Chapter VI (continued), Apollonius, Book II
It did not escape our notice either what he had done in the early days when he had begun to live in a cave with a few companions. It was the time of the paschal feast, and when the holy vigils and sacraments in the cave had come to an end, some of those with him prepared a meal, but there was nothing except some dry bread and a few vegetables preserved in salt. Apollonius said to those with him; "If we have faith, as true and faithful servants of Christ, let us each one ask God whether he has anything for us to enjoy freely on this festal day." But they preferred that he alone should ask this of God, because he excelled them not only in age but in virtue, while they were much inferior to him in grace. He enthusiastically poured forth a prayer to God, to which they all replied Amen, and suddenly there appeared at the mouth of the cave a number of complete strangers who brought with them a vast supply of all kinds of different foods. Nobody before in the whole country of Egypt had ever seen such a diversity of so many different kinds of food. There were grapes, nuts, figs, pomegranates, besides things completely out of place such as milk, honeycombs and honey. There were also warm "nicolae", a type of richly decorated loaf which obviously originated in foreign lands. No sooner had the bearers of these gifts handed them over than they departed, as if they could hardly wait to get back to whoever it was who had sent them. The monks gave thanks to God and began to feast on what had been given them. There was so much of it that it lasted till the feast of Pentecost. They had no doubt that God had sent these things for the celebration of the feast.
We learned also that one of the brothers who was completely lacking in the graces of humility and gentleness asked Apollonius to pray to God that he might be given these graces. Apollonius prayed, and the graces of humility and gentleness which came to him were so great that the brothers were amazed at the peace of mind and modesty which they saw in him where previously they had seen none.
At one time there was a famine in the Thebaid. The local people knew that Apollonius and the monks who served God were frequently fed by God alone when they had no food, so they all came to him, along with their wives and children, asking not only a blessing but also food. Unhesitatingly he began to share with them the food which had been set aside for the use of the brothers, giving freely to one and all. At last there were only three baskets of bread left, but there were people still hungry. He ordered the three remaining baskets of bread to be brought out - only just enough to feed the monks for one day - and in the presence of all the people whose hunger had brought them together he lifted up his hands to God and said, "Is not the hand of the Lord mighty to make these multiply? Thus says the Holy Spirit. 'The bread in the baskets shall not run out till we all are filled with the new harvest'." And many of those who were there testified to us that for four months he continued to take bread out of the baskets without the supply diminishing. the also said that on another occasion he did the same with oil and grain.
The devil was annoyed by these powers, and is said to have reproached him thus, "I suppose you think you are Elias or some other prophet that you dare to do these things?"
He replied, "Come now. Are not the prophets and apostles they who handed on to us their faith and their grace? Was God present then and absent now? God forbid. God is almighty, and what he can do he can always do. If God is good, you devil, why is it that you are evil?"
As we have said, these stories of his deeds were faithfully told to us by the seniors, holy and religious men. But notwithstanding the reliance that should be placed in their truth, the Lord provided us with even greater grounds for belief by means of that which we witnessed with our own eyes. For we saw baskets of bread being carried to the tables and all ate their fill. But the baskets were gathered up again just as full as before.
I must tell you also about another thing we can bear witness to. When we were on the way to this monastery and still a long way off, three brothers came to meet us for he had told them three days earlier that we were coming. There were singing psalms as they came, for this is their custom always when monks turn up. They prostrated themselves, embraced us, and pointing to us said to each other, "These are the three brothers whom our father Apollonius told us about three days ago. He said, 'Three brothers from Jerusalem will be with us in three days time.'" Some of the brothers then walked on before us, others behind, and both groups were singing psalms. When we were nearly there the holy Apollonius heard the psalmody and came out himself to meet us. When he saw us he first of all prostrated himself, then embraced us, took us into the monastery, and offered a prayer (as is the custom) before washing our feet with his own hands and seeing to all our other bodily needs. He does this for all new arrivals. It is also the custom for him and all the brothers with him not to take food before receiving the Communion of the Lord at around about the ninth hour, and in the interval between then and Vespers they listen to the word of God and with no let up are given instruction on fulfilling the commandments of the Lord (cf. VIII.9). After the evening meal some of them go to their hermitages and spend the light reciting the Scriptures by heart, others remain gathered together and keep vigil till morning light with hymns and praises to God. I was present and saw this.
Some of them at the ninth hour came down from the mountain to receive Communion and straightway went back again, content with this spiritual food alone, and kept this up for several days. But there was such a great happiness and joyfulness in them, such exaltation, as no other man on earth could display. No one showed any signs of sadness, or if any one did happen to look a bit out of sorts father Apollonius immediately enquired what was the matter. It frequently happened that if anyone tried to conceal [his thoughts] Apollonius would say out loud what was being hidden, in order to make the victim face up to it. He would admonish them that it was absolutely wrong to be dejected when God was their salvation and their hope was in the kingdom of heaven. "Let the gentiles be sad," he would say, "let the Jews mourn, let sinners weep unceasingly, but let the righteous rejoice. For if lovers of the world take comfort in their fragile and perishable possessions, should not we be overflowing with joy when our hope lies in such great glory and the promise of eternity? Hasn't the Apostle implored us to 'rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in all things give thanks'?" (1 Thess.5.16). But who can do justice to the grace of his words and doctrine? It were better that I say no more rather than fail to commend him adequately.
In personal interviews the blessed Apollonius discussed many things with us - the underlying principles of abstinence, living a balanced life, the duty of hospitality. This latter especially he impressed upon us, that we should greet visiting brothers as if it were the Lord coming to us. "For this tradition of giving every honour to visiting brothers," he said, "is maintained among us for it is certain that to welcome brothers is the same as to welcome the Lord Jesus, who said, 'I was a stranger and you took me in' (Matthew 25.43). Abraham likewise took in some who appeared to be men but whom he understood to be the Lord. (Genesis 18)". Moreover he said you should insist on giving hospitality to the brothers even against their will, and he cited the example of the holy Lot who insisted on the angels seeking refuge in his own house (ibid.19).
He also urged that as far as possible monks should partake of the mysteries of Christ daily, lest if they stay away too long they stray away from God. "It is the frequent communicant who frequently receives the Saviour, for the Saviour himself said, 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him' (John.6.56). This commemoration of the Lord's passion is exceptionally beneficial as it provides an example of patient suffering." And he warned us that each one of us should always take care to prepare himself, lest he be found unworthy of the mysteries of the Lord, adding that through the mysteries the remission of sins is given to those who believe.
He warned that except for some great necessity there should be no relaxing of the statutory fasts on Wednesday and Friday, for on Wednesday Judas planned the betrayal of Jesus and on the Friday the Saviour was crucified. It followed that anyone who needlessly relaxed the fast on these days betrayed the Saviour along with the traitor, and crucified him with the crucifiers. But he went on to say that if any brother did arrive on either of these two days and you wished to refresh him after his journey, even if it was before the ninth hour, you should just offer him food by himself. If he did not wish it he would not be put under any pressure. This is the generally accepted rule. He also castigated soundly those who fussed over their hair (comam capitis nutriunt. [washed their hair? combed it? cut it?]), or wore iron necklets, or did anything else which only drew attention to themselves. "It's obvious," he said, "that these people are only looking for human praise. They do it to make themselves noticed, but the commandment is that even your fasting should be carried out in secret, that it may be known to God alone who sees in secret and rewards openly (Matthew.6.18). As you can see, they are not content with the testimony and reward of him who sees in secret, but wish people to be able to see them. The complete regime of abstinence should be kept secret, so that the body is kept under by fasting without boasting to your fellows and your reward sought only from the Lord."
This and much more he told us about the life-style of the monks and how it varied during the week, and he pointed to their deeds as bearing out the faithfulness of his teaching. As we were about to depart he produced one more little admonition, "Above all, beloved, maintain peace among you, let there be no divisions among you." Then turning to the brothers, who along with him were seeing us on our way, he said, "Which one of you would like to take them to the fathers in the monasteries nearby?" Nearly all of them immediately expressed themselves willing to do so and wanted to come with us. The holy father Apollonius therefore chose three of them who were fluent in both Greek and Egyptian to do any necessary interpreting for us. They were also such people as would be able to help us in what they said themselves. As he sent us off with them he urged us not to part company with them before we had seen all the fathers and all the monasteries we wanted to, although no one would have been able to see them all. He dismissed us with a blessing in these words; "The Lord bless you out of Sion that you may see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of your life." (Psalms 128.5).
AMMON (cf. the last section of VIII.52)
I don't believe we should omit what we heard from Ammon, another holy man, whose place where he lived in the desert we visited. After we left the blessed Apollonius we went to a part of the desert towards the south when we saw in the sand traces of the footprints of a large serpent (draco). They were big enough to look as if a large piece of timber had been dragged along. We were absolutely terrified when we saw them, but the brothers guiding us urged us to be in no way afraid but to have faith and follow the serpent. "You will see the power of faith," they said, "when you have seen us destroy it. For there are lots of serpents, snakes and horned creatures (? cornutas) which have perished at our hands. For thus we read the scriptures, 'The Saviour enables those who believe in him to tread upon serpents and scorpions and every power of the enemy'" (Luke 10.19). What they said simply made us more and more afraid, in our weak lack of faith, and we begged them not to follow the tracks of the serpent but keep to the right path. But one of them impatiently rushed off to follow the serpent, and almost immediately he came to its cave. He shouted to us to come and see what would happen. But one of the brothers who lived in the neighbourhood came out to us and advised against following the serpent for he was sure we would not be able to bear it, especially as we were not used to seeing such things. He had often seen it himself, he said, and it was unbelievably large, at least fifteen cubits long [cubit = distance from elbow to tip of middle finger]. After urging us to avoid the place, he ran up to the brother who was prepared to destroy the serpent and was expecting us to follow him. He took him by the arm and begged him to come back with him. And by his insistent pleading he prevailed over the one who was still unwilling to depart without destroying the serpent. He then came up to us, saying that he would not have it that we were craven or faithless.
(At this point, cf VIII.53) He then led us to his cell and with great friendliness offered us some refreshment. He told us that the place where he lived had been the home of a holy man named Ammon, whose disciple he had been. The Lord had done many great things through him, among which had been the following:
Robbers often had been stealing his bread, his sole means of subsistence, even the meagre supply which he had in store. Having put up patiently with this for quite some time he went out one day into the desert and returned with two large serpents which he ordered to live with him and told them to stay at the door of his cell (monasterium) to guard the entrance. When the robbers came as usual they saw something guarding the cell, and when they realized it was serpents they became paralysed and senseless, they were struck dumb and fell to the ground. When the old man realized what was happening he came out and found them half dead. He came to them and raised them up, and rebuked them, saying, "You should realise that you are worse than these serpents, for whereas they have been obedient to us for God's sake, you neither fear God nor are ashamed to disturb the lives of the servants of God." Whereupon he took them into his cell, sat them down at the table and gave them food. They were cut to the heart, and turned away with repulsion from their barbarous ways. In a very short time they became even more virtuous than many who had already begun to serve the Lord. Their penitence began to effect such radical changes that it was not very long before they were doing the same signs and wonders as Ammon.
On another occasion there was an immense serpent which was terrorising the neighbouring region and killing many people, and the local inhabitants came to the aforesaid father begging him to rid the area of this beast. They also hoped to excite his pity by bringing to him a lad, the son of a shepherd, who at the mere sight of this serpent had been frightened out of his wits. The mere breath of the serpent had rendered him unconscious and bloated, but the holy man anointed him with oil and restored him to health. However, although he accepted the need for the serpent to be killed, he at first seemed unwilling to promise anything, as if there was nothing he could do to help them. But in due course he did go out to meet the beast, and knelt down praying to the Lord. The beast began a furious rush towards him, uttering terrifying groans and hissing loudly. But he cared nothing for all that. He turned towards the serpent and said, "May Christ the Son of God who will slay the great whale (Isaiah 27.1) bring you to destruction." At the old man's words this most horrible serpent burst asunder, even as it was spewing forth poison with all its force. The neighbouring people gathered together, amazed at such a great miracle. Unable to bear the smell it left behind they began to pile up a huge pile of sand over it. Ammon remained near at hand, for even though the beast was dead they would not have dared approach it without him being there.
THE PRESBYTER COPRES AND PATERMUTIUS (cf. VIII.54)
There was a presbyter called Copres who had a cell (monasterium) in that same desert, a holy man about eighty years old, who had done many great deeds, encouraging the weary and healing the sick, driving out demons and doing many miracles, some of which he did while we were there. In greeting us he embraced us, and after the usual prayer washed our feet, after which he asked us for news of the world. We would rather that he would tell us of his own doings, and asked him about the deeds and worthiness through which the Lord had bestowed upon him such graces. But he demurred, and began to make a comparison between his own life and those who had gone before him, saying that they were far more illustrious than himself, being barely able to follow their example. "There is nothing marvellous about me," he said, "in comparison with the holy fathers."
[The following account of Patermutius is not in Book VIII]
"Before us there was this splendid man, Father Mutius by name. He was the first monk in this place and was the first to teach the way of salvation to all of us in this desert. He was a pagan (gentilis) at first, a most notorious thief and tomb robber, a connoisseur of every kind of wickedness. His saving moment happened in this way:
"He went one night to the house of a certain consecrated virgin in order to burgle it. He climbed up on to the roof, equipped with a well known type of tool-kit, trying to find a method or an opening by which he could break in. The operation proved too difficult for him, and he spent the greater part of the night on the roof to no avail. Frustrated by the failure of many attempts he felt weary and fell asleep and saw in a vision someone standing by him dressed like a king, who said, 'Desist from all these crimes, and from the spilling of blood. Turn all your efforts towards religious purposes instead of shameful theft, and join the angelic host of heaven. From now on live with virtue in mind, and I will make you the principal leader of this host.'
"He listened to what was being said to him with a great feeling of joy, and was then shown a great army of monks, of which he was bidden to be the leader. As he awoke he saw the virgin standing there, demanding to know who and whence he was and what he was doing there. Like somebody out of his mind all he could say was, 'Please take me to a church.' She realised that some divine operation was working in her, and she took him to the church and introduced him to the presbyters. He prostrated himself in front of them and begged to be made a Christian and do penance. The presbyters knew this man to be the instigator of all kinds of wickednesses and wondered if he were really genuine. But he persisted, and convinced them he really meant what he was asking for. They warned him that if that was what he wanted he would have to leave off from his former way of life. He was baptised, and begged to be given some precepts by which he might begin to walk along the way to salvation. They gave him the first three verses of Psalm 1 [Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside, that bringeth forth his fruit in due season, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper] They told him that if he diligently took these verses to heart it would be enough to lead him into the way of salvation and to a growth in holiness (scientia pietatis). He stayed with them for three days and then went off to the desert where he stayed for a long time, persevering day and night in prayers and tears, living off roots and herbs.
"He went back to the church where the presbyters realised how the three verses of Psalm 1 which they had given him had affected his speech, his actions and his whole way of life. The presbyters marvelled at how such a sudden conversion could have led him immediately into such a strict self-discipline. They gave him further instruction in the holy Scriptures, and suggested that he stay with them permanently. So as not to appear disobedient he lived out a week with them but then returned to the desert, where he spent the next seven years very abstemiously, receiving such a fulness of grace from the Lord, that he was able to learn almost the whole of Scripture by heart. He took bread only on Sundays, and this was given to him by divine providence. For after he came away from his prayers he would find bread there which no human hand had brought. When he had given thanks and consumed it he found that it was sufficient to see him through to the next Sunday.
"A long time afterwards he came back from the desert and encouraged many people to follow his example, among whom was a young man who wanted to be his disciple. After giving him the monastic habit, that is, the sleeveless tunic, the hood and the goatskin cloak, he began to instruct him in the other principles of monastic life, especially the duty of taking care to bury Christians who had died. And when that disciple had observed the care with which he clothed the dead in burial garments, he said, 'I hope that when I am dead, master, you will prepare and bury me like that.'
"'I will indeed, my son, and I shall keep on clothing you until you say "enough"'.
"Not long after this the young man died and this promise was fulfilled. For having clothed him in several garments he said in the presence of all those there, 'Is this sufficient for your burial, my son, or should we add some more?' Everybody then heard the voice of the dead boy, even though his jaw had been tied up and his face covered, saying, 'Enough, father. You have fulfilled your promise'. Those present were astonished, and wondered exceedingly about such a miraculous deed. But once the boy was buried, he made no attempt to boast about it but went straight back to his hermitage.
"On another occasion he left his hermitage to visit the brothers whom he had established. It was revealed to him that one of them was in extremis and like to die. It was already getting towards evening, so he was hurrying in order to see him. But the place where the sick man lived was still a long way off and he did not want to get to the place after dark. He called to mind the saying of the Lord, 'Walk while you have the light lest the darkness overtake you' (John 12.35) and 'He who walks in the light does not stumble' (John 11.10). And as he saw the sun beginning to set he said to it, 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ stay still for a while until I arrive at my destination.' And although it had partially begun to sink it stopped, and stood still until he had arrived. This was obvious to all those who were waiting there. As they stood and watched the sunset being delayed they wondered what sort of an omen it could be for them that the sun should delay its setting for such a long time. So when they saw Father-Mutius coming out of the desert they asked him what sort of a portent was signified by the sun. He replied, 'Have you forgotten the word of our Lord and Saviour, "If you have faith as much as a grain of mustard seed you will do greater things than these"?' (Matthew 17.20). And when they realised that the sun had stood still because of his faith they feared greatly, and many of them joined his band of disciples and began to follow him.
"He went into the house of the brother who had been the reason for his hasty journey and found him already dead. He prayed, went to the bed, embraced him and said, 'What would you rather, brother, to depart and be with Christ or remain in the flesh?'
"His life came back to him, he sat up and said, 'Why are you calling me back, father? It is better for me to depart and be with Christ. I do not need to remain in the flesh any longer.'
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