Sexual Temptation (continued) Book V
(A monk should not possess anything, further down page)
In due course she gave birth to a boy and when it was weaned the old man put it on his shoulders and travelled to Scete on a day when there was a feast, entering into the church where there was a great gathering of the brothers. When they saw him they wept, and he said to them, "You see this child? He is the son of my disobedience. Take heed to yourselves, then brothers, for even at an advanced age I was capable of this - and pray for me." And going back to his cell he began again as if at the very beginning of his ascetical life.
V.v.36. A certain brother was grievously tempted by demons in the shape of beautiful women enticing him to intercourse. For forty days he persevered vigorously in battle against them, with hardly any defeat and that much against his will. When God saw the strength of his struggle he granted him the gift of being able to suffer these temptations without any sexual arousal whatsoever.
V.v.37. There was a certain solitary living in lower Egypt, very well known because he was the only one in the church in that desert place. Inspired by the devil a certain woman of loose morals said to some of her young friends, "What will you give me if I can seduce that solitary of yours?"
And they agreed on a price. That evening she wandered up to his cell as if she were lost and knocked on his door. When he came out he saw that she appeared to be very distressed and asked her how she had got there. Putting on a few tears she said she had got lost. Moved by compassion he let her come into the porch of his cell while he himself went inside and shut the door. But she went on crying miserably, saying, "Abba, the wild beasts will get me here."
He again was distressed by this, but yet feared the judgment of God. However, muttering "Why should this happen to me?" he opened the door and let her in. But then the devil began to stir up desire for her in his heart as if with sharp arrows, and realising that this was of the devil he lit a lamp, saying, "'The way of the ungodly is in darkness, but the child of God walks in the light'" (Psalm 35.6).
Inflamed with desire he said, "'They who do such things are destined for torment' (Gal.5.21). Test yourself, then, whether you are capable of bearing the fire which is eternal."
And he thrust a finger into the flame, burning it, though he felt no pain such was the heat of his sexual fire. And he kept on doing this till morning, burning all his fingers. When the unhappy woman saw what he was doing she was overcome with fear and fell in a dead faint. In the morning her friends arrived and asked whether a woman hadn't visited him the night before.
"She did", he said. "Look at her asleep there."
And going in they found her to be dead. "She's dead, abba", they cried.
He shook back the cloak which he wore and stretched out his hands to them saying, "See what this devil's daughter has done to me. She's made me lose all my fingers."
And after telling them what had happened he went on to say, "It is written that you shouldn't return evil for evil" (1 Thess 5.15), so he prayed and raised her up. Completely converted, she lived the rest of her life in chastity.
V.v.38. There was a certain brother troubled with sexual thoughts who happened to see the daughter of a pagan priest as he was going into an Egyptian village. He fell in love with her and asked her father to give her to him for a wife. "I can't do that," he replied, "without asking my god." So he went to the demon whose cult he served and said, "Look, this monk has come to me, wanting to have my daughter. Shall I give her to him?"
The demon answered, "Ask him if he will renounce God and his Baptism and his monastic way of life." Going back to the monk he said, "Deny your God and your Baptism, and your monastic way of life, and I will give you my daughter," to which he agreed.
And immediately the priest saw a dove come out of his mouth and fly up to heaven. He went back to the demon and said, "See now, he's promised those three things"
But the devil replied, "You still can't give him your daughter because God has not abandoned him. He helps him still."
The priest went back to the monk and said, "I still can't give her to you for your God still helps you and has not departed from you."
When the brother heard this he said to himself, "If God has shown me such grace, when I have ungratefully denied him and my Baptism and my monastic way of life, if he in his goodness has even now come to my help in my wickedness, why am I departing from him?"
And he turned himself around and came to his senses, and went back to the desert to a certain respected old man to whom he confessed all. And the old man said, "Sit with me in the cave and fast with me for three weeks and I will pray to God for you."
And the old man agonised for his brother and prayed God, saying, "O Lord, I pray you, grant me this soul, and accept his penance."
And God heard his prayer. At the end of the first week the old man went to the brother and asked him whether he had seen anything, and the brother replied that he had seen a dove hovering high up in the heavens above his head. And the old man said, "Don't relax, keep on praying earnestly to God."
At the end of the second week the old man came to him again and asked him if he had seen anything, and the brother replied that he had seen the dove coming down towards his head.
The old man replied, "Keep your mind alert and pray."
At the end of the third week the old man came to him again and asked whether he had seen anything more. He replied, "I saw the dove come and stand right over my head, and as I reached out my hand to take it, it flew right into my mouth.
And the old man gave thanks to God, saying, "See, the Lord has accepted your penitence. Now you must watch over yourself and be vigilant."
The brother replied, "I shall stay with you till I die."
V.v.39. One of the old men of the Thebaid told of the son of a pagan priest, who as a little boy often sat in the temple watching his father go in to sacrifice to the idols. Once he went in by himself and saw Satan seated there, with all his army standing around, when in came one of his officers who fell down and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" Satan asked. "I have been in such a province," he replied, " and have come to report that I have stirred up wars and disturbances with much shedding of blood." "How long did this take you?" the devil asked. "Thirty days" was the reply. And the devil ordered him to be flogged, saying, "All that time, just to do that." Then another one came and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" he asked. "I have been at sea," he replied, "and have come to report that I have caused storms and shipwrecks with much loss of life." "How long did this take you?" the devil asked. "Twenty days" was the reply. And the devil ordered him to be likewise flogged, saying, "So many days - and this is all you have done?" A third came and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" the devil asked. "I was in such a city," he replied, "and I have come to report that I stirred up strife at a wedding, occasioning much bloodshed and even the death of the bridegroom himself." "How many days did this take you?" he asked. "Ten", was the reply. He too was ordered to be flogged because it had taken him such a long time. Another came and worshipped him. "From whence have you come?" the devil asked. "I have been in the desert," was the reply, "and for forty years I have been battling with a certain monk until this very night, when I persuaded him to fall into sexual sin." When the devil heard this he got up and embraced him, took his own crown from off his head and put it on the other's head, and made him sit down with on the throne, saying, "You have valiantly accomplished a great work." When I heard and saw all this I said to myself; "Great indeed is the order of monks."
V.v. 40. It was told of a certain father that he had been converted after living for some time in the world, and was frequently assailed by desire for his wife, which he confessed to the seniors. They saw that he was a willing workman who would perform even more than he was asked, and gave him a certain regime to keep to whereby his body would be weakened to prevent its rebellion. By the mercy of God, however, a certain father came down to live in Scete, and approached this monk's cell, noticing that the door was open, and passed by wondering why no one had come out to meet him. He turned back, thinking that perhaps the brother inside was ill, knocked on the door, went in and found the brother very weak indeed. "What's the matter, father?" he asked. So he told him the story, "I have lived a life in the world, and the enemy troubles me greatly with memories of my wife. When I told the seniors about this they prescribed various ascetic regimes for me to carry out. But when I obediently tried to fulfil them I fell ill, but even so my desires increased." When the old man heard this he was sad, and said, "I'm sure these important fathers who gave you these penances from which you fell ill had the best of intentions, but just listen to me for a bit, and abandon those practices. Take a little food in due season and regain your strength, do a little of the work of God, and cast all your thoughts on the Lord, for you won't be able to win simply by means of your own labours. Our bodies are like clothing. If you treat them properly they will wear well, if you neglect them, they go rotten." He listened and followed his advice, and within a few days the sexual urge grew less.
V.v.41. Some well-known monks told us about a certain solitary monk of old time, well advanced in his way of life, living in the mountains near Antinoe. Many people profited from his words and his deeds, so that the devil became envious of him, as he does of all men of virtue, and he began to put certain thoughts into his mind:
"Living in the way you do, you ought not to be served by others, still less to expect to be served. Rather, you should be serving others. Or if you don't serve others, at least you should be your own servant. So take your own baskets to market that you have made, and buy what you need, and come back home again, and don't be a burden to anybody."
The devil suggested all this to him in envy of his silence, and his fruitful waiting on the Lord, which was of benefit to so many people. He hoped by this to hunt him down and capture him. But the monk saw only that there was something good about these thoughts, and he went out from his monastery. At the time of his departure he was the admiration of all, never known to have any temptations of an insidious nature, sell known and easily recognised by all who saw him. But he met up with a woman and it was such a long time since he had seen one that he fell victim to his own recklessness and had intercourse with her.
And he went back to the desert with the devil dogging his footsteps and sat down beside the river. He thought of how the devil must be rejoicing over his fall, and he fell into despair because of the grief he had caused to the Spirit of God, and the holy Angels, and the venerable fathers, many of whom had conquered the devil even though they lived in cities. He could not think of any of them who were like him, and so the thought never occurred to him that God attributes virtue to those who devoutly turn to him. In his state of blindness he could not see the cure for his sin and felt like throwing himself into the river, which would, of course, have completed the devil's joy. This spiritual grief left him feeling physically ill, and if the mercy of God had not come to his aid he certainly would have remained in that state without doing penance, to the enemy's great joy.
In the end, however, he came to his senses and thought of how he might burden himself with severe penances, and seek pardon from God with weeping and mourning. He returned to his monastery, and blocked up the door of his cell in the way that is usually done for the dead. There he wept in prayer to God. He fasted and kept vigil, so that his body wasted away with worry, but he could find no relief to his soul no matter how much penance he did. Whenever the brothers who ministered to him came and knocked on his door , he replied that he could not open up because he had bound himself with an oath to spend a whole year in penance, and he begged them to pray for him. He was unable to give them the reason for this, lest they be scandalised at hearing such things from someone who was honoured among them as an outstanding monk. And so he spent the whole year fasting severely, and devoutly doing penance.
On the night of the Resurrection of our Lord he took a new piece of candlewick and put it in a new holder. He shielded it from view by putting a dark cover round it, and late at night rose up to pray:
"O most merciful and compassionate Lord," he said, "who wish to save even the barbarians and bring them to a knowledge of the truth, I fly to you as the Saviour of the faithful. Have mercy on me who have grievously offended you and given joy to the enemy. By obeying him I am dead. But you, O Lord, who have mercy on the ungodly and the merciless, and who forgive in advance those who come to you, have pity on me your humble servant. For nothing is impossible with you, otherwise my soul would have been scattered into hell like dust. Have mercy on your servant, in accordance as you will raise the bodies of the dead on the day of resurrection. Hear me, O Lord, for my spirit faints and my soul is in misery. My body which I have defiled is wasting away. I am no longer worthy of living, because of my lack of faith. By my penitence forgive my sin, a twofold sin because I despaired. Bring life to me in my contrition, and as a sign, set fire to this lamp. I accept your faithful mercy and forgiveness, and I shall keep your commandments for the rest of the life left to me, and I shall not cease from fearing you, but devote myself to you ever more deeply than before."
And having said all that with many tears in this night of the resurrection, he went to see whether the lamp had been lit. He removed the cover and found that it had not been lit. He fell on his face once more, beseeching the Lord:
"I know, O Lord, that I have not stayed upright in the contest for the crown, choosing rather the delights of the flesh and selling myself to the torments of the ungodly. Spare me, O Lord. See, I acknowledge once more my betrayal of your goodness in the presence of your Angels and the company of the righteous, and I would confess it before the whole human race if it were not that they would be scandalised. Lord have mercy on me that others may be edified; Lord bring me life."
And having prayed thus three times, he was heard, for as he got up he found the lamp was burning brightly. He rejoiced in the hope which now filled his heart with joy, wondering at God's grace, who had thus forgiven his sins, answered his prayers and given peace to his soul.
"Thanks be to you, O Lord, " he prayed, "who have had mercy even on my unworthy existence in this world. You have given me this great new sign of your faithfulness. You are merciful and spare the souls that you have created."
As he prayed thus, the day dawned. And he carried on praising God, quite forgetful of earthly nourishment. And he tended that light for the rest of his life, pouring in more oil than was strictly necessary, to ensure that the light would not go out. And the divine Spirit dwelt in him once more, and he was famed among all for the humility he had shown in his confession and joyful thanksgiving to God. And a few days before his death the Lord revealed to the time when he would pass away.
Libellus 6: A monk should not possess anything
V.vi.1. (Also in III.68) A certain brother renounced the world and gave his possessions to the poor, but kept a few things for himself before going to abba Antony. When the old man realised this he said to him, "If you want to be a monk go down to the village, buy some pieces of meat, fasten them to your bare body and then come here." As soon as he had done this the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. He came back to the old man who asked him if he had done what he said. When he showed him his lacerated body St Antony said, "Anyone renouncing the world and yet wanting to hang on to his money will be thus tormented and lacerated by demons."
V.vi.2. Abba Daniel told how a certain legal official once came to abba Arsenius with his father's will. He had been a senator and left him a large sum of money. Arsenius took the document and made as if to tear it up, but the officer fell at his feet and implored him, "Please don't. It would be more than my life is worth." And abba Arsenius said to him, "I died to the world long before him. How then at his death can he make me his heir?" And he gave the will back to him, accepting nothing,
V.vi.3. This same memorable abba Arsenius once fell ill in Scete and lacked the money for a herbal remedy which he needed. But when he found someone who had some he accepted it as a gift and said, "I thank you, Lord, that you have found me worthy to have arrived at such a pass that I need to beg for alms."
V.vi.4. The story is told of abba Agathon that he spent a long time making a cell for himself and his disciples. Once they had built it and begun to live in it he found within a week that it was ill-suited for their purposes. So as the Lord said to the apostles he said to his disciples, "Arise, let us go hence." This greatly upset his disciples, who complained, "If your mind is completely made up to leave this place what was the point of spending all that time and labour building this cell? People will begin to talk about us, saying, 'Look, they're off again. They can't settle anywhere.'" When he saw how small-minded they had become he said, "Even though some might be scandalised yet there are others who might find it edifying and say, 'Blessed are those who for the Lord's sake move on, despising their all that they leave behind'. I tell you, if you want to come, come. Meanwhile, I'm going." They fell down on the ground before him, begging to be allowed to go with him.
V.vi.5. (Also in III.70) Abba Evagrius told the story of a certain brother who possessed nothing except a copy of the Gospels, and he even sold that to provide food for the poor. "I have sold", he said, "that very word which bade us sell everything and give to the poor."
V.vi.6. Abba Theodore of Pherme possessed three very fine manuscripts (codices), and in the course of a visit to abba Macarius he mentioned these three manuscripts and how much he profited from reading them. Not only that but other brothers asked to read them and they profited also. "Tell me", he said, "what should I do about it?" And the old man replied, "What you are doing is good, but it is better still to possess nothing, "Hearing this he went away and sold these notable manuscripts and gave the proceeds to the poor.
V.vi.7. One of the fathers told the story of John Persa, who among his many virtues had arrived at a state of deep simplicity and innocence. He lived in the part of Arabia near Egypt. Once he borrowed a shilling (solidus) from a brother in order to buy linen and make it up. And another brother came to him and asked, "Give me some linen, father, so that I can make some clothing for my own use." And he cheerfully gave it. Likewise another brother came and asked him to give him some linen to make a cloak, and he gave it. And to a number of others asking the same he also gave with simplicity and joy. Some time later the person from whom he had borrowed the shilling came asking to be reimbursed. And the old man said, "Yes, I'll bring it to you." And seeing that he didn't have the wherewithal to pay he decided to go to abba Jacob the treasurer and ask him to provide the shilling.
On the way there he found a shilling lying on the ground, but didn't touch it; instead he said some prayers and returned to his own cell. And the brother came again and began to press him for the shilling. Again he said, "Yes, I will pay you." He went off again and found the shilling still in the same place on the ground, but he just said his prayers and returned home. And when the brother began once more to press him he said, "Bear with me once more and I will bring you your shilling." He got up and went back to the same place where he found the shilling and having made his prayer he picked it up and took it to abba Jacob and said, "Father, as I was coming to see you I found this shilling in the way. Pray be so kind as to announce it lest someone here has lost it." So he announced it but there was no one found who had lost it. Then indeed he said to abba Jacob, "Well if no one has lost it I will give it to the brother to whom I owe a shilling. I was coming to you to ask you for a shilling to pay my debts when I found this shilling in the way." And abba Jacob marvelled that even when in debt he had not taken for himself what he had found. And so the brother had his shilling back. This was another marvellous thing about him, that if anyone came to borrow anything from him he wouldn't get it ready for them himself, but would simply say to the borrower, "Just help yourself to what you need." When they brought back what they had borrowed he would say to them, "Just put it back where you got it from." If however they never brought back what they had borrowed the old man said nothing at all.
V.vi.8. Some of the fathers described how a brother had once entered the circle of cells around abba Isaac wearing ordinary dress. The old man looked at him and said, "This is a dwelling place for monks. You are a secular and can't come in here."
V.vi.9. Moreover abba Isaac said to the brothers, "Abba Pambo and other fathers used to wear old garments with many patches, but nowadays you wear costly garments. You might as well go, for you have already departed from the spirit of this place." And once when they had got ready for harvesting he said to them, "I won't give you any instructions for if I do you won't observe them."
V.vi.10. Abba Cassian said, "There was a certain Syncleticus who renounced the world and divided his possessions among the poor but kept back a certain amount for his own use, being unwilling to accept the humiliation of giving up everything and submitting to the rule of the common life among monks. Basil of holy memory said this to him, 'You may have given up being a senator, you haven't yet become a monk'."
V.vi. 11. A certain brother said to abba Pisteramon, "What shall I do, for I hate having to sell the things that I have made?" And he replied, "Abba Sisoe and others all sold the fruits of their labours and it didn't worry them. But when you are selling, first of all state your price for what you are displaying, but if you want to relax the price a little, do so, and don't worry about it." Again the brother asked him, "If my needs are provided for in other ways do you think that I needn't bother with manual work?" The old man replied, "However much you possess, never neglect your work, do whatever you can, but without any mental agitation."
V.vi.12. A brother asked abba Serapion for a word, and the old man said, "What I have to say to you is that you have stolen what belongs to the widows and orphans and put it in your window." For he had noticed that the window was full of books.
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