii.1 Abba Dulas told a story of how he and Abba Besarion when journeying in the desert happened on a certain cave which they went into and found a monk sitting and making mats out of palm leaves who seemed to be unwilling to look at them, or welcome them, or say anything to them at all. Abba Besarion said, "Let's go. This brother seems to want in his soul to keep silence."
They went on their way and paid a visit to Abba John. On their return journey as they passed the cave of that brother, Abba Besarion said, "Let us go in and see whether the Lord has inspired him to speak with us."
They went in and found that he was resting in final peace.
"Come, brother," Abba Besarion said to Abba Dulas, "let us gather up his body. The Lord has sent us here for the very purpose of being able to bury him." 
But when they picked him up they found that he was in fact a woman.
And Besarion marvelled, saying, "See how women too can fight against the devil in the desert, putting to shame those of us who live in communities." And they departed glorifying God who cares for those who love him.


VI.iii.2. Abba Vindemius related how Abba Macarius had told the following story:
When I was in Scete, two young pilgrims came to me, one of whom had just begun to grow a beard while the other was as yet beardless.
"Where is the cell of Abba Macarius?" they asked. 
I said to them, "What do you want to see him for?"   
They replied, "We heard about him, and have come to Scete in order to see him." 
"Well, I am he" I said. 
They made a deep reverence and said, "We want to stay with you." 
But when I saw how delicate they were, obviously
the elder said, "Well, if we can't stay here, we will go on some where else."
I thought to myself, "What can I do to them to put them off? Perhaps hard physical labour will drive them away from me." 
So I said to them, "Come then, build yourself a cell if you can."   
They replied, "We will, if you show us how."   
So I gave them some tools and a basket full of bread and salt. I showed them a cliff face and said, "Excavate that, gather rushes from the marsh to make a roof, then go and sit inside." 
I thought that they would be put off by this hard work. But they asked me, "What do we do then?" 
And gathering some palm leaves from the marsh I showed them how to begin and what to do next. I said to them, "Make baskets and take them to the church stewards, and they will keep you supplied with bread."
Then I left them, and they patiently carried out all that I had told them and did not come back to me for the next three years. I persevered in leaving them alone, but kept on wondering to myself what they were up to, and why it was that they had not come back to me to ask about what was going on inside them. Some people came to me from quite a long way off, but these two who were so close came not at all. Nor did they go to anyone else, except to go to church in silence to receive communion. So I fasted for a week and prayed to God that he would show me their manner of working. After that seven day fast, I went to them to see what they were doing. When I knocked on the door they opened it and greeted me in silence. I said the prayer and sat down. The elder then made a sign to the younger to go out, while he himself sat down to his weaving, saying nothing. At about the ninth hour he knocked [on a board] and the younger came in with a small dish of pulse. At a sign from the elder he brought out a table, laid on it three small loaves and stood there in silence.
So I said; "Come then, let us eat." 
So we arose and ate, and he brought a vessel from which we drank. When evening came they said to me; "Will you be leaving us?"
But I said, "No, I would like to sleep here tonight."
So they put out a mat for me on one side and another for themselves in the corner on the other side. They loosened their belts and tunics and lay down to sleep together on their mat opposite me. After they had lain down, I prayed to God to show me their manner of working. And the roof of the cell opened up and a light as bright as day burst in, although they were not aware of that light. When they thought that I was asleep, the elder nudged the younger in the side, and they got up, girded themselves and stretched out their hands to heaven. I could see them, though they could not see me. And I saw demons like flies buzzing round the younger brother. Some came and settled on his mouth, others on his eyes. And I saw an angel of the Lord with a fiery sword flying around them, striking at those demons. But they were not able to come near the elder. Towards morning they went back to bed. I pretended to wake up and they did likewise.
The elder said nothing except "Shall we say the twelve psalms?"
And I said, "Yes, indeed." 
The younger sang five psalms and with every word a tongue of fire came out of his mouth and flew up to heaven. Likewise when the elder opened his mouth to sing the psalms a fiery cloud came out of his mouth and reached up to heaven. I too added a little opus dei from my heart, in tune with them.
As I left I said, "Pray for me", and they wordlessly signified that they would. And from all this I understood that the elder had become perfected, while the younger was still battling, even though safe from harm. A few days later the elder died, and the younger followed three days later. And whenever any of the fathers came to visit Macarius after that, he would take them to those brothers' cell, saying, "Come and see the martyrdom of those two young pilgrims."


VI.iii.3. Two of the fathers begged God to show them what level of progress they had arrived at. And a voice came to them, saying, "In a certain village in Egypt there are a lay person and his wife, Eucharistius and Maria - you have not yet got anywhere near them." 
The two old men therefore went to the village and found their way to that man's dwelling, where they met his wife.
"Where is your husband?" they asked.
"He is a shepherd," was the reply, "and he is out feeding the sheep."
And she invited them in to the house. Late in the day Eucharistius came back with his sheep, and when he saw the two old men he got the table ready and poured water into a basin to wash their feet. But they said to him, "We shan't taste of any of your food until you have told us about your way of life." 
Eucharistius humbly said to them, "I am a shepherd and this is my wife."
They pressed him further, begging him to tell them all, but he would not say any more, until they said to him, "It is the Lord who has sent us to you." 
At this word he was overawed, and said, "This flock of sheep was handed on to us from our parents, and whatever profit God gives us from them, we divide into three. One part we give to the poor, one part we keep for the refreshment of pilgrims, and the third part we use ourselves. And although I have taken a wife, I do not have sex with her. She also is a virgin, and we sleep separately from each other. We only wear ordinary clothing during the day - at night we wear sackcloth. Up till now, nobody else has known about this."
When the two fathers heard this they marvelled, and departed glorifying God.


VI.iii.4. Once when Abba Macarius of Egypt came from Scete to the monastery of Abba Pambo in Mount Nitria on a day when the liturgy was celebrated, the seniors there asked him for a few enlightening words.
He replied, "I am not yet a true monk, though I have seen true monks. Some time ago when in my cell in Scete, I was persistently getting thoughts that I should go into the desert and think about what I should see there. For five years I tried to ignore these thoughts lest they should have been inspired by the demons, but when they had persevered such a long time I at last went into the desert and came to a lake with an island in the middle of it. Various desert animals came to drink from it, including two men completely naked. I was frightened - I thought they were spirits! But when they saw me and how frightened I was, they spoke to me, saying,
"'Don't be afraid. We are just men like you.'
"So I said to them, 'Where do you come from? And how is it that you have come into the desert?'
"They replied, 'We used to live in a cenobium, but came to an agreement with each other forty years ago to come out here.'
"One of them was an Egyptian and the other an Libyan. And they began to ask me how the world was going and whether the waters of the Nile were still rising at their accustomed time to fill the world with plenty. I assured them that this was so and began to question them also. 'How does one become a monk?' I asked.
"They replied, 'Unless you renounce the whole world you cannot become a monk.'
"I replied that I was not very strong and I could not do as they did, but they answered, 'If you can't do as we do, then just sit in your cell and weep for your sins.'
"I went on to ask them if they didn't feel the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer, but they replied that God had given them the gift of not feeling either winter cold or summer heat. This is the reason that I said to you that I was sorry, brothers, but I have not yet become a monk."

VI.iii.5. Abba Sisois lived alone in Antony's mountain. Having told his servant to leave him alone he had not seen any other human being for ten months. Walking around the mountain one day he came across a local man hunting wild animals. The old man asked him where he came from and how long he had been there, and he replied, "To tell you the truth, abba, I have been here eleven months and you are the first person I have seen."
Hearing this, the old man went back to his cell and rebuked himself, saying, "Look at yourself, Sisois; you think you have achieved something and you haven't yet done as much as this man who isn't even a monk!"


VI.iii.6 This same Abba Sisois always sat in his cell keeping his door shut. And it is said that when he was on his death bed with the fathers round about him his face shone like the sun, and he said to them, "Abba Antony is here".
And a little while after, he said, "The company of prophets is here."
And again his face shone even brighter as he said, "The band of the Apostles is here."
And his face shone twice as much as before as he appeared to be carrying on a conversation with somebody. The old men asked him whom he was talking with, and he replied that he was asking the angels coming to carry him away if he could be spared something of his due punishment.
The seniors said to him; "You don't deserve any punishment, father."
And he replied, "Truly, I don't know whether I have escaped even the beginning of punishment." And everyone realised that he had arrived at a state of perfection.

And again his face suddenly became like the sun, such that everyone was awestruck, as he said, "Look, the Lord is here, saying, 'Bring me this man who pledged himself to choosing the desert.'" And suddenly he gave up his spirit, and the whole place was filled with a sweet odour.

 

VI.iii.7. It was said of Abba Hor that he never told a lie, never swore, never cursed anyone and never spoke to anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.

 

VI.iii.8. The same Abba Hor said to his disciple, "See that you never allow any unseemly speech into your cell."

 

VI.iii.9. Two well known old men were walking through the desert near Scete when they heard a sort of murmur coming out of the ground, and they saw the entrance to a cave into which they went to find a little old woman lying there, ill.

They said to her, "How long have you been here, old woman? And who is looking after you?"  For they could see noone else in the cave except this solitary woman lying there ill.

And she said, "Thirty-eight years I have been in this cave in the desert, trying to serve Christ as well as I can, and have seen no man until today. God has sent you to bury my body."

As she said this, she came to her rest in peace. The fathers gave glory to God, buried her body and returned to their own place.

 

VI.iii.10. The story is told of a certain solitary who went into the desert clad only in a shapeless tunic made of flax. When he had wandered about for three days, he climbed up on to a rocky mound and saw below some green grass and an old man feeding on it like an animal. He went quietly down and grabbed hold of him, but since the old man was naked and evidently upset by another human presence, he managed to wriggle out of his hands and run away.

But the brother followed, running after him and shouting, "Wait for me. It is for God's sake that I am following you."

And the old man turned round and cried, "And it is for God's sake that I am running away."

So the brother threw off behind him the tunic that he was wearing and kept on following. When the old man saw that he had cast off his clothing he gave way, and as the brother got near to him he said, "When I saw that you had cast off your last vestige of worldliness then I stopped."

The brother said, "Father, give me a word whereby I may walk safely."

And he replied, "Flee from mankind, keep silence, and you will be safe."

 

VI.iii.11. When a certain solitary came out of Egypt to Raythum (where the seventy palm trees are in the place where Moses strove with the people), he told the brethren this story:

"It occurred to me once that I should go into the inner desert to see if by chance I could find any servant of the Lord Jesus Christ living further inside the desert than I. After four days and nights I came upon a cave, and when I went in and looked inside, I saw a figure sitting. I knocked according to monastic custom so that he might come out for me to greet him. He didn't move, for he had gone to his rest. Without hesitation I went in and when I laid hold of his scapular it fell to pieces and turned to dust. I looked up and saw his tunic, which also fell to pieces and became as nothing.

"As I was wondering about this, I went out and wandered further into the desert and it wasn't long before I found another cave with traces of human habitation. My curiosity was aroused even more, but when I went up to it and knocked and received no answer I went in and found nobody. I went outside and thought to myself that the servant of God would have to come back here, wherever he might be at the moment. At last as daylight was fading, I saw some cattle approaching together with a servant of God, who had nothing covering his nakedness but his long hair. When he saw me, he thought I was a spirit and stood still to pray. For he had been greatly troubled by spirits, as he afterwards told me. I had already realised this must be the case so I called out to him, 'Servant of God, I am only a man like you. See my footprints. Touch me. I'm only flesh and blood.'

After he had said the Amen to his prayer, he looked at me and was reassured. He took me into his cave and asked me how it was that I had come thither. I replied, 'I have come into this lonely place hoping to find a servant of God and God has not disappointed me of my desire.'

"I questioned him further about how he had come to be there, and how long he had been there, and what food he ate, and why he was naked, not seeming to feel the need for any clothing.

"He replied, 'I used to be in the cenobium at Thebes where my work was linen weaving, and a thought came into my mind telling me that I should go out and live by myself, and live in quietness, and give hospitality to travellers, and that I should gain greater rewards in that way than in my present work. I consented to this thought and lost no time in acting upon it. I went out and built my own hermitage, to which many people came bringing me work. When I had made a bit of money I gave it to the poor and to passing travellers. But our old adversary, the devil, envious then as always, began scheming to take away from me the future rewards for what I had been hastening to offer God through my labours. For he saw a certain holy virgin casting glances at me, which I capped by returning them, and soon he put it into her head to expect these glances more and more. When this and even greater boldness had become a habit, it eventually got to holding hands, laughter and, eating together, until we fell into the ultimate trap and fell into sin. I stayed in this ruinous state for six months and then thought to myself, "Today, or tomorrow, or many years hence I will still have to die and suffer eternal punishment, for if someone who violates his neighbour's wife is liable to eternal torments how much more worthy of punishment is someone who has defiled a bride of Christ?" So I quietly hurried off to this desert, leaving everything to that woman, and when I got here, I found this cave and a spring of water, and this palm tree which bears twelve-branched clusters of date. Each month it bears one cluster which lasts me for thirty days, by which time another has got ripe. After a time my hair grew very long, and by the time my clothes wore out it was long enough to cover my body.'

"I asked him whether he had found it all very difficult at the beginning and he replied, 'At first I was greatly troubled with pains in my liver so much that I was unable to stand to sing the psalms but lay on the ground crying out to the Most High. When I had got to the stage of being so weak and ill in my cave that I could not go outside, I saw a man come in who stood opposite me and asked me what was the matter. I was rather glad to see him and told him that I was under a curse. When he asked me where the pain was, I showed him and he joined his fingers together and cut me open as if with a sword, took out my liver and showed me where it had been attacked. He scraped off the diseased bits and wrapped them up in a cloth before putting the liver back and closing up the wound. And he said to me, "Now you have been healed, as befits a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ." And from that time on, I have been perfectly well, and have lived here without any further trouble.'

"I begged him to let me stay with him in the desert, but he said to me that I would not be able to withstand the attacks of the demons. I thought about this and asked him to pray for me and let me go with a blessing. So he prayed, and let me go. And all this I tell you that you may be enlightened thereby."

 

VI.iii.12. Another old man repeated the following story told by the worthy bishop of Oxyrynchus, who in the first place had told it as if it had been someone else:

"It occurred to me," he said, "to go on a visit to the inner desert around Oasis, the territory of the Mazices, to find out if there were anyone there serving God. I began my journey with a few loaves and four days' supply of water. After four days with all my provisions gone, I wondered what I should do, but struggled on in faith nevertheless. I walked on and managed to survive for four more days without food. Travel-weary and famished, I was then no longer able to push my body further and collapsed on to the ground, when someone came and touched my lips with his finger, as if he were a doctor examining my saliva. I was at once strengthened, as if I had not felt hungry or walked any distance at all.

"Feeling my strength coming back to me I got up and kept on walking into the desert. After another four days had passed, I once more felt faint with fatigue. I raised up my hands to heaven, and that same person who had helped me previously came again to moisten my lips and give me strength. Seventeen more days went by until I arrived at a hut in a grove of palms, and a man standing there whose only clothing was the hair of his head, which was totally white with hoary old age. He presented a formidable appearance. When he saw me, he started to pray, and at my Amen he realised I was human. Taking me by the hand, he asked me why I had come, and how things were in the world, and whether there were persecutions still. I told him that I had come into the desert for the sake of finding him who truly served our Lord Jesus Christ, and that through the power of Christ the persecutions had ceased. And then I asked him how it was that he had come to this place.

"He replied with tears and lamentation, 'I am a bishop and during the persecutions I was tortured so severely that I could bear the torment no longer, and so I sacrificed to the gods. Returning home I realised the depth of my wickedness, and resolved to give myself to the desert until death. For forty-nine years now I have been acknowledging my sins and praying to God that he may forgive me. God has given me these palm trees to sustain my life, but I gained no assurance of forgiveness for the first forty-eight years. But now in this forty-ninth year I am at peace.'

"Having said this he got up and went outside to pray, standing for a long space of time. His prayer completed he came back to me, and as I looked on his face I was awe-struck, for it shone like fire.

But he said to me, 'Don't be afraid, for God has sent you to give me the last rites and bury me.'

"As soon as he had finished speaking he stretched out his arms and legs and gave up his spirit. I tore my tunic in half, kept half for myself, and wrapped his holy body with the other half before burying it. As soon as the body was covered the palm trees withered and the hut collapsed in ruins. I wept profusely, beseeching God to restore the palm trees for me so that I might persevere for the rest of my life in that place. But nothing happened, so I said to myself it was not God's will. I prayed, and began my journey back to the world. I was again visited by the person who moistened my lips. He came to give me strength, and enabled me to return to my brethren to whom I told my story, urging them never to despair but to seek God through penitence."

 

VI.iii.13 A brother asked an old man, "Which is more important for salvation, who you are or what you do?"

The old man replied; "What you do. I know a brother who was praying once and his prayer was heard. A thought had come into his mind that he would like to see the way in which the souls of both the righteous and the wicked were taken up out of the body. And God satisfied his desire, so that as the brother was sitting in his cell a wolf came in and tugged at his clothing, dragging him outside. With the brother following, the wolf led him towards a city and then left him. He found himself inside a monastery near the city where there was a renowned solitary who was ill and at the point of death. He saw great quantities of tapers and candles being arranged around that solitary, as if it had all been owing to him that God had kept the inhabitants of that city safe and provided them with food and water, and that if that should come to an end we should all die.

"But at the hour of that solitary's death that brother saw a denizen of hell with a fiery trident descending on to him and heard a voice saying, 'Inasmuch as that soul never ceased to cause me unease in this life, so have no pity on it as you come to pluck it out.' The demon then plunged his trident into the solitary's heart, tormenting him for several hours before plucking out his soul.

"The brother then went into the city and found a pilgrim lying on a sick bed, with no one to look after him, and stayed with him for the whole day. The hour of his death drew nigh, and the brother saw Michael and Gabriel coming down towards his soul. They sat one on each side of him and entreated the soul to come out of him but it would not, as if reluctant to leave the body.

"Gabriel said to Michael, 'Tear out his soul and let us go.'

"But Michael replied, 'We have orders from God that it should depart painlessly, so we cannot tear it out.'

"Michael then cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, what do you want us to do with this soul that will not agree to leave the body'

"And a voice came saying, 'See now, I am sending David with his harp and all the singers of Jerusalem, so that when he hears the psalm they sing he will come out.'

"As they all descended around him singing their hymns the soul came out into the hands of Michael and was taken up with great joy."

 

VI.iii.14. The same person related how an old man once went into the city to sell some pottery which he had made, and having done that happened to sit down outside the door of a certain rich man who was dying. As he sat there he saw black horses with fearsome black riders, each one with a fiery staff in his hand, arriving at the house. They left their horses outside and rushed in.

When the sick man saw them he cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Lord, help me!"

But they said to him, "You're calling on God now that your sun is setting. Why did you not call upon him this day while the splendour of light was still with you? At this hour now there is no portion of hope or consolation left for you."

 

VI.iii.15. The fathers said that a certain Macarius was the first to set up a monastery in Scete. That place is a long way off from Nitria, distant by a journey of about a day and a night. There are many dangers for those who would go there. None but the strong are able to survive in that harsh place; it is totally arid, furnishing nothing of what is necessary for life. This Macarius, a townsman, at one stage joined up with Macarius the Greater, and when they came to cross the Nile, it so chanced that they were able to board a sizeable ship along with two tribunes whose possessions proclaimed their importance. They had a bronze chariot, the horses had golden bridles. A number of soldiers were with them, their slaves had ornamental necklaces, some of them with golden girdles. When these tribunes saw the two old monks sitting in a corner dressed in rags they reverenced them for their poverty.

One of the tribunes said to them, "Blessed are you, for you have made this world look absurd."

The Macarius who came from the town said, "We have indeed made this world look absurd, but this world makes you look absurd. For you must know that you did not realise the full import of what you have just said, since both of us are called 'Macarius', which does in fact mean 'blessed'." And the tribune was so stirred by his words that he went back home, discarded his expensive clothing and became a monk after giving much alms.

 

VI.iii.16. The story is also told of this same Macarius the Greater that once when he was walking through the desert, he came across the head of a dead man lying on the ground. When he touched it with the staff which he had in his hand, the head spoke to him. The old man asked him who he was, and the head said, "I am priest of the pagans who used to live here, and you are Abba Macarius who is filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Whenever you take pity on the souls in torment and pray for them they gain a little comfort."

The old man asked, "What sort of comfort?"  And the head replied, "As far as the heavens are from the earth, so great is the fire above us and below us. As we stand in the middle we can then no longer see our neighbours face to face."

The old man wept and said, "Woe to the day in which a human being was born if that is all the comfort he gets in his punishment. Are there greater torments?"

The head replied, "Those underneath us are punished more severely."

The old man asked, "Who is down there?" The head replied, "We who did not know God do have a little bit of mercy shown to us, but those below us are the ones who knew God but denied him and did not do his will."

The old man then took the head and buried it.

 

VI.iii.17. As this same Abba Macarius was one day meditating in his cell he heard a voice saying, "Macarius, you have not yet become as perfect as two women who live in the city." The old man got up next morning and taking his staff of palm in his hand set off for the city. When he had found the place where they lived, he knocked on the door. Someone came out and invited him in, and when he had sat down called the two women who came in and sat with him. The old man said to them, "I have gone to a lot of trouble for the sake of meeting you. Tell me now about your way of prayer (operatio), how and what you do."

They said, "It is not as if we are separate from our husbands at night time. What sort of way of prayer do you think we might have?"

But the old man pressed them to satisfy his curiosity and reveal what they did.

And at last they said, "By the world's standards we were of no account, so we were pleased to be able to marry two brothers. For fifteen years now we have spent our days in the same house and I don't think either of us has complained about the other or spoken spitefully to each other, but have passed the whole time in peace and concord. We did think we would like to enter a house of virgins, but we asked our husbands and they wouldn't allow it. Since we were not worthy to be given that kind of blessing we made a vow between ourselves and God that we would not allow worldly talk to pass our lips till the day of our death." When Abba Macarius heard that he said, "I declare truly that God sends his Holy Spirit on all, not because they are virgins, nor wives subject to a husband, nor monks, nor seculars, but according as each person is able to receive it."

 

VI.iii.18. The fathers told of a well known old man that as he was walking in the desert, he saw two angels walking with him, one on the right and one on the left. As they went on they came across a corpse lying in the way. The old man held his nose because of the smell, and the angels did likewise. After a little while the old man said, "So you smelt him too?"

"Not at all," replied the angels. "It was because of you that we held our noses. We can't smell the smells of the world, they don't affect us. What we do smell is the smell in the souls of sinners."

 

Libellus 4: Seven sayings of Abba Moyses to Abba Poemen. And how those who keep them may avoid punishment.

 

VI.iv.1. Abba Moses said, "A man ought to be as if dead in his neighbour's sight. To be dead in this sense is to refrain from passing judgment on him in anything."

 

VI.iv.2. He also said, "A man ought so to put to death every evil in himself that before he comes to the hour of his death he gives offence to no one."

 

VI.iv.3. He also said, "If a man does not know in his heart that he is a sinner, God does not hear him."

A brother asked what is meant by knowing in the heart that one is a sinner, and he replied, "When you are aware of your own sins, you don't see those of your neighbour."

 

VI.iv.4. He also said, "Unless what you do is in agreement with how you pray, your labour is in vain.

A brother asked "How should our acts be in agreement with our prayers?"

And he replied, "We pray for things which we do not yet perform, but when we give up our own will, then we are reconciled to God and God hears our prayers."

The brother asked, "What help do we get in all our human labour?"

And he replied, "God is our helper. For it is written, 'God is our help and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.' (Psalm 46.1)"

 

VI.iv.5. A brother asked, "What is the purpose of the fasts and vigils which a man undertakes?"

And the old man replied, "These are the means whereby the soul learns humility. For it is written, 'Look upon my lowliness and labour and forgive me all my sins.' (Psalm 25.18). If a soul does these things, the Lord will have mercy on him because of them".

 

VI.iv.6. A brother asked what he should do in all the temptations which came upon him, and in every thought from the devil.

And the old man said to him, "With the goodness of God before his eyes he ought to weep and ask for help. He will soon find peace if he asks in total awareness, for it is written, 'The Lord is my helper. I shall not fear what men can do to me." (Psalm 118.6)"

 

VI.iv.7. Again, a brother asked, "If a man beats his servant because of the things he has done wrong, what should that servant say?"

The old man replied, "If he is a good servant he will say, 'Forgive me, I've done wrong'".

"Nothing else?" asked the brother.

"No," replied the old man, "for in accepting the blame and saying he has done wrong, the master will forgive him at once. The point in all this is 'Don't condemn your neighbour'. When the hand of the Lord slew the first-born in the land of Egypt there was not a single household without a death" (Exodus 12.29-30).

"What does that text mean?" asked the brother.

 

"It means that if we keep our own sins in mind," the old man replied, "we will overlook the sins of our neighbour. It would not make sense for someone with a death in the house to go out and mourn the death of a neighbour. To be as if dead as far as one's neighbour is concerned is to bear the burden of your own sins, and to refrain from passing judgment on everyone as to whether this person is good, this one bad. Do no evil to anyone, don't even think evil of anyone, neither reject the evil doer nor acquiesce in the evil anyone is doing to your neighbour, and all this is to be as if dead as far as one's neighbour is concerned. Don't spread slander about anyone, but say, 'God knows what is in each person', neither listen to anyone spreading slander or collude with him in that slander. And all this is what 'judge not that you be not judged' means (Matthew 7.1). Don't make an enemy of anyone and don't harbour a grudge in your heart. Nor should you feel hatred for anyone who slanders your neighbour, but don't give your assent to his slanders either. Peace of mind is his who does not despise the one who slanders his neighbour, and comfort yourself with these words, 'Short is the time of our labour, eternal the span of our rest', thanks be to the Word of God. Amen."

 

VI.iv.8. Another old man said, "Our Saviour was born a human being for you; the Son of God came that you might be saved. Without ceasing to be God, he became human; he became a child; he became a 'lector' when he took the book in the synagogue and cried, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me and sent me to preach the good news to the poor' (Luke 4:18) He became a 'subdeacon' when he made a whip of cords to drive the sheep and oxen etcetera out of the temple. He became a 'deacon' when he girded himself with a linen cloth and washed the feet of his disciples, urging them to wash the feet of their brothers. He became a 'presbyter' when he sat in the midst of the elders as he taught them, and he became a 'bishop' as he took bread and blessed it and gave it to his disciples, etcetera. For you he was whipped, for you crucified and killed, and rose the third day and ascended into heaven.

For you he took all these things upon himself, all in accordance with the dispensation of God, all in due order, from which it follows that he has done all things that he might bring us salvation, and will you not therefore bear all things for him? Let us be sober, let us be vigilant, let us give ourselves to prayer, let us do what is pleasing to him that we might attain salvation. Was not Joseph sold into Egypt, a foreign land? Who could take pity on each of the three children taken captive in Babylon? God alone was their protector; he it was who took them up and glorified them because they feared his name. He who has given his whole heart to God does not follow his own will but looks for the guidance of God without anxiety. For if you wish to fulfil your own will without the help of God, your labour is but in vain.

 

VI.iv.9. A brother asked Abba Pastor the meaning of the Scripture, 'Take no thought for the morrow'.

And the old man replied, "This is aimed at the human condition of being constantly tempted and found wanting, so that we should not be worrying about how much longer this state of affairs is to go on, but rather think daily of what is for today, and accept the future without constraint."

 

VI.iv.10. A brother asked Abba John, "How is it that whatever their own faults, people are not ashamed to castigate the faults of others?"

The old man replied by way of a parable: "A certain poor man met a woman more beautiful than the wife he already had and married her as well. Neither of them had any clothes. But when a market was about to be held in a certain place they both said to him that they would like to go with him. So he put them both, naked as they were, into a large wine jar, and crossed over the straits in a small boat to the place where the market was held. At noonday the people dispersed and when one of the women noticed how silent it was she jumped quickly out of the jar, found some discarded offcuts of cloth nearby in which she clothed herself and walked about quite boldly.

The other one, sitting naked in the jar said to the husband, "Just look at that tart, walking about with no proper clothes on."

The husband ruefully replied, "Oh, marvellous! She has covered her embarrassing nakedness as best she could. How is it that you who are completely naked can criticise her who at least is partly clothed?" That is what every fault-finder is like. They don't see their own sins, but they will always bring accusations against others.

 

VI.iv.11. Some brothers said to Abba Antony, "Give us a word of salvation".

And the old man said, "Look, you've got the Scriptures. Listen to them. What more do you need?"

But they said, "We want to hear what you have got to say, father."

The old man replied, "Hear what the Lord says, 'If anyone strikes you on the left cheek offer him the other" (Matthew 5.39).

They said, "We wouldn't be able to do that."

He said, "If you couldn't offer them the other cheek, at least take the first blow patiently."

They replied, "We couldn't do that either."

He said, "If you couldn't do that either, just be more willing to be struck than to strike."

They replied, "Nor that, either."

Then Antony said to his disciple, "Prepare some nourishing soup for these brothers, for they are very weak."

And to them he said, "If you can't do either this or that, what can I do for you? Prayer alone is what you need."

 

VI.iv.12. Abba John said to some of the brothers, "There were once three friends, philosophers, and when one of them was dying he commended his son into the care of the other. When the young man grew up, he committed adultery with his guardian's wife. When this was discovered, the guardian drove him out, and would not let him back even though he expressed great remorse. He condemned him instead to spending three years with the convicts in the mines before he would consider forgiving him. When the young man came back after three years, the guardian said to him, 'And now you can spend another three years paying for your sin by being constantly humiliated by me.'

"And so he lived for another three years like this, after which the guardian said, 'Come now to the city of Athens, where you can learn some philosophy.'

"Now at the gate of the city there was an old philosopher who sat there subjecting those who entered to all kinds of humiliations, this young man included. But when insulted, the young man laughed.

"The old man said, 'How is it that when I insult you, you laugh?'

"The young man replied, 'Wouldn't you expect me to laugh, when I've been subjected to insults for the last three years by way of paying for my sins, but now I'm being insulted free of charge! That's why I laughed.'

"And the old man said, 'Go up, and enter the city.'"

When Abba John had finished telling this story, he added, "This is the gate of the Lord, and the fathers entered rejoicingly after many humiliations."

 

VI.iv.13. Abba John depicted the pentitent soul like this: "There was a certain beautiful prostitute in a certain city who had many lovers. One of the leading men of that city came to her and said, 'If you would promise to be chaste I would take you for my wife.'

"So she promised, and he took her into his house. When her former lovers looked for her and discovered what an influential man it was who had made her his wife, they said, 'If we go to the door of such a powerful man he will know what we want and deal with us accordingly, so let us go round to the back of the house and give our usual whistle. When she hears it, she will come out to us and we shall be safe from blame.'

"But when she heard it, she closed her ears and ran into the central room of the house and shut the door."

By telling this story, the old man represented the prostitute as the soul, her lovers as the vices, the powerful man as Christ the prince, his house the everlasting heavenly mansions, the whistles the malignant demons. If then the soul would be ever faithful and chaste she must run to God.

 

VI.iv.14. Abba Pastor said, "It is written in Scripture 'If you have a tunic, sell it and buy a sword' (Luke 22.36). What this means is that if you are idle bestir yourself and prepare for battle, that is, the battle against the demons"

 

VI.iv.15. He also said, "There was a certain old man living in his cell in Egypt being cared for by a brother and a certain virgin. It happened one day that they both came to him at the same time, and it got so late that they were not able to return to their own place, so the old man put a mat down between them for them to sleep on. The brother however was overcome by the desires of the flesh and seduced the poor woman, causing her ruin. But the deed was done and in the morning they departed. The old man knew what had happened but with an eye to the future said nothing. The old man accompanied them a little on their way, appearing to be showing no signs of being upset, and when he turned back they said to each other; 'Do you think he knew about the shameful thing we have done or not?'

"Smitten with repentance they went back and said 'Holy father, were you aware that the enemy had seduced us and laid us low or not?'

"And he said 'I did know, my children.

"' They said 'Where were your thoughts, then at the time of our downfall?'

"He replied ' My thoughts at that time were with the crucified Christ. I was standing and weeping, as much for me as for you. But the Lord foretold me your repentance, so I declare that what you have lost through pride you will with the more diligence pursue, as your wounds are healed.'

"They accepted a penitential discipline from him, and departed each with renewed determination towards achieving the goal of being chosen vessels."

 

VI.iv.16. A certain philosopher asked holy Antony, "How is it, father, that you can be content with being unable to make use of books?"

He replied, "My books, my philosophic friend, consist in the works of natural creation, and whenever I want to read the word of God they are always there."

 

VI.iv.17. Someone parched with thirst in the midday heat once asked Abba Macarius for a drink of water and he replied, "Be content with this bit of shade, which is more than many travellers and sailors are able to enjoy at this moment."

 

VI.iv.18. When I asked that same person for advice about how to exercise moderation, he replied, "Act with confidence, my son. For myself, I have never fully satisfied myself in respect of food, drink or sleep for the last twenty years. I have a set measure of bread, and water accordingly, and I gladly take a little sleep to the extent of leaning up against a wall."

 

VI.iv.19. A brother asked an old man whether visitors should eat with the brothers. The old man replied, "It is only with women that you don't eat."

 

VI.iv.20. A brother asked Abba Isidore of Scete about thoughts of sex. He replied, "When thoughts of sex come, filling and disturbing the mind, even when they do not overcome us and spill over into acts, they do nevertheless hinder us in our search for virtue. The serious minded person however will cut them off and take himself to prayer."

 

VI.iv.21. On the same subject this old man added, "If we did not have thoughts, we would simply be like brute beasts. But just as the enemy seeks out his own, so we ought to fulfil what is incumbent upon us. Stand in prayer and the enemy is put to flight. Spend time in meditating upon God, and you will conquer. Perseverance in good works brings victory. Strive and you will be crowned."

 

VI.iv.22. An old man said, "Keeping the thought of death in mind will invariably conquer fearfulness".

 

VI.iv.23. Amma Syncletica said, "Our adversary is more easily overcome by those who possess nothing, for he can't find anything to harm them with. Freed from care about money and other riches, they habitually conquer by being mindful of their dire straits and of temptations which separate from God."

VI.iv.24. Again she said, "There are those who work hard and risk the dangers of the sea in gathering together tangible riches, but the more they have the more they go on desiring more, and regard their present wealth as nothing. We, however, for the love of God have renounced possessing anything."

 

VI.iv.25. An old man said, "Anyone who nourishes malice in his heart is like someone keeping fire in the midst of chaff."

 

VI.iv.26. An old man said, "If you speak to anyone on the subject of eternal life, let your words be with compunction and tears for the one who is listening. Otherwise don't say anything lest you be found wanting by hurrying to try and save someone with unwelcome words. For God says to the sinner, 'Who are you to talk about my judgments, or to bear witness to me with your mouth?' (Psalm 50.16).

Rather say, "I am a dog, and less than a dog in so far as a dog loves his master and does not sit in judgment upon him."

 

VI.iv.27. A brother asked an old man, "How is it that the soul is attached to uncleanness?"

The old man replied, "The soul generally wants to give free rein to the passions. It is the spirit of God who keeps it safe. Therefore we ought to weep, and take diligent thought about our uncleannesses. You have the example of Mary who fell down before the sepulchre of the Lord and wept. And the Lord called her by name. It is the same with the soul."

 

VI.iv.28. A brother asked an old man, "How do you define sin?"

And the old man replied, "Sin is when people take no thought for their own misdeeds but presume to teach others. And so the Lord says, 'You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck of dust out of your brother's eye' (Matthew 7.5)."

 

VI.iv.29. A brother asked an old man, "What shall I do, for I find it painful to undertake even the smallest of struggles."

And the old man replied, "Don't be surprised at that. Joseph when captive in Egypt, the land of those who worshipped idols, underwent many temptations boldly, and God glorified him in the end. Look also at Job who maintained his fear of God right to the end, so that no one was able to disturb his hope in God."

 

VI.iv.30. A soldier asked an old man whether God accepted repentance. The old man offered him many helpful thoughts and finally said to him, "Tell me, my friend, if your military cloak gets torn do you throw it away?"

He replied, "No, I patch it up and keep on using it."

The old man said to him , "If you take pity on your own clothing, will not God be forgiving towards his own image?"

 

VI.iv.31. There was a certain brother living in his own cell who would wait around till last after Mass in the hope that someone would invite him back for a meal. But one day at the end of Mass he went out before everyone else and ran back to his cell. The presbyter noticed him running and wondered why. Next week when the brother came into the church gathering, the presbyter asked him, "Tell me truly, brother, how is it that you used always to wait till last after the service except that last Sunday you went out before everyone?"

The brother replied, "I used never to cook my own lunch, so I waited about in the hope that someone would invite me back for a meal. But last Sunday I cooked a few lentils before I came, so that at the end of the sacred mysteries I went home." When he heard this, the presbyter made a rule that all the brothers should prepare a meal for themselves before coming to church so that they could speedily return to their own cells.

 

VI.iv.32. Once when the district judge came to the region where Abba Pastor lived, the local people came to Pastor and asked him to come to the judge and plead for them.

"Give me three days, and then I will come", Pastor replied.

And the old man prayed to the Lord, saying, "Lord, please don't give me success in this undertaking, otherwise people will not leave me in peace in this place."

When the old man came before the judge to plead, the judge said, "Surely you are not asking favours for robbers, abba?"

The old man rejoiced that he did not find favour in the sight of the judge, just as he had asked, and he returned to his own cell.

 

VI.iv.33. The old men used to say, "Just as Moses spoke with God when he entered into the cloud, and with the people when he came out, so does the monk speak with God when he is in his cell, but when he comes out with the demons."

 

VI.iv.34. A young man came to Abba Macarius to be cured of a demon, and while he was waiting outside, a brother from another monastery arrived and seduced that young man into sexual misconduct. When the old man came out he saw that brother sinning with the young man, but did not explode in anger, merely saying, "If God who made them can see them and be patient with them, even though he could burn them to ashes if he wanted to, who am I to say anything?"

 

VI.iv.35. They tell a story of a certain old man who lived in solitude in lower Egypt with a single secular to minister to him. It so happened that the son of that servant fell ill and he begged the old man to come and pray for him. So the old man bestirred himself and went with him. But the servant ran on before him and going in to his home he called out, "Come and meet this solitary".

When the old man saw them from afar coming out with torches, he realised that they were coming out to meet him, and took off his robes and began to wash them in the river, standing there completely nude. The servant was embarrassed to see him standing there nude and said to his companions, "Go back! This old man seems to be having a brainstorm!"

And going up to the old man he said, "Why did you do that? They were all saying that you had been overcome by a demon."

And he said, "And that was what I was wanting to hear."

 

VI.iv.36. Certain of the seniors asked Abba Pastor, "If we see a brother sinning should we rebuke him?"

Abba Pastor replied, "For myself if I were to pass by and see him sinning I would continue on my way and not say anything. I know it is written in the Scriptures 'Bear witness to what you see with your own eyes' but I also say to you 'Don't bear witness to anything that you have not touched with your own hands'.

"For there was once a brother who was deceived into thinking that another brother was sinning with a woman, and after much mental conflict, believing that they were having sex, he went up to them and kicked them, saying 'Stop that'. And it turned out that they were only bundles of harvested wheat. That's why I say, 'Don't bear witness to anything that you haven't touched with your own hands.'"

 

VI.iv.37. The story is told of a certain brother who lived in the desert and was led astray by demons for many years, although he thought they were angels. From time to time his father according to the flesh would go and visit him, and one day he took an axe with him thinking that on the way home he might cut some firewood. But a demon went before him and said to his son, "Watch out! There is a devil coming to you in the likeness of your father, carrying an axe in his basket in order to attack you. Get in before him, take the axe from him and fight him off."

And so when the father came to him as usual, his son took the axe from him, hit him with it and killed him. And the evil spirit continued to stick to him and dragged him down to nothingness.

 

 

End of Book VI

 

 

 

Prologue of Palladius, Bishop of Helenopoleos

In the Eighth Book of the Vitae Patrum

Known as the Lausiac History


This book consists of a description and explanation of how the blessed and holy fathers grew in spiritual strength in the course of their wonderful lives in solitude, to provide a model for those who want to enter upon the path to the Kingdom of Heaven and live a heavenly life. We remember also the renowned wise women inspired by God, who entered upon the task of developing in spiritual strength with wholehearted courage. May they serve as examples for those who seek redemption through continence and chastity, and may they encourage a desire to imitate them.
I am indebted to the inspiration and encouragement of a man learned in various wide-ranging subjects, gentle in manner, religious and devout in heart and mind, liberal in giving help to the needy. Among the most prominent people he has been chosen for the highest honours because of the integrity of his life. He is a man governed by the power of the Holy Spirit. He it is who motivated me, or rather, to be more truthful, inspired my dull mind to the contemplation of higher things. He wanted me to set forth how our holy and immortal spiritual fathers struggled to develop in spiritual strength, as an example to be emulated. In order to serve God they spent their lives in hard and rigorous bodily discipline. He wanted me to send him descriptions of the lives of these famous athletes, and to make known the hard won virtues of each one of these great men. This man's name is Lausus, a man who is devoted to everything spiritual and godly. By the grace of God, he is the chamberlain of the divinely inspired and religious emperor [Theodosius II, 401-450]
I, however, am unskilled in writing, I have not attained to a spiritual knowledge any deeper than a sort of lip service, I am not worthy to examine the roll of holy fathers and the way they led their spiritual lives. I fear that this great commission will be beyond my strength. I can scarcely bear the responsibility of it, for it demands both wide-ranging knowledge and spiritual discernment. Nevertheless I trust in the wisdom of him who has bidden me undertake this task. I believe it will be useful to those who may read it, and I am aware of the danger I might be in if I refuse to agree. So I take this commission to have been given to me by divine providence, and have used the utmost diligence in undertaking this task, upheld by the intercession of the holy fathers, simply setting out as in a sort of catalogue the struggles and signs of these great men, famous athletes as they were.
And I describe not just the men who lived such outstandingly good and virtuous lives, but also those blessed women who led their lives in blameless integrity. I have been blessed in having been able to look upon the holy faces of some of them myself before at last they finished their faithful course. I have learned about the heavenly life of others from those still running their godly race. I have journeyed on foot to many cities and villages, to all the caves and tents of the monks, to learn assiduously about their piety and religion. So I have written down partly what I have seen, partly what I have heard from the holy fathers, concerning the struggles of these great men and women. Because of their hope in Christ they were stronger than you would think nature would allow.
I have committed this book to writing and commend it to your friendly ear, O Lausus, brother and friend of Christ, servant of God. Your divine eloquence is exceptional. You are a paragon among the best and most religious of men, an ornament to this most faithful and religious empire. As far my limited skill will allow, I mention by name each one of those remarkable athletes for Christ, women as well as men, briefly saying a few words about each of their many great triumphs. For many of them I am able to say what nation and city they came from as well as the place where they spent most of their lives.
We mention also some men and women who began by seeking the strength to perfect their lives, but who succumbed to that stupid mother of arrogance called vainglory and were cast down into the lowest pit and abyss of torment. Through studious practice and hard work over a long period they had brought to birth in themselves great benefits which they lost in one moment of time through arrogance and empty self deception. But by the grace of our Saviour, by heartfelt repentance, and with the help of the holy fathers, they were snatched out of the spiritual snares of the devil and through the prayers of the saints were restored to the life of virtue which they had followed previously.
[Palladius' dates are c.365 to 425]

 


Chapter I
THE LIFE OF ISODORE, PRESBYTER AND XENODOCHUS

I first came to the city of Alexandria during the second consulship of Theodosius, the great emperor, who because of his faithful life in Christ now rests with the angels. There I met Isodore, a wonderful man, accomplished in every way, in speech, wisdom and way of life. He was the presbyter and xenodochus (Greek, "one who gives hospitality". It seems to have been an official position in many of the churches of that time) of the Alexandrian church. As a young man he went to live in solitude, taking upon himself the disciplined struggle. I have seen his cell in Mt Nitria, though I came across him when he was seventy years old, fifteen years before he died in peace.
Up to the day of his death this holy man wore no linen apart from his headband, he had no bath, he ate no meat, he never rose from the table with his appetite fully satisfied. But he always appeared to be in such good bodily health that if you did not know about the sort of diet he had, you would have thought he lived well and sumptuously.
Time would fail me were I to try and recount all his many virtues. Because of his unswerving faith in Christ he was so gentle, kind, and peaceful that even the unfaithful and hostile people respected him (or the aura of Christ) for his sheer goodness. He possessed such spiritual grace, knowledge of the Scriptures, and theological understanding that sometimes even at the accustomed time of dining with the brothers his holy mind would go off in a daze, he would fall silent and go into a sort of trance. When asked to tell what had been going on in this state he would say, "My mind had gone off somewhere else, snatched up in a sort of contemplation." I know myself that he was often in tears at the dining table and when asked the reason I heard him say, "I am distressed at having to be fed with this alien food for the reason that I am destined to be led into the delights of paradise, to be fed on ambrosial food, according to the power given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ."
At Rome he was well known to the whole senate and the wives of the nobility from the time that he first went there with the blessed bishop Athanasius, and later with the holy bishop Demetrius. 
Although he was well provided with the goods and necessities of life he left no will. He gave no money or anything else to his sisters who were members of a convent of seventy virgins. For he said, "God who created you will also provide for you as he has for me." 
When I was young I went to him and asked to be initiated into monastic life. I was a lusty youth at the time, in need not of sermons but of hard labours to subdue the flesh, and a rigorous and severe rule of life to discipline the body. Like a good horse breaker he led me out of the city into the place called the Cells of the hermits, about five miles from the built up areas.



Chapter II
DOROTHEUS of THEBES

He took me to a certain Dorotheus, a Theban athlete who had been living in a cave for sixty years. He told me to live three years with him in order to learn how to control my troubled thoughts, for he knew that the old man lived a fairly hard and disciplined life. At the end of that time I was to go back to him for further spiritual teaching. But I became very ill and being unable to fulfil the three years I left him before the due time.
His way of life was very disciplined, squalid and quite meagre. All day, even in the midday heat, he would gather stones from the waste land near the sea and build cells which he gave to those who didn't know how to build. He built one each year. I said to him once, "What is the point, father, in your old age, of killing your poor little body in this terrible heat?"
He replied, "I kill it so that it won't kill me." Each day he ate six small pieces of bread and a handful of small olives, and drank a little water. As God is my witness, I never knew him to put his feet up. Of set purpose he never slept in a bed or even a couch but sat the whole night long weaving a rope from palm branches to make a shroud for himself. I wondered whether he had practised such an extreme regime only since I had come to be with him, so I sought enlightenment from several of his disciples as to whether this elaborate and demanding regime was such as he had always practised. They were good and virtuous people, who had each been with him one after another, and they told me that from the beginning he had arranged his life in this way, never deliberately going to sleep except that sometimes in between working and eating he closed his eyes for a cat-nap. Sometimes through lack of sleep, the food would just fall out of his mouth when he was eating. Once when I urged this holy man to lie down for a while he sharply replied, "You could persuade the angels to go to sleep first, before persuading someone on a quest for perfection."
One day he sent me to the well at about the ninth hour to fill the jar from which he refreshed himself when the hour for eating was at hand. It so happened that when I got there I saw an asp down below in the well and was too frightened to draw any water and ran back to tell him. "We are in great danger, father," I said, "for I saw an asp down below in the well".
He laughed out loud, understanding my fear very well, and with a shake of his head he said, "If the devil were known to have put serpents, asps, tortoises or any other venomous creature into every well or fountain would you therefore not drink?"
He left the cell, drew some water himself, blessed it with the sign of the cross, drank without taking any food, then said, "Where the cross is, the power of the devil cannot prevail."



Chapter III
THE ACTS AND DISCRETION OF POTAMIAENA


Blessed Isodore the xenodochus told me that he had met the blessed Antony and heard from him a story worthy of being put into writing.
Potamiaena was a beautiful girl who at the time of the Maximian persecutions was the servant of a most intemperate and lecherous person. He importuned her persistently, promising her all sorts of things, but did not succeed in beguiling her. Consumed with rage he decided to denounce her to the Prefect of Alexandria as a Christian and as one who because of the persecutions had slandered the Emperor and his decrees. He promised the prefect a large sum of money for her downfall, saying that if he could persuade her to consent to his desires he would not press for any punishment from her guards. If however she persisted in the inflexibility which she had shown from the beginning, he asked for her punishment to be death, lest she should be able to make a mockery of his intemperance if left alive.
This brave virgin was brought before the tribunal and subjected to bodily torture by different instruments of punishment, but remained mentally as firm and steadfast as a tower in spite of many various arguments put to her. Among all the instruments of torture the judge devised one more cruel than all the others that were there. He ordered a large cauldron filled with pitch to be heated by a scorching fire.
When the pitch was hot and boiling fiercely, this heartless judge turned to that blessed woman and said, "Come now, submit to the will of your master, otherwise, you must understand, I shall order you to be thrown into the cauldron."
She replied, "May a judge never be so wicked as to order me to submit to his unrestrained lechery." Infuriated, he ordered her to be stripped and thrown into the cauldron.
She cried out, "By the head of the emperor whom you serve I beg you not to have me stripped, but lower me bit by bit into the cauldron that you may see how bountifully I have been endowed with the patience of the Christ whom you deny."
For a space of three hours she was lowered into the pitch and gave up her spirit when the pitch reached up to her neck.



Chapter IV
THE LIFE OF DIDYMUS THE BLIND


At that time there was a great company of holy men and women gathered together in the church of Alexandria, who were found worthy of being numbered among the meek of this world. Among them was the blessed Didymus, a writer who was blind. I met with him four times over a period of ten years. He died aged eighty-five. He told me that he had lost his eyes when he was four years old, never learned to write, and never resorted to any teachers. All he had was his own conscience, a naturally strong and authoritative teacher. He was so greatly endowed with the grace of spiritual knowledge that in him was literally fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet, "The Lord gives light to the blind" (Psalms. 146.8). He was able to interpret the words of both old and new testaments, and expounded their teachings so subtly and forcefully that he exceeded in wisdom all who had gone before.
In his cell he once asked me to say the prayers but I was not willing to do so. He said to me, "Blessed Antony came to see me three times in this cell, and when I asked him to say the prayers, he immediately prostrated himself in this cell. He did not make me ask him twice, and in so doing gave me a valuable lesson in obedience. So then, if you want to follow in his footsteps by becoming a monk and seeking virtue, don't argue."
He also told me the following story, "One day I was feeling troubled and distressed in mind because of the terrible career of the Emperor Julian and his persecutions, so much so that I could eat nothing from Vespers until late at night, when I fell asleep sitting in my chair. I dreamt that I saw four white horses with riders, galloping along and crying, 'Tell Didymus that today at the seventh hour Julian died, so get up and eat, and send this news to the house of Bishop Athanasius, so that he may know about it also.' I made a note," he said, "of the hour, the day, the week and the month, and so it turned out to be."



Chapter V
THE LIFE OF ALEXANDRA


This blessed man also told me about a certain woman called Alexandra, who left the city and shut herself up in a tomb. She was supplied with what was necessary for life through a window, and was seen by neither man nor woman for ten years. They say that in the tenth year she died in her sleep, so that when those who usually visited her got no reply they came and told us about it. When we got there we broke down the door of the tomb, went in and found her dead.
Blessed Melania of Rome, whose life I will talk about in due course (Ch CXVII) had this to say about her:
"I was not able to see the face of this blessed woman," she said, "but I stood outside her window and asked her why she had left the city and shut herself up in a tomb. She spoke to me through the window and said, 'There was a certain man who was infatuated with me, and so as not to seem to despise him or cause any ill will, I preferred to shut myself up in this tomb, rather than cause offence to anyone created in the image of God.'
"I said to her, 'How do you manage, you servant of Christ our God, to go on without consulting anybody, and do nothing but battle all alone with your thoughts?'
"'I pray from morning to the ninth hour', she replied, 'and for the rest of the time I meditate upon the lives of the holy fathers and patriarchs, and the struggles of the blessed apostles, prophets and martyrs. After I have given praise to God at Vesper time I take my meal of bread, and spend the greater part of the night in prayer, looking forward to the time when I shall leave this world and appear before the face of Christ our God.'"
I shall not omit to tell of those who have also lived in this kind of way, and let those who read be circumspect and attentive if they would condemn such a one while at the same time praising those who have lived ordinary lives of virtue.



Chapter VI
A CERTAIN VIRGIN WHO STRUGGLED WITH THE LOVE OF MONEY.

There was a certain woman of Alexandria known only as The Virgin who dressed quite modestly but whose nature was niggardly, proud and insolent, governed by avarice, fonder of gold than of Christ. She would not spend a single obol of her money on guests, the poor, the afflicted, the monks, the virgins, or the church. In spite of the many warnings given her by the holy fathers she would not get rid of the heavy burden of her riches.
She had a family however, for she had adopted her niece as her own daughter. Night and day she thought of nothing but spending her treasure on this daughter, and in so doing began to care less for treasure in heaven. One kind of deceit which the devil offers is to encourage avarice under the disguise of family concern. It is obvious that he has no real concern for families, for it is he who encourages fratricide, matricide and patricide, as Scripture proves. (Deuteronomy12.31). And although it may seem that he sometimes encourages concern for family, it is not in order to do people good but to provoke parents' souls to wickedness. He is not ignorant of that far-reaching precept, 'the unjust shall not inherit the kingdom of God' (1 Corinthians 6.9).
Of course when your family lacks anything it is quite possible to supply their needs without danger to your soul, as long as you are spiritually aware and your motives are directed towards God. But when you set your whole mind on concern for family to the neglect and exclusion of all else you fall under the condemnation of the law as one who rates the salvation of your own soul as of no importance. David the sacred psalmist who feared God sings about those who seek their soul's salvation, when he says, 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord' (as if to say, not many) 'or who shall stand in the holy place? Even he who has clean hands and a pure heart, and has not reckoned his soul to be of no value' (Psalms.24.3). Those neglectful of their spiritual health reckon that their souls are of no value and will disappear when this little body dies.
When the holy presbyter, Macarius, saw that this woman, known only by the name of Virgin, had become very negligent in her prayer, he decided to take action to remove from her this insidious fault of avarice. He was the warden of a hostel for physically disabled people, and in his youth had been a jeweller.
"I have come across some precious stones, green emeralds and blue irises," he said to her. "I don't know whether it is a genuine merchant or a thief who owns them, but no price has been put upon them, because I think they are priceless. However, the person who has them is selling them for five hundred solidi. If you would like to have them, give me five hundred solidi. You will be able to get five hundred solidi for one gem alone, and the rest you can use for your niece's benefit."
Totally absorbed in this niece as she was, she immediately conceived a desire to see her decked with this jewellery, and falling at Macarius' feet she begged him not to let any one else get hold of it.
"Come to my house and you can see them," Macarius said.
"No," she said, "but take these five hundred solidi and buy them yourself if you will. I don't want to see the man who is selling them."
Macarius took the money and put it into the funds of the hostel.
Some little time passed by and she hesitated to say anything to him, such was the respect in which he was held among the Alexandrians for his faith and generosity. But at last she went to him at church and said, "Can I ask what is happening about those stones that I gave you five hundred solidi for?"
"From the day that you gave me that gold," he said, "I have been spending it on the gems, and if you would like to see them come to my hostel. That is where the gems are. You can see them and if you don't like them you can have your money back."
She came eagerly.
Now in the hostel the women were in the upper floor and the men in the lower. When they got there, Macarius asked her in the vestibule which she wanted to see first, the irises or the emeralds.
"Whatever you like," she said.
So he took her upstairs and showed her the women, with distorted limbs and faces disfigured by all kinds of sores.
"These are the irises," he said.
He took her downstairs and showed her the men.
"These are the emeralds," he said. "I don't think there is anything more precious than these. But if you disagree of course you can have your money back."

The Virgin was overcome with shame. She went back home grieving greatly that she had not given money for God's sake instead of parting from it as a case of necessity. 

She later showed her gratitude to the presbyter when the girl she looked after got married and died without having had any children, after which she regularly gave some of her money to charitable uses.



Chapter VII
THE LIFE OF ABBA ARSISIUS AND THOSE WHO WERE WITH HIM IN MOUNT NITRIA.


I spent three years living with that company of holy people in the cells around Alexandria. There were about two thousand admirable and indefatigable men there, examples of every kind of virtue.
From there I went into Mount Nitria. There is a lake called Lake Maria between Alexandria and the mountain where there were about seventy thousand men. A day and a half's journey further on I arrived at the southern part of the mountain. There is a vast desert here stretching as far as Ethiopia, Mazices and Mauretania. Five thousand men live there, of various different life styles, each one according to his ability and his aspiration, some alone, some in twos or threes, or in any combination you like to mention. There are seven mills in the mountain which provide for them and the six hundred anchorites who live in the vast empty spaces.
I lived for a whole year in the mountain with those blessed and holy men, Arsisius, Putaphastus, Hagio, Cronius and Serapio, after which I went into the inner desert, inspired by the spiritual stories of many ancient fathers. There is one great church in this Mount Nitria, and in this church there are three palm-tree trunks from each of which hangs a whip. The first is for punishing delinquent monks, the second for any robbers who turn up, and the third for any who come and fall into some other offence. Any transgressor who is judged to deserve punishment hugs the palm tree, receives on his back the due number of lashes and is then released.
There is a hostel next to the church constantly receiving guests, who stay even for two or three years if they want, until they decide to go of their own free will. For the first week they are allowed to be idle, but from then on they are given work to do, either in the garden, the mill or the kitchen. If anyone wants a book for some good reason he is given one, but is not allowed to talk until the sixth hour. There are no physicians or entertainers (placentarii) in this mountain, but they do drink wine, which is also on sale. They all make linen clothes for themselves, and no one goes short of anything.
Around about the ninth hour, work stops and in all the cells can be heard the singing of psalms and prayers to Christ, with prayers added to the psalms, so that you might think you had been transported into the Paradise of delights. They go to the church only on Saturday and Sunday. There are eight presbyters officiating in the church, but for as long as the senior presbyter is alive no one else makes the offering, or sits in judgment or preaches, but just sits with him in silence.
This great man Arsisius, and many others whom we saw with him, had been contemporaries of the great Antony. And Arsisius told me that he had also seen Amoun of Nitria whose soul Antony had seen being taken up into heaven by the angels (VP, VA.32). He said he had also seen Pachomius, that famous man with the gift of prophecy, whose virtues I shall describe later

 

 

Chapter VIII
HOLY AMON AND HIS WIFE.

He told me how Amon spent his life.
He was about twenty-two when his parents died, and his uncle made him get married. He couldn't argue against his uncle's claim that it was necessary, so he agreed to be decked with the crown, enter the marriage chamber and accept the married state. After being escorted into the bedroom and put to bed, the blessed Amon got up as soon as the guests had left, shut the door, sat down and spoke to his blessed wife like a brother talking to a sister.
"Can you bear with me while I unburden myself of something? You are not just a married woman (domina), you are like a sister to me. The fact that we have been joined together in matrimony is not really anything very marvellous. Let's do something really special for the love of Christ. Let's sleep separately right from the beginning and keep our virginity intact." At this he pulled out of his pocket a little book and read the greater part of it to her, as she was unable to read. Like an Apostle and Saviour he added some divinely inspired teaching of his own, setting out the reasons for living a life of virginity and chastity.
The effect of this was that she became filled with the grace of Christ and said, "My dear husband (domine mi), I also am convinced that I can gladly embrace a life of chastity. So if that is what you wish, I agree, right from the start."
"What I want and ask you for," he said, "is that we should live apart."
"I don't agree with that," she said. "Let us stay in the same house but have separate beds."
So he lived with her for eighteen years in the same house, passing his time in the garden and in the balsam room. For he was a producer of balsam, which is planted out like vines, and involves a great deal of labour in cultivating it and looking after it. He would go home in the evening and after saying prayers would have a meal with her. At night he would pray and do the synaxis [A non-Eucharistic service of psalms, Scripture and prayers], and first thing in the morning go out into the garden. Living like this they both came at last to be entirely free from passions, and his prayers came to be very strong and powerful.
That blessed woman said to him at last, "There is something I want to say to you, my husband, and if you will listen to me it will show me that you truly love me for God's sake."
"Well, say it," he said.
"You are a devout, religious and upright person," she said "and I too have followed the same rule of life. It would be only right if we were to live apart for the benefit of others. It is not fair that for my sake such great virtue and wisdom should be hidden away while you go on living with me in chastity."
He thanked her and gave glory to God
"I think you have made a good decision," he said, "and if you like you can have this house and I will go away and build another."
He left, and went into the inner parts of Mount Nitria, where at that time there were no cells, and built himself a two-roomed cell with domes. He lived for another twenty-two years, disciplining himself into the highest degree of virtue. Holy Amon died as a monk, or rather was translated into heaven, at the age of sixty-two, having never failed to visit the blessed companion of his life twice a year.
While he was living alone in Nitria, a boy shaking with rabies was brought to him, having been bitten by a rabid dog. He was bound in chains, for the force of the disease had been making him cut himself. When Amon had seen them coming and had listened to their cries for help, he said to them, "Why are you telling me all your troubles, my friends, and asking me for something which is beyond my powers when the remedy lies in your own hands? Compensate the widow woman whose ox you secretly slaughtered, and your son will be healed."
Thus they were convicted, and willingly did what they had been told, so that by Amon's prayers the boy was healed.
There were some others who sought him out whose integrity he tested by asking them if they would bring him a dolium (i.e. a large globular water jar) so that he could store enough water to satisfy the needs of those who came to visit him. They promised they would. When they got back to their village, however, one of them changed his mind.
"I don't want to kill my camel," he said. "If I load it up with a dolium it will die."
When he heard this, the other one with great difficulty managed to yoke his asses together and transported the dolium to Amon.
When Amon saw him coming he said, "What? Has your friend's camel died in the meantime while you have been on the journey?" And when he got back home he found that that the camel had been eaten by wolves. Amon was responsible for many other things like this also.
Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria narrated the following story in his Life of Antony. At the time when Antony was in his inner mountain, he sent some of his monks to Amon, who then began to walk back with them. When he came to cross the river Lycus with Theodore, his disciple, he was worried about getting undressed, lest anyone should see him naked. While they were still discussing the problem, he suddenly found himself on the other side of the river. Without the aid of any boat he was carried across by an angel while in an ecstasy. The brothers however had to swim across.
As soon as Antony had welcomed them he said, "God has revealed many things to me about you, and in particular the way you crossed the river shows me that your visit to me is absolutely necessary for our mutual benefit so that we can pray for each other."
When he had established how far away it was that Amon lived he begged him not to go back there to die, but when eventually he did die a long way off from him, Antony saw his soul being taken up to heaven by the angels. So there you have Amon, how he lived and how he died.
I myself once crossed the River Lycum with great trepidation in a flat-bottomed boat. It forms a gully which is a tributary to the great Nile.

 


Chapter IX
THE LIFE OF ABBA OR


In Mount Nitria there was a marvellous abba called Or, held in high regard because of his angelic demeanour, who had monasteries [A 'monastery' is a place where someone may live monos, alone. It may consist of a single cell or of any number of people] in which were a thousand brothers. At the age of ninety, he had lost nothing of his physical strength, and his expression was so bright and lively that you only had to look at him to reverence him. 
He had lived for a long time further into the desert before he gathered the monasteries together nearer at hand. He brought a swamp into cultivation with his own hands and made an area of intense cultivation in the desert. The fathers who were with him told me that there was not a single growing thing there when he first arrived, but he planted it all so that the brothers who were coming to him would not have to wander abroad to find the necessities of life. He cared for them all, praying to God and labouring for their salvation, so that they should lack nothing necessary, or have any excuse for laziness. He had been accustomed to a life of privation when he first went into solitude, eating herbs and sweet roots and drinking water when he could find it, while persevering continuously in prayers and psalms.
When he had arrived at a state of perfection in his old age, an angel appeared to him in a dream as he lay all alone, saying, "You will become a great nation and many people will believe because of your faith. Ten thousand people will be saved through you, and all those you bring light to here will appear in the world to come. Have no doubt that you will ever lack anything you need to the time of your death, so long as you keep calling upon God."
When he had been told this, he came to the nearer desert, alone and possessing nothing, where he built himself a small hut, managing on nothing more than dried vegetables, often eating only once a week. At first he had been unable to read, but when he came back out of solitude to more settled parts divine grace was given to him to enable him to expound Scripture from memory. And when the brothers gave him a book he began to read it as if he had always been able to read. He was also given the grace of being able to expel demons, as everyone knows. Many of the demons as they came out of people shouted that it was because of him, even when he had not wittingly done anything. Three thousand monks came to meet him as a result of all this, and when he saw them coming, he greeted and embraced them with great joy. He washed their feet himself and then began to converse on spiritual matters. His knowledge of Scripture was immense, divinely inspired. He clarified many points of Scripture according to the orthodox faith, and then invited them to prayer. For it was the custom among these great men to provide spiritual food first of all, the Communion of Christ, before providing for the needs of the body. So therefore only when they had all shared in the giving of thanks (= the Eucharist) did he summon them to a meal, during which he moved among them speaking of things which are good and honourable and necessary to salvation.
He was a man who stood out among many of the fathers. When many monks arrived, he would call all the company together, and make sure that they would all have a cell that same day by making one responsible for collecting clay, another for making blocks and another for drawing water. Once the cells were built he would show them what to do.
An untruthful brother once came who lied about how much clothing he had. Or exposed him in front of everyone. No one after that had the temerity to tell him lies, so greatly was he filled with the grace which had resulted from the integrity of his life. The throng of monks with him in the church was like a choir of angels praising God.
The whole brotherhood testified to the great virtue of this holy man, especially that handmaid of the Lord, Melania, who visited the mountain before me. Indeed I did not come across him during his lifetime, but all these famous things about this man were told me by Melania. He never told lies, never swore oaths, wished no evil to anybody, never said anything which had no effect.

 

 

Chapter X
THE LIFE OF ABBA PAMBO


Near this mountain lived abba Pambo, who was the teacher of Bishop Dioscuros, the brothers Ammon, Eusebius and Euthymius, Origen his nephew, and that famous and praiseworthy man Dracontius. There were many different qualities which enabled this Pambo to govern his life in an upright and virtuous fashion, among which was an ability to despise both gold and silver, according to the command of the Lord, to a greater degree than any one else. On this subject the blessed Melania told me how she had heard about his virtues from the blessed Isodore, presbyter and xenodochus, when she first came to Alexandria from Rome. She told me that Isodore had escorted her to Pambo's secluded cell.
"I brought to him," she said, "some silver vessels weighing three hundred pounds, because I wanted to share some of my wealth with him. He just kept on working, weaving rushes together, and spoke quite kindly to me in a loud voice with the words 'May God reward you'. He then said to Origen his steward 'Take them and distribute them among all the brothers in Libya and the islands, for their monasteries are very poor, but don't give anything to the Egyptians because they live in a much richer and more fruitful region'. I just stood there expecting some sort of blessing, or at least praise, for giving so much. He said absolutely nothing at all, so I said to him 'There's three hundred pounds of silver there' to make sure he knew exactly how much it was. Again he showed absolutely no reaction, did not even take the cover off the vessels, but simply said 'He to whom you have given these things, my daughter, does not need you to tell him how heavy they are. If he can weigh the mountains and forests in a balance (Isaiah 40.12) how much more likely is he to be aware of the weight of your silver! Of course, if it is me you are giving this silver to, you are correct to have stated the weight, but if to God who values the two mites [of the widow] more than all the rest (Mark 12.42), then you had better stay silent.' And so, by the grace of God," she said, "this is the way he shared things out, when I visited him on the mountain."
This man of God died a short while after this. He wasn't ill, had no pain in any part of his body, but was just finishing off a basket when he called me. He was aware of a fatal attack coming on, and said to me 'Let me give you this basket for you to remember me by. I don't possess anything else that I can give you.' And when he had said this, he just passed away without any fuss, commending his spirit to God. He was seventy years old. I laid his holy body out, wrapped it in linen cloths, buried him, and departed from his retreat. I shall keep that basket till the day of my death.
It is also said that before Pambo died, in the very hour of his departure, he said to all those who were there, Origen the presbyter and steward, that famous man Ammon, and all the rest of the brothers, "Since the time that I came into this place of solitude, and built my cell and settled down here, not a day has passed by without my doing some work with my hands, nor do I remember ever having eaten bread provided free for me by someone else, nor do I have any regrets at this time about anything that I have ever said. Yet now as I go to God I have not even begun to be truly holy and devout."
The servants of Christ, Origen and Ammon, also had this to say about him, that whenever they asked him anything about Scripture, or about what would be the right thing to do in any situation, he would never answer immediately, but said, "I don't know yet what the right answer to that is."
Sometimes he would wait three months without answering, saying, "I haven't got to the bottom of it yet."
He sought the answers from God so earnestly, that every one reverently accepted those answers as if they really did come from God. He was said to surpass even the great Antony in this virtue, and to have taken more trouble than any of the other holy people to ensure that what he said was accurate and perfect.

 


Chapter X1
THE LIFE OF ABBA PIOR

Among other things that Pambo did, it is said that when Pior, who also lived a monastic life, went to visit him in his cell he took his own bread with him
"You need not have done that," Pambo rebuked him.
"I did not want to be a burden on you," Pior replied.
Pambo said nothing more about this and eventually brought the visit to an end.
A little while later, the great Pambo came to Pior's cell and brought with him his own bread already steeped. [It was the practice in the desert to keep a supply of dried bread for up to six months or more, steeping it in water when required]
"Why have you brought bread already steeped?" asked Pior.
"I've steeped it so that in my turn I would not be a burden to you either," replied Pambo.

 


Chapter XII
THE LIFE OF ABBA AMMON AND HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

Ammon was a disciple of the great Pambo along with his three brothers and two sisters. When they had attained to a high degree of holiness and devotion they came into solitude and built separate monasteries, one for women and one for men, with an appropriate space between them.
Ammon, this best of men, became so distinguished for his wisdom that one particular city wished to have him for bishop. They went to the blessed bishop Timothy asking him to ordain Ammon bishop.
"Bring him to me," he replied, "and I will ordain him."
A great army of people went to try and get him, but he immediately took to flight. But when he realised that he could not escape he confronted them and begged them to desist. They did not comply, but the old man swore that he would have nothing to do with the idea and refused to leave his solitude. When they persisted, he seized a knife and as they watched, cut off his left ear completely.
"Now you must realise this," he said. "I cannot do what you want me to because the law forbids anyone to go forward to the priesthood who has had his ears cut off."
He told them to go, and they went, returning to tell the bishop what had happened.
"That was the Jewish law," the bishop said. "As far as I am concerned if you were to bring me someone with his nose cut off I would still ordain him provided he was of an upright life."

They went back to Ammon again. He still refused, so they threatened to take him by force.
"If you keep on threatening to force me," he said, "I will even cut my own tongue out."
They could not do anything but let him go, and they returned to their own place.
Extraordinary to relate, he is also said to have burnt his own flesh with hot iron whenever any little bit of his body reacted to some illicit pleasure, with the result that he had scars all over him. And from his youth up till the day he died his food consisted of nothing but the barest essentials. He never ate anything cooked except bread.
He could recite both Old and New Testaments by heart, and was so well versed in the writings of Origen, Didymus, Pierus and Stephen that he could quote six million lines, as many of the venerable solitaries can testify. He also had the gift of prophecy, and was a greater strength to the brothers in solitude than anyone else.
Evagrius also gave this unsolicited testimony that he was a man outstanding in the power of discernment, and that he had never met anyone who was more serene, with a mind completely free of disturbing thoughts.



Chapter XIII
THE LIFE OF ABBA BENJAMIN


In Mount Nitria there was a wonderful man called Benjamin, who lived an upright and virtuous life for eighty years. At the height of his powers, he was given the gift of healing, so that whomever he laid hands on, or anointed with blessed oil, was freed from any sickness from which he was suffering. Yet even though endowed with such a grace as this he began to suffer from dropsy for the last eight months before his death. His body swelled up so much that because of his sufferings he became known as the Job of our times. Dioscuros the presbyter of Mt Nitria at that time (who was later a bishop) took the blessed Evagrius and me to see him.
" Come and see this new Job," he said, "who in spite of being so sick in body and of such an immense size, by God's grace shows such great patience."
When we got there, we could see that his body was so swollen that we could not even get the fingers of both hands round his little finger. We just could not bear to look upon such grievous affliction and turned our eyes away, whereupon that blessed Benjamin said to us, "Pray for me, my sons, that I may not be internally diseased. For this body has not been of much benefit to me even when behaving itself, and certainly of no lasting harm to me now it is not."
For those last eight months he had to stay seated on a very wide couch. He could not lie down on a bed by reason of his bodily necessities. Even while suffering from this untreatable disease, he continued to minister to people suffering from all kinds of ailments.
I feel it is necessary to describe the illness of this holy man lest anyone should think that it is impossible for holy people to suffer ill fortune. After he died, the lintel and doorposts of his cell had to be removed in order to get his body out, such was the size of this holy and renowned father Benjamin's body.

 

Chapter XIV
THE LIFE OF APOLLONIUS,
KNOWN AS 'THE EX-BUSINESSMAN'.


When Apollonius, 'the ex-businessman', (a negotiatoribus) left the world and came to live in Mount Nitria, he was too old to learn how to read or learn a craft, so for his twenty years in the mountain this is what he did.
He used his own money and energy to buy in Alexandria medical supplies of all kinds, and ministered freely to the illnesses of the whole brotherhood. You would see him from first light to the ninth hour all round the cells going in to see if anyone was ill. He carried with him dried grapes, pomegranates, eggs, fine white bread, and everything else needed for the sick. Handing out these things became the life work of this servant of Christ right up to old age. When he was about to die, he handed over all his bits and pieces to someone else, asking him to carry on with the same ministry. With five thousand monks living in that mountain, there was certainly a great need for such a service, desert place that it was.



Chapter XV & XVI
THE LIFE OF PÆESIUS & ISAIAH


Pæsius and Isaiah were the sons of a Spanish merchant, and when he died they divided up the disposable assets, which turned out to consist of five thousand sesterces, besides clothing and slaves. They had a meeting and took counsel together as to what sort of life they should lead from then on.
"If we carry on our father's business," they said, "we shall only end up leaving the fruit of our labours to someone else, quite apart from the risk of robbery, or shipwreck. Let us embrace the monastic life, and so make good use of our father's property and save our own souls."
So they each looked for a suitable type of solitary life, one of which turned out to be different from the other. They divided up the money and the rest of the goods, united in the intention to choose a way of life pleasing to God, but differing in the way they would go about it. One of them gave his money away to monasteries, churches and other charities, learned a craft whereby he could earn his bread and gave himself totally to a life of prayer and labour. The other gave nothing away, but founded a monastery with a few brothers, and took in travellers, cared for the sick, looked after the elderly and gave to the poor. On Saturday and Sunday, he and the brothers set up three or four tables and provided food for the needy, and in this way he spent the rest of his life.
After they died, various blessings upon them were uttered by the brothers, but they wondered among themselves which of them would be considered the more perfect in virtue, some saying the one who had given up everything, others the one who ministered to the needs of the poor. So there arose a contention among the brothers about the two different kinds of life which they had followed, each one being greatly praised in a different way. They went to abba Pambo and asked him to give them an answer to the question of which kind of life was of greater value.
"Both of them were perfect in God's eyes," he said. "One of them possessed the gift of Abraham in offering hospitality, the other had the steadfast, unshakeable zeal of Elijah the prophet who also pleased God."
"But how can that be?" some of them asked. "We fall at your feet and beg you to explain to us how they can be equal." And some of them made out a case for the man of prayer, saying how he had obeyed the gospel precept of selling all and giving to the poor, how he had persevered in prayer night and day, bearing the cross, and following the Saviour. Others however disagreed, pointing to how the other man had shown compassion to all the needy, gone out into the highways and gathered up all those in distress to give them relief, saving not only his own soul but that of others, curing the sick and providing aid.
"Let me repeat," said the blessed Pambo. "Both of them were equal in the sight of God, and I shall satisfy each one of you on this point. Granted, if it had not been that the first brother had laboured unceasingly, I could not compare him with the goodness of the other. For this other brother showed himself on a par with the Lord who said 'I come not be ministered to but to minister', in so far as he received and refreshed the weary travellers and ministered to the needy. And although it may seem that to be this kind of minister involves nothing but burdens and hard work, yet it also forms an agreeable and satisfying way of life. Leave it with me for a little while until I can seek some guidance from God, which I will tell you about when you come again."
After a few days they returned to ask the great man what the outcome was. He replied, "In God's sight I tell you, I have seen them both standing together in Paradise."



Chapter XVII

THE LIFE  OF MACARIUS THE YOUNGER.

When the younger Macarius was eighteen years old, he accidentally killed someone while playing around with his companions when they were tending the cattle near Lake Mareotis. He did not tell anyone but fled to the desert and lived so deeply in fear of God and man that he stayed for three years in the desert without a roof over his head. As everyone knows, either by hearsay or from experience, that is a very arid part of the world.
This Macarius afterwards built himself a cell, and when he had lived there for a further twenty-five years, he had grown so full of grace that he really enjoyed living in solitude and had nothing but contempt for the demons.
After I had been acquainted with him for quite a long time, I learned how he had come to terms with his sin of murder. He said that far from wallowing in remorse about it he actually had cause to give thanks for this crime.
"That accidental death was a springboard for me into the way of salvation," he said. Look what the Scripture has to say about the murder which Moses, that great servant of God, committed in Egypt. If it had not been for that murder and his fear of Pharaoh, he would never have been found worthy of the vision of God, or of his other great gifts, or of being numbered by the Spirit among the holy writers, for it was to Mount Sinai that he fled out of Egypt."
I mention this not to condone the sin of murder, but to show how virtue can sometimes come forth out of a great fall, when someone has had no previous desire to seek for goodness of his own free will. To make up your mind to follow the path of virtue of your own free will is one thing, to follow it from force of circumstances is another.



Chapter XVIII
THE LIFE OF ABBA NATHANAEL

Among the holy men of old there was one other outstanding athlete of God named Nathanael. I never met him in the flesh for he died about fifteen years before I went up to the mountain. But when I met up with those who had worked with this holy man, I questioned them eagerly about his virtues. They showed me a cell in which no one was living any longer as being too close to inhabited areas. But it was the cell which the blessed man had built for himself when as yet anchorites were few and far between. They told me what was truly noteworthy about his way of life, namely that he kept so firmly to his cell that nothing was able to prise him out of it.
At first he had been deceived by the deceiver of all, who caused him to slide gradually into laziness and bitterness of mind in order to drive him out of the cell. It seemed too gloomy and mind-constricting there for him so he abandoned it and built himself another closer to the village. After being there three or four months, the demon came to him by night carrying a whip such as lictors do, looking like a soldier, but dressed in ragged clothes, and roaring like a bull.
[People in authority in imperial Rome were escorted by 'lictors' who carried a bundle of rods by which punishment might be administered, wrapped round an axe used for execution.]
"Who are you, carrying on like this in my refuge?" the blessed Nathanael asked him.
"I am the one who drove you out of your first cell," the demon cried, "and now I have come to make you run away from this one."
Nathanael realised how he had been deceived and went straight back to his first cell, and for thirty-seven years did not stir outside the door, striving with the demon, who made more efforts more often to try and drive him out than anyone could possibly count.
Among other things, the enemy of mankind tried to drive him away from his first good intentions by putting thoughts of shabby and unacceptable behaviour into his mind. Whether by God's providence or by the devil's temptation, this holy man very nearly broke his rule when seven holy bishops visited him. For they came in and prayed together, but when they were leaving that holy man would not stir one step outside to see them on their way, lest he give place to the devil. The deacons said to him, "You conduct yourself rather arrogantly, abba, do you not, by refusing to accompany the bishops?"
"I have every respect for the bishops," he replied, "and, indeed, all the clergy. And I accept that I am the most sinful of men, but as far as I am able, I consider myself to be as dead in the sight of all of them and of their way of life. God who knows the hidden depths of my heart knows that there are deep reasons for my not going out with them."
When this ruse of the devil did not succeed, about nine months before Nathanael died, the devil disguised himself as a boy aged about twelve, driving an ass carrying bread in its panniers. He appeared late in the evening outside the cell, making a show of his ass having collapsed, and crying out to Nathanael to take pity on him and lend him a hand. When Nathanael heard what sounded like a boyish voice, he opened the door of his cell and said without going out, "Who are you and what do you want me to do for you?"
The demon replied, "I am helping this monk who is a well known brother of yours by carrying bread which will be needed for the offering at Saturday's Lighting of the Lamps tomorrow. Please don't turn me away, lest I be devoured by the hyenas which abound in this place.'
[I have translated the word agape here by 'offering.' The practice was to have a vigil from the time of the Lighting of the Lamps on Saturday evening through the night, culminating in the offering of the Eucharist on the Sunday morning. This would include an agape or communal meal]
The blessed Nathanael stood saying nothing, sad at heart, stirred by a great compassion, and wondering what he ought to do. "Either I bend my rule or transgress against the Commandments," he thought. But then, having second thoughts, he rightly said, "It is better not to allow any compromise to my long standing rule of showering disgrace on the devil and defeating him."
He prayed to the Lord and then said, "Listen, boy, or whatever you are. I believe in God, the Lord of all spirits, and worship him only. If you really are in need of help, the Lord will come to your aid and neither the hyenas nor any other creature will do you any harm. But if you are Temptation, the Lord will make this plain to me at this point." And he went inside and shut the door. Mortified at being thus beaten once again, the demon dissolved into a raging tornado and disappeared with a sound like the frenzied flight of wild asses.
Such was the struggle of the blessed Nathanael, and the power of his way of life and unconquered battle against the adversary. And here ends the life of this famous man.

 


Chapter XIX & XX
THE LIFE OF MACARIUS OF EGYPT AND MACARIUS OF ALEXANDRIA


I am almost afraid of committing to writing the story of these holy and immortal fathers, those famous and unbeaten athletes, Macarius of Egypt and Macarius of Alexandria, lest I be labelled a liar. Their integrity of life and their many great battles would be unbelievable to anyone without faith. But just as God destroys liars (Psalms 5.6), so it is plain to be seen when the Holy Spirit speaks.
Since then by the grace of God, Lausus, I do not lie, let your deep faith prevent you being sceptical about the struggles of the fathers, but rather help you to glory in emulating the labours of those who indeed were Macarius, i.e., 'blessed'.
The first of these athletes of Christ called Macarius was born in Egypt. The other with the name of Macarius was born in Alexandria where he had been a dealer in precious objects. Although junior in years he was an outstanding monk, excelling all others.
I will deal first of all with the virtues of Macarius of Egypt, who lived for ninety full years, for sixty of which he was a solitary. From being still a young man of thirty he spent the next ten years bearing the rigours of the life with such grace that he gained a reputation for having great discernment and was spoken of as being in puerili aetate senex, that is, 'old head on young shoulders', since his virtues grew much more quickly than you would have thought possible for his age. By the time he was forty he had developed ascendancy over the spirits, the grace of healing, and the ability to see the future, and so was judged worthy of being ordained priest. Two disciples lived with him in the inner desert known as Scete, one of whom was his helper, always with him when people came to him for healing. The other remained always by himself in the cell.
This first helper was called John and later was ordained presbyter in Macarius' place (for the great Macarius had been an ornament to the presbyterate). As Macarius developed the gift of second sight in the course of time, he said to John, "Listen to me, brother John. Accept a warning from me without getting upset but draw profit from it. You will be tempted, and your tempter will be the spirit of avarice. So I have seen; and I know that if you will accept this warning with an open mind you will overflow with the fear of God and in doing his will in this place. You will be praised, and no scourge will afflict your dwelling.  But if you don't listen to me, you will end up like Gehazi, suffering an affliction similar to his" (2 Kings 5.21).
And it so happened that after the holy man's death, John did not take this warning to heart and fell victim to the snare which entrapped Judas because of his avarice. After about fifteen or twenty years, when he had cheated the poor of their money, he became so badly attacked by leprosy that you could not have put a finger on a sound place in his whole body. This is what the holy Macarius had prophesied.
There was a certain lustful Egyptian who became infatuated with a free-born married woman, but he had no success in trying to seduce her, for she modestly maintained her chastity towards the husband she had had since her virginity. This repulsive man then consulted a sorcerer. "Either persuade her to love me," he said, "or by your arts make her husband divorce her." The sorcerer accepted his fee and began his spells and incantations. He found it impossible to make her give in to him, so instead he made it seem to anyone who looked at her as if she were a mare. When her husband went outside, he saw his wife as if she were a mare; when he went to bed it seemed very strange to see a mare lying there. The husband wept, lamenting that he could not understand what was happening, imagining that he was talking to an animal but getting no answer except that she looked very angry. Tormented in his mind, he at last realised that it really was his wife, changed into a mare by some extraordinary human wiles. So he approached the local presbyters, took them home with him and showed her to them, but they had no idea of how such a calamity could have happened. For three days she had eaten nothing, unable to eat either hay as a horse or bread as a human being. At last, that God might be glorified and that the power of Macarius might be seen, it occurred to the husband to put a halter on her and take her to the holy man in the desert. As he drew near, the brothers standing in front of his cell confronted him and asked why he was bringing this mare with him.
"That mercy may come from the holy man's prayers," he said.
"Why, what's the matter?" they asked.
"This mare that you see is my unhappy wife," he said, "and I have not the faintest idea how she got changed into a mare, and it's now three days since she had anything to eat."
When they heard this, they took him inside to where the holy Macarius was already praying, for God had already revealed the matter to him while they were still on the way to him, in answer to his prayers that he should be shown the reason for this visit. As the brothers began to tell him about this person who was bringing a horse to him he said, "It's you who are horses. You've got horses' eyes. This is simply a woman in her natural created state. She has not been transformed. It is just that she appears to be so to the eyes of people who are under a delusion."
He asked her to come near, blessed some water and poured it over her bare head, and prayed over her. At once it appeared to everyone that she was indeed a woman. He asked for bread to be brought, made her eat some and delivered her back, cured, to her husband, giving thanks to God. And the man of God admonished her, saying, "Never neglect the church. Don't stay away from the communion of the Sacraments of Christ. All this has happened to you because you have not been near the incomparable Sacraments of our Saviour for the last five weeks."
Here is another aspect of his extraordinary way of life. When he was in the prime of life, he dug a tunnel a hundred yards long from his cell to where he hollowed out quite a large cave. When he was bothered by too large a crowd of people, he would slip out of his cell while no one was looking and go into his cave where no one could find him. One of his devoted disciples told us that he would recite forty-four prayers on the way to this cave through the tunnel, and the same on the way back.
He also had the reputation of having brought a dead person back to life in order to discredit heretics who denied the Resurrection, and this story was well known throughout the desert.

 

Chapters XIX and XX, Macarius (continuied) Book VIII

 

Once a mother weeping copiously brought him her son, grievously afflicted by a demon. He was held securely on each side by two young men. The way the demon attacked him was that after he had had three measures of bread and a jar of water, he would bring it all up turned into a fiery vapour. Anything he had eaten and drunk, it looked as if it had been consumed by fire. (For there is a class of demons known as igneus, that is 'fiery'). Indeed, there are as many kinds of demons as there are humans, not essentially different, but different in their purposes. If his mother did not give him anything to eat, he would eat his own excrement and drink his urine. His weeping mother lamented this strange calamity that had befallen her son, and begged and pleaded with the holy man, until that victorious athlete of God humbly prayed to God for him. After one or two days, the holy Macarius drove the demon out, and he said to the youth's mother, "How much would you like your son to be able to eat?"

"Oh, please ask for him to be given ten measures of bread," she replied. And he was angry with her for asking too much.

"Why ask that, woman?" he said. And when he had fasted and prayed for seven days, and expelled the dangerous demon of gluttony, he ordered that he be given three measures of bread to eat, which is what he would have had normally anyway. In this way, by the grace of God, he cured the boy and gave him back to his mother.

Wonderful, unbelievable things God did through the holy Macarius, whose immortal soul is now with the angels. I never met him myself, for he died the year before I went into the desert. But I met the one who had been the companion of his faithful deeds, whose name also was held in deep respect.

 

I will turn now to the holy Macarius of Alexandria, who was the presbyter of that place known as the Cells. I lived there myself for nine years, three of which were near this same Macarius, who lived in quiet solitude. I saw quite a lot of his wonderful way of life, and the work and the signs that he performed. Other things I have learned from those who lived with him.

Once when he was with that great and holy father, Antony, he noticed some quite excellent palm branches which he was working with, and begged for a handful of them for himself.

"It is written, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods'," said Antony. And while he yet spoke, the palm branches shrivelled as if destroyed by fire. When he saw this, Antony said to Macarius, "The Holy Spirit indeed rests on you, and you will wear my mantle after me."

Again, the devil came upon him once in the desert in a state of extreme bodily exhaustion, and said to him, "See now, you have been given the blessing of Antony. Why not use that power and ask God for food and strength to continue your journey?"

"My strength and praise is in the Lord," he replied. "Do not tempt the servant of God."

So the devil made him see a mirage in the shape of a camel wandering through the desert heavily loaded up with everything he needed. When it saw Macarius, it came and knelt down beside him. But he recognised it for the mirage that it was and fell to prayer, whereupon it was swallowed up by the earth.

On another occasion Macarius of Alexandria went to visit the great Macarius in Scete. In order to cross the Nile they both got into a large ferry along with two tribunes accompanied by great pomp and circumstance. They had their own private four-wheeled carriage made of bronze, horses with golden harness, soldiers crowding around them, servants, and boys adorned with golden neckbands and girdles. When the tribunes noticed those two dressed in old and tattered clothing, sitting in a corner, they thought how blessed it must be to have such a lowly and simple life style, and one of them said, "Blessed are people like you who make a mockery of the world."

Macarius of Alexandria replied, "We may well make a mockery of the world, and it is the world which makes a mockery out of you. But you should know that what you have said came not of your own free will but by a spirit of prophecy, for we are both called Macarius, that is 'blessed'."

Cut to the quick by these words, when the tribune got home, he discarded his fine clothes and decided to live as a solitary, giving away much of his wealth in alms.

Once Macarius was given a truly appetising bunch of fresh grapes which he was really looking forward to eating, but instead he gave proof of his great self-discipline by giving it to another brother who had expressed a great desire for it. On being given these grapes, the brother appeared absolutely delighted - but this was really in order to hide his self-discipline, for he gave them to another brother who had expressed a desire for them. He too accepted the gift and made out how delighted he would be to eat them. And so it went on, the grapes passed through the hands of many of the brothers, none of them having ventured to eat them. In the end, the last person to receive them gave them back in a magnificent gesture of generosity to Macarius himself. Macarius investigated and marvelled, giving thanks to God that so many of them could be so disciplined as to forbear eating those grapes.

There is something else about the way of life of the great Macarius that I and many others accurately learned about him, and that is that if he heard of any great feat that someone else had carried out, he would eagerly do it himself, without fail.

So when he heard that the monks of Tabennisi ate nothing cooked during Lent, this holy man decided to eat nothing cooked for a period of seven years. For the whole seven-year period he ate nothing but raw olives, except that sometimes he would soak in water some herbs which he might have happened to find. He carried out this programme faithfully and then abandoned it, for this best of monks heard of another monk who restricted himself to one pound of bread. In order to go one better, Macarius broke up his loaves and put the pieces into a narrow-necked jar, deciding to eat only what he would be able to get by putting his hand in. He treated his body with great austerity! He told us that on a feast day, he was wanting to get several pieces out but was unable to do so because of the narrowness of the opening.

"My own personal rationing officer prevented me from eating any more," he said.

He kept up this abstinence for three years, eating only four or five ounces, except that during one whole year he also ate the sixth part of an olive.

Here is another thing this athlete did. He made up his mind that he was determined to conquer sleep. He told us how he went about it in order that we might profit from it. For twenty days and nights he stayed outside, so that by day he was restless because of the heat and by night he shivered with cold. "By not going inside any sooner," he said, "my brain became so inactive that I was able to enter into ecstasy. I was able to do this only by conquering sleep. When I returned to my normal way of living, I ceased from it."

Once he was greatly troubled by the spirit of fornication, so he condemned himself to expose his flesh for six months in the empty desert of the marshlands of Scete, where there were midges as big as wasps, capable of penetrating even the hides of wild boars. He became so covered in bites that you would have thought he had leprosy. When he returned to his cell after six months it was only by the sound of his voice that he could be recognised as being indeed Macarius, the master.

He told us once that he wanted to visit the garden where there was the monument known as the kepotaphion ('memorial garden') of Jannes and Mambres, the magi of the time of Pharaoh. He did not just want to see it, but also he wanted to confront the demons which came from there, for it was said that Jannes and Mambres had gathered together by means of the power of their most infamous arts, a great number of demons in that place of the most ferocious kind. This monument had been built by the brothers Jannes and Mambres who because of the force of their magic arts were at that time the most powerful in the land after Pharaoh. Because they had more power at that time of their life than anyone else in Egypt, they were able to build this great work out of squared stone in order to make a monument for themselves. They spent a great deal of money, and planted all kinds of trees, and dug a very large well, for there was plenty of water in the ground there. But they did all these things in the hope that after their death, they would enjoy the delights of paradise.

Seeing that Macarius, the holy servant of God did not really know the way to this garden, he set a course by the stars and journeyed across the desert like a ship sailing over the sea, and having gathered together some rods, he planted one after every thousand steps so that by these signs he would be able to find his way back again. He travelled the desert for nine days, and was not far from the garden when that night as he was taking a little sleep an enormous demon appeared, the eternal enemy of the athletes of Christ. He had collected all those rods while Macarius slept, placed a stone from the monument near his head and scattered the rods all around it before disappearing from sight. When Macarius awoke, he found all those rods gathered together which he had put out as signposts. Perhaps God allowed this to happen in order to increase his ability to put his trust not in signposts but in the grace of God which guided the Israelites by means of a cloudy pillar through the fearful wilderness for forty years.

Macarius continued, "When I drew near to the monument, seventy of those demons that I mentioned came rushing out at me in various shapes, some of them shouting, some of them leaping, some frighteningly gnashing their teeth at me, some flapping their wings like crows, some reviling me face to face.

"'What do you want, Macarius?'" they said. 'What are you monks trying to do? Why do you come here? Have we attacked any of your monks like this? You and those like you enjoy the same thing in your place as we do here, that is, solitude, and you have driven our brothers out of your place. You and we have nothing in common. Why are you invading our territory? If you are an anchorite, why can't you be content with your solitude? Those who built this place gave it to us. You can't stay here. Why should you seek to enter our possessions into which no living person has ever entered, where we ourselves are entrusted with commemorating those who built it?'"

As this crowd of demons rudely rushed about, the holy Macarius said, "I only want to go in, have a look and go away again."

"Give us your solemn promise on that," the demons said.

"I do," the servant of Christ said. And the demons vanished. But when he went into the garden, the devil rushed threateningly at him with drawn sword.

"You come at me with drawn sword," said the holy Macarius, "but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel ready for battle. I have come in, however, and all I have found is a bronze jar hanging over a well on an iron chain rusty with age, pomegranates with nothing inside them because of being dried up by the sun, and several golden altars."

The holy man departed from the tumult and clamour and for the next twenty days went back towards his cell, suffering a great deal when he ran out of bread and water. For a further twenty days he went on through the desert, eating nothing, as I understand it. Perhaps he was being tested to see how much he could stand. When he was almost ready to collapse, he saw something which looked like a young woman dressed in a clean linen garment, so he told us, carrying a jar dripping with water. Macarius said that it went before him about a furlong away for three days. He could see her standing there with the jar, taunting him, but not letting him get near, and this he bravely endured for three days in the hope of having something to drink. But then a herd of oxen appeared, one of them with a calf turning round towards him. (It was a place where there were many oxen). According to what Macarius told us, the udder of this cow was full of milk, and he heard a voice from above saying, "Macarius, go up to this cow and milk it."

"I did so, and was satisfied," he said. "And the Lord, to show me even greater favour in my littleness, ordered the cow to follow me to my cell. That mother cow obeyed the order, feeding me, while not allowing her calf to come near."

On another occasion, this man of exemplary virtue was digging a well for the monks near some leafy branches out of which an asp came and bit him. (They are vicious and poisonous beasts.)  The holy man took both jaws of the asp in both hands and tore it apart, saying, "My God did not send you. How can you dare to come near?"

When the great Macarius heard that at Tabennisi there was an institution famous for its way of life, he changed his clothes, putting on a working man's clothing, and went off into the desert for fifteen days till he arrived at Tabennisi, where he asked for the Archimandrite, Pachomius by name. He was an excellent man who also had the gift of prophecy, although it was not revealed to him that this was the great Macarius. When he came out, Macarius asked to be allowed to become a monk in his monastery.

"You are too old now to become a monk," said the great Pachomius. "You would not be able to manage it. Our brothers have been here since they were young and have got used to hard work. At your age you would not be able to put up with the trials of our life, you would get disillusioned, and go away and slander us."

And he would not accept him, neither on that day or the next day nor on the seventh day afterwards. But he persisted, staying there, fasting. At last Macarius said to him, "Take me in, abba, and if I can't fast and carry out all the other duties, then order me to be thrown out of the monastery."

So the great Pachomius persuaded the brothers that he should be allowed in, and in he went. (Forty thousand men have been gathered together in that one monastery up to the present time.)

A short time afterwards, the season of Lent arrived, and the old man Macarius noticed that each of them undertook various disciplines. One did not eat till evening, another after two days, another after five. There was one who remained standing all night except for sitting down from time to time in order to work. Macarius soaked some palm leaves and stood in a corner for the whole of Lent up till Easter, eating no bread, drinking no water, neither kneeling, sitting or lying down, and taking nothing except a few cabbage leaves on Sundays, so that he could be seen to eat and save himself from appearing arrogant in what he was doing. If he had to go out for the necessities of nature he quickly went back in again to his work still standing up, saying nothing, standing in silence, doing nothing except sustaining silence in his heart, and praying, and working with the palm branches in his hands. When the others in the monastery saw what he was doing, they complained to his director that they were being undermined.

"Where did you get this unearthly man from, who is showing us all up?" they asked. "Either you get rid of him, you know, or else we shall all leave."

When Pachomius heard this from the brothers, he asked what it was all about. They told him what Macarius was doing, and he prayed to God, asking who this man really was. It was then revealed to him that it was the monk Macarius. The great Pachomius took him by the hand and led him out into the oratory before the altar, embraced him and said, "You are welcome, an old man worthy of respect. You are Macarius, and it was hidden from me. For many years, ever since I first heard about you, I have wanted to meet you. And I thank you that you have given my brothers an object lesson, to prevent them getting conceited and proud of what they are doing themselves. But now, I beg you, return to your own place, and pray for us. You have taught us quite enough."

Obedient to this request and the prayers of all the brothers, he departed.

On another occasion he told us the following story,

"After having lived without faltering through all the paths of monastic life, I began to have even deeper spiritual desires. I decided that for a period of five days I would try to keep my mind totally centred on God without any distraction, refusing to think about anything else. The moment I decided this, I shut the cell door and closed off the outer room, so that I would not have to open up to any visitors. And standing up, I immediately began to say to my thoughts, 'Don't come down out of heaven. You have the angels and archangels and all the heavenly powers, cherubim and seraphim and God the power behind them all. Turn thither. Don't sink lower than the heavens lest you fall into worldly thoughts.' I persevered in this for two days and two nights, which so annoyed the demon that he became a flame of fire, and set light to everything I had in the cell, including the rush mat I was standing on, so that I was afraid that I too was about to go up in flames. At last, on the third day, I was so frightened that I gave up the whole idea. I could not keep my mind concentrated any longer, so I came down to earth. I suppose God allowed this lest I be carried away by pride."

I once went to visit him and found outside his cell the presbyter of a neighbouring village whose head was so eaten away by the disease known as cancer that his mouth appeared to be almost at the top of his head. He had come hoping to be cured, but Macarius would not even speak to him.

"Have pity on this poor wretch," I said, "and at least say something to him."

"He does not deserve to be cured," he replied. "This has been sent to him by God to teach him a lesson. If he wants to be cured urge him to give up administering the holy sacraments."

"Why that?" I asked.

"He carries out his ministry even though he is a fornicator," he replied, "and that is why he is being punished. Now then, if he gives up in fear what he has dared to do without shame, the Lord will cure him."

So I went and spoke to this afflicted person, and he swore an oath that he would no longer exercise his priesthood. Macarius then let him in and said to him, "Do you believe in God from whom nothing is hidden?"

"Completely," he replied.

"You know you cannot deceive God?" Macarius asked.

"Indeed, sir, I can't," he said.

"Well, if you acknowledge your sin and accept that God has punished you for it, the result will be a cure."

So he confessed his sin, and promised to sin no more, to give up ministering at the altar and embrace the lay state. Then the holy man laid hands on him, and after a few days he was cured, his hair grew back and he went back home giving glory to God and thanks to the great Macarius.

This holy man had several cells, one in Scete, which is the inner part of the desert, one in Libya, one in the Cells, and one in Nitria. Some of them had no openings, and during Lent he stayed in them in complete darkness. Another was rather narrow, so that he was unable to stretch his legs in them, but he did have a bigger one in which it was convenient to meet those who came to visit him.

He cured so many who were vexed with demons that it would be impossible to number them. A rich and noble woman was carried to him while I was there. She had come from Thessalonica, the furthest part of Greece, and had been paralysed for many years. He took pity on her where she had been put outside his cell, and for twenty days he prayed and anointed her with oil with his own hands, until he was able to send her away, cured, to her own country. She went back on her own two feet, and sent a generous offering to the holy brothers.

I saw a boy vexed with a spirit brought to him. Macarius put one hand on his head and his left hand on his breast, and prayed over him for quite some time until he made him float up in the air. And the boy swelled up, getting so big as to be completely distorted. Suddenly he cried out, and expelled water from all his bodily openings, after which he returned to his normal shape. Macarius anointed him with oil and poured water over him, after which he gave him back to his father, ordering him not to eat meat nor drink any wine for the next forty days. And so he cured him.

He was once troubled by vainglorious thoughts which suggested to him that it would be a good plan and in a good cause to go to Rome for the sake of all those who were sick there. But grace strongly counteracted such inclinations. He fought against them for a long time and was greatly disturbed by them. He flung himself down on the threshold of his cell, thrust his feet outside and said, "Cut them off and drag them away, you demons, if you can, but I shan't keep my feet company." He vowed he would stay there till evening if they would not let him go, and in any case would not listen to them. After he had lain there a long time, night came on, and the argument intensified. He filled a large basket with sand, shouldered it, and walked off into the desert. Here he met Theosobius Cosmetor of Antioch who said to him, "Whatever is that you are carrying, abba? Let me ease your burden by carrying it for you"

"I am simply putting a burden on him who is a burden to me," he replied. "For I am so remiss and unstable that he is making me want to go off wandering about." Having gone about like this for quite some time he returned to his cell with his body suitably chastened.

The servant of God Paphnutius, who was a disciple of this famous holy man, told us that once when Macarius was sitting in his outer room praying to God, a hyena brought to him its calf who was blind. She pushed upon the door with her head, went in to where he was sitting and laid the calf down at his feet. Macarius took the calf, spat in its eyes and prayed. Immediately the calf could see. The hyena fed it, picked it up and departed. The next day she brought a large sheepskin to Macarius. When Macarius saw it, he said, "How did you get hold of this if it wasn't through killing somebody's sheep? I can't accept this, as it is the outcome of crime." But the hyena gently lowered its head, bent her knees and placed the skin at the holy man's feet.

"I said I can't accept this" he said "- unless you promise never to hurt poor people any more by eating their sheep." She nodded her head as if consenting, and then Macarius picked up the sheepskin. That blessed handmaid of Christ, Melania, told me that she had accepted that same skin from Macarius, known as the hyena's skin. Is it anything to be wondered at that a hyena should sense that here was a man crucified to the world, and should bring a gift in return for the kindness it had received, to the glory of God and the honour of his servant? He who in the prophet Daniel tamed the lions also enlarged the intelligence of the hyena.

It was also said about this man that from the time he was baptised he never spat upon the ground. He was baptised at the age of forty and lived for sixty years after that.

In stature he was like this. (It behoves me to tell you this, O servant of Christ, as one who knows what I am talking about, since my poor life was contemporary with his.) He was small and thin and somewhat bent in stature, with hair growing only on his upper lip, and very little on his head. Because of the intensity of his physical discipline, no hair grew on his chin.
I came to this holy Macarius one day rather distressed in mind and said to him, "What shall I do, abba Macarius, for my thoughts bother me saying, 'Give it up and go away'?"
"Say to your thoughts," said the holy father Macarius,"' For Christ's sake I will maintain the defences.'"
So, O loving and diligent servant of Christ, I have now told you about some of the many signs and struggles of the famous Macarius, who excelled in virtue.
Macarius told us (he was a presbyter) that at the time of the Communion of the Sacraments of Christ, he never gave Communion to Mark, for an angel took it to him from the altar, but he saw only the finger of the hand that brought it.

 


Chapter XXI
THE LIFE OF ABBA  MARK.

When Mark was young, he learnt by heart the old and new testaments. He was a very gentle person with a calm temperament. Once when I had some time to spare in my cell, I went to visit him when he was very old and I sat outside the door of his cell. As is natural in an inexperienced youth, I reverenced him as someone superhuman, but so indeed he was. I could hear what he was saying and doing. As he sat there inside, for all that he was a hundred years old and had lost his teeth, he was still fighting with himself and the devil.
"What are you after now, you kakogere ('wicked old man')?" he was saying to himself. "Look, you are a winebibber and you massage yourself with oil. What are you after now, you tholiophage ('wallower in filth') and koiliodole ('slave to your stomach'), bringing blame and guilt upon yourself?"
And to the devil, "Get away from me, you devil. You have embroiled me in strife, you have brought me to infirmity of body, you have made me drink wine and use oil, turning me to dissipation. Do I owe you anything at this present time? You won't find anything in me that you can destroy. Get away from me this instant, you enemy of the human race."
And as if provoking and stirring himself up he went on saying; "Are you still there, you no-good, you wallower in filth, you elderly glutton. How much longer do I have to put up with you?"

 



Chapter XXII
THE LIFE OF ABBA  MOYSES  WHO WAS A ROBBER

Moyses was a black man, an Ethiopian by race, the slave of a certain prominent civic official. This official got rid of him because of his lax morals and thievery. Some say that he had even committed murder, and I must be quite frank about the depth of his depravity in order to emphasise the heroic virtue of his repentance.  They say that he became the head of quite a large band of robbers. Among his other evil deeds it is said that he became very hostile and vindictive towards a certain shepherd, who together with his dogs had become an obstacle in his way when he was trying to carry out a raid.  He vowed to kill him, and went off to find out where the shepherd was feeding his flocks. When he was told that the shepherd was on the other side of the Nile, he swam across holding his two-edged sword between his teeth and carrying on his head the tunic he had been wearing, even though the Nile was in flood at the time and over a mile wide. The shepherd had time to hide away in a cave while he was crossing, and when Moyses could not find him, he killed four prime rams, tied them together with a rope and swam back over the Nile. When he got to a certain small village, he skinned the rams, ate the best parts of the meat, exchanged the skins for wine, drank about eighteen Italian measures of it and then set out to walk the fifty miles back to where he had left his band.
This robber chief later was overcome by remorse through something which happened to him, joined a monastery and did penance according to the measure of his crimes.
Among other things told about him it is said that four robbers burst in upon him in his cell, not knowing who he was. Blessed Moyses succeeded in tying them up like a bundle of straw, carried them on his shoulders to the door of the church.
"I took these men in the act of attacking me, but since I may not do harm to any human person, what do you think should be done to them?"
Having been captured thus by Moyses, they confessed their sins to God. When they realised that this man was Moyses, who had been the famous leader of a robber band, they glorified the name of Christ, renounced the world also, inspired by his change of heart, and ended up as most exemplary monks.
"If this enormously strong man could so fear God that he turned his back on his robbery," they thought, "why should we delay in seeking our own salvation?"
The demons then began to rise up against Moses the Blessed (for so we must call him), by driving him continually to violent thoughts of fornication. Up till then, so he told us, he had not been tempted by anything very much to make him renounce his calling. He went to the great Isidore in Scete and told him about his battle with fornication.
"Don't worry too much, brother," the holy man replied.  "They are only just beginning, but they attack the more vigorously if there is a prior welcome for them. A dog who goes into a butcher's shop to gnaw a bone will not stop doing so if he is always made welcome. But if the shop is shut and no one gives him anything, he is left hungry but comes no more. So if you keep on being continent, mortifying your members which are on earth, allowing no entry to anything which might give rise to disordered gluttony, the demon will find things difficult. If there is no one to give him food, he will go away."
Moses the servant of Christ went back and from then onwards shut himself up in his cell, testing himself to the limit, abstaining from food to the extent that he ate nothing but twelve ounces of dry bread, working constantly and saying fifty prayers a day.
After a while, however, although his body became somewhat emaciated, he still remained over-stimulated, especially in his dreams. He got up and went to see a certain well-respected holy monk and said to him, "What shall I do, abba? The dreams pour out from my spirit into the darkness of my mind as if I am still taking pleasure in the things I was once used to."
"You have not turned your mind away from the visions which come into it," the holy man said, "and that is why they still continue. Follow my advice and undertake a few vigils, pray judiciously, and you will soon be free from these things."
Moyses listened to these words coming from the mouth of an acknowledged expert, went back to his cell and decided to do what his own conscience prompted, namely to go all night with sleep, and not to prostrate himself under the pretext of praying, in order to banish the tyranny of sleep.
He spent six years standing up in the middle of his cell, without shutting his eyes, praying earnestly to God, but he still was not able to overcome his intemperate desires.
After this, he thought up another method of living a hard life. This adversary of Satan would go by night to the cells of those monks who had grown old in the practice of their way of life and who were no longer able to carry water for themselves without help. He would take their water jars without anyone knowing and fill them with water. They had some distance to go to get water in these places, for some it was two miles, for others five, for some only a half. The demon noticed what he was doing and decided that he could put up with the tenacity of this athlete no longer. So one night he hit him in the back with a club as he was bending over the well to fill the jar of one of the monks, and left him there for dead, ignorant of who or what it was that had hit him. Next day another monk came to draw water and found him lying there lifeless. He went to tell Isidore, that great presbyter of Scete, who came with some others, picked him up and took him into the church. For a whole year he lay there grievously ill, with body and soul scarce hanging together. Then Isidore, that fine priest of Christ, said to him, "Brother Moyses it is time you stopped fighting with the demons and carrying on the battle in this particular way. You need some moderation in your way of life."
"I will not stop fighting with them," he replied, "until the phantasies of my dreams stop."
"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" said Isidore the presbyter, the servant of Christ, "your foul dreams will stop from this moment of time, so that with a good and faithful conscience you can receive the Sacraments. But don't boast about this as if it were through your own efforts that your desires have been tamed. It is God who has shown his power in you, to your great benefit, lest you should fall into an overrated opinion of yourself."
At this Moyses returned to his cell and lived more quietly, having taken up a more moderate way of life. After two or three months, the blessed Isidore asked Moyses whether the demon had been giving him any more trouble, to which he replied, "From the moment when the servant of Christ prayed for me, nothing of that sort happened any more." But this holy man was found worthy of being given grace in his fight against the demons. He became as free from the attentions of demons as of flies in wintertime.
Such was the holy religious life lived by the indomitable athlete, Moyses the Ethiopian who was numbered among the great. He became a presbyter and died in Scete aged seventy-five, leaving behind him seventy-five disciples.

 



Chapter XXIII
THE LIFE OF ABBA PAUL 


There is a mountain called Pherme in Egypt on the edge of the vast desert of Scete where about five hundred men live the ascetic life. Among them was a fine monk called Paul who had never lived any other kind of life than this. He had never had paid employment, nor engaged in any sort of business, and never accepted more food from anybody than he could eat in the course of one day. He devoted his life to the work of perpetual prayer. He used three hundred distinct set prayers, and kept the same number of pebbles in one of his pockets.
  [The Latin also has that at each prayer he 'threw' a pebble. Is this the first ever recorded instance of the use of prayer beads?] 
For each prayer, he would transfer one pebble to another pocket. He once visited the holy man Macarius Pollicitus in search of grace and spiritual profit and said to him, "I am extremely distressed, abba Macarius." And the servant of Christ began to explain the reason why he was troubled by telling him of:

 



Chapter XXIV
THE LIFE OF A VIRGIN WHO SAID 700 PRAYERS.


"In a certain village lived a virgin who had been an ascetic for 30 years. I have been told by many people that she ate nothing except on Saturdays and Sundays, dragging out the whole week without eating for five days, and saying seven hundred prayers daily. When I heard about this I felt very ashamed, for here am I, created with the strength of a man, and yet I can't manage more than three hundred prayers."
"Sixty years I have been at this life," replied the holy Macarius, "and I have said only a hundred prayers, as well as labouring with my hands to supply myself with necessary food, and carrying out my obligations to the rest of the brothers, and I have no reason to think that I have been negligent. So if your conscience is making you feel guilty about the three hundred prayers you say, you are obviously not praying properly. Either that or perhaps you could be able to say more prayers than you are doing."

 


Chapter XXV
THE PRESBYTER CRONIUS


Cronius the presbyter of Nitria told me the following,
"I was very young when I began, and was very depressed and unstable, so much so that I fled from my monastery and archimandrite and wandered off to holy Antony's mountain. Blessed Antony lived between Heraclea and Babylon in that vast desert which leads to the Red Sea, about thirty miles from the River Nile. Antony's disciples Macarius and Amatas, who buried Antony after his death, had their cells near the river in the place called Pisper. After I arrived there I waited five days before I could see the holy Antony. I was told he came down to these cells sometimes at ten day intervals, sometimes twenty, sometimes five, to give help to visitors. Several of us brothers met him for various reasons, among whom was Eulogius, a monk of Alexandria, and with him someone disabled in all his limbs. The reason they had come was as follows":

 



Chapter XXVI
EULOGIUS AND THE DISABLED MAN.


This Eulogius was a scholar of the liberal arts, but he became seized by the love of God, and he renounced the crowds in a desire for everlasting life. He disposed of all his property, retaining a small allowance for himself, for he was no longer able to work for a living. He was much perplexed in his mind and somewhat depressed, for he did not fancy the idea of living with others, and he could not sufficiently persuade himself to live alone. At which point he came across someone lying in the market place maimed and mutilated, for he had no hands or feet, although his tongue remained intact, enabling him to call out to the passers-by. Eulogius stopped and looked at him and prayed to God and made a promise:
"Lord, I accept this crippled man in your name, and I promise to look after him and provide for him to the hour of his death, so that I might be saved through him. Christ, give me patience that I might be his servant."
He went up to the man and spoke to him.
"Would you like to come home with me, where I shall look after you and provide for you?" he said.
"Would you really like to do that?" he said. "But that is more than I deserve."
"I can go and fetch my donkey and take you away."
And the disabled man gladly agreed.
So he lifted him up and took him to his own little cell, and began to see to his every need.
For fifteen years he looked after him compassionately like a father, washing him, anointing him, keeping him warm, and carrying him about, and over and above that, he even tended him in sickness. But then a demon possessed the man, with the intention of depriving Eulogius of his promise and his way of life, and his patient of his maintenance and the action of the grace of God. He began a campaign of harassment against Eulogius:
"Why don't you go away. You are just a wicked man on the run anyway. The truth is that you have stolen someone else's money and ruined his life, and you are using me as pretext to hide behind. Under the pretext of doing good you have taken me into your care, hoping that will save you."
"No, my friend, don't say that," replied Eulogius. "Just tell me how I have offended you, and I will try to make amends."
"I can't put up with your protestations. Just take me away and put me back into the market place. I don't want your patronage any longer."
"Please, let me keep on looking after you. Tell me what has upset you."
"I can't put up with your crafty and hypocritical attentions any longer. The parsimonious and miserable life you lead is ghastly. I would like to be able to eat meat sometimes!"
So Eulogius patiently brought him some meat. But even the sight of that did not satisfy him.
"Your company is just not enough for me," he said. "I would like to meet with some more people."
"Well I can ask a number of monks to come and see you."
"How can I support this! I can hardly bear the sight of your face, and you are proposing to bring me people like yourself, lazy idlers who have the same sort of diet! No, No! I want to go back to the forum." And he continued with a terrible tongue-lashing. "Murder and mayhem! Take me back to where you found me. I tell you, if I had hands I would either suffocate myself or fall on my sword."
With the demon continuing to stir things up, Eulogius consulted some neighbouring monks:
"What shall I do? This cripple is driving me to despair."
"Why, what's happening?" they asked.
"He is abusing me constantly, and I don't know what to do. Should I send him away? But I am frightened of doing that for I gave God my right hand on that. Should I keep him? But day and night he gives me no peace. I don't know what to do."
"The great man is still alive," they said (for this is what they called the holy Antony), "Go and see him. Take ship with your cripple and take him to the monastery, and wait there till the great man comes down there from his cave and submit the whole thing to his judgment. And what ever he says, stand by his opinion."
Eulogius took their words to heart, and persuaded the cripple to travel with him in a shepherd's skiff to the monastery of the great Antony's disciples. It so happened that the great man had arrived at the monastery late in the previous evening, wearing his sheepskin cloak, so Cronius told me, and was still in the monastery. It was his custom to call to his disciple Macarius.
"Macarius, has anyone come to see me today?"
"Yes, they have."
"Are they from Egypt, or from Jerusalem?"
Now the great man had told him that if there was someone who had come upon some trifling business, he was to say, "From Egypt". But if there was anyone rather more serious and thoughtful, he should say, "From Jerusalem." So as usual he asked Macarius whether the visitors were from Egypt or Jerusalem.
"A bit of a mixture," said Macarius.
If they were from Egypt, Antony would usually say, "Prepare some food, give them some refreshment, pray with them, and let them go in peace." But if they were from Jerusalem, he would quite likely sit with them all night and talk with them of the things pertaining to salvation.
On this evening, the great man summoned them all. Now no one had told him that one of the visitors was called Eulogius, but even though it was late in the evening he called him.
"Eulogius, Eulogius, Eulogius!"
Eulogius did not stir, thinking he must be calling for someone else of the same name.
"You, Eulogius," he repeated, "from Alexandria."
"What must I do?" he asked.
"Tell me why you have come here."
"Surely he who revealed to you my name must have revealed to you the reason for my coming!"
"Yes, I know why you have come. But tell it out yourself, so that all the brothers can hear."
So Eulogius did as he was told and related the whole story.
"I found this cripple lying in the market place in ragged clothes, and had pity on him. I begged God that he would give me the grace to look kindly on him and take him in. I swore by my right hand that I would care for him in his disability, so that I might be saved through him and that he might be cared for by me. Fifteen years we have carried on like this, as has doubtless been revealed to your holiness. I am at a loss to know what harm I might have done him, but now after so many years he is continually getting at me, and I have a good mind to throw him out, which is what he keeps on urging me to do. This is why I have come to your holiness that you might advise me what I should do and to pray for me, for I am under terrible pressure."
"Would you really throw him out, Elogius?" asked Antony in a severe and wrathful voice. "His creator has not cast him off. Let God who cherishes him bring you to a better frame of mind."
Eulogius was silent, fearful at hearing what Antony had to say. Antony turned his attention away from Eulogius and began to give the cripple a tongue-lashing.
"You maimed and mutilated object, unworthy of either heaven or earth, how much longer will you contend with God and upset your brother? You don't seem to realise that it is Christ who ministers to you. How dare you make complaints against Christ? Isn't it for Christ's sake that this man has bound himself to your service?"
Having given them both a good talking to, he then turned away from them and dealt with the needs of each of the brothers, before coming back again to Eulogius and the cripple.

 

Chapter XXVI, Eulogius (continued)  Book VIII

"Don't delay any longer, my brothers," he said, "but go in peace and stay together. Cast out all the malice that the demon has injected into you, and return to your cell in brotherly love, where you have been for such a long time. God himself will aid you. This time of testing has been at the instigation of Satan because he knows that you are nearly at the end of your journey. But you will receive crowns, you because of him and he because of you. Don't think anything other than that. If the Angel when he comes does not find you in the same place, it could be that you might lose the crown."

They hastened back to their own cell in perfect charity with each other. Blessed Eulogius passed over to the Lord forty days later, and the cripple died three days after that, mutilated in body but firm and robust in spirit, commending himself into the hands of God.

Cronius stayed a little longer in the Thebaid, and then went down to the monastery in Alexandria, where he learned that the funeral of the blessed Eulogius had indeed taken place on the fortieth day and that of the cripple three days later. He was so amazed that he picked up the Gospels and laid them down in the midst of the brothers and swore an oath so that they would believe what he was saying. He told them how Antony had foreseen it all and related everything that had happened.

"I acted as interpreter for them," he said, "for the blessed Antony knew no Greek, but I knew both languages. By the grace of Christ I was able to speak to the blessed Eulogius and the cripple in Greek and tell them what the great man had said, and tell the great and blessed Antony in Egyptian what both of them had said."

 

Chapter XXVII

THE VISION WHICH ABBA ANTONY SAW

 

Cronius also told us that on that same night Antony had told him of a vision that he had seen.

"I had prayed for a whole year that I might be shown the places of both the just and the unjust, and then I saw a gigantically tall black man whose head reached up to the clouds. His hands were stretched up to heaven, but below him was a lake as big as the sea. I saw human souls flying up like birds. Some of them were carried up over his head and his arms by Angels, but those whom he caught in his hands, he threw into the lake. And a voice came to me, saying, "The souls you see flying over the head of the giant are the souls of the just whom the Angels are taking up into paradise; the others, caught in the hands of the black man, are sent down to hell. These are they who were overcome by the desires of the flesh, and walked in hateful paths, and loved injustice."

 

 

Chapter XXVIII

THE LIFE OF PAUL THE SIMPLE

 

The Servant of Christ, Hierax, as well as Cronius and several other brothers, told me the story I am going to tell you about Paul the Simple. He was a peasant farmer of transparently innocent and simple life, and he had taken a most beautiful woman for a wife who nevertheless was of very lax morals. Led by providence to an outcome which he was in fact half hoping for, he came back from the fields unexpectedly one day, went inside, and found her and a man together. When he saw her and the man she was having sex with, he gave a forthright and heartfelt laugh.

"Fine, fine," he said. "This means that she is no longer any responsibility of mine. In Jesus' name I acknowledge her no longer. Go, take her with you, and her children, for I am leaving to become a monk."

Without saying anything to anybody else he took an eight day journey to holy Antony and knocked on his door.

"What do you want?" asked Antony when he came to the door.

"To become a monk," replied Paul.

"You must be at least sixty. You can't become a monk," said Antony. "Live in the town, work for your living, trusting in the grace of God. You would not be able to cope with all the trials of solitude."

"Whatever you told me to do I would do it," the old man replied.

"I have told you," said Antony. "You are old. You can't be a monk. Go away. Or if you do really want to be a monk, go to a cenobium where there are many brothers to support you in your frailty. I am here all by myself, fasting for five days before eating." And with these words he tried to drive Paul away.

Refusing to admit him, Antony shut the door and for three days did not go outside, not even to answer the call of nature. But the old man stayed where he was.

On the fourth day he really had to go outside, but when he opened the door and went out he saw Paul still there and said, "Go away, old man. Why do you keep on bothering me? You can't stay here."

"I don't intend to stay anywhere else except here," said Paul.

Antony looked at him and saw that he had nothing with him to sustain life, no bread, no water or anything else, and he had now been fasting for four days.

"He is so unused to fasting he might die," thought Antony, "and I will be to blame." And so he took him in.

"If you can be obedient and do what I tell you," said Antony, "you'll be all right."

"I will do whatever you say," Paul replied.

Antony in those days followed just as rigorous a way of life as he did when young. In order to test Paul's mettle, he said to him, "Stay here and pray, while I go in and fetch something for you to work with." He then went into his inner room and watched Paul through the window. For the rest of the week he stayed there without moving, even though scorched by the heat. At the end of the week he brought some palm branches which he had soaked in water.

"Take these and weave a rope as you see me doing," he said. The old man wove until the ninth hour, completing fifteen arms-lengths with great difficulty. Antony inspected what he had done and was not satisfied with it.

"You've done that very badly," he said. "Undo it and do it again." It was now the seventh day that this elderly man had been fasting, but Antony was treating him severely like this to see whether he would give up and abandon the life of a monk. But he just took the branches and rewove them, and with great labour put right the unevenness with which he done them at first. Antony saw that he had neither grumbled, nor been downcast, nor turned aside, nor become resentful to the slightest degree, and he began to feel sorry for him. And as the sun set he said, "Well, little father, shall we break some bread together?"

"If you think that's right, abba," replied Paul, thus leaving the decision to Antony without jumping up eagerly at the mention of food. Antony began to change his mind.

"Get the table ready then," he said. And he did so. Antony put the bread on the table, four six-ounce rolls. He put one to soak for himself (for they were dry) and three for Paul. Antony sang a psalm which he knew, and when he had repeated it twelve times, he also said a prayer twelve times. This he did in order to test Paul further. But the old man prayed too, as promptly and eagerly as the great Antony himself. (I really think that he would rather feed on scorpions than live falsely.)

"Sit down," the great Antony said to Paul after the twelve prayers, "but we won't eat until vespers. Wait till the bread is eatable." The time for vespers came and Paul still had not eaten, when Antony said, "Get up. We'll pray and then sleep." They left the table and did so. Half way through the night Antony woke Paul for prayers and went on with them right through to the ninth hour. But at last when vespers came and the table had been prepared and they had sung and prayed they sat down to eat.

Antony ate one roll and did not pick up another one. The old man was eating more slowly and still had the roll which he had started. Antony waited till he had finished and said, "Come, little father, eat another roll."

"If you have another one, I will," said Paul, "but not if you won't."

"I've had quite sufficient for one who is a monk," said Antony.

"Since I want to be a monk," said Paul, "that's enough for me too, then." And he got up and said twelve prayers and sang twelve psalms. After the prayers, they slept a little for the first part of the night, then rose and sang psalms again till dawn.

He then sent him out to wander in the desert.

"Come back after three days," he said.

This he did.

When some brothers came on a visit he paid close attention to Antony and did whatever Antony wanted.

"See to the visitors' needs and keep silence," he said, "and don't eat anything till they have started on their journey back."

At the end of the third week in which Paul had not eaten anything, the brothers asked him why he kept silent, to which he replied nothing at all.

"Why keep silent?" said Antony. "Speak to the brothers." So he spoke.

Once when Antony was given a jar of honey he told Paul to break the jar. He did so and the honey spilled.

"Now scrape up the honey with this shell," he ordered, "but don't get any dirt mixed up in it."

Once he ordered him to draw water all day.

When his garment got a bit tattered, he told him to just get used to it.

In the end, this man had grasped such firm hold on obedience by the divine grace given him, that he was able to command the demons. When the great Antony saw that this man had promptly carried out everything he had asked him to do in the way he ordered his life, he said, "See if you can keep on doing this day by day, brother, and stay with me."

"I don't know what else you can show me," said Paul. "I do whatever I see you doing, quite easily and without any strain, the Lord being my helper."

On another day Antony admitted 'in the name of Jesus' that he had indeed become a monk. The great and blessed Antony had become convinced that the soul of this servant of Christ had become almost perfected in all things, even though he was somewhat simple. After a few months Antony was moved by the grace of God to build a cell for him three or four miles away from his own cell, and said to him, "See now, by the help of the grace of Christ you have become a monk. Now live by yourself, and even take on the demons."

So a year after Paul the Most Simple came to live with him, he was highly experienced in a disciplined way of life and was found worthy to battle against the demons and against all kinds of diseases.

One day there was brought to Antony a young man vexed beyond measure by one of the most powerful and savage demons, who railed against heaven itself with curses and blasphemies.

Antony had a look at the young man and said to those who had brought him, "This is not a task for me. I have not yet been given the grace to deal with this very powerful type of demon. Paul the Simple has the gift of dealing with this one." The great Antony went to Paul, that most excellent man, taking them all with him.

"Abba Paul," he said, "Cast out this demon from this person so that he may return home cured and glorify God."

"Why not you?" asked Paul.

"It is not for me," said Antony. "I have other concerns." And the great Antony left the boy there and returned to his cell.

The unassuming old man stood up and poured out a strong prayer to challenge the demon and said, "Abba Antony says, 'Depart from this man'"

"I will not, you disgusting, pompous old man," said the demon, with many curses and blasphemies. Paul put on his sheepskin and belaboured him in the back, crying, "'Go out,' abba Antony says."

The demon abused both Paul and Antony with curses, saying, "You are disgusting old men, lazy and greedy, never content to mind your own business. What have you got in common with us? Why are you browbeating us?"

"Either go now," said Paul, "or I will call upon the power of Christ to bring destruction upon you."

But this unclean demon railed against Jesus also with curses and blasphemies

"I am not going," he shouted.

This made Paul get angry with the demon. He went outside. It was midday - when the Egyptian heat bears comparison with the furnace of Babylon. The holy old man stood up straight, like a statue, on top of a rock, and prayed, "O Jesus Christ, you were crucified under Pontius Pilate, take note that I will not come down from this rock, nor will I eat or drink even if I die, until you hear me and cast out this demon from this man and liberate him from the unclean spirit." And even as the simple and humble Paul was praying, before he had even finished, the demon cried out, "I'm going, I'm going, driven out by force, overcome by tyranny. I'm getting out of this man and won't come back any more. It is the simplicity and humility of Paul which has driven me out and I don't know where to go."

The moment he went, he changed into an enormous dragon about seventy cubits long which crept off towards the Red Sea. Thus were fulfilled the words of Holy Scripture, 'The righteous man shows his faith by what he does' (Proverbs 12.17), and 'On whom shall I look, says the Lord, if not on him who is gentle and humble and trembles at my words?' (Isaiah 66.2). Although lesser (humiliores) demons can be cast out by the faith of men in authority (principales), it takes humble (humiles) men to be able to put to flight the demons of greatest power (principales).

Such were the miracles of the humble Paul the Simple, and there were many others he did, even greater than these. He was known as Simple by all the brothers.

 

Chapter XXIX

THE LIFE OF ABBA PACHON

There was a certain Pachon living in Scete who had reached the age of seventy. It so happened that I had become tormented by a desire for a woman and I was labouring under thoughts and visions at night. It was all I could do to refrain from leaving the desert because of this temptation, so great was this turbulence of mind that was fiercely attacking me. I did not tell any of my neighbours about this, not even Evagrius my superior, but unknown to anyone I went into the desert where I wandered about among the older brothers in Scete for fifteen days. Among them I came across the holy man Pachon. When I realised how sincere he was and how skilled he was in the discipline of his life, I was emboldened to open up my heart to him.

"Don't think that this is anything strange or unusual," this holy man said to me. "It is not caused by voluptuousness, laziness or carelessness - your own character bears witness to that. You make do with the minimum of what is necessary, you have not made a habit of consorting with women. It is more likely the case that this is coming to you from the devil, because of your search for purity. There are three ways in which the enemy drives one towards fornication. Sometimes if the flesh has been too delicately pandered to it runs riot and takes control, sometimes thoughts can provoke assent in the mind, sometimes it is a demon in person who harasses us through envy. This is what I have found as a result of the many cases I have seen.

"Look at me now, an old man. I've been forty years in this cell working out my salvation, and I have arrived at this age being tempted right up to the present day. And I solemnly declare that for twelve years from the age of fifty onwards there had not been a single day or night when I was not attacked. I began to think that God had forsaken me, so fiercely did the devil show his power against me. I felt I would rather go mad and die than do something disgraceful driven by vice and bodily desires.

"I went out from my cell into the desert and found a hyena's cave. I stripped and stayed in that cell all day in the hope that the hyenas would come and devour me. After vespers, as the scripture says, 'The sun knows it is time to set. You bring on the darkness and it is night when all the wild beasts come out. The young lions roar and strike, seeking their meat from God.' (Psalms 104.19-21). And the wild beasts did indeed come out at that time, male and female, and sniffed at me from head to toe as they prowled around me. Just as I was expecting that they would devour me, they went away. Eve