Book VIII (continuied)
THE LIFE OF ABBA ABRAMIUS
There was a certain Egyptian called Abramius who lived a very hard and severe life in solitude. His mind became filled up with untimely delusions, so that he came into the church and started arguing with the presbyters.
"Christ himself has ordained me last night to the presbyterate," he said, "so take me into your fellowship."
The fathers took him out of his solitude into a more regular and ordinary sort of life, cured him of his pride, and led him to acknowledge his own weakness in being deceived by the demon of pride. By their holy prayers he was restored to his former holiness of life.
THE LIFE OF ABBA ELPIDIUS
This Elpidius was a Cappadocian, and lived on Mount Luca, in the caves of the Amorites which had been built by those people fleeing from Joshua the son of Nun when he was laying waste the people of this foreign land. He was later honoured with the gift of the presbyterate to serve the monastery there. He was ordained by the excellent Timothy, a bishop of the Cappadocian region.
Elpidius lived in a cave and gave evidence of such discipline in his way of life that he overshadowed everyone else. For twenty-five years he ate only on Saturdays and Sundays and stood singing the whole night through. As bees seek out their queen, so many others followed him and populated that mountain, though you would find among them many different ways of life.
Elpidius (= "foot of God") lived up to his name on one occasion as a scorpion stung him when we were singing psalms with him one night. He lived with a sure hope and was willing to suffer for Christ's sake, so that he simply stamped on the scorpion without moving from where he stood. So great was his power of bearing pain that he took no account of the injury done him by the scorpion.
One day while still living in the mountain one of the brothers gave him a bit of a twig, which the holy man stuck in the ground even though it was not the planting season. It grew so much and showed such vigorous life that it covered over the whole church.
THE LIFE OF ABBA AENESIUS
Along with this celebrated holy athlete of God was included the servant of God Aenesius, a man highly esteemed, and outstanding in his way of life.
THE LIFE OF ABBA EUSTATHIUS
And his brother Eustathius was equal to him in honour, living out the battle of life with a keen and eager mind.
It was his example that Elpidius followed, punishing his body, ignoring the pain, so that his complete bone structure became damaged. In describing his virtues his diligent disciples also recorded that for all of twenty-five years he never once looked toward the West, even though the mouth of his cave was situated on the top of the mountain. From the sixth hour when the sun was overhead he never looked towards where it was going down into the West, and for twenty years he never saw the stars which arise in the West. From the time that he went into the cave this great patient athlete did not come down from the mountain until he was buried.
Such were the heavenly exploits of the victorious unconquered athlete Elpidius, who now rests in paradise along with many others like him.
THE LIFE OF ABBA SISINNIUS
There was a disciple of Elpidius called Sisinnius, a Cappadocian by race, a slave but a free man in faith. It is important for the glory of Christ to mention his origins, for it is Christ who exalts us from our origins, leading us to the truly blessed nobility which is indeed the Kingdom of Heaven. He spent a long time with the blessed Elpidius, a keen athlete in the way he trained himself in all the virtues. He learned the virtues of Elpidius for six or seven years, the fortitude of the way he laboured in his way of life, and then shut himself up in a tomb. He stayed there and prayed for three years, neither sitting down or lying down or going out. He was given power over the demons.
He has now gone back to his native land where he has been honoured with the gift of the presbyterate and has collected around him a company of both men and women. He bears witness to the virtue of developing the powers of endurance by the honesty of the way his life is lived, in that by practising strict continence he has expelled from himself both masculine avarice and feminine pliability, so fulfilling the Scripture, 'In Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free' (Galatians 3.28).
He was famed for his hospitality though possessing little, to the shame of the rich who shared little.
THE LIFE OF ABBA GADDANA
I also knew an old Palestinian called Gaddana who for the whole of his life lived without a roof over his head near the river Jordan. When the Jews inspired by greed invaded with drawn sword the area around the Dead Sea, a great miracle was performed by this blessed hermit. For when a soldier lifted up his sword intending to kill Gaddana, the hand which held the sword withered and the soldier fell down insensible. Such was the protection given by God to the blessed Gaddana, which the blessed man enjoyed till the end of his life.
THE LIFE OF ABBA ELIAS
There was a highly respected monk called Elias living in a cave in the same area. His life was upright and above all religious. He lived his life in continence and prayer and had a ready welcome for all who came to him. One day several brothers arrived, making a stop with him on their journey, and he had run out of bread.
"I was very upset because I had no bread,'' he told us, swearing that what he had to say was true, "so I went into my cell in great perplexity of mind, wondering how I could possibly fulfil the duty of charity towards these arrivals, and I found that three loaves had just been put there, which I joyfully took and placed before them. Twenty of them satisfied their hunger and there was still one loaf left, which I found was enough for me for the next twenty-five days."
This was a gift from the Lord to the hospitable Elias, for whom the reward of his labours is laid up in the presence of the kindly Lord.
Sabbatius was a married man of Jericho, who was so friendly disposed towards monks that he would go the desert and the cells at night and leave outside every hermitage a portion of fruit and vegetables. This was all they needed, because those living this way of life in the Jordan ate no bread. This benefactor of celibate monks who saw to the filling of their larders came face to face with a lion one day when he was carrying some of the necessities of life to them. The lion had evil designs on him, an immense wild animal sent by the devil, the enemy of monks and their ministry, intent on destroying not only him but the source of the monks' food. He was about a mile away from where the monks lived when the lion saw him, stretched out his claws and threw him down. But he who bade the lions refrain from eating Daniel forbade this lion to devour this servant of those who served God, even though he was very hungry. He merely ate the donkey belonging to the man, and thus the donkey both bestowed life on him and satisfied the lion's hunger.
THE LIFE OF THE PRESBYTER PHILOROMUS
We met the most devout presbyter and lover of God Philoromus in Galatia and stayed with him for a long time. He followed his way of life most strictly. He was the son of a slave woman though his father was free. But he gave such great and noble evidence of Christian virtue in his way of life that even the leading monks reckoned his life and the power of his virtues to be equal to that of the angels.
He renounced the world during the rule of that accursed Emperor Julian. Philoromos, that open-hearted Christian athlete, spoke his mind freely to that impious man, with the result that Julian ordered his servants to shave him and severely scourge him. He bore it bravely and magnanimously, and even giving thanks for it, as he himself told us.
He told us that to start off with he began a great battle against fornication and gluttony. Struggling against these tyrannous disorders he overcame them, like putting out a fierce fire with plenty of water, by striving for continence, by shutting himself up, by abstaining from meats and wheaten bread and all cooked dishes. He waged this war for eighteen years with great bravery and magnanimity, so that at the last, having conquered, he could sing a hymn of victory, 'I will praise you, O God, because you have sustained me and not allowed my enemies to triumph over me' (Psalms 30.1).
He persevered for forty years in the monastery, being attacked by the spirit of fornication from time to time.
"For thirty-two years," he told us, "I ate no fruit. But then I was attacked by a spirit of fearfulness, so that I daily felt afraid. So I enclosed myself for six years in a tomb, and by this means I won through, waging war through the power of endurance with the spirit who was endeavouring to enslave me. "
The blessed bishop Basil took a great interest in this outstanding man, admiring his austerity, his constancy, his diligent work. Up to the present day, aged eighty, he still keeps going at his weaving and his writing.
"From the time that I was brought into new life by water and the Spirit," this blessed man said, "right up to the present day, I have never eaten bread at someone else's expense, but only what I have provided with my own hands. And as God is my witness I tell you I have given two hundred and fifty solidi out of my earnings to those handicapped and disabled who have not done anyone else any injury. I have journeyed on foot to Rome in order to pray at the shrine of the martyrs SS. Peter and Paul and have even got as far as Alexandria in fulfilment of a vow to venerate St Mark. I have also been found worthy of twice being able to go to Jerusalem on my own two feet to venerate the holy places and I have paid the expenses myself.
"I do not remember," he said, to give us something to benefit from him by, "ever having departed from God in my soul."
Such were the struggles of the blessed Philoromus in which he won an unblemished victory, and to him is given the reward of his blessed labours, a crown of undying glory.
THE LIFE OF THE BLESSED SEVERIANUS AND HIS WIFE
In Ancyra Galatia it so happened that I was able to speak with a certain nobleman called Severianus and his wife, although I did not have any great intimacy with them. They placed all their good hope in a future life, to the disappointment of their children. They had four sons and two daughters, but they disbursed all the revenues of their estates among the needy, making no settlement upon any of them except in marriage settlements.
"It will all be yours after we are dead," they said to the other children. "For as long as we are alive we shall save our surplus earnings and distribute them to churches, monasteries, guestmasters and to anyone who is needy. Their prayers will bring the reward of eternal life to us and you and our family in exchange for the labours of this present time."
They also displayed notable virtue during a time of great famine when everyone was feeling hungry, for they opened up their storehouses on many of their estates and gave to the poor, with the result that many who were then heretics came back to the true faith. It was their otherwise inexplicable kindness which persuaded heretics to come back into agreement with the true faith, giving thanks to God for their simplicity and immense generosity.
They had another admirable practice. What they wore was very old and unpretentious, they were sparing in what they ate to a degree almost impossible to describe. They were simply content with enough necessary to support life. A wonderful devotion towards God went along with this. They spent most of their time in the country, avoiding the city and its vices, lest the excitement and confusion of city life draw them away from a truly joyful life and they should fall away from the commandments of God. All the good deeds and upright life of these blessed people helped them to keep their eyes fixed on the eternal rewards prepared for them by the glory of God.
THE LIFE OF THE MONK ELEEMON
We met in this country a monk who had refused the offer of the presbyterate. He had decided this after a short spell of military service. After twenty years of living as a monk he began a different life in the service of the very holy bishop of that area. He was a kind and merciful person and he used to go about the city helping not only the needy but everyone, the guards, the hospitals, the beggars, rich and poor. He did good to everyone. If the rich were careless and lacking in pity he spoke to them of mercy. He provided what was necessary for the needy. He reconciled those who were quarrelling. He clothed the naked. He supplied medicines to cure the sick.
As is usual in all big cities there was always a crowd of sick and disabled people on the steps of the church begging for their daily bread. Some of them were married, some not. It happened one day that the wife of one of them began to give birth - and it was wintertime. She began to cry out as she underwent intolerable pain, and the blessed man heard her as he was praying in the church. He immediately abandoned his accustomed prayers, went outside and saw what was happening. There seemed to be no one about who was able to help in this emergency so it was he who took upon himself the function of a midwife, not minding at all about the messiness of women in labour. In this most profound act of kindness he displayed as little concern as if he had been a woman.
The clothes that he wore could not have cost more than one obol. What he spent on food was even less. He owned hardly a single book - acts of mercy kept him away from reading. If any of the brothers gave him a book he promptly sold it and gave the money to the poor.
"Why are you selling this book?" some people would ask him.
"How could I possibly convince my master that I have thoroughly learned his teaching except by using his very teaching to put it into practice?" he would reply. (cf. Book V.vi.5 and Book III.lxx)
He continued acting in this manner to such an extent that he left an undying memory of his name in the whole region round about. He now is given eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven, receiving a worthy reward for his blessed labours. He fed the hungry and clothed the naked and now enjoys all manner of delights as a reward for his good works.
THE LIFE OF ABBA BISARION
There was a compassionate old man living in poverty called Bisarion who once came into a certain town and saw a naked beggar lying there dead, while he himself was wearing a tunic in the gospel tradition and a small cloak. He possessed nothing else besides this necessary covering and a small gospel which he carried under his arm. This reminded him of the danger of not being always obedient to the voice of God and also gave him advice on how to act. So admirable was this man's life, more beautiful than any other, that he was like an earthly angel, pursuing a really heavenly path.
When he saw the dead body he immediately took off his cloak and spread it over him. After going on a little further he saw a beggar, completely naked. He stopped and reasoned thus with himself:
"Here am I who have renounced the world and yet I still have clothes to my back, yet this my brother is stiff with cold. If I were to see him die I would be guilty of my neighbour's death. What should I do? Take off my tunic and divide it so as to give him half? Or rather give it whole to this person created in the image of God? But what use would it be to either of us cut in half? Besides," he kept on arguing, "is any one ever condemned for doing more than the commandments require?"
Straightaway this generous athlete briskly beckoned the beggar into a porchway and sent him off clothed while he himself remained there bare, covering himself with his hands and squatting down with bended knees, keeping nothing save the gospel under his arm which made him rich. He was providentially recognised by an irenarch [a sort of local peacekeeper or constable], passing by on his own business.
"Look there," he said to his companion. "Isn't that abba Bisarion?"
"Indeed it is" was the reply. The irenarch got down from his horse.
"Who has stripped you naked?" he asked.
"This," he replied, taking the gospel out from under his arm.
The irenarch took off his own cloak and clothed this perfect soldier of Christ in it. He accepted it as a sort of little monastic habit and quietly slipped away from view, unwilling to be praised by someone who had brought his way of life out into the open, but looking rather for that honour which comes from keeping good deeds secret.
Having fulfilled exactly all the gospel precepts, and with no worldly considerations any longer in his mind, he yet went on to an even more perfect obedience to the demands of God. For having seen a poor person in passing through the forum he thought for a little while and then went and sold his gospel. A few days later his disciple Dulas was with him and asked,
"Abba, what have you done with your little gospel?"
The old man calmly replied with a beautiful saying, apt and deeply wise.
"Don't look so sad, brother," he said, "for I do believe that I have sold it in obedience to that word which bids me 'sell what you have and give to the poor'". (Mark 10.21, Luke 18.22)
There are many other things done by this great and virtuous father, with whom may we also be found worthy to have a share through Christ's grace. Amen
THE LIFE OF THE BLESSED MELANIA
I have thought it necessary to mention in this book some strong and virtuous women to whom God has given rewards equal to those of the men who have lived virtuously, and who have been awarded the crown due to all those who please him. Their gentleness and tenderness should not be used as an excuse for labelling them as unenterprising, or lacking in the strength needed for the battle to develop a virtuous and honourable life. And I met many pious and religious women, and even more virgins and widows of great virtue, among whom was the most blessed Melania of Rome, the daughter of the consul Marcellus, and the wife of a man in a very important position whose name I cannot remember.
Home List of Contents Next Top of Page