Life of Pachomius (continued), Book 1a (Also St Abraham, further down this page)Life No 7
Theodore also suffered terribly once from severe headaches, and he asked Pachomius to pray that he might gain some relief.
"Do you think, my son," said Pachomius, "that any griefs or pains or anything else like that can happen to anyone unless God allows it? Therefore, put up with your aches humbly and patiently, and God will give you relief when he wills. And if you seem to be tested in this way for an over long time, be grateful. Job was perfectly patient, and blessed the Lord after suffering many trials and excruciating torments. Do as he did, and you also will receive an even greater reward from Christ. Abstinence and persevering prayer are good things, but the rewards are even greater when infirmity is endured with patience and longsuffering. Now this teaching has come down to us from men of great heart, and I too judge it necessary that for the benefit of many one man should show tolerance beyond human praise."
There was a monk call Zachaeus who suffered from jaundice as a result of his abstinence over a long period, for he had been content with bread and salt, and lived alone in a cell quite separate from the brothers. He was always weaving rush mats, and for the sake of the Lord his hands suffered such injury through winding thin strands of rope together that they were covered in drops of blood. But in spite of these bodily ills he was never absent when the brothers met together, but roamed about watchfully during the offices to make sure that none of the brothers went to sleep. Every night before going to sleep it was his custom to meditate on something from the holy Scriptures, sign himself with the cross, give praise to the Lord, and only then snatch a little rest. He would get up again in the middle of the night and keep vigil till the time of the morning prayers.
A brother was one day looking at those hands covered in blood, damaged so severely by the vigorous way he worked, and spoke to him about them.
"Why do you torture yourself so much by the way you work father," he asked, "and let yourself get so wounded? Is it perhaps because you are afraid that God will be angry with you and accuse you of idleness if you don't work as hard as that? God knows you are suffering, and no work is worth the great trouble you are causing for yourself, especially when it is all quite unnecessary. For if we give bountifully, first to God, then to pilgrims and poor people, how much more should we not care for you, when we all serve with the greatest devotion such a great and good father."
"Impossible for me not to work!" he replied.
"Please, at least put some oil into your hands, lest the streams of blood coming from them stain your work."
He took that advice and did what he was urged to do, but it only made his wounded hands so much worse that he could hardly bear the pain of it. The blessed Pachomius passed by and saw what was happening and why.
"Did you really think, brother," he said, "that oil would be able to cure you? Was anybody compelling you to keep at your work so vigorously that you felt it necessary to use that as an excuse to put your trust in oil rather than putting your hope in God? Do you think it is impossible for God to heal you, or that he is ignorant of each person's illnesses? Do you imagine that he needs us to advise him? He is merciful by nature; how can he possibly despise us? He takes into consideration the welfare of the souls of us all, and allows us to suffer some temporary pains in order to pour out upon us the eternal rewards due to tolerance. Let us then be sure that we cast all our care upon him, and let him in his mercy bring an end to our griefs when he wills and as he wills."
"Forgive me, venerable father," said Zachaeus, "and pray for me to the Lord that in his goodness he may see fit to put my fault behind me."
Many people related of this old man that for the space of a whole year his eyes were full of tears, and that he took food only once every two days. The holy Pachomius held him up as an example of good works and a stronghold of virtues. He would send anyone weighed down with worry to him, for he said there was no one like him for being able to give a word of comfort. He fought bravely to the end of a holy old age, till he passed over to the heavenly kingdom to receive eternal consolation for all his pains.
Pachomius certainly never hid the talents entrusted to him (Matthew 25.18), but used them for the benefit of all, and sent Zachaeus and many others like him, who had become perfect in their lives, to the presence of Christ before him. One feast day he celebrated by giving thanks to God for all those many great blessings granted to him that this long drawn out account of ours has described. For on the most blessed feast of Easter, after many of his brothers had gone to the Lord before him, he at last fell ill himself and was nursed by Theodore, whom we have often mentioned. His whole body was weak and debilitated, but his face was shining and cheerful, proof to those who saw him of his godly mind and pure conscience. Two days before he died a holy death he called all the brothers to him.
"Beloved brothers," he said, "I am about to enter into the path the fathers have trodden before me, for I hear the Lord calling me hence. But you, remember all the teachings you have heard from me again and again. Be watchful in prayer and sober in all you do. Have nothing to do with the sects of Meletius, Arius, Origen, or any others who set themselves up against the precepts of Christ. Keep to the company of those who fear the Lord and are able to assist you in pursuit of a holy life and provide your souls with spiritual comfort. I am now ready to be delivered, and the time of my departure is at hand (2 Timothy 4.6). Therefore, while I am still here, choose one among you who under God will be senior to all and will undertake the cure of your souls. As far as my own judgement is worth anything I would choose Petronius as being suitable for this task, but it is up to you to choose whom you will."
In this they accepted their father's advice as obedient sons. Petronius was a man of great faith, humble in bearing, prudent in his thinking, of good habits and discernment. The holy Pachomius poured out prayer to the Lord for him, for he was known to be suffering from illness in the monastery of Chinobosci. But Pachomius commended the whole brotherhood to his care, even though he was absent, and had a message sent to him that he should come immediately. He signed himself with the cross, and gazing with a joyful countenance on the Angel of Light sent to him, he gave up his holy spirit in the tenth day of the month Pachon, according to the Egyptians, which is the seventh day before the Ides of May according to the Romans. [May 9]
His disciples reverenced his dear and venerable body in a fitting manner according to the customs, and kept vigil over it the whole night through with the singing of psalms and hymns. And the next day they buried him in the mountain where he had begun. The brothers who had been sent to fetch the holy Petronius brought him back still suffering from his illness. He only ruled over the brothers for a few days before coming to a peaceful end himself, leaving behind him Orsesius, a just man acceptable to God.
We have described only a few of their many merits, and set out only a small number of their great deeds, not that their honour will be any the less for that. Indeed they have no need of lavish commendation, for it is enough for them to enjoy the eternal praise and unending glory which they have been granted in the presence of Christ and all his holy Angels. They shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of God (Matthew 13.43), who has borne witness that he glorifies those who glorify him. We try to follow in their footsteps with all our strength. Aware of the brilliance of their lives we try to imitate them with the help of Christ, aided always by the prayers of the blessed fathers, Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs and all the Saints, who ever give glory and praise to our almighty and merciful God, the blessed and co-eternal and consubstantial and indivisible Trinity, Father, Son and holy Spirit, to whom be given all praise and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The Life of Saint Abraham, Hermit, [Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on March 16]
by S. Ephraem the Deacon
translated into Latin from the Greek
by an anonymous author.
Prologue by S Ephraem
My brothers, I wish to tell you about the way of life of that wonderfully perfect man Abraham, who began his life and continued to the end in such a way that he has earned perpetual glory. But when I think of his great virtue I am very hesitant about trying to put together a worthwhile and enlightening tale. For he was an outstanding man who had achieved perfection, whereas I am but weak and unpolished. But although unskilled, I will do the best I can to write as much as possible about this man, although I cannot claim to have a perfect understanding of him. Anyone, indeed, who is deservedly called a second Abraham cannot be easily described by human tongue.
He was a man of our own time, living an Angelic life while still on earth. He developed as much endurance as the hardest of adamantine rock, which earned him celestial glory. From his early youth he preserved the most spotless chastity, which made him a holy vessel, fit to be a temple of the holy Spirit, and thus he opened himself up to the God who came to dwell in the guesthouse of his mind.
This blessed Abraham had wealthy parents who loved him tenderly beyond measure. They had such care for him, beyond the usual limits of human affection, that they betrothed him to a girl while he was still a child, hoping with a great longing that he would make progress in some secular walk of life. But he had long thought otherwise, for from the beginnings of his adolescence he began to frequent the regular gatherings at the church, eagerly listening with enjoyment to whatever was read from the holy Scriptures, which he would commit to memory and afterwards mull them over intently in his heart.
But then his parents set a date for the approaching marriage ceremonies, which would oblige him to be bound by nuptial vows. He had objected to this at first, but they berated him and brought such pressure to bear on him that after a while he could no longer stand against them and felt so ashamed that he was persuaded to agree. So the nuptials were celebrated, but during the seven days of festivity divine grace suddenly illuminated him like a lamp shining in his heart. He welcomed it as guiding him to the fulfilment of his own desire. He leapt for joy and followed it as it led him out of the city.
About two miles from his home he found an empty cell which he occupied and made his home, glorifying God with immense happiness. But it was a crushing blow to his parents and friends, who went out searching everywhere for this man of God. He had been seventeen days in his cell when they finally found him there praying, and the blessed man then saw how distressed they were.
"Why should you be so upset at seeing me in this situation?" he asked. "Rather give glory to the most merciful God, who has rescued me from feasting at the table of my own sins, and pray for me that I may in all things shape my life as may be most pleasing to his will, and that I may be able to bear unto the end this most gentle yoke which the Lord has laid upon me, unworthy though I am."
All who heard him could not but say Amen, and he asked them not to disturb him by dragging out this meeting any longer. After they had gone he blocked up the entrance to his cell and shut himself up inside, constructing a small window to the outside world through which he might receive his usual daily bread.
Divine grace began to light up his mind, freed as it was from all turbulent distractions, and he advanced daily in the way he governed his life. The foundation of his life was continence, upon which he built his vigils and prayers, which he poured out with humble tears and love. Gradually his reputation for holiness spread everywhere around, and as people heard about him they hoped for inspiration from him and came from all directions to visit him. God abundantly bestowed upon him words of wisdom and knowledge and comfort, which lit up the minds of his hearers as if by the most brilliant of lamps.
When he had been living this life for twelve years, his parents died leaving him a great deal of money and property. Lest this should distract him from his own prayers he asked a close friend to take upon himself the godly task of overseeing the distribution of it all to the poor and to orphans. His own soul and mind continued securely in quietness, for it was the greatest wish of this good man to be completely free from all earthly cares. He possessed nothing on this earth except a mantle and a coarse tunic. He also had a little bowl from which he ate and drank, and a rush mat on which he slept.
Above all he had true humility, and showed the same charitable respect to all. He did not put the rich before the poor, the prince before the subject, or the aristocrats before the common people, but gave the same consideration and honour to all, without any respect of persons. He never scolded people rudely; his speech was always rooted in love and gentleness. How could anyone possibly get too much of his eloquence, offered as it was with such sweetness? Or how could anyone gazing at his face, the image of holiness, fail to be filled with a desire to see him over and over again. Once he had taken up his rules of abstinence he never relaxed them at any time. He completed with all diligence fifty years of this chosen way of life, and for the great love and longing he had for Christ, he reckoned that long stretch of time as but a few days, and he thought of all the austerity of his rule as nothing at all.
There was quite a large and important village not far from the city, where everyone from the greatest to the least lived in a state of the most crude paganism. Nobody had succeeded in converting them from the worship of idols. A number of presbyters and deacons had been ordained by the bishop and sent there for that very purpose, but had to withdraw without converting anyone. They laboured there in vain; the people would not be persuaded. They were fierce in temperament and quite inflexible about keeping to their own opinions. Not only that, but they also stirred up anger and the most intense resentment against the preachers. There were even a number of monks who had tried to approach them time and again, but had not had the least success in converting any of them.
Then, one day, as the bishop was having a meeting with his clergy, he began to talk about this most blessed man.
"In all my days I have never seen anyone like him," he said. "He is perfect in every good work, adorned with all the virtues. God is with him, which is why he is known as Abraham the most holy."
"It is perfectly true," came the reply from the clergy. "This servant of God is the most perfect of monks."
"I would like to ordain him presbyter," said the bishop, "and send him into that village of pagans. With his patience and love he would be able to convert them to God."
And he got up straight away and went to the holy man's cell along with his clergy. After greeting him he immediately suggested that Abraham should go to that village for the sake of their salvation.
"I beg you, most holy father," said Abraham, unhappy and agitated, "Let me just go on weeping for my sins without placing this sort of burden on my weak and insignificant existence."
"But by the grace of God you can do it. Surely you don't want to be found lacking in obedience in this matter."
"I beseech you, your holiness, let me just mourn my misdeeds."
"Look, you have renounced the world and everything in it, you have embraced the life of the cross, and yet having done all that, you should know that you have no idea of what obedience is, which is the greatest of all virtues."
"What am I but a dead dog (1 Samuel 24.14), and what is my life that you have passed such a sentence on me, most holy father!"
"Look, you are just sitting here taking thought for your own salvation. There are multitudes more whom by the help of God's grace you could save by turning them towards the Lord God. Just ask yourself which will bring the greater reward, saving your own soul, or leading many others to salvation with you.."
"Then the Lord's will be done," the blessed man of God said in floods of tears. "In truth, obedience demands that I do whatever you wish."
So he was taken from his cell into the city, ordained presbyter by the laying of hands, and sent without delay to that pagan village, praying as he went on his journey.
"O God most clement, most bounteous," he prayed, "look upon my infirmity, and send your heavenly grace down on my new status (praesidium) that your holy name may be glorified."
When he got to the village and saw how deeply they were all immersed in the madness of idolatry, he groaned from the bottom of his heart and wept in grief.
"You alone are without sin, O God," he cried, lifting up his eyes to heaven. "Despise not the works of your own hands."
And he hastily arranged for a messenger to be sent to his dear friend in the city, asking him to bring him what money was left of his inheritance. Once he had got it, before long he had built a church and decorated it with many wonderful ornaments as if it were a most beloved bride. While it was being built, however, the man of God walked daily past the pagan statues, saying nothing, but praying secretly in his heart, and sending up his tears and sighs to the Lord. When the church was finished he offered it up with many tears as a gift to God and on his knees poured forth prayer to God.
"Almighty Son of the living God, you have trodden the whole world of error underfoot, and led it by your presence into the knowledge of your light. Gather this scattered people also into the bosom of your church, and enlighten the eyes of their minds, that they may cast off the worship of idols and know you the only kind God and lover of humankind."
The prayer over, he went straight out of the church to the pagan temple, overturned the altar and images and destroyed them with his own hands. When the pagans realised what he had done an angry crowd of them gathered around like a herd of wild beasts and beat him with many rods, making him run for his life. At night time he came quietly back to his church, taking no thought for his lacerations and wounds, but praying to the Lord with tears and groans that they should be saved. In the morning the pagans came to the church and found him praying, and they stood stock still in amazement. And they came to the church for several days, not in order to pray, but to feast their eyes on the beauty and ornaments of the church. A few days later the blessed man Abraham began to urge them to know God. But this made them very angry, and they fell upon him with clubs as if he were some lifeless stone, bound his feet with ropes, dragged him out of the village, and stoned him till they thought he was dead, although in fact he was still only half dead.
In the middle of the night he regained consciousness and began to weep bitterly.
"O Lord," he prayed, "why have you despised my lowliness and turned your face away from me? And why do you cast down my soul, and despise, O Lord, the work of your own hands? Now, O Lord, look upon your servant and hear my prayer and give me strength. Loosen your children from the chains of the devil, and enlighten them that they may know you, for you alone are God, and beside you there is no other."
Rising from his prayer, he returned to the village and went in to the church, singing psalms to the Lord. When it began to get light the villagers came and were astonished to see him. Infuriated and maddened, they again tormented him cruelly without mercy, bound him and carried him out of the village.
He went on suffering like this for three years, but he endured as if he were an adamantine rock, and he suffered a great many abusive torments without ceasing. But when he was knocked over, when he was dragged about, persecuted and stoned, suffering from hunger and thirst, no matter what happened he was never provoked to anger, never moved by indignation, never fainthearted, never worn out and weary. The more he suffered from them the more his love and charity increased towards them. He warned, he cajoled, he showered them with entreaties of gentlest eloquence. He addressed the older men as fathers, the younger as brothers, the youths as sons, but when he was ridiculed by them in return he just laughed as he suffered a thousand insults.
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