Book X (continued)
The life of THEODORE, a secular man, but a man of God.
Abbot Jordan, the solitary, said that with two other anchorites he had visited abba Nicholaus near the river Betasimus (between holy Elpidium and the monastery known as the Strangers, where he lived in a cave). We found that there was a secular with him. We were asking abba Nicholaus about how to save our souls, but he turned to the secular:
"You say something to us on that subject," he said.
"What could I say that would be of any benefit to you?" he said. "I wish that I could even say something of benefit to myself."
"Nevertheless, say something," the old man said.
"For twenty-two years I have never eaten before sunset, except on Saturdays and Sundays, "he said. "I used to work in the household of a very rich, wicked and avaricious man. I was with him for fifteen years, working night and day, for a pittance which he did not part with willingly. Through all those years he bullied me mercilessly. But I said to myself, 'Theodore, if you put up with this man for the wages he is paying you, he will be preparing you for the kingdom of heaven. Moreover I have kept my body pure from women to this very day."
Hearing this, we were greatly edified.
The story of abbot JORDAN about the three Saracens who killed each other,
Abbot Jordan also passed on to us the following story which abba Nicholaus had told him:
During the time of the most faithful emperor Mauritius, Namanes, the leader of the Saracen people, was going about plundering in the area where I was, near Arnon and Aidon. I happened to see three Saracens who had with them an extremely handsome youth of about twenty years, whom they had taken prisoner and bound. When this young man saw me he began to weep and begged me to rescue him from them, so I did beg the Saracens to release him.
"We are not going to release him," one of the Saracens replied in Greek.
"Take me and let him go," I said, "for he is not able to endure this affliction."
"We are not going to release him," he repeated.
"Will you not take a ransom for him?" I asked, making a third attempt. "Give him to me, and I will pay you whatever you ask."
"We can't give him to you, for we have promised our priest that we would give him anyone we found of outstanding beauty, to be offered up in sacrifice. Now go away, for if you hinder us for much longer your head will roll on the ground."
So then I prostrated myself on the ground.
"Christ our God and Saviour save your servant," I prayed.
And immediately the three Saracens were possessed by devils, and they drew their swords and killed each other. I took the young man with me to my cave and comforted him. He refused to leave me, but renounced the world and lived with me for seven years in the monastic habit, until he fell asleep.
The reply of a certain OLD MAN to two philosophers.
Two philosophers once came to an old man and asked him for some edifying conversation, but the old man said nothing.
"Haven't you got anything to say to us, father?" they asked.
"I know that you are enthusiastic about fine words," he replied, "But I say that you philosophers are not enthusiastic about truth. How long will it take you to learn to speak as if you did not know how to speak? What your philosophy needs is to meditate perpetually on death and to become accustomed to silence and stillness."
The story of two MONKS of the monastery of the Syrians in Subenorum, about the dog who showed a brother the way.
Sophronius Sophista and I went to the monastery of Calamon near the Jordan, where Alexander was the abbot, and met there two monks of the monastery of Subenorum in Syria. This is what they told us:
Ten days ago a pilgrimage organiser (?susceptor peregrinorum) arrived at Subiba Besorum, asking for alms and giving a blessing (eulogia). He made a request to the abbot of the monastery.
"It would be a great favour if you could send to the nearby monastery of the Syrians for them to come and receive the blessing, and also pass the message on to the monastery of Charembe so that they too can come."
So the abbot sent a brother to the abbot of the Syrians in Subenorum
"Come to the monastery of Besorum," he said to the abbot, "and send a message to the monastery of Charembe, so that they can come too."
"I'm sorry, brother," said the abbot, "but I have no one I can send. Could you be so kind as to go there yourself and tell them?"
"I've never been there before," he said, "and I don't know the way."
So then the old man spoke to his little dog:
"Go with this brother to the monastery of Charembe with the message he wants to give them."
So the dog went off with the brother until they stood at the monastery door.
And those who told us this story showed us the very dog, which they still had with them.
The ass which served the monastery of Mardes
There is a very high mountain near the Dead Sea called Mardes, where anchorites dwelt. Their garden was about six miles away at the bottom of the mountain on the shores of the Dead Sea, so they kept a paid gardener there. Whenever they wanted to send to the garden for olives they saddled their ass and gave him a command:
"Go down to the gardener and bring back olives."
The ass immediately went down to the garden by itself, stood outside the gate and kicked it. At once, the gardener came out and loaded it up with olives and sent it off with its burden. The ass can be seen day by day, going up and down, serving the needs of the old men alone, and paying heed to nobody else.
The life of SOPHRONIUS, the solitary, and the teachings of MENAS, the superior of the coenobium of Severianus.
Abbot Menas, the superior of the coenobium of Severianus said that abba Sophronius, the solitary, lived naked near the Dead Sea for almost seventy years, his only food being herbs.
And he also said this about him: that he once heard him saying, "I have prayed to the Lord that the demons may not come anywhere near my cave. And I have seen them coming, standing almost three miles away, and not daring to come any closer."
Abbot Menas would also say to the brothers of the coenobium, "Let us flee from the conversation of the world, my sons, which is very dangerous for young monks."
Again the old man said: "People of every age should embrace penances, young and old alike, that they may earn the reward of enjoying eternal life with glory and praise, the young because in the flower of youth when concupiscence holds sway they have put their necks under the yoke of chastity, the old because by reason of their long life they have been able to turn an inveterate inclination to evil towards better things."
How a demon appeared to a certain OLD MAN in the shape of the blackest of boys.
Abbot Paul, the superior of the coenobium of abbot Theognotus, told us that an old man had told him the following:
I was in my cell one day, working with my hands (I was weaving a basket and repeating psalms), when I saw a little Ethiopian boy come in through the window, stop in front of me and begin doing acrobatics.
"Aren't I a great acrobat?" he asked. I kept on saying psalms and did not reply.
"Don't you find my acrobatics pleasing?" he said.
But again I did not reply.
"I suppose you think you are doing great things, you evil old man. But I'm telling you, you have been making mistakes in the sixty-fifth, sixty-sixth, and sixty-seventh psalms."
I got up and prostrated myself before God and worshipped him, and the demon vanished.
The life of abbot ISAAC, and how a demon also appeared to him in the shape of a young man.
There is a mountain about six miles distant from Lycos, a city of the Thebaid, where some of the monks live in caves, others in cells. We went there and met abba Isaac, a Theban, who told us the following:
Fifty years ago I was making a mosquito net when I made a mistake in my work and I could not find out where it was, let alone repair it. I spent the whole day utterly defeated, unable to discover what I had done wrong. I was almost in despair, when I saw a young man come in through the window.
""You've made a mistake," he said, "but give me your work and I will put it right."
"Get out," I said. "You'll not get me to do that."
"But you will be damned if you do your work badly"
"No call for you to worry about that."
"But I am just sorry for you because your work is lost."
"Both you and he who sent you have come here with evil intent."
"No, it is you have drawn me here, and you are mine."
"What do you mean?
"For the last three Sundays you have communicated while harbouring uncharitable thoughts towards your neighbour."
"I'm not lying. You are angry with him because he is so slow (propter lenticulam). And I am the one in charge of anger and the memory of insults. So, therefore, you are mine."
At this, I left my cell immediately, went to my brother, prostrated myself before him and begged his forgiveness, whereupon we were reconciled. When I returned to my cell I found that the demon had destroyed the mosquito net completely and also the rush mat on which I prayed, so envious of our charity had he become.
The reply of abba THEODORE of Pentapolitanus on the question of relaxing the rule of abstinence from wine.
Fifteen miles from Alexandria there is the monastery of Calamon, between the Eighteenth monastery and Maphora. Sophista Sophronius was with us and we interviewed abbot Theodore of Pentapolitanus.
"When any of us go visiting someone, father," we asked, "or when anyone comes to visit us, is it a good thing to relax the rule of abstaining from wine?"
"No" replied this senior monk.
"How is it then that the ancient fathers used to relax this rule?"
"The ancient fathers, great and strong as they were, knew how to relax and then tighten up again. For our generation, my sons, it is not safe to relax and then tighten up, for if we once relax our rule of abstinence, we would be incapable of returning to the austerity of our religious life."
The life of abba PAUL of Helladicus.
Abbot Alexander, father of the monastery of Calamon, told us the following;
When I was with Paul of Helladicus one day in his cave, somebody knocked at the door. Paul opened the door and went out with some bread and steeped chickpeas for the visitor to eat. I supposed it was some pilgrim, but when I looked out the window I saw it was a lion.
"Why are you giving him food, father?" I asked. "What's the reason?"
"I warned him never to harm anyone, neither man nor beast, but that he should come to me daily and I would give him his food. He has been doing this for seven months now, twice a day, and I feed him."
I visited him again a few days later to buy a wine jar from him (for making them was his work)
"How are you, father," I said. "And how's the lion?"
"Not good," he said.
"Yesterday he came here for his food and I saw that there was blood all over his chin. 'What's this?' I said. 'You have been disobedient and eaten flesh. God bless me! I am not going on feeding you. You are taking the fathers' food, and all the time you are eating flesh! Away with you!' But he seemed reluctant to go. So I took a thin rope, folded it into three, and gave him three sharp blows with it, after which he did go."
The reply of VICTOR the solitary to the monk who was timid
A brother came to abba Victor, a solitary in the monastery of Elusa with a question
"What should I do, father, for I am troubled with timidity of mind?"
"It is a sickness of the soul. The weaker your eyes are the greater effort you have to make to enjoy what light there is. If your eyes are healthy, less effort is needed. In just the same way, if your soul is fearful, temptations appear bigger than they really are and disturb you immoderately. But if your soul is healthy temptations are more easily endured."
The life of a robber whose name was CYRIACUS
One of the faithful told us about a robber called Cyriacus who used to carry out his robberies round about Emmaus in Nicopolis. He was so violent and cruel that he was known as "the wolf". He had a band of robbers with him who were a mixture of Christians, Hebrews and Samaritans.
One Holy Week a group of people from the Nicopolitan district went up to the holy city to have their infant children baptised. Once the ceremony was over they were making their way back home to celebrate the holy day of Resurrection when the robbers stopped them, their leader not being with them. The men all ran away and escaped, but the robbers, all of them Hebrews and Samaritans, threw the newly baptised infants on to the ground, seized the women and raped them.
As the men fled they met the leader of the robbers, who asked them why they were running. When they had told him what had happened, he took them with him back to his companions, where he found the infants still lying on the ground. When he had learned who was responsible for the atrocity he cut their heads off and gave the children back to the men. (They could not take the women back for they had been defiled.) So the leader of the robbers saved the men and children and conducted them back home.
Some time later the leader of the robbers was captured and spent the next ten years in prison. None of the magistrates ordered his execution, but eventually he was granted a pardon.
"It is due to those infants that I escaped a bitter death," he always used to say. "For I often used to see them in my dreams saying to me: 'Don't be afraid. We will make excuses for you.'"
I spoke with him myself at a later date, as also did Johannes, the presbyter of the monastery of the Eunuchs. And he himself confirmed the story, giving glory to God.
The life of a ROBBER turned monk, who later, having taken back his secular clothes, was beheaded.
A story from abbot Sabbatius:
When I was in the monastery of abbot Firminus a robber arrived and spoke to abbot Zozimus Cilices.
" I am guilty of many murders," he said, "and I beg you for the love of God make me a monk, so that now at last I may give up crime."
So the old man instructed him, made him a monk and gave him the holy habit. After a while he spoke to the robber and said:
"Believe me my son, you had better not live here, for if the governor hears about you he will have you arrested and executed. You are also at risk from any of your enemies. Take my advice and let me take you to the coenobium of abbot Dorotheus near Gaza and Maiuma." So he went, and after having been there nine years and learnt the psalter and all the details of monastic observance, he went back to the monastery of Firminus and said to abbot Zozimus:
"Take pity on me, father. Give me back my secular clothes and take back my monastic habit.
"Why my son?" he said in dismay
"As you know, father, I have spent nine years in the coenobium, fasted according to my ability, lived chastely, and have been disciplined in silence and in the fear of God. I know that of his infinite goodness God has forgiven me many of my sins, but I am constantly aware of a little boy standing in front of me saying: 'Why did you kill me?' I see him in my dreams, in church, when I go to Communion, and when I am in the refectory. There is never a moment when he gives me any peace. So, father, I wish to go, and give myself up to death for this little boy. For I am guilty of having killed this little boy, for no reason, for nothing."
So he took back his secular clothes and departed. As soon as he got to Diospolis in these clothes he was arrested and executed the next day.
The life and death of abba POEMEN, solitary
Abbot Agathonicus, the superior of the fortified coenobium of our holy father Saba, told the following story:
I went one day to Ruba to visit abba Poemen the solitary. After I had found him and revealed to him my thoughts he left me alone in a cave. It was winter, very cold at night, and I suffered terribly from the freezing conditions. In the morning the old man greeted me.
"How has it been, my son?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, father, but I have had a dreadful night because of the cold."
"My son, I did not feel the cold at all."
This astonished me, for he was almost naked.
"Do please tell me how it is that you felt nothing of this extremely bitter cold."
"A lion came and slept near me to keep me warm. Nevertheless, I tell you, brother, that I really deserve to be devoured by wild beasts."
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