Chapter XIX (continued) Apollonius, Book II
(Diuoscurus, the Monks of Nitria, the Cellia, Ammon, Didymus, Cronius, Origen, Evagrius
Macarius the Greater of Egypt, Macarius the Lesser of Alexandria, all further down this page)
The news of this came to the ears of the prefect of Alexandria, and made him ferociously angry. He picked out some of the most cruel and savage members of his entourage, more like beasts than men, and sent them with orders to bring bound to Alexandria the judge who had believed as a result of the divine miracle and those through whom the power of God had been shown forth. But while they were all bound and being taken to Alexandria the grace of God appeared in what Apollonius said, for he began to teach faith in God to those who had bound them and were taking them. Believing in the mercy of God they wholeheartedly accepted faith in God, and appeared before the judge as professing Christians along with those whom they brought in bonds. When the prefect saw that they were steadfastly persisting in believing in God he ordered that they should all alike be cast into the sea, not knowing in his arrogance what he was doing. For them this was not a death but a Baptism.
But their bodies, doubtless by the providence of God, were washed up on the shore, whole and cleansed. People came to give them a decent funeral, recovered the bodies, and took them to be gathered together in one sepulchre as a final resting place. From that time to this they have performed many signs and wonders to the astonishment of all. For they take up the vows and prayers of all, and bring our petitions to fruition in the place where the Lord deigns to lead us and fulfil the vows and petitions of us all.
DIOSCUROS THE PRESBYTER (cf. VIII.68)
We saw another venerable father in the Thebaid, a presbyter called Dioscuros, who had a monastery of about a hundred monks. We noted that when people came to the Sacrament he took particular care and diligence to ensure that no one who came should bring with him any stain on his conscience. He even warned about those things which happen to men when they are asleep, either because of fantasies about women appearing to them or because of the natural overflow of bodily fluids. "If such things happen without any accompanying fantasies about women," he said, "there is no sin in it. For once these fluids have been produced in the body and filled up their proper receptacle they have to be expelled by their own proper channels, and thus far it does not occasion sin. But accompanied by images of women and the pleasures of the flesh they are a sure sign that there is a desire in their souls to be taken up with such illicit thoughts. Monks therefore should drive all kinds of images like this from their minds, nor let their senses be aroused by these blandishments of the devil, otherwise there would not seem to be any difference between them and those who live in the world. But the monk should labour at taming and overcoming the natural man with much abstemious fasting and many prayers and reduce the stain of his [nocturnal] flux by even more prayer and fasting. Furthermore, if doctors recommend to those who live luxuriously that they should abstain, for the good of their bodily health, from all things harmful, why should not a monk do much more than that in seeking health of soul and spirit.
THE MONKS LIVING IN NITRIA (cf. VIII.69)
We arrived at Nitria, that most famous place among all the monasteries of Egypt, about forty miles from Alexandria. It takes its name from the nearby village where natron [native sesquicarbonate of soda, or soap] is produced. The name of Nitria, by the foresight of divine providence, I believe, carries with it the idea that however sordid the sins of men they could be cleansed and washed away in this place as if by natron. Here, there are not much fewer than fifty dwellings near each other under the rule of a single father. Some have many occupants, some just a few, quite a lot only one, but although their dwellings are all separate, nevertheless they are all inseparably joined in faith and charity.
As we approached the place they sensed that pilgrim brothers were drawing near, and immediately like a swarm of bees they all rushed out of their cells and came to meet us, vying with each other in the happiness and hastiness of their approach. Several of them carried with them jugs of water and bread, for the prophet had rebuked some people saying; "You did not go out to meet the children of Israel in the way with bread and water" (2 Esdras.13). So, having greeted us, they first of all took us to the church, singing psalms, then washed our feet, with each one of them wiping our feet with the strips of linen which they use, ostensibly to lighten the labour of our journey, but in reality embodying the mystical tradition of bringing balm to the troubles of human life.
What can I say now about their humanity, their work, their charity, since all of them beckoned us towards their own cells, not only fulfilling the obligation of hospitality, but also showing us the humility and gentleness and other virtues of this sort which are learned by people thus separated from the world. Their gifts of grace were various, the doctrine [by which they lived] was one and the same for all. Nowhere else had we seen such charity flourishing, nowhere such acts of compassion and eager hospitality, nowhere else such knowledge and thoughts about the divine Scriptures, nowhere else so many methods of gaining knowledge of the divine (scientiae divinae tanta exercitia), that you might well believe that nearly every one of them was an expert in divine wisdom.
THE PLACE CALLED CELLIA (cf. VIII.69)
There is another place about ten miles further on into the desert called Cellia, because of the number of cells scattered about in the wilderness. To this place, having first been taught in the Thebaid, fled those who wished to cast all care aside and live a more secluded life. In this empty desert there was so much space between each of the cells that none of them could either see or hear each other. Living one to a cell there is a great silence and quietness among them. Only on Saturdays and Sundays do they come together in church, where it seems to them as if they are restored to heaven. If anyone is missing they realise that he is prevented by some bodily ailment, and each one visits with something of his own which might be welcome to one who is sick - not all at once, but they all take turns. There is no other reason for anyone to dare break into the silence of his neighbour, unless it might be for someone to be able to give a word of instruction, and like athletes in the arena anoint each other with the oil of a consoling word. Some of them come from three or four miles away from the church, so spaced out are their cells from each other. But so great is the charity among them, and so thoughtful are they for each other and for all the brothers, that they are held in admiration and as an example for all. As soon as they know that anyone else wants to come a live with them, each of them is quite willing to offer his own cell.
AMMON (cf. VIII.12)
Among them we saw another venerable father called Ammon, upon whom God had conferred a great fulness of spiritual gifts. If you could see the grace of charity in him you would say that you had never seen anything like it anywhere. And if you were thinking about his humility you would have to say that he was more accomplished by a long way in this gift than anyone else. Ana again, if you considered how he excelled all others in each one of the virtues of patience, gentleness, kindness, you would not know how to find anyone better than him. God had conferred upon him such gifts of wisdom and knowledge that you would believe that no one out of all the fathers had penetrated so deeply into the realms of every kind of knowledge there is. Everybody who met him said that no one had been taken up so closely into the wisdom of God. He had two of his brothers with him, Eusebius and Euthymius. His older brother Dioscuros had been elevated to the episcopate. They were not only brothers according to the flesh, but brothers in their style of life and total nobility of soul. Like a nurse caring for her children, they were a source of strength to all the brothers living in that place, instructing each one of them, and striving to lead them to the highest peak of perfection.
We found that this man of God, Ammon, had a cell (monasterium) with a wall round it, which was very easy to construct out of rough building blocks in these parts. Inside it was everything he needed - he had even dug a well. There was once a brother who came to him seeking salvation and who asked him if there was an empty cell anywhere where he could live.
"I will find out", he said. "But until I do, stay here in this cell. I am going out now to see to what you want." And he left his cell and everything in it and found a tiny little cell quite some distance away and set himself up in it. The newly arrived brother did not even realise that Ammon had given him his own cell and everything in it.
But if several people arrived at once seeking salvation he would gather the brothers together and quickly give them instructions so that a new cell would be built on that very day. And when a sufficient number of cells had been built to cater for the needs of them all, he took those who would be living in them to the church as if to provide them with refreshment, but while they were in there each one of the brothers would bring necessary items from their own cells and put them in the new ones. As a result of this charitable exercise there was no lack of either tools or food, and it wasn't at all obvious who had given what. At vespers time, those for whom the cells had been prepared came back and found them fitted out with everything necessary for living in. The cells had been so built that there was nothing lacking.
Among the seniors we also met a good man called Didymus in whom were many graces from God, as [the beauty of] his face showed. This man got rid of insects which lie on the earth in wait for the feet, such as scorpions, horned caterpillars (? cerastas quos cornutas vocant) and snakes which flourish in these places because of the heat of the sun, so that no one was ever stung by them.
CRONIUS (cf. VIII. 25&89)
We also met among them another father of great age called Cronius, still going in spite of his marvellous age. His lifespan was about to be accomplished, for he was a hundred and ten years old. He was a survivor from the disciples of Antony and among the many other virtues of his soul we were aware of his great grace of humility.
ORIGEN (cf. VIII.10)
There was another of Antony's disciples called Origen, a magnificent man of great discretion, whose sermons and talks about the virtues of his great master, the man of God, edified all who heard. He stirred people up so powerfully that they could almost see the things he talked about before their naked eyes.
We saw there this most wise man, wonderful in all sorts of ways, called Evagrius. Among the other virtues of his soul he had been given the grace of discernment of spirits (1 Cor.12.10) and the renewal of the mind (Ephesians 4.23) as the Apostle teaches. There was no other among the brothers who had attained to such a great and subtle spiritual knowledge. He had amassed an impressive store of learning through his experience in so many matters, and not least through the grace of God, but much of his learning had come to him through having been a disciple for a long time of the blessed Macarius, a most famous man by the grace of God, outstanding in signs and virtues, as everyone knows.
His abstinence was incredible, and he gave instruction to the brothers about it. If they were really serious about mortifying the body and driving away demonic phantasies he would encourage them to be very sparing in the amount of water they drank. "For," he said, " If you flood the body with a lot of water you generate even more phantasies, and offer a bigger space to the demons." He taught many other things about abstinence very insistently. For himself he used water very sparingly and hardly even ate much bread. The other brothers in that place were quite content with bread and salt. In all that great number of people you could hardly find anyone who even used a little oil. Many of them did not lie down to sleep, but sat and meditated, as I do believe, on the divine Word.
THE TWO MACARII. AND FIRST, MACARIUS THE GREATER, OF EGYPT (cf. VIII. 19 & 20)
Some of the fathers living there told us how the two Macarii had been shining lights of heaven in those parts. One of them had been a disciple of Antony and was known as "from Egypt", the other "from Alexandria". Their spiritual virtues and their magnificent graces from heaven were consistent with their names ["Macarios" (Greek) means "blessed"]. Both Macarii were equally distinguished in the practice of abstinence and in spiritual virtues, but the former was held to be superior only for having inherited the graces and virtues of the blessed Antony.
(The following incident not in Book VIII but appears in III.41) They said that once there had been a murder committed in a neighbouring village and a certain innocent person had been accused of it. The man thus falsely accused fled to Macarius' cell. His accusers followed after, saying that they would not be safe unless this murderer were arrested and handed over to the law. The accused however swore on the Sacrament that he was not guilty of that person's blood. The argument went back and forth for some time, until the holy Macarius asked where the murdered person was buried. When they had told him he hastened to the grave along with all the accusers, and with bent knee called on the name of Christ. "Let the Lord now show us, "he said to those present, "whether this man you accuse is guilty." And raising his voice, he called upon the dead man by name. There came an answer from the tomb. and Macarius said, "I conjure you, by the faith of Christ, that you testify whether you were killed by this man who is being accused of it." From the sepulchre came a clear voice saying, "I was not killed by him."
Stupefied, everyone threw themselves to the ground, prostrate at Macarius' feet. Then they began to ask him to enquire who the murderer was. "I will not ask that, " he replied. "Sufficient for me that the innocent is freed. It is not for me to produce the guilty one."
There was also a tale about another kind of miracle. (cf. VIII.19). It appeared to people that the daughter of a householder (paterfamilias) in a nearby town had been turned by the spells of a magician into a horse. They really thought she was a mare and not a little girl. They brought her to Macarius.
"What do you want?" he asked
"This mare that you see," said his parents, "is a little girl, our virgin daughter, but wicked men have turned her by magic arts into this animal which you see before you. We are asking you to pray to the Lord to change her back to what she was."
"All I can see is that it is a girl you are showing me," he said, "with nothing of the beast about her at all. What you are telling me is not in her body but in the eyes of those who are looking at her. Demonic phantasies, not true."
He took her and her parents into his cell and on bended knees began to pray to the Lord, and he asked the parents to pray to the Lord with him. After which he anointed her with oil in the name of the Lord, which resulted in all the false vision being destroyed, so that the girl was seen by all just as she used to be.
Another small girl was brought to him whose private parts (obscoena corporis) were diseased through and through. The flesh was so eaten away that the inside of her body was laid bare, with a great number of maggots spewing out from there. People could hardly bear to come near her because of the horrible smell. He took pity on this suffering virgin when she was brought to him by her parents and laid outside his door.
"Be of good cheer, my daughter," he said. The Lord intends this for your salvation not for your damnation. It was foreseen that your [restoration to] health would save you from danger." And after a session of prayer which lasted for seven days, he blessed some oil and anointed her members, and so restored her to health that she no longer had the appearance or the body of a woman, but took her place among the male sex, freed from the hindrance of being a woman or even of being suspected to be a woman. (absque feminieae suspicionis obstaculo)
They told us also how he was visited by a certain heretic of the Hieracitus persuasion, a class of heresy prevalent in Egypt. He was upsetting several of the brothers in the desert by his persistent arguments, and even dared to make known his false faith to Macarius himself. Macarius resisted him and contradicted him, but this man ridiculed Macarius' simple words with powerful arguments. The old man saw that the brothers' faith was in danger, so he said, "What is the use of bandying words about to the repulsion of our audience? Let us go to the graves of those who have gone before us in the Lord, and let each of us pray to the Lord to raise up the dead out of the tomb, so that all may know whose faith it is that is approved by God." The brothers all approved of this idea. They went to the graves and Macarius urged the Hieracitus heretic to call up the dead in the name of the Lord.
"No, you go first," he replied. "It was your idea in the first place."
Macarius prostrated himself in prayer before the Lord, and after he had prayed for some time he lifted up his eyes and said to the Lord, "Tell us, O Lord, which of us two holds the true faith by raising up this dead person." And he called upon the name of the person who had recently been buried there. A voice was heard coming from the mound of earth, and the brothers quickly came, removed the earth, and lifted the dead person out of the grave. They unloosed the grave garments tied around him and showed that he was really alive. Seeing this, the Hieracitan fled in terror. And the brothers drove him and all his followers out beyond the borders of that land.
Many other things are related about him too numerous to write down, but from these few examples some idea can be gained of his other deeds.
MACARIUS THE LESSER, OF ALEXANDRIA (cf. VIII. 19 & 20)
The other holy Macarius also became magnificent in his virtues. Much has been written about him by others, which suffices to show how the greatness of his virtues should be cherished, so it would be better for us not to deal with those matters.
They say that above all others he was a great lover of the desert. In fact he penetrated so far into the most distant and inaccessible places of the desert that he came across a certain place which had been set up at the farthest boundaries where fruit bearing trees had been planted and which was replete with all kinds of good things. It is said that he found two brothers there, and he asked them if they would let him bring monks with him to settle there, since it was a pleasant place, with an abundance of everything necessary. They replied, "You can't bring a lot of people here, lest they be deceived by demons as they pass through the desert. For the desert holds many demons and monsters, and anyone not used to their cunning wiles would not be able to withstand them."
He went back to his own brothers and told them what a favourable place it was, so that many of them became quite eager to go there with him. But when the rest of the fathers realised that their minds were all agitated, they discouraged them with some very sound advice. "This place is supposed to have been set up by Jannes and Mambres (2 Tim 3.8 & Ex.7.11), and if that is true you need not believe anything other than that it has been prepared by the work of the devil for our deception. If it is indeed pleasant and abundant, as alleged, what can we hope for in the world to come if we are to enjoy sweet things here?" That, and other arguments of this sort, damped down the enthusiasm of the younger brothers.
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