Chapter XLV (continued) Life of Pachomius Book 1a
So Pachomius was given to understand what was to happen in the last days. He grieved for the blinded minds of some who were to come after him, and their erroneous beliefs and falling away from goodness. He grieved especially that the leaders among them (praepositi) would become negligent and idle, wearing the monastic habit but bringing forth no good works. For once the worst kind of people hold the leadership, ignorant of what holy living should be like, strifes and envyings must needs arise, and evil men will be preferred above good men; leaders will be chosen not because of their integrity of life but merely for their seniority, whence good men will have no confidence in speaking up for the good of the community but will be forced to keep silent, lest for their outspoken honesty they suffer great persecution. But what need to go into details of what might happen when everything covered by the holy rules is subverted by human wickedness? Pachomius tearfully cried out to the Lord:
"Almighty God, if this is what is going to happen, why did you allow this coenobium to be founded? For if the leaders will be corrupt in those last times, what will they be like who are under their rule? 'If the blind lead the blind they will both fall into the ditch' (Matthew 15.14). Woe is me! I have laboured uselessly and in vain! Lord, be mindful of the zeal with which your gifts have enabled me to work. Be mindful of your servants who have served you with their whole heart. Be mindful of your promise that your testament will be observed till the end of the world by those who worship you (Matthew 15.20). You know, O Lord, that since the time when I took the monastic habit I have humbled myself exceedingly in your sight, nor have I ever indulged to excess in partaking of bread or water or any creature that you have made."
And even as he spoke a voice came to him from heaven:
"Don't boast, Pachomius. You are only a human being in need of mercy. Everything that I have created continues to exist only through my mercy."
Pachomius immediately threw himself on the ground, seeking forgiveness:
"Almighty God, let your mercy come upon me that I may live (Psalm 119.77). Take not your mercy from me, for your mercy and truth have sustained me. For I know, O Lord, that all things fall into nothingness without the protection of your help."
Angels of light stood about him as he spoke, and a young man was in the midst of them who shone with an indescribable beauty and brilliance, sending forth rays of splendour like the sun, and wearing a crown of thorns upon his head
"Pray tell me, O Lord," cried Pachomius, "was it I who crucified you?"
"It wasn't you who crucified me," the Lord gently said, "but your parents. But be of good cheer and comfort your heart, for your posterity shall stand for ever, and shall not fail until the end of the world. Those who come after you shall be freed from deep darkness insofar as they have lived in abstinence and taken care for their own salvation. Only those who hold with you at this present time, following the example of your virtues, shine with a great light of grace. But those who after you become embroiled in the darkness of this world will climb out of that great darkness, serving justice and loving eternal life with all their heart, insofar as they shall prudently understand what is to be sought after and what is to be avoided, and are not willingly swayed by merely human considerations. Amen I say to you, they shall be granted the same salvation and eternal rest as those who are with you now in continence and radiant sanctity."
Having spoken thus, the Lord ascended into heaven, as the sky was illuminated with such a splendour of light as no human tongue could possibly describe.
Pachomius, lost in wonder at what he had been shown, then went to the night office with all the brothers. And when the holy office was complete, the brothers according to their custom gathered round the old man to hear the word of God. And he opened his mouth and taught them:
"My little children, with all the power of which you are capable strive bravely after your own salvation, and fight valiantly against the armed might of the enemy, before the time comes when we ourselves shall cry out in misery and lamentation as we grow weak and incapable. Let us not fritter away the days which the Lord has bestowed upon us, but let us develop our virtues with all zeal. For I say to you, if you knew the good things prepared for the saints in heaven, and the torments remaining for those who fall from virtue having known the truth and not embraced it, you would with all your strength flee from that eternal punishment and hasten to obtain that blessed inheritance which has been promised to the servants of God. It is only the evil and abandoned who shun and spurn such blessings, for they know not what they might be losing. It behoves them even now to cast off their worldly desires, weep constantly for their past offences, and seek for the mercy of God that they may turn to better things, and so direct their pathways that they may depart happy from this life and come rejoicing to the heavenly kingdom.
"Having cast off its earthly tabernacle, the soul expands in the knowledge of its own inner existence (ad cognitionem suae substantiae properat), and accompanied by the celestial powers hastens to the presence of the Father of lights. Why do human beings exalt themselves in vainglory? Why should a creature of dust be raised up? What have earth and ashes to be proud about? Let us weep while we have time, so that when our long-delayed end comes upon each one of us, we may not then be found begging for a time of repentance when we no longer deserve to be given it. It is in this life that we are given to weep for our sins; as we learn from the holy prophet David: 'Who shall be able to cry to the Lord in hell' (Psalms 6.5)? Unhappy the soul, to be mourned with floods of tears, that having once renounced the world returns to the deeds of the world, that having but now been freed from worldly care returns once more to the service of slavery. So then, my beloved brothers, as the time is short before we are to pass from this fleeting world, let us not allow the perpetual life of blessedness to be taken away from us.
"Our earthly parents, immersed as they are in the affairs of the world, and occupied with the business of this present life, are under the impression that we who have fled from the evils of the world already enjoy everlasting life. I tremble in great fear lest they condemn us under those very terms, saying to us, 'Why have you grown weary in your ways, beset with such misery as you are (Wisdom 5.7)? Your sad state is a great grief to us, your destructiveness only adds to our burdens. Our offspring have become quite useless, they do not produce the fruits of which their early flowering gave promise.' I greatly fear lest this prophecy becomes true for us, 'Our loved ones have fallen into disgrace, they have become abominable, the crown has been torn from their brows (Jeremiah 13.18). The cities of the south are closed to us, and there is no one who may open them up. Let the wicked perish and not see the glory of God' (Isaiah 26, according to Septuagint). Let us think on these things, my brothers, and strive with all our strength lest we be overcome by the enemy. For as he is ever on the alert to destroy us, so we must keep careful vigil that we be not destroyed by his deceits, which God forbid.
"Above all, let us keep the last day before our eyes, and stand in dread each moment before the punishments of eternal pain. This will encourage the soul to grow in self-knowledge, and keep under the body by vigils and fasts. Persevere in grief and mourning, until you are set alight by the fire of the holy Spirit and are found worthy of the gift of heavenly contemplation, when freed from the contagion of earth you may be filled to overflowing with the words of God. He who at all times meditates upon these things obtains purity of mind and a humble heart; he rejects vainglory and turns his back on the wisdom of the world.
"Let our spiritual souls, my brothers, reason daily against the crass matter of the flesh. Deal with it so thoroughly that it may cooperate in aspiring to better things. And when at night you seek your pillow, say to your bodily members, 'As long as we are together, obey me when I tell you what is best for you, and come along with me to serve the Lord with eagerness'. Say to your hands, 'The time will come when your expansive gestures will cease, when your angry pugilistic skills will no longer be, when your palms can no longer be thrust out to steal'. Say to your feet, 'The time will come when you will no longer have the strength to rush headlong into iniquity, when you will not be able to travel in the paths of depravity'. Speak also to all your members at once, and say to them, 'Before we are parted from each other by death, undergoing the punishment which fell upon us by the sin of the first human being, let us do battle bravely, stand unflinchingly, struggle boldly, serve the Lord without fear or hesitation, until he comes again to put an end to our earthly labour and lead us to the kingdom of immortality. Eyes, pour forth tears; flesh, show your nobility by being obedient, and work with me in prayer to my God, lest by preferring rest and sleep you procure for us eternal torment. Be watchful always in everything you do, for it is as you act in sobriety that you will receive an abundant reward of good things.'
"But if you are neglectful, swarms of pitiable torments will come upon you, and then you will hear the moans of the soul complaining to the body, 'Woe is me that I am bound to you, undergoing the punishment of eternal condemnation because of you'.
"Now, if we reason within ourselves like this, we shall become temples of the Lord, and the holy Spirit will dwell within us, nor shall any craft of Satan be able to encompass us round about. By means of meditations of this sort, the fear of the Lord can teach us more than the doctrines of ten thousand pedagogues and scholars, and the holy Spirit himself will breathe into us whatever we are unable to grasp by human perception. For we know not how to pray as we ought, as the blessed Apostle says, but the Spirit himself prays for us with groans which cannot be uttered (Romans 8.26).
"There are many more things I might say to you, but lest I overburden you I will bring an end to my sermon here. Brothers, may the God of peace and grace give you strength and establish you in his fear. Amen"
He finished speaking and straightway rose, commended us to God and departed.
As he was going back to the monastery of Tabennisi with Theodore and Cornelius and a number of the other brothers, he suddenly stood completely still for a little while in the course of the journey, as if he was having a secret conversation with somebody. He was being made spiritually aware that one of the rules he had made for the monastery was being neglected. For he had decreed that the brothers working in the bakehouse should not indulge in empty chatter when preparing the oblations [i.e. bread for the Eucharist.] but should limit the conversation to edifying topics. He summoned Theodore who was in charge of the monastery.
"Make a few judicious and unobtrusive enquiries about any rude conversations the brothers might be indulging in when preparing the oblations," he said, "and make sure you tell me whatever it is that you find."
He went away and made diligent enquires, reporting back to the holy Pachomius what he had discovered.
"Now wouldn't you think," said Pachomius, "that the rules I gave them to keep were eminently sensible? Don't they realise that neglect of even the least important of rules lays them open to great danger? Didn't the Israelites gladly keep silence for seven days before the city of Jericho, until at the appointed time they all gave a great shout and the city was taken (Joshua 6.10)? Did any of them deceitfully disobey what was really a commandment from God, even though conveyed to them only by a human voice? The monks from now on must observe our rules, if their previous sins of negligence are to be forgiven. After all, we ourselves strictly observe the rules which we prescribe for others." He rejoined the monastery, and after the prayers he visited the brothers who were making psiathoi. [See Chapter XLIII, above.] He sat down with them and began to do some weaving himself. Now, there was a young lad watching him who had been appointed as his assistant for the week.
"You are not doing it right, father," he said. "Abba Theodore told us a quite different method."
"Show me how I ought to do it, then," said Pachomius.
He submitted to the lad's teaching, and sat down again to his work with a perfectly cheerful mind, having banished the spirit of pride by what he had done. For if he had been wise according to the flesh to only the smallest degree, he would not have paid any attention to the instructions of a small boy, but rebuked him for presuming to speak out of turn.
On one occasion when he shut himself away from everyone in solitude, the devil appeared and contended with him in a false guise.
"Greetings, Pachomius," he said. "I am Christ paying you a visit, my faithful friend."
But guided by the holy Spirit, he thought for a while, then spurned this vision of the enemy.
"The coming of Christ always being peace, and to see him is to be free from all fear and full of joy. Human reason is banished afar and gives way to a longing for heaven. But at this moment I am in a turmoil, gripped by a tumult of confusing thoughts."
He rose up and signed himself with the cross, and stretching out his hands as if to seize him, he breathed upon him.
"Devil, depart from me," he cried. "Cursed are you and your visions and your insidious arts. You have no place among the servants of God."
He was turned to dust, filling the cell with a most foul smell, and Pachomius heard a loud voice shattering the silence:
"I would have rewarded you greatly if I had persuaded you into my power. But the power of Christ is supreme, and I am always beaten by you. But make no mistake, I shall always continue to attack you. I am bound to carry out my task without ceasing."
So Pachomius was strengthened by the holy Spirit, and put his trust in the Lord, giving thanks for the great gifts and blessings showered upon him.
While walking through the monastery one night with Theodore, he was suddenly aware of a great phantasm in the distance, of an immensely seductive appearance. It was dressed as a woman so much more beautiful than any human being could possibly be that it is impossible to portray what it looked like or describe the impression it made. As Theodore looked at it he became exceedingly agitated and the look on his face showed it. The venerable old man could see that Theodore was desperately anxious.
"Put your trust in the Lord, Theodore," he said, "and don't be afraid."
And he stood in prayer, beseeching the Lord that the presence of his divine majesty might put to flight this stupendous phantasm. As soon as he began to pray, this vision began to dissolve into what it had been before, that is, a multitude of demons. As Pachomius finished his prayers they came towards him and spoke.
"Why do you labour in vain when you cannot do anything to harm me? For the Lord has given me power to put to the test anyone I like."
"What are you after?" asked Pachomius. "Where do you come from, and who is it you are seeking to put to the test?"
"I am the power of the devil," it replied, "and a horde of demons are mine to command. I am the one to cast a holy light upon the earth, disguising the darkness of a death-dealing voluptuousness. I was the one who deceived Judas, and deprived him of the dignity of being an Apostle. Therefore, O Pachomius, I have sought from the Lord that I might wage war against you without ceasing, for I cannot bear the reproaches of the demons any longer that you have show yourself more powerful than all my stratagems and attacks. There is no one like you for making me powerless. For young men and old and even young boys subvert me by your teaching. They almost tread me underfoot. They are so much part of a monastic army gathered against me, surrounded by the indestructible wall of the fear of God, that my servants have no power to seduce by their multiple deceits anyone of your people at all. This is what is happening to us because the word of God was made man, who gave power to you to drive our power far off."
"What then?" said Pachomius. "Am I the only one you have come to tempt, or are there others?"
"You and everyone like you."
"I have sought after Theodore also, and power has been given me to put you both to the test, but the trouble is that I can't get anywhere near you!"
"Oh, why not?"
"In fighting against you both it would seem that I am doing you a favour, but especially you, Pachomius, because you have attained to such heavenly heights that you have been held worthy to see the glory of the Lord with your bodily eyes. But you won't always be with your monks, will you, protecting them with your prayers, and stiffening their resolve by your exhortations. The time will come after your death when I shall rave wildly among them as much as I like, and do with them whatever I please. For it is all your doing that at present I am trodden underfoot by your great congregation of monks."
"You miserable idiot, don't you realise that it could well be that better people will come after me, serving Christ with a steadfast will, who will imbue with spiritual knowledge those who take refuge in the discipline of the Lord, and build them up by their godly examples."
"My certainty is that you are simply lying, speaking against the mind of God."
"No, it is you who are the father of lies, for there is no way that you are able to tell the future. Only God knows the future; it is for his power and majesty to have foreknowledge of all things."
"As far as foreknowledge goes, I admit I don't know much but by means of divination I know a great deal."
"What do you mean? Divination?"
"I deduce the future from what has gone before."
"How can you do that! Tell me!"
"Every project in the beginning tends as time goes on to prosper, until eventually its impetus weakens. And so I discern that this divine vocation of yours has been strengthened in its beginnings by counsel from heaven, by signs and prodigies, full to overflowing with all kinds of powers. But when it gets a bit older, it will grow less quickly, it will get weary as time stretches out, it will begin to fail through laziness and negligence, and in this situation I shall begin to make some headway. But for the present my task is to overcome whomsoever I can, and I shall not cease to put you great men to the test."
"If, as you say, you will not cease from putting great men to the test, and if you claim that your main task is the perdition of souls, and that your malice is greater than all the demons put together, tell me, why is it that at this time you cannot prevail against the servants of God?"
"I have already told you. Because of the marvellous incarnation of Christ on earth, we are having to carry on with greatly curtailed powers. Because of those who believe in his name we have become as insignificant as sparrows. Nevertheless, although we are weakened, we have not yet been so completely put out of action that we are prevented from deceiving where we can. For we never rest from sniping at your people. We insinuate evil thoughts into the minds of those who set themselves up against us, and when we sense that they are giving some measure of assent to our titillations we slip in a few thoughts even more disgusting still, and stir up the fires of various kinds of voluptuous excitement, By our subtle undermining tactics we can penetrate their defences and bring them more fully under our power.
"On the other hand, if they reject what we suggest to them and pay no attention to us, and if they seriously and vigilantly build up their defences by means of their faith in Christ, we are scattered like a smoke, driven from their hearts and put to flight. We are not allowed to lay siege to all and sundry, because there are some that would not be able to resist our attacks. If we were allowed to deploy all our forces indiscriminately against everyone, we would be able to deceive many who are now protected by your endeavours. But what's the point? They are protected by your virtue and the power of the Crucified."
"O how wicked," cried the holy Pachomius with a great groan, "are the unsleeping attacks which you will never cease levelling against the human race, until the power of God shall come again in the person of his Son and consume and destroy you for ever!"
And he cursed the horde of demons in the name of Christ, whereupon they were scattered and brought to naught.
Next morning Pachomius called together all the brothers who had seniority either by reason of the sanctity of their lives or by the length of their service. He told them all that he had seen and heard from the evil spirits. And he sent warnings by letter to those elsewhere, to strengthen them in the discipline and fear of the Lord, telling them to be on the alert and give no ground at all to demonic phantasms, but to have no fear of the demons' multiform displays. They all heard and understood what had been miraculously revealed to him by the grace of God and continued to endure with all eagerness the burden of labouring after purity of heart.
Meanwhile one of the brothers, who zealously imitated the patience shown by the old man, was bitten in the foot by a scorpion while he was standing at prayer. The poison injected into him almost travelled as far as his heart, so that he was almost on his last breath, but although he was in extreme pain he did not move from the spot until he had finished his prayer, whereupon Pachomius immediately poured out prayers to Christ and restored him to his former health.
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